Charity Shops

Charity Shops

charity shops x3 copy

Chichester: three in a row. Two more opposite.

This is partly where it started. My wife used to take her mum out shopping and it was always charity shops and bric-a-brac. While she was waiting, my wife started collecting old children’s books. Then she’d look when we were on our own, I stood there and started leafing through the records … and in those days (a) you could find singles at ten, twelve or even twenty for a pound and (b) there was really good stuff in there.

You can get into some heated discussion with record dealers about charity shops.

Oxfam Shaftesbury copy

The biggest gripe is about specialists like Oxfam Books and Music, or British Heart Foundation Books and Music. Booksellers will have the most to say. I knew the owner of a great collectors bookshop in Salisbury. Oxfam targeted Salisbury, recruited his manager and within six months, he and another secondhand bookshop were out of business. He spoke to his ex-manager who told him Oxfam deliberately target towns with successful independent booksellers and open nearby as a matter of policy. The same happened in Swanage, Dorset, and more recently in Chichester. They get their stock donated free, employ a manager, but are mainly run by volunteers … unpaid. A commercial store cannot compete.

Usually music is a poor relation … you wouldn’t make a special journey for the music section. But there are “music only” stores such as Southampton and Reading. Oxfam vary greatly. Bridport had a knowledgeable manager. Henley-On-Thames is rumoured to benefit from the number of rock stars who live in the area.

charity shop box copy

It is rare to find anything worthwhile in a charity shop in 2020. Oxfam put the good stuff online or eBay. The better books and records are often picked out and sent to the specialist branches of all the charity shops.  some claim to have “vinyl specialists” but I doubt that many would last two minutes in a retail secondhand shop, judging by their decisions on value.

I’ve done it. I was looking through two dusty boxes of LPs in one charity shop, £1 each. Nothing was of interest. I stood up (they are always on the floor) and the manager said, ‘Do you know anything about those? We sold a few, then we haven’t sold any for months. I’m fed up, should I put the lot in the skip?’ I sorted them into three piles for her … a whole box was skip, budget, torn covers, abraded vinyl. I had a box of stuff in reasonable condition that would be very hard to shift … 60s ultra budget, and suggested keeping it for a week at 20p each. I selected four or five which were £1, and two nice early HMV stereo classical in excellent condition (labelled £1) that I suggested £5 for, and dropping to £3 if they haven’t sold in a week … and taking them off the floor. If you’re asked, it’s only fair not to buy any yourself.

Still, I look when I pass. Dealers look. I picked up a bunch of early 80s LPs in pristine ‘Near Mint’ condition for just £1 each early this year. Local charities are a better bet.

There is always a mild thrill in buying something for  50p and looking it up in Record Collector  Rare Record Price Guide to find it valued at £20, not that you’d ever get it. With stuff this old, there’s no set price, because condition is more important than anything else. Condition is a subjective judgment.

sticker rspca

RSPCA. £2. Sticker will ruin label, and unforgivably is on the vinyl. No sleeve. Dusty. (A mint copy in the original sleeve is rated at £5). Stuff behind is Concert Hall Record Club. No value. Records without sleeves in a pile? 20p maximum.

A decent secondhand record store will try to match the sleeves to records, put them in plastic bags and put the price tag on the bag not on the paper sleeve.  They can use post-it prices, unafraid that devious customers will switch them around, because they know the value when they look at them.  They’ll have a record player so you can test things, and they’ll take an offer on the price of more expensive items or on quantity. Or anyway.

Charity shops get willing volunteers to look up the prices. They rarely understand the quality gradation from MINT to EXCELLENT to VERY GOOD to GOOD to FAIR to POOR to BAD which Rare Record Price Guide uses. The price listed is for a mint copy and there is a ready reckoner to calculate the value of lesser grades. Very, very few records from the sixties are mint. But charity shops judge the value of their stock on the mint price. They’ll put £20 or £40 on a rare record, seemingly unaware that most sane people paying that much will want to check it for surface noise.

So to examples from the charity shops …


Three of the most frequent charity shop LPs together. Cancer Research 2020.  £5 each? They won’t get it. The box of singles were pretty rough, but four for £1 is as cheap as you get nowadays. But why are they ALWAYS at floor level?

Two double albums turn up again and again, usually in near mint condition: Love at The Greek by Neil Diamond, and The Secret Life of Plants by Stevie Wonder. Why?

Dorchester. The longest day of the year. The small Oxfam shop had a neat section of late-60s singles in a purpose-made wooden rack at waist level. Very nice stuff; Itchycoo Park, (If Paradise is) Half As Nice, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Reach Out I’ll Be There. All in plastic outer sleeves, with (unusually for Oxfam) post-it stickers with prices rather than sticky price labels attached permanently to forty year old matt paper. They were labelled “collectable” and priced around £2.49 to £2.99.

With refreshing honesty, someone had written “NOT collectable version” on Nights in White Satin at £1.99.  They added “Rare Record Price Guide” had this as £5 in mint condition “1st pressing, darker label.” This one was a standard Deram label, it looked excellent, but not mint.

So where had they screwed up? They had ticked two major boxes … plastic sleeves, post-it price tags. The price was fair. But every one of those “collectable” singles was in a brand-new plain white sleeve. They’d thrown away the probably tatty originals, but the result was that as far as we know,  these records could have spent 40 years without sleeves gathering dust. A harsh clean removes much of the visual evidence, but you’ll still hear it in the grooves. 

Or they could have been in the “collector” card sleeves with plastic liners for 40 years … in which case you’d leave them in them. Those card sleeves were ugly, but they were bought by people who wanted to keep their records scratch-free. 

So on to a Hospice Shop round the corner. A jumble of singles were in a plastic box on the floor. I bent down to check them over, and got my hand stepped on by an anxious Russian clothes shopper fighting to get to the spangled high heel shoes. Mainly 80s picture sleeves, all bent over, many torn, records tumbled together.  A lot of records without any kind of sleeve, most of them blue Decca … the usual suspects, Val Doonican, The Bachelors, Englebert Humperdink. I pulled out two older sleeves. Both were Fats Domino records on the London-American label. Most Fats Domino records are valuable.

When The Saints Go Marching In was in a London sleeve and it had the earlier triangular centre. The other was I Want To Walk You Home, in the wrong torn Parlophone sleeve with the less-desirable round centre. This looked like a 20p box if ever I saw one. Both records were scuffed and dull. Sometimes a thorough clean works on records like this. Other times it doesn’t and you end up binning them.  But at  50p or less, a mere fifth of the price of a coffee, they’re worth a punt. There was no price ticket on the box, so I took them to the counter.

‘How much are the old singles?’

The woman took them, ‘A fiver each,’ then she turned the London one round and pointed to “£5” scrawled fatly and  indelibly across the sleeve in marker pen, ‘Fats Domino. He’s collectable.’

Indeed he is, but if so, you have to store them, present them properly, and you have to clean them. When The Saints Go Marching In is (according to Rare Record Price Guide) the least valuable early Domino single, at £12 mint. This copy was between “Fair” (£1.75) and “Poor” (75p) on their price guide. With this presentation, 50p was expensive, 30p about right for a charity shop. A secondhand record store could charge £1 to £1.50 because the proprietor would know what he was doing and that adds value. Also he pays rates and wages, unlike the charity shop. People only browse the books and records in charity shops in the hope of a bargain. If you wanted to pay full price you’d go to a proper dealer with listening facilities etc. Stuff has to be a bargain, not a giveaway, but at least justifiable as a bargain.

I checked it with a vinyl dealer. He thought my pricing was slightly conservative. He said, “Fats Domino? It’d be worth cleaning it thoroughly, and finding a spare used London sleeve of the right era … I’ve got a box full of them. You take them off the crap you’re throwing away. Then I’d put £3 on it, and take an offer of £2. Because there are collectors who’d want a Fats Domino single to complete a set. They’d play the CD if they actually wanted to hear it!”

Fast forward a couple of months. Another Oxfam in Southampton… a vinyl / CD specialist with listening decks. Most of their covers didn’t match the contents. I asked why, having just seen a dusty copy of  The Beatles Can’t Buy Me Love in a 1970s CBS sleeve at £7.99 (Price Guide: £8 mint, which means a perfect record in a perfect original sleeve). I pointed out that they had the appropriate Parlophone sleeve on a nearby 99p Cilla Black record in the same ”B” section. If they were asking so much (too much … it’s usually about £2 to £3 in “excellent” condition, and this wasn’t “excellent”), why didn’t they clean it and swap sleeves? I was told they thought it unethical to modify records from the way in which they were donated. What?

Right. So charge £1.99 for it then. Or charge 50p or £1 (sorry, 49p or 99p), because an experienced vinyl dealer probably has several, and will knock out scuzzy copies cheap. Charity shops do not invest in record cleaner. It’s a simple and essential purchase.

Oxfam: Hello Goodbye. £20 reduced to £9.99. In a Warner Brothers sleeve too.

Then there’s the Oxfam copy of Hello Goodbye. It was in the wrong sleeve (Warner Brothers) and I’d put the condition as no more than “VG” more likely “G”. £20 down to £9.99? Well, a MINT copy in the correct Parlophone sleeve (it must have the appropriate advert on the back) rates at £12 in the 2022 Rare Record Guide. On their guidelines (in a Parlophone sleeve) it would be £6 if “Very Good” or £3.50 if “Good.” Incidentally, that Warner Brothers sleeve has been ruined by the big sticker which will lift the paper. So you can’t even reuse the sleeve on a Warner Bros release.

Other amusing prices include Mull of Kyntyre in a plain white sleeve at a British Heart Foundation in Portsmouth at £9, and Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine for £7 in a Scope shop, which was deeply scratched (so worth nothing) and in the wrong sleeve.  Mull of Kyntyre in the yellow juke box “Best selling single ever” sleeve is rated at £60. Otherwise, well, it’s the best selling-single ever. There are two million around. I’d rate it near mint as £1, or £2 with the picture sleeve.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a number one hit, then reissued as a Levi’s linked single later. It’s very common. Rare Record guide rates it at £8. That would have to be absolutely pristine, unplayed. I’ve seen dozens of ‘excellent’ ones at under £2.

One Oxfam hit new heights in 2010 by asking £4.99 for Tom Jones singing Till on Decca, ex-juke box, knocked out centre, scratched, in a TK sleeve; and £3.99 for Cliff’s Mistletoe & Wine, one of the most common secondhand singles in Britain.

In 2011, Leamington Oxfam Books and Music had She Loves You in a green EMI sleeve, but Columbia rather than Parlophone. It was around “very good” condition, i.e. not excellent, not mint. £12.99. A first pressing mint in the correct early green Parlophone sleeve rates at £10 in the guide book. It wasn’t a first pressing. I saw dozens of early Beatles singles at Brighton Record Fair a week early at £2 to £4.

2016, Sue Ryder Shop, Devizes. I bought a poor quality MFP classical EP for £1.50, because I wanted to scan the label. It was a 50p disc at most. On the untidy horizontal pile was a creased old paper bag with a £1 sticker. It had a Tredegar record shop advert on it, my mum’s hometown. I said, ‘There’s an empty bag here. It’s got a sticker, but no record. Do you want it?’ She replied, ‘Someone …’ (glare at me) has taken the record out!’ She went to the pile and picked up a scuffed disc, one of several sleeveless discs. ‘This must have been in it. It’s £1.’ ‘I only want the bag,’ I said, ‘Then thank you for the £1 donation.’  Now 10p was generous for a torn paper bag. I might have gone to 50p, but her attitude meant nothing in their pot.

It’s hard for charity shops to get it right. The level of expertise was demonstrated in a Shaw Trust shop in Frome which had “Big LPs 50p” and “Small LPs 25p.” Small LPs were singles.

I often look into an Oxfam in Poole which had the Simon & Garfunkel Greatest Hits LP at £9.99. A nearby secondhand store has half a dozen at 50p, and a mint one at £1. It’s an extremely common record. The charity shop has had it for at least a year. There’s no point. Turn these things over. Move them through.

British Heart Foundation in Poole had a Hallmark budget cover version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang songs at £5 for well over a year. The United Artists original soundtrack LP in a gatefold sleeve is worth £15 in mint condition. The Hallmark LP is worth between nothing and 20p.

You might say, ‘Ah, it goes to charity,’ but the charity in all cases appears to be the shopfitters of England, as every charity shop has been transformed with blonde wood and modern lighting over the last few years.

Screenshot 2020-08-08 at 13.44.01

This one is a favourite. 2018. A hospice shop in Salisbury. A Lena Zavaroni LP at £10. Behind it is a budget Jim Reeves at £5.50, and another inexplicably 50p less at £5. I asked a couple of dealers at a Record Fair the next day. One said both would go in his “3 for £1” box on the pavement outside the shop. The other said “straight in the skip.’

Another example, a “very good” copy of Cliff Richard’s It’s All in the Game was £4 in another charity shop in the wrong sleeve. Rare Record Price Guide is £5 for a mint copy. They won’t get that much ever because there are so many around at £1 to £2 just below mint quality. Next to it was Little Richard Keep A’Knockin’,  an American copy in original Speciality sleeve. Excellent at least. 50p. Being American it doesn’t get in the price guide, but a British copy on London is worth £35. 

2021: Fisherman’s Walk, Bournemouth. No, no Max Bygraves LP is worth £2.59.
Nor would I display them in the window.
July 2021 “Very Collectable Vinyl” Westbourne, Bournemouth

“Very collectable vinyl £2.50 each”. I wouldn’t give £2.50 for the box full. At the front the K-Tel 20 Power Hits has been reduced from £4. This was TV-advertised crap, with so many tracks put on each side that there was neither volume nor quality. I looked behind. It was the best thing in a box of low budget rubbish. As it happens, the shop next door had the same K-Tel LP at £1. I’d seen that first and thought it too expensive.

In contrast, a Barnados shop was donated the remaining singles from the 50p and £1 boxes of a secondhand shop that ceased trading. They put them out at 10p, and shifted the lot in a day. They knew they’d priced low, but reckoned if the secondhand shop couldn’t get 50p for them, why should they expect to? Moving stock through makes sense.

The picture below is realistic … for the stuff on sale at this battered and untidy local charity shop, even 3 for £1 is optimistic.


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