SUNIL SAMPAT, proprietor of a Mumbai-based specialty fibreglass equipment firm, has a collection of over 9,000 long playing (LP) records, mostly original pressings and some rare 78 RPM records made of shellac (RPM is revolutions per minute). Recently, Sampat’s friend, a veteran equity investor and a fellow collector, told Sampat that he was glad he had “not bought Wipro shares in the mid-’80s but spent the money on records.” His logic: He gets the joy of music and, if he ever needs monetary returns, he can sell his LPs.
That, of course, depends on finding buyers. Some old LPs can fetch thousands of dollars in the global market; others can’t be sold even for a few hundred rupees. It all depends on what buyers want. The condition of the record, the cover, and insert could dramatically affect prices. Original or first pressings command higher prices than reissues. Misprints, withdrawn records, or cover errors are collectibles. An autograph can raise the price considerably—a Mumbai collector was offered Rs 1 lakh for a copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller autographed by Jermaine Jackson.
So how much is a first pressing worth? “I’d pay Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 for an original Abbey Road or Revolver LP by the Beatles,” says Arjun S. Ravi, co-founder of NH7, a music portal; these records have been known to sell for thousands of pounds in the U.K. Neale Murray, managing director of Fountainhead Events, says he’d pay up to Rs 10,000 for an original of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album. He owns an original pressing of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers in its controversial Andy Warhol cover featuring a working zipper and the Stones’ tongue-and-lip logo. Murray says he’ll never part with it. Pressed, he admits, “hypothetically, I might consider selling for Rs 25,000.”
Cover artwork can exponentially increase an album’s worth. In the 1980s, Sampat went to a record store in Canada for an Ella Fitzgerald LP, which was available for $140. When he asked for a cheaper version, he was offered the same record in another album’s cover for $10.
Washington, D.C.-based Anand Singh, a World Bank human resource specialist, regularly shells out large sums to add to his 3,000-plus record collection. “I see collecting records not as nostalgia but as my primary source of music,” he says. The most Singh has paid for an LP is $400 (Rs 17,900), for Rickie Lee Jones’s 1979 self-titled debut album. He also paid Rs 10,000 for the 1973 soundtrack of Bollywood film Anamika. Original cost: Rs 30. Collecting LPs is obviously no longer just about the sound of music.