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Schrödinger's Vinyl

... or why you shouldn't spend a lot of money on older sealed record albums

I have had many people ask for my advice about buying older sealed copies of albums for $50, $100, or even $500.

My answer usually is, don't do it.

Now, if it is an album that costs $10 sealed, but an open Near Mint/Near Mint minus copy brings $10-20, then it is worth a shot. However, when we get to expensive records it becomes more of a gamble and less worth the risk.


Most sealed albums carry a value on them higher than a pristine open copy. So, if you are buying it to put on the shelf, never open it, never listen to it, and someday hope to sell it for more than you paid, great, welcome to the world of speculative investment. You are making an investment, one that may or may not pay out. The second you open the shrink wrap, that investment depreciates.

On the other hand, if you are buying the record because you want to open it and listen to it, I suggest stopping now.

Until the record is opened it is in an unpredictable state, a state that gives it higher value than it can really have once opened. An opened copy is immediately "Near Mint" at best.

"OK," you say, "I am willing to pay a bit more for the promise of an unadulterated copy of my favorite album".

The problem is, the album could be in less than perfect condition.

Sealed albums have a tendency to warp over time, especially if their original shrink wrap is tight and thick and has put a lot of pressure on the jacket corners.

You also could find:

  • pressing flaws

  • wear from storage

  • temperature issues, or

  • inner sleeve material degradation that gets into the grooves and is difficult to clean out.

All of these things could be awaiting you when you open the album. Or, it could be perfect! Until you open it, it is all of these things and none of them, thus the Schrödinger's cat analogy. Unlike the cat being alive or dead, once you open this box, even in the best case scenario, you are left with something worth less than what you paid.

That's because open "Mint" or "Near Mint" records never sell for as much as sealed copies, even though you can see what you are getting.

With this in mind, if you plan to listen to it, you would be better off buying a "Near Mint" copy that you can lay your eyes and hands on before purchase, or from a store or record dealer who you trust to grade things accurately.

Either way, you should be able to purchase a clean copy and get the joy of putting it on the turntable without immediately losing value.

A Few Notes on Sealed Vinyl

I started this post by bringing up some price points. Clearly, if the difference is only a few dollars, go for it, have fun! Just don't be upset if that album that has been sealed since the 70s has some issues.

The same thing can be said with those very rare gems: sometimes it is nearly impossible to find a clean version of one of your favorites. In this case, it might be worth it to buy a rare and hard to find sealed copy and take a chance.

In order to understand how much risk you are taking, go look and see how much a dish warped VG/VG- copy of the album would sell for, and that is how much you could lose.

I have opened a 40-year sealed album and had it turn into a bowl in front of my eyes!

No big deal for a garage sale find but not something you want to happen with a $600 album you paid top dollar for because it was sealed.

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