Here’s How Much Your Old Record Collection Is Actually Worth
If you have an Iron Maiden album, a jazz record featuring an obscure musician or your parents’ dark wood stereo console, you could sell them for hundreds — even thousands — of dollars. If you’ve unearthed a box full of Sinatra or Beatles albums in the garage, however, they may be worth nothing on the resale market.
“At one time the shelf that held all the Sinatra albums was 70 feet wide,” said Doug Allen, owner of Bananas Records, considered the largest record retailer in the country, and based in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We have way too much of that.”
Vinyl record sales are enjoying a resurgence as younger music fans celebrate the better sound quality on a turntable, they aren’t buying all types of music. And even if they are buying a certain genre or musician’s work, the value depends on how much was originally put out into the marketplace. In other words, how many other people have boxes of the same albums.
Data on vinyl album sales in the United States from 1993 to 2020 shows consistent growth since 2006, and in 2021 a total of 41.7 million vinyl albums were sold, up by over 50% from the previous year according to Statista.com.
Music Genres That Are Selling Well
What Bananas Records buys and sells the most are classic rock ‘n’ roll, punk and jazz albums, but only a few of those bring big bucks. Allen buys 500 to 1,000 albums a day and estimates he pays only $1 to $2 for 90% of them.
“Records don’t compare to coins and stamps and books,” Allen said. “There’s not really anything that’s worth $100,000 or more.”
On the other hand, records that only sold 20,000 copies — jazz from the 1950s, early punk rock — may be worth more. Allen has seen jazz albums from that era, such as early Miles Davis, go for $500 to $700 a piece, while classic punk might sell for $50 to $100.
Many records that sold in the millions are still popular purchases with collectors and album buyers, but because so many copies are still in circulation that they don’t sell for top dollar.
“Punk and heavy metal is what’s selling extremely well because of the age group of people who are buying records right now. They are mostly under 30 years of age,” Allen said. “The ‘70s to ‘90s progressive rock is selling. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Eno.”
He added David Bowie and John Coltrane to the list of what customers want and he’s buying.
“If it’s in mint condition it might sell for $20 to $30 if it’s and a really good early pressing,” Allen said.
Is It a First Pressing?
Yes, just like first or early printings of books, first pressings or early pressings of albums are worth more — even to a 25-year-old consumer. If the album you are hoping to sell was bought the month and year it first came out, there’s a good chance it is a first pressing. But there’s no way to know for sure. The copyright on the record jacket is the same, whether it’s a first or ninth pressing, according to Allen.
Collectors and record dealers have clues to determine the pressing such as a change in the look of the record label or the address of the record company.
“Having that knowledge, they are proud of having something like a first pressing. Occasionally it really means something as far as the sound quality,” Allen said. “This is the generation of kids who always listened to music on their iPhone. When they play an album with a turntable and a set of good speakers they discover what music is supposed to sound like.”
Even in mint condition, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Liberace or Elvis Presley records aren’t worth much, if anything.
“These kids who are buying records today, many of them have never heard of Elvis,” Allen said. “That era is gone.”
He noted that Michael Jackson albums in good shape are selling well, but not for as much as they used to.
“Two weeks after his death you could sell anything you could get your hands on for $30 to $40,” Allen said. “Now they are worth about $7 to $10.”
What Else Determines Value of a Record?
Other factors affect the value of an album, including a record label or address of the recording studio, which can indicate if it’s a first or second pressing; the country in which the album was released; and whether the album was autographed.
The condition of the album cover is as important as the music itself. Water damage, tears and marks can all decrease an album’s value. If you kept your albums in the garage, there’s little chance the vinyl survived the elements and the cover is probably a victim of silverfish or some other pest. And if somebody wrote their name on the album cover, again, that lessens the value greatly.
However, Allen and other collectors frequently buy the album alone if it’s in good shape and the cover isn’t, and vice versa. So even if the album is scratched but the cover is looking good, you might make a few dollars on that.
Allen advises anyone who is trying to sell their collection to take it to their local vintage record store and have them take a look and let you know what’s worth money. On average, he said if someone brings in a cardboard box full of records, they might fetch $60 to $100 for the lot, some records sell for just a few cents and some for a few dollars.
Selling Records Online
Be sure to check the “sold” price and not the “asking” price before you get your hopes up. You will see many records receive no bids or are taken down before they sell. Still, some records sell for $25 to more than $100 depending on the condition and the rarity. Here are some examples of recent online sales on eBay. But many also include additional shipping costs of $10 to $25 depending on where they are coming from.
- Punk: Devo, New Traditionalists, $43
- Jazz: Art Blakley & The Jazz Messengers, $35
- Heavy metal: Iron Maiden, $35 to $120
- Novelty: Blue Lagoon soundtrack, $40
- Michael Jackson: “Ben,” and “Got to be There,” both albums $99
- First pressing: “Peter Frampton Comes Alive,” $149
Another place to sell records online is discogs.com. The site has many links to advise sellers on grading the value of albums based on the condition, estimating shipping costs and packaging.
But just because something sells for a lot online doesn’t mean all copies of that album will sell for as much online or with a dealer. The factors already mentioned go into the equation as well as the buyer. Record dealers know real value and may pay less, however, they have a bigger reach and are more likely to buy more items at a lower price.
“I was talking to another dealer and he said someone came in saying he saw an album online for $100 and was hoping to sell his for the same price,” Allen recounted. “The dealer walked over to his shelf and had five copies of the same album selling for $7 to $9.”
You Can Sell Your Record Equipment, Too
“Some brands of turntables are selling quite well. I just paid almost $400 for a 1960s Benjamin Miracord turntable. Some Pioneer (brand) are selling well,” Allen said. The earlier versions with solid wooden bases are what’s in demand.
Solid wooden consoles with built in speakers that are an actual piece of furniture are in demand, also. And they don’t have to necessarily work.
“I’ve heard of people who are rehabbing them and they are paying $1,000 to $1,500 for a nicer, old console,” Allen said.
Chairish, a popular online market for vintage and contemporary home furnishings, lists more than 1,000 different stereo consoles for $500 to $5,000. Here’s how you can sell directly on Chairish yourself.
Here’s What Your DVDs and CDs Are Actually Worth
What about DVDs, CDs and even 8-tracks? Allen, and Genny Stout, manager of Bananas Records, have bad news for anyone trying to unload their old movies and music.
CDs are less popular each year, as there are fewer cars with CD players. In 2021, Bananas was paying 25 cents for them, but now Stout doesn’t buy them unless they are really good classic rock.
“Fewer and fewer people have DVD players,” she said. “We used to sell three for $5. Now they are $1 each.” The store is actually making their DVD section much smaller and rarely adding anymore to their already huge inventory. A Disney box set might be worth a few dollars, tops.
“We haven’t purchased those in 5 to 6 years,” she said, adding that it’s hard to find non-profit retail stores that accept them.
“I would say there’s no market for them with the exception of a cult following,” Allen said. “Maybe a KISS 8-track, something you wouldn’t expect.”
Contributor Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.