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Backstage Auctions brings out swag from the music industry's golden age

From displays and T-shirts to belt buckles and bin dividers, most of these lots could have been seen on display in a record store 30 to 40 years ago.

By Patrick Prince

Music industry swag may not consist of the same kind of products and merchandise that, say, Hollywood has to offer, but to the right collector, these promotional items can carry more value in the long run.

Backstage Auctions will be offering nearly 500 lots filled with music industry displays, promotional items and other goodies at its Summer Music Swag Auction at the beginning of September 2012. Most of the items are from the 1970s and 1980s.

“The ’70s and ’80s were the absolute golden years for creativity,” explains Jacques van Gool, the owner of the Houston-based auction house. “We’re not talking about stickers and pencils here. We’re talking about really cool promotional items where the art departments of record companies had some really creative people working for them and coming up with great stuff.”

Beatles Anthology display Backstage Auctions

This Beatles Anthology display stands an impressive 7 feet tall. Photo courtesy Backstage Auctions

The majority of the items that will be featured in the auction could have been seen on display in a record store 30 to 40 years ago. For van Gool, preparing for this auction was a bit like hitching an 88-mph ride back in time in Doc Brown’s Delorean.

“Looking at all this really throws me back into a 1970s record store,” he says. “I can recreate a record store out of this whole thing — up to, and including, bin dividers!”
A Beatles display from the ’90s, however, may be the most elaborate promotional piece featured. More than seven feet tall, this monolith — which promoted “The Beatles Anthology” — consists of a large pop-out of the band and several tiers. Its box alone is like a trunk, says van Gool.

Backstage Auctions is going to make the starting bids on such items as affordable as possible, because, as van Gool puts it, the shipping won’t be cheap. For instance, the aforementioned Beatles display will probably cost $50 in shipping alone, and he recommends that collectors keep that in mind when bidding. However, for many collectors, paying the extra amount for shipping is a bargain. Quite frankly, you never know when items this unique will come up for auction again.

In the “good things come in small packages” department are 15 to 20 promotional belt buckles from the 1970s.

Blue Oyster Cult buckle

Promotional belt buckles were a popular piece of swag in the 1970s. Photo courtesy Backstage Auctions

“These are heavy, mostly copper, belt buckles. Some of them are record-company related. A few are radio-station related. The rest are band, or artist, related. These belt buckles are absolutely beautiful,” van Gool said. “A pretty famous one is the 1976 Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue belt buckle. And, there’s a Blue Oyster Cult belt buckle, which is a piece of art."

More than 200 vintage T-shirts will be up for bid, as well. All the top-name classic rock artists are accounted for, but many of these shirts have a regional flavor. The shirts are straight from a Texas collection, and many of them were produced for the southern leg of an artist’s tour. Furthermore, there are shirts from Texas festivals from 1976-79, including a rare one from a 1976 Austin-area festival called Sunday Break II (“Sunday Break II” was the second festival of its kind within the same year, which featured many popular acts of the time, including Fleetwood Mac, The Band, Chicago and the Steve Miller Band).

vintage concert t-shirt backstage auctions

While concert T-shirts are commonplace today, the were just getting their start in the 1970s as a promotional item. Photo courtesy Backstage Auctions

Nowadays, getting a T-shirt at a concert is almost as common as getting popcorn at the movies. But, as van Gool points out, T-shirts sold at concerts started off as promotional items.

“Concert T-shirts were really in their infancy in the ’70s,” says van Gool. “A concert shirt was basically a T-shirt that had the album artwork of the most recent album on it. It didn’t say tour. There was not a year on it. There was nothing printed on the back. It was, for all intents and purposes, a promotional shirt.”

“I’ve seen late-’60s concert shirts, but they were very few and far between,” he continues. “Concert merchandise as a whole barely existed. And once you got into the early ’70s, you started to see T-shirts a little bit more. Once the T-shirts started to become a little more popular, that’s when bands realized that maybe they needed to put a little more effort into it, make it a little more special.”

The Summer Music Swag Auction will take place Sept. 1-9, 2012, with a special preview on Aug. 25, 2012. For more information or to register for VIP All Access status, visit