When most rock fans talk about their collections, they mean their record collections. But when some fans brag about their collections, don’t be surprised if they pull out a boxload of everything from pins, pennants, and posters of their favorite rockers, to boxing gloves and transistor radios! In fact, for many music fans, collecting rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia is more than a hobby — it’s a full-time occupation!
Owning a piece of the rocker
Collecting rock souvenirs isn’t new. Way back in 1957, when Elvis Presley was rocking his fans with his song “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” his loyal followers could buy and rock an Elvis Presley teddy bear in their arms. Owning something — anything — with Elvis’s name or picture on it was the one way that millions of his fans could feel as if they were owning a little bit of their idol.
Later, in the ’60s, Beatles-related souvenirs were sold everywhere. The fans loved the Beatles and wanted to show the world how they felt about the group. What better way than to wear Beatles buttons, wave Beatles pennants, and decorate books, clothes, and rooms with Beatles patches, decals, and posters? But what started out to be a simple souvenir business has become a multi-million dollar industry supported by fans and serious collectors everywhere!
Rock buttons, T-shirts, decals, and posters are readily available to anyone who wants to buy them. All of these things make money for the group or individual whose picture or name appears on them. For example, every time a Kiss poster is sold, the members of Kiss get a percentage of the price paid. Many collectors start with such store-bought items as posters and add to their collections with souvenirs bought at rock concerts.
But many of the souvenirs that collectors look for at rock memorabilia conventions are what the record business calls promotional items. Millions of dollars are spent creating attention-getting items to be mailed out to every radio disc jockey and rock reviewer in the country!
Press agents for new rock groups want to make a lasting impression on those key people who might be able to add to the fame and fortune of the groups. Belt buckles, notepads, bumper stickers, stencils, doorknob signs, pennants, and over-sized posters are just some of the things included in press kits given out only to reviewers and disc jockeys. The items are not sold in stores anywhere. That fact is what makes them valuable to collectors.
Some rock groups have done some pretty weird things in the way of attention-grabbing promotional items. Water pistols and beach balls were sent out by a group called Get Wet. Cheap Trick sent karate belts out. Gentle Giant thought masks would make them stick in the minds of rock writers. And Kiss sent transistor radios with their picture all over them!
Several years ago, when record companies had more money to spend, they sent out picture discs. A picture disc has a picture of a group or the album cover art actually printed on the record. While they don’t sound anywhere near as good as a normal record, some picture discs were snapped up by collectors. A rare Bruce Springsteen picture disc has sold for as much as $250! Most fans just collect these items for fun, but others do it for profit. Most of the Beatles-related items such as key chains, lunchboxes, notepads, and toy guitars sold for a few dollars during the ’60s.
Today, collectors will pay ten times the original price if the article is very rare, in good shape, and is not a copy or fake. Most of the current crop of collectibles sell for less than a dollar or two. There are people who think most of these music mementos ought to fill a garbage can instead of an already crowded closet. But serious rock collectors know that today’s trash could turn out to be tomorrow’s treasure! — Chip Lovitt