What Makes a 78rpm Record Valuable?

  • Listening...Recently on the 78-L list, a member asked the mailing list the question: What makes a record valuable?


    Some interesting responses came to light from a number of subscribers to the list.


    One respondent wrote:


    A Berliner. Black Patti. An Amos 'n Andy transcription on Marsh or Brunswick. An item known to survive in only a handful of copies. Or a unique item. An unknown instantaneous record made live or from radio by an artist who made no or few recordings, or of a tune not recorded commercially. A test pressing not previously known to exist of an alternate take or tune not otherwise recorded by someone who made few recordings (I'm thinking of that test pressing that Kurt found of Robert Johnson, or some unissued takes of Horowitz of selections not otherwise represented in his discography). A 20" Pathe. Something along those lines.


    Another respondent questioned the notion of "value" and suggested:


    I have very mixed feelings on the notion of value. When it comes to my genuinely rare items I'm usually not even sure what to do with them usually. I have a transcription from a broadcast of a Joe Louis fight, and glass acetates of the singer Helen Oelheim... They both sit in a box so I don't break them. What kind of enjoyment is that?


    The question of enjoyment was seen by some subscribers to the list as secondary in the notion of putting a price on a 78rpm. One particular respondent suggested that the enjoyment factor doesn't necessarily make a 78 rpm valuable:


    Personal "enjoyment" is secondary in this matter. Some suggestions of valuable records show intrinsic value, and only secondary can we infer monetary value -- the monetary value that Robert Johnson 78s attract does not make them intrinsically valuable compared with an unissued test from him. There is public interest in Joe Lewis fight broadcasts and THEY might be interested in it being distributed. Likewise, I suppose, Helen Oelheim, although I've never heard of her. If you hold the only known copies, they have value whether you would enjoy them or not.


    Put simply, the value of a 78 rpm appears to rate highly when scaricity is taken into question. One correspondent added to the list:


    As demand goes up and supply goes down, value rises. A scarce record that everybody wants is of the highest value.


    But of course, rarity can have it down side as well - because as one member noted:


    ...UNLESS, IDIOTS with too much money enter the fray. If the supply goes up, even if it meets the demand, they'll continue to overpay because the HIGHER the price the more the "prestique".


    Personally, I think the following:


    The quotient of supply vs. demand still increases the value of the record if the demand rises and the supply stays constant. Conversely, if a record that is NOT plentiful becomes more scarce and the demand stays the same, the value will still go up.


    More of this topic to come...