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Weird tales from the auction block

Ever wonder what it’s like to work at a big auction house, and be surrounded by incredible collectible items every day?

Ever wonder what it’s like to work at a big auction house, and be surrounded by incredible collectible items every day?

Sounds like a fun job for those, like most Goldmine readers, who love and cherish old and rare items, especially all things rock ‘n’ roll. Well you are right — it’s an everyday thrill for those of us here, as well as a job loaded with pressure, stress, headaches and countless bottles of Rolaids!

My name is David Tosh, and I’ve worked for Heritage for about five years, primarily in the Comics and Comic Art division, but also as a consultant to the Entertainment division, and more specifically, as an expert in music memorabilia. Let me take you through the paces as we prepare for a Hollywood and Entertainment auction.

Our Music department is part of the Entertainment division, headed up by Doug Norwine. Doug’s one hell of an interesting cat. He formerly made his living in Los Angeles as a session musician.

Doug’s played sax with many of the top names in the business: Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Frankie Valli, Sammy Davis Jr., Chaka Khan — the list goes on and on. He’s also made quite a name for himself in television, playing on the soundtrack to shows like “Frasier.” His biggest claim to fame was his work on “The Simpsons,” both the TV series and the best-selling album releases, like The Simpsons Play the Blues (for which he won a Gold Record award).

Doug is also a lifelong collector of Hollywood memorabilia and autographs, and is particularly fond of the old Universal Studios monster movies of the 1930s and ’40s, like “Frankenstein.” Doug’s a lot of fun to work with, and his many Hollywood contacts give him a great deal of access to movie- and television-related material.

Working closely with Doug on the music side is Garry Shrum, a seasoned dealer in rock collectibles who owned record and collectible shops in California and Arkansas going back to 1976, and still maintains a mail-order Web site, Blue Meannie of Dallas, which is run by his wife, Laura, and daughter Veronica.

Helping out Garry is another transplant of our Comics division, Jim Steele. Jim’s been a music fan for decades, and his encyclopedic knowledge of rock records is phenomenal. Jim helps out by doing catalog descriptions of our rare vinyl collectibles. I pitch in by describing rock concert posters and related material.

Each new auction sale begins with phone calls — lots of them, as well as tons of e-mails, all from prospective consignors with items they wish to sell.

“We get amazing phone calls,” says Garry, “like a DJ who was working at a radio station in Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, who was such a good friend that Buddy and the Crickets give him an engraved lighter, which wound up in our most recent auction. We had Larry Knechtel (famous session player and guitarist from the band Bread) and many studio sessions call us and put in some of his awards in our last auction. We even had a fantastic collection of guitars and awards from Joe Walsh.”

Of course, not every lead pans out; in fact, we go through many, many calls and e-mails before the right item presents itself. Sometimes people call in thinking they have something rare that turns out to be a little more common than they think, like a reissued Elvis LP, or reprinted poster. Sometimes the collectible item is just as they say, and it could be fabulous — but the owner has overestimated the value it could bring