Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Six Years Behind the Counter

I opened Folk Arts Rare Records on July 31, 1967, and for most of the years and days that make them up I have been in my store talking to people about music of all sorts and kinds and continuing to learn about things and stuff that I had little or no interest in on opening day. Here are some things that anyone going into the collectors record business will run into:

1. You are going to eventually realize that there is a collector for nearly every kind of music. There are one-artist collectors, there are one-music genre collectors, and there are those who collect some of nearly everything. Some are in the game because they like and listen to the music. Some want to buy it from you and sell it to someone else. Some even get their kicks out of stealing records from you (to this day I don’t carry much reggae because when ever I get something nice, somebody rips it off. I’d also like to get my hands on the guy who ripped off all my John Coltrane records. I guess Karma will catch up with those guys sooner or later and I guess that has gone on for most of my existence but as I get older and slower it seems to be more common.

2. When I first opened there were only Long Play 33 records, a few 45s, and some old 78s as my starting stock. I was trying to keep up with the new records coming out and using my experience as a collector of folk music and blues to keep up with the chain stores (Tower, Wherehouse, etc.). Norm Pierce of Jack’s Record Celler in San Francisco gave me about 5,000 LPs on consignment (the whole Library of labels like Arhoolie, Takoma, Testament, Folk Legacy, Biograph, Delmark, and a whole lot more). I quickly became the shop with the best stock of blues, vintage jazz, old timey, bluegrass, cajun music, and various kinds of ethnic international (today it’s called World Music). I realized that I had to learn a whole lot about these various kinds of music and I started to amass a collection of books about 20th-century music that continues to grow today (right now I’m reading Nick Tosches book Save the Last Dance for Satan, Tony Russell’s Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost, and coming up I have Augustin Gurza’s book on the Chris Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and American Recordings). I also read a whole lot of liner notes. You have to become a world-class expert on the kinds of music you love and at least make folks think you are one on all those kinds of music that having the choice, you’d just as soon let slip by. Owning a record store you can’t afford to let it slip by.

3. Like I said, there is a collector for about any kind of gizmo that makes music. They come and go in popularity. Even 8-track tapes can be sold to someone restoring an old Moosemobile auto that to be completely restored has to have an 8-track player in it (I don’t carry them but some folks do). Cassettes are more or less on the outs right now but someone is going to realize that there’s some music that isn’t avialable any other way and there will be lists around of those cassettes to look for (if for nothing else to burn a copy onto CD). LPs, 45s, and 78s all appeal to collectors and also there is so much stuff on all those formats that just isn’t avialable any other way (I’m not going to get into sound quality: CD vs. LP but there’s always that factor too, no matter which side you are on). All of us guys who wear glasses realize that the liner notes on LPs size-wise is certainly superior to CD’s.

4. Now on to 78s. I’ve been selling them for about as long as the shop has been open and a few years before that. Keep in mind that old 78s per se are not rare. The Victor Talking Machine Company produced nearly 800 million discs in the United States alone between 1901 and 1941, and Victor was only one of dozens of labels that were around in those years. The things that determine a record’s value is condition, rarity, and the performer (it has to be a combination of all three). Many good records by major performers fail to bring a good price just because there are too many of them around. An Enrico Caruso on Red Seal Victrola isn’t going to bring much because it’s too common. However, if you run across Caruso’s 1902 G and Ts they can be worth quite a bit. The most valuable 78s are the great country blues, jazz, and country music of the late ’20s and early ’30s as well as various kinds of ethnic international music. There is an ongoing market for some of the rhythm and blues and early rock ‘n’ roll in the late ’40s and ’50s but most stuff recorded in that era is only worth a buck or two. Finally, if you are going to collect 78s don’t play them on wind-up equipment, particularly the rare ones. Those old wind ups will eat your records are most certainly cut into their value. They make good turntables and needles that play 78s. Get one of those and get the best sound to be gotten out of your rarities.

I like to talk old records and I’m always glad to do so when you drop by Folk Arts Rare Records. If you have any questions about what I’ve always considered the finest hobby one could have, bring them with you when you drop by.

Lou Curtiss

One Comment

  1. Posted February, 2013 at 4:13 AM | Permalink

    Wow! Thank you! I permanently needed to write on my blog something like that. Can I implement a part of your post to my website?

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