Monday, July 21, 2008

Vinyl Record Appraisals

Meet Record Appraiser and Historian Scott Neuman

By Robert Benson

Everyday it seems that we read about the resurgence in the sales of vinyl records. In fact, in a recently-released 2007 RIAA sales report, the American music industry sold 36.6 percent more Extended Play (EP) and Long Play (LP) records than it had in the previous year; increasing vinyl sales revenue by 46.2 percent.

And the world of collecting vinyl records is also reaping the benefits from this renewed interest in vinyl. But how does one place a value on these classic recordings, what is a rare record worth and what is the process for acquiring such information?

I spoke with vinyl record historian and record appraiser Scott Neuman, owner of about this dilemma and some of the obstacles one may encounter. But, first, let’s meet Scott and review his background.

Scott Neuman is a vinyl record veteran who started working in the music industry at an early age and has been a record collector/dealer/appraiser since 1975. He has been an on air disc jockey for several radio stations, worked in television as an announcer and cameraman and has also owned and operated a record store. And keeping up with the times, Scott was one of the first “online” record shops, operating; which boasts an inventory of well over 2 million records.

I asked Neuman about the renewed interest in vinyl records and the allure of vinyl.

“Listening to records used to be a time to be enjoy with a few friends, hang out, listen to the music and read the liner notes on the back,” explained Neuman. “Maybe you enjoyed the gatefold sleeves in a personal way, maybe you just enjoyed slipping the sealing material off the cover on your pants by rubbing the corner of the record on your knee, taking the record out, getting that little “pop” of static electricity and taking a slight sniff of the vinyl. Then lining up the needle on the record after cleaning it and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of your work. All of that is very hard to do with a CD or MP3. Records are personal, something to share with friends. Sure, CD’s are nice and so are MP3’s. But records force you to listen to them.”

And, what is the allure, and can you tell me about your record collection.

“The allure? For all the reasons above,” said Neuman. “All formats have their points. I just like handling vinyl. I was a DJ for years and used to use records to entertain in the Philadelphia and New York area. I didn’t just play records. We made a night of entertainment. As for the digital sound, I prefer the warmer sounds I get from vinyl.”

“I do have a music collection and my favorite items are not necessarily rare. I do have a large jazz collection from the 50’s in mint condition that I’m not ready to sell yet. These would be first pressings by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Monk, and a few others. I also have some rare Beatle items that I enjoy looking at including a first state ‘butcher’ cover and an “Introducing the Beatles” in excellent condition that isn’t counterfeit. I also appreciate Gold and Platinum RIAA award albums given to various artists, autographs by various artists and also Vogue picture discs which were picture discs pressed on 78 records. One more thing I enjoy owning are various acetates. These were one off pressings by artists used just for test and listening purposes and were normally destroyed after a final production of a product. You can sometimes hear alternate versions of your favorite songs. These items self destruct the more you play them so it’s wise to record them and put them away for safe keeping.

Neuman is also one of the world’s most renowned vinyl record appraisers and offers this service on There are many variables that go into what a particular record may be worth and I asked Neuman about the demand for this service and what makes a record valuable.

“Forever Vinyl gets more than twenty calls a day for customers looking for appraisals for estates and charity donations,” detailed Neuman. “As far as the elements of an appraisal, it depends on the needs of the customer. For donations, we draw a number of different elements to get the correct market value for your collection. We neither under nor over appraise your collection.
What makes a record valuable?

“What makes a house value? Location, location, location. When it comes to records, demand, demand, demand. Age is not a determining factor in record collection, demand is,” stated Neuman.

What donating records to a charity, what are the main obstacles a person might encounter?

“There really aren’t any obstacles per say other then finding a non-profit entity to accept them. The IRS is very picky about fair retail market value as they should be. We should all pay our fair share of the tax burden. It’s important to understand that the IRS considers the value of a collection to be based on the value and use of the entity you are donating the collection to. If you donate the collection to a university, and they hold on to it for three years, possibly put it in their library and make the collection available to the students to learn from, the appraisal will normally stand. If you donate the collection to a thrift shop, the IRS will normally look at what the thrift shop sold the collection for and adjust any appraisal value over that amount. Needless to say, we highly recommend finding a charity that would value and use the collection rather then just dump the collection for pennies on the dollar.”

Tell me about your appraisal services that are offered at Forever Vinyl.

“As you know, many records are now valued in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. Because of the amount of appraisals that are requested per day, we've instituted a reasonable fee to cover our cost, time and expertise for these appraisals. Our current fee is $20.00 for the first item of the appraisal and $5.00 for each additional item. For collections with over 200 pieces, please call us 732-505-5337 for adjusted rates,” explained Neuman.

“All information must contain the following information- Artist, Title, Type of item, Condition (1 - 10 is fine with 10 looking like its brand new), Label and Label Number. If the item is a 45 single, does it have a picture sleeve? Also any other comments you'd like to make about the item. Examples could be if it's a promotional or "Not for Sale" copy, if it's a test pressing or acetate, if it's autographed and so forth. If necessary, we can and will travel to your location. For those of you with larger collections, we do work on a rate of $200.00 an hour plus travel, food and lodging expenses, if you need us to come to you. This is only by appointment. Many of our customers have used this service. We also can accept items shipped to us for appraisal. Feel free to contact us for more information; we’d loved to help your put a value on your collection.”

So as the sales of vinyl records and the interest in this historic audio medium continue its upward trend, so too, will the need for vinyl record appraisals. Thankfully, we have vinyl record experts like Scott Neuman to help us put a value on our collections.

Going for a spin

By Steve Clark


The truth is, vinyl never completely went away.

Underground punk music and various obscure independent releases have continued to be pressed into vinyl records ever since the supposed death of the medium as the mainstream commercial standard for music delivery in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, vinyl is enjoying a mainstream comeback—not that music lovers are tossing their CD collections and iPods into dumpsters across America and scooping up turntables to spin the venerable 33 1/3. Still, it appears to be more than a passing fad, says Taylor Sullivan, music buyer for the Compact Disc Store, which has several boxes of newly released vinyl LPs in addition to its stock-in-trade CDs.

“I don’t think it’s going away,” he says. “I don’t think it’s just a fluke.”

Sullivan, 32, spun records as a kid and never stopped collecting the obscure underground stuff. A few years ago he tried ordering a few for the store to see if they would sell. They did. Like crazy. Eventually, less esoteric offerings began to be issued again on LP, and the Compact Disc Store, despite its name, is carrying it.

REM’s newest album, Accelerator, is available in LP format, for instance, as is the new one from Coldplay, Viva la Vida. Even Best Buy has jumped on the vinyl wagon—gingerly: An employee at a Baton Rouge Best Buy reported all five copies—yes, five—of the Coldplay album had sold out.

Also, more and more old music is being reissued on vinyl—the Beatles and Pink Floyd, for instance, though for now it’s just a trickle. Sullivan says look out for a wave of new old releases on LP in the next few months as the trend gains steam. Sullivan says the people buying his LPs are a mix of young and old.

“I would say that just in the last six or nine months it’s doubled, but then again so has the availability of stock,” he says. “I’ve noticed a lot recently. Right now the demand is outrunning the supply. There’s a lot of big indie records that are coming out on LP. The pressing plants are backed up where things are not getting out on time.”

Sullivan, who guesses he’s “killed four turntables” during his record-listening career, says the renewed interest in vinyl could be in part because of a backlash against the relatively low sound quality of downloadable MP3s compared to other formats.

Brad Pope, owner of the Compact Disc Store, acknowledges the irony of selling LPs at a store founded on the notion that LPs were history.

“I had doubters at the time,” he says. “They were wrong for about 20 years.”

Pope says today’s vinyl is heavier and higher quality—at least for the time being—than records used to be. The prices aren’t terrible. Flipping through the stacks, he finds a John Coltrane LP re-issue for $12.99, John Prine’s Fair & Square at $15.99 and a limited edition of Viva la Vida for $28.99.

“Lately sometimes our days are made by our LP sales—where it’s made the difference between a so-so day and a good day,” Pope says. “It’s a for-real phenomenon. Whether it’s just a flash in the pan remains to be seen.”

The Recording Industry Association of America reports that manufacturers’ shipments of LPs rose 1.3 million between 2006 and 2007—a 36% jump—while CD shipments dropped 17% during the same period, largely because of downloading.

None of this means Pope is ready to change his mind in the debate over LPs versus CDs. The LP school maintains that vinyl, recorded using analog technology, has a warmer sound than CDs, which are recorded digitally. He doesn’t buy it. Pope, a classical music aficionado, says CDs are superior in sound quality and a lot more convenient. He has no plans to get caught up in the vinyl frenzy.

“It really doesn’t have any fascination for me, but I’m a million years old,” he says.

Records do have a fascination for Clarke Gernon Jr., a local architect. While he’s mostly into collecting out-of-print blues and country LPs, he did recently splurge on a new vinyl release of bluesman R.L. Burnside’s music from the late 1960s. Gernon, who isn’t averse to downloading music onto his iPod, says records seem somehow more alive than CDs or digital formats.

He guesses the resurgence of vinyl is partly from young people in the age of iTunes and MP3s yearning to “actually have something to hold in your hands.”

“While it’s pretty easy to get the songs, the thing that you miss is the opportunity to shop for it, or at the end of it all to have a thing: something you can put on the wall and display,” Gernon says. “It actually is like a piece of art. I do try and sort of display my top four or five [LP covers] at any given moment.”

If you’re going to play a record, you need something to play it on. Believe it not, turntables are still around, and not just the equipment used by hip-hop DJs. Guitar Center and sell low- to mid-range turntables. Or you can spend thousands of dollars on a designer turntable available—though not necessarily in stock—from Valentino Home Entertainment in Perkins Rowe.

Troy Semons, the store’s installation manager, says the turntable market isn’t what it used to be. With major audio equipment makers having long since ditched the market, the high-end stuff now comes small, esoteric designer-builders. The Reference Super Scoutmaster Signature, for instance, winner of the 2008 Absolute Sound Golden Ear Award, retails for $7,400 on

Semons says the few customers who buy turntables tend to be older people replacing their worn-out equipment. Why? Because LPs—on a high-end turntable—sound better than CDs. While he may not have a turntable himself, he does have an opinion: As long as the master recording is high-caliber, vinyl sounds better—noticeably better—on a high-end record player.

“What you’ll have is frequency extension above a certain point,” Semons says. “Supposedly we’re not capable of hearing it, but it is there and you notice when you listen.”