The Beloved and I are fond of a certain kind of antique store — not too expensive, devoted to fine French furniture costing thousands, and not specializing in rusted tools and old newspapers. She is currently entranced by certain kinds of McCoy pottery (planters, not the terrifying cookie jars); I, predictably, look for sheet music and old records. I might gaze longingly at a Victrola but have no intention of making a commitment to one.
Sheet music is often in terrible shape if it’s been stored in the barn, and if it’s been well-cared for, the prices rise. Today we were in Sheffield and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and I was directed in one store to a fine small collection of music. Someone had taste: there were Cole Porter songs I’d never heard of, a Swing Era-vintage STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and a batch of early African-Americana: IF THE MAN IN THE MOON WAS A COON and BY THE WATERMELON VINE, MAH LINDY LOU. But these nicely-preserved artifacts were out of my price range.
Records, too, are usually disappointing: the great days of junking for Paramounts and Gennetts are long, long gone. More typically I face Bobby Vinton and Frankie Carle, Donna Summer and Christmas songs. Now and then a popular Goodman or Glenn Miller collection emerges, or a Jazztone from the Fifties, but such appearances are not the rule.
Today, which happened to be the first Monday in August, before we turned for our temporary country home, the Beloved said, “Let’s cross the street and go into that shop, the one advertising farm tables.” The shop was somewhat disorderly, and the owner was surprised, he said, that he could direct me to some sheet music (which turned out to be in bad shape). On the way there, my vigilant eye was caught by a pile of records — microgroove issues without cardboard jackets scraping against one another mingled with 78s.
When looking through records, one tends to make judgments on what one finds most often: too many Sammy Kaye and Eddie Fisher records and I begin to droop. 78s from the Fifties, obviously, are newer and have had fewer chances to crack and break. All was reasonably dull until I came to two records, almost adjacent to one another. I asked the owner, as innocently as I could, what he was charging, and he said, “Oh, a dollar apiece.”
When I took my two finds to him, he said, “Oh! These are more valuable. I thought that pile was only Sinatra and Tony Bennett.” I stood there quietly and said, “Yes, they are more valuable. What do you want for them?” And he smiled at me, rather resignedly, and said, “Oh, a dollar apiece,” which I happily paid him. It was an odd moment: he knew they were worth more but was being generous and perhaps feeling relieved of the burden of two more objects that threatened to overwhelm him.
Neither record is in splendid condition. But they both have been played over and over again, which makes them more valuable emotionally even if some eagle-eyed grader would rate them somewhere between V- and G. Who knew that Bix and Bing got to Massachusetts, and that they had been preceded by the Original Memphis Five? Someone in the Twenties had, as they say, an ear. And you can now see the results.
The photographs are slightly blurry, but my pleasure in these discoveries and the casual generosity of the shop owner is sharp and clear. “From Monday on, we’ll be in clover . . . !”