real rarity, relative rarity, and the “wow!” factor

Es­ti­mated reading time is 7 min­utes.

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.)


Perceived Rarity: front cover of Pink Floyd's THE WALL album.

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.


Perceived rarity: picture sleeve for the Beatles' THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD from 1970.

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.


Perceived rarity: cover of Quicksilver Messenger Service's self-titled first album from 1968.

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.

When the term rare is ap­plied by a seller to an item for sale, it’s often hy­per­bole to help sell that item! Click To Tweet

PinkFloyd TheWall Scarfe poster

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!


Perceived rarity: cover of Beach Boys PET SOUNDS album on Brother/Reprise from 1974.

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 . . .


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