February 23, 2008

The World’s Greatest Music Collection Sells for $3 Million

Paul Mawhinney examines a Rolling Stones album worth $10,000.
Photo by Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

On February 21, “The World’s Greatest Music Collection” sold in an eBay auction for $3,002,150.00 to an anonymous bidder in Ireland. A total of seven bidders were apparently willing to pony up the minimum bid of $3 million, a sum well below its appraised value of $50 million.

Paul Mawhinney, of Pine, Pennsylvania, set out to collect every record ever made and he came darn close to realizing this goal, amassing over the past forty years an archive totaling 3 million records and 300,000 CDs. Now aged 68 and in failing health, Mr. Mawhinney finds himself needing to sell. He was hoping to keep the collection intact, to preserve the history of popular music which the collection embodies.

The ideal home for this collection would have been Middle Tennessee State University’s own Center for Popular Music. But, needless to say, the Center could not possibly have absorbed such an exponential expansion of its holdings, even if the University came up with the purchase price. In today’s economic, cultural, and political climate, I cannot imagine any public (or private) institution having the wherewithal to continue the work of this solitary man. Not even the Library of Congress was interested.

Further, as vinyl maven Michael Fremer pointed out in yesterday’s story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Mawhinney could have made a whole lot more money by breaking the collection into lots:

“The way he's selling this collection makes no sense whatsoever," Mr. Fremer said. "I know these collectors. The jazz guys don't want the rock, the rock guys don't want the jazz, the LP guys don't want 45s, the 45 guys don't want LPs. To maximize your money, you could have the 45 lot, the vintage jazz lot, the Blue Note lot, the R&B lot, etc."

Mr. Fremer is, of course, correct, but this approach goes against the whole point of Mr. Mawhinney‘s life’s work and his ultimate desire to keep the collection intact and available for researchers.

Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the more valuable items will eventually disappear into the hands of private collectors while the rest is scattered to the winds. So, it does seem a shame that Mr. Mawhinney will receive a paltry $3 million - no doubt far less than his investment over the years - while the collection itself will, in the end, be dispersed or discarded.

However, little is known about the winning bidder and the transaction has not yet been consummated. It will be interesting to see what becomes of “The World’s Greatest Music Collection.”

More info here, and here.



Anonymous said...

Rodger: all of the smart record dealers I know are convinced the winning bid was a "10 seconds of fame" sham. The guy who won had his Ebay account removed, and previously he was selling a ticket to a music festival on Ebay...anyone with 3 mil to burn on a record collection sight unseen is not likely to waste his time selling tickets on Ebay! Also, someone I know has a contact who saw the collection a few years ago says it includes a lot of junk. That would be my assumption based on how it was sold.....Michael Fremer

Rodger Coleman said...

Holy Cow! A comment from Michael Fremer himself! I'm honored! Your column in Stereophile and the wonderful, but short-lived, "Tracking Angle" magazine were huge influences on me and helped me to rediscover the joys of vinyl. Thank You, Sir!

Out of 3 million + records, I would also assume that a lot of it is junk. After all, he did set out to buy every record made. I would be curious to know what exactly is in the collection.

I also had my doubts about this anonymous bidder. Clearly, the story is not over yet.