Comic-al, But not Very funny

A reader sent me a copy of this sobering article: Those Comics in Your Basement? Probably Worthless. It tells the story of the plight of collectors of comic books who have seen the collections vanish into virtual nothingness. There’s the story of one collector who thought his collection was worth about $23,000 when, in reality, it was worth probably less than $500. Of course, there are the exceptions — the beautiful, pristine, blue-chip first issues. We’ve seen a similar path in the jazz vinyl market, where the run-of-the-mill pressings are now pretty much worthless, while the high-end collectibles seem to getting more and more valuable as the years pass by. But we also see that the list of what is deemed “collectible” changes as well, although the original Blue Notes seem to be invulnerable to any downturns. Some records by more traditional artists, thinking of the Verve, Clef and Norgran labels for example, seem to have declined in value and/or interest among collectors over the years that we’ve been watching the market. What do you think? Time to start thinking about selling that old vinyl while the demand is still high, or will the high-end collectibles continue to be a solid investment, not just musically but financially as well? Or do you even care as long as you have the music? Seems to me, anyone paying collectible prices for rare records these days is not just doing it for the music, but with the expectation that the records will at least maintain their value and, hopefully, continue to increase in value.

19 comments

  • From a strict financial point of view (which is not mine !!) collecting jazz records will be very simple in the future : young collector generation will focus only on a few items. There will no longer be completist. To sum it up :

    -Blue Note 4000 and 1500 will remain highly sought after. Probably will increase in value.

    -Then Prestige 7000 -7100, then some Riverside, a few Savoy, , a few PJ, World Pacific,

    – A very few Atlantic, Epic, Columbia, Dot, Decca (i’d say less than 5- 10 titles per catalogue)

    -Some confidential or “one shot” labels like Jazz West Jaro, Transition, Studio 4, Progressive, AdLIb etc..)

    Large parts of Riverside,Savoy, Atlantic, Norgran, Clef, are, IMo, no longer collectible.

    Just ideas…can be wrong. Let’s not forget that what makes a record in demand is a sublte mix of various elements : Musical quality, Label, Session leader, sidemen, Cover design, personal tastes, economic situation etc…

  • I agree with Michel.

  • I’m an optimist, and I believe that many artists and labels now largely ignored (Savoy, Clef, Norgran, Atlantic, etc) will be picked up on as time goes by – there seems to be a general opinion that 50’s-60’s Jazz is a thing of the past, and the only worthwhile endeavors in jazz have got to take a new direction (implying that the older jazz will be forgotten) – I think the jazz we here love is classic, and has as much chance of being forgotten as do Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Doyle (etc) that fuel the demand for first editions of their work
    That being the case, there will IMHO continue to be those who value the music, and therefore the original releases of that music.
    Don’t sell — buy!!!

  • I don’t care if my collection increases or decreases in value. The records are all for me, for the rest of my life to enjoy. I will never ever sell a record. I try to buy the 1st pressing of every record of course, but not as an investment, but rather to enjoy for myself. So, when I listen to my original 1st pressing of Quiet Kenny 30 years from now, I will enjoy the music and read the liner notes with a glass of bourbon, not for a second thinking about selling it, or how much I could get for it. Real collectors buy their records for the music and the feeling of a 1st pressing, cherishing it forever, not for an investment and thinking of the money you can make selling it on. Putting it on the shelf, not touching or playing it, that’s just nuts.

  • My dilemma is if I am here 30 years from now it will be a record so do I just keep playing them and enjoy and hope who ever inherits them does the same or sell and make a few pounds for the rest of my old age?

  • For some of you long time collectors, what happened to the Dixieland and Big Band eras? I recall hearing that these were once sought after, but now it seems that you can’t give that stuff away (at least looking at the inventory at my local record stores).

    Was it ever all that hot?

  • I’ve noticed that everything, not just collectible records, goes through cycles of boom and bust. One thing I’ve learned is that if something keeps going straight up at a frenzied pace, beyond any reasonable connection to its past appreciation, the bust cycle will be hard and fast. Many people who bought at the last housing top used the same rationalizations as I see being made about record collecting. “I’m buying the house to live in, not as an investment,” was the common mantra for those paying prices that had no connection with reality. “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” is required reading for those who want insight into the behavior of large groups. As the behavior of a single individual in a particular set of circumstances is difficult to predict, think about the problems with predicting the behavior of large groups.

    For those like myself, who really want a record that sounds excellent, think about the chances of obtaining a vintage jazz record that didn’t undergo permanent groove damage from being played on a vintage turntable, perhaps tracking at five grams. It is largely a matter of luck that the record didn’t sustain damage that can’t be seen in a visual inspection. Then think about how many sellers offer a no questions asked, money back guarantee. There aren’t many. The people at “Jazz Collector” are one of the few sellers who stand behind their records.

    As far as predicting whether we’re nearing the end of a cycle and collectors should switch into sell mode, it is impossible to tell. We have seen tremendous price increases over the last two years. But these manias can last much longer than most people think. If we see certain labels and records keep going up, it’s a sign that the rally has longer to run. There may be brief setbacks that cause some people to panic and sell. They, however, may be fake-outs in a continuing record bull market.

    I just want to add that these comments are all from my humble opinion, which is based on years of observing the behavior of a variety of collectible markets. If one can draw any conclusion, it is the impossibility of drawing any conclusions.

  • DaveS very politely put I don’t go back quite that far the only “Big Bands” I have are Artie Shaw, Count Basie , And someone called Specs Powell and im sure you have heard those, oh I have a Quincy Jones featuring among others Art Farmer, Charlie Mingus & Paul Chambers may be more orchestra than big band!

  • Fredrik, I agree with you.I buy for me,to listen to,to savor the sounds.

  • Well, having owned a retail business for a while selling records and having bought and sold records for a while, at 61 I find myself acquiring 1 record for every 10 I de-acquisition. A few titles that escaped me over the years I try for every now and then, but I find myself following the new mode, which is downloading or finding something on youtube and listening to it.
    Original pressings are/were once my goal, however you really can’t take it with you. I enjoy the records I keep. I agree that declining value for lables that are not named Blue Note has a lot to do with my selling. I remember the rage some years back when all the youngsters avidly sought free Jazz.” The BYG label, Strata-East, etc. and it became like tulip mania. And a lot of the stuff wasn’t that good. I even though I might be labeled a heretic, I feel a lot of the music on Blue Note is okay, but not always that astounding. Good but not great..
    Yet I have now three tenors, a saxello, a curved soprano, an alto and baritone saxophone(s), so I guess I am collecting saxes.’Once a collector…

  • With free jazz, which is my main collecting area, its prices keep going up. Even ESPs and Actuels, which had a brief dip in value upon reissue, seem to be back at a medium to high price point. I would say that the classics of the genre in good condition will always hold value, and the rarities will remain rare (though occasionally fluctuating). We’ll not likely see barrel-bottom prices on Byard Lancaster or Marion Brown records ever again, even if people realize that some of these titles are fairly common. That said, I don’t mind the few occasions that I’ve overpaid – because frankly, this is music that I value on a personal level very highly.

  • Christopher Brown

    I think that personal enjoyment of the music has to be the predominant reason to purchase a record rather than investment. What’s encouraging about the market is that mediocre Blue Notes don’t go for crazy money. If all the Jimmy Smith, 3 Sounds, and Stanley Turrentine albums were going for hundreds of dollars, then i’d worry about the market being irrationally inflated. On the other hand, 4017 (Horace Silver Quintet) is an album I enjoy quite a bit and yet despite its catalog number and the address printed on it, it can be had for $30 or $40 on ebay on a routine basis. This is a better environment however than an album increasing in value simply because the label is blue note.

  • Well this is an interesting subject that has been discussed before.

    Myself I’m torn between thinking that Bop will go into oblivion like Big Bands and Dixie when the generation that grew up with Bebop will no longer be with us. Collections of Jazz LPs come out in the market regularly and the good stuff so far get sucked up really really fast. Will it continue?

    I guess and hope that Miles and Trane etc. is timeless music that will continue to find listeners. I mean after all it is the best music in the world IMHO 😉

    However I can agree with that less and less titles get to be really collectable and some artists just fade away like Bob Brookmeyer and Al Cohn. This is sad in a way but I guess that you have to be really into jazz and heard o lot of Miles and Trane to move on and discover these smaller artists.

  • I don’t think there was ever a strong collectors demand for big bands and dixieland. However there still is a serious market for rare blues and early jazz items and for some early modern stuff on 78 rpm records. So, in one way or another almost every era seems to remain attractive to small groups of avid collectors. The focus within those eras will sometimes shift though, so some of us can stay busy spending money. For example, the field of 50’s modern jazz saw a recent increase of interest in UK Esquire releases of Prestige/New Jazz material. In the future we might see a greater demand for alternative covers, in some cases a switch in preference from mono to stereo releases, a new fetish with a previously unnoticed detail with a certain label, a sudden upgrade in status of promo releases etc… The trick is to find one or more little specialties of your own before anyone else does. Whatever happens, the mind of the true collector knows no rest and will always come up with something new to keep us craving for more! Anyway, if you collect it should be for the pleasure of the music and the object, not for investing – at best monetary worth is a by-product, nothing more. And remember: buying less in demand but great records for little money is as much or actually much more a part of collecting than spending a small fortune on an ‘insanely rare item’.

  • I collect mostly for the music and the fun of having originals. I have never paid more than 30$ for a record, so I need to have extreme patience while waiting for certain things to pop up. I’ve come close to getting and original mono of Don Cherry’s “Symphony for Improvisers”, a favorite of mine, with the New York, New York label, and RVG stamp, for 25$ or so two times, but got sniped at the last second. It will come. “A Love Supreme” came, after all, for 19$ in pristine original condition. So I collect, but not at collectible prices. That’s my game. Slow and Steady.

  • Well collecting should be all about the music…or IS it? I think collecting is in many cases not just about the music. The object is just as important. I mean there is a nice feeling about a first pressing but most people can get access to most music in acceptable quality by buying a CD or using Spotify. Some argue that a first pressing sounds better but is it worth $3000 BlueTraneDollars just to listen to a first original pressing that is bound to have some noise, pops and other distortions?

    And speaking of objects which collector can honestly say that depreciation of the prices paid for objects does not bother them at all? Especially if the prices were quite steep to begin with. I myself have collected CDs since 1986 and sure I feel that it is sad that many of my CDS are worth next to nothing today. Sure the music is still on them but if they are ripped you create a digital copy that work just as good for most people.

  • I think the older albums are also about their journey,who originally owned them,where they came from and so on a bit sentimental i know. My own collection or most of them,had one owner he was a tenor sax player late 40s early 50s,and i know he bought them for the music it just so happens that some are now quite valuable

  • I love the music, but it is the thrill of the hunt that has me collecting vinyl. I agree with others that finding a gem for $20 is more exciting than spending $1,000 on a known commodity, exchanged between like-minded parties. As long as I keep my top-end per record expenditure down to $100-200 once or twice a year, I feel that I can weather any downturn.

  • I’m also a fan of free jazz. It wasn’t too long ago that I made inquiries to a rare jazz record dealer about buying some Coltrane first pressings from the 60s. To my disappointment, an employee said that they don’t deal with records worth less than $100! Now, perhaps six months later, I have seen the price of some Coltrane free jazz first pressings exceed $100 to a surprising extent. As atonality gradually became an accepted part of classical music, I now recognize elements of free jazz in contemporary jazz pieces.

    My jazz education began with a trip to see the “Chicago Art Ensemble” at a place in Manhattan called Symphony Space. I don’t know if that wonderful building, with its ornate interior architecture, still stands. But my jazz education went backwards from free jazz to more traditional styles.

    For some time, it was difficult for me to appreciate jazz that wasn’t a little out, so to speak. As I aged, I not only started enjoying older jazz styles, but developed great reverence for particular artists. I also realized that every stylistic change was considered radical by the traditionalists of the time. I believe that Jazz music has intrinsically been a venue for experimentation.

    Even as far back as the music of the great Bix Beiderbecke, one can detect stylistic innovation. He has such a delicate, sweet sound that even comes through the poor recordings of the day. I would have been unable to appreciate Bix when I was young. His style was too radical for my then underdeveloped aesthetic appreciation!

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