THE SECOND UMPHRED BOOK for record collectors was the 1985-1986 edition of the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide. Published by O’Sullivan-Woodside, it was the third Elvis price guide under the OW imprint. Except my book was radically different from the earlier editions: I assigned values to the records that actually reflected what they sold for in the marketplace!
The biggest problem with the earlier editions were the exorbitant values assigned to both rare and common Presley items. I simply lowered the assigned values of hundreds of titles to better represent the realities of the monies that changed hands between buyers and sellers regularly.
Unfortunately, this sent many collectors who believed the book—relied on the book—into a state of sticker-shock that took years to wear off! Needless to say, this did not endear me with the Elvis dealers who liked the higher values of the earlier books.
The Elvis Presley record Price Guide boasted one of my favorite covers on any price guide. The records were laid out on a huge roll of gold paper: the space that you see on the cover was approximately 6 x 10 x 12 (six feet wide, ten feet high, and twelve feet deep).
This problem was not that different from the problem that I had with the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide. For the OW album book that I had published months earlier in 1985, I had dealt with two big problems:
1. The OW album guides had thousands of listings for records with no collectable value beyond the price that they would fetch as used record store staples.
2. The OW album guides had a Bizarro World pricing structure where common records were overpriced, while rather rare records were undervalued!
I suggest you click on this link to Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide and read the article there first, then return here and continue reading.
The Elvis Price Guide
The Elvis book did not have the first problem: the previous editions had done an excellent job of documenting most of the variations on American pressings of Presley records. The problem with the Elvis book was almost entirely with the ‘prices.’
The majority of the values were excessive. For the most part, the values seemed to reflect prices from two sources:
A. The panic-buying in the wake of Elvis’s death in 1977. Anyone reading this who was involved in record collecting in the late ’70s will attest to buyers willing to pay any price to get their hands on any Elvis records.
B. Many of those panic-buyers became active Elvis collectors, but they had little interaction with the rest of the world of record collecting. This led to specialized ‘Elvis dealers’ who realized these inflated prices by selling almost exclusively to these inexperienced collectors.
Fortunately, this was a relatively easy issue to deal with in most cases: as I said, I simply lowered the assigned values of hundreds of overpriced titles! Most of these ‘real’ values were easy to ascertain, as they were records that were bought and sold on a regular basis.
As with the OW album book, I was loathe to cause too much sticker-shock with the lowering of values. For the most part, I stayed with the system that I had used with the LP book and cut the values of the overpriced Elvis records by no more than half (50%).
My first book was the 1985-1986 edition of the Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide. Yes, the garage sale is a staged photo, but it remains my favorite cover on any of my books.
Fool me once, shame on you
Finding reasonable market values for some of the truly rare and obscure promotional items from the 1950s was a different matter. As part of my research, I bought a few of these high-priced records and then tried to resell them for ‘book value.’
For example, I found a copy of RCA Victor SP-33-10-P, an untitled promotional sampler from October 1958. This record included King Creole and was therefore of interest to some Elvis completists, although it was of little interest to most Elvis fans.
I found the record at a collectors show in Los Angeles in early 1985. Dealer Kip Brown had it displayed on the wall behind his table with an asking price of $400. Kip told me that he really wasn’t sure of its worth, but he did what we all did back then: he took the OW book value, cut it in half, and bargained from there.
The previous edition of the OW Elvis book had SP-33-10-P listed at $800, so Kip was asking $400. But he had had the record for a while and no one was interested, so he offered it me for what he had paid for it—a ‘mere’ $100!
A few of the ’50s promos were valuable
but most of the records with only one Elvis track
were overpriced and difficult to sell.
Hip-shaking King Creole
I knew several Elvis collectors who believed everything in the OW Elvis books, and I assumed one of them would want this record. So I bought it.
Woe unto me!
Not one of those true-believers wanted to pay anything like ‘book value’ for the record.
I couldn’t even get my hundred bucks back!
I eventually traded it for some items that I knew I could move. I realized a modest profit, but not enough to justify the effort.
This was not an isolated incident; it happened over and over again. While a few of the ’50s promos were truly valuable and worth the OW book value, most of the rare records that featured only one Presley track were more in line with my experience: overpriced and difficult to sell.
Things haven’t changed much in the intervening years: the only copy of SP-33-10-P to sell on Ebay in the past ten years fetched only $53 in VG+ condition in 2014.
As I said, I did learn from my experiences and they affected the ‘prices’ I placed on many of the records in the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide.
These lessons were later brought back home to me by a famous statement from a famous person: Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.
About my other books
There are eight articles on this site explaining the various books I published for record collectors. They are best read in the following order, which is roughly chronological:
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A website concerned with Elvis Presley’s music and records.