WAY BACK IN THE HOARY ’90s, I attended a couple of record collectors conventions on the East Coast. One was in New York, one in Virginia, both within days of each other in 1996. Setting up as a dealer at an East Coast show was something that I hadn’t done since leaving Pennsylvania eighteen years earlier! I’d sold at one Rock of Ages show in New York before Barbie (and yes, she was a doll!) and I pointed our overburdened ’73 Comet westward and didn’t look back. 1
The first show in ’96 was in a large hotel ballroom in New York City, where I knew a few of the people. Jeff Tamarkin, my editor at Goldmine magazine, was set up with his own table close by. We had always been friendly outside of our professional relationship but rarely saw one another. He clued me in on a few of the local scene’s more ‘colorful’ collectors.
Being introduced to the microcosm of any field of collecting can feel like dropping down a rabbit hole or walking through a looking glass for a novice.
Jeff also served as grounding in reality for Jen, a role neither he nor I were aware of at the time. But he was a reasonably well-rounded person who wasn’t emotionally bonded to his inventory.
He was also married and had a relaxed sense of humor. He seemed more like one of Jen’s customers at her bar than a vinyl junkie oblivious to the world outside his hobby.
At the time of these shows, I was still the-guy-who-wrote-the-price-guides and therefore had a rep preceding me. And by a “rep” I mean that most dealers and collectors knew my work; some loved it, some loathed it.
I was used to both.
Jen was not.
We were in the beginning stages of a relationship that had a built-in obstacle: she lived on the East Coast while I lived on the West. This was easily overcome by regular long-distance flights.
Which of course requires large sums of money.
Which of course neither of us had.
This photo was taken at the collectors convention held in Arbutus, Maryland, and gives a feel for a local show. The bigger cities that have long-running shows will often have wall-to-wall buyers, which can make it both claustrophobic and profitable for sellers who have to be behind their tables for 8-12 hours.
Jen meets the world of collecting
For the sake of protecting her unsullied rep, I will refer to my girlfriend as Jen Bottlebinder. She was tall, willowy, and lovely, with sensuality to her gait and demeanor usually—and, oh so, unfortunately—lacking in most American women.
And smart. 2
She lived in Washington, DC, while I lived in Washington State and it was my turn to fly back there to be with her. To mix business with pleasure (and partially pay for the flight), I leased a dealer’s table at the shows and Krause Publications shipped several cartons of my books to Jen’s address. So I was able to attend both as a minor celebrity sitting behind a huckster’s table with the hottest woman in the building at my side.
Things looked great from my side of those tables.
I am almost tempted to try to write this from the perspective of a woman who had never known anyone in any one of the sub-worlds of collectordom. When I tried to catch her up to speed on some aspects of the denizens found there, I spoke more like a psychologist than a collector.
She was a bartender at a chichi watering hole off the beltway popular with Democrats. She regularly served Teddy Kennedy and Tip O’Neill. She was reasonably grounded in consensual reality and reasonably familiar with the opposite sex. All in all, a reasonably well-rounded woman in late 20th century America.
What most astounded this reasonably well-rounded woman was two things: the rudeness of some of the collectors to a person that they had never met (me), and once she learned a little, how many of the men had never been around the block.
Even once. 3
In fact, she thought I was joshing her at first about the relatively high rate among adult males who were record collectors. I assured her it was also common among all sorts of male collectors, including comic books and baseball cards. This was years before The 40-Year Old Virgin made the issue a topic of conversation among the general population.
The values that I assigned to the three Jutta Hipp albums on Blue Note Records in the second edition of my Goldmine’s Price Guide To Collectible Jazz Albums were the bones of contention at the New York record collectors convention that I attended in 1996. These LPs comprise the bulk of the recording career of German-born pianist Jutta Hipp. Blue Note 1515 and 1516 were issued concurrently, as two-record album sets were unheard of outside of the classical music field. In 2020, both of these titles currently have a suggested NM value of $1,500-2,000.
At the New York show with Jutta Hipp
I should note that it the nature of the beast that I hail from to enjoy a good argument. A verbal sparring devoid of anger and hostility is a way in which I engage the world and my fellow-man and actually learn new things! 4
At any given show, the majority of my interactions with readers and users of my books were positive. While this felt good, I learned little from my admirers. It was the pissed-off detractors who I looked forward to meeting!
Why? There were two basic types of pissed-off-ness for me to address:
1. The most common buyer was the person who thought that the values that I had assigned to the rather rare records too high. While the values in my books were often dramatically higher than in those books done my predecessor or by my competitor, I knew that they weren’t high enough.
I knew that rare records were rarer than most buyers believed and therefore sold for more than they knew. As this was before sales prices were available on the Internet, these buyers had to rely on price guides far more than they do today, and my system of assigning values just seemed arbitrarily steep to them.
That is, these collectors tended to argue from ignorance. Except for attempting to set these people right, I derived little of benefit from conversations with people who argued, “Your prices are too high!”
Because there was a noticeable pattern to the confrontations: people who argued with me that I had valued rare records too high were invariably wrong. They didn’t have the records in their collection, had never bought the records, so really had no experience other than what a price guide told them.
There was a noticeable pattern to the confrontations at conventions: Those people who argued that I had valued rare records too high generally turned out to be wrong; those who insisted the values were too low were almost always correct.
2. On the other hand, there were those collectors who argued, “Your prices are too low!” These were the people I looked forward to engaging, as such an accusation usually meant that they knew more than I knew and had a right to be angry at me for not getting it right.
People who insisted that I had set the values too low were almost uniformly correct. They usually had the records and had paid market price for them—and since they had the items they had no reason to lie, an accusation that could be leveled at dealers.
And if I could convince them of my willingness to change the error of my ways, I might recruit them as contributors to future guides!
When approached by an angry collector, I encouraged him to vent his spleen: tell me everything that was wrong with my books! Most of them addressed me in various degrees of antagonism and expected antagonism in return, or at least some hostile defense. Being met with open arms and an invitation to rant usually disarmed them, which was not what I sought.
But this was all new to Jen, who was taken aback at the contempt that some strangers showed me. 5
Shortly after the first two Hipp live albums (above), she recorded a studio set with Zoot Sims. Blue Note 1530 is a highly sought after record today with suggested NM value of $3,000-4,000. Shortly after her stint with Blue Note, Hipp stopped recording, retired from the jazz scene, and pursued painting instead.
I have a problem with the prices in your book!
We had been at the show for several hours when a collector approached the table and asked, “Are these your books? Are you the author?”
Yes I am.
“Well, I got a problem with some of the prices.” She sounded miffed.
Jen was immediately defensive, thinking this person rude for her attitude to a stranger. But I asked her name.
And we shook hands and then I asked if she though them too high or too low.
“Way too high!”
And I asked for a frinstance. (Look it up!)
“The Jutta Hipp albums.”
Before I could say anything, the man behind her chimed in with, “Yeah, about the Jutta Hipp albums—I have a problem with your prices.” His tone bordered on belligerence.
I just asked if he thought them too high or too low.
“Way too high!”
Claudia turned to stare at the guy. Jen was startled again; she later told me she thought there was going to be some kind of altercation.
So, I asked him his name.
And I turned to the young lady and said, Claudia, this is Stuart.
I turned back to him and said, Stuart, this is Claudia. Now, there’ll be no fighting over Jutta Hipp, but it does seem like you two have a lot to talk about … 6
FEATURED IMAGE: This shot of Zoot Sims and Hutta Hipp from 1956 was my first choice for a header image for this article. Unfortunately, all of the copies of this image that I found on the Internet were too small and could not be enlarged to suitable size without blurring. So I used the cover art from their sole album instead.
PS: I don’t intend for this to make Jen sound neurotic; she was anything but. She was not a successful bartender because she was easily cowed by strangers! And most of the people she met were pleasant and made her welcome. Still, being introduced to the microcosm of any field of collecting can feel like dropping down a rabbit hole or walking through a looking glass for a novice.
1 Barbie and I left Pennsylvania in June 1978, meandered across the country, made our way through Yosemite National Park, headed towards Monterey, and were swimming in the Pacific Ocean five days later!
2 I likes ’em smart!
3 I am using the idiom “around the block” to reference one’s sexual experience—the way that I had always heard that phrase used. The way that I have used that phrase for more than forty years. But looking it up on the Internet I find that has a broader meaning: “to have had a lot of experience of a particular situation” and “to have had a lot of experience of life, especially difficult or unpleasant experience.” Most of the definitions are specifically not sexual, meaning either I have been using the phrase incorrectly for decades, or it has changed with the times and I haven’t.
4 My experience is that few people can separate their feelings and their personal, political, or religious ideology from their arguments and hence they tend to fight rather that debate. They appear to do this out of defensiveness, perceiving any and all questions as assaults on the core of their being. But that’s another conversation!
5 She was also taken aback if very pleased with the response of many of the men at the show, who rarely saw a beautiful woman with taste in clothing and a sensual demeanor at a record show. Think of the first time that Penny visited the comic book store in The Big Bang Theory and then multiply it by several factors and you might get an idea. And remember, Ms. B knew nothing about collecting and the world of collectors before she met me. This was brand spanking new to her! Talk about your grokless stranger in a strange land!
6 Regarding the Hipp albums: in the first edition of Goldmine’s Price Guide To Collectible Jazz Albums (1992), I had assigned a NM value of $90 to each of the three Blue Note 12-inch titles. I knew this was too low, so in the second edition (1994) I had raised those values to $250 each. I believed these still too low but in the ballpark, so I knew this person didn’t know what she was talking about here.
After Claudia and Stuart duked it out briefly, Stuart and I talked. He plainly knew more than I did and assured me that if I doubled the values that I had given those records and walked around this show offering $500 for any one of the three Hipp twelve-inchers, every knowledgeable seller would laugh at me!