By Chris M. Junior
Robert Croydon's entry into the music collectibles industry occurred in the 1980s, when the then-teenager made a modest profit selling a 12-inch remix of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Relax.”
Ever since, Croydon has shown a propensity not to relax when it comes to buying and selling memorabilia. The same can be said of Julian Thomas, his childhood friend and longtime business partner. They spent several years working day jobs while also pouring time, effort and resources into building their memorabilia business, selling their items in various ways. Since 2007, their primary collectibles venture has been the Web site 991.com, which specializes in rare vinyl, posters and clothing, as well as items once owned by star musicians, such as a cash register that Who drummer Keith Moon had at his home.
Asked to explain the origin of the site’s name, Croydon begins by saying that 99 percent of any record collection is already complete. The remaining 1 percent, he adds, “is a pang for a new experience, one more step in a journey driven by music, and the gap hungering to be filled. So 99 is the collection, and 1 is the gap.”
While Croydon spends his workdays pretty much deskbound at the company’s U.K. headquarters, Thomas is on the move in search of quality product, specifically jazz vinyl collections. Thomas and the other full-time buyers at 991.com (some of whom are based in America, Japan and Mexico) travel around the world to major record shows to track down rarities and purchase entire collections.
In a typical week, Croydon says, 991.com will add around 3,000 new collectibles. New vinyl acquisitions, such as the 15,000 titles purchased from a single owner in early March, are researched, graded, described, pictured and priced before they are offered for sale.
“The Web site is entirely live,” Croydon explains, “so once we hit ‘save’ on our database, then that item is immediately available for purchase on 991.com.”
The site claims to have 500,000 mint-condition pieces. For a while, CDs were the biggest part of its business. But vinyl has been king lately, according to Croydon, who says vinyl sales increased by 15 percent between 2009 and 2010.
“With the advent of the MP3, people want the physical, tangible feel of a proper record again,” he says. “We offer fans the chance to set themselves and their record collection apart, bringing back the individuality and bragging rights that have been lost to people in the age of downloads. Our site is for people who appreciate the pleasure that comes with owning a unique physical object, as well as the convenience of a play list.”
When it comes to confirming the genuineness of such memorabilia as the Moon cash register, Croydon says his company uses its decades of experience and renowned resources, in addition to working closely with sellers, to determine authenticity.
“Pop memorabilia is a growing area for investors wishing to seek an alternative to traditional commodities, so authenticity is paramount to protect that investment,” he adds. “As a bonus, there’s also the regular dividend a collector will enjoy from simply owning cool pieces of pop culture. It’s not always about the money.”
Croydon says that 991.com is expanding into books and art, but the heart of the business will always be buying and selling music items. At the top of his want list are record collections containing such artists as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Queen, Madonna and U2.