These Old Vinyl Records Are Worth A Ton Of Money

If you've been combing thrift stores or estate sales lately (though there are some things that you shouldn't buy used), you might have noticed that some sellers are mighty proud of their vinyl record collections. The result is high-asking prices that oftentimes aren't grounded in reality. Just because something is old — or even rare — doesn't mean that it's particularly desirable or valuable. Sorry sellers, but no one is going to pay $10 for your scratched-up "Jim Nabors' Christmas Album."

Granted, autographed or unique one-off vinyl record albums aren't likely to pop up in your local Goodwill, but still, persistent bargain-hunters who thumb through those dusty bins or ransack their grandparent's attic might eventually strike gold. Albeit, on a slightly lesser scale than the famous records listed here.

Websites like Discogs are a good place to start researching value, starting with the catalog number on the record label and/or its outer sleeve. Be aware that valuing records is fairly time-consuming, however. Small nuances that are nearly imperceptible in some cases may result in huge swings in value. To keep you motivated in your research, let's take a look at some of the most pricey vinyl records ever sold.

Beatles records, a perennial favorite

You might notice albums from the Beatles are a recurring theme when discussing valuable vinyl records. That's not to say all Beatles albums are valuable because, let's face it, they sold a cubic ton of records over the years. Many are not rare or even in particularly good condition, but we'll touch on that momentarily.

After the Beatles broke up — some fans blame John Lennon's relationship with Yoko Ono — Lennon doubled down by collaborating musically with Ono, who hails from Japan. The duo's final album was called "Double Fantasy" and was released only one month prior to Lennon's tragic assassination in December 1980. Regular copies of "Double Fantasy" aren't especially valuable, but in 1999, one example sold for a whopping $150,000. What was so special about it? It was signed by John Lennon himself and could very well be the last record Lennon autographed, ever.

Well before John Lennon married Yoko Ono, the Beatles released a psychedelic concept album unlike any before it: 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." An estimated 32 million copies were sold worldwide as of 2011, so "Sgt. Peppers" isn't exactly rare. However, what is rare is to own a copy autographed by all four members of the Beatles. In 2013, such a copy was sold at auction in the United States with an estimated value of $30,000. When the gavel finally banged down on the bidding, the sales price was nearly ten times the estimate: $290,000.

The King of Rock & Roll makes the cut

Besides the Beatles, another larger-than-life performer was Elvis Aaron Presley. Not only did Presley earn the title of "King of Rock and Roll," he also starred in over 30 feature films. In 1953, several years before fame struck, Presley paid the princely sum of $3.98 (considering inflation, that's almost $50 in today's dollars) to record an album that was pressed on the spot in a studio that would eventually become the famous Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The album contained the song "My Happiness," as well as a second song called "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" on the reverse (B-side).

As the legend goes, Presley's family didn't own a record player, so the king took the freshly minted album to the home of friend Ed Leek to hear it. After listening, the record was left at Leek's house and remained in his possession for more than six decades. In 2015, Leek's niece auctioned the one-of-kind record for a tidy sum of $240,000, plus a 25% buyer's premium that brought the total price tag to $300,000.

The buyer was none other than Jack White of the band White Stripes (and several others). White used his prize record as the basis for producing a run of limited-edition copies, complete with imperfections like scratches and packaged in a brown paper bag, which is how Elvis would have received his purchase back in 1953.

The rarest vinyl record of all fetched a cool $4 million

In contrast to 1967's technicolor "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the cover artwork of the Beatles 1968 album was downright stark. Only "The BEATLES" appeared on the otherwise blank background, which resulted in fans quickly nicknaming the record the "White Album." The very first copy, serial number 0000001, went to none other than the band's drummer, Ringo Starr. In 2015, Starr's copy of the "White Album" was sold to an anonymous buyer for approximately $790,000.

The year 2015 was a busy one for the sale of valuable records and our final entry was the most valuable of all. In that year, rappers Wu-Tang Clan released a single copy of their album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin" in an elaborate metal box and with no other way to purchase, download, or otherwise listen to the music it contained. The group's asking price was a lofty $2 million, happily paid by infamous "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, who accumulated a fortune by rapidly hiking the price of critical drugs to treat cancer and AIDS.

In 2018, "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin" was confiscated by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a seizure following Shkreli's conviction for securities fraud and other shady financial practices. In 2021, the agency sold the unique album for $4 million, which was applied to Shkreli's outstanding debts. Since then, the album has been loaned to at least one museum that held listening parties for the public to enjoy.

[Featured image by Wutangcashew via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]