What Is a “Price Guide Guru”?

 

What Is a “Price Guide Guru”?

WHAT IN TARNATION is a Price Guide Guru? Well, it’s a nick­name that I re­ceived in one of the first fan let­ters for my first book, the 1985-1986 Rock Record Album Price Guide. That was—at least philosophically—the first of its kind: a price guide for record col­lec­tors that ac­tu­ally re­flected the re­ality of the cur­rent mar­ket­place! 1

It was the sixth edi­tion in a line of price guides for long-playing records (LPs) from O’­Sul­livan Wood­side Pub­lishers. The ear­lier edi­tions were ti­tled Record Al­bums Price Guide and had been com­piled by two other au­thors, both of whom had left OW.

I used “philo­soph­i­cally” above be­cause the pre­vious edi­tions used a con­trived for­mula based on age to as­sign values to old records. An album was as­signed a value based on its age, not on the cur­rent supply and demand.

My books changed all of that!

With this ar­ticle, I am pro­viding some per­sonal back­ground in­for­ma­tion on how I got the job as the au­thor and ed­itor of these books. For more in­for­ma­tion on my books and price guides in gen­eral, refer to the list at the end of this article.

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide by Neal Umphred.

My first book was the Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide pub­lished by O’­Sul­livan Wood­side in 1985. The cover re­mains my fave: a staged garage sale at the O’­Sul­li­van’s house using my records and their family.

The grassroots of my calling

In 1985, I was living in Scotts­dale and working as an en­graver at a trophy shop on the other side of Phoenix. Rush-hour traffic in the ’80s was un­gawdly: it took at least ninety min­utes to drive the sev­en­teen miles from home to work on the highway, or the nine­teen miles on the city streets.

To avoid traffic, I stopped at Grass­roots Records, a used record store in Phoenix. The pro­pri­etor was Joe Lindsay, a nice guy in the best sense of that term. Aside from his store, Joe was the co-author of The Com­plete Bea­tles U.S. Record Price Guide with Perry Cox. The first edi­tion of their book had been pub­lished by a local com­pany, O’­Sul­livan Woodside.

 

My first two books changed the way that records were col­lected everywhere!

 

By 1985, OW had pub­lished a se­ries of record col­lec­tors price guides by sev­eral au­thors. Their pri­mary au­thor had just quit, leaving the com­pany with a handful of prof­itable copy­rights but no way to make any money from them.

O’­Sul­livan Wood­side had ap­proached Cox and Lindsay about au­thoring the new edi­tions. Perry had too much on his schedule, but Joe thought he could handle his store and the books, so he agreed.

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of Complete Beatles U.S. Record Price Guide by Cox and Lindsay.

The first edi­tion of The Com­plete Bea­tles U.S. Record PrIce Guide by Perry Cox and Joe Lindsay was pub­lished by O’­Sul­livan Wood­side in 1983. It has re­mained in print as a Cox title with sev­eral pub­lishers since; it is per­haps the most trusted record col­lec­tors price guide.

And the book was all mine

Joe in­tended to “au­thor” the sixth edi­tion of the Record Album Price Guide with a team of local ex­perts. He asked me to handle all en­tries for ’60s rock, soul, and pop. As that was where the bulk of the in­terest in LP col­lecting was at that time, I was of­fered the most im­por­tant part of the book.

Of course, I accepted.

I looked for­ward with an­tic­i­pa­tion to the changes that I would make to the pre­vious edi­tion, which had been hugely dis­ap­pointing.

There was a saying among record sellers about the in­sanely high values as­signed to common LPs in the OW books: Take the book price, cut it in half, and work down from there.

I did not want the dealers saying that about my con­tri­bu­tions to the new Lindsay edition!

Then things changed: for per­sonal rea­sons, Joe could no longer be in­volved in the book.

Don Wood­side had asked Joe if there was one person who could do the book by himself?

Joe said, “Neal Umphred.”

Don said, “See if he’s interested.”

Joe said, “Neal, do you wanna do the whole book—the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s?”

Neal said, “Did God make little green ap­ples and does it rain in In­di­anapolls in the summertime?”

Joe said, “Don Wood­side wants to see you immediately!”

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of Official Price Guide to Collectible Rock Records by Randall Hall.

The only other price guide for record col­lec­tors came from House of Col­lectibles, who ap­par­ently had a title for every thing ever col­lected. The HoC book was so bad it made the O’­Sul­livan Wood­side guides seem the work of ge­nius. 4

I tell him what I think

I sat op­po­site Mr Wood­side in his of­fice as he ex­plained that, due to a va­riety of “issues”—all of which cen­tered around their erst­while au­thor’s per­sonal peccadillos—the sixth edi­tion of the Record Album Price Guide was long overdue.

That OW was a small com­pany that de­pended pri­marily on the output of two au­thors to bring an in­come that jus­ti­fied re­maining a pub­lisher. 5

That without at least two new price guides a year, cash-flow for OW was a problem. They needed me to step in and pro­duce some new product as quickly as possible!

To ef­fect that, Mr. Wood­side wanted me to “up­date” the Record Album Price Guide. He re­quested that I the simply take the pre­vious edi­tion of the book, change a few values, change a few photos, and write a new in­tro­duc­tion. They would then have a new edi­tion of their best-selling title to ship within a couple of months!

“Uh uh,” I re­sponded. “No way.”

Mr. Wood­side was sur­prised: “What do you mean?”

Just take it or leave it

I was in the con­trol seat: OW needed me, but I didn’t need them. I had a de­cent job as an en­graver, and was rea­son­ably happy with my work and my em­ployers. It was one of the few job in­ter­views that I have ever done where I had a take-it-or-leave-it at­ti­tude where the “it” was me.

I did not need this job with Mr Wood­side’s company.

I cer­tainly wanted the job.

But I wanted it on my terms.

This gave me a con­fi­dence that I rarely felt in dealing with the world-at-large. It em­bold­ened me to tell Mr. Wood­side my opinion of his books.

It was not flattering.

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of Elvis Presley Record Price Guide by Neal Umphred.

My second book for O’­Sul­livan Wood­side was the Elvis Presley Record Price Guide in 1985. I was tempted to recreate the cover photo of the Rock & Roll Record Al­bums Price Guide (above) and sub­sti­tute Elvis records. In­stead, I went with this lovely cover by a local pho­tog­ra­pher who had worked pre­vi­ously with OW.

Absurdly inflated values

After es­tab­lishing that Mr Wood­side knew nothing about record col­lecting, I ex­plained that the OW books dra­mat­i­cally in­flated the values of common records, which were most of the records listed in the books. And those few truly rare records that the au­thor had both­ered to in­clude were just as dra­mat­i­cally undervalued!

I ex­plained that the OW books made it al­most im­pos­sible to ac­cu­rately as­sess the value of any record, common or rare!

I ex­plained that the OW books were be­coming less and less useful with each suc­ceeding edition.

I ex­plained that the OW books were doing an enor­mous dis­ser­vice to the col­lecting com­mu­nity! That they were con­fusing sellers and buyers alike, causing col­lec­tors to con­tin­u­ally overpay for used records and con­se­quently over­value their col­lec­tion. 5

I got the job!

I ex­plained that if hired, I wanted carte blanche with each title, and no ques­tioning of any de­ci­sion that I made re­garding con­tent. That each book needed a thor­ough re­working re­quiring thou­sands and thou­sands of large and small changes.

Mr. Wood­side re­ally didn’t enjoy this part of the interview.

And I knew that I was not get­ting the job.

As I was get­ting up to leave, I no­ticed an item he had framed on the wall. It was a de­gree from a de­sign school in De­troit. Wanting to leave on a chipper note, I asked, “So, you a Tigers fan?”

We then spent the next two hours talking baseball.

Mr. Wood­side re­ally en­joyed this part of the interview.

And I knew that I was get­ting the job.

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of 1979 Comic Book Price Guide by Robert Overstreet.

For my taste, the stan­dard for price guides was Robert Over­street’s Comic Book Price Guide. Each book is packed with in­for­ma­tion and il­lus­tra­tions and a reader doesn’t have to know a thing about col­lecting comics to enjoy the book. This 1979 edi­tion fea­tures cover art by Wally Wood in tribute to his work with EC Comics in the 1950s.

What is a “price guide guru”?

In one of the first fan let­ters I re­ceived at OW, the writer thanked me for fi­nally taking the mar­ket­place se­ri­ously. He thanked me for as­signing more re­al­istic values to both common and rare records, for which he dubbed me the “price guide guru for record col­lec­tors.” 6

I thought the moniker clever and funny, but I didn’t have an op­por­tu­nity to use it with O’­Sul­livan Wood­side. When I started con­tributing to Gold­mine mag­a­zine, I often signed off as the Price Guide Guru.

And a few Gold­mine readers started re­fer­ring to me by that nickname.

But I haven’t used it for twenty years.

Until now …

 

Price Guide Guru: cover of MAD magazine #121 with Alfred E. Neuman as a guru.

This is the com­plete cover for Mad #121 (Sep­tember 1968) with art by the inim­itable Norman Mingo. While an en­tire issue de­voted to a hip Six­ties theme was prob­ably asking too much of a hard-working staff, this issue did in­clude the per­ti­nent sto­ries “Everyday Va­ri­eties Of Psy­che­delic Fun” and “New Protests To The Same Old Tunes.” 

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The phrase “What in tar­na­tion?” is one of a wide va­riety of eu­phemistic ex­pres­sions of sur­prise, be­wil­der­ment or anger that arose in 18th and 19th cen­tury America. Per­haps due to our Pu­ritan legacy, Amer­i­cans were, during this pe­riod, es­pe­cially cre­ative in de­vising oaths that al­lowed us to ex­press strong emo­tions while still skirting blasphemy.

Tar­na­tion is an in­ter­esting ex­ample of this gen­er­a­tion of eu­phemisms be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally two eu­phemisms rolled into one word. The root of tar­na­tion is dar­na­tion, a eu­phemistic mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the word “damna­tion,” which at that time was con­sid­ered unfit for po­lite con­ver­sa­tion. Dar­na­tion be­came “tar­na­tion” by being as­so­ci­ated in pop­ular speech with tarnal, an aphetic, or clipped, form of eternal.

2   Cu­ri­ously, no one I ever talked to had ever met or spoken with the book’s au­thors, Ran­dall C. Hall and Thomas C. Hud­geons III, leading many of us to be­lieve that they were house names, man­u­fac­tured by House of Col­lectible’s to give their dreadful books a sem­blance of reality.

3   Aside from the record col­lec­tors price guides, they pub­lished books by Norman Ward­haugh Walker, a pi­o­neer in the field of nat­ural nu­tri­tion, and es­sen­tially the “fa­ther of modern juicing.”

4   This bubble for the col­lector usu­ally only popped when the col­lector found him­self in a po­si­tion where he had to sell his col­lec­tion. When the local used-record store-owner made him an “in­sulting” offer and the col­lector started a sen­tence with “But the price guide says …” he was often shut down by the store-owner with a laugh and an ex­pla­na­tion that no­body used those books be­cause they were shit!

6   The pri­mary de­f­i­n­i­tion of guru in Merriam-Webster is “a per­sonal re­li­gious teacher and spir­i­tual guide in Hin­duism.” But it’s their sec­ondary de­f­i­n­i­tion that ap­plies here: “a teacher and es­pe­cially in­tel­lec­tual guide in mat­ters of fun­da­mental concern.”