Some of you may remember the name Paul Mawhinney from back in 2008 when his record collection, valued at $50,000,000, couldn’t even sell on eBay for $3,000,000 – six percent of the appraised value. Mawhinney amassed a total of one million LPs and two million singles from his time working as the founder/manager of Record-Rama in Pittsburgh. He opened the store after his wife insisted that he dispose of his record collection, which was beginning to pervade all areas of their house. But if you ask an audiophile to get rid of his records, all he’ll do is open a record store to preserve them.
Opened in the 1960s, when music was solidified as a surefire moneymaking industry, Mawhinney relished the opportunity to discover new, under appreciated artists, as was the case with David Bowie’s 1969 album Space Oddity. Being that Bowie’s general look in 1969 wasn’t exactly a welcome addition to U.S. culture, he had yet to capture any major radio airplay. Mawhinney saw Bowie’s potential for crossover success on RCA (Bowie was previously signed to Mercury Records) and recommended re-releasing the album to Tom Cossie of RCA by pressing 700 new copies of Space Oddity and sending it to radio stations in metropolitan markets. The endeavor was, obviously, a success.
Record-Rama enjoyed immense financial prosperity in the days before digital music, but was forced to close its doors in mid-2008 (holding out much longer than media giant Tower Records, which went defunct in 2006 and now sells exclusively online). In the wake of Record-Rama’s demise, Mawhinney found himself searching for a buyer as ardent about vinyl as he was to take possession of what is considered – unequivocally – the largest assemblage of vinyl owned by a single person. At a vastly reduced auction rate, the collection failed to sell to a legitimate buyer on eBay and has since also failed to generate a substantial offer from the U.S. Library of Congress, an ideal entity for maintaining the quality of the collection.
At the moment, Mawhinney has taken an alternative approach to safeguarding his life’s passion by establishing The Record-Rama Sound Archives, allowing private buyers to purchase specific records. Those who agree to visit the archive must commit to buying $5,000 worth of items. While this might be a temporary solution until a larger offer comes along, it still seems almost preposterous that a record collection so rare and so valuable is unable to attract a bidding frenzy. In a somewhat cruel twist of irony, the first record Mawhinney ever bought was Frankie Laine’s “Jezebel,” containing the lyrics, “If ever the devil was born without a pair of horns, it was you.” This is more than likely a similar sentiment that Mawhinney must have toward digital music.