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When the compact disk format was introduced to consumers in the early 1980s, many audiophiles and record collectors saw the writing on the wall for vinyl records. Sensing that the music industry was eager to endorse the newer technology of digital music, collectors began frantic searches for any and all vinyl recordings. A new collectibles market was soon born, and many people today have shown an interest in starting record collections, either as an investment or for the sheer enjoyment of the music. Serious collectors and hobbyists can instantly determine the value and backstory of most 45s, or have several pricing guidebooks readily available to aid them with evaluation. But what if you are new to the collectible 45s and albums market? How would you be able to determine the value of a hit single you may have found at a neighbor's yard sale, or at an antique mall? Here are some helpful hints on what to consider when evaluating collectible 45s 'in the field'.

First of all, you need to determine what sort of collector you want to be, before you can determine which records you would be interested in acquiring. Are you wanting to own valuable 45s as an investment, or are you wanting to amass a wide range of older songs for your personal listening pleasure? If you want to invest in collectible 45s as a pure investment, you should only consider those singles that would qualify as 'very good' condition or higher. Ideally, you would want 'near-mint' or 'mint' for maximum return on your investment. If you are more interested in a casual relationship with your collection, then you may decide to buy a 45 for its musical value, not necessarily playability. As a rule of thumb, however, anything that would rate below 'good'condition (few major scratches, no breaks or excessive wear) may damage your equipment.

Once you've decided what sort of collector you want to be, it's time to start hunting for 45s. Vinyl records are common items at flea markets and garage sales, because many people have converted to other forms of recorded music and view their old vinyl records as dinosaurs. You should be able to pick up quite a few collectible 45s for little money. Commonly, 45s go for anywhere from a dime to fifty cents a piece, averaging somewhere around a quarter at most private sales. Most will be in 'poor' to 'good' condition. Sort through the stack of 45s carefully and deliberately, avoiding too much contact with the groove surface itself. Wearing cotton gloves would not be a bad idea if you plan on making a day out of searching through stacks of 45s. Old vinyl records collect dirt easily.

As you search through your stack, keep a few things in mind for rough evaluation. Much of the value of 45s lies in rarity. Smaller labels, especially from the 50s and 60s, are generally worth more to a collector than the major labels. Look for labels like Roulette, Swan, Vee Jay, Del-Fi and the like. RCA, Columbia, Atco- these are major labels, and their general value can be significantly lower. Many times an artist would be picked up by a major label, and their earlier music would be re-released under the larger label.

Think Elvis Presley and Sun records. For a rough search, consider the label's value over the artist's popularity. An unknown singer on a small label may be worth more than an RCA Elvis Presley smash single. Do some homework before you start investing heavily in collectible 45s- research the history of the various smaller labels and the maneuverings of the major labels. Find out which artists were traded from which labels.

Once you've found a few singles that you think may have some value as a collectible, you need to spot-evaluate their condition. Serious collectors rarely trade in anything less than 'very good' condition, which means MINIMAL surface scratches, readable labels without major wear spots or markings, and a protective sleeve. Look at your selected disks carefully. Hold them up to the light and search for surface scratches. A few scratches will not harm a 45's value significantly. A deep gouge, however, will reduce your disk to 'good' condition or lower. Check for excessive warping. Look at the label- do you see any signs of excessive wear or markings? Are there any cracks in the vinyl? A cracked 45 is a definite problem, unless it is so rare as to be a acknowledged classic. Believe it or not, there are some 'Holy Grails' of the collectible 45 world that have eluded collectors for years. Purchase a good pricing guidebook or consult a professional record collector for a list of these nuggets.

Finally, here are a few short pieces of advice on 45 collecting that should become old hat for you.

1.Don't expect yard sale or flea market finds to rise above 'very good' status. The very act of transporting the disks to the sale area probably damaged most of them, if the haphazard display method didn't kill them first. For the best chances of finding quality 45s, try estate sales or trading with professional collectors at a public record store.

2. Picture sleeves almost always increase the value of a 45. If you come across a picture sleeved single, regardless of musical genre or year of release, you are certainly not going to lose money on the investment. Sleeves in general help increase a 45's value, but picture sleeves are the most sought after.

3. Buy what you like. Collecting anything should be fun for the collector, so don't let a 45s resale value be your sole determinator for buying or not buying. The longer you hold on to any 45, the better your chances become of reselling at a profit later.