By Mike Greenblatt
Longtime readers of Goldmine (and, by extension, the Flashback column) know the name John Tefteller. The internationally known record-collecting authority is the curator for Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records and the head of Blues Images, the company that puts out an annual calendar and accompanying CD of rarities from the ’20s and ’30s. Here at Goldmine, we get the dealer’s input into every Flashback column as to blues record values and related matters, given both his knowledge of and passion for the subject.
But this edition, we’re getting a slightly different perspective on a rare blues record from John the Collector, who dug deep into his pockets and parted with $37,100 for a single piece of shellac offered via eBay: Tommy Johnson’s 1930 Paramount Records release “Alcohol And Jake Blues” b/w “Ridin’ Horse.” Tefteller’s purchase set a record as the highest price ever paid for a 78 RPM record via eBay. The auction had seen bidding action holding at about $16,800, when, in the last minute, the price ballooned to $37,000. That’s when Tefteller anted up $100 more to win the auction lot.
Rare blues recordings typically fetch several hundred to a few thousand dollars on the open market, perhaps more if they are exceedingly rare, in absolutely pristine condition or from a legendary artist. This copy of Paramount 12950 had all of those factors in its favor. Johnson — along with Charley Patton, Skip James, Son House and Robert Johnson — is among the most legendary figures of early blues.
It is believed that this is only the second of two known existing copies of Paramount 12950; Tefteller already owned the other one. But while the music itself is considered to be a masterpiece, the record Tefteller had in his possession was not.
“This one’s in much better shape,” says Tefteller, who has been collecting rare blues for more than 40 years and now owns the most extensive collection of such in the world. He plans to sell his first copy of the Johnson record to cover the cost of his newly acquired upgrade.
So the obvious question is: What would it take for someone to pry that record from his cold, dead hands? Tefteller laughs.
“It won’t happen,” he says. “I know this sounds crazy, but I had somebody from Fuse TV say to me, ‘You just paid $37,000 for a Tommy Johnson record. What would it take if someone would want to buy it?’ I said, ‘It’s not for sale.’ He said, ‘Well, what about $400,000?’ I said, ‘No,’ he said ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s very simple. I have the world’s best blues collection. That’s a fact. The minute I start removing anything from that collection, I downgrade the entire collection. And there’s no point in doing that, because the way I see it, it’s much more valuable as a whole than any one part. I’m certainly not interested in selling the whole thing now, but at some point in the future, obviously, I have to. I can’t keep all this stuff forever. So it will be for sale as one lot for an incredibly large amount of money.”
“I’ll give you $2.3 million right now for the whole thing,” this reporter told him.
“That wouldn’t buy it,” came Tefteller’s answer. GM