Want to be the owner of the world’s largest record collection, an impressive historical archive that includes well over 3 million vinyl releases? Well, you’d be the first.
“It’s a sad commentary of the times,” says Pittsburgh resident Paul Mawhinney, the owner of the massive record compendium and former proprietor of Record-Rama, who has been trying to sell his unmatched collection for over a decade.
Sure, money, preservation, and storage may present hurdles to potential buyers, but he says the biggest obstacle has been getting people to care; “basically, no one gives a damn.”
Mawhinney’s enormous collection, which includes one of a kind rarities such as an unreleased Rolling Stones compilation and a ‘flat record’ dating from 1881, has been appraised to be worth around $50 million, but even at the relative bargain price of $3 million (that’s practically a dollar per record), he’s been unable to find anyone seriously interested in buying, as Gizmodo reports.
Mawhinney has build ‘The Archive’, as he lovingly dubs it, for most of his life, chiefly through running his own record store Record Rama where he never sold the last copy of an album or single, instead filing it into his collection. But now, due to his old age, legally blind status, and encroaching health problems from diabetes, he wants to find a home for his collection. But in a depressing sign of the times, where music’s monetary value has been seriously depreciated in the eyes and ears of a digital-savvy public that can access music almost anywhere, at minimal to zero cost, Mawhinney’s 3 million records are unwanted; as documented by filmmaker Sean Dunne.
The Pittsburgh resident has tried the traditional modern route – selling The Archive on eBay – in 2008, but that led to frustrating failure. An Irish buyer put down a deposit of $300,000 towards a final sale from a winning bid of $3,002,150 from the eBay auction, until it was revealed to be a sham bid made through a case of identity fraud, as The Guardian reported.
Other offers for The Archive that fell through include an online buyer, for $28.5 million, and even the US Library of Congress, but budget constraints forced them to withdraw. “They broke my heart. They broke my spirit. And I told them they could never call me again,” says Mawhinney.
During their appraisal of his collection, the Library of Congress found that in Mawhinney’s collection of records from 1948 to 1966 “that only 17% of that music is available to the public on CD… that means 83% of my collection of the music that I have on [these] shelves you can’t buy at any price, anywhere.”
Its just one signifier of how priceless and culturally important Mawhinney’s archive is, but as digital overtakes physical – not only in the minds of music consumers but literally, in sales (by about 2016) – the sentimentality towards hard copies of music has vastly diminished. Rather than being proudly preserved in a library or a museum, the worlds’ biggest collection is rotting away in a basement, slowly forcing Mawhinney into a corner where he must make like many a modern musician and simply give away his music for free.
“People come in here once in a while and they ask for a song and my eyes light up and I feel like I’m part of the human race,” says The Archive’s heartbroken owner. “That happens rarer, and rarer, and rarer every day.”