Wednesday, February 26, 2014


When you were growing up, did you ever write your name on your LPs and 45s, either on the jacket or on the label? I never did this myself (the idea of it always struck me as distasteful, like an act of defacement or vandalism), but I knew plenty of other kids who did, and I'm sure you did too.

One such name-inscribed LP is in the collection of my friend Jeff Ash, who lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His copy of the Beatles' self-titled 1968 album, which he purchased at a used record store at some point in the 1980s, bears the signature of one Riffat Kamal (see above). A little over a year ago, Jeff became curious about Riffat and decided it was time to try to track him down. I'm happy to report that he succeeded.

I was surprised that Jeff's story didn't include any mention of the the little "44" beneath Riffat's name, so I asked him about that. "You know, I never asked him what it meant," Jeff replied. So he got back in touch with Riffat, who responded with the following:

That was just part of my numbering system, where I sequentially numbered all my albums from 1 to probably about 300 or so. Between my Minnesotan roommate Steve Portugese and myself, we had a few hundred albums, some of which were the same, so numbering each album was a way of keeping track of it....

Looking at the picture of the White Album again, I just noticed that I don't write "4" the same way anymore. Not sure when I switched to writing "4" the way it is typed here now, but maybe that was part of my becoming Americanized.

I love this story — it gives a whole new dimension to the term "Permanent Record."

But Jeff's experience has gotten me thinking. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, I used to spend a lot of time in used record stores, and I certainly came across plenty of name-inscribed LPs along the way. But I don't think I ever purchased someone else's personalized record. In fact, I went out of my way not to purchase such items. Part of this was due to that thing I mentioned earlier about the record being defaced — I didn't want to purchase a record that had been marred, even superficially.

But there was more to it than that. At the time, I identified quite strongly (read: far too strongly) with my record collection. I wanted it to be about me, not about anyone else. Even a ballpoint-scribbled name from years ago felt like an unacceptably foreign element, a contaminant. How could I make a record fully mine if it carried the reminder of having been someone else's?

The odd thing about this, of course, is that I love artifacts that have stories to tell about their past lives — that's the essence of Permanent Record. But for whatever reason, LPs were their own special category for me, and I never saw the potential in tracking a used record back to its previous owner.

Nowadays, like so many people, I've sold off many of my LPs and consume much of my music via electronic streaming. (I'm listening to the new Beck album on Spotify as I type this, in fact.) But now that Jeff has opened my eyes, I see lots of PermaRec-ish possibilities in name-inscribed records — I may have to start dropping by used record stores again.

Do you have any records with other people's names written on them? Would you like to try to track down those people? Let's discuss.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I've recently come across a bunch of PermaRec-ish stories from the past 15 months or so, all of which I missed when they originally moved across the news wires. Here's the rundown:

1. A South Carolina woman whose pocketbook had been stolen back in 1990 was surprised when she received a call from the local police, who had found the bag with most of its contents (shown above) still intact. The bag had been found in the ceiling tiles of a bathroom a few miles from where it had been stolen — presumably stowed there by the thief, who took the cash but left everything else.

2. This is pretty good: A Michigan man named Joshua McKinney was removing some old insulation in his attic when he discovered a bunch of old love letters and other ephemera from the 1940s. He was able to return it to its family of origin but nobody could explain how the letters ended up in McKinney's attic, because the family that had originally owned the letters had never lived in McKinney's house, or even in his town. After some further investigation, it turned out that the family had lived in the house after all — but in another city! The entire house, complete with the letters tucked away in the attic, had been moved to McKinney's town after the family moved away. McKinney later bought the house and found the letters. You can get the full story here.

3. Last May I wrote about a hatbox full of old letters from the 1940s, which had been purchased for $1 at an estate sale. When I blogged about this story last year, the woman who bought the hatbox had enlisted the aid of a researcher, who was trying to find the family connected to the letters. It turns out that the researcher's efforts were successful.

4. Last month I wrote about the issue of class rings that are lost and later found. Here's another story in that same vein, about a class ring that was found at the bottom of a lake by a diver in the early 1960s and then returned to its owner nearly 50 years later.

5. And speaking of rings, an Indiana woman was remodeling her bathroom and was surprised to find a wedding band wedged behind the vanity. The ring was engraved with initials that matched those of the house's original owner, making it relatively easy to return the ring to the woman who had lost it 40 years earlier.

Thursday, February 20, 2014



The tattered envelope and letter shown above date back to February of 1963. They were recently found under the seat of a rusted-out, rodent-infested 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air that was purchased at auction by an Indiana man named Dean Sparks.

Sparks was intrigued by the letter, which had been written by a young woman to her sweetheart. The last line, underlined, said, "Let's get married."

After a bit of internet research, Sparks was able to connect with a Kansas man named Wade Waterbury — the son of the woman who'd written the letter. She and her beau had indeed gotten married, just a few months after the letter had been written. In fact, they eloped in that ’59 Bel-Air that Parks eventually purchased. Unfortunately, both of them are now deceased, but Parks sent the letter to Waterbury, who was excited and somewhat emotional to receive this unexpected family keepsake.

It's a great story. You can read more about it here, and there's some additional info in these two video reports (there's some footage that's used in both of them, but they both have a few unique bits that are worth seeing):

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

(Big thanks to reader James Poisso for letting me know about this one.)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's shaping up as a fertile period for African American artifacts being found in unlikely places. Earlier this week I wrote about Marvin Gaye's passport being found in an old LP that had been purchased for 50 cents. Now it turns out that an Arizona graphic designer named Mary Scanlon has made a similarly momentous find: Last spring she was at a Phoenix-area Goodwill shop and spotted a pile of 35 old reel-to-reel tapes. One of the tape boxes was labeled "Martin Luther King, Tempe" (see above), and the others had the name "Lincoln Ragsdale." Scanlon bought the whole pile for $3.

Scanlon eventually contacted an archivist at Arizona State University, who told her that King had given a speech there in June of 1964 but that no recordings of it were known to exist. Sure enough, the tape Scanlon found at the Goodwill included King's ASU speech, as well as a shorter speech he gave the day before at a Phoenix church. You can stream some of the audio here, and there's some additional information here.

Any King-related find is important, of course. But as the AP noted in its coverage of this story, it's particularly interesting to know more about King's experiences in Arizona, a state that has not been kind to his legacy:

In 1987, then-Gov. Evan Mecham rescinded Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday. The fallout, which included losing a bid to host the Super Bowl, damaged Arizona's image. In 1992, an initiative to restore Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Arizona was approved, making it the first state with a voter-approved King holiday.

More recently, the ASU chapter of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity had its recognition permanently revoked [in January] after several members attended a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party that was deemed distasteful. The party allegedly perpetuated racist stereotypes with offensive costumes.

As for the tapes, they had belonged to Lincoln Ragsdale, a Phoenix civil rights leader who was one of the original Tuskegee airmen during World War II and died in 1995. Most of the other tapes were recordings of his 1960s radio show, which was focused on his civil rights work at the time. It's not clear when the were donated to the Goodwill shop or how long they had been sitting there before Mary Scanlon found them.

Three bucks for a unique piece of history — not bad.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The passport you see above belonged to Marvin Gaye. Yes, that Marvin Gaye. It was found in an old LP that was recently purchased for 50 cents at a Detroit estate sale. It's not clear how or why Gaye's passport ended up in an old LP at someone else's house, but it's the score of a lifetime, the kind we all dream about finding at yard sales or flea markets.

Here, check out the full scoop in this short clip from a recent installment of PBS's Antqiues Roadshow program:

It's a little frustrating that the guy says the LP had been owned by "a Motown musician [who] had passed" and mentions that the musician had worked with Gaye, but he doesn't identify who the musician was. I realize this was probably out of respect for the deceased's family's privacy, but it still seems like a big piece of the story to leave out.

I was intrigued to hear the appraiser mention that passports represent a big collecting niche. I hadn't been aware of that, although it's not surprising once you take a second to think about it. So I went to eBay and searched on "expired passport" and "vintage passport" — pretty fascinating-looking stuff, right? As the Antiques Roadshow appraiser mentioned, the particularly appealing thing about a passport is that it tells you where its owner traveled, so you can construct a bit of a narrative. Seems very Permanent Record. I might need pick up a few of those and see where they lead.