A Simple Matter of Condition

Jackie McLean copyCatching up on a few items still lingering on the Jazz Collector watch list, starting with Jackie McLean, The New Tradition, Ad Lib 6601. This was an original pressing that was listed in VG- or worse condition for the record and VG- for the cover. Despite the condition it sold for $711.80. I have a bit of a hard time relating to a collector who would pay more than $700 for a record that (1) may not even be playable and (2) has a damaged cover that may not even look so good on your shelves. You may recall that I briefly owned a copy of the Jackie record a couple of months ago. That one was in VG condition for the record and VG- for the cover. I wasn’t happy with it and, in the context of the overall package of records, I would have paid less than $711 for it. So maybe the woman who reneged on the deal will do better selling it in that condition to another collector willing to simply own a copy of a really rare record without worrying to much about listening to it. That ain’t me.

I was a little surprised, but not much, to see Elmo Hope, Informal Jazz, Prestige 7043, break into the $1,000 bin. This was an original pressing listed in M- condition for both the record and the cover and, of course, the record features both John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. The final price was $1,078.99. Congratulations to the new owner. Price aside, it’s a great record to own and a wonderful addition to any collection, especially in M- condition.

No bidding yet on this gem: Sonny Clark Trio, Blue Note 1579. This is an original West 63rd Street pressing listed in VG++ condition for the record and the cover. The auction closes in a little less than a day and the start price is $950. Similar situation on this record from the same seller: Jutta Hipp at the Hickory House, Volume 1, Blue Note 1515. This is an original Lexington Avenue pressing listed in VG++ condition for both the record and the cover. The start price is also $950 and, as yet, there are no bidders.


  • Nothing surprises me anymore on condition and what people will pay for them. I cleaned out some VG- records a few ears back and can’t believe what I got for them! My friend is bringing over Hank Mobley – 1568 for me to take a look at and sell for him. I wish I had the $$ to buy it, just can’t pay what he wants for it…so off to eBay it goes. From the pictures he sent, it seems to be legit. I’m excited to play it at least once then pass it on to the next collector to enjoy. Just hopefully it’s in collectors condition!!!!

  • I know there has been talk on here about folks not liking reserves, but sometimes high starting prices can scare away bidders (even that starting price is well within the norm), and there appears to be a less likely chance of a bidding war (obviously bad for the seller).

    I’ve even seen bids on albums go above the original buy it now price on some auctions. People’s psyche can do strange things.

    Side note: I wish I could say I won the Elmo, but alas I was outbid again (and again). Next time. Congrats to the winner I have a feeling they’re lurking here.

  • Gregory the Fish

    jason, i am very excited to hear how that goes for you. be sure to make an honest offer anyway. it can’t hurt!

  • GST,
    I’ve had the same experience where I list a record for a fair staring price get no takers so I lower the price for the next week only to have it sell for more than I had it listed for originally. There is definitely some psychological element that might speak to the benefit of reserve prices vs. higher starting price.

  • I was watching that Jackie McLean auction too and I was shocked at how much someone would pay for any record in that condition. I wouldn’t even try playing that on my turntable and I would much rather own the Japanese reissue in mint condition (which I do!) than waste that kind of money. One mans junk is another mans treasure I suppose!

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    I think this condition and price issue is far more complex than just what people will pay for a record in ___ condition. Although there likely are people that do bid that way, people tend to have preferences… Here, the preference is for records that are in VG+ and over condition. When Al bought that VG copy of The New Tradition, he described feeling almost depressed over it… I don’t think there are many people going after almost perfect records and records in this type of shape, because it’s not rewarding to have a VG- record when you collect records that are VG+ and up. Sure, if there are five copies of something in existence, you’ll go for what you can get, but that’s not the case here… Wait long enough, and a better copy will come around.

    I think there’s a different market with mostly different buyers going after these records in lesser shape. I’m not sure about the exact composition of this market, but I think some of them may be a particularly younger crowd… I’m just basing that from where I stand. I’m only 20, and I got interested in records from listening to my father’s collection. One of my favourites was his copy of The Beatles’ compilation Hey Jude. It had belonged to a roommate of his that didn’t take care of his records, so it was particularly scratchy and played with a lot of noise. As for other records he had, although my dad was pretty good at taking care of his records, many of them are 30-45 years old, and things happen… Some had a few scratches and scuffs, and played with some minor noise. Due to the fond memories I have of records that were formed from listening to those scratchy records, I actually like a bit of noise on my records. So, I will bid on records in sometimes fairly poor condition, because a bit of noise doesn’t bother me. I suspect with this new generation of record collectors, this may be the case for many people, since many of them grew up listening to daddy’s scratchy Beatles records and have worked their way up from there. It’s possible that for many, a perfect copy of something isn’t as appealing as it is to the crowd here, since they’re nostalgic for the crackle and pop of records that weren’t in very good condition. This wouldn’t overlap with many older buyers, who got into this music and record collecting when the music they like was younger and copies of releases they like were in generally better condition due to less aging and thus regularly sounded better. Older buyers generally aren’t nostalgic about records that sound noisy, because they are use to records that sound clean and clear.

    Then there are price constraints. I can’t pay thousands of dollars for a perfect Blue Note. Few can. However, these not-perfect Blue Notes and Ad-Libs and Prestiges and Transitions aren’t fetching as much… If you absolutely must have that original rarity, yet don’t have the money to buy perfect copies, the appeal of imperfect copies is a lot stronger. I don’t think this group is going to overlap much with those dropping thousands on perfect copies of jazz rarities.

    Then there are people who buy records for sampling… Apparently, popping and hissing sounds really good in hip hop and electronic music, and old jazz and soul music is very popular for sampling. I’ve met a few people that due this… They like the imperfect playback because it adds character to what they’re doing, and some of them seem to take pride in having original pressings for their sampling. This is probably a very small group of buyers, but they’re noteworthy nontheless.

    Then there are those that are just collectors, not listeners. This happens with high-end jazz records, too… Some people buy to have records instead of to listen to them. With perfect rare jazz records, many of them are also antiques, and thus some well-to-do antique collectors will buy them because they look good on a shelf. I find this to be sad, since records are meant to be played, but I can understand it. The same things can be said in the other direction. I’ve had people offer to buy records I had regardless of condition just because they wanted a copy. Many of them didn’t even have record players.

    Overall, I think the markets for high-shelf records and low-shelf records are different. I think both have a mostly different pool of buyers. Ideally, their actions wouldn’t have the affect they do on each respective market, but that’s not the case. Both often raise the value of whatever record they buy.

    I personally am in both groups, which makes for an awkward record collection… I appreciate both perfect and imperfect records, which is why I have a great copy of Soul Station sitting next to a G/ G copy of 1568 on my shelf. I guess overall some people just have different tastes regarding the condition of their vinyl. Sly and the Family Stone said it best: “Different strokes for different folks.”

  • Abrasive_beautiful

    Great comment, TC. I am also younger, 23. I started from scratch into the record hobby about 6 years ago as a classic rock listener then an audio guy and now a jazz record collector/enthusiast for the last 3-4 years.

    I am very much on a budget but with expensive taste in records and only original or very early pressings satisfy. Having a Japanese pressing of a rare record does nothing for me, I’d rather save the money and stream the same recording through the same system.

    Back on topic…I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a G+/VG- copy of a record as rare as the The New Tradition. It’s rare enough that the condition issues can be forgiven to an extent. My original Soul Station is in G condition, literally covered in light scratches and a few long feelables but does not suffer from play wear/distortion and does not skip. (Skips, groove wear, and recycled vinyl are deal breakers) It gets regular play but many collectors would consider it unlistenable, I’m sure.

    Price is also a big factor. I can’t see $700 for any record, but to bring it to my price scale, a flawed but listenable copy of a record worth $200 could still be $80 and I’d be happy and thought I got a good deal. I don’t seek out rough copies to save money, but I also don’t automatically dismiss lesser copies if the price is agreeable. As long as I don’t overpay I can always resell and upgrade.

    Not sure how much mileage there is in that New Tradition, but you catch my drift..

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it either, although I probably wouldn’t drop $711 on it… But I don’t go for reissues, so maybe I’ll have to part with an amount like that if I want a copy at all. I’m not exactly sure what it is about original pressings… Maybe I just don’t want to think about the current state of popular music, and feel better about it listening to some wonderful relic from the past that was widely ignored in favour of whatever Pat Boone released that year. How can you think about Nicki Minaj when you’re listening to Sonny Rollins and know that the exact record you’re listening to was pressed in ’57? It’s a perfect connection to the past, and if you romanticize the past any, it’s a good means of escaping for about half an hour and washing that song about Nicki Minaj’s ass out of your ears.

    And, honestly, scratchy Blue Notes generally sound significantly better than they look. I have at least three Blue Notes that look like Freddy Krueger’s frisbees, and not one of them skips (I don’t tolerate skipping at all, unless it happens in the runout groove, in the lead-in groove, or perhaps during applause). In fact, they all sound fairly decent, with the worst-looking of the bunch even sounding pretty good. The quality of the pressings is just so good that a scratchy copy of anything from Blue Note’s glory days will likely play grade a full grade or two better than it looks. Prestige records often sound better than they look, too. I don’t know about Ad-Lib, though, and I bet that records on Transition are probably ones that you don’t want to gamble on, being styrene and all. My collection is too modest for me to really comment on those two… I have a tight budget, and I have to take what I can get, so maybe I’ll know soon enough. I only rarely can afford to treat myself to something really nice… I guess I’m lucky that I like a bit of noise with my music.

  • Turbo and A-B: very thoughtful posts that get to the heart of the issue. I’m in my mid 30s and I don’t have the same absolute rule about VG+ and up, especially on eBay with certain sellers. Some sellers undergrade and VG is more like VG+ or VG++. I’ve had great experiences and bad ones but I return the item if the grading is off. It’s a time waster but the odds of me stumbling upon the records that I’m seeking in the wild are very low (although it happens from time to time).

    And the days of buying 30 Blue Note first pressings for $30 apiece in NM/VG++ condition – this happened for me in the mid 2000s – are few and far between as popularity increases and online selling and information has become such a valuable resource. My guess is that many of the older gents and ladies on this page have similar experiences buying collections for very reasonable prices before the boom that we are seeing now and the idea of spending $700 for a record that they perceive to be in substandard condition smacks of absurdity. That may not be the case for someone who really wants that album and can’t find it in better condition for the price he or she is willing or able to pay.

    I’m also of the opinion that represses or later presses have no value to me. I’ll just stream the album rather than buy a repress or later press if I want to hear the music.

    I think that part of collecting anything involves a progression – it’s the same with my other hobby – watch collecting. As collectors increase their knowledge base and financial means over time, they seem to become more particular over originality and condition. This seems basic to me in all items of collectibility and it applies to jazz records as well.

    I’m not sure what my point is, but the topic is an interesting one to me and I appreciate hearing others points of view.

  • For one american dollar I would buy the beat up Jackie lp. For 700 american dollars I would buy various desirable records in great shape and probably be a lot more satisfied. 700 for a clean rare record is already crazy, 700 for this is something else. Ignorant, maybe.

  • @jrock (and the others) makes a great point. So much of this is relative to time, place, and even nostalgia. I’m in my 40s and I, too, caught the tail end of the days when finding the gems at bargain prices was still a reality. I’m sure most of us cats 40 and up remember when we could get these records for pennies on the dollar of what they fetch today. So naturally we look at a price tag in the high hundreds and say, “No effing way! I can get that record for $25!” Well, actually I *used to* be able to get it for $25; I’ve just been a little slow in shifting my crotchety and cynical perspective to accept the reality of the present-day market.

    I also collect current-day music on vinyl (mostly indie rock stuff), and you may think I’m crazy, but most of the time I buy the vinyl, file it still sealed on the shelf, and then stream it. I guess it’s forced me to admit that I’m a collector of the physical item a bit more than I am of the music. Of course I’ll play used records I buy, but anything new and sealed is most likely staying that way. Hearing the new Radiohead record through Spotify versus cracking the seal and decreasing the value of the physical artifact is just fine by me.

  • The different comments I’ve been reading lately are getting increasingly exotic.
    I have reached the ripe age of 72 and have been buying records (mainly jazz) for 60 of these years. Many of these records are among what is now called “The Holy Grail” i.e. Blue Notes (I have about 100 of them), Prestige/New Jazz (about 80), Riverside/Jazzland (about 50) and Impulse (about 50). I bought these sides to play them, not to put them on the shelf.

    Musically speaking,most of these received mediocre reviews by jazz critics in Down Beat and similar publications. I did not let that stop me from enjoying them.

    The labels presented their music in different ways. Just compare Coltrane’s Blue Train with the Prestige Coltranes to see what I mean. Van Gelders stamp is on both labels, so the difference must be on the producers side as well as the pressings themselves. The Blue Notes have a different, rougher sound. Back in the day we used to say that you could walk on a Blue Note and it still played just fine.

    It looks to me like the new crowd of afficionados like the ones above are more like stamp or coin collectors.

  • Great to read everyone’s perspective. The great thing about collecting is that there really isn’t a wrong way to do it.

    I’m in my Mid thirties and I don’t buy anything graded under VG+, and if it’s too expensive I’m okay with a nice reissue (e.g. Music Matters). I also play everything I buy.

    How do people feel about vintage 2nd pressings? For example NJ copy of Saxaphone Collossus vs a NY copy. I’d be happier with a VG++ NJ than a VG- NY.

  • ChicagoCollectorLite

    Great comments all! I’m in my 50’s and have been buying records since my teens, for the music. In the last few years I’ve gotten the collecting bug a bit but usually just revel in what a record I paid 5$ for is worth now. when I see that some of my sides are worth 3 or 4 hundred now it gets me excited for sure, but sell my first pressing of Jackie Mclean’s It’s Time??? Not on your life!!! 🙂

  • Abrasive_beautiful

    GST: To answer question about 2nd pressings, I know that a Blue Note with Lexington labels and one with 47 W63rd labels, both with deep groove, ear, and RVG are made from the exact same metalwork. They SHOULD sound exactly the same. I know this. The issue is that second pressings of this variety are often still priced at 70-90% value of an original in comparable condition. There’s a shop near me that has a Clifford Brown Memorial LP with split Lexington/NY labels, both sides deep groove in great shape for $185. Maybe an exaggerated example, but still, not cheap enough alternative to be worth it. I’d rather spend $185 over the course of two weeks and pick up 4-5 other nice originals.

  • This is all interesting.
    Although there are exceptions, I’m much more likely to let go of an album below VG condition. While they’re certainly cool to have and could still be played, I just don’t know that I’d listen to it much.
    For example, I have 4 of the 8 original Jazz:West 12″ LPs, but all in lesser condition. I’ve considered letting them go to fund the purchase of a cleaner LP I’d rather have–but haven’t done anything about it yet…
    I’m also generally happy with my Japanese issues and newer versions like Music Matters and AP. If nice older copies happen one way or another–that’s very exciting–but in the meantime, the others sound excellent and I enjoy them a lot.

  • Eh, I’m in the camp of buying stuff I want to listen to and, while not exactly an audiophile nut, am bummed out if something sounds crappy. I’ll happily take a clean, affordable Japanese reissue any day over a torched OG. But I also know that there are quite a few collectors out there who must have the original even if it’s not a perfect copy and will pay a surprising amount of money to not pay $2,000 for a Mint copy. It’s all weird and record collecting is a strange hobby/habit to be in.

  • Clifford….you know it’s a Habit…not a Hobby!!! 😉

  • Abrasive_beautiful

    Mikec….I can’t justify that one. It was VG-…

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    Yikes, over $2,000 for a VG- copy of Jazz in Silhouette? I guess people got excited because that particular pressing hasn’t been up for auction since 2010, according to Popsike… But that copy was in significantly better shape and didn’t even pass $1,000. I can kind of understand $711 for The New Tradition in VG- shape, regardless of how unfortunate that price is and how it doesn’t bode well for me, but over $2,000 for that Sun Ra in similar shape is ridiculous, even by my very generous standards. I guess people had been waiting for a copy for too long… Some kind of perfect storm brewed and overflowed its teacup.

  • In all reality that sun ra cover has only been on eBay a couple of times so it’s prob significantly more rare than the jackie

  • To answer GST’s question… I like having a fairly clean collection, so I would prefer a VG++ or NM copy of a second pressing rather than an original in VG- condition or worse. I think I’ll start selling what VG- lps I still have. There certainly seems to be a strong market for these.

  • This may shock some of you but some of us old timers buy jazz just to hear the music! After the rent is payed, the food is bought and the bills sent, we have enough left to buy a beat up blue note and are happy as hell to have it!

  • That particular early variant of Jazz in Silhouette is reallllly rare…

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    That pressing of Jazz In Silhouette appears to have only showed up about 5 times on eBay, according to Popsike. I don’t doubt it’s rarer than The New Tradition or Hank Mobley 1568… I don’t know too much about Sun Ra, but I know that he had a very limited audience even at his most popular, and in the 50’s… Yeah, pretty small audience. There can’t be more than a couple hundred copies out there with that cover, if that. And sure, his fans are really into him. I’m not surprised it passed $1,000 at all, but the record has never surpassed even $1,500 before. Six years is a long time to wait, and I’d say the price is more reflective of that than anything else. If there are, say, 20 copies like that in existence, then fine, over $2,200 is quite understandable. I saw a G copy of a Robert Johnson single go for over $4,000 last year because fewer than 20 copies were known to exist. However, if the number of copies of Jazz In Silhouette is around, say, 500… $2,200 for a VG- copy seems a bit steep, especially considering that that seller doesn’t use G+ as a grading, thus meaning that everything between G and VG is considered VG-… That’s a hell of a range, so this particular record could be quite scratchy; there’s a bit of mystery in what you’d really be getting. If the handful of other original copies that have popped up on eBay over the last few years had sold more recently, I’d guess that the price for this copy would probably be more around $1,500, tops. The copy sold in 2010 was described as VG+, and it didn’t top $1,000 (although it sounds like that guy mixed and matched because he had two original copies, and both of the records were out of their respective sleeves, judging from the description). I don’t know. Maybe that record really is worth $2,200+ in VG- condition now… I understand paying high prices for scratchy records- I’ve done so more than once- but there’s a certain point where you go from handing over several hundred for a scratched record to handing over a car for a scratched record. I can only defend dropping so much on records of mediocre condition… Going a bit into the four figure range like that should give you more than just bragging rights and a playable but somewhat noisy place filler.

  • Anders Wallinder

    Well regarding the Sun Ra it had several audio clips from the actual record – so no suprises here I say. The you can judge for yourself if it is good enough on the TT.

    The only thon with soundclips is that some jazz seller tend to offer true mono clips that that van sound awful when you get the LP home and play it on the regular TT

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    Yes, but the clips still leave over half an hour to the imagination. The seller seems to be pretty honest, so they’re probably representative of the thing as a whole, but you don’t necessarily know that for sure, and there was some noise in those clips that could be problematic in quieter sections (if the noise there is universal on the record). Although this is Sun Ra, so maybe there aren’t any particularly quiet sections… I’m not familiar with this recording. I’m not really qualified to talk on the matter, I guess… I’ve only at most paid about a fourth of the cost of that record for anything before, and I haven’t gotten into Sun Ra yet. But overall, the record has splits on both side of the cover, with the bottom being split about 9 inches, the record is described as really having only light scratches yet still warrants a VG-, there aren’t pictures really showing the extent of any of this light scratching, and the sound clips cover less than 10 minutes of the music. But the numbers for this pressing do seem to be low, so… I guess until I actually know how many are out there, I can’t say that this isn’t technically worth it, even though I’m quite sure that if I had that much money to spend, I would be hesitant to drop it on that. I require a bit more knowledge about this specific record to really say what it’s worth, but it still seems like that’s likely pushing it a bit.

    (As a side note, Discogs claims to have sold copies for under $20, which probably just shows how bad some sellers are at listing items for sale under the proper pressing on there. That said, some sellers are clueless, and apparently somebody did sell a VG copy of 1568 on there last year for $20, so… Who knows. When you don’t know what you’re selling, anything goes, I guess.)

  • Turbocharged Weasel

    Ooh… I stand down on my stance against the idea of the Sun Ra ever being worth that much in that shape:

    “Prior to the handmade Philadelphia & printed Chicago (El) Saturns and the Thoth Intergalactics (another sub-labelname that appeared on several labelprints) which mainly were made in the 70s and 80s, original SATURN RECORDS LPs from the 50s and 60s have straight 2 color labelprints (no images or logos, just text), don’t use the “El” on the labelprint and mostly have printed covers – yet they were often hand-assembled and also made in very small numbers (Sun Ra had special arrangements with the pressing plants to let him sometimes press 70 or 90 LPs only!).”

    With pressings being potentially that low, people just have to take what they can get. Sorry, I didn’t know it was that low.

  • I have many original saturns; including handpainted ones and early “pre-el Saturn” ones. This silkscreened “jazz in silhouette” is exceedingly rare – plus it’s one of his most iconic early records. I doubt I’ll ever one a copy of it unless I run into it locally or outside of eBay. $2000+ for a record is bonkers. $1000 is a bit crazy. And $900 is totally fine – which happens to be the most I’ve ever spent on a record haha.

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