What Makes a Collectible a Collectible?

In another post (A Visit To A Record Store, Part 2), Jan poses an interesting question, addressed to experienced and serious collectors: What do you consider to be collectible and how do you decide if a second pressing of a record is collectible or not?

I am not, I must admit, among the most serious of collectors. I know this sounds odd coming from the guy who writes about jazz records every day, pores over eBay listings to decide which records to put in the Price Guide and writes articles under the headline “Confessions of a Vinyl Addict.”

However, and this gets to Jan’s point: The copy of Saxophone Colossus in my collection is a Bergenfield, N.J. pressing. Same with Tenor Madness. I have the Bergenfield copies, they are in great condition, they have yellow labels, this is enough for me. I have the music in an early pressing, it sounds great, I’m OK. Would I like a New York pressing of both of these records? Yes. Would I ever obsess about it? No. Would I ever pay the going rate on eBay for them? Not a chance.

The people I’ve always considered to be “serious collectors” wouldn’t accept these second pressings and are constantly hunting for the original pressings and would not be content with anything but an original. I do think, however, things are changing and the

characteristics of what people might consider to be a “collectible” record are expanding. I say this because we’re seeing it happen every day on eBay. Later Blue Notes and Prestiges, in particular, are selling for several hundred dollars, which, to me, is definitely a collectible price. In my view, a Bergenfield copy of Saxophone Colossus is a fine collectible. I’m proud to have it in my collection and I do believe it will go up in value rather than down in value.

The other point I’d like to make about this is that it’s still about the music. I’d rather have a second pressing or third pressing or Japanese reissue of music I love, rather than an original pressing of music that doesn’t move me. But that’s me. What about you other “experienced” and “serious” collectors out there? How would you respond to Jan’s question?

14 comments

  • Four factors that makes ajazz album a collectible jazz album (not in order of importance !) :

    1 – The label
    2 – The artist and sidemen playing the session
    3 – The quality of the music recorded
    4 – The combination of one (or more) of the first three factors with one (or more) of those three factors !!!

    For example : “Saxophone Collossus”
    *Label : prestige 447 W, top collectible, because fines covers and that RVG sound
    *Artist and sidemen : the very top, no more comments are necessary
    *The quality of the music : the very top, no more comments are necessary

    I think this applys in many case… but not all, of course

  • Here’s my funny(or sad)story re:collectibles. Back in the late 70’s I had the dubious pleasure of trading records with one dealer(deceased),who was based in LA. I say “dubious”,because at the time I was simply trading him jazz lps that,for one reason or another,didn’t pass my “keeper” test. These included items like Alto Madness,Making The Changes(McLean),Al Haig on Counterpoint,Tour De Force(Rollins)- all original pressings in great shape. What I would trade them for would be,say,a Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley and a Carmen Mcrae on Decca. For me-at the time-I was getting lps that I could not buy off the rack and WANTED(my defintion of ‘collectible’),for records that I seldom played. Of course,being a ‘newbie” to the biz,I had no idea that collectors in Japan and elsewhere were then(as now)paying thousands of dollars for those same lps. I’d ship 5 lps at a time and get my 2 or 3 vocal prizes back. Boy,what a deal I was getting! It wasn’t too long,though,before I understood that what I was getting was SCREWED! The same records that I shipped off to my trading partner-Me:”You know,it’s really not that great an album. Response-“That’s ok,I can probably use it. And those lps have the yellow label with the fireworks display on top,right? Good. I’ll ship you the Sammy Davis on Decca tommorrow.”-those traded records are the ones I’d love to come across today,because they are collectible(defined in dollars). But,as my “tale of woe” shows,it’s not always the case. And what’s treasured,as always,remains a matter of taste.

  • My rule of thumb has been to collect only what I like. It doesn’t matter if an lp is worth $600 if I’m never going to listen to it. (Unless of course I can buy low and sell high to finance lps I do want). Other than that caveat I agree 100% with what Al says. I’m totally fine with 2nd pressings, etc. I’ve been able to accumulate a nice collection where the vinyl is fine save for the fact it’s a later pressing, or maybe the cover had a defect. And yes, it’s also a financial decision. I could spend that $600 on a first pressing Blue Note, or I could buy several 2nd pressings. I don’t think there’s a “right” decision for everyone. You just have to weigh your options, and your preferences and make the right decision for yourself.

  • Are you looking for a copy of every BN 1st pressing, are you collecting with an eye towards investment or are you interested in the music first with other considerations after ?

    For me it is music first with other issues secondary. Heck I’m even investigating a mono phono cartridge to get even closer to the original sound !

    A clean later pressing often sounds better than a scratched and noisy first pressing. There are limits to this however- essentially don’t get too far away from a 1st pressing. 2 examples to illustrate my point. 1) Chet Baker- Chet New OJC vs VG 1st pressing. 1st pressing sounds much better even through the noise- more ambience, better treble detail and air. OJC had a black silent background, but sounded veiled and closed in. 2) Donald Byrd Mustang- VG+ NY vs Mint Liberty pressing. Picked up the Liberty from Ebay and it was better than described. It arrived literaly in Mint condition and sounded much better than my VG+ 1st pressing. Quiet, dynamic, extended. The NY had some background noise and the extreme treble was rolled off slightly. The Liberty is more enjoyable to listen to.

    My rule of thumb is no more than 2 generations from a 1st pressing (Lex Ave to 61st, or 63rd to Liberty).

    Japanese pressings are another alternative to high priced 1st pressings. Many sound great, particularly King and early Toshiba.

    Stay away from DMM unless your only other choice is CD.

  • Thanks a lot for your feedback. I really enjoyed reading your posts and I am happy that we all seem to agree on the fact that the music is the most important thing. And of course, that the sound quality of many early pressings is superior to most of the later pressings.I think one of the best investments of mine was buying a mono cartridge two years ago. But if you are watching the ebay auctions music and sound quality alone for most people do not make a record collectible. Some time ago I was able to buy a copy of the Thelonious Monk Trio on Esquire(Prlp 189). It is indeed great music, great mono sound, it was pressed in the fifties, the mastering is by Rudy van Gelder and the copy is in mint condition and for me it was- and still is a nice collectible. -But nobody wanted to buy it so I got it for $ 20. The prestige original in mint condition would have been sold for $ 300 ? $ 500 ?

  • Jan,I think you also inadvertantly touched on another reason why some items go for big bucks,while others are passed on-that is,the buyer has to know it exists! I wonder how many folks entered “Monk Prestige” and perhaps never even saw that desireable lp? Those Esquire items-with the often unique and unusual cover art-are hard as hell to come by. You,my friend,got a “goodie”!

  • In my opinion Michel forgets one factor: the quality of the cover art work.
    This is best illustrated by the Blue Note LT series. The albums in this series are very often in line with the 4 factors mentioned by Michel. But they have all, without exception, miserable cover art work, and are therefor not collectible.

  • Great ponit,Rudolf. As I think of some dates in the “LT” series-Grant Green”Nigeria” or Wayne Shorter “The Collector”,say-the Japanese issues remained true to the label in it’s choice of original cover art. For some reason,the simple(read:cheap)covers used stateside were thought “close enough for jazz”. Or,at least,the US jazz audience.

  • ceedee: that is absolutely true and these Japanese issues of the LT series are all in my collection. They are lovely.

  • if you think the US LT covers are bad you should see the UK issues!

  • the U.K. covers are kif-kif bourricot

  • i’m satisfied with second/third pressings. Possibly by default, knowing that first pressings just aren’t a financial possibility for me. This may have shaped my opinion that no is worth over $100. There’s really no reason for it, but I suspect i could get sucked in if it was a real possibility.

    That said: music first, always. I have no interest in collecting something I don’t want to listen to. Next is that synthesis of music/cover/historical significance that is hard to put into words – that some of us have tried to express above…

    I’ve written about it here before… it happens in the space between taking the record off the shelf and putting the needle down.

  • father Hello – my father was a serious jazz collector and is now considering selling. He has more than 1000 albums (les brown, charlie barnet, count basie, jimmy and tommy doresey, duke ellington, glenn miller, benny goodman, woody herman, teddy wilson, benny carter, jack teagarden, joe sullivan, red norvo, billie holiday, earl hines, coleman hawkins and on and on and on. I don’t know where to start – is this collection of interest? of value? or, is there a place to donate that would treasure it like he did? any help you could provide would be immensely appreciated. thanks.

  • Collectable is everything — just need to get a feel for a ‘set of characteristics’ you want. I think the following is a few guidelines to keep in mind:

    1. The earlier, the better
    2. No use buying that $500 LP with no record cleaning routine, no outer sleeves, and no “new” inner sleeves
    3. …really, I need to ask if the turntable has been ‘re-calibrated’ recently?
    4. Do they fill your intent? Nice to frame? Nice to look at? Completing a ‘series’? Sound great? YOU CHOOSE.

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