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Re: [ARSCLIST] Appraisal of Sound Recordings

Dear All,
    As former "Conservation Manager" at the British Library Sound Archive, I
have an approach on this which hasn't appeared so far on this listserv.
    Here in the BL, we have a number of curatorial staff and their
assistants, who specialise in various sectors of the recorded repertoire.
They usually have a pretty good idea of the value of something, *because*
they are specialists.
    Another "angle" is that this specialism may be skewed because they
acquire material for the *British* Library Sound Archive.
    And a third "angle" (which *has* received a mention), is that they have
to invest for the *future*. Indeed, when I was employed full-time here,
predicting the future was the main part of my job!
    Since I retired, I have attempted to keep up-to-date with some of the
more esoteric subject-matter. Readers of *The Gramophone* catalogues
formerly published in Britain will know about the regular publications for
classical, jazz, and pop; but their equivalent called "Spoken Word and
Miscellaneous" is what I try to specialise in now. Occasionally I have
found things for commercial reissue, if money and/or distribution are
considered important elements.
     I don't aim to make any money myself, but if anyone wants my
experiences with mainly-British "spoken word and miscellaneous", please feel
free to contact me offline at :

Peter Copeland

-----Original Message-----
From: Steven C. Barr [mailto:stevenc@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
Sent: 03 March 2004 01:40
To: ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Appraisal of Sound Recordings

----- Original Message -----
From: "David S Sager" <dsag@xxxxxxx>
> I'd like to initiate a thread about appraisal of sound recordings.   I
> know that there are many price guides out there, but there must be some
> more substantial benchmark to go by.  What are the tools needed.  I
> suppose an extraordinary knowledge of all recorded media and the history
> of market prices for any and all.  But what does one do when confronted
> with something that has never been sold before?  No known precedent?

Keep in mind that for sound recordings...and more so than with many other
"collectables"...the value or worth of an item depends on two things...
how badly the buyer wants it (i.e. how much he/she/it will pay) and how
badly the seller wants to exchange it for money (or another recording!).
At some point, the two come to an agreement (or don't) and a value is
established...but one which applies ONLY to that instance of the sale
or trade of the recording in question!

Most of the price guides I have seen are based on the opinion of one
person and as a result are often not all that accurate (or even
reasonable!). Further, no two collectors will pay the same amount for
particular records...I often paid $2 or $3 for Grey Gull discs that no
one else would have given a dime for, simply because I was trying to
come as close to a complete collection as possible and/or wanted the
discographic information.

Further, popular tastes, often short-lived, fads or rumours can give
ephemeral value to certain records...like the $7,000 prices paid for
original Robert Johnson records, or the ridiculous prices asked (and
in some cases obtained!) on eBay for certain Elvis Presley records.
It is doubtful these values will last 50 years from now!

Finally, when confronted with an actual *unique* recording, all that
can be done is to look for other precedents which are as similar as
possible...and even then the expected price may not be reached, or
even approached! It depends not only on what the record is assumed
to be worth, but whether the one (or a few) collectors who will pay
that price can be made aware the item is being sold.
Steven C. Barr


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