A Note on the Upcoming Record Sale at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound
On a rainy spring morning in 1984, over 800 visitors swarmed the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and purchased over 20,000 78s and LPs at the first Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound Duplicate Record Sale. The event raised $14,750 to support the activities of the archive, which began collecting recordings of all types as far back as 1930. Perhaps more importantly, the sale realized space critical to expand the archive, an archive which has since grown to become one of the world's largest, rarest, and most diverse.
R&H, as it is commonly called, has continued to grow even as the economic disasters of the 1970s and the recent past challenged that expansion. Over the past two years, R&H has refined its collecting strategy to acquire utterly unique and invaluable non-commercial collections with a particular focus on experimental American performance, Jazz, late twentieth-century popular music, and mid-century broadcasting. The aggressive efforts have paid off and as the collections steadily arrive at Lincoln Center, R&H once again needs space to process, catalog, and preserve these one-of-a-kind cultural resources.
On August 8th, 9th, and 10th, R&H will hold another duplicate record sale to free up immensly valuable areas in our environmentally controlled storage space. For curators such as myself, selling-off materials from the very collections we are charged to safeguard feels about as counter-intuitive as it comes. But the approximately 22,000 LPs I have authorized for sale next weekend take up A LOT of space. And we already have at least one copy of each and every one of them! We have been so successful at keeping our nearly 800,000 publically-accessible recordings in the best condition possible that we have yet to reach back into storage to find a replacement for a damaged or worn-out record. This is especially true since LPs were taken out of the circulating collections decades ago. Now as we consider where we are going to house, let's say, a newly acquired, never released Louis Armstrong live recording or off-air recordings of Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" CBS broadcasts, it becomes clear that the "dupes" have to go.
The duplicate recordings R&H will sell next weekend are commercially produced and widely released LPs dating from the 1950s onward. Over the last 50 years, these recordings have been generously donated to us by individuals, organizations, and record companies. Our collections would be meager indeed if we were not the beneficiaries of donations, but as more and more have arrived, the collection has partially self-replicated. When we discover that we already have at least one copy of a donated LP, we place that donation in our storage space without ever having formally added or "accessioned" it to our holdings. There it sits. Pristine and often in perfect condition, thousands of recordings meant to be heard and enjoyed by the living are banished to a still, silent, and chilly purgatory inhabited by no one with no turntable in earshot. This is also where the interns usually work.
This weekend, we will liberate all 22,000 discs at a public sale at the lowest possible prices. We feel strongly that since the recordings were intended for the public, the public should have them without excluding anyone because of cost. Yes, raising money will be really, really welcome, but not nearly as much as the space. Most importantly, we look forward to getting everyone together for a few days. Please come! Get some records and get to know us and fellow record lovers. The Performing Arts Library is there for everyone and so are these records. See you there!