NEW YORK – Legendary music promoter Dick Clark once said, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.” Music has the power to key into significant moments of our lives, from concerts we attended to the songs playing on a first date or to console us after a breakup. Music has the power to inspire emotions and take us back to a precious memory. Perhaps it’s the emotional connection to a particular band or style of music that inspires collectors to seek out music memorabilia from a favorite singer or band.
Music memorabilia as a collecting category is far-ranging and runs the gamut from stage-used instruments and stage attire to concert posters/tickets and even items owned by musicians. “It’s all the artifacts and documents that tell the story of popular music, whether it’s a signed Beatles album or handwritten lyrics or even some of Elvis’ jewelry,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction in Boston. “Music memorabilia gives you these tangible artifacts of celebrities like the Beatles. Can you imagine having something written out by Jimi Hendrix? It’s like having history in your hands.”
What types of music memorabilia are most collectible and desirable?
“A lot of people just collect stage-used guitars, a lot of us my age who grew up in the times of the Beatles, it’s the ultimate to have something autographed by the Beatles, or a signed album,” he said. “By 1964 when they came to the United States, it was such a mania, The Beatles were almost unapproachable by fans. They were just locked off, they had their road manager (Neil Aspinall) signing autographs. They are so famous, so when you see them on a simple slip of paper, it’s just phenomenal.”
Among Beatles standouts are a Beatles-signed album for the desirable 1963 Parlophone mono first pressing of their first album, Please Please Me (above), that brought $25,038 at RR Auction; George Harrison’s first electric guitar, a Hofner Club, that realized $350,000 at Julien’s Auctions in May 2018, and John Lennon’s prototype “Butcher” cover of the Yesterday and Today album, autographed by him to a fan/collector as trade for a bootleg reel. It brought $100,000 at Heritage Auctions in November 2017.
Autographs and ephemeral material are also highly desirable, especially handwritten lyrics, Livingston said. “A letter gives you a different insight into these legends and icons of rock ’n’ roll.”
In RR Auction’s July 2018 sale, a Bob Dylan letter was offered, which was only the second one RR Auction has had in 30 years. In the letter, Dylan noted he doesn’t write letters, he writes songs. An interesting point in the letter is in the middle where he writes “out of the blue” and for the word “out,” he switches to a blue ink pen.
A key figure in music history, Dylan memorabilia is highly coveted. A historic guitar he used from the late 1960s onwards and played through his entire set at George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh sold at Heritage Auction in November 2017 for $320,000. Four decades earlier, in 1977, Dylan sold this and two other guitars to guitar-tech and musician Larry Cragg, who was also his guitar repairman. Cragg kept the guitar that had not been played since Dylan owned it.
Besides Dylan and the Beatles, several other musicians are among the kings of rock ’n’ roll, but when it comes to collecting, individual taste reigns supreme. “It really depends on your generation of what you collect. Prince items, because of the tragedy, … items that belonged to him or attributed to him are selling really, really well,” Livingston said. “It’s that emotional connection we had to him and the tragedy of his death that makes his items desirable.”
Among the most collectible musicians is Elvis Presley, whose Lockheed private jet fetched $1.2 million at GWS Auctions Inc., in November 2017. A large Rolling Stones roadie box in an aqua blue color from the band’s 1978 tour fetched $11,590 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions in May 2017.
Besides guitars and autographs, clothing worn by musicians is also desirable. A handmade Nehru shirt having a floral motif worn by Jimi Hendrix during a May 1967 performance realized $85,000 at Julien’s Auctions in November 2017. An Elvis Presley stage-worn belt brought $280,000 at Julien’s Auctions in May 2018.
A good place for new collectors to get their feet wet, Livingston said, is with autographs, preferably authenticated ones to ensure bidder confidence. “Right now, the prices are really accessible to someone who wants to buy,” he said.
“We always recommend buying things you love and not worry so much about price,” Livingston said. “Buy the items you are emotionally connected to and good quality ones. You will have something in your collection you love, and it will eventually go up in value.”