6000 Classical Records In Upstate New York Bookstore: Some For You?

An email arrived in my inbox a few days ago from Bob Ludwig who had heard from a friend about a 6000 classical LP collection that had recently arrived at Melanie Nelson's Little Red Book Shack in the small Columbia County, New York town of Livingston. How it got there is less important than that it was there.

I contacted Ms. Nelson and today drove the hour and a half from my home in Northern, New Jersey to inspect the collection.

We always have visions of rooms full of the most wondrous and collectible records and more often than not we are disappointed. I remember once being told about a record sale at the home of a former Columbia Records executive who shall remain nameless. I went with visions of a shelf full of 1A pressings of "6 Eye" Kind of Blue s but of course that's not what I found.

Instead there were rows upon rows of Columbia schlock and very little that was desirable. But I did find a sealed in the plastic sleeve bag (as Columbia's used to come) copy of The Byrds' first album and he only wanted $10.00, which alone made the trip worthwhile. But for some reason he also had a sealed gold label pressing of Van Dyke Park's Song Cycle that I had always wanted. I had the green label second press bought shortly after the album's initial release so I assume the label change to green occurred just around the release of the album (which is what happened with Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love with very few copies issued on the pink/green "steamboat" label, changed shortly thereafter to the orange/yellow Warner-7Arts label.

So though I looked forward here to a red shack full of RCAs, Mercs, UK Deccas and the like, I told myself I'd be happy to walk away with a few good records.

What I found was 6000 records that had clearly been collected by two older gentlemen who had begun collecting at the dawn of the mono LP era and who had not done a great deal of stereo LP collecting though there were plenty of those too, but probably added to the collection from library and college radio station buy-outs.

When every Mercury you find is mono, either the collectors were buying only mono or the stereo collectors had already been there and picked the collection clean. That said, there were hundreds if not thousands of great stereo records worth buying, many of which I already owned and wasn't about to buy again, like the Solti Beethoven Symphony London box set and the Ashkenazy Beethoven Piano Concerto set on London owned I already had on the British Decca edition.

Had i not already amassed a very large classical collection I could have built a pretty good one from what I found today, though there were no collectible records—at least based on what I knew. And I'm sure a more schooled classical collector could have pulled hundreds of great performances from among the 6000 records that I hadn't a clue.

I left with The Orchestral Music of Brahms-Bruno Walter Conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (M4S 614) a four mint LP set on the "6" Eye" label in a box with a really nice full-sized booklet and cover photo of Walter by Irving Penn for I think $2.50, a late blue label Telefunken pressing of The Brandenburg Concertos with the Concentus Musicus of Vienna conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt that I picked up for a friend since I've got the original gold/black label edition (the black/gold Telefunkens have fantastic sonics), the one "Living Stereo" I found, which was Rubinestein performing the Grieg Piano Concerto with an unnamed orchestra conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (RCA LSC-2566)—a superb sounding record engineered by the great Lewis Layton—Leon Fleischer playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto #1 with Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra on Epic and Berlioz'a "Symphony Fantastic" with Ataulfo Argenta conducting the Paris Conservatory Orchestra on London's "stereo treasury series" (STS 15006), which is a later "budget" issue. Many collectors claim that these later Treasury series records can sound as good if not better than the originals. I have yet to play that one but the others I played were very quiet and clean, particularly the Walter box, which is unusual since Columbia's of the era were not known for their pressing brilliance.

I paid $16 for all of this plus a dog book for my wife! Worth the 3 hour drive and tank full of gas? No, but it was still worth the ride because now you know about these records so if you are in the "neighborhood", which is on the east side of the Hudson river just south of the Rip Van Winkle bridge, stop into Little Red Book Shack and spend some time going through the records. You're sure to find something!

Watch this:

Paul Boudreau's picture

all them vinyls!  Sounds like a fun trip.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Thanks for the video tour, Mikey!  Is this the "better place" we go when we die?

The fun of collecting, so long as one actually listens to the music, is the surprise factor. As a thrift store collector, I'll go for months with not many scores, and then some grandpa dies and the local Sally Anne ends up with 80 of his mint RCA's or Mercury's or Philips or Londons or DECCA's or DG tulips etc. at a buck a pop.  BINGE TIME!

I can also attest to the quality of London and Philips budget reissues.  They can be better than the originals!  Especially the Philips Golden Import reissues of Mercury Living Presence classics. 

As for the mono's, some of them can be spectacular.  I previously mentioned (either here or at Stereophile) RCA's mono Belafonte at Carnegie Hall as an example.  

Physicists have recently stated that time travel may be possible - but only towards the future, not the past.  Perhaps music, film and books are an exception.

Paul Boudreau's picture

"The fun of collecting, so long as one actually listens to the music, is the surprise factor."

That can actually be the most challenging part!

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

The types:

1. Collects audiophile chestnuts (maximum 100 records) to show off the "thundering lows and sizzling highs" of their system.

2. Collects cheap to resell at a profit.

3. Collects just to collect (OCB).

4. Collects because it's cool and will raise personal stock within their peer group.  (Especially obscure titles/artists and 78's.)

5. Collects music from their youth.  (Often those who peaked in High School.)

6. Collects to escape from spouse/children/cold cruel world.

7. Collects to listen to music and to learn.

8. Combinations of the above types.


TommyTunes's picture

Reminds me of a time that a guy I worked with had a tenant move out and leave 3000+ records.  He asked me if I was interested in taking a look and see if there was anything I wanted. So a friend and I drove out to Montclair, NJ from Brooklyn. This was early eighties and we were Rock collectors with little knowledge of Jazz or Blues.  Well apparently the collection was from the tenant's father, who was a Jazz reviewer. They were all in mint shape unfortuately I had little interest in all these old Jazz albums. I'm sure you know the labels so I'd rather not say their names and make myself sick.

I did walk away with a mint Kink's Now Then & Inbetween promo Box set and a couple of promo LP's. I gave the owner the number of Princeton Record Exchange they purchased the complete collection for less than a dollar each.  That's my story of the one that got away.

jeffreyj's picture

that hurts to even readfrown

can you imagine if you had just walked away with only 10 of those original blue notes that can sell for $1000-2000+ each????!!!!!