Every budding and experienced record collector has that one record that they dream about finding in a bargain bin somewhere. Whereas it’s easy enough to find one of the millions of copies of Born in the USA that were printed in the ‘80s, “white whale” records are uncommon—if not nearly impossible—finds.
But if you dig deep enough, you might find a record that is truly one of a kind. These records include misprints, out-of-print variants, signed records, and LPs that barely exist. Hunting for rare vinyl records is a lifelong journey—but finding one is the ultimate reward.
While rare doesn't always mean valuable, unique records by legendary artists can fetch a small fortune on Discogs or even at auction. The next time you hit up a garage sale with dusty stacks of vinyl, flip through them and see if you can find any of these treasured records.
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan — Bob Dylan
In 1963, Bob Dylan released his sophomore album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. You can add this album to your collection for a reasonable price—there are copies available online for under $10—but an original mispress is worth thousands.
The original pressing of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan features four rare, unreleased tracks. Prior to the album’s release, Columbia Records replaced the tracks with new ones. Some say that songs like Talkin’ John Birch Blues were removed because company owner CBS had a history of censoring Dylan on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Whatever the reason, the album was pressed and distributed with replacement songs—but someone at the pressing plant made a mistake. Somehow, a batch of records was pressed with the old stampers that contained the withdrawn songs.
When these rare copies pop up, they draw a lot of attention and money. In 2022, a stereo copy of the album sold for $150,000, exceeding its pre-auction estimate of $60,000.
The Black Album — Prince
Prince was known for being one of the most successful and prolific artists of his era. He was so prolific that George Michael (with whom Prince shared publicist Michael Pagnotta) once privately noted to Pagnotta that the artist didn’t “edit” himself enough, releasing too much music too quickly.
That’s what made it all the more surprising when Prince attempted to reclaim and destroy all 500,000 copies of The Black Album back in 1987, just days before its scheduled release. Today, original copies of The Black Album are the rarest vinyl records you can find. It’s not even known how many copies are still out there, though almost all that have been sold were promo copies that had already been sent to journalists and radio stations. In fact, only one non-promo copy has ever been sold. It was saved by a rogue employee at the Canadian pressing plant, making it the only non-promo and Canadian copy known to exist.
The Black Album was eventually re-released on vinyl (Prince himself released it on CD and cassette in 1994), but that hasn’t made original pressings any less valuable.
If you manage to find one of the original copies, hold onto it tight (and maybe insure it). In 2018, the lone known Canadian pressing of this album sold for $27,500, making it the most expensive item ever sold on Discogs.
God Save the Queen — The Sex Pistols
Before signing a contract with Virgin, The Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen under A&M Records in 1977. The rare A&M pressings—not the countless fakes—have record collectors on the hunt. But dodging all the bootlegs to find an original pressing is harder than you think.
Radio stations and retailers outlawed God Save the King for its controversial lyrics, but that didn’t stop it from climbing the UK pop charts and selling 5,712 units.
Ultimately, the rest of the 25,000 copies were destroyed after A&M cut the band, but a handful of the sold records survived. Be prepared to pay upwards of $15,000 for the real deal.
Yesterday and Today (Butcher Cover) — The Beatles
The “butcher cover” of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today is one of the most collectible records in history. Finding one of these rare variants is like winning the lottery…twice, both in terms of “this never happens” and the financial benefit.
This version of their 1966 LP depicts the Fab Four in butcher aprons, raw meat…and dismembered baby dolls. Following complaints, Capitol Records recalled the album and pasted new artwork over the original. These became known as “second state covers” in the vinyl community.
“First state covers” with the original artwork are the crown jewel—and nearly impossible to find. But if you do manage to discover a copy in a dusty attic or estate sale, you could be in for a major payday. A sealed stereo copy can sell for over $100,000, easy.
My Happiness (Test Pressing) — Elvis Presley
Before he was crowned the king of rock n’ roll, Elvis Presley recorded music at Sun Records in Memphis, TN. The test pressing of his first single, My Happiness is one of the rarest records in the world.
In case you’re not familiar with how vinyl records are made, the test pressing is approved before a full vinyl run. Usually, only 3-10 test pressings are made for any release, sometimes fewer.
Elvis recorded My Happiness in 1953 at the age of 18. His family didn’t own a record player, so he listened to the test pressing at his friend Ed Leek’s house. The record sat in Leek’s personal safe for 62 years, until it went to auction in 2015. That’s when Jack White bought the only known copy for $300,000.
Jack White digitized the record at the Country Music Hall of Fame to release a limited-edition reissue. According to Third Man Records, “The audio [is] as clean as modern technology can make it without losing the feeling and soul that makes [the recording] both haunting and breath-taking.”
Double Fantasy (Signed) — John Lennon & Yoko Ono
While there are dozens of Double Fantasy pressings out there, the copy that John Lennon signed before his untimely passing is one-of-a-kind. In fact, he signed it for the man who took his life.
Mark David Chapman asked Lennon to sign the record just a few hours before fatally shooting him. Investigators found the record in a planter outside Lennon’s apartment at the famed Dakota in New York City. It still bears a “WJT-2” marking from when it was taken into police custody.
In 2020, the album went up for auction with an estimated price of $1.5 million. Today, collectors and enthusiasts consider this particular record to be an important but tragic relic in music history.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin — Wu-Tang Clan
Released … sort of … in 2015, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is the seventh studio album by hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan. You won’t find this album at your local record store or online—there’s only one copy on Earth. Per the contract with Wu-Tang Clan, the album can’t be shared with the public until 2103.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin takes album packaging to another level. The record is housed in a custom nickel-silver box, accompanied by a 174-page volume that contains lyrics, production notes, and credits for all 31 songs. To deliver true Wu-Tang sound, the record comes with a pair of PMC MB2-XBD speakers, worth $55,000 alone.
The ownership history of this record is a long, complicated story. After repossessing the album from the original buyer, The U.S. Department of Justice sold it to a cryptocurrency group for $4 million. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is the most expensive vinyl record (and NFT) ever sold.
Great Sound Shouldn’t Be Rare
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