Wanted: Good home for albums; must be big

By Chriss Swaney

It’s all for sale: 3 million record albums and 300,000 CDs; rare and out-of-print titles, all varieties of American music from classical to hip-hop.

But it’s much more than vinyl and jewel cases.

“It’s the history of music,’’ said Paul Mawhinney, the owner of Record Rama Archives in an upscale suburb north of Pittsburgh, Pa. “It’s my life work.’’

Mawhinney, 69, is reluctantly parting with a collection he started more than 40 years ago.

Legally blind and fighting diabetes, he wants to spend more time with his five grandchildren.

The collection is worth millions of dollars — Mawhinney’s personal estimate is at least $50 million — but he has received only one solid offer.

That bid of $28.5 million fell through. Other parties have shown interest, and Mawhinney says he continues to talk to a few interested parties.

Even the Library of Congress called about the rare collection, but he hasn’t heard back from them either. Mawhinney has set a goal for selling the collection by March 1.

“I’ve had a lot of people that wanted it, but they don’t have the right kind of capital,’’ he said.

The collection spans shelves and storage racks in the 16,400-square-foot Pine Mall off Perry Highway in North Hills, Pa.
“He really has a fantastic collection, and his shop is known worldwide,’’ said Scott Neuman, owner of Forever Vinyl of Tom’s River, N.J.
“Records and record collections are hot right now on the global marketplace because of the weak dollar. International buyers can get items at a 50 percent discount,’’ said Neuman, a 20-year business veteran.

John Ruggeri, a record and music memorabilia collector from Pittsburgh, said anything involving the Beatles has great value.
“I really want to see some of this collection before it hits the auction blocks,’’ Ruggeri said.

While Mawhinney’s albums are a record collector’s fantasy, they are beyond the financial reach of many vinyl enthusiasts.

That’s unfortunate, because there are a lot of desirable items in the collection, including:

  • An unreleased, untitled Rolling Stones album of early singles. Originally recorded in mono, the songs were remastered in stereo for FM radio stations in the early 1970s. Mawhinney estimates the album is worth between $5,000 and $10,000.
  • A rare original copy of Phil Spector’s album A Christmas Gift for You. The album features Darlene Love, The Crystals and The Ronettes.
  • 15 copies of the first edition of Elvis’ Christmas album. Mawhinney says the original album, released in 1957, has a red gatefold cover and features Presley singing “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,’’ “Blue Christmas” and 10 other seasonal songs. Estimated worth is $700.

Neuman, whose online site www.forevervinyl.com gets thousands of hits daily, agrees that the Stones album — especially if it is unopened — is worth $10,000.

A mint-condition copy of A Christmas Gift For You could demand between $700 and $800, and the Presley release could be worth as much as $1,000, Neuman said.

Ideally, Mawhinney would like the collection to go to a major library or museum or someplace that will keep it intact. He tried contacting local and national politicians about his dilemma, but he has received scant feedback.

“I can’t get any interest from the country in preserving this for history,’’ he said. “I’m very concerned, but I’m not discouraged.’’

Mawhinney said he is hunkering down and is going to do a mass auction if he has to, in order to to get the collection liquidated or into the hands of folks who will cherish its history — and the music that continues to withstand the test of time.

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