Tips For Selling Your Collection of 78s

By Tim Gracyk

Edison Cylinders

Lots of people, have thanked me for this "crash course" on the value of 78s and how to sell them. Feel free to print it out, duplicate it, share it. I wrote it to help people so they can get a fair price when selling their 78s. For additional help, see my other article on this topic, called The Value of Old 78s.

People often ask me, "How can I sell the collection of 78s that my dad left to me when he died?" I cannot identify here everything to look for in your record collection but can give basic tips.

1. Prepare your records for mailing

If you do find a buyer for your 78s via the internet, you'll probably end up mailing the records. If you have never mailed 78s through the mail before, I can tell you how to do it. Make sure the 78s are in sleeves, place the stack of 78s between cardboard, wrap tape around the bundle so they don't slide around, put the package in a box within a box. When I buy 78s from people, I usually send an "empty box" to those sellers ahead of time. I keep these 4 ot 5 of these boxes handy--just the right size for 78s (I am talking about a box within a bigger box, with bubble-wrap and plastic peanuts for protection). I pay postage. When shipping heavy 78s, send your box UPS (the advantage is free insurance up to $100) or U.S. Postal (the advantage is that 4th class postage can be quite low).

2. Compile your list of 78s

Compile your list of 78s, something that dealers can examine. More information is better than less information if you seek a realistic assessment--but giving more information means more work on your part! Minimum information: cite some artists' names, state condition of the 78s in general, and mention roughly how many 78s you have (to say you have "a lot" when they have only 20 or so would be inaccurate). Better: for each record cite the artist's name, the titles on both sides of the record (if double-sided), the label name and record number, and condition of that record.

3. A larger collection is more likely to have interesting titles

The larger the collection, the more likely there are interesting items. Or if the collection was once owned by a "serious" collector, then the collection is likely to have "good" titles. I consider any collection consisting of 200 or more 78s to be a large one, at least in the hands of a non-collector (advanced collectors tend to own thousands).

4. Be careful how you characterize your records

Sometimes people who have never had to assess condition before mistakenly characterize their records as being in "excellent condition" when the records, in fact, are only in "fair" condition (fairly worn). But if all goes well with the first box, then I order more...that is, if I bid on anything at all. Some lists contain nothing of interest--too much Guy Lombardo! On the other hand, some sellers like to get my assessment and then turn to buyers in their own town who will match or top my bids, which is fine. My wife, who thinks I own too many 78s, likes this scenario the best. No hard feelings on my part if you decide you don't wish to sell to me! I'm always glad to get more 78s, but I'm not actually addicted to them.

Columbia Records

5. Ask for specific offers on 78s you own

No collector enjoys making offers on 78s that aren't actually for sale (that is one reason I stopped assessing records for strangers--people sent me lists but I soon learned that most who sent lists just wanted free assessments and were not serious about selling the records). Specific offers tell you what your 78s are REALLY worth, at least to one person out there, and finding a buyer--any buyer--is the hardest part of selling 78s.

Pay no attention to folks who tell you that your 78s are worth lots of money but then refuse to buy the records. Don't listen to so-called appraisers who cite high figures but buy nothing. Are these folks willing to put their money where their mouth is? (Mouths are?) If not, then their "prices" or estimates of value are just numbers grabbed from thin air.

Think about how they view an appraisal situation: they have nothing to lose by citing high prices, and they know that high figures will please the owners of the records. I am cynical about "official" price guides, too. It is easy for someone compiling a price guide to make up figures on what specific 78s are worth, and people who compile price guides do that all the time--they just make up figures! An actual offer means something.

6. Lack of interest by collectors

If a collector says your records are too common to be interesting and declines to make an offer, there would be no point in asking, "Can you give me the name of someone who will buy the records?" Most record-collectors are not seeking uninteresting 78s. Your best hope of selling such records is to find a non-collector who believes, in error, that ALL old records must be worth something. Or find a beginning collector in your town who will buy ordinary, common titles--not yet knowing or caring that these are ordinary, common titles. Some beginners are just happy to add additional titles to their growing collections. But how does one find beginning collectors? It is not easy. A "for sale" ad in your local paper is a good start.

7. Easy listening music MAY indicate a dud collection.

If you recognize some names in your collection as being the names of artists who played lots of easy listening music, then the collection as a whole may be a dud. Names that indicate a collection of dull (or at least hard to sell) 78s include Bing Crosby (on Decca label--early Crosby on the Brunswick label is good), Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, Xavier Cugat, Morton Gould, Nelson Eddy, Frankie Laine, Frankie Carle, Dinah Shore, Lily Pons, Fred Waring on Decca label (I like Waring's Pennsylvanians on Victor records of the 1920s!), Mitch Miller, Margaret Whiting (I do buy records of Whiting's aunt--Brunswick artist Margaret Young!).

8. Other clues to a possible dud collection

Your collection as a whole is probably a dud (at least in monetary terms) if there are any Lawrence Welk 78s. That is just a rule of thumb--yes, there are exceptions. But if the original buyer of the 78s was spending money on Welk, then that person had "square" tastes and was probably not buying the good Elvis Presley 78s. Likewise, if you see a healthy percentage of records identified as waltzes, polkas, or tangos, you may have a lemon of a collection. But if you see the word "stomp" or "jug band" on records, you may have some very hot titles!

9. A handful of artists may indicate a pattern

If the relative (an uncle, father, mother) who left behind the collection was the original buyer of the 78s long ago, the collection will reflect the tastes of that individual, and there are usually discernible patterns within the collection--for example, mostly big band hits, or mostly classical. Sometimes by learning of just a handful of artist names, I recognize a pattern. The records might be from the 1920s, or they might be of the 1940s. Sometimes 1920s 78s are mixed with those of the 1940s. Grandma's records got mixed with dad's records at some point!

10. Some collections that are very common

Collections of big band 78s are common, too common. Heavy sets of classical music are also too common, and nobody today likes to hear classical music chopped into four minute segments.

In general, records of the 1940s are the hardest to sell. Of course there are exceptions--bebop 78s, for example, and Vogue picture discs. "Sets" are hard to sell, and most of them are from the 1940s. By "sets," I mean those binders from the 1940s in which 3 or 4 78s belong together--I don't mean generic binders of 10 to 12 pages into which folks put individual 78s in no particular order.

I think 78s from the 1940s are the hardest to sell today for two main reasons: a) Americans had money in the 1940s (unlike the 1930s) and bought lots of 78s, so 78s from this decade are common (78s also sold well in the 1920s but literally tons of these records, considered "old" by the time, were recycled during WWII due to shortages of materials); and b) few collectors love music of the 1940s as much as they love music from other decades, perhaps because the music can be found on 78s so easily and they already have their fill. Anyway, I especially love 78s of the 1920s and earlier and would love to buy more. As for the 1950s--well, that sometimes means rock and roll 78s, which are highly collectible.

11. Don't assume that one-sided records are rare or valuable

Few are as old as many people assume. Don't mistake a patents date somewhere on a label for the date of the record you are holding. Few 78s made before 1940 indicate the year in which the record was recorded or manufactured. Sometimes people see a date like "1901" on a record (a patents date) and assume the record is from 1901. One-sided Red Seal Victor 78s were made into the early 1920s and are actually quite common. Some of these one-sided Victor records have elaborate embossing instead of a blank or smooth side--again, no special value.

12. There are records that tend to be worth a lot

If the collection you have contains even one of the above records, then chances are good that the collection has other "good" 78s. If your collection contains even a single Black Patti disc, the collection as a whole is likely to be pretty exciting. I am often asked about records that say "for radio play only." These tend to be 78s of the late 1940s and early 1950s that were distributed to radio stations as promotional items (sometimes superior materials were used in pressing such records, so they often sound great). If such 78s feature early rock and roll, they are "hot" items. But if such promotional items feature only Patti Page or the Three Suns, they have no special value.

Labels with hot or valuable 78s

At the risk of some repeating, here is a list of labels that have some of the "hottest" or most valuable 78s (if you have ANY 78s on ANY of these labels, you may have a very nice collection!):

Black Patti, Paramount, Black Swan, Herwin, Buddy, Superior, Gennett (lots of ordinary stuff on this label but some hot jazz too!), Fonotipia (opera), Gennett New Electrobeam, Okeh (black or red labels, 8000 series especially), QRS, Nordskog, Autograph, Merrit, Ajax, Berliner (these are seven-inch and one-sided), seven-inch Zon-o-phone (one-sided), Flexo, Marconi (flexible discs), Par-o-ket, Claxtonola, Victor with "MONARCH" or "DELUXE" on the label, Champion, Harmograph, Vogue (any picture records on any labels, really -- RCA and Mercury made them), Columbia with numbers in the 13,000, 14,000, or 15,000 series, Victor with numbers in the 23,000 or V-38,000 series, Brunswick in the 100 and 7000 series, Vocalion with gold labels or in the 1000 series, Edison with gold paper labels (24 minute and 40 minute long playing discs of the 1920s), Edison needle cut discs, Vocalion in the 14,000 and 15,000 series.

Here are some "hot" post-World War II labels:

Aristocrat, Aladdin, ABCO, Apollo, Chance, Flair, Cobra, JVB, Federal, Parrott, Duke, Excello, Checker, Peacock, Timely, Trumpet, Harlem, Meteor, JOB, Talent, RPM, Sun, Goldstar, King, Chess, Flip, Gee.
Columbia Records

13. Some common records are still fun to collect

Here is a quick list of relatively common artists that I enjoy and whose records I buy if I don't have them and if the records are in clean condition: Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Collins and Harlan, Aileen Stanley, Marion Harris, Jimmie Rodgers, Carter Family, Ruth Etting, Boswell Sisters, Clarice Vance, Annette Hanshaw, Paul Whiteman (on Columbia's special Whiteman-esque "potato-head" label), Red Nichols, Nat Wills, Edward M. Favor, Nat Shilkret, Six Brown Brothers, Harry Tally, Blanche Ring, May Irwin, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the Louisiana Five. I buy Edison Diamond Discs that are in mint condition. I buy Columbia discs that are made from blue shellac--that is, the entire record's playing surface is a deep blue. Very pretty! These "blue" records were introduced in December 1932. Most of them are from 1933 and 1934, the worst years of the Depression.

14. Decide if you want to sell the collection as a whole or break it up

If you have a collection, you must decide whether to sell it as a whole or to sell off individual items. If you want to sell it as a whole, you probably won't find a buyer on the Internet. The Internet is global and chances are slim that you will find on the Internet someone in your town who will drive over to pick up the collection. (I live in Northern California--are you near me?) Collectors don't buy entire collections that are "long distance" since the records must be shipped in the mail and there is always too much "junk" in any collection for the mail to be affordable. When I buy 78s via the mail or UPS, I only want to buy certain items, not entire collections. There may be some dealers who travel long distances to pick up collections, but at least some of the records must be spectacular to make the traveling worthwhile.

15. Finding someone locally who will buy your collection

If you must sell the collection as a whole, you might eventually find a person in your local community who will drive over and pay a fair price. Place an ad in your local paper (don't spend more on the ad than the records are worth) or contact local antiques shops (call enough of them and you may find someone interested). Or have a garage sale. A good strategy at a garage sale is to try to get your "ideal" price early in the day, and if the records are still at the garage sale after a few hours, take any offer just to get rid of them. Your final option is to donate the records to a charity, if you can find one that will accept the 78s. Sometimes Goodwill stores will say, "We don't bother to put out 78s anymore since they break too easily and don't sell--if you donate them, we will place them in our trash bin."

16.Breaking up your collection may have some hidden costs

16) If you are willing to sell some items--that is, break up the collection--then plan for the good 78s to sell and then be left with the "junk." Sell the best and when you feel you are down to the dregs, donate the remaining 78s to a charity or throw them away. Don't be shocked that I say some 78s should be thrown away. That is their fate. You won't find a buyer for Frankie Laine or Eddy Duchin 78s. You can sell such 78s only to folks who don't know that such records have no value. You can store them in the hopes that the value will increase but be aware of hidden costs. For example, stumbling over them in the garage for ten years is a high price to pay, and you'll still be stuck with them in ten years. When I buy large collections, I dump into the trash all the bad 78s--worn out 78s, warped ones, some classical sets of the 1940s, polkas, Xavier Cugat 78s.

17. Don't worry about a collection staying together

If a relative left the 78s in your care, don't be too concerned about that person's desire that you "keep the collection together." You lose control of the collection as soon as you sell it. Short of keeping the collection in your own home, there is nothing you can do to guarantee that the collection stays together. Chances are good that whoever buys the collection "as a whole" will turn around and break up the collection for a profit--perhaps right away, perhaps in a few years. Donating the collection to an archive will not keep the collection together since archives are crowded, so archivists pick out the best records and dump the rest (I prefer that 78s go to collectors rather than archives since collectors actually play 78s--archives bury records, locking them away in such a way that no real music lover gets to hear them). I have never heard any compelling reason for collections remaining intact.

18. American Premium Record Guide is a credible guide

Serious collectors view one price guide as credible: The American Premium Record Guide, by Les Docks. It can help one determine relative value--what records are hot, what records are ho-hum. You will find the 4th edition at $22.95 in good book stores but don't spend more on the guide than your records are worth.

Docks' guide covers jazz, blues, country, and rock 78s. It ignores classical 78s and most discs from the 1890s through 1920, but no book can give prices for every record ever made. Certain Caruso 78s are worth lots of money though the common ones are worth about a dollar. An Edith Mason record might be worth a hundred dollars. Docks says nothing about opera artists. Docks' prices are for 78s in "excellent condition" (that is an extremely high standard!) and indicate what serious collectors pay when winning items from well-publicized auction lists. Be careful how you use the guide. It lists a dozen Billy Murray titles, all at high prices, one at $20 since it is a special Edison needle-cut disc ($40 is more realistic). Don't conclude all Murray discs are precious. The singer made over a thousand recordings, most selling in the $2-3 range. The guide doesn't indicate that. Docks does not like certain kinds of music, and his prices for such records are off, betraying his indifference.

19. Some record values are overstated

The Docks guide overstates the value of some records. Work hard and you may find a buyer for Andrews Sisters 78s, but they won't sell as high as $5 each. The guide under-values many discs, listing B. A. Rolfe discs from 1929 at $10-$15 but all clean Edison needle-cut discs are worth more. Ford Dabney rare 78s from 1917 are worth more than $20. Still, this price guide is the best available.

20. No Big Band or sets in the Docks guide

You will find neither Big Band records nor "sets" from the 1940s in the Docks guide, which means there is no steady demand for these. The guide doesn't cover 78s that might sell for a mere dollar at flea markets (if they sell at all). It does not list Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas." Other price guides may claim Bing Crosby's Decca 78s are worth big money, but you won't find buyers for these very common records.

21. Not all rare records are worth big money

Big money is paid for some rare records, but that does not mean that all rare records are worth big money. "Rare" does not always mean valuable. "Rare" only means not common, not easy to find. Some good records are hard to find, but certain boring records are also hard to find (nobody is looking for the boring ones). I suppose certain titles by Jesse Crawford (an organ player) are rare in that they are hard to find but they are worth nothing to me. Some Homer Rodeheaver 78s are "rare" but try to find a buyer for those elusive Rodeheaver titles (gospel music at its dullest) that you have! Nobody is going to pay much for a "rare" hymn or Hawaiian waltz.

22. How much research is too much!

It is funny how some people go to great trouble to find out the value of their 78s and others do just the opposite, selling theirs off to the very first person to make a serious offer, glad to dispose of them. Let's consider these two groups. Most people who go to great trouble over selling the 78s they inherited--they conduct research, compile detailed lists, contact everyone they can--end up having "junk" 78s and their time was wasted (that's not surprising: most 78s are "junk" 78s, or are easy-listening hits of yesteryear that collectors don't want). But how were they going to know without going to the trouble? Then there is the opposite: people who sell collections in a very casual way. Perhaps too casual! I've heard from old-time collectors about people who have had garage sales and sold huge boxes of 78s to the first person who made an offer. The boxes contained some very valuable 78s (the sellers wouldn't know--they did not conduct any research). That's just the way it is!

23. A changing hobby

We are in the 21st century! The hobby has changed since I began collecting in the early 1980s. As time passes, fewer and fewer people buy 78s because the music is an acquired taste, and you need special, hard-to-find equipment to play the old records. Have you ever tried to buy a 78 stylus for a turntable, or have you tried to find a turntable that actually plays 78s? It isn't easy anymore! Your local mall can't help you! So selling your 78s will be harder now than, say, two decades ago. And finding a buyer will be even harder in coming years as older collectors stop buying. But if you have some interesting 78s and you work hard at finding potential buyers, you can sell them.

NOTE: I do not assess the value of 78s. Please don't phone or email me with value questions. I share information on my site because I love my hobby, but I cannot help people who contact with questions.