Is there gold in that old box of records in the garage? Maybe, but it's pretty rare. Adrienne Pearson of Amoeba Music, which stocks aisles of new and vintage vinyl and accepts LPs for cash or trade, says value depends on three things: condition, supply and demand. Mildew, warping, a torn album cover, even coffee stains on liner notes can keep you from getting top dollar.
"If you wouldn't pay $10 for a used album in the same condition as the one you're trying to sell for $10, don't expect us to," says Pearson, sliding plastic covers on newly traded-in albums. Records in mint condition may still be plastic-wrapped, or have never been played. At the other end, a record in poor condition will be scuffed or scratched, in a ripped, written-on cover with a split spine.
The rarer the record, the more valuable it's likely to be, especially if demand is high. While most vinyl fetches only 25 cents to $5.00 per album, rare, out-of-print and highly unusual items in mint or near-mint condition can bring much more, says Pearson.
Miracles do happen: one lucky shopper bought a long-lost Velvet Underground acetate at a New York flea market in 2004 for 75 cents and sold it on eBay for $25,000. A copy of the Beatles' Yesterday and Today album, with the banned, grisly, "butcher cover" (the Beatles draped in raw meat) is among the most expensive and sought-after albums in the market. Its value can be as high as $7,000 depending on condition. Hot right now: unmarred blues, gospel, jazz, country, jug band, string band, Cajun LPs and foreign 78s, as well as 1950s blues, rock, doo-wop and rockabilly.
Headline news can also boost a record's value, virtually overnight. Immediately after the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson, their original vinyl albums flew off the racks and may one day be collectors' items.
To find out what your records are worth, visit websites such as www.RecordFinders.com, www.vintagevinyl.com and www.dustygroove.com for jazz, soul and reggae. You can also scout similar items on eBay, and skim publications such as Record Collector News. But that's only if you're willing to actually part with your stash.