Vinyl survival: A collector’s legacyMay 21st, 2020 By Michael Brown
Collecting NZ music recordings
The Library’s collecting of music recordings dates back to the 1960s, at that time encompassing vinyl records and 78rpm shellac discs. Subsequently, tape cassettes and compact discs, and more recently born-digital files and USB sticks, have also been collected and preserved.
The Library’s storehouse of published recordings, a subset of the New Zealand and Pacific published collection, currently comprises over 50,000 releases, along with thousands more backup copies and variant editions. The basic goal is to collect all New Zealand-published music recordings and a good selection of New Zealand music published overseas (for more on our published music collecting criteria, see the end of this blog).
Despite our best efforts, gaps remain. Partly this is due to the sheer volume and ever-growing pace of local musical production, partly due to keeping up with the work of new artists, including expatriates, in an increasingly globalised music scene. In 2006, New Zealand-published sound recordings came under Legal Deposit provisions, establishing a somewhat more reliable conduit for preserving them. But the process of finding copies of numerous older releases and their variants is an ongoing quest.
A new opportunity
In 2018, we learned of an opportunity that might help resolve some of the backlog in one fell swoop: Anthony Norton, a Nelson-based record collector, was looking for a new home for his collection of around 7,500 New Zealand vinyl records.
Anthony had been building his collection since the early 2000s. By 2009, according to an article in the Nelson Mail, he had amassed around 3,500 records: “I've got classical music, I've got Dame Kiri, I've got your folk, your rock and your reggae… I'm hoping that one day I'll end up with a New Zealand icon and I'll be able to sell it to a museum or someone who wants to open a museum of New Zealand music.”
A variety of collecting methods were used: Trade Me and Discogs, private sales through a network of other collectors, and discoveries in shops and sales. Anthony even created a “Kiwi Vinyl Collector” sign for his car to alert people to his interest.
We contacted Anthony and he forwarded us an Excel spreadsheet containing details of every item in the collection, which was being offered as a single lot. This listing was obviously going to be invaluable in gauging the overlap between his collection and the Library’s holdings, and for assessing its value for future research.
How to perform these tasks remained a challenge though. Over a period of months, the Library developed a series of data analyses to match lines in Anthony’s spreadsheet with our published catalogue records and holdings data. “Fuzzy” search scripts were created to reconcile the different ways that record catalogue codes might be expressed. Much manual filtering and editing was also needed.
Eventually, after much sifting and sorting, we estimated that some 45% of the vinyl records in the Norton Collection were not held by the Library. Almost all the remaining discs could be taken as well, as first and second backup copies of records already held, thus providing direct access for researchers and reserves for preservation purposes.
Anthony and the Library soon concluded negotiations, and in June 2019 the collection was packed and shipped to the Library. As a bonus, Anthony generously offered to donate another 500 vinyl records he had accumulated in the interim, together with his New Zealand music posters, other ephemera items, publications, and unpublished recordings.
The Anthony Norton Collection
As with other record collectors, Anthony developed his own unique criteria. These were based partly on his own interests, on what seemed like neglected collecting areas, and on special kinds of material.
Several principal criteria are evident across the entire 8,000-strong Anthony Norton Collection:
- Records issued after the mid-1970s
- Overseas editions and pressings of New Zealand artists’ recordings
- Independent and experimental music releases
- Copies signed by artists
Around 96% of the discs were released after 1970, with over 650 of the discs issued since the resurgence in vinyl releases in the late 2000s. Overseas pressings make up an impressive 54% of the discs not held by the Library.
Another interesting subset of the collection are lathe-cut discs, around 250 in total including 170 not held by the Library until now. These limited-edition artefacts have been the subject of the recent exhibition, A Short Run: A Selection of New Zealand Lathe-Cut Records, at Object Space and the Dowse.
The Norton Collection will also contribute 170 items to the Library’s holdings of promo discs and test pressings, pre-release versions supplied to radio stations, distributors and record shops. Over 1,400 records (18% of the collection) are signed by musicians and bands, most at the behest of Anthony himself. These items will provide numerous opportunities for future exhibitions including as loans to other institutions.
The original spreadsheet of the Anthony Norton Collection, complete with price information, is also now a collection item and can be browsed online (ref: MSDL-4206).
Looking beyond the statistics, the Norton Collection offers numerous specific highlights, far too many to cover in detail here. Many discs exemplify the DIY tradition in New Zealand music, by which musicians and bands have produced their own recordings and handmade accompanying artwork.
Early releases on the Flying Nun Records label reflect this trend. The Collection contains copies of rare FNR items, including multiple copies of those with variant screen-printed sleeves by artists such as Ronnie Van Hout.
There is considerable scope for future research on the relationships between the New Zealand music and art communities, to which such cover sleeves attest. The Norton Collection promises to be a significant resource for such research.
The many overseas pressings in the Collection will also significantly enlarge the Library’s documentation of how New Zealand music has been disseminated across the globe. It includes, for instance, multiple pressings, repressings and variants of Crowded House's global hit, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, on the Capitol label.
These include (with catalogue numbers):
- Australia (CP 1842),
- USA (B-5614),
- Europe (F5614; 20 1514 7),
- South Africa (JCL 2015147),
- Portugal (2015147),
- UK (F 5695; 7243 8 83341 74; CL 780; 12CL 438),
- Spain (40 2408 7),
- Japan (BRP1019, ECS-17696),
- Germany (869 240-7),
- Netherlands (20 1726), and
- Brazil (31C 052 201726Z).
Previously, the Library held only a US pressing. There are also overseas releases by Split Enz, Mi-Sex, Dragon, Tim Finn, Shona Laing, Jenny Morris, Sharon O’Neill, and John Rowles, among others, as well as New Zealanders who were mostly based overseas, such as Zaine Griff and Chris Thompson, New Zealand-raised vocalist for Manfred Mann.
A kind of inverse view is provided by 20 Solid Gold Hits, the New Zealand-compiled anthologies of overseas singles with a few local songs mixed in. The brainchild of industry exec John McCready, the Solid Gold series was hugely popular from 1972 until the early 1980s. It thus provides an interesting index of New Zealanders’ tastes for the world’s music of the period – or at least what the industry figured those tastes to be. The Norton Collection includes all 34 Solid Gold volumes, where the Library previously held only six.
The Anthony Norton Collection also includes a large corpus of unpublished music material. Descriptive records for what has already been processed can be browsed through our Tiaki finding aid under the reference ATL-Group-00433.
Included are over 300 posters, many from concerts at the Boathouse café-venue in Nelson which have been signed by musicians (see above). There are also numerous fliers, badges, stickers and fridge magnets, and even a few sticks of Chris Knox’s Polyphoto duck-shaped pain chewing gum! Among the items still to be described is a cache of memorabilia, ephemera, and publicity photos relating to Split Enz and Crowded House.
A mighty task ahead
Assessing whether the Library needed the Norton Collection was a major task, as was physically getting it to Wellington. But equally daunting is the prospect of cataloguing and physically processing 8,000 vinyl records.
In making the final decision to acquire the Norton Collection, the Library recognized that such a large collection would necessitate a major commitment for the institution. The budget for the acquisition project thus includes the costs of acid-free housings for every record, additional record cabinets, and staff resourcing for cataloguing and shelving.
To save time and avoid the need to interfile items with existing Turnbull vinyl, we also decided to treat the Norton Collection as a formed collection, to be stored in one location, with its own call number sequences: Norton Phono (for 7” discs) and Norton Phono q (for 10” and 12” discs).
Cataloguing has already begun, with 1,135 items available to browse on our Primo catalogue. If you’d like to see which of these are signed copies, use this link. These links will remain stable, so can be accessed into the future if you are curious about how things are progressing.
A collector’s legacy
While the Turnbull Library is not the music museum originally envisaged by Anthony, it is the pre-eminent institutional collector of New Zealand music, amassed as a public research legacy for generations to come. The Norton Collection has come to an appreciative home. Thank-you Anthony.
More information about our published music collecting
The Alexander Turnbull Library collects New Zealand music recordings in several ways.
All new recordings published in New Zealand fall under the Legal Deposit provisions of the National Library Act, which require publishers supply two copies of physical releases and one copy of digital releases. We also seek to retrospectively acquire recordings which predate the 2006 Legal Deposit legislation via donation, purchase or bequest. New Zealand music recordings published overseas are acquired on a more selective basis.
The Library welcomes offers of New Zealand music recordings. If you have some items you would like to offer the Library, please see our Donations page and contact us using the Ask-a-Librarian service. Due to the processing of the Norton Collection and several other sizable donations, we are not able to consider large collections at the present time.