Some Reflections on Collections

Part 2: Not Only Boy Scouts Should Be Prepared

[Italian version here]
Author: David Hoehl - TNT USA
Published: March, 2023

As I outlined in the first part of this article, I unexpectedly and with short notice took on a friend's large collection of 78 RPM records something over a year ago under unfortunate circumstances. Reflecting on that experience, I outlined some ideas from the perspective of the recipient. Today, I offer a few more thoughts, but this time from the perspective of someone who has a large collection of records and wants to maximize the chances someone can take care of it should the need suddenly arise. I'll confess, I haven't implemented all of them myself--yet. But having recognized the need, they are near the front of my short-term to do list. To wit:

Get organized. Part of my friend's collection was in order, but much of it, for various reasons mostly out of his control, had become pretty jumbled by the time I took it. As a result, my progress in working through the records was a good bit slower than it might have been. Had anyone wished to consign or sell the records to a dealer, at the least the disorder would have diminished what a pretty valuable collection would likely have brought, if it didn't scare the dealer off entirely. So if your records are scattered here and there on the basis of “Well, I know which pile that one is in,” or even “I'll stuff these in here and worry about them later,” think seriously about setting up an objective organizational scheme and get your stuff on shelves in a way that others might understand. Anyone who needs to handle your collection without your input will appreciate the results, and you yourself will benefit by always knowing where to find a given record and being able easily to check for duplicates, alternate takes and masterings, and the like.

[Drowning in disks]

Ruthlessly purge duplicates. I expect we all do it: we'll see a copy at a good price of something we already own, and we'll pick it up as a potential or likely condition upgrade. (I won't touch on “I forgot I had that” as a possible reason!) In such cases, don't delay--go ahead and determine which is the better copy and dispose of the other one pronto. In the case of my friend's collection, a surprising number of the records I took were duplicates; the most extreme example was seven copies of one double-sided 10" disk. That meant playing 14 sides to settle which copy to keep of a single record, six others for which I now must find new homes, and of course the labor of moving seven records when one would have been enough. That also meant seven copies were soaking up my friend's storage space, contributing to his difficulty in getting his records organized.

If you can't immediately purge duplicates, work out a system to segregate them from your “keepers.” Nothing is a bigger waste of time than re-assessing records that you've already processed. Don't just pile rejects somewhere to one side thinking you'll remember that you mean to dispose of them; six months or a year or two years later, you won't remember, or you won't be sure, or you (or someone else) will have moved them for some reason, and you'll end up going through them all over again. (Don't ask me how I figured that out!) One way is to put them into clearly marked boxes, sealed to ensure nothing slips out and mixes in where it doesn't belong. For my friend's records, I adopted the approach of labeling each record's paper sleeve, in pencil, with the notation "deaccession" and the date on which I made the assessment. I'm sure there are other ways, but the latter has worked better for me than anything else I've tried. Whatever you do, choose a method and apply it consistently. In the long run, it will save you redoing a lot of work.

Keep a lid on purchases. Try not to take on records faster than you can process--and, idealy, listen to--them; narrowly target your buying. I know, I know--that goes against every instinct in the collector psyche. Taking on too much too quickly, though, will inevitably leave you unable to organize and very possibly with lots of duplicates, and that way lies madness. Or at least a disorganized mess that you may need years to clean up. True confessions time: I spent the COVID lockdown processing boxes and boxes of 78s that I had bought a full decade earlier from another collector who was downsizing. At the time, it seemed a fabulous opportunity, but a large percentage of those records--all the ones that were duplicates of records I already had--sat there, in the way, for ten whole years until I got an unexpected big block of time to deal with them. Having just done so, I'll admit I had some real reluctance then to take on the collection that spurred these observations, but given the circumstances, what I knew to be in it, and what would happen to it if I didn't, I took on the challenge. At least I went in with my eyes open, but it set back my efforts to finish organizing my collection by more than a year, and I still have all these crates of records sitting around that I've processed and now need to send to a new home.

Alert your family and others to valuables. One reason I agreed to perform what amounted to a rescue operation for my friend's collection was that I knew he had some rare and valuable disks, including test pressings that are the sole known copies of a few recordings by a major artist, that I simply in good conscience could not allow to be lost. My friend probably had told his family about them, but they had neither interest in these records nor knowledge of their importance. To give them credit, however, I think, doubtless through my friend's efforts, they did have a general idea that the collection had value, not so much in money as in history, and should be preserved, and although they didn't maintain much in the way of organization, they exercised good care in handling and packing those fragile, heavy, vulnerable 78s. As a result, nearly all the disks survived their hasty change of venue unscathed. Making sure the family knew at least a little about what was there made a difference.

Have a plan and make arrangements. If you know that your family will not want to preserve your collection, consider making some sort of provision for its disposition should an emergency arise. A few possibilities would include making advance arrangements with friends to take your records; sounding out a dealer about potential interest in your collection; or even, if you have reached that point, selling off part or all of the records yourself to ensure they find good new homes. Don't count on an institution to take them, though; most libraries and universities are unwilling to take records, particularly 78s, and those that will take records usually insist on an accompanying monetary donation to support their upkeep and storage.

Digitize. Let's face it: the time is likely to come for all of us when a large physical collection will no longer be sustainable, either through lack of space in downsized quarters or through bodily limitations. Music stored on a hard drive, however, is compact and poses few demands on the owner's physical abilities. Lose any "digital is always evil" prejudices that may lurk in your mind and think seriously today about copying at least your favorite music into digital form so that you will have ready access to it later in life, come what may. Those masochists among you can read my further thoughts about the value of digitizing a collection here.

“OK, Mr. holier-than-thou,” I hear you ask, “have you taken your own advice?” I freely admit, I've done better on some points than others. After years of whacking at it, with the big collection under discussion marking a year's setback, depending on the format my records actually aren't badly organized. The 78s are mostly good, the cylinders a little less so. Until I get rid of the “leftovers” of my friend's collection, I have an immense number of duplicate 78s, however. LPs basically are good but with a bunch to go (fruit of that old bugaboo, taking on too many at a time again), and CDs mainly bulk stored after copying to hard drive, with an ongoing project to finish copying a bunch that, yes, I took in too big a lot. Alerting family? Not so good; no real interest, and I'm sure my rather half-hearted efforts have rolled off like water from a proverbial duck's back. Arrangements? Um, er, uh...Digitizing, however, as noted, is rolling along, with the vast majority of the CDs ripped to hard drive, many favorite 78s copied and edited, and some LPs likewise. Having finally figured out a way to do so with useful organization, I recently started a project to copy a big lot of jazz 78s that came to me from a college friend's family. Once I've done that, I'll dispose of those records, freeing shelf space and reducing the number someone else might need to handle down the road.

OK, OK, I'm a “take on too many records at lonce” recidivist. But I've seen the light! Hallelujah, brother! I'm saved!

What's that, you say? You have 20 crates of old records you got from your grandma, and you'd like me to give them a home? Hmmmm.............


All right, kidding aside, I still have work to do, but I'm gradually doing it. You can, too. Think about it, and try to ensure that your treasured records will stay safe and cherished no matter what comes your way.

Illustration, by Lincoln Perry, originally appeared in the June 1979 issue of Stereo Review.


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