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In his regular 'Vinyl Stories' column Dave Goodwin discovers the most expensive records in the world.
Following on from our article on the most prolific collectors of vinyl in the world, we had a couple of requests for a list of the most expensive records of all time. So we’ve obliged – here’s a list of well moneyed discs of note.
Frank Wilson: 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ - £25,742
This one is no stranger to me. Around 20 years ago, I heard a Tamla track played by a Nottingham DJ Stu Morris while haunting the Thurland Arms in Nottingham. 'Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)' was massive at the time, because Motown had just issued the UK copy of the track in pressing format and as a limited edition 'Demo'. I picked a 'Demo' copy up for £20 somewhere around that time. The record originally appeared on the Soul label, which was a Motown outlet at that time such as VIP, Tamla, Motown etc. Only 250 demo copies of this single by the American soul singer and producer were ever pressed, and of those, only around five are reported to have survived – the rest were destroyed by Motown boss Berry Gordy during a fallout between the two. Stories about the reason for this vary, but rumour has it that Gordy wasn't too happy about the prospect of one of his best producers launching a singing career and ordered the demos to be trashed. It's also said, however, that Wilson felt the same way and decided against releasing the single. Either way, a handful slipped through the net. While the exact number of surviving copies has never been confirmed, Gordy is said to possess one of them and another sold at auction in May 2009. The buyer wished to remain anonymous, although the sale price was confirmed to be £25,742. My demo copy is worth something in the region of £200-250 these days.
Tommy Johnson: 'Alcohol and Jake Blues' - $37,100
This 78-rpm blues record by Tommy Johnson fetched over $37,000 (approx. £29,000) in 2013 when an Oregon-based record collector shelled out for a super-rare copy of 'Alcohol and Jake Blues', released on the Paramount label in 1930. Incredibly, buyer John Tefteller already owned a copy of the same record. He explained that the one he bought at auction was in much better condition and that the record was worth every penny since the master tapes had long since been destroyed.
Aphex Twin: ‘Caustic Window’ (test pressing) - $46,300
Most of the records on this list are of a certain vintage and their value stems partly from their age, but a lot of pricey discs are 'test’ pressings and this one is no exception. in 2014, a relatively new record shot into the top 10 when a rare test pressing of Aphex Twin's Caustic Window was sold at auction for a staggering $46,300 (approx £36,000). As it turned out, the buyer was none other than Minecraft inventor Markus 'Notch' Persson, who had evidently decided to splash some of the cash he'd earned by creating the world's most popular video game on a rare record by one of his favourite artists.
The Beatles: 'Til There Was You' (10” acetate) - £77,500
I suppose one of the biggest pop bands of all time had to be in here somewhere. And they are – more than once. This is said to be the Holy Grail for collectors of Beatles records; a 10” acetate of an early demo by the Fab Four featuring the songs ''Til There Was You' and b-side 'Hello Little Girl' (misspelled on the disc as 'Hullo Little Girl'). It was found languishing in the attic of one Les Maguire, a fellow Liverpudlian who had somehow come into possession of the record during his time as keyboardist for Gerry and The Pacemakers. It sold in Warrington to an unnamed buyer in March 2016. Described as 'the record that launched the Beatles' because it was recorded as demo for EMI, the test disc bears the handwriting of Beatles manager Brian Epstein and was recorded and pressed at none other than 363 Oxford Street, home of HMV in London's west end. Other Beatles rarities apart from the following in this list include "Till There Was You" a 10-inch acetate sold in March 2016 for £77,500, a copy of "Love Me Do" on a one-sided acetate, which was the only unedited version with count-in - estimated at $50,000–$100,000. Lastly, a copy of The Beatles' ‘Please Please Me’ LP (the Parlophone stereo version with the black and gold label, which regularly sells for over £1,000) sold in 2009 for £22,322.
The Beatles: ‘Yesterday & Today’ - $125,000
One of the other rare and collectible items is a Beatles compilation from 1966, released in North America initially, then later in Japan, but not in the UK or Europe. One of the reasons for its relative scarcity is that the early versions featured the infamous “butcher” cover, with John, Paul, George and Ringo draped in dismembered dolls and pieces of meat. It was swiftly withdrawn and replaced with much more tame artwork, but the original remains a sought-after item for Beatles collectors. A mint condition, sealed copy became the most expensive version in history when it sold at auction in February 2013 for $125,000 (approx. £98,000).
John Lennon & Yoko Ono: ‘Double Fantasy’ - $150,000
One copy of an LP can differ hugely in value from the next as the result of some defining feature that makes it more rare, whether that's a printing error or a signature. While any old copy of ‘Double Fantasy’ would set you back a modest £3 or £4, a copy sold in 1999 for an astonishing $150,000 (approx. £118,000). The macabre detail that rendered it so valuable was that it had been signed by Lennon himself just hours before his death on December 8th, 1980. As such, it may well be the last record Lennon ever signed. It became one of the five most expensive records ever sold as a result.
The Quarrymen; ‘That'll Be the Day’/’In Spite of All the Danger’ £200,000
This UK 78–rpm acetate in plain sleeve was released in 1958, but unfortunately there was only one copy ever made, which is safe in the vault of one Paul McCartney. While it has never been sold it makes the list because ‘Record Collector’ magazine listed the guide price at £200,000 in December 2012. McCartney had some "reissues" pressed in 1981 on UK 10-inch 78 RPM and 7-inch 45 RPM, in reproduction Parlophone sleeves. He authorised 25 copies of each, which are estimated to be worth in excess of £10,000 each. Original master tapes of historic recordings can fetch very high prices at auction – a tape of The Quarrymen performing live sold for £78,500. Other high prices for obscure Beatles-related tapes include $30,000 at Bonhams in 2008 for a recording of John Lennon singing at a party in 1973.
The Beatles: ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (signed by all four Beatles) - $290,000
An original 1967 pressing of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ will fetch a decent price at auction, particularly if it's the mono version with the black Parlophone label. But if one signature can dramatically increase the value of a record, then imagine what four can do.
In the case of this copy, sold at auction in 2013 to a buyer from the midwest in America, the auctioneers had estimated a sale in the region of $30,000, but were left dumbstruck when it ended up selling for nearly 10 times that amount, fetching an astronomical $290,000 (approx. £227,000) and breaking the record (thankfully not literally) for a copy of their 1967 album.
Elvis Presley: 'My Happiness' - $300,0000
There had to be an entry from the The King somewhere in here. If you know anything about Jack White, of White Stripes, The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, then you may also know that he is not only one of the busiest men in music, but he's also a huge collector of vintage gear and vinyl. He is the proud owner of one of the three most expensive records in the world. White bought the test pressing of Elvis Presley's first ever recording at auction in December 2015, using it to make a limited edition facsimile which he duly released through Third Man Records, complete with all the pops and scratches and even a plain brown paper bag as a sleeve – because, he said, “that's what Elvis would have walked out of Sun Records with.”
The Beatles: ‘The Beatles (White Album)’ - $790,000
Yet another entry for The Beatles. For years, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was known to own the very first copy of the band's self-titled double album from 1968, since the records were printed with serial numbers in sequence and Starr's copy bears the number '0000001'. He eventually sold his copy at Julien's auction in the U.S. for $790,000 (approx. £620,000) in December 2015, again to an unnamed buyer, along with his famous Ludwig drum kit, which was bought by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for a whopping $2.2 million.
Wu-Tang Clan: ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ - $2 million
By far the most expensive record ever sold is not an old record, but it is rare. This 2015 album by Wu-Tang Clan, of which this is the one and only copy ever produced. The record comes with a contract which stipulates that the buyer may not attempt to sell or make money from the record for 100 years, although the owner may release the album for free should they wish to. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet, since the buyer turned out to be the controversial Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, who has become something of a pariah in America thanks to his company's buyout of an anti-HIV drug, and its subsequent price hike of more than 5,000 %. He paid the asking price of $2 million (approx. £1.5 million), which didn't go down too well with some fans. Shkreli proceeded to make himself even more unpopular when he refused to release the album for free, although he has released snippets in YouTube videos since then.