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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

At the Corner of Preservation and Profit.

While I've been taking a bit of a bath on the records and CDs I've been getting rid of, at least I'm not Paul Mawhinney, owner of the self proclaimed World's Greatest Music Collection. (I'm assuming the definition of "great" would have to equal 20th century American music. But I digress.)

Paul's collection consists of an estimated 6 million unique titles. It's value is claimed (according to whom?) to be $50mil. It's in a climate controlled warehouse. It's amazing! It's colossal! It's for sale!!! ...again.

After offering this bounty for sale twice with no one able to cough up the asking amount, off to eBay it goes. Less than 24 hours left (as of now) and no one has touched the $3mil starting bid. I'd be shocked if anyone did.

Now, here's the problem: if you read the info, they are only interested in selling to someone who will keep the collection intact. It's been offered to museums and I get the impression that's where they'd like it to go. And that's really where it should go.

However, no museum has that kind of cash, not to mention the logistical nightmare or transporting and storing this massive collection. $3mil is a lot of scratch, even if this is the bargain of the century (is it?)

And I'm not so sure a big old record collection would exactly be worth building a museum around, although if they really want to keep this collection preserved this way, I think that's their only choice. Either that or they are going to have to donate it and as I music fan, I'd love to see this end up in the Library of Congress.

The big thing I have to wonder is why? Why does this collection exist? They estimate on the site it'd take someone fifty some odd years, listening 24 hours a day, to hear it all. This sounds like a "life's work" project. Mawhinney was a dealer, owned a few indie labels and some publishing. Sounds like kind of an "American Graffiti" era fan. I have huge respect for all of that. There's obviously passion (or obsession) here, but passion doesn't pay the bills, as Mawhinney is discovering.

If he really intended this to be some archive of recorded music, why didn't he look into setting up a museum himself or find a worth donor to give it to? I don't begrudge the man wanting to leave something for his children, but intending to do so on the back of a record collection is a very poor financial decision, especially in this market.

If I can play armchair quarterback for a minute, I think this collection is going to be broken up and sold off, which in itself is going to be a massive undertaking. I just don't see any other way this guy is going to get anywhere near what this collection is estimated to be worth.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens next. Maybe someone will come in with a last minute bid and take it all. I find that unlikely though. I think, at the end of the day, the finances are going to override the historical value and that will be that.

And I can't imagine what is going through this guy's head right now. To have find that what has essentially been one's passion for decades isn't worth a fraction to anyone other than themselves has got to be crushing.

Anyway, I wish him the best of luck. Like I said, I honestly don't begrudge the man wanting to get some return on his investment. It's not my collection, but I know what I'd like to see happen with it. It will be interesting to see which path Mawhinney chooses.

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