Part 3/6: The story so far: A bet has been struck: Buy a complete set of Beatles records on vinyl for less money than the Re-issued Box Set by the 20th October. The clock is ticking and the stakes are high…the loser has to listen to a Mariah Carey album. Ten times. Charity shops have produced a blank.
A week had passed since my foray into the charity shops, but I wasn’t worried. Undoubtedly the laziest way to win the bet would be to buy everything on eBay – assuming the price was right.
So this clearly was going to be the way forward for me. I’m not averse to a bit of laziness…
Of course there are a few drawbacks when buying records online – in particular you place faith on the seller wrapping the things up in a decent bit of packaging so the records don’t break, scratch or warp. A non-refunded breakage would eat into my budget to catastrophic effect. Catastrophic in that I would have to listen to Mariah Carey – and if that isn’t a catastrophe then I don’t know what is..
My first trawl for Please Please Me wasn’t encouraging. I looked under “recently completed” transactions to see what the going rate was. Top of the list was a mono record that sold for £560. Nightmare. There was another in stereo that sold for a bargain £1,800.
Very soon however, by reading the descriptions of all the different records I started to learn a bit more about the insular world of record collecting. The one that cost £560 had a black and gold Parlophone label – a “first pressing” and very rare. The stereo one really was a bargain compared with the £3,500 valuation in the record guide. A bit further down on the listings was one described as a “fifth pressing” which was £24, including p&p. That sounded a bit more on-budget.
Record Pressings – A quick guide (without trying to be too dull):
The difference between a £560 record and one that costs £25 comes down to condition (mint is worth twice as much as something with a few minor flaws, scratches or creases) and also the pressing. Like with books, first pressings are valued by collectors as there may be fewer records made – especially for a debut album – and collectors believe the sound is better on some early pressings due to the thickness of vinyl and the quality of the template used to press the records.
The way to find out if your record is a first pressing is to read the etchings on the disc itself (between the grooves and the label) – there’s a series of letters and numbers on each side that is unique to each pressing. You then have to look up the number on-line or in the Record Price Guide book. Sometimes, the songwriting credits change – this happened with some Led Zep records and also on “With The Beatles”.
The disparity in price was across the board: copies of Sgt Pepper had sold for £280 and £25.
I did a quick search on all the Beatles records and worked out that if I was lucky I could spend £330 and get the set. Even if I got carried away and over-bid on a couple, I still had a decent amount of headroom in my budget of £445. The book remained a problem, but I would worry about that later. Some of the records were more of a problem than others. There weren’t any Past Masters on sale and The White Album was around £60 without all the postcards. Anything that had a poster and postcard set intact was creeping up to £100 or more, which was on budget still, but the thought of spending £100 on a record rather filled me with horror. Knowing my kids, they’d use the discs as frisbees and the nice white sleeve as the world’s most expensive colouring pad. One copy of The White Album, with a low number on the sleeve (they were all individually numbered with the first four going to the boys themselves) went for £400. A Let It Be box set (with book) had sold for £125. I had budgeted £20. Perhaps the book might be good, but that’s a lot to pay for a book…
Then the phone rang. It was the friend I had the bet with: Chris. He sounded rather chirpy. “Have you looked on Amazon lately?” he asked with extraordinary amusement in his voice. “They do have some bargains on there, you know”. He hung up the phone. I instantly knew what had happened. My stomach dropped as I looked on the site.
Amazon had reduced the price: The Beatles Box Set on Vinyl was now £299. I had bet I could find the originals for less than the Amazon price. But that was when the price was £445.
Buying solely on eBay was no longer an option. £60 alone would be spent on postage at an average of £4 a record. That only left £240 to buy fifteen records – that was just £15 each. The White Album alone cost £60-£100! Time to talk to an expert: Bob at Leigh Records – my local used Record Store.
Record #111: The Beatles – Nowhere Man