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The Buyable Past

February 2024
1min read

Classical LPs

In Jonathan Valin’s mystery novel The Music Lovers , a character named Leon Tubin visits the detective Harry Stoner after he finds 35 of his most valuable record albums missing. One is worth $1,500, another $2,000, Tubin laments, and he tutors Stoner on valuable classical LPs, including “EMI’s, London Bluebacks, Lyritas, English Deccas,” and ones from Mercury and RCA Victor.

Apart from rarity and condition, which are critical to a classi-cal LP’s value, collectors focus on repertory, performers, and sonic quality, according to Valin, who is a collector himself. While some care only about the musicians and what they’re playing, audiophiles are primarily concerned with sound quality. They savor certain early stereo LPs produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially Mercury Living Presence series albums and the RCA Living Stereo releases known as “shaded dogs” because of the shadowed area surrounding Nipper, the trademark terrier listening to his master’s voice on an old gramophone. Meticulous engineering techniques gave those recordings their unmatched sonic qualities.

Classical LP collectors used to find records at library sales and yard sales and in thrift shops. That’s still possible, Valin says, but he delineates a broad price spectrum: “A classical LP that goes into five figures is a rarity, but there are numerous LPs in the four-figure range and thousands that command hundreds of dollars each.”

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Collectible-record prices can change radically. Consider one scarce three-LP set on the Continental label, recorded in 1948–49 and featuring the Romanian performer and composer Georges Enescu playing J. S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. It traded for upward of $20,000 a decade ago, but the subsequent appearance of several sets has led David Canfield, whose Canfield Guide to Classical Recordings is the definitive pricing source, to estimate its current value at $5,000.

—David Lander

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