As far back as Bill Pagel can remember, he’s had a keen interest in collecting. When he was growing up, it was coins and baseball cards. Today, the 75-year-old pharmacist is the custodian of an incredible assemblage of Bob Dylan memorabilia amassed over several decades, from concert posters to high-school yearbooks (complete with inscriptions) to the musician’s boyhood home.
The house was a white whale of sorts, a 2001 eBay purchase that set Pagel back some $82,000. He’s slowly restoring the wood-sided Duluth duplex (located at 519 North Third Avenue East, for those not in the know) to the way it was when Dylan and his family lived there in the forties — a labor of love, to be sure. But the collection had much humbler beginnings.
“I first became aware of Bob Dylan in the fall of 1961 while in college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison,” explains Pagel. “Some of my friends were from New York City and had seen him perform — this was before his first album came out. One of them showed me a New York Times article written by Robert Shelton giving Bob a very favorable review after seeing him perform at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village. Several months later, I purchased his first album when it was released in early 1962.”
Pagel, unsurprisingly, still has that record and that newspaper article. They hold special meaning for the archivist amidst the tens of thousands of items in his possession. And what has largely been a private collection has only in recent years been made available for public viewing.
“I have always wanted to share my collection with the public,” he notes. “An opportunity arose in 2016, when the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth offered to host an exhibit. The success of that exhibit prompted us to showcase it again this summer with the addition of many new items.”
One person who hasn’t seen the collection? The subject himself. “I’m not sure what Bob would think of it or that he would even care,” Pagel muses. “However, Bob is somewhat of a collector himself as evidenced by the vast amount of material he and his office have accumulated and are in the process of transferring to the Bob Dylan Archive at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.”
The archivist is also passionate about sharing the surreal stories behind the pieces. One signed manuscript, for example, contains the obscure last verse to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” As Pagel explains, “Bob sang this song at a Thanksgiving party at the apartment of Eve and Mac McKenzie in New York City on November 25, 1961, with this additional verse included. The McKenzies and the other folksingers were unfamiliar with that verse, and Eve asked Bob to write out the words. This is the paper on which he wrote that verse, along with several doodles.”
The consummate collector, Pagel is constantly on the hunt for Dylan memorabilia. But these days, the search criteria are fairly specific. “I am always looking for early photos of Bob, especially from the period when he lived in Duluth and Hibbing, and when he lived in Minneapolis while attending the University of Minnesota before leaving for New York City in 1961,” he explains. “I would love to find photos of him when he played at the Ten O’Clock Scholar and other Dinkytown clubs. I am also looking for posters and audio recordings from his early performances in the 1960s.”
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.