In the days of physical media dying, we're seeing more and more expansive record collections pop up online. While there's an entire industry of rare record buyers and a worldwide market of obscure vinyl collectors more connected than ever, seeing gigantic assortments of music appear on eBay or Craigslist is becoming increasingly common, with only the largest collection capturing the awe and wonder of music fans online. But while the majority of the expansive attention-grabbing personal libraries tend to be more so accumulations than actual collections, often attributed to the original collector being a former DJ or having had some other connection to the music industry, this summer's most shared collection happens to be the product of dutiful keeping by a private collector.
When the 250,000-piece record collection with an asking price of $350,000 first popped up on Craigslist two months ago, it became a source of intrigue for record buyers and music fans alike. Located in Dunkirk, N.Y., the sheer size of the collection combined with no media attention or mention of it prior to the Craigslist post led to reactions ranging from skeptical to exuberant. What were all these records that spanned decades doing in this home? With the only information being the number of selections, the location, their condition, and the coda of belonging to the seller's departed father, it was as if vinyl's lost city of Atlantis had finally been uncovered.
This is the story of Frederic Bolling, a collector of many things including stamps, coins, toys, and yearbooks, but whose record collection was like no other of its kind. We spoke to Frederic’s daughter Patsy Klemens who told us how Frederic’s incredible collection came to be.
“He started his collection when he was a teenager,” Patsy told us, “but when you’re a teenager, you think they’re going to be obsolete someday and not around anymore.” Frederic being born in 1941 puts his teenage years right in the heart of the 1950s. “He didn’t treat them as good [then] as he did in his later years. I think it was after my stepmom had moved out in 1978 when he really started because then he was just collecting for himself.”
Frederic and Patsy began attending yard sales, household sales, and estate sales together, as well as frequenting record stores like Dunkirk’s Record Giant. “He’d always have to be the first one there and have that very first ticket. This lady once called the cops on him for waiting outside her house for the sale to open.” Patsy would join her father for these record adventures every weekend. “He’d be at these household sales for hours. He’d take the records outside, make sure they all looked decent and then go back a second or third time to make sure they looked good again.” While Frederic’s collection spanned genres, his favorite was early rock ’n’ roll. “His favorite [artists] were the Big Bopper, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis.”
He’d take the records outside, make sure they all looked decent and then go back a second or third time to make sure they looked good again.
When word of the collection Frederic was amassing started to spread, people began inviting him to DJ. “He had records that had come out of jukeboxes, and the fact that [people] knew he had those records, he got invited to play them. After a while, everyone just called him ‘The Record Man.’” Despite Frederic’s newfound notoriety, it wasn’t quite known exactly how many records were in his possession. “I tell people now it’s just overwhelming. They’re in his bedroom, his living room, the backroom.” But as massive as the collection may seem, Frederic’s attention to detail made sure they were kept in strict parameters. “There was no place where they wouldn’t be climate controlled. You would never find them in the attic and never find them in the cellar.” Frederic would vacuum his records to remove the dust, put them in new white sleeves, and then write down in his inventory book where he bought the record and from which sale. He ordered his records chronologically and kept stickers indicating what he paid for them and what he thought would be a fair price if they were to be resold.
Still, the question of exactly how many records Frederic owned is still being figured out. The initial 250,000 estimate may have been a touch too high. “I don’t know if, through the years, my dad thought that that’s how many he had," says Patsy. "I had a few people come in and appraise them so the lawyer could have something in writing, and they tried to give me an idea how many 250,000 would be. So I started counting them and I’m about halfway through.” Frederic’s full collection has roughly 160,000 45”s alone, with several other albums and books of 78”s Patsy is still going through. “If I could keep them all I would, but it’s just not feasible.”
While she has five sisters, Patsy was the only one who shared her father's passion for music. “I was trying to think of something really special to put on his [headstone]. He had a big love for Elvis, and one of his favorite songs was ‘Loving You.’ So one afternoon it popped into my head and I took the record to the guy making his stone. I said I want this record and everything on it etched into his stone, and underneath it I want ‘Loving You’ put on it.”
Frederic passed away from cancer in March of last year. Before his death, he and Patsy discussed his collection, both knowing she couldn’t keep them all. “He left them to me, and I asked him, ‘Dad, what am I going to do with all of these records?’ He said, ‘I don’t care, just put them on eBay.’” Patsy tells us the reason her now legendary Craigslist posting didn’t go into more detail about what her father’s collection contained was because it was so titanic. “I can sit down if I wanted to and make a list of everything that he had, but how do you make a list of 100,000-plus records?” When we spoke, Patsy had just sold 5,000 records, and has about 8,000 left. “I want them to go to someone who will take care of them. I don’t want them to go to just anybody.”
Chaz Kangas is a writer living in New York. Follow him @Chazraps.