Guest Column: Treasure Hunt — Prestige
So Don Lucky was asking me offline about something to do with Prestige, and I suggested he contact Rufolf, and Rudolf replied with this fascinating tale of how he ended up at the Prestige warehouse, and Don Lucky and I said Rudolf you have to write this up for the rest of the Jazz Collector audience, and Rudolf said sure, and here it is. Enjoy.
Treasure Hunt — Prestige
How a Courtesy Call Turned Out to be the Discovery of the Cave of Ali Baba
By Rudolf Flinterman
In the ‘50s/early ’60s a simple catalog of say Prestige, Blue Note or Contemporary could be of invaluable worth. Without, one simply could not know what was in the market. There were no discographies like Jepsen and Ruppli and no Internet, of course. At the time I would regularly write to Prestige, Pacific Jazz, Blue Note, Atlantic and Contemporary requesting to send me a catalog, which they all did. Lester Koenig always wrote a kind letter. Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic was so kind to send me copies of deleted items, for free!
In 1959 Prestige sent me an offer to become a free member of their Jazz & Folk Record Club in Teaneck, N.J. The formula was simple: Pay for two, receive three. Especially for New Jazz, with a list price of $3.98, that was an interesting proposition. I still have the box of the first shipment from Prestige. For three records I paid 2-X-$3.98 plus 89 cents postage, i.e. $2.95 per album, which was the equivalent of 10,75 Dutch florins. At the time the list price in Holland was 18 Dutch florins. No wonder that I became a frequent buyer at Prestige throughout the ‘60s, despite the fact that the sea transport and customs took more than two months.
In 1969 I made my first trip to the U.S. We stayed for one week in Manhattan. I travelled with the then-Mrs.-Rudolf. The first day we made a boat trip with the Circle Line to have a general idea of the city. I then proposed to her to make a courtesy call to a certain Mr. Bob Weinstock – “who would be most happy to make our acquaintance,” I assured. She could hardly object to this great idea. So the next day she found herself in the bus at the Port Authority to go to Bergenfield, N.J.
After a trip, which took an hour at least, and a long stroll on Washington Avenue, we arrived at Prestige headquarters. There we met with Bob Weinstock, the founder and owner of Prestige Inc., and his sister Marcia. Our visit, all the way from Holland, Europe, was very much appreciated. Marcia proposed that I also meet with Mr. Al Johnson, the company’s handyman and photographer (he made pictures during the recording sessions at Rudy Van Gelder’s, some of which were actually used for album sleeves). Al was also responsible for the warehouse.
Al took good care of me. He showed me around the building and also let me have a look in the warehouse – which contained literally thousands and thousands of returned records from retailers in the Greater New York area. Al was busy making punch holes in the sleeves and thereafter the albums would be destroyed. The records were stacked without any system. Al invited me to browse and put aside any records that would be of interest to me. Al got as enthusiastic as I was and I asked him to look for everything from catalog number 7001 to 7300. And he found many more than I did because he remembered where he had seen the rarest items.
The pile grew bigger and bigger. In the office, Marcia and my wife wondered what I was doing. They found out soon and then the problem was to get the records out of the building without Bob Weinstock knowing. As a matter of fact, with Al I had made the deal that I would pay him 50 cents per album. Since Al had his own interest, he loaded them in his car and proposed to bring us back to the hotel in Manhattan.
That night I did not sleep well. In my head, all I saw were the albums I had not taken and wondered what could be found in the sections we had not checked. My decision was taken: The next day I had to go back to Bergenfield.
But how to sell this to my wife? If I remember well, I proposed we split up. She to go to Bloomingdales, me to Brooks Brothers. Thereafter we would meet at the bar of the hotel. I think she spent the whole afternoon at the bar waiting for me. Again, the catch was terrific. Al had loaded them in his car and would take them to his house. He would then invite us to his house for a drink and “to get to know his wife and kids.”
So it was agreed. A few days prior to our departure I called him “so say goodbye.” I then told my wife that Al insisted to have us at his place in Teaneck before our departure. It would be rude not to accept. So there we went, I for a third trip to New Jersey, she for a second.
I had bought many hundreds of Prestige albums, which, in the end, I could not transport in my luggage. (I don’t mention the many Riversides and Blue Notes bought in town for prices ranging from 79 cents to $1.49). Also, I did not have enough cash to pay for all my purchases. So I took and paid for what I could transport. Upon my return to The Netherlands I made a bank transfer for the rest and Al shipped everything in lots of 50 per package. He included as a surprise gift some items he had found later – I remember a non-laminated kakubushi frame covered issue of The Musings of Miles, Prestige 7007, and some other nice stuff, all unpunched!
Among my purchases were many doubles, which, in later years I used as trade material. But I cherish the many punch-holed early Prestige albums still in my collection and don’t mind the punch holes at all. I continued to correspond with Al and his wife for a couple of years, until Prestige was sold to Fantasy. In 1976 I spent a winter in Princeton, New Jersey, but even then did not bother to go back to Bergenfield.
That’s how things go, but the memory is still there.