All Things Printed & Recorded: Ready. Cassette. Go!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For October, we’re hitting rewind on the history of the cassette tape.

TIMELINE
1928  Magnetic tape is invented by Fritz Pfleumer.cassette
1963  Philips introduces the compact cassette; it is first used for dictation machines.
1968  The first in-dashboard car cassette player appears.
1968  Dolby noise reduction gives cassettes better sound and more viability for music. 
1993  Compact discs overtake cassettes in sales. By 2000, a tiny percentage of music is sold on cassette.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Mixtapes on cassette—homemade compilations of songs in a carefully considered order, often given to another person—were a mainstay in the 1980s. Novelist Nick Hornby wrote in High Fidelity, “making a tape is like writing a letter—there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again.”
  • Bill Lear of Lear Jet Corporation led the development of the 8-track, which debuted in 1964 and was common until the early 80s. Some record labels released 8-track tapes as late as 1988.
  • Due to their small size, cassettes made music personal and portable, paving the way for products like stereo boom boxes and the Sony Walkman.

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, Thurston Moore
book Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Love, Jason Bitner
book Tape, Steven Camden
book Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, Rob Sheffield
book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
slate_film-512 High Fidelity 
slate_film-512 Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape

Collectible Conversations: Albums That Should Be Seen and Not Heard

There are several reasons the LP format has endured for six decades, and is in fact back in ascendance. The warm, full sound of vinyl may be at the top of that list of reasons, but another big factor involves the visual aspect, not the aural. The square-foot LP cover is a nice, big canvas on which could be featured not only relevant info about the recording but beautiful, provocative or bizarre imagery.

Many LP covers are iconic: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was so recognizable that The Mothers of Invention and others parodied or imitated it. The Clash and other artists recreated the pink-and-green graphics over black-and-white photo of the 1956 Elvis Presley album. Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and so many other popular artists’ works are memorably packaged.

But we want to talk about the other side of album art, the record covers that are so bad they’re good (or, often, are just…so bad.) Perhaps it’s inept or insane illustrations. Maybe it’s culture clash or has out-of-date kitsch appeal. Or our favorites: celebrities who are not singers but who couldn’t resist the opportunity to record an album to prove to the world that they are not singers.

Operations Director Jan Cornelius and I will be hosting a Collectible Conversations presentation Thursday evening, August 30, in which we’ll show some examples of the bad LP covers we’ve collected over the years. And, contrary to our presentation’s title, we will be so bold as to play a few snippets (snippets are all we can stand) of some of them.

Here are just a few “highlights” from the collection:

  • Sebastian Cabot, Actor – Bob Dylan, Poet
  • Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool
  • Heino
  • Music to Suffer By

We love to talk about bad LP covers, but we love inflicting them on others even more! Our Collectible Conversation featuring bad LP covers takes place on Thursday, August 30, at 6:00 p.m., in our Flagship store’s Collectibles section.

Meet the Artist: Louis Zoellar Bickett II

At HPB Hamburg Pavilion, we receive large amounts of paper history from Appalachia, books on local history, books signed by famous local authors and artists, and books that are just brimming with fascinating information about Kentucky. To showcase this wealth of knowledge, we’ve carved out a nook in our Collectibles section to display the many wonderful books we have for sale. Stop by our store to check it out.

Recently Kentucky lost a notable historian and artist, Louis Zoellar Bickett II. For a sense of the personality of the man I give you a short piece from the obituary he had written himself before he passed: “…went home to glory, crossed over, passed away, was carried to paradise, fell into the arms of Jesus, gave up the ghost, petered out, kicked the bucket, croaked, faced the music, bit the bullet, left the building, did not go gently into the night, and died Sunday, October 29, after engaging a long battle with ALS: ALS 1, LZB 0…” His most notable work is a collection that spans more than three decades that is simply known as The Archive. This collection indexes thousands of pieces of ephemera, which for Bickett was proof of concept that the people who owned them existed and acts as an eternal witness to the weight of a person’s life.

At the beginning of March, Aaron Skolnick got into contact with our store to inquire, like most folks, whether or not we’d be interested in buying a vast part of the more personal collection of his late husband, Louis Zoellar Bickett II. Over the course of the next three months, we received hundreds of signed and inscribed books that began to tell a piece of the story of this voluminous curator. Many of these inscriptions speak with great warmth of this human who infiltrated their lives in some way or another. Some of the more notable authors include Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry, Allen Ginsberg and Luke Smalley.

You can find a sample of the collection for sale listed on our store page in the Amazing Finds in section. Simply put: This is a mere fraction of the enormous collection of items sold to us, and if you’d like to see them all, swing by or give us a call and we would be more than happy to talk about it and even ship the books to you. I am humbled by the resonant impression of vibrant “here-ness” that the man known as Louis Zoellar Bickett II left on reality in my own Kentucky home.

Mirry Childs, Shift Leader, HPB Hamburg Pavilion in Lexington. KY

Collectible Conversations: Movie Posters of the ‘50s & ‘60s

When buyers at our Flagship store recently acquired more than 250 original movie posters, mostly from ‘50s and ‘60s films, they realized they were looking at some pretty special pop culture treasures.

Many of the posters were science fiction, including Night Creatures, The Return of the Fly, and Barbarella. But they ran the gamut of genres: spy movies, Three Stooges comedies, disasters, and more. The visual imagery on many of these posters is often stunning and, is in some cases, iconic.

Dallas South District Trainer Ben Jousan and I will be hosting a Collectible Conversations presentation on the evening of Thursday, June 28, in which we’ll show many of the posters and discuss the collecting of movie posters.

I asked Ben a few questions about the bounty of movie posters.

How often do stores see vintage movie posters come in?
We get the occasional bedroom fare with contemporary films or video games promo posters, but we don’t often see original one-sheet poster art for movies. We don’t always have a dedicated space on our sales floor to feature posters, but when we see such an amazing group of unique items, it forces us to rethink our layout on the floor to inform customers of our unique product mix and encourage them to sell these kinds of things to us!

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Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s & 60s Through Books

For the December presentation in our monthly Collectible Conversations series at the HPB Flagship in Dallas, we welcome Dallas historian Bob Reitz. Reitz will discuss his growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s using books as his reference points. Bob gave an earlier Collectible Conversations talk specifically about his life in bookstores and his 37 books about bookstores from his collection.

Coll Conv 8 31 3

We asked Bob to give us a little preview of his upcoming talk.

When did you first feel that Dallas in the 50s and 60s was a special place and time?
In January of 1954, my father’s insurance company transferred him to Dallas from upstate New York. We had a new house built in the Casa View section of northeast Dallas. Cotton fields were being plowed under to create homes for newly returned servicemen beginning to start families after World War II. I started first grade and finished high school living in the same house. I still have a small group of friends from these times. Growing up, it seemed normal to have new movie houses, drive-ins, libraries, swimming pools and a thriving downtown. I never realized as a kid what we had in these unique and special times.

I’ve always thought that besides your family, your neighborhood makes the biggest difference in your life. I didn’t grow up smelling salt water from the ocean or seeing snow-covered mountains on the horizon. I grew up on the rolling blackland prairies in a large urban city straddling the Trinity River.

I know you own many books on the subject. Is there one that may best encapsulate the era for, say, a 20-year-old reader from Milwaukee?
Probably the most thoughtful book about this era in Dallas is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright (who graduated from Dallas’s Woodrow Wilson High School). The cover of his book In the New World:  Growing Up with America from the Sixties to the Eighties (1989) reads: “It’s both a story of one man’s coming of age in 1960s Dallas and a provocative account of the end of American innocence, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era.”

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Becoming America (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

In honor of  Independence Day, we feature three books emblematic of the nation’s growing pains. The first, written near the country’s beginnings as a democracy, is a seminal work that helped define our legislative branch. The second, written thirty-four years later in 1821, provides detailed descriptions of the lives of Native Americans of that time before so much changed in their world. And the third selection provides a rare contemporaneous account of the Underground Railroad. Ironically, all three of these editions were published in the United Kingdom.

For this Fourth of July, along with your fireworks and hot dogs, find a little time to explore our country’s history in books!

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
John Adams
1787, London. Printed for C. Dilly, in the Poultry
First Edition. In original binding.
$10,000

Constitution

Adams intended to write a single volume. The first, published in London, was so successful that Adams was encouraged to write a second volume, and then a third. The book promotes a mixed government, in which “the rich, the well-born and the able” are separated into a senate, unable to dominate a lower house of representatives.

Our copy is in remarkable condition, considering its age and historical importance. The book is fragile but complete. There is an owner inscription from 1787, and a presentation inscription from 1909. Continue reading

Biographies of Heroic Lives (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

It’s Biography Week, which is a good time to read about the life of someone exceptional, someone notable for doing something heroic. (I also thoroughly enjoy reading about the lives of drunk musicians, hideous parents and reprehensible scofflaws, but we’ll save those for another occasion.)

We feature three fine editions of books that contain the stories of people who inspired other people.

RosaParks
Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth by Rosa Parks
Lee & Low, 1996. First Edition, signed by Rosa Parks!

This is not, strictly speaking, a biography or memoir, but in her responses to questions from young people, Ms. Parks relates her experiences as a key figure in the civil rights movement from her initial 1955 bus protest on and how those experiences shaped her life. Her bold action taken on a bus in Montgomery not only inspired legions to join the civil rights movement, but it also continues to inspire Americans both young and old.

This book, signed and dated 11/24/96 by the great American icon, is priced at $250. Continue reading

Variety Is the Spice of Vinyl (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

Records are a great entertainment value. Most of Half Price Books used LPs are priced between $3 and $8, and we have thousands at $1-2 clearance prices. We also have great prices on our new vinyl.

But enough about great prices. Let’s talk variety: The wonders and oddities in every genre that a music-lover like me can find in a record bin are endlessly alluring. From R&B to C&W, from techno to disco, from doo-wop to bop, there’s a great world of music to be discovered and uncovered on vinyl, and all in endlessly fascinating packaging.

My vinyl playground is the Dallas Flagship store, and here’s a potpourri of records that recently captured my attention there. They’re all above our average LP price, but they’re all above-average records.

Prince

Prince – Fury
2006, Universal Records MCST 40462 (UK) picture disc
As we approach the anniversary of his untimely death, let’s start with the consummate genre transcender, Prince, who bridged R&B, pop, rock, funk, soul, dance and psychedelia to become one of the most influential (and enjoyable) artists in popular music history. “Fury” is a cut from Prince’s 3121 album, his comeback to the top ten of Billboard’s Albums chart.
Near Mint—$30

HomerJethro

Homer and Jethro Fracture Frank Loesser
1953, RCA Victor LPM 3112, 10”
You may well expect the show-tunes of Broadway songwriter Frank Loesser to be uncomfortable on the playlist of a comedy-bluegrass duo. Loesser himself wrote in the liner notes, “They have shot at my eight little targets with great humor and characteristic skill. I guess the joke’s on me but I love it.” This unlikely mash-up doesn’t disappoint. Homer & Jethro do their thing on “Once in Love with Amy,” “On a Slow Boat to China” and other Broadway classics. The songs seem quite at home in the novel setting.
The record and cover (and the music) have held up very well over the past 64 years—$20 Continue reading

It’s Geek Week (like every other week at HPB)

If you’re looking to express your geeky side with pride—and why shouldn’t you?—Half Price Books is the place. Our stores seem to have a never-ending supply of games, comics, action figures and other items designed to help you geek out.

Here are just a few highlights we’ve learned about that are currently in our stores around the country. “A Geek Week Sneak Peek,” I guess you could call it. If you are interested in any of them, contact The Buy Guy.

Lee---X-Men-1-(2)[1]X-Men #1 King-Size Special
Signed by Stan Lee!
Has a little bit of rubbing and wear to the bottom of the spine, but no other damage or signs of wear.
At our Mentor, Ohio store: $100 Continue reading

Just some old stuff… (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

Bet you didn’t know that March 2 is Old Stuff Day! (Seems like every day is Old Stuff Day around my office—my house, too.) It made me start thinking about all the discoveries we’ve made in the buying areas of our stores across the country. Sometimes, it’s a memento left in a book. Most notably, there was an old book a store had had for a while in a backroom; tucked inside it was a lock of hair pinned to a 1934 obituary. We tracked down a descendant of the deceased and returned the precious keepsake. Sometimes, it’s a book that looks like nothing much but turns out to be extremely scarce, like the second edition of Calvin’s Commentaries, its centuries-old cover worn and plain, found in the bottom of a box of “old stuff.” (While we had it on display, someone stole it and then returned it, with a note attached that said he’d only wanted to be able to hold it for a while.)

cover

Not long ago, a store employee came across the book pictured above. We took a closer look. At first (and second and maybe third) glance, it appeared to really just be old stuff. Its cover was mottled and faded, bumped and spotted. There was no title, author, or other information featured on its cover. Its pages were foxed and browned, some to an extreme. But, hey, the book was published in 1833, almost two centuries ago. You might expect some fading and foxing. Continue reading