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Left: Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ jacket. Far left: George Harrison’s Gibson SG


according to the subject, the personal nature of the item, and of course, its physical quality. Fraser’s is currently offering a signed photo of The Beatles taken during the filming of Help! for a neat £19,500. It’s also important to understand what is


meant by autographs. “We’re talking about anything that’s handwritten, from signatures to lyrics,” says Polyniak. So, for instance, Fraser’s is happy to sell a drawing of the back of Jeff Beck’s head by British guitarist Ronnie Wood because, although unsigned, it’s a unique hand- drawn item with a link to two rock legends.


Iconic items As with any investment, a number of variables come into play when deciding a piece’s current value and likely future value. Polyniak points out that the medium is crucial to valuing autographs. “On a piece of paper, an autograph would fetch less than on an album or contract,” she points out. But it is the elusive ‘personal nature’ of an item that really makes the difference. “Something that is totally associated


with a person gets the highest prices,” says Neil Roberts, Director of the Popular Culture Department at Christie’s in London. “Handwritten lyrics, for instance – and the reason for this is simple: people are trying to buy a moment in time.” Such personally identifiable items are iconic


and a big draw for collectors and investors. “We sold Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ jacket for


$1.8 million, which is a world record for a jacket and only three [music memorabilia] items have sold for more than that,” says Darren Julien, President and CEO of Beverly Hills-based Julien’s Auctions. Sold last year, the jacket far exceeded valuations, and topped a sale that included items from Madonna, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, yet not unsurprisingly,


death plays a role in the investment prospects of memorabilia. “When Michael Jackson was alive, I sold his glove for $30,000,” says Julien. “When he died, it sold for $420,000.” But fear not: death isn’t the only way to a good return. Julien has no hesitation in listing Madonna as a living legend who is worth investing in. “Look at Madonna: she’s only going to increase in value,” he says. When push comes to shove, Roberts


points out that provenance is key. With over 15 years’ experience in the area, he’s been around long enough to see items come back onto the market and he’s encouraging sellers to write a letter explaining the history of the item they’re


selling. The point being that over time, provenance becomes harder to verify if an item has to stand alone, and once the story is written, the item’s links with the artist are set in stone as an integral part of the value.


Burden of proof So, can an investor step into the memorabilia market and start making money? Some certainly think so, and believe they’ve already had an effect. “What’s really made this market grow are the investors. We sold George Harrison’s Gibson SG for $560,000 10 years ago, but today I could easily get over a million,” says Julien. At Christie’s, Roberts acknowledges that


music memorabilia is a worldwide market, however it will come as no surprise that the US is the biggest source of business, even if Americans “don’t drive the market”. Polyniak has also seen a shift from the US


to a more global marketplace. “Rock and pop used to be a primarily American thing but now we do find there is increasing interest in Asia,


For anyone tempted to take the online route, you need to look carefully at the documentation being published to prove the item’s origins


February/March 2012 businesslife.co 51





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