“A thoughtful, entertaining history of obsessed music collectors and their quest for rare early 78 rpm records” (Los Angeles Times), Do Not Sell at Any Price is a fascinating, complex story of preservation, loss, obsession, and art.
Before MP3s, CDs, and cassette tapes, even before LPs or 45s, the world listened to music on fragile, 10-inch shellac discs that spun at 78 revolutions per minute. While vinyl has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, rare and noteworthy 78rpm records are exponentially harder to come by. The most sought-after sides now command tens of thousands of dollars, when they’re found at all.
Do Not Sell at Any Price is the untold story of a fixated coterie of record collectors working to ensure those songs aren’t lost forever. Music critic and author Amanda Petrusich considers the particular world of the 78—from its heyday to its near extinction—and examines how a cabal of competitive, quirky individuals have been frantically lining their shelves with some of the rarest records in the world. Besides the mania of collecting, Petrusich also explores the history of the lost backwoods blues artists from the 1920s and 30s whose work has barely survived and introduces the oddball fraternity of men—including Joe Bussard, Chris King, John Tefteller, and others—who are helping to save and digitize the blues, country, jazz, and gospel records that ultimately gave seed to the rock, pop, and hip-hop we hear today.
From Thomas Edison to Jack White, Do Not Sell at Any Price is an untold, intriguing story of the evolution of the recording formats that have changed the ways we listen to (and create) music. “Whether you’re already a 78 aficionado, a casual record collector, a crate-digger, or just someone…who enjoys listening to music, you’re going to love this book” (Slate).
In this enjoyable, well-researched work, music journalist Petrusich (It Still Moves) uses the "intense, competitive, and insular subculture" of 78 rpm record collecting as a jumping-off point for more universal discussions of cultural appropriation and historic romanticization of collecting. An outsider to the 78 community, Petrusich staunchly tracks down the key figures and interviews them one by one. Her project leads her to destinations throughout the U.S., including conventions and trade shows in New Jersey and Virginia, and even on a scuba diving mission into the depths of the Milwaukee River, where "race records" from the nearby Paramount factory are rumored to have been dumped. Meanwhile, Petrusich traces the history of recorded sound beginning with Edison's discoveries and its evolution throughout the 20th century, pointing out along the way that our musical canon and overall understanding of blues was shaped largely by collectors. While critical of the eccentrics she encounters, who are often guilty of neglecting the intrinsic pleasures of song for the superficial sake of keeping an object, Petrusich manages to highlight their wisdom, charms, and influence when possible. What could have easily become an exclusive tome is made entertaining by Petrusich's sharp and searching guidance. This is an inviting edition that will welcome many to an unfairly ridiculed sphere and send newbies looking up artists they've likely never heard of, but will likely fall in love with.