Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.
An occasional post on collecting life on Ebay: a case study
The story begins two weeks ago with a seller who claims to be a collector of rare Blue Notes, forced to sell some gems of jazz history from his personal collection, all of which are early or even first pressings, in beautiful condition.
All this may or may not be true, I’m not saying it isn’t, but is circumstantial, and to this observer, part of the theatre of selling. The record is what it is, whoever is selling it, be they Mother Theresa or Vlad the Impaler, and on the internet you have no certainty they are not Vlad Dracul (buyer collects, evenings only).
So far we have evidence of questionable taste in wood panelling. You can’t judge this book by its cover. With a few exceptions, covers are the least reliable indicator of authenticity.
More interesting however, is a forensic examination of the label, as good quality photos were helpfully supplied by the seller with the action. All the information you need is at hand.
First, here are the actual “original” first press labels from 1957/8. You can even see the ear at 7 o’clock on Side 2. Rather than “fact-checking” through Fred Cohen’s book, I prefer to check the Popsike archive – sales on ebay over the last seven years – and look for commonalities and variations of description of the highest value auctions.
Now lets look at what is actually for sale (click to view full screen)
Result of auction
$860: How did it get here?
Ebay helpfully puts the bid history on public display, suitably anonymised, and what you see is feeding frenzy: a battle between four relatively inexperienced bidders with scores of 7, 44, 56 and 60, and the familiar XL snipe closing the auction with the price setting increment above an eyewatering second highest bidder’s $850. Also in a familiar pattern, the winner did not participate in the auction at any time, just placed his one snipe.
Oh dear, very dear… good result – for the seller, who despite his claim to be a jazz collector, sells almost exclusively classical music.
No information was asked by or given to bidders as regards the unmentioned “ear”. Since the ear being present makes the record enormously more valuable, you might be forgiven for thinking there is a high probability there is no ear. The possibility that can not be ruled out that the “successful bidder has paid $860 for a Liberty pressing, worth about a fifth of the price. If the ear is present, that would be slightly less unfortunate but it still seems expensive for a late pressing, may be third press around 1962. Still nice, still a great play copy, which I would guess worth a half of the final price paid. The true first press in M- condition sells at two to three times this auction, up to $3,000, so may be someone thinks they have a bargain. Very subjective.
So what is it?
It looks to me like an early Liberty reissue using old stock labels and covers, pressed for Liberty at All Disc NJ in 1966 worth about $200. The only thing that makes me hesitate is the mixing of an R and a no-R label. This was a feature of second pressings by Blue Note 1960-2 after the name became a registered trademark in 1960. When using up the stock of older labels (no R) care was taken to also include one more recent label with the R (either 47W with R or the later NY label which all have R) to assert Blue Note copyright. You wonder if Liberty would have taken the trouble to carefully pair old stock labels. May be, may be not.
The question which would have settled all this speculation is a definitive statement on the presence of the “ear”. There wasn’t such a statement, and the fact there wasn’t one leads me to conclude the silence was deliberate, though within the rules.
The Price is Right
There are no “wrong prices” -that is something the market decides – but only where there is good enough information available to buyers, which in this case seems lacking. However it seems to me – and this is the thing – everyone assumed everyone else had done their homework, hence the feeding frenzy.
The key word here is the meaning of the sellers description of it as “original“.The word “original” either means something or it doesn’t. On the information available from the seller, we have no proof this is even an “original Blue Note” (pre 1966), let alone the “original Blue Note release” of BN 1576 Sonny’s Crib (from 1957/8). It looks like in this case, “original” doesn’t mean anything at all other than it is a copy taken from a Van Gelder master, released in the US at some time by somebody.
My copy of Sonny’s Crib is not a US pressing, it is a more affordable Japanese pressing. I think it may even be an original Japanese pressing.