THERE’S ALCOHOL & JAKE BLUES and there’s really rare records and John Tefteller, who has been collecting those records for a long time. And he doesn’t collect reissues of great old music on great old LPs—he collects original, brittle-to-begin-but-even-brittler-with-age 78 rpm singles. John has been tracking down 78s no matter where they may be, no matter how many other collectors assure him that copies of certain records no longer exist. I’ve known John for a long time and he had a BIG collection before I met him.
Tefteller believes he will find them—his attitude can be summed up with a play on Agent Mulder’s theme: “The record is out there!”
Plus he looks for these impossible records in primo condition! If there’s a number out there where only two or three beat-up copies are known to exist, John believes there’s a near mint copy out there waiting to be found.
You may be thinking, “What in tarnation is a comic book doing in this article?” Read on, dear reader.
Winning at any cost
One such record was the legendary Delta Blues by Tommy Johnson: Alcohol And Jake Blues / Ridin’ Horse (Paramount 12950). John already had a copy in what he described as “hammered condition” (a not uncommon condition for old 78s) that he had paid thousands for once upon a time.
In September 2013, a copy of Paramount 12950 was offered on an eBay auction that the seller graded VG++. Of course John would have his way with that record. The auction ended on September 25, 2013, and in the final moments of bidding, the high bid went from $16,000 to a winning bid of $37,100.
John Tefteller’s winning bid.
The quotes below are from an interview with Tefteller by Jason Newman for Fuse following his winning the auction. I’ve lifted a few of Teftellers’ relevant statements from the conversation and conservatively pruned them and judiciously rearranged them for your perusal below. 1
The idea here was to give you an example at the passion and knowledge and intelligence that Tefteller brings to his avocation, which he also brings to his vocation of buying and selling the World’s Rarest Records.
“I traveled to South Carolina the night before the auction was over. I was that confident that it wasn’t going anywhere else other than home with me. I checked into a hotel at 7 P.M. the night before it was over and e-mailed the seller.”
He also brought this and more to the making of our Blues and Rhythm & Blues 45s of the ’50s price guide.
The copy of Paramount 12950 that Tefteller paid the record high price of $37,100 for a “used record” may be the world’s most beautiful copy of Paramount 12950.
Tefteller on collecting really rare records
“These original Paramount Delta Blues records have attained such a mythic status over the years that it just becomes so legendary. When you go back to these 1920s and ’30s blues recordings, the masters were destroyed years ago and there’s no way to recover them. The only way anyone is able to hear this stuff now is to search out an [original] commercial pressing.
So when you find one of these blues records in really super nice condition, that’s an earth-shaking event in the record collecting world.
When you actually see one for sale, which happens once or twice in a lifetime, you have to make a decision.
When someone is shocked or awed to see that a record sold for $37,100, because that is a large amount of money in anybody’s bank account. But when you think of the historical importance of what this is, how do you put a price on it? It’s an amazing masterpiece of a record that previous to this copy, there was only one other, which I also had. 2
Records of this caliber are undervalued right now.When you compare the rarity, desirability and historical importance of this to Superman No. 1 or a Honus Wagner baseball card—the prices on those things are dramatically higher! 3
For the last thirty years, I’ve been assembling, very slowly and carefully, the world’s greatest collection of blues records. There are a handful of legendary records on the Paramount label of which no copies exists that we know of.
I believe they exist and are sitting in the garage or the basement and the owners don’t understand how significant they are.
Those are my Holy Grail records and I will not lose them.
My challenge to the world is, you go find those records, bring them to me and you’ll see how big the check will be.”
Wagner had this card pulled from manufacturing because he either 1) didn’t want kids buying tobacco products to acquire it, or 2) he wanted more money for the rights to use his image.
A little perspective
To get a wee bit of perspective here on collecting really rare records, in the fifth paragraph above, John is referring to the first appearance of Superman in the 1938 comic book Action #1 and the 1909 baseball card of Honus Wagner from the American Tobacco Company’s T206 series.
Copies of both of these collectables in top condition have recently sold for more than $3,000,000 each! 3
Meaning that the record high $37,000 that John spent on one record is about 1% of what other collectors have spent on one funny book or one bubblegum card.
Finally, if you’re interested in reading the entire conversation between John and Jason, click HERE.
FEATURED IMAGE: Paramount 12950: Tommy Johnson’s Alcohol And Jake Blues backed with Ridin’ Horse. ‘Nuff said?
1 I have neither added words to Tefteller’s statements nor taken them out of context nor placed them in a new context that alters his intent.
2 The posting of what sounds like a 78 on YouTube (linked above) would seem to indicate that there is at least one more copy in the hands of a knowledgeable owner.
3 Copies of both of these items in less than NM condition have sold for more than $1,000,000 in this still-reasonably-new century . . .
John Tefteller amidst his collection of the world’s rarest records. Regarding his copy of Tommy Johnson’s Alcohol and Jake Blues / Ridin’ Horse: “They can offer me $400,000 for it and I wouldn’t sell it!”
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)