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Unlocking Value: The Most Underrated Vinyl Records to Collect

A SERIES FEATURING ALBUMS THAT, FOR WHATEVER REASON, ARE CONSIDERABLY UNDERVALUED AND SHOW INVESTMENT UPSIDE

Who would spend $25,000 on a baseball card?  Flipping through my Beckett baseball card price guide as a kid, that price seemed absurd.  Cards valued over $1,000 were a novelty, but seeing something worth $25,000? Unimaginable.

baseball card price guide

Baseball card prices peaked in 1994, before the Major League Baseball strike sent values plummeting.  Then, around the turn of the century, the struggling market received a boost with the increasing popularity of third party grading.   Now, graded sports cards, comic books and even video games routinely see sales of six or seven figures.  That 1952 Topps Mantle that listed for $25,000 ungraded in 1994?  It sold for over $12 million in 2022.

Eye popping prices have been realized in all different mediums.  A 1985 sealed Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game, graded 9.8 by WATA, sold for $2 million.  The Amazing Fantasy #15 comic book graded by CGC sold for $3.6 million. Even graded cards of baseball and basketball prospects sell for thousands of dollars before they’ve entered a professional game.

Luckily, we can still find great vinyl at reasonable prices.   The only records that reach anything close to these shocking prices are records with special provenance, like the # 0000001 Ringo Starr-owned White Album, or 1/1 acetate records.

The rise of vinyl values seems inevitable.  Eventually, the value potential of records will catch up to the other collecting genres, and collectors and music fans alike will find themselves sitting on hidden gems in high demand.

Two key factors have suppressed vinyl values. First, the standardization of condition is remarkably difficult, keeping buyers from confidently purchasing albums online, sight unseen.  One collector’s interpretation of “near mint” may be very different from a seller in Japan, whose evaluation may be different from a buyer in Los Angeles.  In the end, the lack of confidence in exactly what is being bought and sold has depressed the market.

the beatles yesterday and today "butcher cover" graded by Vintage Media Grading

Second, it is a sad truth that identifying and authenticating the many variations of a record is often quite complex. Commonly, the record for sale online is not what is actually listed.  A seller may honestly believe they hold a first pressing, or a variation from a particular year, and advertise it as such despite being wrong.

As a result, collecting vinyl variants is incomparably difficult and frustrating. But VMG solves both issues. We have standardized the grading process and the exact variant is clearly written on the label. Thus, buyers and sellers can trade albums with a degree of confidence that will make collecting more satisfying. With easier, more transparent buying and selling of valuable albums comes a natural increase in value.

In the late nineties, card prices plummeted due to a glut of product and the fear of counterfeits. Ungraded, cards could not be reliably sold online due to risk of a bad investment and disagreements about condition.  Third-party grading rescued the hobby, and sports card collecting has reached a popularity it has not seen in decades.  Comic books, action figures, VHS and video games have followed, becoming valuable investments.  The time is now for vinyl records to do the same.

Here, we present the first in a series of articles highlighting ten albums with a high ceiling for value growth.  A few caveats about this list: these are not the ten most expensive records, nor are they the rarest.  They are admittedly heavy in the genres I generally collect (and where most of my knowledge lies).  I tried to choose albums that fall in various price points so there is something for everyone.

The criteria is simple.  The records need to have an actual release – not something that was snuck out of the factory.  Once Upon A Time In Shaolin will not be included.   The artist must have mass appeal and some pop culture relevance.  Also, something about the release must make it unique, interesting, or rare.

Who would spend $25,000 on a record?  That sounds like an exorbitant amount to spend, and it is.  Well, allow me to present the 1952 Topps Micky Mantle of vinyl…

the beatles yesterday and today first state stereo
1966 – The Beatles – Yesterday And Today (Butcher Cover First State)

The first pressing of Yesterday And Today was released in the US in 1966, pressed at three locations: Scranton, PA, Jacksonville, IL, and Los Angeles, CA.   The album checks all the boxes for collectibility.

First, and quite obviously, The Beatles remain one of the most well known and collected bands in the world, maintaining pop culture relevance nearly sixty years later.  Second, the album cover is truly rare.  This compilation album was originally released in the US with The Beatles in butcher aprons, covered in decapitated dolls and pieces of meat. The public backlash caused Capitol Records to quickly recall the album.  The few that were sold before the recall are referred to as “first state” albums.  This is the rarest and most iconic version of the album cover.  The album was released in both mono and stereo versions, with about 90% of the original releases being mono.  The rarer stereo first state album is poised to be the one that cracks the ceiling of vinyl values. If you don’t want to wait to find a stereo version for sale, grabbing the mono first state also holds tremendous upside.

the beatles yesterday and today second state
1966 – The Beatles – Yesterday And Today (Second State)

Capitol’s solution to the backlash was to paste an image (the Fab Four sitting on a trunk) over the original cover.   The cover was then trimmed about 3/16” to make a clean edge on the open side.  These are referred to as second state albums.  It is believed that only the Los Angeles and Scranton pressings were given this treatment while the ones returned to Jacksonville were destroyed. Finding these intact is becoming more and more difficult, making them quite collectable. Be cautious when buying this online, however.  Subsequent releases were made using this cover.  It is easy to tell in person if the album cover was factory printed or has an image pasted over the original cover; Ringo Starr’s black v-shaped jacket opening is visible through the sticker, to the right of the trunk. When buying online, you can also ask for images with a ruler in the image to pinpoint the dimensions of the album cover.  Of course, you can forgo those concerns if the album is graded by VMG, allowing you to buy with confidence.

1966 – The Beatles – Yesterday And Today (Third State)

It wasn’t hard to notice something hidden beneath the pasted-on image of the second state album. Owners peeled off the trunk cover to reveal the original butcher cover.  This “peeled” version is generally referred to as a third state album.  But how would you know if you have a first state or a very cleanly peeled third state record cover? Measure the album cover or compare it to another Beatles album cover from the same era.  The third state will be slightly narrower than the first state, as described above.

The final version of Yesterday And Today covers followed these first three states, as the publisher began to print the trunk photo directly on the covers of the following issues, no longer relying on a sticker.

The three “state” variants make a nice set.  As collectors try to complete the set, one can expect high grade versions of second and third state albums, and even early pressings of “final versions” to demand huge premiums. Such a phenomenon is seen with baseball cards, such as the 1952 Topps baseball card set, where “spillover” from the popularity of the most valuable card has caused values to rise for other cards in the set.

The presence of the Yesterday And Today album at the top of our list isn’t going to break the internet.  It is likely one of the most sought after, collected and written about albums in the hobby. Although it is the most expensive album on the list, it remains a bargain when compared to prices of the most iconic collectibles in other mediums.

Join us in the coming weeks as we reveal nine other undervalued albums.  Feel free to comment or email us with any interesting findings, and if you have any ideas about records you’d like to see featured in the future, let us know.


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