I had the pleasure of speaking with and interviewing Stephen M. H. Braitman, a vinyl record appraiser and music historian. Here is the article I wrote about our conversation:
Stephen M.H. Braitman
Putting a value on your vinyl collection
by Robert Benson
The value of vinyl records is very subjective and certainly up for debate. There are many elements that go into ascertaining just how much a specific record or a whole collection may be worth. Do you use fair market value, replacement value or record price guide value? As I found out, it all depends on the circumstances, and the best way to achieve these objectives is to have your collection professionally appraised. I had the opportunity to speak with professional appraiser and music historian Stephen M. H. Braitman about the elements that go into putting a value on a record collection.
But, first, let me introduce Stephen. He has been involved with records and music since the late 60's, writing and editing several entertainment and music publications. He also has been a dealer, buying and selling records, posters and related memorabilia throughout the years. His widely acknowledged expertise in the marketplace for music and memorabilia makes his appraisal services very important for estate planning, charitable contributions, expert testimony and for insurance and coverage claims. His many credentials include: passing the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) Principles of Practice and Code of Ethics exam in 2004, completing courses on such subjects as the Uniform Standards for Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) Personal Property Valuation, Methodology-Research and Analysis as well as the legal and commercial environment of appraisal. He is also a music analyst with Gracenote, the digital music management company.
So what does all this mean? Stephen M.H. Braitman is a qualified, certified appraiser. Why is this unique service so important? As I discussed the details of his occupation with Mr. Braitman, let’s explore some of the details that go into a record collection appraisal and how a record collection should be appraised.
“This is a new service, a new genre so to speak,” he said. “The service is being offered for those people who may have large or small collections and have really no idea their worth. Unfortunately, there are no legal requirements to qualify as an appraiser except in the real estate market, but the IRS and the Appraisal Foundation have led the way with the adoption of nationally recognized standards that reputable appraisers in all fields use. The IRS, for example, uses the concept of fair market value, meaning the agreed-upon price paid by a willing, knowledgeable buyer to a willing, knowledgeable seller. One of the reasons I entered this profession is, not only because of my love for music and music memorabilia, but because I felt that the industry needs certified appraisers to provide critical assistance in defining the values of collections for insurance purposes, estate planning, tax donation claims, personal disputes and investments. Part of the job is also being called upon as an expert witness to attest and back up the values set upon a collection. That’s where I enter the picture.”
When asked what exactly goes into an appraisal, Stephen explained:
“There are many variables that have to be recognized when placing a value on a collection. It also depends on the purpose of the appraisal. For instance, the IRS uses fair market value in determining the value of donated material. But, replacement value in insurance cases different; it’s higher because you’ll be paying a higher cost to recover certain collectibles, let’s say, that may have been lost in a fire. So, the intent of the appraisal must be taken into consideration as well.”
“We research what are comparable items in the current marketplace. There are several aspects to research that include recent and relevant sales, trend analysis, professional consensus, retail stores, auction prices as well as record guide prices. The record price guides are a nice starting point, but they may not reflect true value because of the variables just mentioned.”
“Our first order of business in an appraisal is generally to examine the physical items, if possible, and note the condition, edition or other key points of recognition. Then we conduct extensive research to ascertain the current marketability of the items. Our service concludes with a certified document that details the estimated retail value and the current wholesale value, depending on the type of appraisal. We also include a statement of the overall quality level of the item or collection, including condition, pressing edition or the cultural or historical desirability. This document exceeds the appraisal requirements of the IRS and the insurance companies.”
We discussed one of the most confusing and subjective elements regarding vinyl records: grading the vinyl. I asked Stephen what method he uses.
“It is actually a combination of many methods, including the Goldmine Standards that have been set up in their many publications, the ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’-formula, and my own formula. I like to take it a step further and use a 100-point scale, and deduct points for every flaw, not only on the record, but the picture sleeve (if it is a 45rpm), LP jacket and cover. I would like to see a uniform standard set up sometime in the near future, something that everybody in the industry could agree on,” said Stephen.
There are also a couple of ways to have your memorabilia or record collection documented and appraised, as Stephen details:
“We actually offer two distinct services, the professional appraisal and a quick evaluation of your memorabilia or record collection. This entails you sending us a list of your items from which we provide a detailed document with a range of market values based on comparables. You’ll be able to tell whether you have something worth $1.00, $10, $100, or more. This process is quicker and less expensive that the formal appraisal and is most useful in estimating what a sale to a dealer might bring,” explained Stephen.
“Our service includes, not only the appraisal of records and record collections, but posters, flyers, handbills, programs, CDs, promotional items, tour books and other music collectibles. (I don't handle musical instruments, which is a very different kind of specialty). It is important to have your items or collections appraised to gauge the potential replacement value, assist in estate planning goals, tax elements and other factors. I have much more information on my Website, http://www.MusicAppraisals.com.”
As we wrapped up our interview, we talked about our love for not only music, but the historical audio format of, vinyl records. I asked Stephen about one of his most memorable record collection appraisals.
“I did an appraisal for a gentleman in Texas and he had a wonderful and superb record collection. But, when he put on an old 78rpm of Robert Johnson and played it on his professional sound equipment, and as the music filled the room, you could have swore that Mr. Robert Johnson himself was playing for you right then and there. It was a wonderful and enlightening experience, and one I will never forget,” recalled Stephen.
So, not only does Stephen M.H. Braitman offer valuable and unique record appraisal services, he also gets to archive, appraise and handle important parts of audio history, and gets to hear them as well. And that is a reward that you can not put a value on.
Stephen’s contact information:
Monthly Column: "The Picture Sleeve Archive" in Goldmine Magazine
Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates http://www.collectingvinylrecords.com, where you can pick up a copy of his ebook called
"The Fascinating Hobby of Vinyl Record Collecting."