The 9 most expensive, valuable and collectable records of all time
Records give more a sense of the history of music than anything else and somehow their market value reflects this; for example, manufacturer’s mistakes/alterations or the death of the artist can dramatically affect the resale value of a record.
And generally speaking, rare records from the ‘60s and ‘70s (the ‘golden era’ of music), which only had a few hundred copies pressed, are the most valuable (even if that band is largely unknown) – commanding four-figure sums in some cases.
Moreover, singles in many cases are more valuable than both EPs and LPs.
But who sits at the top of the pile with the most valuable and collectable record that ever went to market? And which records still in circulation are worth a few quid?
Spoiler alert: this list contains The Beatles
Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left (1969)
Nick Drake fits the description of musician-turned-legend following his untimely death at the age of 27.
With only three albums released by the young artist, Drake’s records are extremely rare and an original pressing of the artist’s debut, Five Leaves Left, can sell for upwards of £1000 depending on its quality, of course.
The first pressing
There is debate over which is the true first pressing but it is largely accepted that the textured pink label with incorrect 4th and 5th song order (Way To Blue and Day Is Done) printed on its sleeve, and machine stamped matrix numbers is the real McCoy. NB: You will find no A1/B1 matrix on first pressings; a first pressing will read A2/B2.
The pink label
There are two types of ‘smooth’ pink label variants out there also, one with incorrect running order on the label and one corrected. But the textured label pressings, with all aforementioned characteristics, tend to be the most valuable. All three variants have ‘Made In England’ printed on the label whereas reissues do not.
The Beatles – Please Please Me (1963)
Records by The Beatles are of course very collectable, but this in itself is strange when you consider that there are literally millions out there and most are relatively easy to get hold of. To collect records properly, you must be prepared to put the hours in authenticating a record, so get comfortable!
The Beatles anomaly
Generally speaking, the fewer records pressed by bands/artists, the more valuable it will invariably be. However, The Beatles command a different value. As the pioneers of modern pop music, the appeal is worldwide. Any first pressing will be worth something, yet condition is still essential if you want to make/spend the big bucks.
Having pressed and sold millions of records, it’s near impossible to find a first pressing of a Beatles record in mint/near-mint condition, so when one comes along, collectors will pay a premium.
Please please tell me what it's worth
Please Please Me was first pressed on the gold and black Parlophone label but it soon switched to yellow and black. These minor details can mean everything. Stereo copies on the gold and black label will fetch you in excess of £5000.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/I’m In Love With My Car (1978)
Extravagance all round!
A rare edition of Queen’s most celebrated anthem was also served, at one time, as an invite to an EMI event replete with goodies including the entry ticket, matches, a pen, a menu, an outer card sleeve, EMI goblets(?) and a scarf! So, the record stands out quite a bit.
Never ones to shy away from a bit of colour, the Queen single was pressed on a brilliant royal blue vinyl and this copy/set is valued at the rather colourful sum of £5000.
The Beatles – The White Album (1968)
The Beatles anomaly #2
What can I say? The Beatles just about dominate any musical list. But they also take on a special kind of reverence and mean different things to different people making their value susceptible to change on an individual's basis.
Valuation of The White Album
Ok, this is the hard part. There are a multitude of criteria to adhere to and hoops you have to jump through to guarantee yourself/part with some dough. Ready? Here we go:
- Is it a US copy, a UK copy?
- Is ‘The Beatles’ embossed or printed on the front?
- Does it contain the poster, all portraits?
- Are all known misspellings present (i.e. ‘Rocky Racoon’, not ‘Raccoon’)?
- Is the serial number a seven-digit number and is it preceded by the correct number of zeros, is it then preceded by a prefix ‘A’ (wide), ‘A’ (thin), a black dot or the prefix ‘No.’ (Two variants)?
- Is it one of only 12 made with the serial: A2000000 to commemorate 2,000,000 copies sold?
And, so on and so on...
Essentially, if it’s a US first pressing, with all misspellings, a serial number and embossed lettering you’re looking at $800 for one in good condition. But, if the serial number is low, it is worth more (serial number 0000001 sold for $15,000 in 2009). If the serial number is between 2 and 9 add 2000 per cent. For serial numbers under 10,000 add 50 per cent. Add $15 if poster is included and $7 for each Beatles portrait.
A UK first pressing with all the trimmings in very good condition could cost you a maximum of £1000 but expect to add 50 per cent with serial numbers below 10,000 and an extra couple of quid for posters and portraits. Got it? Good!
Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen/No Feelings (1977)
This is an interesting one because the 1977 run of the Pistols’ single doesn’t just exist on one label.
On A&M, only 300 copies are said to exist after it was withdrawn from sale. This pressing is valued at approximately £10,000.
A&M also circulated promo copies and one of the few known to be in circulation recently sold on eBay for $17,179 (£11,728). However, there is an even rarer copy on L.T.S.
Only two copies are to exist, one of which sold recently for no less than £12,629.
And finally, a third label, The Town House, is known to have pressed the 7” single in 1977 onto a single-sided 10” acetate. Although an unknown amount of copies were produced, one of the only ones believed to exist sold in 2011 for a mega $23,000 (£15,702).
Anarchy in the record industry
That there are three separate, very small releases of this single highlights the band’s turbulent relationship with labels, all of which contribute to and complement their punk legacy; their value and their place in history. But it also shows the lengths collectors will go to get their own piece of history. Added to that is the irony that music’s most outspoken non-conformists, the epitome of anti-establishment attitude, are among the world’s most collectable and thus the most expensive bands.
The Five Sharps – Stormy Weather 78rpm single (1952)
The story of this particular record is as wild as the track suggests.
The band was famously paid in hot dogs and soda for the session in New York where they cut two songs in one day. The single was put out on Jubilee #5104 and the members had to buy their own copies (despite not being paid for the session) because sales of the record were so poor.
But the legend of this 78 is just beginning unbeknownst to the band.
From hot dogs to big bucks
Initially, Stormy Weather encounters some misfortune of its own and takes a turn for the worst in 1961.
Record collector, Billy Pensabene, took a copy of the 78 he had found to Times Square Records, run by Irving “Slim” Rose, who borrowed the 78 to play on his ‘Sink Or Swim With Swingin’ Slim’ radio show which broke whilst in his care.
The story goes that Slim promised Billy a replacement copy of the 78 and so put adverts up in the shop window offering $25-$50 for a copy. Time went by and still no 78.
Then things went from bad to worse. Slim, in a last-ditch attempt to be a man of his word and reclaim a copy, visited Jubilee Records and asked owner, Jerry Blaine, to reissue the 78.
Unfortunately, The Five Sharps’ session was one of a batch of 80 masters that had been destroyed in a fire. A nationwide search was underway and Stormy Weather became the most sought-after doo-wop record in history.
Despite a somewhat roguish attempt by Jubilee to re-record the track using completely different musicians under the same Five Sharps moniker, the legend continued to grow for that original 78.
Over the next 15 years only three copies ever turned up; one chipped, one cracked and one in very good condition.
The third was sold in 1977 and is now valued at around £16,910.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico '66
An early version of the band’s debut cut to acetate is the only known version to exist and was bought with two other records for just 75 cents at a New York City stoop sale.
The band’s agent at the time, the eminent pop artist, Andy Warhol, assembled the acetate to ship around to various labels and differs in order to the album now affectionately known as The Banana Album.
In 2006, owner, Warren Hill, sold it at auction for $25,200. Following Lou Reed’s death in 2013 and the rise in interest in both the band and records, who knows how much it is worth today.
The Quarrymen – That’ll Be The Day/In Spite Of All The Dang
The only known pressing of this pre-Beatles cut is as rare as they come and with a price tag to match.
It is said to be the most valuable record in the world according to industry bible, Record Collector.
The Quarrymen (McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, drummer Colin Hanton and pianist John Duff Lowe) cut the single at a local studio.
McCartney recalls: “We shared the record. I kept it for a week, George kept it for a week, John kept it for a week, Colin Hanton kept it for a week, then Duff kept it for 23 years.”
Worth a mesmerising £200,000-plus it’s no surprise this is the Holy Grail in the collector’s world. Even the 1981 replica copies (only 25 made) are worth £10,000. Paul McCartney is said to be the current minder of the original who bought it back from band-member and long-time guardian, Duff, for an undisclosed amount.
John Lennon/Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980)
And finally, surprise surprise, a Beatle!
Lennon and Ono’s album is on this list for sheer shock value. It’s value is somewhere in the region of £355,173. But before you spit your tea out and dust off your copy of this classic, there is only one copy worth this much, and its history is chilling.
On December 8th 1980, outside John Lennon’s apartment building, Mark David Chapman asked Lennon to sign his copy of the LP. Just five hours later, Chapman would return and murder Lennon.
Not only does the album have the last known signature Lennon gave, but it also has Chapman’s fingerprints on it.
A disturbing logic it seems as to its apparent value, but like I have outlined: records offer more of a sense of the history of music than all other formats and you can’t get more of a sense of music history than the last signed artefact of one of the world’s greatest musicians owned by his assassin.