How to Appraise A Beatles Record Collection

By Bonny Brown Jones

Maybe you've lugged your stack of '60s vinyl through one too many moves. Or maybe you've seen the "Antiques Roadshow" episode where a woman learns her "Butcher cover" Beatles album, bought at Sears for $3.98 in 1966, was worth thousands, and sold at auction for more than $10,000. That kind of rarity isn't in every collection, but if you do the research, you can tell what your records might be worth in today's market.

Do Your Homework

Dig into some preliminary research. You might have heard that in valuing record collections, it's all about the album covers. In many cases, that's true -- but with Beatles records, as with other collectibles, variables are infinite. To sort them out, start with good price guides, such as Perry Cox's "The Official Price Guide to The Beatles Records and Memorabilia," "Goldmine Record Album Price Guide" or Jesse Barron's Mybeatles website, which "Collector's Weekly" named among Best Collector Sites on the Web.

Immerse yourself in Beatles micro-detail. "The Fab Four" were a group for only a decade, 1960 to 1970, but during their rapid rise from bar band to Beatlemania and superstardom, they recorded albums under various labels in many countries. Legal and artistic considerations meant sometimes the same album was released in different versions, with maybe one song switched out after a very short run. Promotional copies of 45's may be even rarer: Collector Stanley Panenka writes that only six copies exist of "Ask Me Why" and its flip side, "Anna," made for a Los Angeles radio station in 1964. Panenka says this is the rarest Beatles record, with a copy in Very Good condition selling for $27,000.

Learn the labels. You probably remember the Apple labels, and maybe the classic black Capitol record labels that spun around with "A Hard Day's Night" on the turntable. But the Beatles appeared on a variety of labels in a rainbow of colors, and some are more scarce than others. Check Mybeatles.net for a list of labels, as well as a discography of U.S., British and Russian releases.

Sort through your records. Reality check here: Most albums aren't collectible. They were made to be played, and play them the fans did. If they're scratched -- and old record players weren't kind to the vinyl -- they are not as valuable, no matter how collectible otherwise. If the covers are tattered, it also decreases their value. That rarity of a "Butcher's cover" album? The owner, who bought it just for the song "Yesterday," said that she didn't like the rest of the album much, and rarely played it -- thus its valuable, near-mint condition.

Make a list of your records, comparing them to potential collectibles you've researched. Spot a few rarities? List them for sale online, along with a realistic assessment of their condition. If there's no money in your stacks, you always have the memories -- just play them.

About the Author

Bonny Brown Jones has been a writer, columnist, copy editor and senior copy editor for newspapers that have included the "Orlando Sentinel," "Miami Herald" and "Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch." Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ohio State University.