The Pennsylvania Music Expo. It’s the biggest monthly record fair in the land, and after thirty-five years of dropping several tons of vinyl onto a room or two full of tables, it’s also one of the most experienced.
So, it seems, are the buyers.
Arriving little more than an hour after the door opened, I lost count of the number of albums I vaguely inquired about, only to be told I’d missed a copy. But I got my revenge, picking up the first Silverhead album for a song, and then feeling oh-so-triumphant when I heard someone else hunting for a copy. Should have got here earlier!
Two rooms full of dealers, and maybe I should have counted them. Fifty or so? That sounds about right, stretched across three aisles in the main ballroom... yes, the ballroom! The basement of the Continental Hotel, on US 30 as it drives into Lancaster, PA, is a homely home indeed, far more comfortable than the High School gym and the backwoods bingo hall that are numbered among the fair’s past homes, and far easier to locate as well.
Plus, with a mass of outlet stores lining the same highway, there’s no shortage of.. shall we say “other things to do” for any family members who don’t want to spend the second Sunday of every month pawing through box-after-box-after-crate-after-case of LPs, 45s, CDs, DVDs and just about every other form of recorded medium you can think of, in search of....
Wide aisles, a refreshments table, a prize draw, a spot of live music... the first two are a definite plus when you’re laboring with a shopping bag that is growing heavier by the minute, the latter two are welcome just for the added ambience they provide. Regular PA announcements united collectors with sought-after gems; the lighting was great for inspecting the fine print and assessing condition; and the room temperature was ideal as well. It was a blustery day in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, but we were snug as bugs at the Expo.
Okay, what did I find? The Great Lost Kinks Album, BB Blunder’s Workers Playtime, both Richard & Mimi Farina albums, a mass of scratchy but serviceable Stones and Dylan, the 1977 reissue of Martin Carthy’s Prince Heathen (the one with the cover that looks like it could be the Blue Oyster Cult), assorted Richard and Linda Thompson, the final T Rex... and (fiendish grin) the first Silverhead.
And what did I find that I’d run out of cash for? A UK mono Beggars Banquet, a promo Amrbose Slade, classic psych High Tide, a German SF Sorrow... all as close to excellent as you could hope, and all of which should point to the variety that was on display, without even mentioning one table that seemed to be devoted wholly to jazz, another dominated by R&B and soul. It is also worth mentioning that most every dealer was operating at least a box or two of $1, $2 or $3 albums, and not just filling them with the usual stuff. And you all know what I mean by that. In fact, I don’t think I saw a single copy of Frampton Comes Alive all day.
Meanwhile, as my thoughts turn towards compiling the next edition of the Goldmine albums price guide, it was interesting to note that dealer prices for the most traditional desirables tend to lurk a little below the “average” eBay/Internet prices for the same discs, with the added advantage of actually being able to inspect the record before parting with your pennies, rather than trust a description. And not having to pay for postage, either.
In fact, with the exception of a couple of prize Zappa albums that I resisted publicly drooling over (my own mono Freak Out has seen so many better days), a wholly putative, wishful thinking kind of shopping list that I compiled from the last month or so of eBay watching wound up saving so much on the first seven albums on the list that the eighth and ninth would have been free. And the cost of the tenth was halved by the absence of postage costs. And if that’s not incentive to get out and dig crates, I don’t know what is.
Of course, at any event this size there’s always going to be the occasional dealer whose stock of largely unspectacular albums has been optimistically marked with spectacular prices; $5 is reasonable enough for a VG copy of the BeeGees’ Cucumber Castle, but even if the cover hasn’t really been half-devoured by rats (which is what it looks like), $7 two tables away is reasonable too. There again, a hideously shopworn Satanic Majesties Request is worth $3 of anyone’s money if it’s still encased in the original 3D emblazoned sleeve. Although, when I recall how impossible it once was to find that particular jacket, it’s amazing how many are knocking around today. I stopped counting at ten.
Every record fair is different, every attendee’s experiences are different as well. But my own experiences of the Pennsylvania Music Expo, gathered over five or six years of sporadic attendance, have seldom been less than excellent, and have inspired more “that’s my best find in a long time” moments as well. Get there a little earlier every month and there’ll probably be even more of them as well.
One final note that may or may not be apropos to anything at all. Sixties and Eighties Dylan albums were very conspicuous by their apparent absence, but the John Wesley Harding through Planet Waves period overwhelmed with its prodigiousness. With one exception - Self Portrait. Did its recent appearance in the Bootleg Series really cause everyone to reassess a set that was once rotting unwanted in every dealer’s bin? And did the just-released Complete Album Collection CD box set send them out to recreate it in vinyl form as well? Answers in the comments box, please.
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” as well as Goldmine’s “Record Album Price Guide 7th Edition , both of which are published via Krause Publications and are available at www.krausebooks.com