Before the birth of Vinyl Junkies there were (and still are) the “Shellaholics”
By Kurt Nauck
The fact that vinyl junkies and shellacoholics are mutually distinct populations certainly does not qualify as Record Collector News. And it is also no secret that from its inception, RCN has traditionally focused on vinyl recordings with only occasional reference to the artists, labels and music of the 70-year period spanning the 1890s to the 1950s. This is not likely to change anytime soon, but in a recent conversation our esteemed editor asked me to contribute an occasional article to shed a little light into the market and motivations of a collector group which existed well before the introduction of the microgroove record and that continues in good health.
Amanda Petrusich’s book, Do Not Sell at Any Price has probably done more to publicize the aspirations and personalities behind the 78rpm record collecting community than any other single publication. Yet in spite of her obvious love for the music, the format, and the quirky people pursuing their chosen passion, her book is self-admittedly biased towards the blues community (with a respectful nod towards jazz, hillbilly and “ethnic” collectors).
I would like to broaden Amanda’s tunnel vision somewhat and make mention of the fact that there are collectors just as passionate, just as knowledgeable and just as focused on their own fields of interest as are the blues nuts. Granted, in most cases prices are not nearly as high (on average) as your typical top-shelf blues 78, but the rarity, musicianship and historical importance of non-blues recordings can easily meet or exceed that of a Robert Johnson or Skip James record.
By way of introduction, perhaps a little background and bona fides would be in order. Nauck’s Vintage Records has been trading in vintage sound recordings for over three decades, and we deal in all genres (jazz, blues, opera, country, historical speeches, foreign issues, personality recordings, dance bands, vanity pressings, children’s records, rock & roll, ethnic, classical, doo-wop, comedy, sacred, advertising and promos, R&B, etc.) and in all pre-microgroove types and formats (78s, cylinders, picture records, rare labels, radio transcriptions, puzzle records, Edison Diamond Discs, test pressings, soundtrack discs, etc.).
Nauck’s clientele is comprised of collectors, institutions and archives throughout the world with approximately 30 percent of our business being conducted outside the US. Over the course of 60 auctions, we have sold roughly half a million records. Our 136 page catalogs are available free of charge to regular bidders, or as pdf files on our website. Auctions occur twice a year (in the spring and the fall) and each catalog contains roughly 10,000 individual records in all the genres and types previously mentioned. Every record is individually graded and described, and the more interesting and important recordings are pictured on the Auction Highlights page of our website. In any given auction, we receive upwards of 30,000 bids and sell 95% of what we list. Sales prices range from $3 to many thousands. There is something for everyone.
For the past ten years, we have also produced the Nauck’s Vintage Records Bidder Request Show, an Internet radio broadcast recorded in our studio at Spring, Texas. Streaming courtesy of Radio Dismuke over a three-day period just prior to the close of each auction, each 10-hour program features interesting recordings taken directly from the current catalog. Not only do we play records, but also we discuss the performers, labels, anecdotes, historical background and technology behind them.
Now back to the business at hand. Because of the inordinate amount of publicity blues records have received in recent years and the fact that most RCN readers are passingly familiar with this genre, I will focus — at least to begin with — on record categories that might be less familiar to this audience. If there is sufficient reader interest, future articles will deal with vintage record playback, care and preservation, collector resources and whatever else might prove to be entertaining and informative.
To close out this article, I thought it might be interesting to mention a couple of recent sales in a genre that is as far removed from your typical RCN fare as Lawrence Welk is from Bob Marley. That genre would be operatic and classical music, or what used to be referred to in collector parlance as “historical” or “celebrity” recordings.
It might come as a surprise to some readers, but 50 years ago opera occupied the same position in the record collecting world that blues does today. Opera records brought the highest prices, and Bauer collectors (that is, those who collected recordings listed in Roberto Bauer’s discography, Historical Records – 1898-1908/9) tended to look with disdain upon collectors of lower pedigreed genres. Obviously opera is not as heavily collected as it once was, but great rarities still command premium prices. Last year we sold one of three known copies of a 1903 recording by Anna Von Bahr-Mildenburg for $25,000; in the same auction, an exceedingly rare 1904 recording by famed composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns playing one of his own pieces brought $33,000. Both of these records were crown jewels from the legendary collection of Sir John Paul Getty, Jr., whose massive wealth enabled him to assemble the world’s greatest collection of Golden Age opera. (By the way, though both of these records happen to appear on the English Gramophone & Typewriter Company label, do not assume that every record bearing this label has value. They do not!)
Most opera and classical records issued in the U.S. are abundantly common and have relatively little value. But there are exceptions. For instance, in 2014 we sold a 1929 recording made for the Belgian Conservatory of Music in New York City by Ovide Musin. This pressing of a relatively obscure violinist performing one of his own compositions brought $2,200. These auction lots fetched high prices, but it is not uncommon for operatic and classical rarities to bring four figures.
In the next issue of RCN we’ll look at personality recordings and introduce some of the technical issues involved in playing vintage records. In the meantime, we would be happy to send a complimentary copy of our 2016 Fall catalog to interested readers. Simply email your name, address, phone number and a description of the types of records you collect via our website where you’ll also find multi-speed turntables, custom styli, premium record sleeves, books and discographies. Spin on!
Nauck’s Vintage Records, 22004 Sherrod Ln, Spring, TX 77389 • www.78rpm.com