WHAT IS THE STUPIDEST WAY to put a price on a record album that I ever saw? It happened forty years ago in a thrift shop in San Francisco and I still shudder thinking about it. And it didn’t involve those impossible-to-remove-without-lighter-fluid stickers that record store owners who don’t trust their customers affix to the front covers of LPs!
When I moved into the Bay Area in 1978, I immediately sought out all of the new and used record stores in the area along with the many thrift shops. While I had found “thrifting” for records in Pennsylvania to be a time-wasting procedure, I needed to learn if the same held true in my new home area.
But “normal” for record collectors changed in the ’70s with the publication of the first record collectors’ price guides.
On my first day scouting out San Francisco, I looked specifically for thrift shops run by organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul’s. This led me to a shop in one of the older sections of the city and the two employees were pricing several boxes of recently donated LP albums.
Normally, such shops didn’t waste their time assessing the “value” of individual records but simply placed them in boxes on the floor in the back of the store and priced them at a dollar each. But “normal” had changed a few years ago with the publication of the first record collectors’ price guides for albums.
The books were published by O’Sullivan-Woodside, a small company in Phoenix, Arizona. While the hobby and business of record collecting needed price guides, they needed accurate price guides. This was not what these books gave their readers. But that’s another story.
I decided to post this story here rather than in my record collectors blog as it transcends the hobby and business of buying and selling used records (and as a way to steer you towards that other bog, Rather Rare Records).
Nancy Sinatra’s “fifteen minutes of fame” on the pop charts lasted from early 1966 into early ’68. During that time, she scored four Top 10 hits. After that, she couldn’t get a single anywhere near the national Top 40. Released in early 1967, SUGAR (Reprise 6239) was only her second album to reach the Top 20 on Billboard’s LP chart.
They had a routine
When I walked into that shop in the older section of the city, there were two employees being busy pricing a few hundred newly donated albums at the front of the store. There was a female ten years older than me and a male ten years younger. They had a routine:
1. Guy pulls an LP out of the box and says the name of the artist.
2. Gal looks up the artist in the price guide.
3. Guy says the name of the album.
4. Gal looks up the album and reads a price from the book.
5. Guy uses half the number she reads as the price for the album.
As routines go, this wasn’t a bad way to price records. But—and, needless to say—the gal always selected the highest “price” in the book: the value for records with near mint labels on near mint vinyl in near mint jackets of first pressing records.
A role of white labels, each about the size of a US nickel. These labels have an affixative on the back that does not stick permanently to most surfaces, allowing them to be easily removed from the covers of record albums or books.
The stupidest way I ever saw
The guy did not bother to slide the records out of the jackets for even a cursory visual inspection. This meant that:
• They did not check that the record in the jacket was the correct record.
• They did not check that the record had first pressing labels.
• They did not check that the record was in near-mint condition.
So, first pressing or later pressing, correct record or wrong record, near mint record or trashed record, each album’s price was based on the NM value of the first pressing in the price guide!
Which is a stupid way to go about selling used and collectible records. Now here’s where it gets “better”: Instead of writing the price on a removable sticker and affixing it to the jacket, they wrote that price in large numbers on the front cover of the album! And, of course, they used a permanent black marker.
This has to be the stupidest way to price a record album that I ever saw!
I walked around until I found the record section in the back of the store and—sure enough—every album cover was defaced with a black marker.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t hip enough in 1980 to buy one of the defaced albums and save it for some future use—like telling this story. I created this mock-up by running an image of the SUGAR album cover through the Imgflip meme generator and adding the price there.
I headed to the door, grimaced slightly as I nodded goodbye to gal and guy, and headed for the next thrift store in the older sections of Baghdad by the Bay. I have seen many weird ways of “pricing” a record but nothing like this.
In one of my Goldmine books, I compared it to a used car dealer painting the price on the hood of a car. But as extreme an image as that is, you can always paint over the price on the car. Once the cover of an album has been defaced by a permanent marker, it’s permanently damaged.
In hindsight, I should have bought one of the defaced albums and taken it home as a souvenir . . .But 'normal' for record collectors hoping to score at thrift shops changed in the '70s with the publication of the first record collectors' price guides. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: I could have used any album released prior to 1980 for this article. While she released several albums with lovely cover photos in the ’60s, the pink bikini photo certainly caught the attention of many 15-year-old boys at the time of its release, including me. So, I selected the mono version of Nancy’s SUGAR album (Reprise R-6239) as my example for this article.
Finally, the article was “inspired” by reading Steven Hale’s “More Afrocentric Jazz” on his “Adventures In Vinyl” column on Medium. But I just went back to the column to write this reference and I’ll be dingdanged if I can remember why his piece made me write this piece!