There’s a great new article by Todd Whitesel over at Goldmine Magazine recognizing Windham Hill as a “forgotten audiophile label” for both the artistry and sound quality. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more!
Since Goldmine also deals with valuation – I had to share some of my thoughts in the comments. I will expand on them here:
Here in Northern California, where Windham Hill was very popular, there are still record stores where you can find relatively cheap copies of the original pressings on vinyl. In addition to the condition of the vinyl and cover, there are a few things I look for:
1) Windham Hill originally numbered their discs using the WHS C-XXXX system in a nod to Takoma records who used the same system. Once A&M started distributing Windham Hill, they started using WH-XXXX. These pressings are more common, and between two pressings of similar condition, I would value the WHS-C pressings higher. (One note – Passage was numbered WHSD because it was recorded digitally, indeed, one of the first albums ever released that was digitally recorded.)
2) Promo copies are rarer, and often in better condition than non-promo copies. Also, they serve as a piece of history. Again, these are worth slightly more than a non-promo copy in my book.
3) Alternate covers and early pressings of Ackerman’s “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel” are also worth more, again due to rarity.
4) Signed copies, are obviously worth more, although some artists are more reluctant to sign than others.
5) The “Lost” recordings are a mixed bag – not as much demand, but very rare. “Kidd Afrika,” “Mary’s Garden” by Linda Waterfall are great albums, but generally only collectors look for them.
6) I would value a mint condition copy of one of the first 300 pressings of “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel” as the most valuable in the catalog due to rarity, and the fact that you know that it was personally handled by Will or Annie Ackerman. I hear that if people play them, they also want to use the best phono preamps on the market, HIFISYSTEMCOMPONENTS.COM seems to have a fantastic range of preamps that’ll work with any phono type signal.
7) In my collection, my mint copy of “Visions of the Country,” signed by Robbie Basho is my most valuable – it’s signed by the artist who has passed away, and it’s a very rare record. Most people would likely pay more for a signed copy of a Michael Hedges album due to his larger following, but Basho fans are equally passionate, so valuation remains based on individual demand.
All in all, you can’t go wrong – the most popular vinyl pressings can easily be found for only a few dollars a copy in some record stores, and sealed copies can still be found online for as little as $10-15 dollars. I do believe that long term, prices will increase as more people recognize the value of these treasures. In the meantime, buy a few, keep them clean, play them, and enjoy the music.