Another Adventure in Jazz Collecting: A Bronx Tale, Part Two

Dexter GordonSo, back in the Bronx, I had a pile of about 50 records. Of the records in that pile there were probably about 10 that I really wanted. But I sensed that the woman wanted to get rid of records and taking more seemed like the right approach. So I made an offer that I thought was fair, considering the condition of the records and the reality that many of the records in the pile were relatively worthless. The offer came out of my mouth and the words were still just hanging in the air when I could see the woman physically recoil as if she had just swallowed a platter full of insects. She repeated the number I had just said and gasped: “The Jackie McLean record alone is worth more than that!” Which, to be fair, would have been true if the Jackie McLean record was in excellent condition. But it wasn’t. Then she started going through a list that she had compiled with values for some of the key records. But there was clearly a disconnect. All of the values she had compiled were for records in M- condition. The records in the pile were not in M- condition. None of them.

I won’t bore you with the details of our back and forth, but it went on for a little while and I was ready to leave without any records. Finally I pulled out the 10 records I really wanted and made her a higher offer. She countered and I said I would pay the higher price but I’d want a couple more records. She wasn’t happy, but she eventually made the deal. I walked out of there with 13 records, including the Jackie McLean on Ad Lib; Dexter Gordon on Dootone; Frank Morgan on GNP; Horace Silver Further Explorations; Cannonball Adderley Somethin;’ Else; Tommy Potter on East West, and Kenny Drew on Jazz West. Those seven records were the highlight of the score. I felt like I had overpaid for the records, she felt like she got ripped off. The reality was that the price was probably fair, but I can’t say either one of us was pleased — although I was probably happier than she was because, at long last, I had the Jackie McLean on Ad Lib back in my collection.

I took the records, got in my car and drove home. I was supposed to be working in the afternoon, but it was too difficult to work with the records sitting there on my desk, particularly because they all needed to be cleaned and they needed inner sleeves and outer sleeves. I just couldn’t look at them as they were, so I put my real work aside, pulled out my VPI record cleaner, took out a bunch of record sleeves from the closet and began to work on the records. I knew that I hadn’t looked at them carefully when I was at the apartment in the Bronx. The adrenaline rush of having the Jackie McLean Ad Lib in my hands had clouded all of my senses (and perhaps even my judgment). I wanted to walk out of that apartment with that record and everything else be damned. Now that I was home I could examine the records – my records – much more dispassionately.

The process of cleaning and prepping the records was, unfortunately, a disappointment. Oftentimes, when you clean a record, you discover that it is in much better condition that you had hoped. I recall buying a collection in Trenton, New Jersey, several years ago. Many of the records were covered in filth. But when I cleaned them, there were no scratches, no marks, no hairline anythings. These records from the Bronx were the opposite. Once I cleaned them, I could for the first team see the marks and, in some cases, feel them. And the covers were also worse than expected. The woman had told me that she had put the records in storage at one point, but there was a leak and some of the records suffered from water damage. Unfortunately, this applied to most of the records in my hands. In the end I wound up grading each record and estimating its retail value. The Jackie record was VG for the vinyl, VG- for the cover; the Cannonball was VG/VG; the Kenny Drew was VG/VG-; the Dexter was not an original and was VG/VG. When I added up the total retail value of the records, the final total was more than I had actually paid for the records, but not so much higher that if I wanted to sell them I would have actually made much of a profit. The reality, however, is that I would never want to sell any of these records on eBay because of the condition. Way too much potential for aggravation and dissatisfied customers.

That wasn’t my biggest issue with the records. I had bought some of these records for my collection, particularly the Jackie and the Dexter. But in the past 15 years or so, I have done a nice job of cleaning up my collection and getting rid of and upgrading records in poor condition. At this point, I only have a couple of records in less than VG+ condition and most of my records are closer to M- and VG++. I also dislike having records with water damage, particularly when it really affects the look and feel of the record. So now I had the Jackie and Dexter records ostensibly to add to my collection, but they were not in good shape. Every time I would look at them on my shelves, I would be reminded that they were not in good shape. I was disappointed – so much so that I didn’t even bother putting any of the records on the turntable. Feeling the way I felt, the last think I wanted to hear was surface noise or a skip on Jackie McLean’s the New Tradition.

That evening The Lovely Mrs. JC came home from work and wanted to see the records. By now, they had all been cleaned up and were in proper sleeves. I showed her the Jackie record first. “You realize the cover is damaged, don’t you?” she said. Umm, yes. And then she looked at the rest of the records and didn’t say anything. “What do you think?” she asked. She knew this was not the score that I had anticipated. “Well,” I said, “I’m not all that pleased. I really wanted the Jackie record, and I got it, but I would be much happier if the condition was better.”

And that’s how we left it. I still didn’t put any of the records on the turntable and I went to sleep a little disappointed that I’d expended all of that adrenaline and excitement but the payoff was a little blah. I got up on Saturday morning and began packing to go to The Berkshires for the weekend. We had our coats on and my hand was on the doorknob to leave the apartment when the phone rang. I stopped to pick it up. It was the woman from the Bronx. I recognized the accent.

“I’m sorry, Alan,” she said. “I told my son that I sold the records and he was furious with me. I want to cancel the deal.” It took a minute for this unexpected turn of events to settle in, but when I thought about it for a second, I was relieved. “Fine, no problem,” I answered. “I’m going away for the weekend and we can make arrangements when I get back.”

And so we did. She came to Manhattan from the Bronx on Tuesday. She gave me my money back and I gave her back the records. I kept the sleeves on and even put a sticker on each record giving my assessment of its value, which is what I do for most of the valuable records in my collection. Who knows what will happen to the records next. My guess is that she had seller’s remorse and will try to sell them to someone else for a higher price. My feeling? Go for it. In the end I was happy to get rid of the records, even the Jackie. I imagine there’s a moral in this story somewhere, but I’m not going to search for it. Nor am I going to search on eBay for a mint copy of Jackie McLean, The New Tradition, on Ad Lib. If it is meant to be, it will happen. If not, so be it. It is, after all, just a record.

 

16 comments

  • Al I have to say that this might, surprisingly, be one of the more interesting “record score” stories i have ever read. We’ve all had that moment you describe where the nervous excitement of having that long lost record in your hand overshadows your common sense. I’ve certainly overpaid for records in the heat of the moment and then gotten home where reality sets in. I usually just have to chalk it up as an “oops” and a lesson learned. It was shocking to read the twist at the end of both parties wishing a deal hadn’t happened and actually having it reversed!

  • Thanks for the story,been there. The difference is I payed more on the 2nd time around. I was happy and so was the seller. Remember all the scores that you paid hardly nothing for? Well this one was just the opposite. I’ll bet you wish you had that Jackie M record in your hand right now! .Lower the bar on condition and let your ears be the winner!

  • The most difficult thing to tell someone who has asked you to evaluate (or buy) his collection is how important condition is. If they don’t want to hear it, the best thing is to step away.

  • I suppose these kinds of scenarios are becoming more common, now that many people think they know what collections are “worth” via eBay and, unfortunately, even sites like this one. Seems like an ordeal to me but glad it was sorted in the end.

  • i had a guy try to sell me a pile of fucked up 10” blue notes for around $100 apiece and i said “these are essentially vinyl discs that are worth even less because they have labels on them and can’t be recycled. it looks some someone sharpened their ice skates on these” and he told me to get out of his garage, but in the same breath asked if i wanted to see his ‘good’ records and then offered me a few nice 10” records for the same price, in great condition. i bought that pile.

    but what is wrong with people?

  • Just bought a collection of 28 original only Blue Notes, Impulses, Prestiges and Riversides from 50’s and 60’s in great shape for 16 bucks each. Have faith and patience and you will find…

  • Your story had a happy ending. Once I had a older woman reply to my Craigslist ad and I ended up buying a few records, including a Kenny Dorham Lex. in VG condition. 2 days later her son posted a “Scam Alert” on my Craigslist advertisement saying that I ripped his poor mother off. I guess if he was a better son and around more often, he could have sold the records to a more generous buyer.

  • Great story sir, and glad to see it had a satisfactory ending for both parties. I have to agree with other posters here that ebay, in particular, has “enlightened” some on the value of collectible vinyl. It also has given some sellers the notion that, with minimal experience in grading, that they may be able to sell for very high prices. Most inexperienced sellers assume everything they have is of the highest quality, whilst most experienced sellers are going to be much more conservative in their grading. Condition is always paramount in the buying and selling of collectibles, and this fact is most of the time completely lost with inexperienced sellers.

  • Thanks for the story. I’ve had s similar instances over the last few years where women called on an ad I had in a local paper for lps. In each case they were selling their husband’s collection. In both of these instances the women had ridiculously high prices on mundane lps. In each case it turned out that they looked up prices on Ebay, not the sold prices, but unsold asking prices. Then they chose the highest of those prices to price their lps. I had to explain to each of them that only sold prices mean anything, and even when looking at sold prices, condition has to be considered. I think these errors in evaluating and pricing lps will continue to happen with much of the public going forward.

  • Yes, buying from widows is always fraught with the difficulties enumerated so eloquently in the posts above. I have had similar experiences and have come up with two solutions so my wife does not have to go through all this. First, I have required her to memorize the Fred Cohen book and a grid I have set up, to show original issues for Prestige, Impulse and Riverside as shown in previous posts on this site. I quiz her daily. She, on the other hand, has required that I learn all the hallmarks and maker’s marks on her jewelry. She tests me daily. We have very little time for much else, but at least we’re prepared for our eventual demise. Secondly, I have decided to sell all the records myself before I pass. My goal is to sell the last piece on eBay the day before I go. The one problem is finding the exact date so I know when I must start. I have asked my doctor and my rabbi, but they are no help. Any suggestions?
    I would also like to add that buying collections from musicians is also quite problematic. A lot of musicians think of their records as tools for learning and not museum pieces and tend to be very hard on them. I have a friend, a high end dealer, who has a real horror story about flying cross country to buy some records from a musician who recorded a few albums for Blue Note and other collectible labels and wanted to sell his records. They met at a Borders and across a coffee table he dipped into a ratty shopping bag and handed my friend copies of all his records. They were utterly destroyed and most were without covers. My friend could not even make an offer. Needless to say, my friend was cursed out and the seller left in a huff. A very sad story.

  • Al, reading your article reminded me of a saying I was once told: You know you’ve reached a consensus when all parties are equally dissatisfied. Thanks for a different take on the “record score” story.

  • Well, she got her records cleaned up for free. She should have given you the AD LIB record just for being a “nice guy”.

  • Al you are a nice guy. I would have made a token offer for that al lib based on your time. But I guess you wanted to erase the bad experience.

  • The sad fact is that while these are rare and desirable albums, the condition they are in basically places them in the “cant give these away” category of used wares. Sad that she and her family can’t understand that.

  • What would vintage record collecting be without a proverbial “White Whale” or two ? I tend to agree with Al in this case though. In the back of each collectors mind there is always that hauntingly critical little voice that reminds us that ones collection is only as good as it’s weakest LP. …That being said, anyone got odds on the chances of “The Bronx” calling Al back in a few weeks once they realize their mistake after shopping it around a little ? At least this one had a happy ending of sorts. Sometimes getting stuck with an LP in such dubious condition is worse than not having it at all, or as Oscar Wilde once said “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

  • Not Jazz related, but a good collecting story anyway.

    A few years ago, I answered a CL ad that listed a “Linn Turntable and Needle”. I made an appointment to view the table…it was a Linn LP12, Ittok LVII combo, in good condition. I asked about records while there, and was escorted to the garage, and shown 10 boxes of neatly packed records. All were Rock/Pop from the 70’s to early 90’s. Including about 30 Mofi reissues, including a few UHQR pressings, and the Rolling Stones Box. The rest of the collection was in NM-Mint condition and included several UK and German-Teldec pressings. In the case of US pressings of titles I was familiar with, the run out groove info matched what I knew to be the best sounding pressing. The owner was an audiophile, or at least very knowledgeable. The seller was the 20 something son of the owner and wanted to raise funds for a trip to the So Pacific. He had a number in mind for the table, which was high, but did not know what the records were worth, or what he wanted for them. I could have taken advantage of him, but instead I provided info and education. We pulled all of the Mofi titles, and I instructed him to list these titles on Ebay. I assured him that the proceeds would be enough to fund his trip. I purchased about 20 of the non Mofi titles. I then went home to research the value of the table, and I sent him an offer for the table a few hours later. He replied that he wanted to see if he can get more for it. I let him know that my offer was standing. He got back in touch 2 weeks later and accepted my offer for the table. Great- I’m the proud owner of a Linn LP12 / Ittok combo ! I thought that was the end of it. He call back several months later. He was unsuccessful in selling any of the Mofi records we had pulled, and asked if I would be interested in submitting an offer for the collection. I made an appointment to meet him, and brought cash with me. When I arrived, I could see that the Mofi titles- all of them, were sitting on the DR table. He explained that he had listed several titles on Ebay, but no one bid for them etc etc. We went to the garage, and the boxes of LPs were just where we left them several months before. I made him an offer, which he immediately accepted. I expected a counter offer, so I was a bit surprised, but I did not react. My wife’s face was a priceless image when she came home to find 10 boxes of records in our front hall !! I kept what I wanted of the collection, and sold off the rest. The LP12 is now my primary TT. Certainly balances out all of the near misses, buyer’s regret and overpays in the past.

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