Our sister site The Vinyl Factory (where this article was originally posted) kicks off its end of year review with a look at 10 of the most collectible records of 2014. Illustration by Petra Péterffy.
So what defines a collectible record? In our opinion, many things, and rather than ranked as a definitive countdown, the records in this list each provide an opportunity to discuss what we understand as value, from both a collector’s and a listener’s point of view. Of course, collectible doesn’t always means valuable, and it’s in this rupture that we’ve sought to place these 10 records.
A few points to consider: the first obvious factor when talking about collectibles is monetary value, both on release and then on the secondhand market. As every release on this list came out this year, they’ve naturally had very little time to accrue financial value.
There are many reasons why a record can go up in value, and high demand and short supply is always a major factor. However, not all collectible releases need be particularly limited to be highly prized, as Slint’s Spiderland box set proved this year, with over 3,000 copies in circulation still demanding close to £200 from the band’s tireless cult following.
There’s also the question of organic versus manufactured value, and the difference between records readily available for £10 on release and those whose distribution or exclusivity closely control the conditions of their value.
With the following 10 records we’ve selected a cross-section of titles that explore these points a bit further, where value, rarity and collectibility are measured by more than just inflated secondhand price tags.
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10. Wu-Tang Clan
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
If you think our 10 weirdest things pressed into vinyl are as novel as it gets, think again. This mysterious Wu-Tang Clan album comes housed in an engraved silver and nickel box designed by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, and bears the group’s W insignia. But that’s not where the novelty lies – the truly unique feature of this record is that there’s only one copy. As RZA puts it: “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the sceptre of an Egyptian king.”
Pretty much the Wu-Tang holy grail, the plan is for Once Upon A Time In Shaolin to tour galleries and festivals where fans can listen (one at a time) before it’s auctioned off for a price “in the millions”. We don’t doubt that there’s a die-hard, deep-pocketed Wu fan out there who’s willing and able to pay for it, so in economic terms, this release probably has more value than anything else in this list, and potentially more than any vinyl record in history.
With a cynical hat on, you could label it as merely a publicity stunt or a cash generator, but it’s an interesting case and there’s an argument for its legitimacy as a piece of art. A single copy of something, whether it’s a record or other type of artwork, holds a special aura, and its price tag is largely manufactured by its extreme rarity. For this reason, we nod to its potential economic value but place it at number 10.
9. Keaton Henson
(The Vinyl Factory)
Here’s an example of how a dedicated fanbase can drive up the demand for a record far more than a larger, more disparate fan following. We released the first vinyl edition of folk-turned-classical pianist Keaton Henson’s mp3-only Romantic Works earlier this year in an edition of 600 copies, priced at £25 with 6×100 different signed art prints thrown in.
Keaton’s reach is relatively limited, but enough demand existed to leave re-sellers on Discogs confident of getting anywhere between £100 and £225 for the record. Though it’s one of our own releases, we’ve included this as just one example of a similar phenomenon (see also Sun Kil Moon’s acclaimed LP Benji, also released this year) where the quality of the music drives demand beyond supply and contributes to the overall collectibility of a release.
8. Al Dobson Jr.
Sounds From the Village Vol.1
Collectible and valuable don’t always collide, in the short term at least. So far the highest price paid for Sounds From The Village on Discogs just scraped £40 – peanuts compared with some other records on our list. Still, this record has a few attributes that make it a top contender on the desirability front and potentially one to watch in terms of future monetary value. Clearly one Discogs seller who’s asking for £300 for it has a similar idea, but they might be getting a bit ahead of themselves for the moment.
So if it’s not worth a ton, what makes this a super collectible record? We think it mostly comes down to the intrinsic artistic factors – the musician, the label, the quality of the record – and a degree of specialness helps. Al Dobson Jr has come from relative internet obscurity to garnering serious respect in less than 12 months – both his 2014 albums Sounds From The Village Vol.1 and Rye Lane have turned heads with the actual tracks pressed on to them, which unites voices and rhythms from around the world in a stew of jazz-inspired collaging. Both batches of 300 have been in hot demand. Released on IZWID Records (run by Kutmah, who himself has racked up something of a cult following) the record is also encased in a beautiful printed cover, the label boss’s own work. Whether or not this record breaks three figures, it has all the makings of a future rarity.
(Little Man Records)
Being asked to curate the Southbank’s Meltdown festival is rapidly becoming akin to a music and arts industry knighthood, so it’s no surprise James Lavelle grasped his opportunity to curate a programme that showcased emerging as well as established acts born in his image.
One of those was Radkey, a brotherly punk trio from Missouri who Lavelle remixed as UNKLE on a 10” release limited to 100 and only available at Meltdown and the band’s subsequent gigs. But Romance Dawn is as much blessed by association as its scarce distribution, with Mo’Wax/Lavelle completists desperate for UNKLE’s first remix in four years and a Ben Drury co-design credit pushing the single up to around £100. As Lavelle says, “this band have endless energy and excitement and you can’t buy that shit!”
6. Various Artists
(Light Sounds Dark)
No matter how long you stare at WYWH, the only information about the 24 tracks on this uncompromising compilation will be written on the perplexed expression staring right back at you from its mirror sleeve. Information surrounding this clandestine triple vinyl is just as oblique, but enough to suggest that this collection of rare records from across the kosmische, post-punk and new wave spectrum might well be the compilation of the year. We don’t make a habit of covering bootlegs, and this is the only unofficial release to make any of this year’s lists, but it’s for that reason that WYWH is interesting.
There’s no tracklist, there are no artists listed, there are no dates, and there’s certainly no explanation of why this triple vinyl is pressed onto one black records and two clear ones. YetWYWH has sold for £80 on Discogs, with further copies available for upwards of £130, suggesting that it’s the quality and hen’s teeth rarity of these tracks that has helped it command such value on the secondhand market. If you’re holding one of these in your hands right now, there’s bound to be a pretty smug bugger grinning back.
The special version of Jungle’s self-titled debut album features hand screen-printed gold sleeves and alternate artwork. Only a super limited edition batch of 50 copies were pressed, so naturally it’s become something of a collector’s item, especially since their ascendance to a household name via their Mercury Prize nomination.
What’s more, many fans missed out on the vinyl edition because it was only sold at XL’s booth at the Independent Label Market in London this July. On Discogs it has already been selling for up to £130, and the price tag just keeps going up.
4. Jack White
‘High Ball Stepper/Lazaretto’ (fastest ever 7″)
This man churns out rarities faster than you can say ‘phonographic recording booth’, and with a fanatical following to match, who can blame him? While “the world’s fastest studio-to-store phonograph record” claimed the headlines, available only to Record Store Day shoppers in Nashville, the 7″ was a promo for the same album, named ‘High Ball Stepper’, which has been the year’s big White rarity. Initially sent out to radio stations, another 30 of the one sided 7” singles were sent to Third Man Records subscription holders, who cooed over the blue felt label, etched b-side and run out groove that reads “Mountain of the true God”.
‘High Ball Stepper’ stands out as a true Jack White rarity, tantalising completists in the way that radio-only promos used to. He may have chosen not to release this 7” more widely but the fact that there are people out there who’ve parted with £300 for the single shows just how much sway he holds. That said, no one seems willing to part with their copy on Discogs just yet, so perhaps we finally have a release that’s found its way into the hands of fans more interested in the objects themselves than their commercial value.
3. De La Soul x Dilla
Smell the D.A.I.S.Y.
Just 100 copies of Smell The D.A.I.S.Y. were released in total – five autographed copies on eBay for the benefit of J Dilla Foundation and 95 copies hidden in record shops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit for Record Store Day. Clues were provided through BitTorrent bundles and social media, giving information about which shops would have the releases in each city. In the spirit of J Dilla, a heavy cratedigger, the treasure hunt was designed to allow only those willing to dig to buy a copy – throw in an unreleased Dilla beat to close the record, and you’re left with a highly desirable vinyl edition.
The initial five autographed copies that were auctioned on eBay sold for over $500 each, and the current secondary market is just as buoyant – a recent eBay sale ended with a winning bid of $860, and several Discogs copies are currently listed between $350,000 and $600,000. A pretty hefty mark up from $40-$50 paid for a store-bought copy.
Though this record ranks high in monetary value, for some fans, ethical considerations have reduced its intrinsic value. Is it elitist to put out an unreleased track from a deceased producer and then limit the run to 100 copies, even if there’s a competitive digging element? It’s a sure way to create hype and boost value of each individual record, but pressing 500 or 1000 copies would have kept everyone happy and perhaps raised more money for charity. It’s not a view held by all, but it certainly adds a controversial dimension to this record and it’s an example of the backlash that can ensue when manufacturing rarity. And when you’re dealing with a dead artist and a dedicated cult following, this territory can be especially murky.
2. Aphex Twin
Endlessly discussed, in part because it was the first Aphex album in 13 years, but also because of the price tag, the packaging and the exclusivity surrounding it. A limited Syro would have initially set you back $400 (£250; €310), making it the most expensive record in this list based on retail price (ignoring that anomalous Wu record), and remarkably that figure exceeds most of the other records’ current secondary market price. But even if you had been willing to fork out the cash for it, you were probably left disappointed – only 200 lucky ballot winners were actually given the opportunity to buy a copy.
As we reported earlier in the year, a quick survey of Discogs one month later showed that many of those ballot winners were trying to flip their copy for several times the original fee paid. Interestingly, the majority of sellers were (and still are) brand new to selling on Discogs. Three months later, the situation is not too differnt in terms of price (as expected, it’s climbed a bit), but what has changed is that many of the Aphex fans who had no luck with the ballot have caved in and bought a copy on Discogs or eBay. So far, £625 is the top dollar splashed out on Discogs, while several eBay sales have commanded figures around the £800 mark.
Without doubt one of the most desirable items this year and certainly the most valuable (again, putting the Wu to one side) in monetary terms, it won’t be long before Syro joins the ranks of the rarities that sell for four figures (have a look at the most expensive H1 2014 records on Discogs for 10 of those).
A touch of playful egotism, ironic self-deprecation or starry-eyed prophecy? When Arca self-released his 2013 &&&&& mix on vinyl earlier this year he listed it at a cool £1,000,000, only to change his mind in favour of the more palatable £9 price tag. Not bad for a 14-track single-sided mixtape, backed with etching and some of the most brilliantly grotesque artwork of the year.
Until his debut album Xen was announced in early September, the 500-copy &&&&& had only been sold on the secondhand market twice, for around £50 each time, but since then its value has shot up to over £110. To put that in perspective, Aphex Twin’s Syro box would have to sell for over £3,000 to match it for percentage increase. But money is not the only reason we’ve picked this as number one. It’s been a big year for the Venezuelan producer, whose stint with Kanye West has heralded more production work with Björk, a critically acclaimed debut on Mute and a startling debut show in the UK with A/V partner Jesse Kanda.
That he kicked it off by self-releasing &&&&& on vinyl with minimal fuss, and made it readily accessible to the general public, makes this record one of the most powerful examples of how value and collectability can be accrued organically. It was never going to be worth a million quid, but Arca surely had an inkling that he was onto a good thing.