Collecting KISS: From programs to pinball machines, find out what's hot

Outside of The Beatles, no rock band has marketed itself better than KISS. Today, some of that stuff goes for thousands of dollars. So what should you watch for?
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Outside of The Beatles, no rock band has marketed itself better than KISS.

Over a span of 35 years in music, the Kabuki-painted, proto-metal hell-raisers have stamped their brand on everything from key chains and belt buckles to bedspreads to t-shirts to pinball machines to ... well, as Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions says, “If you could think of it, KISS had it.”

Today, some of that stuff goes for thousands of dollars.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve seen anything from truly the lowest to almost six-figure type items,” says van Gool. “I think what makes KISS so unique for me, from a collector’s point of view, is that almost like what The Beatles were in the ’60s is what KISS became in the ’70s, meaning they almost managed to duplicate the full-range merchandise model that The Beatles had.”

Using that “model,” KISS flooded the marketplace with so-called “store merchandise,” as it is referred to by memorabilia collectors. Some of it sold through the roof, while other items languished on the shelves. It’s those pieces that buyers shunned in the ’70s that command top dollar these days.

“In 1978, about the time of the solo albums, they released a set of key chains, and the images of the four faces resembled the faces of the solo albums,” says van Gool. “If you have a complete set of those four key chains still in the original packaging, you’re probably looking at two to two and a half thousand dollars. The only reason they’re so expensive is that they’re, for some odd reason, just exceptionally rare.

Nobody, apparently, liked them back then, and it’s like anything else. The stuff that people don’t like at the time it’s released is taken off the shelves, and it’s thrown away, and then, of course, that ultimately becomes the most collectible and desirable stuff.”

Some other big-ticket store merchandise collectibles include a set of belt buckles that’s worth $1,000 to $1,500 if it’s still in its original, mint-condition packaging. A KISS bedspread that originally cost $30 could fetch $1,000 if its in the original packaging. And then, there’s the story of the KISS pinball machine.

“That pinball machine was released in 1979 — it was made in 1978 but released in 1979 — by Bally, probably the biggest manufacturer of pinball machines,” relates van Gool. “And even though there’s only one design, there’s two types of pinball machines. There’s arcade machines — ones that were basically manufactured for arcade halls — and then, there were the ones you could buy privately. Well, obviously, the latter category is a lot smaller. People at the time didn’t want to spend that much money — I think they were three or four hundred dollars. Today, if you have a non-arcade Bally pinball machine, in good working condition, you’re probably looking at around $3,000 for the machine.”

In KISS collecting circles, that pinball machine is considered a holy grail for collectors. There are others. When it comes to KISS dolls, a complete set, without any pieces missing — “because the quality wasn’t that great to be honest,” says van Gool — will command about $400. The price goes up if you have all four pieces in their original boxes. If they’re in mint condition, the whole set would be worth about $1,000. Add another $500 to that if you have the whole set of dolls that was