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The selling of 78 RPM records has become so common on eBay that it's a buyers' market, but many sellers don't seem to realize this. A lot of sellers list common records at high prices and are oblivious to the fact that most buyers aren't going to bid on them. This guide is for those sellers who are somewhat new to selling 78 RPM records on eBay, or for those whose records are listed but never sell. Perhaps their questions can be answered.
Most 78 RPM records are collectible only to the individual collector. So it surprises me when I see multiple auctions for Glenn Miller's In the Mood selling for $10 up to $50. In the Mood is one of the most common records out there. But some sellers seem to think that any 78 RPM record must be "rare" and/or "valuable" and will command high prices.
Most 78 RPM records will not sell for that hoped for "high price." The average price for the average 78 is about $7. An average "high price" is around $30. Only on rare occasions will a record sell for more than $100.
I collect 78 RPM records. But only selectively. And I think most people are like me. They want a particular song or a particular artist and are willing to pay between $5 and $10 for it. I also seek out 78 RPM records at yard sales, estate sales, and auctions and will buy those that seem rare or uncommon enough (based on my own experience) to sell on eBay. I'll usually pay $1 or less on a record and hope to sell it for at least $5. In my opinion there will be at least one buyer out there who will want that record. My feeling is that I am sharing that record with him and my selling it for $5 is more of a service from one collector to another. If that record sells for $5 and it makes him happy, then I am happy too.
But there are rare records and there are collectible records. How do you know which is which?
The best thing to do is scope out eBay's listings first before selling a record you believe is rare. It will surprise you when you see in the current or completed listings that same record with a number of listings for it, all ranging in price from 99 cents to $20 or more. I really don't think many of these sellers actually do research before selling their records. It makes no sense to me to add another listing for that same record when multiple listings for it already exist. Especially when the completed listings show no recent sales for it.
Sellers, do your research first before listing that record.
Even in 2014, 78 RPM records are extremely common. Due to mass production and distribution, there are zillions of them still out there. For the most part, they are not rare or valuable. They therefore will not command high prices. I personally will not pay more than $10 for a record unless I really really really want it. And even then I may pass on one auction and wait for another for the same record at a lower price. I've done it before.
BUT! There are indeed rare, valuable, and collectible records that will command higher prices than $5 a pop. Now, they won't make you enough to buy a new car, but at least it will make the sale worthwhile and something you can tell your friends about.
Classical and opera are in a different category. These are really hard to sell. A typical modern fan of classical music will prefer to listen to classical pieces on CD rather than an old 78. Actually collecting classical 78s can quickly take over your entire house, since the box sets usually consist of six or more records. Selling-wise, though, if you find 1920s opera, that could sell, since many of these early-recorded opera singers are not available on modern CDs. Fans of opera could be searching for an elusive soprano known only to exist on 78.
More uncommon are the earliest jazz records, blues records, and some early country records from artists who later made it big, or lived a short but influential life. Or some very early Victor records. Also Berliner records are starting to get scarce. I'm talking mid-1920s records and earlier, i.e. Victor "scroll" labels, green-label Columbia or the earliest black-label Columbia, and yellow Bluebird labels. But these are only some examples. There are tons more from that era that can be quite valuable.
Again, though, how do you tell? If the label says "Race Recording," that could mean it's a rare one. (But not always.) In the early days of record production, if the artist was a black performer and the label believed it would sell to a black audience, it was designated a "race recording." It depends on the artist whether the record will be rare or not.
A lot of the early blues records were made by Gennett and Black Swan. If you can find any record whose artist is "Blind" Anything. then you could have a rare record that could sell for a high price. Gennett would go out in the field and record an artist sitting on his back steps, strumming his guitar, and singing his blues song. These records are the ultra-rare and sought after by collectors. On the other hand, there are a lot of Gennett records that are common and not collectible at all.
Other popular artists who may have made some recordings and died early are collectible. Jane Green, a jazz artist of the early 1920s, has a solid modern following and her records do sell. But for one Jane Green record are dozens of Paul Whiteman records. And there are so many Paul Whiteman records out there that there is virtually no market for him. Same with Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and the other big band artists.
Unfortunately, it's hard to pinpoint any one record or artist that will sell well versus a Glenn Miller tune. One that comes to mind is "Creole Love Call" by Duke Ellington, recorded by Victor in 1927. The vocalist is Adelaide Hall, who doesn't sing any words, rather, she sort of warbles along to the melody. The resulting recording is a beautiful and haunting piece (available on YouTube) that still resonates with audiences today. This record occasionally sells on eBay and has gone over a $100.
Other labels like Chess included a range of country and blues artists, especially Muddy Waters. His records can fetch high prices. I once came across a batch of Chess records and did very well with them, especially one by Harmonica Frank, who recorded with them in the early 1950s. My recording of Howlin' Tomcat sold for over $100.
Early blues records including Paramount are rare and can sell for "record" amounts.
Berliner is another example. These were the first flat, round records made in the late 1800s by E. Berliner and were only produced for a few years. Berliners are
extremely rare and can fetch prices for well over $100. I sold one for $93 and was quite happy having found it.
These examples are rare, though. The best thing you can do is research your record on eBay to see if it's already there. If it is, put it back in the stack and check again in a month or two.
I also will not buy records in lots, 10, 20, sometimes even listed at 50. I will sometimes see a "collection" offered for sale. Invariably, these listings will not include any artists or titles. So, why should I buy it? The seller is wasting his time and will be disappointed in the end when it does not sell. Any lot like this will likely be all common records in questionable condition. Nobody wants this. Nobody wants to kickstart a collection of his own by buying a bunch of junk.
Then there are others like Edison recordings. These are in a category by themselves. The Edison discs are a quarter-inch thick and only play on Edison machines. I have heard that a good Edison record on a well-restored Edison machine plays like it was new. The records themselves, though, cannot be compared with conventional records. Legend has it that Edison recorded the kind of music that appealed to him and only did it for a number of years before ceasing production. This does not mean that all Edison discs are valuable and collectible. Some are. Many are not. And most are pretty common and will not command high prices. You'd be lucky to sell a common one for $5. You must seek out the uncommon ones. And that takes research.
It puzzles me when the seller does not list the title and artist in the auction title. Usually it says "Glenn Miller Record #8731 Bluebird." This tells me nothing as a buyer. I want to know the title up front. Tell me! I do not like having to click on every listing to see what the title is only to find out it wasn't what I wanted. I'm sure other record buyers like me feel the same.
Like any auction, a good photo will help sell an item. For this, you want to show only the label, not the entire record, and certainly not a blurry photo of the whole record. The important info is on the label. And if I could add a picture, then I would illustrate my point. But the photo upload isn't working. For record labels, I always use my flatbed scanner. That makes a great photo every time. You can use a camera as long as you keep the flash to a minimum.
Shipping prices are also a reason I may not bid on a record. If the record is $5 and shipping is $7, I will expect that record overnighted to me at that price. What's that $7 paying for? I list all my records at Media Mail price, which is around $3. In my opinion, any shipping price over $5 is a ripoff and I will not bid on your record, even if it's one I wanted. I advise sellers to offer reasonable shipping rates. If the shipping price is high, it had better be packed carefully.
Speaking of packing, a 78 RPM record should be packed in a box as if it were a fine piece of highly-breakable china. Most sellers seem to know this, and I always appreciate it. Some, however, think that you can send a record through the mail in a flimsy envelope with no additonal protection. The right way to pack a record is this way: Put the record between two stiff ten-inch squares of cardboard and taped together. Get a square 12x12 x 4 inch box and put a layer of peanuts on the bottom. Place the cardboard square on top. Put more peanuts around the square and fill the box to the top. I have sent all my records this way and none have ever broken. I have also received most of my records this way and none have ever broken. Some sellers will wrap bubble wrap around the cardboard square. It's extra protection, but it's kind of unnecessary and up to the seller.
What about dating the record? If there's no way to know the year, then the seller need not worry about it. The buyer will likely know the year, but I always personally include it. I have a copy of "The Almost Complete 78 RPM Record Dating Guide" by Steven C. Barr (now long out of print) and this guide can pinpoint the year of almost any record. Other sellers have their own methods. I believe Victor Records has put much of their early catalog online, so their database can be searched by prospective sellers. If in doubt, leave it out.
I also believe that carefully stating the condition and playability of the record is important in the listing. Many sellers don't bother to do this, sometimes no conditon is stated at all. If you're going to make it a business of selling 78 RPM records, you need to preview them before selling them. In my own case, I have two Victrolas and two turntables that play 78s. I always tell how they sound (moderate surface noise? Heavy? Light?) and in some cases I try to describe the recording, especially when it's something unusual. For grading the record, you can use Goldmine's scale (google it) and say if it's Mint or NM or E+ or whichever. Beware, though, if it's Mint, that record must be perfect. It must play clearly. It must be practically brand new.
If you want to sell 78s with any kind of authority, you need to spend time browsing through the listings on eBay and read about the different labels online so you become more than just familiar with them. This knowledge will help you when evaluating a collection you come across at a yard sale, knowing what to buy and not buy. The uniformed buyer might buy an entire box of 78s hoping to sell all of them on ebay, when most of the lot includes Doris Day, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and all the other all-too-common items. The informed buyer will carefully go through the collection and purchase only what he thinks could sell. This is how I found the Berliner record, which I paid $4 for at a yard sale. I am by no means an expert. There are lots of other sellers on eBay who deal a LOT more 78s than I ever could in my lifetime. But I know enough to recognize what collections are worthless, and what records I need to actually look for when I find one for sale.
If you follow these guidelines, then you have a reasonably better chance of selling your 78 RPM records, versus selling none at all. Like with anything else you sell on eBay, you should always write a good title, describe the item well, price it reasonably, and offer decent shipping rates. These elements will make a difference between a sale or no-sale.
I know. I've been there myself.