The Detroit artist’s rare Dylan tapes have been auctioned off, but he’ll keep going

Stephen Handschuh claims his recordings with Bob Dylan are priceless. At Thursday’s auction, they weren’t valued, which is something else entirely.

Handschu, 76, is a relatively poor blind sculptor who understandably doesn’t want to be forever known as any of those things other than “sculptor.” As detailed in the Free Press on Thanksgiving, he owns the only known set of master tapes for Bob Dylan’s first album, imaginatively titled “Bob Dylan.”

The three huge rolls of tape were up for bid at a New York auction house called Guernsey’s, and at the end of about a minute of not-so-frantic online bidding, he still owned them. They didn’t sell.

“I’m surprised,” Handschu said Friday, “but not devastated. I am not harmed. I am the same person I was when you met me.”

This person is talented, reflective and realistic. He’s also generous: Although he lived in a subsidized studio in downtown Detroit and never had any money to speak of, he had plans to share whatever wealth came his way.

So it’s a mutual disappointment and neither he nor the auction house is giving up.

Still, what’s a person to do to get some bids? And if Dylan’s songwriting and recording catalogs have sold in the last few years for a total of $400 million or more, shouldn’t the origin story of the record that started it all be worth 1% of that?

Do I hear half a percent on $2 million?

I’m going, I’m going, I won’t.

Disappointing but not harmful

Handschu was your standard starving artist in Manhattan in 1966, when one of the many itinerant musicians who camped out briefly in his studio was working as a doorman at Columbia Records.

The janitor saw the 1961 tapes in a pile destined for the trash and was given permission to throw them away. He gave them to Handschu, who kept them on a series of shelves in closets in different apartments in different cities before finding a sound engineer in the Chicago suburbs who had the antiquated equipment to play them.

That confirmation of the contents of the records came in 2007. A friend took Handschu to Guernsey 16 years later, and you can’t blame Handschu for imagining vast riches – but he refused to.

“I made a deal with myself,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be made or broken by what happened yesterday.”

He feels bad for Eye Learn Cares, a Detroit nonprofit that teaches life skills to the blind, to which he had promised a cut of the revenue. Likewise, the sound engineer in Illinois and the friend and manager who found the auctioneer.

But if he can handle the disappointment, so can they.

“My life experience,” he said, “tells me to clear your mind, take a step back, and see what it looks like in the morning.”

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Bare Bones Bob

The tapes, for the record, seem appealing to the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It was Dylan’s second album that launched him as a cultural force. The first was just the 20-year-old singer with a guitar, harmonica, two original compositions and a portion of foreign material.

“He’s in the raw,” said Jason Hanley, a musician and Ph.D. who serves as the chamber’s vice president of education.As a historian it is fascinating. This gives us the craft of what went into an album.

There’s a conversation with legendary producer and executive John Hammond, much of which shows how little Dylan knows about what he’s doing. There are songs that did not make it into the recording.

“You can compare it to some early-career classical instrument,” Hanley said. “It’s an emotional investment. I’ve seen some items like this go for millions.

But not this one.

Guernsey listed an estimated sale price of $800,000 to $1.2 million, with a starting bid of $200,000. When no one jammed, the starting amount dropped to $90,000.

Someone found the price and then someone else from who knows where offered $95,000 and that was it.

Handschu wouldn’t disclose the reserve price, the minimum he was willing to accept, but $95,000 didn’t cut it. Lot No. 19 of a 45-item program has ended and it’s down to No. 20, a set of Beatles autographs with an estimated range of $7,000 to $9,000.

That didn’t sell either.

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Tough day at the auction

The auction was a failure. An Eddie Van Halen guitar went for $110,000, and Elvis Presley’s sixth-grade textbook fetched $9,000, but a good three-quarters of the items went unclaimed.

Sometimes, said Guernsey founder Arlan Ettinger, an item fails because “you go out on a limb. No file. There is no precedent to cite.’

Sometimes this happens again and again.

Dylan’s records were well promoted, he said, with articles from the New York Times and Reuters following the Free Press column, which was picked up by more than a dozen newspapers. So that wasn’t the problem.

“We’re putting our hearts into it,” he said, and now he’s hoping the phone rings.

This also happens sometimes. A collector will reach out to make a deal, or the news will reach a potential buyer after the fact.

Handschu is willing to be patient.

He still believes the tapes are an important artifact—and he believes in the way he spent his life, never working for a windfall.

“I’m a guy who did what he wanted,” he said, “knowing it was at the expense of the values ​​that most people have.”

He created art, friends and memories, and if he lacked $400 million from Dylan, he wouldn’t be singing the blues.

Contact Neal Rubin at [email protected].

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