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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Tear for Paul Mawhinney

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

I previously covered this saga here and here, but this video is making the rounds, so I feel the need to comment again. I guess the thing is, if you look into the whole story, get past the gee-wow factor of the number of records and the money claimed as value, things just don't add up.

First off, the issue of where this alleged value for this collection comes from is again glossed over. Can you take the word of someone who has authored price guides (a fact left out of the video) in a hobby where price guide authors have been known to bump up the book values of their own specialties? And surely I'm not the only one who is a little suspicious about someone selling something so expensive so reluctant to share details of what's exactly in it. Supposedly it's documented. Why not post it at the website?

Well, one thing is shown as again he trots out this Rolling Stones LP as the crown jewel of the collection. While it's a nice piece, if you're into the Stones, it isn't exactly a holy grail. Back in February, when he brought this out on publicity for the eBay auctions of this collection, a copy of the same album was up for $4k buy it now and no takers. Sure, you aren't just going to stumble across a copy at your local vinyl emporium, but I'd really expect a collection that large to have something much rarer as the centerpiece. Certainly something that wouldn't be up on eBay for less than you claimed it was worth and still no one wanting it.

There's also the at the least misleading, though more likely completely dishonest statement that 83% of his collection prior to 1963 isn't available at any price. The only way I can see that to be accurate would be if he owns every copy of 83% of the records produced in that time frame and they were never reissued. Not bloody likely.

And while he's going on and on about how the world just doesn't care, he fails to mention the Library of Congress bid he turned down in 2003, which was more than $3million but less than the $25million he was still expecting to get at the time. He also fails to mention the stipulations that the collection had to remain intact and only duplicates could be sold which accompanied each attempt at a sale.

And while he's painting this as his life's work, he fails to mention that he was in the business of buying cut-outs and remainders by the trailer load. He does tip his hand when he refers to the collection as "merchandise." Of course, I also noticed in researching Mawhinney that one common comment among people who visited his shop was that if he'd actually sold people records instead of insisting the dozens of copies of a title they had on the shelf were too precious to part with and offering a $50 CD-R instead, he probably wouldn't be sitting on millions of records he can't move now.

And the more I've looked at this story, the more it seems to me that this really is dead stock that he hoarded or couldn't sell than any kind of really valuable collection. Again, I feel sorry for the guy as his health is failing and this looks like it was his retirement plan. However, I'm finding the coverage of this to be very dishonest and it's probably only encouraging Mawhinney's unrealistic expectations for his collection.

What's more, this whole "well, they won't have Paul Mawhinney to kick around anymore" tone the video gives off really bugs me. I had trouble buying the "preserving culture" talk before, but after seeing this video I find it out right laughable. Instead of talking about donating all this precious cultural heritage, he's sounds like he'd rather destroy it than give it away for anything less than $3mil.

We're not talking about some lost Shakespeare works here or the legendary Buddy Bolden recording or something of that stature. We're talking about a record dealer who hoarded a ton of cut-outs. No one forced you into it and it's not like you were doing this for any reasons other than your own and your own commercial interests.

So, as always, best of luck to you and your family, Paul. But I really think you need to get real about this. How many more years are you going to keep schlepping this around, fishing for sympathy among people who don't have the resources to buy your "life's work" even if they wanted?


brianwyrick said...

I have to admit, I agree with you, the video kind of makes him out to be a bit of a fool. He obviously doesn't know much about recording or even music.

TC said...

I found that claim of the Stones' album value highly suspicious as well, just based on the range he used (worth between 5 and 10 grand? If you're going to be that vague, why not say between 5 and 20 grand?) Then I did a little research and quickly found a copy at ELI for $2400. Seems like a bargain compared to what Paul says it's "worth."

Rob G. said...

That's exactly what I'm talking about. I remember the first time I sold anything to a dealer (I was about 6 or 7.) I learned at an early age there's a huge discrepancy between what a dealer says his stuff is worth and what it's actually worth (or at least what he's willing to pay for your stuff ;)

Just going by statistics, if we take Mawhinney at his word about his intentions with this collection, there would have to be many more real rarities than that. In other interviews, I've heard him mention the Elvis Christmas record and ZZ Top's first 7" as more highlights. Neither of those are that difficult to find at all. Combine that with the fact that this has been on the market since '94, probably looked at by every top collector in the world, and still he can't get a buyer, and you have to assume this collection is mostly, if not all, dead stock he couldn't sell at his store.

I think the fact that all these human interest type stories gloss over the fact that this guy was a dealer that gets me the most. Nothing wrong with someone trying to make some money, but knowing that this guy was a big time dealer kind of deflates a lot of what he's talking about in the video (like the whole idea of him creating some archive of recorded music out of the good of his heart.)

Unknown said...

read the comments. We have a different strategy in India and formed a 'Society of Indian Record Collectors' - a voluntary organization of record collectors. we buy/sell/gift/play records in social gatherings / reissue some old historical recordings and involve record companies, private labels, and individuals. This helps us in reaching out to young ones who would probably preserve if they wish. This has been going on for last 20 years with encouraging results.

- Dr. Suresh Chandvankar
'Society of Indian Record Collectors', Mumbai, India

Nick said...

I worked for Paul back in the early 70's but knew him since he had the store on Rt.8 in Etna.

People would bring in their collections in and he'd give them .10 on the dollar then turn around and sell one of the records that he just paid .10 for for $10.00

He ripped people off big time.

Doug K said...

I would like to talk to this guy,
but can't access him thru his website.

The collections size is impressive, but it's what's in it that matters and what condition they're in.

I've been a collector over 30 years
and one thing I noticed while watching the video is these records aren't stored in an archival manner.

They are loose and leaning on the shelves and none are in polybags.
One video of has him holding a disc
he calls the first flat record.
The way he's holding it, You don't handle a disc that way.

The Rolling Stones lp he shows I bought 10 years ago for $8.00 and mine is still sealed so I don't know where the price he gives comes from.

One thing I've learned over the years of collecting is book price
doesn't matter, If you get 30% your lucky. There are also lots of
"repro" discs on 45's that look exactly like the originals around.

This turned me off to record shows,
that and nowadays you can download a collection of recordings from cylinders to cd's and all it costs is the blanks to put them on.

Anonymous said...

correction: LoC said 83% aren't available as re-issued CD's.