Record collecting is the hobby of collecting music. Although the main focus is on vinyl records, all formats of recorded music are collected.
Record collecting has been around probably nearly as long as recorded sound. In its earliest years, phonographs and the recordings that were played on them (first wax cylinders, and later flat shellac discs) were mostly toys for the rich, out of the reach of the middle or lower classes. By the 1920s, improvements in the manufacturing processes, both in players and recordings, allowed prices for the machines to drop. While entertainment options in a middle to upper class home in the 1890s would likely consist of a piano, smaller instruments, and a library of sheet music, by the 1910s and later these options expanded to include a radio and a library of recorded sound.
After the fall of the phonograph cylinder, the record was the uncontested sound medium for decades. The number of available recordings mushroomed and the number of companies pressing records skyrocketed. These were 78 rpm, double-sided, ten-inch shellac discs, with about four minutes of recording time on each side.
Growth in the recorded sound industries was stunted by the Great Depression and World War II, when some countries were hamstrung by a dearth of raw materials. By the time World War II ended, the economy of these countries began to grow again. Classical music (which was a large portion of 78 rpm releases) was slowly edged into a minority status by the influx of popular and new music.
The introduction of both the 33 1/3 rpm, 12-inch LP record and the 45 rpm, 7-inch record, coming into the market around 1949/1950, provided advances in both storage and quality. These records featured vinyl, replacing the previous shellac materials. Further groups of small labels came into existence with the dawning of the rock and roll era in the early to middle 1950s, and the growth of a market among post-war teenagers with disposable income to spend on 45 RPM singles.
In the United Kingdom, rare 78 rpms were traded, usually American Rock and Roll, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Labels such as London-American, RCA and Capitol were priced at a premium. One of the earliest UK record collectors was Mike Adams, who was first known for trading in 1958 on Merseyside. He later became a DJ on the BBC and broadcasted on collecting records for many years. He wrote several books on collecting including Apple Beatle Collectables. In the UK, labels considered collectible, such as Atlantic Records, Stateside, Motown, and Parlophone (EMI) turned into mainstream major record labels later on in the 1960s.
The record collecting hobby probably did not take shape as such until the 1960s. With the folk music boom in the late 1950s to early 1960s, there was suddenly a demand for archival material. Record collectors fanned out in some countries, searching small towns, dusty barns and mountain cabins for older discs. Initially, the most-desired items were pre-World War II shellac discs containing "race records" (that is, blues, country blues and hillbilly music), the precursors to then-current rock-and-roll and country styles. Later generations of record collectors found their passion in digging up obscure 45's in the genre of doo-wop, or LPs from the late 1960s "garage rock" and "psychedelic" genres.
The pop music scene changed forever in January 1964 with the arrival of The Beatles in the United States. In their wake, thousands of musical bands inspired by their fresh, lively take on rock music with a sharp British sensibility, picked up guitars, and many released records. Many of these acolytes released 45 RPM records in small batches to sell at local concerts and to their friends and families. Due to their relatively small pressings, these obscure local records became highly prized and valuable.
The "collector's item" with the most notoriety in record collecting is not a record at all, but merely an album cover. The Beatles themselves accidentally contributed what is probably the most well-known and valuable "collector's piece" of the rock-and-roll era: "The Butcher Cover". This is an informal title for the piece, which was an album cover for the album Yesterday and Today. Until 1967, the LP releases of the Beatles in their home country of the UK were substantially different from the LP releases in the USA. These American albums were shorter, had different songs, album titles and artwork.
A Holy Grail of some collectors is Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963 pressing that has four songs that were deleted from subsequent pressings), known to fetch up to $35,000 in stereo and $16,500 in mono in excellent condition.
One collectible record format is known as a test pressing. Test pressings are exactly what the name implies; 5-10 copies of a record pressed for the purpose of checking the mix or levels on a record, or to ensure that the die is cutting properly. Though usually meant for the band, producer, pressing plant, or record label to keep as reference, they are often placed in special packaging (such as a photocopy of the real record sleeve) and given out to friends or devoted fans.
In the 1970s, the record collecting hobby really took off with the establishment of record collecting publications such as Goldmine, and in the UK, Record Collector. Price guide books were published, codifying exactly how much certain "rare items" were supposed to be worth. The "grading" of records based upon condition became more standardized across the hobby with the publication of these price guides.
With the introduction of the compact disc in the middle 1980s, there began a stratification in the hobby; commonly found vinyl specimens that had been pressed in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies became relatively worthless, while the rarest of specimens became ever more valuable. These rare items included 45 rpm discs in the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, doo wop, garage rock, progressive rock, and psychedelic rock. Other rare and highly valued items include pieces from highly collectible artists such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, U2, Madonna, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, or James Brown. Some of these are items that were pressed for promotional purposes only and sent to radio or television stations. Some are pressings from nations other than the USA or UK where they were pressed in very small quantities.
Even in the 21st century certain contemporary bands have a following of record collectors. This is most prominent in the punk and alternative genres. For example, the special edition of NOFX's 1999 release, The Decline, on transparent vinyl has already reached prices of $350. Due to the DIY ethic and constrained budget of many punk bands and labels, releases by lesser-known bands tend to be in limited edition. Specific pressing runs of records are sometimes printed on different colored vinyl, have new or different songs, contain spelling or mixing errors, or may be in lower quantity than other pressings. All of such factors increase a specific record's collectibility. For instance, in 1988, New York hardcore band Judge attempted to record their debut Bringin' It Down at Chung King Studios. The bad experience and low quality result left the band so disappointed that they scrapped the session and re-recorded the LP elsewhere. The older sessions, however, were pressed onto 110 copies of white vinyl entitled Chung King Can Suck It! and sent to fans who had pre-ordered Bringin It Down to reward them for their patience, as rerecording caused a major delay in the release. Copies of the record have been sold for up to $1,700 on sites like eBay.
Other music genres also have their fervent adherents. Classical music, for example, has its own dedicated following. The first wave of collectors concentrated on early stereo orchestral recordings on labels such as British Decca and EMI, and US Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo. Some of these records still sell at auction for hundreds of dollars. However, the focus of the top collectors has now shifted to earlier material, and rare European monos from the fifties by top artists have become highly sought. The Far Eastern collectors who dominate this market tend to prefer chamber music, and solo violin and cello.
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