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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2002/10/23
by Mike Gruenberg


As we suffer through these uncertain economic times, we hear many "experts" give us their advice as to how to weather the storm. Some say that the answer is to sell your stocks and buy more bonds. Even though a bond’s rate of return is low, it’s still better than watching the stock market go through its daily tumble. Others say that the best tactic is to buy as much real estate as possible. While others say that we must be conservative and hold on to the current cash we have on hand. Since I am not an economist or a shrewd investor, I need to find other ways to beat the recession.
Music fans are a wonderful group of people. They listen to the music of their favorite artists on a wide variety of media. They buy books and magazines that profile their musical heroes. They attend conventions and meetings where those musicians are revered and honored.
Many years ago, I attended my first Beatlefest convention. This event was organized to pay tribute to the Fab Four. I attended with my daughter who was actually the person that alerted me to this yearly event. Since that first meeting in New Jersey, I have attended other Beatlefest meetings in Chicago and Los Angeles. At Beatlefest, you could be watching Beatle movies, listen to bands, buy photographs, records, CD’s, clothing and yes, memorabilia.
My first memorabilia purchase was an autograph by Paul McCartney, neatly framed that commemorated his Flowers in the Dirt tour. The album cover was also included and all the members of the band signed it. Finally, there was a picture of Linda McCartney and she too signed her name on her picture. All of this came with a certificate of authenticity from the vendor signifying that these were not forged signatures. The price was reasonable and I was quite pleased with my purchase. I brought it home and placed on the wall in my den. My reason for buying this picture was that it looked good and it was something that at one time or other passed by Paul, Linda and the band. At the time of purchase no thought was given as to what the value of this picture would be in the future.
I began to collect more Beatles memorabilia. I now have their autographs, gold records, vinyl records, photographs, wall clocks, etc. I have enjoyed finding and collecting these items from literally all over the world. It’s been great fun and I have met some great people in my searching. I continue to try and find the rare item from those days when the lads were making musical history.

Somewhere between the time I bought the McCartney autograph to today, the memorabilia market has changed. Auction houses that previously made their living by auctioning rare art and antiques are now in the music memory business. Conservative auction houses like Sotheby’s are presenting rock’n‘roll memorabilia at incredibly high prices. You can bid on such items as the entire Kiss Farewell Tour Outfits or try to buy a guitar once owned by Jimi Hendrix. The first guitar owned by Elvis was recently put up for bid. You can even buy the 1948 Packard once owned by Hank Williams or own John Lennon’s white piano. That’s the piano, on which he played and composed "Imagine." All of this is for sale to the highest bidder.
A Beatles album, signed by all four members of the group was recently sold for over $30,000. Not bad, but topping that was the sale of two guitars that were custom made for Jerry Garcia. "Wolf" and "Tiger" were the names assigned to these guitars and they sold at auction for more than $700,000 each!
One has to ask oneself, "who has the money for these types of purchases?" The answer my friend is not written in the wind, but the answer is called the baby boomers that have disposable income. While many of these auctions have representatives from such organizations as the Hard Rock Cafho make many of these types of purchases, the audience is mostly comprised of people of my age who are trying to remember their heroes and at the same time, have fun and make a smart investment.
Unfortunately, the attention given to the value of memorabilia has taken a lot of the joy out of the searching experience. It used to be fun to try and find these items, but now the process involves a click of the computer keyboard or an entry fee to sit in the audience of an auction house. With the saturation of e-bay, auction houses and memorabilia dealers, items from our musical heroes are now in short supply, which means the prices are going up. This is good news for the people who own memorabilia and can afford to buy more, but bad news to the people who simply cannot afford to buy at these inflated prices. For me, the bottom line is that I have a nice memorabilia collection. I am told that in these uncertain economic times, the value of these items would be high if I chose to sell them. The problem is that I never have, nor doubt if I ever will sell any of the memorabilia I have collected. Recession, inflation, market fluctuation will come and go, but my Beatle stuff will always remain with me. My advice is to collect the memorabilia you like and enjoy the process. One should collect for the enjoyment and not the perceived future value. Collect in spite of the stock market and the economy.

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