Confessions of a Record Collector, Part One

Confessions of a Record Collector, Part One

Written by Frank Doris

I wonder if a lot of Copper readers are record collectors. Well, I suppose that’s like asking if dogs like bones.

Record collecting can be fun or frustrating, cheap or expensive. Finding a mint original copy of an RCA Living Stereo Reiner Scheherazade or Meet the Beatles at a garage sale for 50 cents – an adrenaline rush. Going to Capital Audio Fest and seeing that rare Elektra Records copy of Methuselah for $100 – more disappointing than being rejected for a high school date.

My first LP records were the ones my parents bought for me as a child. Tom Thumb, The Chipmunk Songbook, Quick Draw McGraw. Growing up, I’d request an album for my birthdays or Hanukkah/Christmas – Hot Rats, Electric Ladyland, many others. The first album I bought with my own money was Golden Greats by The Ventures. Records became prized possessions, objects of desire, gateways into an exotic world of rock and later jazz, pop and classical music. I’d read the liner notes and look at the pictures over and over again.

Golden Greats by the Ventures, author's original copy.
Golden Greats by the Ventures, author's original copy.

When attending the State University of New York at Albany I would try to buy an album a week no matter how much or little money I had (usually the latter), from Just-A-Song or the Last Vestige Music Shop, run by Jim Furlong, the first truly fanatical record collector I’d ever met. After graduation I bought a couple of albums a month, often waiting until E.J. Korvette had an All-Label Sale. But I hadn’t been bitten by the record collecting bug. Yet.


Ad for Just-A-Song Records, March 19, 1976 in the Albany Student Press.
Ad for Just-A-Song Records, March 19, 1976, Albany Student Press. New Good Rats album now in stock!

At 22 I happened to stop at a garage sale and noticed a bin of records. Dozens of them in great shape for 25 cents, maybe 10 cents each. (Back in the day you could even find records for a nickel at garage sales.) Wow! In Pavlovian fashion, I started going to more and more garage sales, and one day found a guy who had hundreds. I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for the weekends. The records started piling up. I had to buy a cheap bookshelf to store them. Then another, then another. I expanded my sphere of acquisitive activities…

Somehow I had made the transition from casual consumer to record collecting fanatic. And I’d seen it happen to many others, running into them in sordid basements and dusty back rooms, doing deals under cover of darkness, frequenting establishments known only to certain types. But how do you know if you, yes you, have become a hopeless record collector?

In this series, I will tell you the telltale signs. More than one of you will laugh, or sigh, or check your credit card balance in knowing recognition.

Your records overrun your living space. They’re everywhere – on shelves, on the floor (usually near your audio system), in the hallways, in the garage, in the closets. When I was living in a condo they were in every room in my house. Well, except the bathroom, but I would sometimes read liner notes there.

You’ve built or purchased dedicated record shelves. But before that, you probably tried those inexpensive bookshelves made from cheesy vinyl-covered particle board, held together by those mysterious Czechoslovakian 3/4-turn fasteners. Then watched the shelves sag over time. Then, one day, you were startled by the sound of records crashing to the floor in a horrifying pile-up. Your first thought: oh no, how many are broken? Your second thought: how am I ever going to get these back into alphabetical order?

(Of course your records are in alphabetical and likely category order.)

These shelves, made from 1 x 12 lumber, have stood the test of time.. These shelves, made from 1 x 12 lumber, have stood the test of time.

You know where to find records. When I started buying records in the 1960s, we’d go to department stores or Sam Goody, and then, independent record stores, which were often combination record stores and head shops. (How quaint that term sounds now.) Later, in addition to garage sales I started combing thrift shops and antique stores. But nothing could prepare me for the sensory overload of…

Record collectors’ conventions. Ecstasy under the roof of a VFW hall! Thousands of records! Dozens of vendors! Buy one for $5, three for $10! A vinyl junkie’s dream. I was in my mid-20s when I discovered and attended my first, and walked out with more than 100 albums. You might pay anything from a buck to a crazy-expensive price, but the odds of finding what you want, and the smorgasbord of vinyl, make these conventions flame to us vinyl moths.

Perhaps you’ve paid the extra fee for early admission. Or set up a table as a dealer, only to roam the convention and spend more on buying records than you sold at your table.

Record collectors' convention poster.

Of course nowadays the internet, online retailers and eBay (sadly, Reverb LP is no more) make looking for records almost effortless, but for that adrenaline rush, there’s nothing like shopping for physical media – variable ratio and variable interval reinforcement will get you every time.

You make friends with fellow record collectors. Then you get really annoyed when you see them show up at a garage sale before you do.

Then really, really annoyed when you see them walking away with a stack of records and a big grin. In retaliation, you get into the habit of looking up garage sales on Craigslist and contacting the seller before the sale, asking for a private showing. Or, parking your car at the garage sale an hour before it starts in the hopes of being the first one in. And getting monumentally irritated when you see a fellow collector sitting in their car down the street.

You go to a garage sale or a thrift store, start flipping through the records and immediately know they’ve been picked over. No RCA Living Stereo or Mercury Living Presence or Verve V6 or Impulse or Blue Note jazz albums? Yep, someone like you has already vacuumed them up. So, you make the rounds of the local thrifts way more than what would be considered psychologically healthy, in the hopes of being the first when a new batch of old records hits the stacks. When that happens, and it does, it’s like pulling a full house on a video poker machine while killing time at CES. But I digress.

Oh no, not you again! If you're a veteran record collector you've seen this one more times than you can count.
Oh no, not you again! If you're a veteran record collector you've seen this one more times than you can count.

Do I even need to say this? You own a record collecting machine.

(Oops! I meant to say “record cleaning machine.” Thanks Josh Waller for pointing out my brain freeze in the Comments below. Although I’ve seen people comb through record racks with machine-like speed.) 

You read Steve Hoffman’s forum.

You still own the first record you ever bought. If not, you’ve purchased a replacement.

You’ve wanted a record. Really badly. Passed it up. More than once. Then, looked for it on eBay and online, five, 10, 20 times. Maybe even put it in your cart, gone through the whole checkout process and then decided at the last minute that it was too expensive or something. Then a day or a week or a month later, perhaps on a late-night had-one-drink-too-many buying binge or after a bad day at the home office, when you’ve finally convinced yourself that you deserve the darn thing after all the stress you’ve been through, you buy the record.

Hard-core record collector bonus points option: after it arrives, you never play it.

Then you immediately start the process again for the next record you have to have.

To be continued…

Header image: Authentic Music From Another Planet, one of the author’s most prized records. According to the liner notes, a man from Saturn played this music for Howard Menger “on a Saturnian instrument very much like our piano.” Menger then transcribed and recorded it “to bring this music to the attention of the people here on Earth.”

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