The music memorabilia world is massive and comparable to its sports equivalent. The recent sale of Kurt Cobain’s guitar for $4.5 million in May 2022 was a reminder of the fantastic potential of this market.
While not everyone is a sports fan, most of humanity adores music. Therefore, the potential reach of music memorabilia is practically limitless. But how should you get started? Here is a complete guide to music collectibles.
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Intro to music collectibles and memorabilia
Sports collecting has an intense center in the card industry. But, of course, it has the big companies like Panini and Topps that tend to dominate the scene. However, there are many other forms of collectibles. Notably, jerseys, autographs, and balls have an essential role to play.
Meanwhile, the music collectible industry is less centralized. The closest things to cards in stature are L.P.s.
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There has been an explosion in the availability of vinyl in recent years. Much like our hobby, vinyl took a huge step forward during the pandemic. The reasons are familiar. People were bored and started going through their old collections or their parent’s stash. They had money to burn from the stimulus package and time to fill.
Either way, in 2021, L.P.s outsold C.D.s for the first time in eons. Leading the pack were albums like Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) and Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. They have each shifted hundreds of thousands of units.
Many people buy L.P.s to enjoy the warmer musical sound and aesthetic. But the ones who look at it as a collection tend to value the history behind these items.
Guide to music collectibles: The top sales of music collectibles
As you will see, the high-ticket music memorabilia items fetch excellent prices. But, they do not go for as much as the absolute top baseball cards. For example, the Honus Wagner T206 went for over $7,000,000.
When you look at these music items, the difference is even starker. A guitar or fancy car would appear to have more excellent intrinsic value than a piece of cardboard. So, baseball cards remain supreme at the top of the memorabilia chain. But they have tough competition from their musical equivalents.
1) The David Gilmour Guitar Collection – $21,490,750
We have to give Pink Floyd legend David Gilmour a ton of credit for auctioning off his ridiculous collection of guitars for charity. The sale included 126 guitars on which David wrote and played some of his most memorable songs and was included in the most prominent guitar auction in history.
The most valuable single item here was the legendary “Black Strat,” which Gilmour used to record Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. It sold for an incredible $3,975,0000. We get it; who wouldn’t want the guitar on which that heavenly “Comfortably Numb” solo was plucked?
2) The Kurt Cobain Unplugged Guitar – $6,500,000
Kurt Cobain was the most prominent icon of Generation X. The passion that the age group feels for Nirvana and its lead singer is apparent in the value of the related memorabilia. For example, in 1993, Nirvana played the MTV Unplugged show five months before tragically committing suicide.
The MTV Unplugged in New York album, a full live album release of the session, went eight times platinum. It was the soundtrack of a specific time and place when a generation rebelled against conformity.
The guitar he used in that session was an immaculate 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic. A work of art in and of itself. As a result, it currently stands as one of the most valuable pieces of music memorabilia ever sold.
3) The Kurt Cobain Fender Mustang from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – $4,500,000
Most music videos are pretty unremarkable. They feature some dancing girls, lights that can cause an epileptic fit, and artists posing for the camera. But the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was culturally defining.
The band played in a high school gym set. The cheerleaders and bleachers mocked mainstream American culture while Kurt stood juxtaposed with his greasy hair and unassuming clothing. His riffs seemed to defy decades of conservative values. And they emanated from his trademark 1969 Fender Mustang, colored Lake Placid Blue.
Kurt loved that iconic guitar and said, “Out of all the guitars in the world, the Fender Mustang is my favorite.” The massive sale went through Julien’s auctions. As a side note, the item was initially estimated as worth $600,000. That shows how often the value of these musical artifacts is underestimated.
4) John Lennon’s Rolls Royce Phantom V (1965) – $2,899,000
For a hippie against materialism, John Lennon sure got around in style. His car went up for auction in 1985, less than 5 years after his ruthless murder in front of the Dakota building in New York.
The John Lennon Rolls Royce is quite a sight. The car was made with a black exterior, but this was the 60s, and John had it painted in psychedelic colors by artists Steve Weaver. The rear seat of the car was converted into a double bed.
It also included a T.V., phone, and a refrigerator installed within. It is fair to say Lennon loved his music, so he had a (then) state-of-the-art Philips Auto-Mignon AG2101 floating record player with an impressive speaker setup.
At the time, the fabulous car sold for less than three million. However, it was recently appraised for twice that, and honestly, I believe that is a very conservative estimate.
5) Jimi Hendrix’s Burned Fender Stratocaster from Monterey Pop – $312,500
The greatest guitar player who ever lived, Jimi Hendrix, was an American guy from Seattle. However, he made his name in the U.K. However, during the 1967 so-called “Summer of Love,” Jimi entered the American market with a historic appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival.
Therefore, the guitar he played there is an important historical artifact. But Hendrix famously set fire to the instrument at the end of the set. The image of Hendrix on his news, spraying lighter fluid on the burning Strat, is probably the most iconic picture of the guitarist.
The guitar sold for a healthy price. But it may have sold for more if not for persistent rumors that the real Monterey Pop guitar was given to Frank Zappa and is currently owned by his son Dweezil.
Guide to music collectibles: Classic LPs
There are countless formats for listening to music. Just in my lifetime, we went from records to cassettes to C.D.s and MP3s and streaming. However, nothing matches the mystique of the record.
Records reflect the golden periods of music; whether you are into rock’n’roll, jazz, soul, or rap, records played a massive role in their development. In addition, records are far more attractive than their smaller latter-day equivalents.
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They are the right size and allow for fold-outs and other pioneering design elements. Furthermore, research has shown they have a significant audio advantage over most other media types.
As Andrew Rossiter of Org Music Put it, “A big part of it is… owning something, collecting something physical. With vinyl, you can often open it up—whether it’s a gatefold package or an insert, you can read the liner notes, and you’re not squinting, like you would be at a tiny CD package.” In other words, people want to own them because it’s a part of the culture and their identity.
And, of course, there is the element of rarity. Classic records are older and often have very limited pressings. Therefore, they can accrue a significant amount of value.
Where to get vintage vinyl
While sports cards have become increasingly corporate and frat boyish in orientation, vinyl has retained a touchingly underground feel. Most urban neighborhoods have record shops nowadays. While the monsters of the industry, your Tower Records and Virgin Megastores, have disappeared, the local record store has made a massive comeback.
Going to an excellent local record store is always an experience. If you go through the bins, you will find incredible deals. If you are a music nerd, you may also make new friends while you are there. But, of course, part of the experience is also paying attention to what the store clerks are playing in the background 9 times out of 10; it will be a deep-cut gem worth knowing.
Buying vintage records online
Of course, eBay and other online retailers also have a very active vintage record scene. The biggest seller on eBay, in any category, is MusicMagpie. They have feedback on over 16 million discreet item sales.
But the real vinyl heads don’t go to eBay or Amazon. Instead, the most popular marketplace is Discogs. The website did not start as a marketplace when it went online in 2000. Instead, it was a collection of info on the releases of recording artists. The website prided itself on providing the best discographies available: hence the name.
It builds on a Wikipedia-style model. With over 602,000 users updating discographies and entries. I joined the community while researching this story. And I found the people online here can answer literally any question you might have on the artists and collecting.
However, over time they used that info as the basis for a marketplace appealing to music connoisseurs. In 2021, Discogs sold over 17.8 million pieces of music in various formats, 74% of which were vinyl.
As the company describes itself:
“Discogs began with a mission to document the history of recorded music in a user-generated database. This continually growing wealth of data now serves as the vital foundation of all Discogs services. Through knowledge-sharing and an open marketplace, the Database connects a global community of people seeking an elevated relationship with music.”
Guide to music collectibles: Which records to buy
Records come in various sizes and play at different speeds. Therefore, it is imperative to do your homework before investing.
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Here is a quick but non-exhaustive guide:
Guide to record sizes
The most common type of record is the 12″ L.P. If you get a random record at the store, it will probably be that. But when you start buying older items, there are other options. Many of the most expensive and rare items are in different formats.
12-Inch L.P. records
The standard for albums (L.P. stands for a long player) can hold 45 minutes of music. Most new albums only come out in this format.
These singles look and play like albums. However, they contain fewer songs. Since they can fit more songs than just a straight A-side and B-side, they often contain rare extra material. Therefore, this format has some incredible gems.
A widespread size in the 1960s and 1950s. Most record players do not play them unaided. However, a simple add-on can be placed on standard players allowing them to be used smoothly.
The most common type of records from the early 20th Century. This format can find some of the best vintage blues and classical music. Unfortunately, most record players do not play these. You may have to get a specialty player that accommodates this size comfortably.
Guide to record speeds
When you play an analog record, it spins on the turntable at a predictable and steady speed. The rotation speed suitable for different records can vary. The numbers listed here refer to the number of spins a record will make in a minute.
There are five speeds available. 16 2/3 and 80 RPM are out there but are relatively uncommon. Here are the three big ones:
33 1/3 RPM records
The most common speed. It is the slowest, allowing companies to put more songs on each record. With the long albums artists release today, you can see why this is the default for new releases.
45 RPM records
Classic singles tend to come in 45 formats. Therefore, you will often hear older collectors refer affectionately to their collections of 45s. Don’t worry; it’s not guns. Record players are built to accommodate these classics, so no worries there.
The most important thing to know is that the A-side of a 45 was the song that was expected to be a hit. Meanwhile, the B-side was often a throw-off or less mainstream song for the fans. As a result, many collectors are obsessed with B-sides, which often are oddball gems.
78 RPM records
These are the really old-school records. They are thick and have that old-world charm. These records are made from resin secreted by female lac bugs on trees in Thailand. You will need a special needle to play with these babies, but they are not hard to come by.
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How to spot forged classic records
As any sports card collector knows, the more expensive the item, the more likely it is to be a forgery. That logic holds for records as well. The great thing about records is they are often readily available and easy to obtain. Therefore, you can constantly compare a verified original to a suspected forgery. That is always a massive advantage in spotting a fake.
Here are some tips:
An original cover does not equal an unblemished record. Especially if the record itself is very valuable, you may find a forged record slipped inside.The text on the record. One of the telltale signs is the definition of the writing, which is usually much better on the original. In addition, original records are embossed. In other words, there is a slight depression in the record to accommodate the text. Most forgeries just have the letters laying on top of the vinyl.The part between the playable section of the record and the major label is called the “dead wax.” Forgers have a difficult time getting it to the exact correct size. So measuring the dead wax on the original and comparing it is always a good idea.Forgeries are often thicker than originals. The older and more valuable records will often seem fragile when you hold them. On the other hand, if they feel solid, it may well be a forgery.
The most expensive records ever sold
Though the rarest records are worth quite a bit, they don’t reach the levels of the most sought-after sports cards. Nonetheless, interest in music is almost universal, and the popularity of records has been increasing steadily for years.
Here are the most valuable known sales of records:
1) Wu-Tang Clan – Once Upon A Time in Shaolin – $2,000,000
The Wu-Tang Clan are hip-hop legends and have blazed their trail in the business. However, one of their most exciting innovations was their decision to limit pressing for their seventh album release. Indeed, they limited it to one pressing.
Although the release was a statement, the band felt that music and its value had been cheapened by the streaming services and therefore wanted to release this album as singular concept art.
We know from the hobby that scarcity creates more significant value. And this album was a 1/1. It also helped that it was issued in a silver jewel-encrusted box with an exclusive wax seal. In 2015, that one copy was bought by legendary pharma bro Martin Shkreli. After he was convicted of securities fraud, the album was auctioned off by the Feds for an unknown price.
With that back story, the album is probably worth a good deal more now than when Wu-Tang sold it off.
2) The Beatles – White Album (Unofficial Name) – $790,000
The Beatles’ self-titled album is one of the best-known and most iconic rock releases of all time. But since everyone and their cousin has a copy, why is it worth so much? Every record of the White Album was stamped with a serial number.
The first pressing ever marked 0000001 and was reserved for one Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr. So, clearly, this is a great collector’s item. The record was purchased at Julien’s auction in the U.S. for $790,000 in December 2015.
3) Elvis Presley – My Happiness – $300,000
In 1953, an 18-year-old Elvis Presely recorded the single “My Happiness” at the iconic Sun Records studio in Memphis. He was an unknown at the time and had to pay to get a pressing of the album to play for his friends.
So, Elvis paid $4 for it and took it to the home of his buddy Ed Leek to listen to it. After all, his family didn’t have a record player. But the budding star left it at his friends’ house, who held it ever since.
The copy is beyond historic. Therefore, at $300,000, it is a pretty good price. It should be worth a good deal more in the future. The recent Elvis movie also couldn’t have hurt the value.
4) The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club – $290,000
First pressings of the best-known album in rock history are always quite valuable. But this specific item is signed by all four members of the Beatles. Getting all four of these guys to sign anything was almost impossible.
The reason this incredible item exists is personal. Mal Evans, the Beatles’ road manager, decided to surprise his childhood friend David with the album for his birthday. Only someone with that much pull over the band could have gotten it done.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy – $150,000
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated by Mark David Chapman. It was an unexpected tragedy. The record in question was the last Lennon recorded. More importantly, from the perspective of sale value, it was also the last one he ever signed.
Guide to music collectibles: Concert ticket stubs
We have previously discussed the trend of sports ticket collection. There is a similar amount of interest in music concert tickets.
One of the essential elements to remember regarding tickets is the difference between a stub and a full-sized ticket. So the unused ticket is usually the holy grail. They are treasured for significant historical events. But that cannot be easy to obtain. After all, how do you get unused tickets for a sold-out event?
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However, some tickets do remain unused. One event beloved by ticket hunters is Woodstock. You know, the original peace and love one. Not the 1999 trainwreck that Netflix recently covered in a documentary. Many people didn’t make it onto the site. The roads were not set up to deal with that many people, and many cars just turned back and took their unused tickets with them.
Fakes have begun to creep into the industry as these souvenirs have become more valuable.
General guidelines for ticket value
Every event and band is different. However, there are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when determining the value of a ticket:
Older is better. There are some exceptions, like Nirvana or Amy Winehouse. But generally, you will do better with Cream tickets than Smashing Pumpkins.Original lineups are better. Once the original lineup of a band is gone, the tickets usually decrease considerably in volume. So, tickets for The Who will go down if they are for dates after Keith Moon passed away.Iconic concerts are better. Significant events with a global reputation and multiple ats often fetch the highest prices. We already mentioned Woodstock; other examples may include Band-Aid or the Moscow Music Peace Festival.Tragic concerts have a high value. For example, a concertgoer was tragically murdered in the Rolling Stones show at Altmont, making the concert quite infamous and exciting. Therefore, the last concert of a deceased musician, especially if they died tragically, can have substantial value.
Guide to music collectibles: Buying concert posters
Back in the 60s and 70s, concert posters were some of the most beautiful art available. And unlike the modern art on museum walls, these creations were part of popular culture. The posters hung on venue billboards or were plastered onto city walls. Therefore, these artifacts mark a time and a place beautifully and memorably.
In the 1990s, a classic rock retro movement emerged and brought these beauties back into consciousness. As a result, many reproductions of landmark Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin posters were reprinted and found a place in college dorms throughout the world.
While they have lost some cultural importance over the years, concert posters remain beautiful and culturally relevant.
Collecting concert posters
Concert posters are not trading cards. The market and purpose are different. Many fans are delighted to hang a well-made reprint on their walls. I have a Yardbirds at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium poster hanging in my apartment, and I don’t care that it is a reprint. But if my signed Sandy Koufax card next to it was fake, I would be inconsolable.
So, if you want to get into the wild and exciting world of concert posters: think about why you are doing it. Do you want a beautiful piece of pop art on your wall? A souvenir of a show you went to? Or are you looking to maximize value?
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Original concert posters
If you want a poster that will appreciate in value, you will want an original. That means an item printed before the show in question with the intent to promote it. Therefore, the printing is usually quite limited, and in most cases, the posters are thrown out unceremoniously. Others remained on walls until plastered over, scraped off, or utterly destroyed by the elements.
Therefore, hunting out that specific poster can be a formidable challenge. But of course, it also makes those elusive victories even sweeter.
Contemporary concert posters are a different story. If you want a poster from a recent Beyonce tour, chances are that the promoters and venues kept some for that purpose. Therefore, they will not be particularly scarce.
How to sport concert poster forgeries
Like any collectible, the greater the rarity involved, the larger the chances of forgery. So, if you find that rare poster in good condition: it may be too good to be true. Spotting fake posters is a bit different from doing cards. The big cards are very well known and iconic. Many of these concert posters are obscure, so forgers take more liberties.
Here are some tips:
Some forgers don’t do their homework. So make sure the details on the poster check out. Were the Doors on tour in Ohio in March 1968? Who opened for them? It’s not that hard to find out. Do the homework.Check if the poster includes photos that are from later dates.Notice if the poster is too colorful. Many of these older posters are pretty drab and sometimes even unattractive. Not much thought was given to the design of, say, a The Who poster because, in their prime, they sold out the venue just on word of mouth. Rainbow paper is a well-known sign of forgery.Authentic posters hardly ever list the year. Why would they? The concert is obviously for this June 7 and not next year.
Guide to music trading cards
Cardlines is a trading card website, and we would be remiss if we didn’t pay some attention to the many music trading cards inspired by the world of music. The range of releases is incredibly wide. Stretching from those featuring The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to New Kids on the Block and everything in between.
Overall, rock music artist trading cards has never fully caught on. There are no major annual releases of the biggest acts in music. Attempts to create a series like that have failed. Most notably, the ProSet Music Stars MusicCards series ran in the early ’90s.
Instead, what we mostly have are one-off sets aimed at fans. Usually, they are quickly forgotten. But now and then, one creates a niche for itself.
1956 Elvis Presley
Topps issued this set under their Bubbles Inc. subsidiary company. The cards have that hand-drawn style of the classic Topps baseball sets. Though not given the same amount of cards as the 1953 Topps baseball set, they are stunning. However, the prices they fetch are underwhelming.
1956 Elvis Presley cards available on eBay
1959 Nu Card Rock And Roll
A classy black and white series featuring the greatest legends of the era. It includes Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Check Berry, and my personal favorite, Sam Cooke. You can get a complete set of these for around $2,000.
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The Beatles 1964 sets
At the height of Beatlemania, American card companies tried to cash in by releasing fab four cards. It would have been shocking if they hadn’t. The cards are a slice of a historical period and crucial historical phenomenon.
The 1964 Topps Black and White release are particularly classy and memorable. It had three different series, including 165 cards overall. But despite its age and significance, cards in the set do not sell for much.
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Classic rock Panini sticker sets
In the early 1970s, Panini became a sticker giant by leaning in hard on World Cup stickers. In the same period, the Italian company also pursued the rock market. They released some fantastic sets in 1973-74 of the hottest acts of the time, including Led Zeppelin and The Who.
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Final thoughts on music collectibles
The music collectible industry has incredible breadth. It spans a wide array of items and involves vast sums of money. It is one of the few human endeavors that can match, or even overtake, sports in terms of its significance for fans.
However, unlike the sports card industry, there aren’t many new records or cards fetching large sums. Big money remains in the most recognizable and classic acts, like the Beatles and Elvis. There is no equivalent to the massive new cards coming into the hobby in recent years.
That means people do not go into music memorabilia to flip and invest. It is a very different sort of community and approach. Like some older school set collectors, music memorabilia types tend to collect what they enjoy for personal use.