Jul 9, 2015

Finding Value In Those Old 78 RPM Records

The bidding stood at $16,800 until the last few seconds of the eBay auction. Then, auction sniping software kicked in. Within seconds, the bidding soared to over $30,000. The final selling price of the item was just over $37,000.

What was it that caused all the fuss? An old shellac 78 RPM record by Tommy Johnson on the Paramount label, released about 1930. The winning bidder, noted collector John Tefteller, drove from his home in Oregon all the way to South Carolina to pick up his win, dubbed “The World’s Most Expensive 78.”

The lesson to be learned? Perhaps auction-goers, estate executors, antiquers and thrift shop scourers should think twice before passing up a box lot full of old 78s. Says Tefteller of his win:

“The seller… found the record some years back at an estate sale. He absolutely did not realize what he had and how rare it was until he put it on eBay. Within the first few hours of being listed on the auction site, another collector tried to stop the sale by offering the seller $4,000 for the record. Fortunately, he let the auction proceed and I was able to win it in the final moments.”

Not all 78s are rare and collectible, though. Just like stamps and coins, there are many available and most are worth pocket change at best. How, then, can one quickly assess the contents of such box lots to see if there might be gold among the shellac?

With the right approach—says Tom Roberts, noted Harlem-Stride style pianist, music historian, and 78s collector—an experienced eye can make short work of assessing a stack of old 78s. In a conversation earlier this week, Tom shared his methodology with me. >>> Read More

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