Is There a “50-Year Rule” for Jazz Vinyl?

Three “victims” of the 50-Year Rule

A few weeks ago I got into an interesting email discussion with one of our loyal readers, Dave Sockel, who sent me an article about the plummeting market value of Elvis Presley collectibles, particularly old Elvis vinyl. Dave’s email came with the subject line: “A cautionary tale for all of us?” This was my reply:

“I remember reading something a few years ago — I think I posted on Jazz Collector — about a “50-year-rule” for artists. Basically, 50 years after the peak of the artist’s popularity and/or death, he or she is all but forgotten and the demand for their stuff starts to really erode. We’ve kind of seen it with the beboppers in Jazz, and a guy like Art Tatum. When I started collecting, Tatum records were collectibles. Not any more.

“You see it really clearly with popular artists. At one time Bing Crosby was the No. 1 artist in the country, making more money than any other entertainer. Today’s generation has literally never heard of him and, if they have, it would only be because of “White Christmas.” They would have no knowledge of his popularity. My son had some friends over in their 30s. I asked if they had ever heard of Billy Eckstine, who was a big star. My son was the only one that had ever heard of him, and that’s only because of me.”

Dave’s reply:

“Agreed.  I have been reading the archive online copies of Hentoff’s Jazz Review from 1958-1960.  Probably 2/3s of the record reviews and content is devoted to New Orleans or Dixieland type material with the rest touching on the moderns like Coltrane or Rollins.  You couldn’t give away the trad stuff today even to Goodwill. Good news is that the NY 23 copy of Blue Train should be dropping in value soon, right?”

It’s an interesting topic because, clearly, so many of us here in the Jazz Collector community are heavily invested – literally and figuratively – in artists and music that could easily apply to this 50-year rule. The records that have established themselves as the most “collectible” of the era seem only to be going up in value, with no end in sight.

Will there eventually be a drop off in these records. It’s hard to see, frankly, given that the demand remains high and the supply will always be limited. But it’s hard to generalize because there seem to be exceptions to every rule: Charlie Parker Savoys don’t have the same cachet as they once did, but the 10-inch Dials are still in tremendous demand. Same with artists such as Lester Young, Stan Getz, Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins: While their entire catalogues are perhaps not as prized as they once were, there are certain records that still command top dollar and are continuing to go up in value.

Is the Jazz Collector market more like an art market, where the “50-year rule” does not apply? Or will Hank Mobley 1568 to the way of Elvis or Bing Crosby? I happen to think it’s mostly the former – value will continue to increase for the higher end collectibles. Thoughts?

36 comments

  • I don’t think it will drop. First the audience is very different from that of rock n roll collectors and second the music tends to age better. Early bop can still challenge the listener, and will most likely continue to do so in the future. There is also the cover art which in some cases (e.g. Warhol covers) appear to drive the price of the album at much as the music. This isnt to say that there won’t be a drop in some albums but overall the market appears to be healthy (after all there are a lot of follower of this site under the age of 40).

    Last but not least there will always be prized pieces from any era. The early jazz/blues 78 market seems strong as ever and first pressing Elvis Sun 45s appear to command big dollars.

    Side note: if anyone doesn’t want their old 10″ bop records anymore I’ll take them off your hands! 🙂

  • Gregory the Fish

    I agree with GST for the most part.

    And yes, the SUN records still command high prices. I recently found an elvis SUN in a box of discarded 78s that the shop owner had missed. sold it for $500+!

    Side note: I’ll take anything GST passes on! 🙂

  • For me it’s all about the music. I am part of the Jazz Collector Community and I love it! I am NOT part of the Jazz INVESTORS Community. My ears are the determining factor, not my long term portfolio! I really don’t understand the idea of forgetting why the music is the beauty we seek. I know my way of thinking is unrealistic and plain naive to a lot of you. Pop, Click and hiss; yours truly…. Art.

  • It’s kind of hard to predict what future cultural influences will do to collectible lp prices. Sony just announced after a 28 year break they are going back into vinyl production. A spokesman said new vinyl sales were around 500 million last year and they expect it to continue to grow into a billion dollar market. Whether or not these new customers will effect the collector’s market will be interesting.

  • I like to think that jazz has a certain cache, a history all its own, given the personal experiences of its artists, and the time in which these great artists practiced their craft. If not for jazz, rockabilly, rock n roll, blues, etc. (and the rich history these genres reveal), what do we have given the musical bilge water of today?

    It’s like Scotch whisky … it’s not for everyone, it can be an acquired taste, but for it’s devotees, there is pure passion. It’s timeless, and owning and listening to a piece of history is just fantastic. If the day ever arrives that BN1568 in EX condition is sold for $250, then count me in!

  • The mention of Bing Crosby prompts me to trot out an old chestnut for your amusement.

    Question: “What is the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney?”

    (Answer – and here it’s imperative to use a Scottish accent:) “Bing sings – but Walt Disney!”

  • I think there is definitely something to it. See this NY Times article from 1981 about jazz vinyl collectors: http://www.nytimes.com/1981/02/08/arts/in-pursuit-of-rarities-among-jazz-records.html

    I think I’ve linked to it here before, because I find it endlessly fascinating. While there are references to the fact that Coltrane was (in 1981) more collectible than Louis Armstrong, the article also contains this quote: “The auction bidder of today will fast for a week to pay for early Verve and for all of Clef and Norgran. The artists he covets? Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Dizzy, Bird, Getz, Tatum, Stitt, Tal Farlow, Bud Powell Torme, Krupa, Rich, Peterson, Teagarden.” Not exactly the same as the “coveted artists” of today, and Al has certainly posed the question about whether Norgran or Clef are collectible many times. The list of 21 rarities is interesting too. Notice that few of them are from the ’60s – most are from the early ’50s. Not surprising, as the mid-60s would not have seemed that “long ago” in 1981, while early 10″ records from the early ’50s would have seemed more like collectible antiques. And, of course, what we consider to be modern collectibles today – like Strata East pressings, example – aren’t even the conversation in 1981, because they were current at the time.

    I suppose the main reason while the jazz collecting world has stabilized a bit – and we may feel that the 50 year rule doesn’t apply so much anymore – is that the genre peaked in popularity decades ago. Thus, even the more “recent” collectibles are 30+ years old, so the entire field has been more or less set for some time now. There hasn’t been a hugely popular current jazz artist since . . . I’m not sure when. So, in a way, the entire field of collectible jazz artists are either in, or approaching, the 50 year window, and within that field, the true collectibles have been set for some time.

  • Joe L. Thanks for the link. It seems to me most if not all of the titles mentioned are still collectable today (they’re certainly on my want list) and can command a pretty penny in excellent condition.

    I particularly like this sentence, “Here are 21 Jazz LP’s on 21 labels that ordinarily command prices above $30 in the jazz auction game.” If only I wasn’t 2 at the time!

    Also no mention of Impulse? Perhaps to “modern” to be thought of as collectable in 1981?

  • “Is the Jazz Collector market more like an art market, where the “50-year rule” does not apply? Or will Hank Mobley 1568 to the way of Elvis or Bing Crosby? I happen to think it’s mostly the former – value will continue to increase for the higher end collectibles. Thoughts?”

    not at all. this genre is a world unto itself. that being said, i squarely identify with art’s comment above (“For me it’s all about the music. I am part of the Jazz Collector Community and I love it!”).

    the sole purpose for my visits here is completely music related. for every keen, intelligent collector here for the latest tick of market values, have at it.

    somewhat akin to housing in most markets, buyers globally flush with funding from a variety of sources will stop at no ceiling currently to get what they deem as “authentic”. surely the liberty price spikes tell us that…

    that’s before we even begin discussing my buyer friends at disk union who have literal blank checks from their most important customers to land the big fish. all this somehow, ironically, devalues the experience to me.

  • Interesting topic. All I know is that I don’t see my record collection as my retirement funds…who can predict the future anyways?

  • I have over 15,000 baseball autographs. I guess that would be my retirement fund. Wait, I’m already retired.

    You know, those old 78 Paramount Blues records by artists no one has heard of still has huge collecting value. The problem with said 50 year rule is, Bing Crosby music isn’t much in vogue these days, but just listen to Art Pepper. That is just as chill today as it was in 1958. Bing, not so much.

  • In prior posts, we have all seen emotions run high in the debate of what constitutes the actual value of jazz records – the music or the financial aspect – and folks from both camps are represented here. I believe the speculation comes down to will this music be relevant in the future? Bing Crosby holds little relevance today for most people under 30, and older Rock and Roll artists are also slipping out of relevance. Doo Wop 45s used to command high prices, but as that audience passes on, the demand for those records is on the decline. IMHO, jazz music of the 50’s/60’s has a transcendent quality not found in crooner music, or trad jazz, or even classical music. Rock music is still being “created” or produced, so one could argue it is evolving, and therefore so is its transcendent quality. It is interesting to read the “100 essential album” lists posted by Amoeba or Business weekly – always including Miles Davis Kind of Blue and John Coltrane Love Supreme, but rarely are any other jazz albums mentioned.
    Jazz music of the 50’s / 60’s remains of interest to the Millennial restaurant owners I know, and I often comment on their music selection they choose to stream for their own customers. (Aside from my kids, these are the only Millennials I have regular conversations with). I think jazz will continue to speak to people, even if it is not being “created” or produced in the mainstream. The artists we love and value here in this community reached far beyond themselves and created timeless music that speaks to the soul and reach across generations with ease. The relevance of the music they have left us is apparent to the Millennials I know.
    As for market value, I believe that many of the people dropping thousands of dollars on an original New York 23 Blue Note probably are not overly concerned whether the value goes up or down, but more concerned with owning an original first issue, for originality sake alone. Those who are primarily investing in jazz records to make a profit in the future, well, who can say. I wish them all luck. As a lifelong collector, I have always considered my 3000+ jazz album collection priceless because of the value the music has brought to my life, minus the pops and clicks Art!

  • Vocal music doesnt have the same timeless quality as its instrumental counterpart, so even Bob Dylan is beginning to seem dated but somehow Miles albums made when Bob was a kid in minnesota are still fresh. Also I would guess since 1981 that avant garde and free jazz collectibility has really risen and helped displace the older Bop and Swing dominance. Blue Note, purveyor of hard bop and some crazier offerings, is in a perfect position as a result of this shift away from 30s and 40s jazz. Benny Goodman sounds old and foggy, Miles Davis does not. Its as simple as that (and I like Benny).

  • Modern Jazz has never been a widely popular music. The decline of popularity is not a concern for Jazz ! But popularity has not always to do with collecting…(who knows Hans Coper, outside the little pottery collectors community ? And see what prices he makes on auctions) Some artists value are declining, as an usual market rule. Collecting field will probably be narrower. But i bet there will still be a handful of wealthy Jazz fans who will pay top prices for untemporal Prestige, Riverside, Blue Note and some other desirable records.

  • Great points from everyone. My random musings. I tend to look at it from a number of factors that are driving up prices: 1) Vinyl resurgence. More turntables = more buyers. Once this trend reverts, I would expect less upward price pressure. 2) Hipness/Cool factor for old collectibles: See point #1. Hardest to predict. 3) Global market and price transparency: Anyone with a phone is now a potential buyer. Much different that the secretive world referenced in the NY Times article of guys swapping lists in the mail. Layer in rising middle class incomes especially in Asia and Russia. This all points to a continued upward demand. 4) Buyer demographics: Al would have the best data on this. Are most visitors to the Jazz Collector site middle age guys from western Europe and the US? Have we diversified the pool? 5) Opportunity for new entrants: When I started this obsession 13 years ago, you could still get some exciting collectibles for $30-$50. It now seems that everything is priced off the charts. Nearly every record store owner I speak to bemoans that the inbound supply of decent jazz records continues to decline. Without a vibrant way for people to get into this hobby, it makes it harder to build and sustain a market.

    (FWIW: Since sending the original article to Al, I finally bit the bullet and got insurance on the higher end pieces of my collection.)

  • Gregory the Fish

    important to remember: bing crosby was a pop artist. he was carefully crafted to appeal to the mass market at the time. he was the justin bieber of his day, whether you like it or not. jazz artists, at least the ones valued musically, were not pop artists, typically.

  • DevastationWagon

    Demographics matter a lot. The boomers are now 55 to 73 (or so). Millions of middle class boomers are currently in that sweet spot for collecting where discretionary income (late career, mortgage paid off!) and free time (no kids at home!) meet. They are also the wealthiest and largest demographic, and its unlikely any other will be as wealthy, and impossible any will be as large, for a very long time. As they transition to downsizing and eventually death, supply may start exceeding demand for jazz records, sports collectables, rare books, etc. New collectors will get the bug (I’m 36), but I expect we’ll see a price correction as boomers join their jazz heroes (Sonny Rollins excepted) in the great club in the sky.

  • As far as Bing goes most people my age (29) know him as a guy who used to beat his children and who gets referenced by irreverent cartoons in this manner (him singing christmas songs while his children stare nervously at him). Sad, true, and given how I feel about pop music and children abusers, deserved.

  • Gregory the Fish

    ethan: also accurate, and a good point.

  • Here we go again……Mr. Crosby dug jazz, who else had to have Eddie Lang back him up? His signing influenced everybody! To know Bing is to appreciate what he brought to the jazz. By the way youngsters, have you heard him sing” Hey brother can you spare a dime” ? Please let your EARS teach and your intellect will follow. Pop, click, and hiss yours truly Art.

  • It seems to bit a of a bubble, for certain types of trophy items (think Blue Note). This is also the current situation for other types of collectibles, such as modern art (think Basquiat). Whereas music-loving collectors previously shaped the market, we now have investors and trophy seekers to contend with. As a result, the high profile items fly away, and everything else is consigned to the so-called second tier. We know how this story ends, don’t we?

  • for a while the Norman Granz output, esp. with DSM cover art were highly collectible. At present demand for Granz’ productions is definitely low. A Bud Powell trio recording on Norgran/Verve (or RCA Victor) fetches not even half the price of a comparable Blue Note. So there is the Blue Note magic, the result of very clever marketing by Cuscuna and Lourie. With Blue Note the exception, the fifty years rule could very well prove to be valid.
    Would Clifford Allen have ideas in this respect, regarding the later output of Savoy, which included avantgardists like Charles Moffett, Tchicai, Bill Barron, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon?

  • Brian Anderson

    I agree with many of the posts here. The music of the 40’s evolved out of the Dance Band sound and as such was kind of the equivalent of “pop music” which by its very nature relegates itself to a certain time and era and mindset. I don’t think the inventive creative music that began to appear in the early fifties and went on through until the “fusion” “smooth Jazz” craze reared its ugly head will ever lose its attraction to collectors. This music challenges the listener and is rewarding to listen to. So much of the extended cuts on Savoy LPs for instance (Yusef Lateef LPs, Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Mobley etc etc) retain a freshness and excitement that will never go away. The production values were terrific with most of the great Savoys being engineered by Van Gelder. These Lp’s will stay desirable for decades for the true lover of great Jazz. Also what keeps so much of the Blue Note catalogue at a high value is the tremendous quality and variety of the great music. (Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Hancock’s Inventions and Dimensions,Hutcherson’s Happenings, Hill’s Black Fire, everything Lee Morgan recorded etc etc etc) Much of the “new Jazz’ of today has not even begun to catch up to the inventiveness and musicality of much of the 60’s Blue Notes. I say the values will hold because the music is in rarefied air.

  • 78 rpm prices are much higher in 2017 than they were in 2007.
    Louis on OKeh, Bix, early Duke, Django on Swing label.

  • Gregory the Fish

    hey art,

    FYI: disagreeing with you doesn’t make one wrong. calm down, please.

  • There is something to be said for collecting what you could not afford as a teenager. For a long time, Duesenburgs and Cadiliac V16 were among the most expensive classic cars. Prices were driven by people who lusted after them when young, and could finally afford them when they (and the cars) were older. But the buyers started to move on, and other cars have since eclipsed these early examples of automotive greatness. Sure there are some from the period that have retained, or even increase in value (Bugatti, Mercedes SSKL, various high end Alfa Romeo, Delahaye, Delage models), but for the most part, cars of this period have plateaued in value. Now the rising prices are in 50s-60s muscle cars and Euro exotics. Ferrari tends to top most auction lists, and they are all post war and all lusted after by kids growing up in the 50s and 60s.

    What does this mean for vintage Jazz ? I personally think the market is expanding. Vinyl resurgence has led some to investigate first pressings, adding to demand. Asian collectors have venerated US jazz for quite some time, and as more Asians enter the middle and upper middle classes they will seek to emulate the taste and collecting style of their forebearers. It is not uncommon in Asia for a prized title to be played once for a digital rip, then sealed and displayed on the wall as a “trophy”. Vintage jazz in general is cool and hip. It’s sound is used as background for advertising and other media. We continue to see stories online and in print about the timeless nature of the music. When was the last time there were several award winning documentaries or movies with Jazz or Jazz artists as the subject ? The rate of appreciation may slow, but I think the long term trend is still up.

  • Gregory The Fish

    rl1856:

    i’m curious about this sentence: It is not uncommon in Asia for a prized title to be played once for a digital rip, then sealed and displayed on the wall as a “trophy”.

    how do you know that? i’m not saying you’re wrong. i’m genuinely asking. do you know a lot of japanese collectors, or are you one yourself?

  • GTF- relayed anecdotally too often to be more than just an isolated occurrence. My statement was not meant to be derogatory, merely an observation without judgment.

    Also, the 2nd to last sentence of my post should be: When before now was the last time there were several award winning documentaries or movies with Jazz or Jazz artists as the subject ?

  • Gregory the Fish

    thanks for the response, rl1856.

    i don’t know about the documentaries. probably never, i would guess.

    i was just wondering, i didn’t think you were passing judgement. i know some people that do that with dollar bin records for fun, but $2k+ records? that’s madness, to me!

  • Anders Wallinder

    Well GTF why is it so stupid to RIP? The LP stays in the condition it is and you can enjoy the sound quality digitally.

  • Gregory the Fish

    sigh. anders, i didn’t say it was stupid. i don’t think it is.

  • Anders Wallinder

    Sorry GTF I misinterprated you in that case 😉 I have in some occasions ripped from vinyl if there is no CD to be found. I like to have my music in both analogue and digital form.

  • Gregory the Fish

    anders: as do i. and no worries! i always have my ipod with me, loaded with all of my jazz favorites. i just can’t imagine never listening to my records. half the fun is seeing all the little specs like address, DG, etchings, etc, as you unsleeve it and place it on the platter!

  • I have followed your site for a number of years without comment but I thought a few thoughts from a southern hemisphere collector might be of interest. I have collected for over 50 years mainly on price so I could hear as much of this wonderful music as possible. Financially my best purchase was in the late 70’s when I picked up an original Tina Brooks 4041 for $8. I have found the fun in my collecting covers all the things mentioned above and more. Labels, Artists , cover art, series etc. Things like the Argo kangaroo split pak ( which you covered some years back ) which has a further chapter in that after the original centre split design Argo changed manufacture to continuous cardboard fold cover that had two compartments inside so they could continue with the promo 45 offer. The next year(1959) Argo did 12 DJ promo pressings on multi coloured vinyl which are also great to collect and like the split packs can still be found for at a reasonable price.
    ( 7 Jazz , 4 R&B , and 1 easy listening title). Finally I would mention that I have always felt the Limelight releases from 1965-66 were very collectable The jazz series from LM82001 until 82034 ( give or take a couple of titles) have what I would describe as a high water mark in cover design with a cross section of great music ( again give or take a couple). Again these can be picked up at a reasonable price Would love to know if anybody agrees with me.

  • ripping a prized lp worth thousands and then subsequently displaying it while streaming the rip is not uncommon at all at high end kissas. i first saw it when i lived in japan for a period and it continues to this day. noted it @ jazz spot into 90 days ago… it’s about landing the big fish there.

  • Anders Wallinder

    I agree also 😉

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