The most rare and valuable jazz records

Last Updated: November 29, 2020

The word “rare” must trigger the release of chemicals in the collector’s brain which suspend rational thought. It’s only a record, for heaven’s sake, but..but..I must have it!!

Possession of truly rare records comes at a price, in the case of jazz, somewhere between $3,000 and $8,000, though not as high as the very rarest reggae or punk singles. You have to bear in mind, scarcity is not the same as  quality. There is often a reason why something is rare – possibly it didn’t sell, because it wasn’t very good. But to the collector, scarcity has a value all of its own, and exclusivity, being one of the few or only people in the world who owns it. It is a mild version of the art collector, who enjoys being only person to own a  painting, or the number of a limited edion.

The word rare is also overused in selling records. Records that are not at all rare are often described as rare! to boost auction prices. Early pressings of Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” is often described as rare but there are tens of thousands of copies out there. Among truly rare items are original pressings in near-mint condition,  of which perhaps no more than fifty to a hundred copies exist of some titles.

To bring some facts to bear on the subject, I have compiled some data from auction results, to identify the most expensive jazz records at auction, and how often they appear at auction, which are shown in the charts below.

The most frequently mentioned are first pressings of early Blue Note titles of Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Sonny Clark, which come in at the $5,000 mark. Early Transition label  is up there with the most expensive. Many of these copies will be located today in Japan, the biggest market in collectible jazz.

At this level,  all the details of first-pressing status must be present. As a listener, it is only the vinyl condition that matters to me, but for elite collectors it is the total artefact, especially the cover which must be perfect: no seam-splits, dinged corners, ringwear, or peeling laminate, and most important, no writing on the cover or labels – no previous owners names, which includes unverifiable autographs. Autograph-hunting was common practice in the 60’s , which encouraged many youthful record owners to fake them. Such records are often valued on the assumption that the “autograph” is fake. Some artists commonly autographed records, others rarely. A Charlie Parker autographed Dial  is quite something.

High-end records have always been rare and expensive and the province of high-end collectors – they rarely found their way into the collections of those of more modest means. It is very common for children or partners to inherit a loved-ones record collection, search the Internet and become very excited that grandpa had a copy of say, Hank Mobley Blue Note 1568, which turns out on closer inspection to be a Japanese reissue from the 80s. The most desirable titles have been repressed and reissued over many years. The originals in great condition are really very very rare.

In the era of the internet, prices can be established quickly with a little research on auction-tracking sites such as Popsike  or for Blue Note, even here at Londonjazzcollector.  Bear in mind that auction prices are the result of auctions, where collectors compete to buy a record, which is not necessarily the same as dealer or shop prices. There are many cases where, in a moment of madness, one bidder has got caught out with an inflated bid, and found themselves paying twice the next highest historical price, plus postage tracking insurance and customs charges.  Or suffered buyers remorse and failed to complete payment.

Here is the Popsike Blue Note-only leaderboard. Ignore entry No3 Dexter Gordon Gettin’ Around – $8375,  – most likely a Japanese buyer entered their bid in Yen instead of USD.  Ebay bid history is not corrected for non-payment, of which there may be a good number of auctions not completed due to non-payment among the highest price sales.

Popsike Blue Note leagueJPG

These are the top twenty titles for all labels and titles, as compiled by LJC.

price-and-quantity3-top-20

Source: Jazz Collector Database, analysis by LJC

Some records come up for auction much more frequently than their alleged scarcity would suggest. Mobley 1568 a case in point, which is a frequently traded item. High-end collectable records can be a good investment, though some artists have drifted out of fashion and proved a poor investment. How well a seller describes a record can have a big effect on price – “insanely rare!”

There are investors, traders, and dealers in high-end records, who understand the insatiable desire of a few souls who lust for something almost no-one else has got, something that people in their circle of acquaintances  will recognise as insanely rare, writhing in envy.

The high-end collectable jazz universe is very small, maybe only a couple of hundred people in a world population of three trillion. It is much smaller than the high-end rock pop classical reggae singles collector tribes.

Outside of the jazz world, the truly rare and expensive records are associated with rock and pop history. For example,  a test pressing of a Beatles recording that was never issued, only one copy exists, owned by Paul McCartney, valued near £1m. Another is the last autograph John Lennon gave on a record cover before being shot dead by Mark Chapman. But my favourite curio was a record from the estate of Jimi Hendrix which Jimi had been playing when he cut his hand on a broken glass, leaving Hendrix blood in the grooves, verified by the DNA match. oh nooo! I just cleaned the record!!

A different example of things that are “collectable”. What makes this ticket worth $5,000? What is a piece of “cultural history” worth? At least you can play a record. And how did it come to be “unused”?  It has trappings of OCD, wanting a mint unused ticket.This tcket holder failed to see The Beatles, not much of a storyline is it?

Beatles Ticket

However they are not making 1965 again, and perhaps there is something to be said for owning a tiny piece of history.

Happy hunting: the world of high-end collectors is fraught with disappointment and anguish over differences in description of condition, rare records that are indeed rare, but over-graded on their  condition.

56 thoughts on “The most rare and valuable jazz records

  1. I have a question about vintage jazz test pressings. Is it common practice to have the artist name and job number written directly on the center of the vinyl in what appears to be chalk? Not on a label but directly on the vinyl? Or might that be an acetate? I have a couple and curious as most I find have labels.

    • Test pressings, all that I have seen, are white centre label, inscribed with some reference to the album catalogue number, side number, sometimes track listing, sometimes a date, sometimes none of these things. Never seen writing on the bare vinyl surface instead of a label, though I guess it’s possible.

      Acetates are very brittle metallic coated discs, quite different to vinyl. Those I have seen always have a centre label.

    • Vinyl almost always comes with a label, even if both that side of the vinyl and the label are blank, acetates sometimes come without labels, I have seen chinagraph pencils used on a small number of vinyl records from the late fifties with black labels and some black sleeves from the seventies, (all promo/test press related), also possibly on the grooves of a track not to be played. A chinagraph pencil works on an acetate, chalk wouldn’t and as pencils were used to mark tapes for editing they would be in the same studio as where acetates were cut so my guess is you have acetates. Acetates have an very obvious chemical odour, unlike vinyl which is more or less odourless, finally I believe Americans use the term grease pencil rather than chinagraph.

        • Thanks for your knowledge. I’m curious if I have a pic to show you might be able to give more details. It’s a miles Davis album. Not sure if there is a way to upload an image but would be happy to share as I do believe it’s quite rare.

            • Hard to be definitive from the photo, but that does look like vinyl rather than an acetate and chinagraph pencil, though the smell test will confirm, if it has a very distinctive chemical smell it’s an acetate.

              I’m assuming it’s some sort of test for “Carnegie Hall”, although it doesn’t match the finished LP, some years ago I got to look through a collection that had come from someone reasonably high up in the UK arm of CBS records, unfortunately not a Jazz fan, from that collection it appeared that CBS used acetates like others used cassettes, internal listening copies, promo copies, test cuts, they had their own in house cutting and obviously took advantage of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the US parent didn’t make all sorts of test cuts for someone as major as Miles, possibly even going as far as test presses, I guess they had everything in house, if that is some sort of vinyl test press for a version of “Carnegie Hall” with a different track selection or running order it may be unique, you need a Miles expert. to confirm that though.

              • Thanks, I have another one that also has Carnegie hall scratched into it but then I have this one that just has his name, with a number but can’t find anything relating to that number.

              • I have this one that just has his name, with a number but can’t find anything relating to that number. I think this one was hand signed by him as it matches his signature. Is it possible artists hand signed these

                • As there’s only the one track that number should correspond to the Columbia master number for that track and that take, not an area I’m an expert on, but that would be my educated guess and the five digits starting with a 7 is correct for Columbia. The signature does look right, at least superficially, I can’t think of any reason for Miles to sign it, allegedly he wasn’t the person to ask to sign records, however assuming that track was cut for his approval then who knows it’s very possible, it’s definitely very interesting. Do you have provenance for the records, who originally owned them, tracing them back to a Columbia employee would help confirm my suspicions, but tracing them to a radio DJ might suggest other options, it’s a sixty year old puzzle and we don’t have all the pieces.

                  • These were originally owned by Beverly Bentley who had a relationship with Davis at one point. One of the others has a sleeve with handwriting on it and the name Teo Maceo. I figured they were unique but not sure exactly why they look the way they do.

                    • Based on that I’d assume that using the CBS studio facilities they cut various tracks to preview, normally they would have just used acetates, but assuming yours are vinyl they appear to have gone as far as pressing copies, perhaps 3, 4, 5? These were likely to allow Miles, Teo and perhaps one or two others hear how the finished record might sound and also to play them to other people, likely Miles, Teo etc., had their own tape machines, but records are smaller, easier to use and can be played back by people without tape machines such as Beverly Bently, the expense involved in pressing 2 or 3 copies just to preview shows just how much clout Miles had. They look like they do as one of the few things that will write on vinyl is a chinagraph pencil and they were already used in the studio for tape editing, Miles or Teo might have been the ones who wrote on them, after sixty years yours may be the only ones to survive, very cool items.

                    • Thanks again. I would love to find out more about these but honestly don’t know where to begin. They were sold by Beverlys daughter along with other items from her mother’s estate so there is little first hand knowledge about them. Would be cool to really understand what the purpose was and why Miles signed it like that. I have done a lot of searching online and can’t find a similar example from him.

  2. Hey!
    Stumbled across your post while looking for some advice/answers.

    I have some old 33s printed on the same material as a 78 (shellac? I’m new to this!) They are heavy, typewriter typed on, and seem to be live radio recordings of Papa Celestin’s band in the mid- late 1920’s. There are other artists as well. I have 6 of them.
    Seemingly rare, as I believe they are the recordings the radio station made in house when he did a live show. Am I right in thinking they might be very rare, given the age? If eBay is not a great place to auction them, where would you suggest? Open to hearing auction house suggestions, etc. So far, the records I’ve listened to sound warm and clear with no skips. They are in plain brown Presto Recording Corporation sleeves. Happy to send you photos to hear more of your opinion on them, if you’d like to take a gander at them. Thanks very much!

    • Hi Kate, I start here around 1956 with the non-breakable microgroove long playing record. There are people who are interested in historic recordings of a hundred years ago, but I can’t offer any insight.

    • They are likely acetates rather than shellac, directly cut using a lathe and often used by radio stations for archiving performances prior to the introduction of tape recorders, it’s exactly the same process as the first stage in making a record, only cut live rather than from a tape. The discs are extremely fragile, much more so than vinyl or even shellac, don’t attempt to clean them as solvents can cause major damage. Collectors would sometimes copy rare material onto acetates as well so you really need to do your research as to whether you actually have a genuine radio performance, dubs from 78s or something else.

  3. Can I throw a question out to anyone who may have any information. I have a 7” vinyl in a white sleeve, white label, on the a side of the label it says : THE GOLDEN CASTLE JAZZMAN OF THE YEAR and the name EARLY MABUSA 27254. The label also states the serial number GC.1 ( P ) 1967. The b side says the same other than 27255. I have googled it and found one article about the brewery and competition, and it mentions that the brewery has the only known example of the record. I also have one. Is it A, rare and B valuable. I don’t have any interest in selling it. It would just be nice to know some more about it. Many thanks Sean.

    • Google says: South African beer company “Golden Castle” promoting its beer brand “Jazzman”, through a recording by a group called Mabusa. Is it rare?: Yes. You may be one of the few people on the planet to have a copy. Is it valuable?: who knows, but I would guess with that provenance, almost certainly not. More important, what is the music and audio quality like?

      • No I’ve never played it. It may never have been played. According to the article I read, probably the same one that everyone else has, it has brief drum solos interspaced with jingles for the beer. It’s just sat in a plastic record holder amongst all my other vinyl. If it was valuable I’d maybe eBay a period bottle of Golden Castle beer and have it framed and displayed. If not, it can stay where it is rubbing shoulders with the rest of them. Many thanks for your help today. Best wishes Sean

  4. There’s a big difference between collectible and enjoyable. While these hi priced LPs may command top money, if the sessions are not interesting to the buyer, what’s the point? I have some of the titles on lesser pressings, but the out of reach Mobley, Hipp, and others are simply not out there in many cheaper reissues. Which leads me to believe the music is not that great, or is a niche record for certain tastes. I’ve always went with music I like, not the popular or “rare” records that impress other people. But I think the most important part of collecting records is forging relationships with fellow collectors. That can go a long way in helping you to find the records that you like. I just love to listen to jazz. My collection Is the result of that.

    • Why does anyone want to own these old plastic discs? Anyone can stream the music for free anyway. Two words in the collector’s lexicon: “rare!” and “original” seem to strike a chord. An indecent desire to have something few others have, and the first original edition, a piece of history, these attributes hold power over some of us.

      I don’t own any of the big game trophy records listed in this post myself, but I was fortunate enough to see some in the collection of the late Tony Hall, producer for Decca in the 60s. Thumbing through many original Blue Note 1500 series, I actually held an original copy of Mobley 1568 in my own hands. It is an object of fearsome beauty.

      Almost without exception, the originals sound better than anything that came later. For me that is the only reason to desire them, and only those where I love the music, and want to hear it sounding at its very best. Other peoples motives, whatever floats their boat, is good with me.

      • Thanks for your response. Just call me a jazz listener, because I buy jazz records to play and enjoy, I don’t consider collecting a certain LP just because of its’ rarity or value. I recently talked to a shop owner that was selling at a flea market. He just threw a blanket over all used jazz LPs $20 or less, saying you can’t buy a good jazz album for that price. I didn’t need to hear any more, he just wants to deal in “collectible” LPs. Oh well, whatever makes a person happy. Thank goodness for all of the beautiful sounding reissues that have come along!

  5. I have just inherited a lange collection of Vinyl and shellaks (12000 pieces), and most of them are jazz. Some are picture discs. Some have original wrapping. I am a little stumped on what to do with them…!

    • 12,000 records, Crikey. Too many questions need to be answered before any sensible advice can be given. Everything hinges on whether there are rare or valuable records in the collection. Email me privately and I can give you some suggestions what to look for.

  6. I have old vinal jazz and blues album would like to no were i can go to see if they are worth anything dati g back to the 50th

    • Search Popsike.com to see if it has ever been auctioned and what results auctions have achieved. Condition is king – the highest prices are only for copies in near-mint condition. Registered auction prices include cases where the purchaser defaults on payment, so not completely reliable. Then search Discogs.com for the same record, to see if there are any copies in similar condition for sale and what sellers are asking for it. Value also applies to the cover being similarly in near mint condition – without writing on the cover, seam-splits. or sellotape-residue.

  7. Hi.

    I have around 30-40 old white label jazz vinyls..
    I’m struggling to find them on the internet.. is there somewhere I could send pics so that they could get possibly values or sold?

  8. I’m looking for something special for a jazz guy(my father in law)I am not a jazz guy so have no idea where to begin. He is a famous musician who loves and collects jazz and boogie woogie, old blues and rock and roll- loves “The Bird”- ..any ideas where I go to find something in London?

  9. I have a large collection of records left by my husband dating back to the 1950s brubeck krupa Hampton lusher Herman Milligan miles Davis Ronnie Scott many original lables don’t know what to do with them don’t do eBay ??

    • Email me some photos of the covers of a selection, spread out on the floor, around ten in a picture. If I can see what’s there can advise you better

      LJC

      • Taken some photo’s haven’t got your email address
        Maggy

        LJC replies –
        Maggy. email address is in the blog banner under menu item “Contact LJC”. Self explanatory. I don’t want to repeat it here as bots routinely harvest e-mail addresses from anything posted on line to feed their spam-lists. Just post to the address given there, no problem.

        Andrew

    • Hello Maggy
      Just seen this intriguing post on LJC and realise that you have probably disposed of your collection happily. However, thought I would drop you a note to ask as I enjoy adding to my own collection. Best wishes AB

    • Maggie I hope I didn’t get you too late. I make a living selling these lp vintage albums online. Some of them are priceless and some of them are worthless. If you still have them please go to Discogs or ReverbLP to list and sell not eBay (their fees kill you). If you need help I will gladly help you. Selling these items online take commitment and work but it is worth it to me to be able to work from home with no boss. I do not know what you have but look me up on Discogs I have two accounts macpoetsgirl and BestMediaByB-C and I can walk you thru the process. If you contact me and remind me who you are I will definitely work in trying to help you get top dollar for your collection. I do sell for 3rd parties but I can no longer take on new clients. I am currently behind over 3K items. You can also contact me thru Facebook.

      • hi I also have over a 1000 early jazz most in very good condition also wanting to do the same

  10. Looking for info on a recording made in the 1930s or about. Song was Stompin at the Savoy (side 1 ) (side 2) Body and Soul. Musicians : Gene Kuppa, B. Goodman, and a few more. Story has it; this recording was made before any of the Players had bands. Recorded at 78 rpm on 12″ disc. Closest I came to sound is Gene Kuppa’s drum solo on internet search.

  11. I have a tubby groove tempo tap 29 of my dads plus many others any all great to listen to. Sitting here doin nothing

  12. I just picked up Julius Watkins Sextet Volume Two, Blue Note 5064. Never seen one in the wild before, pretty rare. Great session with Mobley, Pettiford, Blakey, Duke Jordan and Perry Lopez. Now need to find Volume One

    • 5000 series 10″ Blue Notes, don’t think I have ever seen an original, though our friends to the East reissued them all. I have a couple of Toshibas, two titles on one 12″. Not the same I know. Interested what they sound like. Must be 1955 or earler.

      • yep – ’54/’55. Sounds great, typical Lexington sound. Happy to do a select listening session in Hampstead with a dedicated ’78 rpm/vintage mono cart and deck, a modern mono cart on a lenco and two decks with modern stereo cartridges. Good set up to compare pressings and originals vs reissues

      • I also picked up Horace Silver Trio ‘New Faces, New Sounds’ BLP5018, another 10″ Lexington. Not as interesting session as the Watkins. But fun and very punchy

    • I have a recording of Julius Watkins Sextet four tracks with Frank Foster , Perry Lopez, George Butcher, Oscar Pettiford,and Kenny Clarke .The remaining five trackshave the same lineup as your album. The titles are:
      Garden Delights Julie Ann Sparkling Burgandy B&B Jordu
      If you like a copy let me know. I can do a CD or tape. No charge.
      Take care
      Jim,

  13. Are these top 20 because of sentimentality or rarity? I feel like there are records way harder to find than these.

    • A simple question, which deserves a slightly more complicated answer. I quote:

      “In his insightful book The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa, Evan Eisenberg wrote about the unique motivations that lie behind the collecting of “cultural objects” such as records, noting five motifs as particularly significant.

      The first relates to time: “the need to make beauty and pleasure permanent,” based in a fear of its possible/likely disappearance, a motive common to cultural preservation efforts of all kinds.

      His second reason is related to the first: “the need to comprehend beauty” in that which is collected, which can become “more beautiful the better it’s understood… [and] certainly owning a book or record permits one to study the work repeatedly and at one’s convenience.”

      Third, he discussed the “need to distinguish oneself as a consumer,” to become “heroic consumers” who “spend on a heroic scale, perhaps, or with heroic discrimination,” acquiring the rarest items or the most complete set, or going to the greatest lengths for a purchase.

      The fourth motive has to do with nostalgia, a sense of belonging felt through collecting bits of the past; the collection itself serves as a bridge, and “each object connects its owner with two eras, that of its creation and that of its acquisition.

      The final reason is about the quest for social capital in all its forms, “the need to impress others, or oneself.””

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