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Early last October, Jeff Nelson—co-founder of Dischord Records and drummer for Minor Threat, the mother of all hardcore bands—placed an autographed test pressing of his old band’s 1983 EP, Out of Step, up for sale on eBay. It was part of a long-term effort to whittle his punk rock archives, which Nelson describes as both “way too big” and “insane.”
There’s not a lot of razzle-dazzle to a test pressing. When a pressing plant manufactures a vinyl record it will usually mail out a limited run—five to 20 copies—so the artist and label can do one last quality check before firing up the entire order. Test pressings don’t have label art, and ideally, they sound identical to the official release. Nelson threw in an old Dischord sales flyer to sweeten the deal a little.
The Out of Step EP itself has been in print pretty much continuously since its release and is available right now, via the Dischord Web site, for $9. But because test pressings are sought after by some collectors, Nelson decided to started the auction at $50.
One week later, bidding closed at $5,899.99.
In a word, cha-ching! Not bad money for a little bit of housecleaning.
“I’ve been an archivist or pack rat (take your pick) my whole life,” he writes from Toledo, Ohio, where he has lived since February 2004. “I can name the three toys from my childhood that I no longer own, which is crazy considering that my dad was in the Foreign Service and United Nations and we lived all over the world. I still have the cast from when I broke my arm in 1977, for instance.” That cast has not yet hit the auction block.
But items from Nelson’s music career hold real value for fans of the D.C. punk scene. And he’s kept a lot of that stuff around, too.
“I’ve accumulated an awful lot of stuff in the 29 years since Dischord Records was founded,” he writes. “However, the amount of stuff I’ve squirreled away is downright ridiculous, and more than [is] necessary to hold onto. Furthermore, like everyone else, I’ve got bills to pay and figured I could use the extra money. So, in late 2007 I decided to lighten [the load] by selling some stuff on eBay.”
Since then Nelson has sold off all kinds of Dischord and D.C. punk scene related memorabilia—old Minor Threat fliers, silk-screened concert posters, and anti-Reagan propaganda. These items tended to be a little more affordable—an XL meese is a pig T-shirt sold for $25, a pack of “Oliver North’s Pack of Lies” playing cards went for about $7 (Full disclosure: I bought one).
But the test pressings have been generating some tall paper lately. After bidding closed on Out of Step, Nelson contacted the auction’s runner-up and sold that person a copy, too, for $5,700 (he refunded the original winner the price difference, to keep things fair). A test pressing of the “In My Eyes” seven-inch went for $1,252.13. The test pressing of Minor Threat’s self-titled seven-inch EP: $2,501.01.
“Old punk, new wave, and hardcore stuff has been increasing in value for years now, and I have been very pleasantly surprised by how much early Dischord and especially Minor Threat-related records/flyers/etc. have been selling for at auction,” Nelson writes. “It continues to be very, very flattering (and mystifying, and amazing) that something we did so many years ago, when quite young, continues to be of interest. Speaking solely for myself, I am further gratified that the records and art we produced has gradually come to command top dollar from collectors.”
Some people, however, might not be quite so enthusiastic about Nelson’s basement sale. Part of Dischord’s reputation was built on keeping records in print, affordable, and accesible. Someone with an “x” tattooed above either ankle may not look kindly on Nelson eBaying some of hardcore’s holiest relics.
Nelson doesn’t see a conflict. “I know that many will say that the monetization of old, rare records (especially those emanating from a music scene renowned for its do-it-yourself ethic and anti-commercialization) cheapens the music and any message inherent in it,” he writes. “As a long-time collector of all sorts of things, I very much disagree. Sure, it means that original copies of our records have become unaffordable to most people, but the records themselves (and music contained therein) have never been out of print, and Dischord continues to sell them for a very affordable price. I think that after a quarter-century remove, the music/art we produced in our youth is now being valued on several different levels (perceived historic importance / cool factor / money), for which I continue to be very grateful.”
Michelle, who bought the test pressing of Minor Threat’s self-titled seven-inch, certainly isn’t pointing a finger.
“Really there are only probably a handful of bands that can match the music of Minor Threat,” she writes (Michelle declined to provide her full name or hometown, or whether she even lives in the United States). An avid old school punk fan—mostly European stuff like Rattus and Terveet Kadet—she’s been collecting records since the early ’80s. She says she’s spent $700–800 for Execute’s “A-Z” seven-inch flexidisc and a copy of the Misfits’ “Horror Business” double A-side seven-inch. But never anything like the cash she spent on the Minor Threat test press. “There is no other US band I would consider dropping so much money on,” she says.
“I give them credit because they were first, bands that were as good as them came later. The first EP was truly their signature sound, there are no tricks from the engineers. It’s truly D.I.Y.” Not that she’s put it on the turntable. “The Minor Threat test press I have is unplayed, it looks dead mint. I would not dare play it,” she explains. “But if your curious how it sounds, it’s just like the stock copy. Nothing different.”
Like Nelson, she recognizes that in a few years, that record might just be more clutter. “I don’t know how much longer I will be into it, your musical tastes change as you get older,” she writes. “My whole plan was to start selling my collection when I retire, but I have too much, so I have been debating on whether to start early.”