RecordCollectorsConvention KUSF 2019 1500 crop

on my first price guide

THIS ARTICLE is about my first price guide, the 1985-86 edi­tion of the Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide. I dis­cuss some of the rea­soning that I used and the re­sults that had an im­me­diate and pro­foundly un­set­tling im­pact on the hobby and busi­ness of selling and buying records. It makes public the rea­soning that went be­hind the de­ci­sions that sticker-shocked (shocked I say!) tens of thou­sands of col­lec­tors.

This was written as an ex­plana­tory page (on Word­Press, a page is dif­ferent from a post) on my Elvis – A Touch Of Gold site. I am re­pub­lishing it here as a post (the search en­gines sup­pos­edly see them dif­fer­ently) as it ad­dresses is­sues common to all record col­lecting and I want it to be better seen by Google and com­pany. This ar­ticle will be pub­lished si­mul­ta­ne­ously with an­other, “a few fav­erave al­bums of the cut-out era,” which ex­pands on the para­graphs about cut-outs below. There will be an over­lap­ping of text.

 

Some­thing was not right with the record col­lec­tors price guides and everyone knew it.

 

The 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide was pub­lished by O’­Sul­livan Wood­side (OW) in 1985. It was the sixth edi­tion in a se­ries orig­i­nally ti­tled Record Al­bums Price Guide (RAPG); the first five edi­tions were by dif­ferent au­thors. 

My book was often re­ferred to as “the Umphred album price guide” or “the Umphred book,” as it was the only book by me—and it was so very dif­ferent from every other record col­lec­tors price guide ever pub­lished! 1

But be­fore I ad­dress those dif­fer­ences, I need to give a brief back­ground on an­other topic that was im­por­tant at the time of the first five edi­tions of RAPG in the 1970s and early ’80s.

 

NU_OW_LP_Guide

The cover photo for this book is my fa­vorite cover of any of my four­teen books. It is a staged garage sale set up at the O’­Sul­livan house; pub­lisher John O’­Sul­livan is the cus­tomer buying a copy of Elvis’ Christmas Album. The con­cept was mine, as were the records used as props.

The era of the cut-out

After the Amer­ican record in­dustry stopped man­u­fac­turing al­bums in both mono and stereo in 1968, they had tens of mil­lions of deleted records taking up valu­able space. These were dumped into stores across the country for a frac­tion of their normal price—wholesaling for as little as 10¢ in­stead of the stan­dard $1.35. As these units had al­ready been written off of the com­pa­nies’ taxes as a loss, any­thing they re­ceived for them was gravy. 2

These al­bums were factory-sealed and there­fore in un­played mint con­di­tion and damn near ubiq­ui­tous: you could not be a record col­lector and not be aware of their pres­ence on the market.

Yet each of these was listed in the early edi­tions of RAPG as being worth be­tween $8 and $15 in near mint con­di­tion! How could records on the col­lec­tors market in NM condition—meaning that they were used (played) records—be worth sev­eral times their brand new (un­played) coun­ter­parts on the re­tail market? 3

Some­thing was not right with the guides and everyone knew it. 

Then came me … 

 

Herman HoldOn

When I took over the au­thor­ship of the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side ti­tles, Her­man’s Her­mits’ al­bums were listed in the pre­vious price guides at $10 to $15 each. Many if not most Her­mits’ al­bums (such as the HOLD ON! sound­track album) were readily avail­able for a dollar as factory-sealed cut-outs twenty years after being re­leased.

Several titles and no author

In 1985, the pre­vious ed­itor of the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side price guide had aban­doned ship, un­ex­pect­edly leaving the com­pany over a va­riety of is­sues. This left OW (the pub­lishing branch of COL Press, a printing firm that han­dled the printing needs of sev­eral local busi­nesses) with sev­eral ti­tles and no au­thor. These also in­cluded a 45 guide, a sound­track guide, and a country 45 guide.

During my lengthy in­ter­view for the po­si­tion, I made it known that I thought the OW books were al­most use­less as ac­tual guides for sellers and buyers. A ar­gued that the books were so in­ac­cu­rate that they were doing a dis­ser­vice to the hobby and busi­ness of col­lecting records.

I made it abun­dantly clear that I would be boldly going where no price guide ed­itor had gone be­fore, making sweeping changes in the di­rec­tions the books would take, al­though I was willing to work with their ex­isting format to keep the look of the books fa­miliar to long­time readers.

If I was hired.

I was hired by John O’­Sul­livan and Don Wood­side to take over their line of record col­lec­tors price guides. 4

 

Raiders HardHeavy

When I took over the au­thor­ship of the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side ti­tles in 1985, sev­eral al­bums by Paul Re­vere & the Raiders from the late ’60s were listed in the pre­vious price guides at $10 to $15. At the time, still-sealed copies of ti­tles such as HARD ‘N’ HEAVY WITH MARSHMALLOW could be found brand-new in cut-out bins around the country.

The first problem was the discographies

Don Wood­side was so des­perate for product that he in­structed me to take the pre­vious (fifth) edi­tion of the LP book, change a few prices and pic­tures and write a new in­tro­duc­tion and give him some­thing to sell as soon as pos­sible. I had to con­vince him that such a de­ci­sion might sink the whole en­ter­prise. And con­vince him I did!

So my first project was the album book: five pre­vious edi­tions had been pub­lished and each sold well. But the pre­vious ed­itor planned on ex­panding the line of ti­tles, in­tending to pub­lish sep­a­rate album books for country & western (C&W), rhythm & blues (R&B), and pop & per­son­ality artists (P&P).

Un­for­tu­nately, those plans were years in the making and never re­al­ized. Due to this, over the pre­vious edi­tions of Record Al­bums Price Guide, many col­lec­table artists had been pulled from the book and set on the shelves for in­clu­sion in one of the planned new ti­tles. In their place, thou­sands of list­ings of ’70s artists were substituted—artists with no col­lec­table value at the time!

My disco­graph­ical problem, in a nut­shell, was this: Hun­dreds of then-contemporary artists of little in­terest to col­lec­tors were taking up space that should have been de­voted to older artists of great in­terest to col­lec­tors.

My solution

My goal with this sixth edi­tion was to turn it into a book de­voted ex­clu­sively to rock and roll and re­lated genres, in­cluding soul and pop-rock. So I took three im­por­tant steps to im­prove the disco­graph­ical as­pect:

1. I deleted thou­sands of list­ings of ’70s records with little col­lec­tor’s in­terest and no col­lec­tors’ value.

2. I re­turned the discogra­phies of col­lec­table artists like Little Richard and Fats Domino (pre­vi­ously pulled from RAPG for in­clu­sion in the R&B book), Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis (pre­vi­ously pulled from RAPG for in­clu­sion in the C&W book), and Neil Sedaka and Neil Di­a­mond (pre­vi­ously and in­ex­plic­ably pulled from RAPG for in­clu­sion in the P&P book).

3. I added thou­sands of new list­ings of records from the ’50s and ’60s, in­cluding hun­dreds of pri­vately pressed garage, psych, prog, and Chris­tian rock al­bums from the late 1960s and early ‘70s. These records were highly col­lec­table and very valu­able but had never ap­peared in a price guide be­fore.

With these three changes, I had a rad­i­cally dif­ferent price guide than the pre­vious edi­tions. I had a book that ac­tu­ally ad­dressed many of the records that col­lec­tors wanted from dealers! As I proofed the first set gal­leys, I pon­dered how I would tackle the other problem.

 

MamasPapas

When I took over the au­thor­ship of the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side ti­tles in 1985, the PAPAS & MAMAS album with the tricky gate­fold jacket was listed in the pre­vious price guides at $10 to $15. At the time, it was avail­able for $2 as a factory-sealed album in cut-out bins around the country.

The second problem was the prices

There was a pithy saying among sellers and buyers of used records about the Record Al­bums Price Guide books: to es­tab­lish a fair market value with one of the books, “You take the book value, cut it in half, and then work down from there.” Why? Be­cause thou­sands of list­ings in RAPG had ab­surdly in­flated values as­signed to them—perhaps as much as half the records listed in those books sold for less than half the “prices” listed! 5

There was a reason for that be­cause no one buys a price guide to read that their col­lec­tion of records, stamps, coins, comic books, base­ball cards, Beanie ba­bies, etc., is worth less than they paid for it! People buy price guides to read how smart they are—that the records that they bought ten years be­fore were good buys that turned out to be good in­vest­ments.

 

In the guides, common used records were over­valued while rather rare records were un­der­valued.

 

Con­se­quently, people bought the books and looked up artists like Paul Re­vere & The Raiders, the Tur­tles, Her­man’s Her­mits, the Mamas & Papas, Peter & Gordon, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Grom­mett knows how many other worthy names and found their records uni­formly listed at $8 to $15 each—despite the ob­vious fact that many of these al­bums were readily avail­able brand new as cut-outs for $1.99 each!

At the same time as this was oc­cur­ring, thou­sand of other records—genuinely rare and valu­able records that were hardly ever made avail­able for sale—were valued at con­sid­er­ably less than half of their real market value.

In­ex­pe­ri­enced col­lec­tors trying to sell their records that re­lied on the RAPG book’s values were reg­u­larly selling their gen­uinely de­sir­able records for a frac­tion of their worth while won­dering why the bulk of their records never sold at all.

My ‘pricing’ problem, in a nut­shell, was this: Common records were lu­di­crously over-valued in all of the pre­vious edi­tions of Record Al­bums Price Guide, while rare records were dra­mat­i­cally under-valued!

My solution

I knew that the 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide was going to cause sticker shock in the market, freaking out a lot of people who re­lied on the book for a de­gree of ac­cu­racy. De­spite re­moving thou­sands of ’70s records with little value be­yond that of a normal used record, there were still thou­sands of ’60s records that were in the same cat­e­gory.

So, I com­pro­mised: I low­ered the values of ap­prox­i­mately one-quarter (25%) of the records by one-half (50%) the pre­vi­ously listed value! And I only re­duced the values by half, de­spite the fact that I knew that the low­ered value of many of these records was still too high!

I fig­ured it was better to see two dollar records listed at $4-6 than $8-12, and it would cushion the blow to the in­ex­pe­ri­enced col­lec­tors in seeing the value of their col­lec­tions plummet.

 

I low­ered the values of ap­prox­i­mately 1/4 of the records by 1/2 the pre­vi­ously listed value and no one seemed to no­tice!

 

When that was com­pleted, I went about raising the values of ap­prox­i­mately one-quarter (25%) of the records by a factor of no less than two (100%) but no more than four (400%). This de­spite the fact that I knew that the raised value of many of these records was still too low! But better to see hundred-dollar records listed at $60-80 than $15-30.

•   The 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide low­ered the values of ¼ of the list­ings from the pre­vious edi­tion; few people who bought the book seemed to no­tice.

•  The 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide main­tained the same values of ½ of the list­ings from the pre­vious edi­tion; few people who bought the book seemed to no­tice.

•   The 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide raised the values of ¼ of the list­ings from the pre­vious edi­tion and every­body who bought the book and their friends no­ticed.

So it was that the 1985-86 Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide was known as “the Umphred album guide” and Umphred was known as “the guy who raised all the f*cking prices!”

I con­fess that my major re­gret with that book was that I didn’t lower and raise the values enough … 6

 

RecordCollectorsConvention KUSF 2019 1500 crop

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken at the record col­lec­tors swap meet/convention in 2019 put on by KUSF, the radio sta­tion of the Uni­verity of Cal­i­fornia at San Fran­cisco. The deal­er’s table be­hind the two buyers have on dis­play the two most in­flu­en­tial al­bums in the his­tory of rock & roll: Elvis Pres­ley’s self-titled debut album from 1956 and the Bea­tles’ Amer­ican debut album MEET THE BEATLES from 1963.

 

 

 

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Aside from the lack­luster O’­Sul­livan Wood­side books, there was also an an­nual price guide from House of Col­lectibles. These books were so bad they gave the OW books an op­por­tu­nity to shine in com­par­ison. The HoC books were as­signed a bogus house name, so we col­lec­tors never learned who was re­spon­sible for these trav­es­ties.

2   The fig­ures are ap­prox­i­ma­tion: whole­sale was ap­prox­i­mately one-third (⅓) of the man­u­fac­tur­er’s sug­gested re­tail price, which was $3.99 by the end of the ’60s.

3   None of the al­bums above have achieved status as a valu­able col­lec­table. These records—like most of the other ubiq­ui­tous ti­tles of the Cut-Out Era—can be pur­chased today in NM con­di­tion for less than $20.

4   As I was al­ready working a de­cent job as a trophy en­graver, I did the in­ter­view with a cocky de­ter­mi­na­tion: I would have my way or they could get someone else. My ar­ro­gance al­most lost me the po­si­tion, but Don Wood­side and I dis­cov­ered a mu­tual pas­sion that turned the con­ver­sa­tion around …

5   I placed “prices” in quo­ta­tion marks be­cause the fig­ures in price guides are not prices—they are ap­prox­i­mate values re­flecting a spec­trum of prices paid for an item. Such books should be called value guides, not price guides.

6   As the In­ternet has shown over and over, common records—even those from the ’60s—were far more common than the price guide values im­plied. Con­versely, rare records are far rarer than those same books let on. 

 

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