Agony Shorthand

Monday, June 28, 2004
A $12 TRIP INTO THE 78 COLLECTOR PSYCHE.....Can be yours if you’re ready to spring double figures for a bulging copy of 78 QUARTERLY, an infrequently-published fanzine (in every sense of the word) for collectors of rare pre-WWII 78rpm blues, jazz and hillbilly records. I’ve never seen anything like it. I bought issues #10 and #11, the most recent, in hopes of learning more about lost and uncomped country blues artists. Instead, and I’m not really complaining, you get the most arcane and obsessive look into the world of collectors – a world in which catalog numbers matter far more than the names of the players (“Black Patti 8036” rather than the Southern Jubilee Quartette), in which collectors trade stories of their best finds, and in which the layout is done completely and totally by gluestick-encrusted hand. In #11 pictures of the labels of each and every Black Patti release are pornographically laid out over dozens and dozens of pages, with scant information other than catalog listings, old ads from the Chicago Defender, and the odd story of how a given collector found it (“I was traveling late at night in 1966 in the Northern Virginia hill country, when I sideswiped an old black man with a crate of records in his trunk…” etc.). It’s quite fun, but not a real fountainhead of needed information. You’ve met these sorts of fellas if you’ve ever hung around a store in which old 78s are sold, in which they’re usually yakking for hours with the proprietor about their finds. I think of them of folk heroes of a sort, and this is their bible, for your cultural archeological pleasure.