WE HAD BEEN TOGETHER for a year when we finally decided to make the move from the sultry summers of the East Coast to the more moderate West Coast. It was 1978 and the dreams of ‘the sixties’ didn’t seem so far off. Working two jobs each, we had saved the equivalent of $10,000 in today’s dollars. Our goal was to move from Pennsylvania to California and never look back.
Then something happened: Elaine and I discovered a small mom-and-pop record store in a small town where my sister was attending college. The store had thousands of albums in its basement that no one had looked at in years.
•Most of these records were from the ’60s!
• Most of these records had promotional white labels!
• Most of these records were unplayed mint!
The owner sold them to us three for a dollar! At that price, it was almost impossible not to make some kind of a profit in reselling them. Except, of course, our goal was getting off the East Coast as quickly as possible and transplant ourselves on the West Coast.
I had these record collectors price guides that told me that all old records were valuable—and I believed them!
As it was 1978, I had little alternatives as to how I would turn these around and make a profit. There was virtually no market for “rare and collectable” old records in the US outside of a few big cities like New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.
Similarly, record collectors conventions were almost unknown outside of those big cities. Goldmine magazine had started publication a few years earlier, but my goal at this time was not to establish myself as a mail-order used record dealer, but to turn the records over—perhaps to double my money after expenses—and realize my manifest destiny.
Kaleidoscope’s BEACON FROM MARS was just beginning to attract attention from psych collectors in the late ’70s. Bleeker Bob was so unfamiliar with the record in 1978, that he had to call a fried to see if they were worth buying. He bought all the white label promo copies (Epic LN-24333) that I had. 1
Buying a trunk load of albums
We started driving down to the record store, buying a trunk load of albums, then heading back up to the Big Apple. We were selling the records for $2-4 each to the city’s used record stores.
Bleecker Bob bought most of the rock records, including twenty copies of Kaleidoscope’s BEACON FROM MARS (Epic LN-24333) for $100. Another older man who dabbled in used records out of his antiquarian book store, gave me the same price for twenty-five copies of the BARBARELLA soundtrack (DynoVoice DY-1908). 2
According to these new-fangled price guides, common records that I could buy in cut-out bins for a buck or two were worth ten times that elsewhere.
Keep in mind that while these records may have been worth $25-35 in New York, I would be lucky to find any collector even wanting a copy of these records in my hometown of Wilkes-Barre.
Then someone asked me why I was selling the to stores so cheap when I could be selling them at the Rock of Ages record collectors show in the same New York City for so much more. Not being one who likes to argue with another who is making perfect sense, I booked a couple of tables at one of the shows later that year.
Which put our migration off, again.
And I had work to do until then.
Like most price guides for most collectables, the early O’Sullivan Woodside guides drastically overvalued common used records. After all, who wants to buy a book that tells them that their records are worth less than they paid for them?
All old records are valuable records!
See, I had these brand new Record Album Price Guides by Bruce Hamilton and Jerry Osborne (published by O’Sullivan Woodside) and they had taught me one thing: All old records were valuable!
With these books, I discovered that common, everyday records that I could buy in cut-out bins all over northeastern Pennsylvania for a buck or two were worth $8-15 elsewhere in these united states. The OW books told me so.
Elaine and I invested our hard-earned moving-to-California money by buying multiple copies of such ‘rarities’ as:
• Dave Clark Five, 5 x 5
• Herman’s Hermits, Hold On
• Lovin’ Spoonful, Everything Playing
• Rolling Stones, Between The Buttons
• Paul Revere & The Raiders, Revolution
• Turtles, The Battle Of The Bands
I placed the word ‘rarities’ in single quote marks above to indicate irony: these records weren’t rare, despite being listed in the aforementioned price guides for about $8-15 each. But we were getting them for $1-2 each, so how could we miss? 3
In the ’70s, copies of the Turtles’ THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS (White Whale WWS-7118) were easily found in cut-out bins for a few bucks. In the ’80s, the album caught collectors’ attention—it’s a fine album and loads of fun to listen to—and sealed copies sold for an easy $20. Fifty years after its release demand is low but sealed copies are rather rare records.
Rock of Ages, here we come!
We were also buying records via classified ads in the local newspapers—ah, for the good old days, when any town of a certain size had two daily and one Sunday paper—and buying used albums from private collections.
We bought Clooney, Day, and London!
We bought Sinatra, Mathis, and Darin!!
We bought Beatles, Stones, and Kinks!!!
Most of these used records were less than mint condition, but collectors hadn’t started obsessing over condition yet. And the price guides told us that there was a market for these albums, that they were worth much more than the records we’d been finding in cut-out bins! 3
We also bought every album we found by artists like Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Mathis.
By the time it was time for the Rock of Ages show, we had enough inventory to fill the two tables we had reserved. We were stoked! Here was our thinking:
1. We would use the Hamilton-Osborne price guides that said that our albums were worth $8-15 in used condition.
2. We had boxes of still-sealed copies of those albums that we had paid no more than $2 each for.
3. We would sell these albums for half the book price, making customers happy and making us a profit.
4. We would sell whatever was left after the show to the stores in New York for whatever they’d pay us.
5. We would then take off for California be able to realize our personal Manifest Destiny with a much larger stash than we had initially planned.
That’s the end of “My First Record Show as a Dealer (Rock of Ages Part 1).” Here’s what’s coming in the second part:
We didn’t double our money at our first record show.
We discovered those price guides were full of shit
We made it to California but found ourselves in Arizona a few years later where—Faith and bloody Begorra!—I was hired as the editor/author of the very price guides that had led us astray …
FEATURED IMAGE: Most dealers at shows in the 1970s and ’80s just packed their records in plain, used cardboard boxes and set them up on whatever tables the show provided. Separating the records with alphabetized dividers was not the from, but we did it from the beginning.
1 Kaleidoscope’s first album, SIDE TRIPS, never had the cachet with collectors—especially psych collectors—that BEACON FROM MARS has. Consequently, I only got $2 apiece for the white label promo copies of SIDE TRIPS that I had.
2 Soundtracks of any kind sold better in New York than anywhere else on the planet. One store that carried mew and used (Colony Records?) was asking $35 for used copies of BARBARELLA, but offered me 50¢ apiece for mine. I didn’t sell.
3 Most of these albums are still fairly common today and are easily found for a nominal sum. Mono copies of BETWEEN THE BUTTONS were a staple of the cut-out bins in the ’70s, selling for as little as 99¢.
4 I paid up to $2 for any album that the price guides listed for at least $15, figuring if I sold them for a third of that I’d do okay.