In 1951 Paul Mawhinney started his record collection by buying Frankie Laine’s ‘Jezebel.’ Over 60 years later he currently owns the largest record collection in the world, numbering around three million items. Mawhinney’s collection was built up over those decades, mostly during the many years he owned Record-Rama. His collection includes the first flat record ever produced in 1881, an ultra rare unreleased Rolling Stones album, and countless other obscure and valuable records. During those years he even had influence on the music scene in general, helping jumpstart David Bowie’s career by pressuring RCA to re-release Space Oddity in 1972 after it failing to be a hit three years earlier.
Around 2008 Record-Rama closed due to major competition from larger corporate stores, and the overall decline of independent record stores. Mawhinney decided at that time he would sell off his collection, although initially insisting the buyer keep it intact, as he wanted “to keep the music alive for the enjoyment [of] music lovers, now and for years to come.” A beautiful short documentary was made at the time documenting Mawhinney’s collection.
The collection went up on eBay and sold for 3 million dollars, although it was soon discovered the buyer was a fraud. Mawhinney was forced to put the collection back up for sale, although sadly dropped his insistence that the buyer keep it intact. Unfortunately he found no buyers. That was almost 5 years ago, and there has been no sign the collection has found any buyer since then. A few years ago Johnny Damm of A Bad Penny Review wrote an eloquent piece about Mawhinney’s collection and our attachment to material objects.
This simplistic narrative, however, completely ignores the fundamental pull of collecting: how our possessions can become, just through the virtue of our ownership, narratives of their own. We look towards them as Mawhinney does—to tell the story of our lives.
As of today, Record-Rama’s web site still has a phone number for any interested collector to call to schedule a time to see the collection, and apparently you can buy specific pieces. Mawhinney seemed to be in fairly fragile health back in 2008, although is still alive today and still seems to be guarding his collection closely. It is unclear what will eventually happen to the collection if he passes away before he can find a buyer. There apparently was talk in the past few years of turning the collection into a museum and preserving it for the generations, but nothing has come of that talk. I would advocate a Kickstarter campaign to turn it into a museum. There is too much history in this collection for it to be simply be broken up and scattered about amongst thousands of collectors.
I’ll leave you with the original record that started Mawhinney’s collection, Frankie Laine’s ‘Jezebel.’