Collectors of old vinyl come in all sorts. A rare copy of the Beatles' White Album can go for pounds 5,000, but it's the thrill of the chase, not the money, which spurs them on.
Whenever a friend of mine, a vinyl junkie, buys a vintage album, he immediately takes the record out of the sleeve and sniffs it. "There's a musty odour to old LPs," he purrs, "which is like inhaling instant nostalgia. Compact discs smell of nothing."

A decade after they were listed as a condemned species, vinyl records flourish in a second-hand market which operates beyond the reach of the hi-tech music industry. It's partly to do with the comforting crackle and hiss of needle on black plastic, and a lot to do with vinyl's reputation for reproducing rich, dynamic sound. Record companies spend millions on remastering old music for compact disc, but devotees insist that CDs cannot match the originals, just as rock 'n' roll purists swore by the 78rpm of the Fifties and before.

Today, vinyl accounts for only two per cent of new British record sales. "The industry has done its best to sink it as a medium for new releases," says rock author John Robertson, "so collectors have turned it into an art form. The 12-inch LP sleeve gave you an image of the artist and their work. With CDs, nobody can remember what the cover looks like."

What began as the hobby of 1950s addicts has turned into a multi-million pound business, supporting a network of local record fairs, specialist stores, mail-order dealers and magazines like Record Collector in the UK and Goldmine in America.

The doorstep-sized Rare Record Price Guide 1997/8 is the bible. Its 1,400 densely-packed pages demonstrate a staggering range of collectibles - early Elvis Presley 45s at pounds 150-pounds 200 apiece, Tamla Motown singles at pounds 100, and Beatles rarities that range from pounds 4 for one of their chart-topping hits to pounds 5,000 for a scarce edition of the White Album.

Even contemporary musicians have their collectors. The first Oasis single, in a limited edition of precisely 510 copies, now sells for as much as pounds 150; and special versions of Spice Girls singles, sent to DJs and journalists, go for up to pounds 20. Many of the highest prices, though, are for records by groups like Blue Beard, Dr Z and Leaf Hound. They weren't even famous in their own bedrooms.

Peter Doggett, editor of The Record Collector

Ken Shulman, 27, an Australian zoology graduate, outside Reckless Records, Berwick St., London W1. Collects house and techno music: "I've spent pounds 200 in the past few days . I'm dead pleased 'cause I picked up the first Underworld for a bargain."

Mike Elgood, 56, from Luton, outside Harold Moores, Great Marlborough Street W1. Collects classical music, in particular Friedrich Wuhrer's early LPs: "I've spent the last six years looking for a particular Dvorak piano concerto on Vox."

Maud Saclier, 22, unemployed, from London, outside Tag Records, Rupert Court, London W1. She is a dedicated collector of techno: "I spend half my life searching for elusive Spiral Tribe records."

John Mwanje, early 30s, healthcare assistant, outside the Notting Hill Gate Music and Video Exchange. Collects mid-Eighties' soul: "I love the rhythm of soul; it reminds me of when I first started clubbing. I'm hooked."

Trevor Dawson, 45, an accountant from Shepherd's Bush, specialises in Sixties' and Seventies' rock and soul, outside the Music and Video Exchange, Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush, London W12: "I could fill all my days doing this."

Dave Tedstore, 50, London office worker. Collects "all the stuff I didn't get in the Sixties", outside the Notting Hill Gate Music and Video Exchange. "It's become a problem since I discovered the 20p bargain basement of the Music & Video Exchange."

Alex Reuben, 35, a music director, collects African and Latin, outside Black Market Records, D'Arblay St, W1: "For my mates, it's drink and drugs, but I get a rush off a good tune. Sometimes I have trouble leaving for work if I've bought a new record."

Tony Geddes, 52, a retired local councillor from London, collects jazz, particularly Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann, outside Mole Jazz, Kings Cross: "If my wife really knew how many records I have, she'd probably divorce me."

Valerie Gardener, 65, from Kensington, outside the Notting Hill Gate Music and Video Exchange, London W11. Collects classical records, especially works by Mahler: "It's what keeps me alive."

Mitsuyoshi Tashima, 19, Japanese but living in Bromley and studying English, outside Ambience Soho, Berwick Street. Collects trip hop and jungle: "I love Britain because in Japan everything is CD."

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