It’s an “original!” Ebay auction of an “original” Blue Note

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.

A bargain?

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.

17 thoughts on “It’s an “original!” Ebay auction of an “original” Blue Note

  1. I was following a Sam Rivers Contour Lp in Mono just recently. some bidder managed to bid up from $26 to $99.70 and than it didn’t hit the reserve price.. I suspect the reserve price is around $100? Now , Logic would suggest if you are willing $99.01 or $99.70, who would want to lose it for 31 cents? HMMMMMM….

    Bidder Bid Amount Bid Time
    z***z( 218) US $99.70 Nov-20-12 15:27:08 PST
    e***e( 31) US $99.01 Nov-19-12 11:43:43 PST
    z***z( 218) US $85.00 Nov-20-12 15:10:39 PST
    z***z( 218) US $79.70 Nov-20-12 14:12:21 PST
    z***z( 218) US $73.00 Nov-20-12 14:12:05 PST
    z***z( 218) US $53.00 Nov-19-12 14:06:02 PST
    z***z( 218) US $26.00 Nov-14-12 15:21:42 PST
    1***b( 2570)US $22.00 Nov-14-12 20:38:14 PST
    s***c( 33) US $15.00 Nov-14-12 08:37:13 PST
    o***d ( private )US $12.00Nov-14-12 14:15:05 PST
    s***c( 33) US $10.00 Nov-14-12 08:37:06 PST
    Starting Price US $5.00Nov-13-12 19:11:58 PST

    • Ebay specify a minimum reserve price – in the UK it must be at least £50, or above. The US is probably similar.

      It is a spiders web to a fly. If you keep upping your bid to find out where the reserve is, the bid that hits over the reserve is treated as a commitment to buy. No room for curiosity, the item is now yours unless someone bids higher. All you wanted to know is what the reserve is and you find you are trapped committed to purchase unless you invoke a retraction.

      Seems kind of daft pussyfooting at $99.70 , but its fun and games for some people I guess.

  2. Fascinating reading, makes me wish I had the discretionary income to play in those waters! I have been collecting jazz LPs and enjoying their lovely sound (which is the most important thing, yes!?) for over ten years – not as long as most of you. I have come to love Blue Note albums due to the sheer talent and volume of excellent sides.

    During a heady period in the mid-aughts I splurged HARD on a bunch of NY USA pressings, ever in search of that ear or P symbol. I believe Don Cherry’s “Complete Communion” (BLP 4226) is that last regular released ear or P pressing. I discovered there are around ten exceptions to the ear or P symbol first pressing rule in that they have numbers LOWER than the Cherry LP but NEVER had an ear or P because they were released after Blue Note swtiched to a different pressing plant.

    The key point in this lovely post and well-informed discussion is that the ear or P was not mentioned. I assume nothing as a buyer due to many hard-learned lessons (mostly concerning how not many people know how to properly grade an LP). If no ear or P was described in the listing then all buyers should have assumed there was none unless told otherwise. If the seller was asked a question on this point and did not respond – maintain the assumption there is no ear or P. You may miss out on a steal one in 100 but more often than not you will get burned. This is the responsibility of the buyer 100 percent.

    Bob mentioned something about the deep grooves (DG) and while they have little to no influence on the sound quality (some of the older DG LPs used thicker or better vinyl, or more likely the stampers were in better shape) but can shed some light on the age of the pressings.

    According to a quick Internet search to refresh my memory, I found reference to a report by Larry Cohn on the Jazz Collector website that Playstylite (the source of the P!) switched to new stamper dies in 1961 and slowly phased out the older dies, which were responsible for the deep grooves. Between 1961 and 1965 you will find many one-sided DG Blue Note pressings – normal. Between 1965 and 1966 all of the deep groove stampers were phased out – so all Blue Note LPs have no deep groove by 1966.

    Looking at the labels from the listing and taking into account the absence of an ear, the absence of deep grooves for either side would lead me to conclude this LP was pressed between 1965 and 1968. Pre-Liberty labels were used up after 1966 for years after (a friend of mine has J. J. Johnson Vols. 1 & 2 with Lexington Ave. labels but no ear, and in Liberty covers). Same goes for
    pre-Liberty covers, but these were used up within a year or two after the sale to Liberty.

    Bob is correct in that if this LP has an ear or P it could be as early as a second pressing (due to the lack of deep grooves), and thus probably worth the $800 (about 1/4 the price of a NM first pressing).

    If there is no ear or P then this LP was pressed in the late 1960s and should be worth around $75 to $100 at most (at least to me).

    Great post!

    Great post!

    • Thank you Troy, this post has had more hits than any other post before, so I think it “hits the spot” for many interested in this subject.

      I got burned a couple of times early on with “no ear” pressings. I have no problem with them when I know what they are. I have a dozen and of those, ten were bought in full knowledge they had no ear and I was happy to bid/buy on that basis, I knew they were first-wave Liberty reissues in old-stock Blue Note labels and covers. RCA did a great job and they are pressed on 160gm vinyl from RVG-master derived stampers, they sound great and I am delighted with them. They don’t tick the Fred Cohen boxes, but then Fred ventures no opinion what any records sound like, and to me that is the most important thing.

      Where I got burned was bidding in the (mistaken) belief that two were Plastylite pressings. I ended up paying two / three times their true market worth as measured by genuine-article sales on Popsike. One of the two sellers agreed a 50% discount.

      I dont think you can fudge this. When a seller piles on lots of “authentication information” ( label address, DG present, whatever) there is a reason for that, otherwise, why mention any of it, just quote the record title and get on with it. When they then withhold the status of the most important indicator of authenticity, the ear, it can only be one reason – because they know the price will fall if people know the true status of the article they are being invited to bid on.

      Gold and Silver artefacts are hallmarked,. It is how you know they are “genuine” gold or silver. That is why they are hallmarked. Persuade me someone can auction a gold bar on Ebay and withold the information that it has no hallmark. It isn’t gold, just base metal. You can describe it as an attractive shiny yellow, that it is from your grandmothers collection of treasured personal jewellrey which included lots of gold items, any sort of baloney, but it is not gold. There is no moral “wriggle room” here. I don’t see a record as some special case its OK to mislead by ommision.But that is just my take. It is not how Ebay has decide things.

      The line of least resistance is Buyer Beware, ask questions, and don’t do business with someone who wont answer. On that, Bob Djukic and I agree.

  3. Hey guys,
    since this was an auction by a german seller and i watch german ebay sales pretty closely, i saw this batch of Blue Notes, which is also featured on jazzcollector. I had seen a number of other auctions by this seller before, actually frequently being jazz, and never had the impression that he was doing monkey business. In fact i think he might have been speculating on customer’s ignorance in this case, yes, but at least i think all necessary information is there: he does even note that there is “no R and INC under E on SIDE ONE”, meaning it is there on side two, which i think points to this being a later pressing. So, as nobody in my line of thinking is forced to give information on what is NOT present on LPs labels (“ear” in this case) and as he claims some of the LPs were “early pressings”, nothing serious done wrong, i thought and stayed clear of this item. Moral question arising: If a seller knows about these things and can determine an LP as a probably second or later pressing, is he obliged to inform the potential customers? I think not. If somebody likes to spend 800 bucks on a single record for the thrill of it – why not? I have long decided to buy Fred Cohen’s book on Blue Notes in case i wish to enter such price ranges… and it is easy to find out about the existance of the book, so the knowledge is there for every one who likes spending 800 dollars on one record. End of much too long post 😉

  4. Hello LondonJazzCollector! I’m sorry to interrupt here but I wanted you to know that I placed a Image link of your blog on Jazz Con Class, okay? I was looking for a an image of Eric Dolphy/Oliver Nelson’s “Straight Ahead” album which I will be featuring and found it here. It is very interesting noticing all the albums you have listed here because I have featured several of them on my Jazz station already. Again, sorry for my interruption, there’s no email listed here for me to get in contact with you, so I had to inform you in this manner. Continue the great work!

    • Link away Jose my friend. (My direct contact point is at the foot of the “ABOUT” page found on the blog homepage : LondonJazzCollector (onewordnospaces) (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk
      Hopefully that gets through to me. I currently get around fifty spam messages a day targetted at the blog – mainly offering industrial quantities of Viagra and ink cartridges. Do I come across as someone in need of ink cartridges?

  5. Hello everybody:

    First of all, a brief intro: I have nothing but highest respect and praise for Andrew’s effort to bring some order and sense into the field of Jazz collecting. This is obviously a labor of love and a positively laudable pursuit.

    However: at the risk of playing a devil’s advocate and dissenting from the Papal Blue Note wisdom and infallibility, I humbly offer my two cents worth (eppur su muove!)

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a full-time eBay seller (as if
    you didn’t know this already) and that this particular seller Andrew is criticizing is an old customer of mine. And no, I do not have any vested interest in dissenting with Andrew — just a good faith desire to establish how collecting buyers (mis)perceive online sellers and their integrity (or lack thereof).

    I will also disclose that I did not communicate with this particular seller regarding this post or my response, nor do I have any intention of doing so.

    Firstly, allow me to say this: based on seller’s buying history, I am confident stating that his claim (that he is a lifelong Jazz collector) is actually truthful and deserves no skepticism. I also disagree that this tidbit is, in Andrew’s words ‘entirely circumstantial’. Would you rather buy your house by using an experienced, seasoned real-estate agent, or from the novice who cannot differentiate between a lease and a deed?

    Secondly, the presence of early, 2-digit zip code (23) on some (RARE) Blue Note pressings
    (typically the 1957-1958 vintage) has no particular merit or relevance. Here’s why: some
    BN titles exist ONLY on this “zip code” label (Cliff Jordan’s self-titled album [BN-1565] comes to mind), some exist on any combination (zip code on one side, none on the other), and some do not exist with zip code labels AT ALL. Are we to infer from this information that those 1957-1958 pressings that do not exist on this label simply do not exist as first
    pressings AT ALL and that Blue Note pressed them starting with the SECOND pressing (???), despite mountains of evidence to the contrary? I am absolutely certain that this minor label detail was only an arbitrary decision on part of the printing facility that made the labels. It is highly debatable if Blue Note had any input whatsoever in printing these rare labels or, if they did, what their motive may have been. Granted, it is possible that BN management wanted the zip code removed because they were anticipating company’s move to a different location, but this is a pure undocumented speculation and, as such, entirely metaphysical.

    Third: the record SHOULD have a deep groove on both sides, but what if it does not? What if it has a deep groove on one side? Does it render it a first-and-a-half-pressing? A less-than-first pressing? A pseudo-first? An abandoned and abused orphan of the first pressing?

    Deep groove – per se – means absolutely nothing. It’s sole relevance lies in pinpointing the
    timeframe during which the record was pressed, which – if the deep groove is present – MUST
    coincide with the period during which BN and its pressing facilities used a certain pressing
    technology, which, in turn, coincided with the recording industry’s period of strict compliance with the so-called RIAA equalization curve. This and this ALONE marks the significance of the presence of the deep groove. The fact of the matter is that deep groove, per se, will not improve the playback and may not guarantee the “firstness” of ANY pressing (hence, the presence of deep grooves on OTHER labels, such as Impulse, Verve, Capitol, etc may be entirely immaterial and irrelevant).

    In essence, the record that has a deep groove on one side is every bit the original deep groove pressing as the one with deep grooves on both sides (please feel free to disagree), simply because both pressings patently had to use the same pressing technology and were pressed, more or less, concurrently.

    Fourth: If the BN records originally issued AND pressed between 1965 and 1966, such as, for
    example, Hank Mobley’s ‘Dippin'” (which, obviously, never had an EAR stamp — or at least, vast majority did not) are invariably and LEGITIMATELY described as “first Blue Note
    pressings” by collectors, buyers and sellers alike, why are the earlier BN releases, those
    originally issued PRIOR to 1965, but PRESSED AFTER 1965 pejoratively described as “not Blue Note pressings at all”. How can one class of product manufactured during a specific timeframe be a “Blue Note pressing”, but a similar product produced by the same company, during the same timeframe suddenly become “not a Blue Note product at all” (or worse yet – become a (gasp!) LIBERTY pressing?). When does the Blue Note pressing stops being a Blue Note pressing and transmutes into non-Blue Note pressing? Did I miss something in my high school Logic and Psychology classes?

    Fifth: Blue Note pressings – and Jazz pressings in general, but BN pressings IN PARTICULAR –
    are, have always been, and will continue to be a subject of ongoing debate and dispute among the Jazz scholars and collectors. Much energy and effort – some laudable, some less so – has been invested in bringing some order into the field; the problem here, again, as I noted in my previous post, is not necessarily the abundance of historical or documentary record; the problem here is HOW THE HISTORICAL DATA ARE BEING INTERPRETED. I have nothing but respect for Fred Cohen’s Blue Note “Bible”, but – just like any “Bible”, it should be taken as a metaphor and with a chunky grain of salt and critical thinking. Namely, while his compilation of historical information is impeccable and beyond reproach, many of his (their) inferences and interpretations are light years off the mark, logically speaking

    SIXTH: In his comment on 11/19, Albert noted that (quote) “Interesting to note that the same seller fetched $3,340 for a Mobley 1568. In that auction, seller DID disclose the presence of “ear” (…). This indicates seller knows the key Blue Note attributes and thus intentionally left out the fact the the Sonny’s Crib LP above did not have “ear”… (end quote)

    Albert — “key attributes” may be YOUR key attributes, but they MIGHT NOT be the key BN attributes globally, by the entire collecting body.

    Also, your reading of the seller’s mind and/or his intentions is rather problematic. As a seller, I can elect to disclose the information whose veracity or significance I totally disagree with, simply because I feel that this information may mean something someone else or to some of my prospective bidders. Likewise, as a seller, I have a perfect right not to disclose the information I disagree with, or information I feel is in wide circulation but entirely misleading, or information I myself have attested to be patently untrue. This IS my prerogative as a seller. For this particular reason, my eBay help pages contain the following disclosure, which is readily available to anyone who cares to read it.

    “”Because music collecting is often subject to human bias, misinterpretation, contradictory and mutually exclusive claims and newly available information, we extend or imply NO guarantee as to the accuracy of the label, pressing, or similar related data contained in this auction. If you are a prospective bidder and feel that we have inadvertently provided inaccurate, misleading or outdated information, or if you simply have any questions regarding our grading, description or condition of the item, we encourage you to contact us through eBay for correction as soon as possible, and not later than 24 hours before to the end of the auction. Wherever possible, we will provide JPG or BMP image of the cover or label upon request.We will NEVER deliberately and willingly provide a false, deceitful or misleading information.”

    Look, if you are selling a house and it has a small, moldy and unseemly basement that you do not care for very much and never thought much of, are you obligated to mention in your ad description that your house has a small basement you don’t care for very much? Likewise, if your house does NOT have a small and moldy basement, are you obligated to say that it does not have a small and moldy basement? Or is the potential buyer actually expected to ask before buying? What legal, moral, customary, social, traditional, historical or other norms mandate the seller to include the perfunctory information or subjective assessment that may reduce the market value of the object he is selling?

    SEVENTH: where there are no industry standards, and where every market participant is free to set his own standards (thank God, we still do not live in Blue Note gulags), accusing others of not following your own rules smacks of, for the lack of a better phrase, unyielding dogmatism and compulsive rigidity.

    EIGHT, AND FINAL: CAVEAT EMPTOR (“BUYER BEWARE”). This has been the rule for all commercial transactions since the dawn of time, or at least since the Old Roman times. As a seller, I have a moral and legal obligation to abide by some minimal standards of decency and integrity (personally, I actually try my best to outdo those standards by a sizable margin), but there is no guarantee, nor there has ever been any, that the buyer and the seller will ever think the same way or that they will ever use the same logic. As an old Jewish proverb has it: one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. This warrants that, as Andrew put it, buyer “do his homework” and that he knows what he is looking for, why he is looking for it, and what the right price for such product may be.

    On a closing note: I do not see in this particular listing a “feeding frenzy” Andrew is talking about, but this may be because I dwell in the rarefied air of top-echelon eBay sellers who are used to recieving high bids as a matter of routine. Self-praise notwithstanding :-)), EVEN if this particular copy of the Sonny’s Crib is somehow seen as a second pressing (somewhat of an “IF”), I honestly feel that this listing had received PRECISELY the closing price it deserved. Clearly, the $860.00 closing price is nowhere near the highest price that this item ever attained, so, yes, it can be said that the bidders of this item were properly informed as buyers and that they did, in fact, make a qualified and competent market decision and that, yes, “all’s well that ends well” (with humble apologies to the Bard).

    • Bob,
      I do not disagree with your “seller’s prerogative”, but this is not a matter of prerogative, it is a matter of consistency and using the information available to make an informed bid. As a buyer, if I see a seller with multiple listings I can make certain assumptions from information provided or excluded by the seller in the various listings. Disclosing “ear” in one listing indicates that the seller has identified this as a consideration of value. If I do not see the same information provided in another listing from that seller, I can assume there is no “ear” because he has set precedence by including this information elsewhere. My comment that it was intentional does not imply it was done to be misleading, only that I believe the seller would have included the information if it were present. Thus as a buyer, I would assume the LP does not have “ear” and would base my bid on that information.

      • Albert: in a perfect world, everything would be consistent and streamlined and everyone would be honest and honorable. This obviously not being the case, the most the buyer can expect from any seller is to comply with a certain standards of decency and common sense. Those standards clearly do NOT include a requirement that the seller be consistent or coherent, but DO include a requirement that the seller disclose everything that the buyer ask to be disclosed. A seller cannot and should not be expected to disclose certain features just because the buyer believes he should do so as a matter of course.

        In my book of eBay seller’s etiquette, a much more grievous offense on part of this seller than the lack of consistency was this seller’s failure to answer the buyer’s inquiries, which is a gesture of crude and annoying disrespect to the buyer. I would dare say that the seller’s ability and willingness to promptly, fully and accurately respond to the bidder’s question is MUCH more reliable indicator of the seller’s honesty than any lack of consistency. Alas, when buyers judge the seller’s character, they typically look at the wrong aspect of his personality.

    • Thanks for epic input Bob, lot to chew over, as usual we agree and disagree some things, I’ll respond shortly (Incidentally this post has had more views than any previously written. Seems to has captured interest for some reason!)

      For now, let me cut to the chase, as you guys say.

      If you were selling this record today, which for the sake of argument does not have the Plastylite ear mark, (which seems pretty clearly the case) amongst all the other information about the record, would you mention it has “no ear” in your description, or not?

  6. Speak of the devil and for sure he’ll show up! I sent a question about an “EAR” on a Lp claimed to be an original three days ago and so far….CRICKETS!!

  7. Interesting to note that the same seller fetched $3,340 for a Mobley 1568. In that auction, seller DID disclose the presence of “ear” and also listed the correct labels as deep groove, both sides and 47 W 63rd both sides with no “Inc” and no “R”. This indicates seller knows the key Blue Note attributes and thus intentionally left out the fact the the Sonny’s Crib LP above did not have “ear”…

    • Good catch. This is not a forgetful seller, whoops forgot the ear, it looks like calculated ommission. I doubt Ebay consider no mention of ear misleading. Even the “original” delares it is “original US” , as opposed to a foreign press I guess, which is true. A very expensive days shopping for someone.

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