Memorabilia market makes room for punk collectibles

By Susan Sliwicki

When staunchly classic auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s host sales related to a popular culture era, you know the market is on to something.

Of course, when that something is punk rock, more than a few traditionalists were scratching their heads. But with a handsome sale result of $747,300, the Christie’s Punk/Rock sale in late 2008 confirmed what rock and roll memorabilia collectors and auction houses like Backstage Auctions already knew: Punk is hot.

“Punk, at the time, was not a musical genre that was meant to be collected,” said Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions. “Punk was an expression, and punk was a statement, and punk was something you lived. Punk wasn’t something you put in a plastic sleeve and put in a display case.”
Collectors today want to do just that, and they are willing to pay handsomely for the privilege. But finding a mint-condition punk collectible is a bit like finding a needle-toting unicorn in a haystack.

“Punk collectibles were not necessarily handled with care, so to find anything for that matter that is still in pristine condition is an exception, rather than the rule,” van Gool said. “If you had a punk T-shirt, the first thing you would do is rip holes in it. If you had a punk poster, the first thing you’d do is tape it on your wall and put stickers on it and write on it.”

But the other reason it’s tough to find top-shelf, mint-condition punk collectibles comes back the golden law of economics: supply and demand.

“I think what makes a mint punk collectible so rare is it wasn’t meant to be kept, and because there was a very small quantity, the survival rate is low,” van Gool said. “We can all ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about the first Beatles album on Capitol Records from 1964, which is still worth a lot of money in mint condition, but what people forget is there were hundreds of thousands of copies. When you’re looking for a punk single, you’re lucky if they pressed 200 or 1,000 copies.”

Our Market Watch feature has hosted a variety of hot-selling punk records in recent months.

VINTAGE T-SHIRTS are hot collectibles, like this 1984 Clash shirt.. Courtesy of Backstage Auctions

As for punk memorabilia, there’s one thing that van Gool will always associate with the punk movement.

“When I think of punk, I think of buttons,” van Gool said. “You couldn’t walk the street and see a punk rocker without 20 or 30 buttons.”

In the eBay collectible world, punk buttons are an easy buy — not to mention a great choice for collectors who may be strapped for storage space, or even funds.

A single Clash pinback recently sold for $52, but that kind of premium tends to be the exception rather than the rule in online auctions.

By comparison: A collection of 100 metal, punk, hardcore and ska buttons and badges sold for $16.99; a group of The Cramps’ pins sold for $11; and a group of Iggy Pop and The Stooges pins sold for $8. Collections featuring Screeching Weasel plus Sloppy Seconds, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer and NOFX each sold for about $6.

Another hot collectible these days? Vintage T-shirts. “That entirely has to do with the fact that 5, 6 years ago, vintage concert T-shirts became fashionable, so they were all of a sudden in style, and it was cool to be seen with a 1976 Peter Frampton T-shirt or a 1974 Blue Oyster Cult T-shirt,” van Gool said.

A collection of vintage T-shirts that featured a 1984 The Clash “Out of Control” shirt, as well as shirts from Scorpions, Billy Squier, ZZ Top and Quiet Riot, recently sold for $225 online.


For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• Get the invaluable record collector’s resource: Goldmine® Record Album Price Guide, 6th Edition
• Get “The Everything Bass Guitar Book,” with CD, From lines and licks to chords and charts
• Get Goldmine’s Guide To Punk, PDF download

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