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Updated on November 1, 2011

Their trash turns into your treasure

The sweet little old lady greeted me at her yard sale.

"Come on in and look around," she said, adding, without being asked, that she was getting rid of most of her so-called trash in order to downsize--actually, I'm not sure she used that exact word, since I don't think it had been invented yet. This was the 1970's, after all. She was selling her house and many of her belongings in order to live smaller and more affordably.

I spotted her small cardboard box of used 45's right away. But I had few expectations. She was--well--old, so what would she have collected over the years? Certainly no hot rock. But never judge a book by its cover.

My next discovery presented a definite moral situation. At yard sales, the rule is, "don't ask, don't tell," and we're not talking about gays in the military. If you spot a bargain, don't question it, just pay the small change and leave. It's up to the sellers to determine what they sell and how they do it.

But what if a record priced in a box for 25 cents is really worth $200 or more? That question hit me real hard when the first record I laid eyes on at the woman's yard sale was an early Bill Haley hit, before the Comets, on an obscure record label in his old home state of Texas. The record was "Rock the Joint" on Essex, an incredible find for any collector of rock and roll. I had the same feeling years later when I spotted an Eddie Dean rockabilly record on the Peak label out of Memphis. Only that record was at a flea market, not a yard sale.

But back to my ethical challenge. I couldn't help it. Rather than just paying the quarter and leaving, I told the nice lady that she had a real goldmine here, that she might want to hold on to old Bill's record. Her reply? I don't care, she said, I want everything out of here and quick. Yes, ma'am, more than happy to oblige.

So let's take a closer look at the quiz from last time:

WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES TO FIND VALUABLE VINYL? 1. garage sales 2. estate sales 3. antique stores 4. flea markets 5. online. I guess the answer has to be "all of the above," with a slight edge to garage sales. Let's take a look at each:

Garage sales. Just like with the case of the nice elderly lady above, you never know what you'll find when people clean out their closets and invite you to their carport, garage, or front lawn to take a look. Let's be honest. Most records found here are crap--records that were hits but were treated like dirt (with plenty of that on the vinyl), both categories that are useless for record collectors. But then never know. I once found a garage sale where the man of the house was sick of carrying around all those pesky Beatles picture sleeves from 1964 through 1967. Or that soundtrack from the Marlon Brando-directed movie called "One Eyed Jacks" from 1961. Be patient at these sales, and look through everything. I was in a hurry at one sale, didn't see anything, and was about to leave. But my wife Debby said, "you missed a box over there" full of albums--including what turned out to be the pride of my collection. The Beatles' "Jolly What," mentioned in The Record Professor Part 1, had been sitting in that box--are you ready for this?--for two full days before my wife nudged me and told me to take a look.

Estate sales. These are fancy garage sales where the prices go up in direct correlation with the more snobbish designation. An estate sale is really a fancy garage sale, except the poor owner has likely died and a relative, or a business, is actually conducting the sale. You won't have the original owner to haggle with, or to be honest with. These kinds of sales are not as much fun, therefore, and are likely to have inflated prices. A 45 going for 25 cents at a garage sale will probably go for at least a dollar or more here--they're so not worth it. Which leads us to:

Antique stores. Fugettaboutit. They are out to make money at your expense. You won't find many deals--or collectible records--here. The prices are often wildly out of sync with reality, and what records the stores do have are usually presented as "valuable" when they're no such thing. But not always. Again, be patient and take a look. I once found Neil Diamond's first album on the Bang label at one of these stores for--would you believe it?--ten cents. Word of caution, as usual: Check the condition of the record before paying even a dime.

Flea markets. These places are the new rage and have sprung up on the side of roadways all across the country in the past 10 years. You can probably find many more records from which to choose here, but condition can vary widely. Prices are quite often right in line with what you would find at a garage sale. Sometimes, though, you'll have a vendor who thinks he's really running an antique store, and wants to charge $5 for an album that should be $1 or even 50 cents. Unlike the other choices in our quiz, however, this one is the best place to haggle over prices.

Online. Buyer beware. If you think "condition" is a problem at these other least you can hold the vinyl in your hand and decide for yourself. The internet does not offer that luxury, and is at the mercy of the honesty, or lack thereof, of the seller. One word about scarcity here, that word we used in The Record Professor Part 7 about considerations that determine a record's value. Many records thought to be valuable in the past have ended up not so worthy after all, thanks to the internet. Many a piece of vinyl that was supposed to be extremely rare has turned out to be much more available than originally believed. It's not called the World Wide Web for nothing.

So keep your eyes and ears open and look for vinyl everywhere. Just don't get ripped off.


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