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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2004/07/31
by Mike Gruenberg

Auctions

In 1966, a guy is walking down a street in Brooklyn and sees a poster stapled to a telephone pole. The poster is advertising the Sid Bernstein promoted event at Shea Stadium featuring the Beatles. The "All Star Show" as it is billed will be held on August 23rd at 7:30PM. At this point, the guy decides to carefully take down the poster and save it for posterity or for whatever reason came to his mind at the time. Having lived at that time, I can recollect that there were not many of these particular posters hung on a large number telephone poles. The Beatles were at the height of their popularity and although Sid Bernstein must have been a bit nervous at first at the prospect of trying to sell out Shea Stadium, his fears must have been somewhat calmed seeing the constant success of the group. After all, the group continued to churn out hit after hit after hit. Nevertheless, a certain amount of posters were produced to further publicize the event in the hopes of turning a profit.
I vaguely recollect seeing these posters at the time, but quite frankly the last thing on my mind would have been to remove one or two for my Beatles memorabilia collection. Come to think of it, at the time I didn’t know the term "memorabilia." Anyway, this guy removes the poster and keeps it until last month where it appeared as an item on an on-line auction. Thirty-eight years after the poster was removed, it was sold for over $70,000. to a collector from New England! I am astounded by the price that this poster was able to get.
At this same auction, a Janis Joplin at Madison Square Garden in 1969 poster fetched over $17,000. Posters seem to be the new "collectible du jour." Of course, at the time of the Beatles, Joplin, Hendrix, no one could foresee or even understand the enormity of prices that these items could bring on the open market many years later. If we all understood the financial rewards of neatly removing posters from telephone poles and selling them many years later, there would have been few if any posters left to see. Today, I can see young, over zealous collectors removing Nine Inch Nails and Phish posters for sale when they reach middle age hoping for a windfall financial profit.
Clearly, the memorabilia being sold at auctions has hit new heights. E-bay continues to be one of the most popular and profitable sites on the internet. It seems that as we all get older, we yearn for some type of remembrance of our past. Today I had lunch with a college friend of mine who I had not seen in thirty-eight years. While we were reminiscing, three ladies sat down next to us. They were busily planning their High School renunion from the class of 1957 of Lakewood, New Jersey. With yearbook in hand, they spoke of their classmates with great empathy. My cousin who has lived in California for over 40 years is still in touch with her High School friends from Buffalo, New York. What draws us to our past as we get older?
One of the reasons the memorabilia market is so strong is that we all have a strong urge to hold on to our past. I certainly would not want to relive my High School experiences, but now as an adult, they don’t seem that bad. Furthermore, as we get older, we have more disposable money to spend on items we deem valuable. Hence, a burgeoning enterprise that is growing in leaps and bounds. Whether its collecting signed baseballs, movie posters or 45’s, we take great pride in our collections because they represent a time gone by that to us, has aged gracefully. We still remember the awkward teenage years, but somehow they become more tolerable with the introduction of 10, 20 or 30 years of distance. In some cases, we find that we have grossly exaggerated the extent of difficulty we thought we had. As we look back in time or have others relate to us what they saw through their eyes, we find that the senses are dulled and the bad stuff wasn’t that bad.
I am a firm believer in the entrepreneurial spirit. I am in awe of people who can create something out of nothing. These auctions are a great testament to the capitalistic system that financially rewards those who have come to market with a service that we are willing to pay for. I applaud these people and kick myself for not removing more Beatles posters when I had the chance.

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