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Beyond Vinyl: Collecting music memorabilia

The first installment of Goldmine’s new column defines what is and what isn’t memorabilia and provides details on upcoming auctions and other special events.

by Stephen M.H. Braitman

The first appearance of a new column and resource in Goldmine magazine deserves some explanation.

As the premiere U.S. publication devoted to record collecting, the coverage one expects to find in the magazine is pretty clear: Records, either on vinyl or CD, and the music therein.

This column attempts to enlarge that focus. “Memorabilia” covers a lot of terrain. Anything remotely related to music that doesn’t actually include the sonic characteristics is memorabilia -— posters, photographs, concert tickets, sheet music, promotion objects, instruments, psychedelic Bentley automobiles, ancestral homes. You get the idea.

Music memorabilia is actually a bigger business than records. Many readers know about the $138,000 paid for a copy of the Beatles 1966 Shea Stadium concert poster. If you were given the choice of a one-foot stack of posters and a one-foot stack of LPs, which would you choose? Yes, pound for pound, posters and flyers are worth much, much more than records. Except for those that have been reprinted for commercial sale (i.e., Fillmore), most posters are one-time-only events. Their very nature makes them rarer than even limited small-edition record pressings.

This holds true for those odd and strange items produced by record companies to promote their artists and new releases. How about a Clash jigsaw puzzle? An E.L.O. light switch? Maybe a pewter pair of Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” tennis sneakers on a key chain? A Johnny Paycheck shot glass? The elaborate gimmicks that profit-flush record companies have lavished upon their fawning press for years have made promo objects a ripe field for collectors. Slightly less objects of adoration are commercial products such as action figures and trading cards.

Except for The Beatles. Anything Beatles is the great exception.

An extreme example of the outer regions of memorabilia is reflected in the Summer Entertainment Sale from Julien’s Auctions to be held at the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood June 26-27. With a focus on items owned by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, the ultimate in bizarre intimacy is a set of prescription bottles owned by Elvis. That’s right, the King’s own drug stash is up for sale, courtesy of his personal physician, “Dr. Nick.” The fact that “Dr. Nick” is a trademarked name means that AMA patient privacy ethics have probably not been consulted. Good for collectors, though!

Summer is high season, in fact, for the major auction houses to roll out their most extravagant, fanciful, even ridiculous items to compete with vacations at the beach and cocktail parties on the veranda. Leland’s and Heritage Galleries are offering extensive catalog auctions on their Web sites through June, while Christies New York has their “Pop Culture Auction” exhibition culminating in a bidding event June 23. Bonhams in Los Angeles is featuring “The Peter Golding Collection of Rock & Roll Art” June 14, which includes such fascinations as a Jackson 5 flight case, a Chinese gong owned by John Bonham, an engraved Cartier sterling silver box from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and an unused set of Woodstock concert tickets.

Music memorabilia is inevitably tied in with history, and this column will also detail those exhibitions and events from the many significant music museums and galleries around the country.

While the Country Music Hall Of Fame (Nashville), Rock & Roll Museum (Cleveland) and Experience Music Project (Seattle) may get a lot of attention, it may surprise readers to know about places like the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas, the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday, La., and the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in Honolulu. Where else would you see a tribute to Otis Redding but at the Stax Museum in Memphis? Or see Merle Haggard play with Gene Watson at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame? We’ll be keeping up a calendar and guide to all these important centers of music history. One word: Go!

A personal anecdote is worth relating as fitting conclusion to this column’s debut. We recently received an excited phone call from someone who was going through their late father’s possessions. He discovered among the papers something so incredible he could not believe he was actually holding it in his hands. He knew his father was a knowledgeable collector and music fan, but he was blown away to discover that he now owned the original contract to play the Woodstock festival, signed by all four members of The Who!

Well, of course, this was not going to pay down the man’s mortgage. This was simply just another orphan copy of a reprint originally included in the 1970 album, Live At Leeds. The Woodstock contract was one of several cool pieces of paper slipped into the sleeve of that album, and now they all keep showing up out of context, creating brief dreams of windfalls all over the world. We get a call like this at least once a month.

This proves the power of memorabilia. But it also gives pause to ponder: When is memorabilia not memorabilia? Do all those Who contracts and the Shea stadium poster reprints on eBay constitute memorabilia? If someone creates a “souvenir memento” of a legendary concert of The Byrds, Love and The Doors at The Whisky — that never took place — is it still memorabilia? Yes, there’s a lot to talk about in the coming months. Onwards!

Stephen M.H. Braitman is a music appraiser (, writer, collector and fan.



May 28-Sept. 3: Summer Showcase Concert Series, Buddy Holly Center

June: June 2009 Summer Catalog Sale, Leland’

June 14: Entertainment Memorabilia Auction including The Peter Golding Collection of Rock and Roll Art, Bonham’s & Butterfields

June 19: Merle Haggard with Gene Watson, Alabama Music Hall Of Fame

June 21-28: Rockin’ Hot Summer Auction (Preview June 14), Backstage Auctions

June 23: Pop Culture Auction (Public viewing June 19-22), Christie’s New York

June 24-27: Romp 2009 Music Festival, International Bluegrass Music Museum

June 26-27: Julien’s Auctions Summer Entertainment Sale, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas.

Aug. 6-8: 10th Annual Rockabilly Festival, International Rock-A-Billy Hall Of Fame Museum

Sept. 10: Country Music Auction, Christie’s New York


Opens Aug. 7, through June 2010: Brenda Lee: Dynamite; Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Opens Aug. 15, through Jan. 3, 2010: Spaced Out: The Final Frontier in Album Covers, Experience Music Project

Through June: Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Through Aug. 31: Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis, Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Through Dec. 31: Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Through Dec. 31: Motown: The Sound of Young America Turns 50, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum

Through April 11, 2010: Jimi Hendrix: An Evolution of Sound, Experience Music Project

Through Spring 2010: From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum


NOTE: Many of these museums have wonderful and fascinating permanent exhibits. Please check them out.

Alabama Music Hall
Of Fame
P.O. Box 740405
Tuscumbia, AL 35674

Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Museum
P.O. Box 216
Bristol, TN 37621

Buddy Holly Center
1801 Crickets Avenue
Lubbock, TX 79401

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
222 Fifth Ave. S.
Nashville, TN 37203

Delta Music Museum
218 Louisiana Ave.
Ferriday, LA 71334

Experience Music Project
330 Sixth Ave. N. Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98109

Hawaiian Music Hall Of Fame And Museum
P.O. Box 4717
Honolulu, HI 96812-4717

Auction Houses

NOTE: Most auction houses allow online bidding, and also offer public viewing at their gallery locations.

Backstage Auctions

Bonhams & Butterfields

Christie’s New York

Gotta Have It Collectibles

Heritage Galleries

Julien’s Auctions

by Stephen M.H. Braitman