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This mini information magazine on old records is issued monthly and covers many aspects of collecting 78rpm records
That Incredible Auction
It was a wild and windy January day, a few years back.
The usual crowds had been scared off by the threats of flooding, and so the auction room was unusually bare as the auctioneer took the rostrum.
I sighed. My lots were not due for about twenty minutes. But what lots they were. Lots 48 to 52 were simply catalogued as Quantity of 78rpm records. These I had assiduously inspected, each lot comprised of around a hundred old 78s, stacked horizontally, none with sleeves. Not an attractive presentation! The usual dross, Charlie Kunz, Gracie Fields and the like, vied for attention with better quality dance bands and famous film stars.
However I had spotted a couple of sleepers in amongst it all. The bottom disc of Lot 49 comprised a 78rpm of The Beatles. Was it cracked? My heart thumping, I held it up to see, trying not to draw attention to myself. I tapped it, and it certainly seemed intact. Some scratches, inevitably caused by rubbing against its ninety and nine lesser brethren. Yes, it was not broken, the labels faded but generally pretty good condition considering what it must have been through. Thoughtfully I lifted it off the bottom, not too near the top.
Then lot 51 contained another extraodinary surprise. Nestled between a Victor Silvester and a Nelson Eddy was a Gramophone and Typewriter ten inch recording by the famous Caruso. Nothing too extraordinary about that, except that this was a sample record, and was, from my photographic memory, an unissued take from Gaisberg's first ever recording session. A loving inspection revealed it to be in good condition, amazingly, and my heart nearly stopped beating in this second bout of excitement.
Thereafter I had kept jealous watch over the few other punters who inspected these lots. Luckily as it was a general sale, there was no internet bidding. Some people carelessly shuffled through the piles as though they were rubbish, which many of them were. Others muddled up the discs, so that I had to keep returning to the scene to check that the two treasures were in the correct piles. Of course I could bid for each of the lots if they went cheap enough, but suppose, just suppose, horror of horrors, that some other clever dick has spotted them. Most likely The Beatles record might attract some attention, but the Caruso, being single sided, did stand out like a sore thumb.
One elderly lady picked it up! She stared at it as though trying to work out why it only had one side, scrutinising the back as though expecting to see some grooves thereon. But she was the only one whom I noticed pick up the Caruso, and nobody had examined the Beatles that I could tell.
Thus I had lost sight of my possible rivals when lot 48 was announced. If this went for more than a few quid, I'd have been amazed. There were a couple of Sterno dance records, but little else of appeal. The auctioneer started at ten pounds. No bid. A pause. Was there a reserve, I wondered? Not that it mattered, I'd have paid £10 and more for the two lots I wanted.
The auctioneer descended to £5. A lady called out. Possibly the old lady I was supposed to keep my eye on. Another hand must have gone up for the auctioneer accepted it, and asked for a £10 bid. I frantically scoured the room, but couldn't see who was bidding. £10 bid. £12, £15, the bids went up and up. 100 records, or about 100, were knocked down for £80. Absurdly expensive.
Nevertheless, I'd have gone above that for this next lot. The potential rivals were now shifting through lot 49 as bids were invited. Were they going to get down the pile as far as the treasure?
Cheekily the auctioneered tried to start at £80. I bided my time. He descended down to £5. I shoved my hand up. Sold! Could I believe it? Hardly. Yet the lot was mine, and I muscled my way up to the pile, just as the men had reached the Beatles 78! They were too late. Though whether they realised its value, I don't know. They certainly betrayed no sense of tragedy.
Lot 50 went for a tenner. Lot 51 was now being hurriedly sifted by the two men. Anyone bid £80, asked the optimistic auctioneer. Down he came to ten again. The two men suddenly left the pile, obviously uninterested. I was distracted by them and missed the old lady bidding a fiver. I bid ten. Sold! Another bargain. I panicked. Maybe she had replaced the Caruso in the wrong pile? Maybe it was in lot 52? I decided it was worth covering myself. £10 for lot 52, hardly worth it, for it was mostly organ music and 1950s pre rock. A hand went up for £15. I bid £20. I had to bid £30, then £40. Finally £50. A lot for what could be pretty well a heap of rubbish.
Finally I reached the ceiling of £85, and couldn't bid any more. Going, going.... I bid £90. I couldn't take the risk! £95 bid. I topped it up to £100. I can't go any higher. But someone else did!
Sweating, I guarded my two piles of discs, until the auction had ended. Then once the crowd had dispersed. I dared to sort through my piles.
Yes, the Beatles was still there, as expected. I closely looked it over, to make sure it had not been damaged with rough handling. No, thank goodness it was safe. Safe at last.
Then lot 51, I began to shiver with worry when the spot where the Caruso test had been, revealed a wretched Bing 78. It must be further down! I anxiously lifted off record after record, until only two remained. Had it somehow reached the bottom of the pile, or maybe it had got muddled into lot 52. Or even 50. Either way, I'd know in a second. Ah, there it was, intact. What an auction!
One in partcular caught his eye. Matrix F327 is a truncated version of the dance number I Miss My Swiss and issued on Little Marvel F318. The great Badrock had already exposed the fact (Talking Machine Review no 97) that this is part of Vocalion 15084 by the Tuxedo Orchestra, a group directed by Harry Reser. But now comes the even more interesting part. "The Little Marvel starts at the beginning of the Reser recording and continues to the end of the vocal chorus by Irving and Jack Kaufman. It finishes with a resounding crash on a gong (?) which seems to be a local addition."
It was that local addition of a 'gong' that fascinated the indefatigable Longbridge. He inspected the files and has found that the editing of the original Vocalion took place on February 29th 1926 by our old friends recording experts Joe Batten and Billy Whitlock, and the ledger states in a scrawly hand, "must add a concluding finale." Then the wording looks like "Billy to do," though it might possibly read "Bowlly to do." But it's almost illegible and the matter would have remained in doubt, had not Longbridge had one of those strokes of fortune that we all dream about. In an auction of a well known London house in 2012, he spotted in a miscellaneous box of papers, a diary for 1926 by a "BW." Imagine his excitement when he realised it was that of the ubiquitous recording genius Billy Whitlock, who had made and was still making laughing songs, sketches, bell and xylophone solos!
When he turned to the end of February, he had the greatest surprise of his life. Feb 28th: "Elsie (NB this was his wife) 9.30 to entertain AB." Whether this was am or pm who knows, and of course AB might be anyone, but the entry for the next day possibly reveals all, "Al enjoyed the night and accompanied me to the studio." There's a list of record transfers done, and by Miss my Swiss, Whitlock had added, "Al asked me if he could add the final (?) note, and it was agreed. Played on a ...." The last word is hard to decipher but it could be "bong" or "bin" or such like. Longbridge has checked with the local Hayes dustcart rota for the era, and certainly the bins were put out for collection on this very day. Thus he is of the definite opinion that Al Bowlly's first recorded contribution was therefore before the date of 1927 that experts currently maintain. For it seems possible that on a dustbin lid at the end of February 1926 he made his record debut, and if this is correct, then it puts up the value of this tiny Little Marvel record immensely
Old Record Shops: Len Court's The Old Record
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