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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Tossing Lines: Worthless vinyl, priceless memories

    Like so many baby boomers, I grew up on the Beatles and classic rock played on turntables attached to ancient stereo receivers with big speakers that were more like pieces of furniture equipped with woofers and tweeters.

    And, many of us still have boxes of vinyl record albums from our youth tucked away in attics, closets and basements. But are these treasures worth anything today, perhaps as unique artifacts from a culture-forging, seminal musical era that included Woodstock’s historic Three Days of Peace and Love in 1969?

    Read on for the bad news.

    I was poking around a funky gift shop in Anna Maria Island, Florida recently when I came across a bin of well used vinyl records. I pulled a worn, faded copy of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” from the batch with a price tag of $45!

    Surprised as I was, I had no illusions of sitting on a fortune of old vinyl back home in storage since I once read a news blurb claiming the 1964 album “Introducing The Beatles” had sold for $8,000.

    Knowing I had the album, visions of a financial windfall danced in my head. Maybe I’d use the money for a new high-end bicycle or, after my wife won the argument, a long cruise down the Danube.

    I scrambled through dark storage spaces until I found my copy. It was pristine, surely guaranteeing top dollar. I now handled it with extreme care, protecting my investment as I researched its value only to find there were actually multiple versions of the record released, one valuable, the others worthless.

    Though the albums looked the same to the untrained eye, there were actually many differences, complicated by a backstory of legal wrangling over multiple releases and song variations too long for this column. Corporate complications caused Introducing the Beatles to be released after “Meet The Beatles.” Small record companies later produced cheap imitations, and I discovered a valuation test with a checklist to prove my album’s authenticity.

    It failed miserably. Turns out this particular album is reported to be one of the most counterfeited records in history, presenting a good illustration of the detailed discrepancies involved in identifying truly valuable, authentic albums.

    For instance, on “Introducing The Beatles,” if the group’s name is below the center hole, it’s fake, though on some counterfeits the name is appropriately above the hole, yet the fraud can be exposed by other means.

    If the color band is missing the color green and has a jagged line between the red and purple, it’s fake. If the label is black without a color band and has a large white VJ brackets logo, it’s fake. If the cover has a blurry image of the group, it’s fake. If the cover has a brown border, it’s fake.

    If yours has anything other than a one-quarter inch flap at both the top and the bottom, then, yup, it’s fake.

    Many factors contribute to the value of vinyl records, such as popularity of the artist, the scarcity of the record, and its condition. If dull turntable needles scratched their way around the record for years, or if beer and wine flowed across them, their value obviously plummets. Mint condition, of course, increases value, in conjunction with other requirements.

    While age doesn’t necessary raise a record’s value, its uniqueness might, as with the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” (2015). According to Big Fudge Vinyl, this album sold for $2 million because only one copy was produced, making it “the most valuable and rare vinyl album to date.” The buyer’s agreement stipulates that the buyer may not release the album for profit for 100 years.

    Similarly unique, the first printing of The Beatles “White Album” from 1968 with print number 0000001 was sold by Ringo Starr at auction for $790,000.

    Also of obvious value, a signed copy of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy,” autographed just hours before Lennon was assassinated, sold for $150,000.

    Without such uniqueness and authenticity, our collections may be worthless, but they’re still priceless in those moments when we put on that incredible, culture-defining music from the sixties and seventies, and sit back on an enjoyable, nostalgic journey through the past, those familiar notes and lyrics reigniting exquisite images of younger years, and we once again hear those blackbirds singing in the dead of night.

    John Steward lives in Waterford. He can be reached at tossinglines@gmail.com.

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