IN RECORD COLLECTING, we bandy about certain terms so often that they lose their meaning. One such word is ‘rare,’ which should be considered a bugaboo not just record collecting, but all fields of collectables. Another abused word is ‘psychedelic,’ or, as it is more often used, ‘psych.’ But the misuse of that term—unintentional and intentional—deserves an article of its own. 1
When either terms are applied by a seller to an item for sale, it’s often (usually?) hyperbole to help sell that item. That is, calling any item rare is more often hype than an accurate assessment of the item’s genuine availability on the market. 2
Mere rarity has almost nothing to do with a collectable’s value!
But it works because many buyers are wowed thinking that they are getting something rare and desirable. What few people wowed by the word seem to realize is that mere rarity has almost nothing to do with a collectable’s value! 3
A collectable record’s value is based solely on available supply and current demand. 4
A truly rare record that no one wants has no meaningful dollar value at all. 5
On the other hand, a record that sold millions of copies—so it ain’t rare at all—but for whom there is a large market years after the fact can carry a pretty price indeed. (Refer to the images of the Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS and Pink Floyd’s THE WALL below.)
By October 26, 1984, Pink Floyd’s THE WALL had sold more than 4,000,000 copies in the US before most people had ever seen a CD. While most of these were probably cassette tapes, many were LPs. Nonetheless, most used record stores in this country can’t keep the vinyl version in stock no matter how often they raise their asking price because the demand is constant (using?) while the supply moves into the hands of collectors and listeners. The lowest-priced copy in NM/NM condition on Discogs has an asking price of $36.
The “Wow!” Factor
Nonetheless, the word rare retains power: apply it to any collectable and the item takes on an almost exotic flavor. Even well-respected dealers will stop to ponder a reputedly “rare record.”
This power adds to an item what I call the “Wow!” Factor. Let me demonstrate this factor:
Show your friend a copy of the Brother/Reprise pressing of Beach Boy’s landmark album PET SOUNDS (MS-2197) and tell them, “It was issued in 1974 and it’s mono and it’s a better pressings than the original Capitol version!”
Your friend’s response just might be, “Yeah, so?”
There are items in each field of collectables that are common and easy to find—but they’re all in less than near mint condition!
“Like, it sounds so much better than any Capitol or EMI pressing.”
Your friend’s response might be the same as his first.
But then add, “Oh, and it’s really rare. It took me years to find a near mint (NM) copy and I paid a lot for it!”
Your friend’s response might then turn into, “Wow!”
Even if they don’t like the Beach Boys and don’t know a thing about the various permutations of the PET SOUNDS album, they will respond to that magic word rare.
The Beatles’ The Long And Winding Road was a #1 record in 1970, so the picture sleeve for the US pressing isn’t rare, but is nigh on impossible to find in NM condition. The usual problem is that the glossy white surface picked up ink and dirt from being pressed against other records. The sleeve pictured above is clean but somewhat wrinkled, probably from normal handling.
Rare in top condition
There are items in each field of collectables that are relatively common, easy to find, and not a drain on the pocketbook to purchase—but they’re all in less than near mint condition. That is, while the item is plentiful, NM copies are relatively rare.
Because the item is readily found on the collectors market, low-information buyers and sellers can spend their lives not knowing that while it may only be worth $10 in various shades of VG condition, it might be worth $100 in NM because there are so few nearly mint copies.
Picture sleeves often fall into this area. Due to aspects of manufacturing—the quality of the paper, the color of the background, etc.—there are 45 rpm single picture sleeves that were issued with records that sold hundreds of thousands of copies that are rarely found in NM condition.
This is also true of some LP jackets, especially the fancy jackets with coatings that are supposed to look like metal of some sort. Or those with lots of white on the front cover: even when the front cover has a protective gloss coating, it can pick up ugly black ring-wear and other marks.
Any record swap or convention will usually have dozens of copies of the Beatles self-titled album of 1968 that we all call THE WHITE ALBUM And almost every copy will have a jacket that has a dark ring around both the front and back covers.
Finding a truly NM jacket for any pressing of THE WHITE ALBUM (originals or reissues from anywhere in the world) can take years and cost a small fortune.
Because of the glossy black background and the special foil-like finish to Rick Griffin’s masterful calligraphy and art, copies of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s first album from 1968 (Capitol ST-2904) are almost always worn badly on the front cover. The copy pictured above was kept in its original shrinkwrap so it looks like new, but good luck finding another one like it.
Frank Daniels Scarcity Index
Collector Frank Daniels developed a system for rating the relative rarity of Beatles records which he called the Frank Daniels Scarcity Index. It can be applied to all records, although it’s most accurate with artists or genres that have been well researched and have a large and active following of collectors.
To learn more about the Scarcity Index, click HERE.
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was lifted from an in-store poster by Gerald Scarfe used to promote Pink Floyd’s THE WALL (Columbia Records, 1980). Scarfe’s style is reminiscent of contemporary Ralph Steadman, who is much better known in the US. Both owe more than a nod of acknowledgement to Ronald Searle.
1 The misuse of the term “psych” to describe virtually anything released in the ’60s initially caused me to cringe when I saw it used to describe Ray Davies’ anti-psychedelia, reactionary (and utterly charming) THE KINKS ARE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, or the folksy country-rock of GENE CLARK WITH THE GOSDIN BROTHERS. Now when I see “psych” used to describe non-psych record, I just smile and shake my head. I will eventually address all this in a separate article.
2 Merriam-Webster defines rare as “seldom occurring or found,” which, unfortunately, is flexible and allows for broad interpretation. (Like, what does seldom mean?) That dictionary defines hyperbole as “extravagant; exaggeration.”
Because I’m old and square, I prefer to refer to Merriam-Webster out of respect for its prestige and longevity. But more and more I’m finding that the Google dictionary better suits my needs. Google defines rare as “(of a thing) not found in large numbers and consequently of interest or value.” That’s a good, workable definition.
Etymonline defines hype as “excessive or misleading publicity or advertising.” The slang is American, probably in part a back-formation of hyperbole, but also from underworld slang verb hype “to swindle by overcharging or short-changing.”
3 If you’re a sucker for sellers with an endless supply of “rare records” for sale—don’t laugh, psych dealers have been paying their mortgage for years appealing to these people—then the warning Caveat emptor! probably has little meaning for you.
4 Technically, this statement is almost absolute, but other factors do have a play, including hype and market manipulation.
5 This statement refers to the collectors marketplace: if there is one known copy of an item and no want wants to buy it, it has zero dollar value. Such items can have other value for other reasons. For example, there’s my brother, the the extreme-sports enthusiast, who had a handful of copies pressed of a 45 single of him imitating Elmer Fudd imitating John Wayne singing old Elvis songs (“Tweat my wike a fool, tweat me mean and cwuel, but wuv me, pilgrim”) before he went off that 200-foot waterfall in Central America in a kayak and never got a chance to have a bigger pressing of the record made so it’s really really really rare and no one in my family would part with their copy for all the tea in China but there’s no one else in the world that wants that record so it’s a worthless super-rare record!
Brother/Reprise pressed thousands of copies of this version of PET SOUNDS (MS-2197) in 1974-1975, which means it’s probably not a rare record. It is, however, considered a superior sounding pressing to both the original 1966 album (Capitol T-2458) and other pressings, domestic and foreign. Consequently, it carries a big price: the lowest-priced copy in NM/NM condition on Discogs has an asking price of $39.99. And I have seen or heard “psych” used to describe this album, too . . .