As a species we seem to have a special penchant for collecting and treasuring objects, especially when those objects are rare and speak to something in ourselves. In Amanda Petrusich’s Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, we get a unique glimpse into one of these “collecting cultures,” a community that is brimming with obsession, eccentricity, and huge personalities.
As it turns out, 78 rpm records have quietly become one of the most fiercely collected types of art on the planet. With prices that routinely rocket into the tens of thousands of dollars for rare examples, these largely pre-war recordings of country, blues, and jazz command the attention of some the most determined aficionados on the planet. And it’s when Petrusich turns her attention to these collectors that Do Not Sell fires on all cylinders. Petrusich manages to coax stories and learn from her subjects without becoming blinkered by their hobby or ridiculing their more idiosyncratic tendencies. What we end up with is a series of wild stories from people who are seriously passionate about their music. The bits about music history are also interesting, written in an introductory way that makes pre-war popular music understandable and exciting, even for people who haven’t taken a course in music appreciation.
Of course, it’s not all perfect. Frankly, some of the sections where the author relates listening sessions with her subjects can seem a bit mawkish. I appreciate that music can have a profound effect on people’s state of mind, but the idea of Petrusich bawling along with some 78 enthusiast after listening to a folk recording in a parking lot seems somewhat ridiculous. Even with the occasional gimmick or spot of sappiness, this book still works as a whole. Definite recommendation.