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This article first appeared in the Discographer Magazine (December 2014; page 17 - [http://www.78rpmcommunity.com/url/mzfbC]
It comes as a shock to many correspondents when receiving our “valuation” that their collection of Bing’s or Caruso’s are often worth nothing and perhaps a dollar or two at most! Many correspondents think they’re sitting on Aladdin’s cave of lost rarities. Some correspondents are even rude upon receiving our “valuations” - even suggesting we know nothing about 78s! (Our site isn’t called 78rpm Collectors’ Community for nothing!)
So, I thought it might be a little self-indulgent, but necessary to write a short article on valuing 78s and the common misunderstandings about valuing them.
Let me start at the outset and suggest that valuing 78s is extremely difficult, and in some instances, a pointless exercise. There are many reasons for suggesting this which I hope to cover in this short article. Valuing 78s is fraught with danger for there are so many considerations to juggle in making an appraisal that it’s sometimes impossible to accurately determine. These factors may including condition, age, historical importance, popularity, rarity and as well as what I call, ‘the want factor’, which Tim Gracyk points out so succinctly in his excellent article, ‘The Value of Old 78s’ “...they are worth what you can find someone to pay...” 
Of course, Tim is right. A 78rpm is worth what a collector is most willing to pay for it, and quite frankly, a valuation boils simply down to this...
Take the example we cited in the Discographer Magazine recently,  when long time blues collector, John Tefteller bid $37,100 for a super rare Tommy Johnson 78 on Paramount. Possibly only one of two known and verified copies in existence, Tim outlaid a sum that he was prepared to pay...
In some ways, the same could also be said for your basic copy of Bing or Caruso - even though countless tens of thousands and possibly millions of copies were pressed and are perhaps still in existence. They will be worth something to a collector depending on what he/she is willing to pay and wants to pay.
And as they say in the antique business. ‘One man’s trash is always another man’s treasure!’
Gracyk goes on to write in the same article, for which I am often rebutted for by my ever-hopeful correspondents, “...such an answer would satisfy nobody, but it might help people understand that stable or ‘fixed’ prices do not exist when it comes to 78s, cylinders, Victrolas, or anything related to our hobby.” 
So, let’s call this rule number one. There is no fixed price for any 78rpm record and price is determined often by what one is willing to pay... This is good advice to bear in mind when trying to get a valuation on a record...
Kurt Nauck (who runs possibly the world’s largest 78rpm auction, twice a year) notes on his 78rpm.com website: “...the great majority of vintage records are very common. Records were pressed by the millions, and there are many more records still in existence than there are collectors seeking them.” 
So, if that’s true, what does make a 78rpm record valuable, if at all?
Certainly rarity is at the top of my list. The rarer an item, one would expect competition for it’s acquisition to be high - and therefore, a record could command a price that a collector is willing to pay. Tefteller was obviously willing to pay a considerable price for a single 78rpm. Admittedly, he wanted the recording as he owned the only other known copy as well, albeit in poorer condition, and he wanted to digitalize it for prosperity - but a high price is a high price all the same, and the rarity of the record pushed its value beyond most collectors’ bank balances.
For many other collectors however, rarity has nothing to do with wanting a particular 78rpm. As we’ve featured before in this magazine, collecting can be more than just about price or rarity or historical importance. For a lot of collectors, there are far deeper and intrinsic reasons for wanting and paying a high price for ‘that special 78...’ As I wrote in another recent article, ‘The Eccentricities of Collecting 78s’  “After all, searching for old records gets into your blood until it becomes an obsession. Collecting is about the desire to preserve and playback a piece of living history - something you can hear, feel, touch and experience - the tangibility of this music format has the power to do that.”
We also recently featured an article by Jonathan Holmes, ‘Collecting 78rpms - A Personal Journey”,  in which he wrote about the particular feeling a collector gets when they collect. “...That night I was searching online, and I came across a Youtube video. The song was “Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down”, by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. I was hooked. My brain was firing in all directions, and I repeated the video again, and again – and on in to the night. Discovering the pure golden sounds of Bix Beiderbecke had awakened something in me, a hunt for that toe tapping beat.”
Jonathan has gone on to amass quite an impressive collection of English dance band 78rpms and thankfully, in most cases, he paid reasonable, affordable prices for each of them. In many cases, he was able to pay very reasonable prices of a few dollars each for many of the items in his collection, and I doubt he’d sell any of them to another collector no matter what price.
Desire and want for a particular 78 has a force bigger than some wallets, however. For some collectors, the need for a particular 78 to complete a ‘set’ can, without any other considerations, make a 78rpm valuable to him or her, even if, many other collectors would scarcely take a second glance at it.
In the smaller, classical 78rpm sphere, Gracyk writes, “When it comes to pricing classical 78s, it is a whole new ballgame!”  Rarity is often the overall guiding force to pricing here...
If the artist recorded few 78s and excelled at their art, then their hyper-rare 78s can command very high prices. Take for example, Ginette Neveu, whose life was cut short at the early age of 30. Noted for her intensity, power, and impeccable sonority, Neveu is recognized as one of the great violinists of her era. The few recordings she made, makes them particularly rare and highly sort after by collectors. When her 78s appear on auction lists in good condition, they usually command high starting prices.
For example, when her HMV, Brahms Violin Concerto 78rpm set appears on lists, bidding rarely starts below $400 (USD). (HMV DB 6415-19)  And equally, her Sibelius Concerto 78rpm set can command upwards of $250 (USD), particularly the English pressings or the Victor Z equivalent. (HMV DB 9007-10)
Then there is other ‘specially’ categories within the classical realm which can push some 78 prices higher still. Whilst many US, Columbia and Victor sets were pressed in very large qualities; to the point where collectors can still get their hands on, what is commonly referred as ‘new, old shop stock’; (in many cases, still wrapped and unplayed); they still only ever command basic, low level prices of between $10-$30 (USD) a set. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, there are some sets that stand out and command higher prices, yet once again, mainly for the sole reason of performer rarity, an exceptional performance or it is historically significant.
No one would doubt the special quality of the Menuhin/Elgar recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto for example. This recording is often described as one of the greatest recordings of the 20th century. Recorded 1932. It still commands good, solid prices online and in auction lists above and beyond the prices noted earlier. For example, a recent online auction placed a ‘mint’ version of the recording at $350 (USD) as a starting bid price.
Within this special category, we also find the ‘society’ sets. These sets often call for higher prices at the close of bidding. Society sets were sold on a subscription only basis as units during the 78rpm era; individual discs were not permitted to be sold separately unless a record was damaged. Some rare, over subscribed sets; and hence ‘closed’ to further pressing until their re-release on the LP format; made these more valuable to collectors than others. For example, the first two sets of Schnabel’s Beethoven Piano Sonatas command higher prices on average than the other remaining thirteen sets in the series.
Some society sets are of such exceptional quality that; although pressed in large quantities; they still manage to attain high prices on auction lists when they appear. For example, the Yrjo Kilpinen Song Society sets (featuring the baritone Gerhard Hüsch and the composer’s wife on piano) can go for as much as $150-200 (USD) each and some of the Medtner Society sets initiated under the auspices of the Maharajah of Mysore, of India and by HMV during the early 1940’s can be purchased at similar cost. My own personal copies of the Hüsch Kilpinen and Schubert albums, for example, set me back a considerable sum, but I considered them a bargain, as they were in ‘mint’ condition and they are some of the best examples of these composer’s works ever recorded, even today. Some special sets were recorded ‘live’ at public performance, and so they lend themselves to ‘historical significance’.
These 78s can be had for additional cost on some online auctions. The Mahler’s Ninth Symphony set (recorded live in 1938) is a case at hand.
When we cast a parochial eye over Caruso in contrast, many of his 78s were literally pressed in the millions, making him at one stage, the first artist to sell a million copies of a 78rpm. (’Vesti la giubba’ from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci; Rec: November 1902). Often, his 78s were re-pressed in different formats, editions, labels and for a time, even reissued with the existing accompaniment over-dubbed by a larger electrically recorded orchestra. In 1950, RCA Victor reissued a number of the fuller-sounding Caruso recordings on 78-rpm discs made of smoother vinyl instead of the usual shellac. As long-playing discs (LPs) became popular, many of his recordings were electronically enhanced for release on the extended format. Some of his recordings were also released by RCA Victor on the 45-rpm format in the early 1950s.  As a result, you can guess that many, if not all of his 78s are not valuable, and can still be found in large quantities, and in relatively good condition, some one hundred years after they were first made...
Now, if I’ve burst many hopeful seller’s bubble, lets not be too hasty to dismiss Caruso outright. A few of his rarer 78rpm pressings have however, managed to command very good prices all the same.
And that’s the conundrum with trying to value 78s... Just when you thought it was safe to assume.., it’s not!
A few examples below might have you scrambling to your record cupboard to check. A rare Caruso, Gramophone Concert Record, was recently auctioned and went for a very tidy sum of $848 (USD), making it a stand-out amongst the Caruso pulp...
Other pressings of Caruso on the Zonophone label went for similar prices. A rare picture disc of Caruso recently sold for $578 (USD).
Rule number two for would-be sellers, do your research before you sell, buy or possibly discard your 78s!
The value of a 78 can also be guided by its historical importance. 78rpm disc recording was the only way to record sound for most of the early part of the 20th century, and as a result, many ‘direct to disc’ recordings feature historical recounts, speeches and actual events as they happened. Many of these ‘historical’ documents are the only direct link we have to an earlier event. Collecting these 78s can be a rewarding pursuit but an equally profitable endeavor for a seller - if one knows what to look for!
Of course, the more well-known, interesting or historically significant event a 78rpm features, the more valuable it can be to a collector, museum or enthusiast. Some collectors pay significant prices to preserve or archive a 78 for prosperity. In many cases, it may be a single, one-off recording as well. Tefteller, as noted earlier, backs this up by explaining the reason for purchasing the $37,000 Johnson record: “The record is considered a Holy Grail among blues record collectors and stands as a vital historical document of the genre.” 
Are jazz/blues and dance band 78s worth anything?
The short, frustrating answer is, yes and no.
Many ‘popular’ style 78s are rare, of significant value, historically and musically, and are desired by collectors worldwide. Jazz Hound website explains: “Please bear in mind that 90+% or more of old records ... have little or no monetary value. If you have boxes of ... 1950s non-Rock & Roll, ‘popular’ singers such as Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Gracie Fields, Swing Bands such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey etc, then save your typing fingers (and mine) - only one in 1000 is worth more than a few pence! Take them to the nearest charity shop or rubbish tip!” 
Indeed, this is generally true. Unless a Doris Day collector wants a particular record from her copious output to complete his or her collection, and is willing to pay for it above what others may also pay for it, then the overall value of Day’s records will remain small. As a popular artist, Day recorded hundred’s of 78 sides and these were then re-issued in various LP and EP versions during the microgroove era. This also applies to Tommy Dorsey and Goodman for that matter! Their records were pressed and re-pressed in vast quantities. It’s not hard at all to come across these performer’s records in good, clean condition, so why would they be of great value?
Although I don’t agree with everything the following author notes on the Continental Records Company website; I do think that a lot of ‘popular’ pre-1950, 78rpms have little or no value at all. The author states somewhat bluntly. “...Many people think that the older the record, the more it is worth - this is rarely true. Generally speaking, almost all popular 78 RPM records manufactured before 1950 have no value. Let’s face it, most collectors who remember and purchase records made before 1950 are now 80+ years old. Soon there will be no buyers at all.” 
The same could be said for dance bands of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s - of both English and American origin. Unless a seller possess a one-off, mint copy of a 78 a buyer wants or needs to complete a set, what value does it have? As with Doris Day, popular dance band 78s were manufactured in vast quantities for home and entertainment usage, that it is still easy to lay hands on a recording you want.
But of course, there is another reason for making a 78 valuable which so far we haven’t covered; but which is equally relevant to dance band 78s in particular.
I’m talking here of take numbers. Many collectors will pay a premium for a particular 78rpm if they are after a certain take number.
“In the days of 78 rpm records, before recording tape was commonly used (up to approx. 1950), audio recordings were cut directly to disc. The recording studio would assign a number to the song to be recorded, which would become the main part of the matrix number, and several takes would be made, with the take number inscribed in the matrix area. Only one take would be selected for issue in most cases, but there are occasions where alternate takes were issued as well, possibly by accident... Alternate takes are of interest to collectors, particularly if the music is jazz. Since jazz is often partially improvised, two takes can contain significant differences, and a comparison of two takes can reveal which portions of the music were pre-determined, and which were improvised or variable. Also, when two takes are released, one is usually much more common than the other, and the less common take can become a valuable record to collectors.” 
The process of what constitutes a take number could be an essay itself - but generally, a take number can be a number (usually in sequence from 1 onwards), a letter (’A’ usually, but not always; may signify the 1st take and so on...) or a combination of numbers and letters (as in the photo example above - (2A meaning 2nd recording session/day, first take).
A collector will pay a premium sum for a particular take number of a 78rpm. Once again, if you have a record to sell, do your homework! Take a moment to check the take number of your 78(s). There are many online databases which will outline all known take numbers; including those that were released and those that weren’t; for some, well-known labels - for example, Victor  
Recent sale lists show a surprising upturn in high sale prices for many type of jazz and dance band 78s over the past few years. In many ways, the internet is driving this increase. Sites like eBay have created their own eco-system where specialist collectors bid against each other. But as an indirect result, this can increase final-bid prices overall, even when the 78 may not warrant it.
A recent example lists an early Edison Bell Radio issue of an early Al Bowlly 78 with a final bid of $250 (USD). In most cases, Al Bowlly would not normally command such a high price. Sometimes, frenzied bidding can encourage collectors to bid more for an item than it is really worth.
Another example of this demonstrates the volatility of the online auction environment. A, Victor, Luke Jordan 78 (Victor 21076), recently broke records with a final sale price of $1725.! Of course, this is reasonable when compared to a very recent, online bidding war which ended with a rare Gennett 78 finishing with a sale price of $3050 (USD) 
Another area of interest is test pressings. Test pressings can also command high sale prices, especially with unissued classical and dance band and jazz 78s that were never issued. Some test pressings appear on auction lists from deceased estates of the artist or family - bringing both providence and authenticity to the recording.
Blues 78s can also command high sale prices and are highly sort after by collectors. Noted collector, John Tefteller, is recorded on the Record Collectors Guild website with the following insightful remarks,
“Many people have a boxful of old 78 rpm records lying around the house, and in most cases, the box is worth more than the records. But there is one category of 78s that’s an exception — vintage blues.
What happened in the mid-90s is that a small number of older collectors either died or got rid of (blues 78s). In a short time, rare blues 78s all of a sudden entered the mainstream. Younger collectors (under 60) wanted them. All hell broke loose in the prewar blues market, and prices started to go bananas. These collectors were willing to spend a lot of money. From 1995 to 2000, prices for rare prewar blues records skyrocketed five to 10 times in value, with the biggest swings occurring from ‘98 to ‘99. Tefteller, whose forays into 78s goes back decades, recalled a time when he auctioned blues discs and received $2 bids for what are now $1,500 records. The recordings of Robert Johnson, the man held by some to be the father of the blues, are particularly appealing to collectors. They command top dollar, selling for as much $4,000. Ralph Shurley, a 78 collector since 1967, said younger people are attracted to the format’s “realness” and originality. “Although condition is important and near-mint 78s fetch high prices, good used blues 78s that play well still sell pretty well,” said Shurley. “No matter how you view 78s, they are the original of originals. “Format, labels, and appearance — 78s rule! Price-wise, though, it seems that prewar 78s are commanding very serious prices. Tommy Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton are all comparable names [to Robert Johnson].” 
Some recent examples of impressive blues 78 sales reinforce what both authors above suggest. A, Blind Lemon Jefferson, oKeh (8455) blues 78rpm record, recently sold for $1826 (USD), whilst a Muddy Waters (Library of Congress 78 - Recorded Mississippi 1941), reached an impressive price of $1035 (USD).
Of course, not all blues 78s are worth large sums of money, however, but many are still worth something. Take for example, Tampa Red’s Hokum Jug Band – (Vocalion 1540) 78rpm. A copy of this record was sold recently for $100 (USD) - which although not rare, is still impressive all the same.
Can the condition of a 78 determine its price?
The simple answer is, yes.
Most sellers of 78rpms records advertise the condition of their product using a grading scale. There are many scales around - but all of them have a similar coding which usually starts on a scale from near-perfect mint pressings to poor pressings. I won’t go into detail on the specifics of each scale apart from a brief outline below. Rather, I encourage you to read the article ‘How to Grade 78rpm Records for Sale on eBay’  which appeared in the August 2014 edition of this magazine to learn more on this topic.
Overall, all scales are similar and offer the following similar descriptions to help describe the overall condition and ‘salability’ of a 78rpm - often with a + or - either side of each descriptor. (For example, a 78rpm displaying no major deterioration in sound quality but some noticeable surface marks, might get a rating of VG, VG+ or VG-).
• MINT: “M” The record itself is in brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality.
• EXCELLENT: “EX” The record shows some signs of having been played but there is very little lessening in sound quality.
• VERY GOOD: “VG” The record has obviously been played many times but displays no major deterioration in sound quality, despite noticeable surface marks and the occasional light scratch.
• GOOD: “G” Record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches.
• FAIR: “F” Just playable. Only great rarities are worth buying or selling in this condition.
• POOR: “P” Will not play properly due to scratches, bad surface noise etc.
• BAD: The record is unplayable or might even be broken. Throw it away BUT before you do so give some thought as to whether it might be so mega rare or of such great historical interest that even in this condition it is worth keeping.
The value of a recording is often reflected in the condition of the recording, however, if the recording is rare, it doesn’t matter if the recording is fair, poor or bad, it will still be worth something - and occasionally, worth considerably more than it looks.
As you can see, there is no, hard and fast rules to the values of 78s....
Usual 78rpm formats/pressings
For many collectors, the standard 78rpm flat disc is but one of many formats that survive of the 78rpm era which can be of interest to collectors.
Other collectable/salable formats include:
• Cylinder recordings (The earliest cylinder recordings were recorded in small ‘batches’ - each batch was a unique recording event of a particular song. The artist often performed the same piece many times. The value lies in finding early, clean examples of these particular recordings. Their value lies in their uniqueness, but remember, special equipment is needed to playback these delicate recordings.)
• Diamond Discs (There are countless exceptions to the claim made by some that Diamond Discs, especially in the first decade, are dull. Many discs offer great performances of classical music, with some opera discs being highly collectible. Fine singers who made Edison discs include Claudia Muzio, Frieda Hempel, and the tenors Zenatello, Martinelli, and Urlus. Great instrumentalists made Edison discs. The pianist Rachmaninoff made Edison discs and was very proud of them.) 
Most Diamond discs sell anywhere from a few dollars upwards to $400/500 (USD), depending on the content, performer and rarity of the recording. Examples of Mike Speciale and his Hotel Carlton Terrace Orchestra (record 51635) and The Florida Four (record 52231) may sell anywhere from $5 to approximately $20 (USD) while B.A. Rolfe and His Orchestra (record 52584) and the sopranos Emmy Destinn (record 82525) and Carmen Melis (record 83005) may fetch from anywhere between $200-400 (USD).
• Transcriptions (A transcription disc is a special phonograph record intended for, or recorded from, a radio broadcast. Sometimes called a broadcast transcription or radio transcription. Transcription discs are most commonly 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter and recorded at 33 1/3 rpm. That format was standard from approximately 1930 to 1960 and physically distinguishes most transcriptions from records intended for home use, which were rarely more than 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter and until 1948 were nearly all recorded at approximately 78 rpm. However, some very early (circa 1928-1931) radio programs were on sets of 12 inch (30 cm) or even 10 inch (25 cm) diameter 78 rpm discs, and some later (circa 1960-1985) syndicated radio programs were distributed on 12 inch (30 cm) diameter 33 1/3 rpm microgroove vinyl discs visually indistinguishable from ordinary records except by their label information.) 
• Acetate discs (Originally blank discs used mostly for home and private recordings using a record lathe.)
• Bootleg Recordings (78s that were dubbed or repressed with unauthorized labels.)
• Flexible, Paper/Card, Celluloid 78s (Mostly promotional material issued on flexible 78s and sometimes stiff card.)
• Promos/Advertising discs (Highly collectable.)
• Colored/Picture discs (Such as ‘Vogue’ discs [See photo opposite page] - Highly collectable.)
• (and) Rare, one-off 78s (Such as Silvatone -pre war recorded television discs! Explore this fascinating topic using the link below.) 
Finally, an area of growing interest amongst collectors, which has seen a corresponding growth in values, is late 78rpms, recorded mostly during the years of transition to the Lp and Ep era - the 50’s and early 1960’s.
Many pop and rock stars began their recording careers on 78 before moving onto Ep and Lp. Artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beetles, the Rolling Stones (Indian pressings), the Beach Boys and Ricky Nelson (to name a few), all released or had releases on 78rpms, and it is these early, rarer, unusual recordings which usually command high prices. Early Beetles 78rpms can sell up to and beyond $2000+ (USD).
“Today, rock ’n’ roll 78s are among the hottest commodities in the record-collecting world,” reports the Goldmine Magazine in a July 2011 issue. “With any survey of America (or the U.K.’s) most-valued records of the era literally bursting with high-ticket 78s. The actual market for them might be smaller than for 45s; the values in price guides sometimes seem a little lower. But ask any dealer what he would rather offer – a set of mint Elvis Sun singles on 45? Or a set on 78? There is no competition. The reason is that 78s were not built to last. They were manufactured from shellac, a compound derived from a natural resin secreted by the Lac beetle of southeast Asia. This material is extremely durable and was ideal for the 78s’ primary purpose – being rotated at high speeds while a thick steel needle passed over them. Unfortunately, it is also frighteningly brittle. Even with the most stringent precautions, mailing a 78 means taking its life in your hands, while simply transporting one from one room to another can feel like juggling fine crystal. The 78s that today sell for high prices on the collector’s market are not rare because few were made, as is the case with many of the most valuable 45s of the same period. They are rare because few have survived unbroken.” 
Where can I sell 78rpms?
There are many places to sell 78rpms nowadays. The internet has changed the way people sell and buy 78s. If you want to sell your 78s, the following list may be helpful to you. 
- Nauck’s Auction List
- 78rpm Community 
- Craig’s List
- Glaspole Records
- Amazon - Hawthorn’s List
Where can I explore this topic further?
The following list of resources may be of interest:
• American Premium Record Guide 1900-1965: Identification and Value Guide; Les Docks; (Ultimate collector’s guide to vintage records covering more than 7,500 artists from all music genres, including big band, blues, jazz, country/western and rock, from 1900 to 1965. This comprehensive identification and value guide features more than 30,000 record values, including listings for 78s, 45s and LPs.)
• Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records; Amanda Petrusich
• www.jabw.demon.co.uk/values.htm (A comprehensive guide on valuing records via label)
• www.vinylville.tripod.com/faq-9.html (A handy, comprehensive guide on how to date Victor 10” 78rpm records)
• http://www.78-records.com/78s-labels.htm (A photo index of scanned, high quality 78rpm labels with accompanying notes)