My last post, about selling off my rarest record, got me thinking about collector culture and in particular, the idea of holy grails vs. white whales.

The two are related – but not identical concepts. The Holy Grail is best known and understood: it’s like a mythical record everyone wants and searches for, but the odds of finding are next to nil. Without a doubt, in the circles I run with, the holiest of Holy Grails is the supposed 12″ version of Bob James’ “Mardi Gras” without the bells. It seems almost certain this actually is a myth (sorry Biz): even Bob James has zero recollection of this existing and not a single person has turned up credible evidence of the record’s actual existence (sorry, an MP3 of said recording isn’t very convincing). Nonetheless, for years, people have stared hard any CTI logo they’ve seen, in hopes of coming across this animal.

Now, this is where things can get a bit nit-picky (and in my opinion, more fun to argue over): there’s some debate about what a “holy grail” means in an age where eBay and the internet have made previously hard-to-find albums easy-to-get so long as you’re willing to throw down. At one point in time, something like the Skull Snaps LP was considered a holy grail to find “in the field” (i.e. come across at a record store or yard sale). And indeed, it is a hard LP to find in the field. But not on eBay. If you have flush enough pockets, you can find an original Skull Snaps for under $200, easily. Even the John Heartsman LP – which regularly commands prices in the thousands – has still shown up at least four times in the last year. Grail or not grail?

Likewise, take something like the Frank Wilson single. Supposedly, only two copies exist – both of which are in the hands of well-known collectors. Can something be considered a grail when its quantities are both finite and its ownership fixed? It’s not like you describe Rodan’s “The Thinker” “a holy grail of sculptures” – multiple copies exist and everyone knows where they are; you won’t “find” one randomly (as far as we know…maybe there’s a spare one in a warehouse somewhere).

To me, I think what would be a legitimate grail is something like this:

Salt: Hung Up

From 7″ (Choctaw, 196?)

Despite a curious trio of sales back in 2007, it hasn’t shown up again (on eBay at least) and is one of those singles that’d be hard to come by regardless of how much money you have to spend. However, there’s always the possibility of turning one up in the field, hence what also gives it a grail mystique.

In contrast, a white whale (big up Melville!) can be obscure too but it’s less about what a community deems worthy of searching out and instead, is a personal obsession. It’s a record that you dream (or have nightmares) about, the one that haunts you or at the very least, eludes you in the frustrating ways. At their most extreme, a white whale might just be identical to what you call a “personal grail” and in that respect, theres’s a lot of left-of-field records out there which aren’t well known to a general population but are still the objects of obsessive pursuit by others. For me, something like the Bobby Reed 7″ is white whale-ish since I do lust after it but with deep enough pockets, I could just buy one; therefore, it’s open to debate how white whale-ish it could be. In contrast, a less expensive, but more elusive white whale of mine was:

Jack Constanzo: Jive Samba

From Latin Soul With Percussion (Tico, 1968)

I’ve been after this album for literally years now but surprisingly, for a Tico title, it very rarely ends up for sale and I’ve been reticent to go all out to buy one since, to me, it’s kind of a one-tracker (but oh, what a great track). Thanks to a buddy down in San Diego, I finally was able to buy this at a more reasonable price this past weekend and it felt good to finally scratch this off my want-list. Is it the whale-iest of my white whales? Eh, probably not, but elusive and long sought-after? Most definitely.

So…what do you consider a holy grail? And what are your personal white whales?