Ever wondered if you’ve got a punk rarity that’s worth a motsa, gathering dust in a box in your loft? Wanna know what punk memorabilia is worth collecting and what isn’t? Punktuation’s Molly Tie delves into the rich world of punk collectables.
Being a collector can be quite a commitment- there are collectors of literally everything you could think of. Airsickness bags? Dutchman, Niek Vermeulen has over 6 thousand of the beauties. Those stickers you get on bananas? Brit Christopher Crawcour has more than 30,000. One guy even collects his belly button fluff (I’m not making this up) and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for… that’s right…largest collection of navel lint. Probably not a crowded pitch, to be fair.
But the sensible among us may eschew bodily gunk and bags designed to hold vomit and have gone for something cooler, more varied and possibly, a little bit more competitive- punk paraphernalia!
The thing about punk is there’s a lot of stuff you could get. 7-inch records with different covers, ‘zines, photos, books, rare recordings, posters, gig flyers, badges, clothes….the lot. Ironically what was pretty affordable in accordance with the true punk spirit back then can go for a pretty penny now.
Not everything with a punk aesthetic is worth anything- I mean, you can buy Ramones pyjamas in Primark now- and some faux-ransom lettering does not an antiquity make. So, with any collection, what makes something worth money?
According to Featonby’s Auction House in the Northeast of England, there are a few general things to bear in mind when assessing if something is going to hold a significant value and explain why certain things fetch more money than others.
First of all, is that rare Skids vinyl you’ve got actually a collectable or an antique? Well, as a rule of thumb, something has to be over 100 years old to be classed as an antique, so punk items now are not quite there, but in 50 years or so, all your punk stuff may well fit into that category! As may you!
As a rule of thumb, the more sought after an item is, the more it will cost (obvs). So, if you are the ONLY person interested in, say, a rare EP of some obscure punk outfit called Billy and the Bogfarts, you may be able to get your desired items for a reasonable price. But, throw in some other avid collectors all searching for the same thing, and the price goes up.
Certain societal/cultural trends can influence the price as well. For example, if a musician passes away, it may be that their items become more expensive. If there is a resurgence of interest in a particular period of musical history or genre, this may inflate the price.
And of course, rarity is a factor- that’s why those Ramones PJs aren’t likely to be worth much, but a gig poster for an infamous gig or a release that only had a limited run are going to command the big bucks.
I know what you’re thinking… ‘It’s not all about money.’ Many (most?) punk paraphernalia collectors are not amassing their beloved items with a view to how much it is all going to be worth in monetary terms because it is worth so much more as an expression of love for the genre, for the bands, for the memories and community.
The cultural significance of all these punk bits and pieces floating around in lofts, garages and spare rooms was recognised in 2016 when the Museum of London held an exhibition about punk- the story of the movement told through the artefacts and knick-knacks that individual people donated.
The organisers held a ‘show and tell’ event whereby members of the public were invited to bring along the pieces that they felt embodied their punk experience. A select few were chosen for the final exhibition. The final objet-d’punk included scrapbooks of gig tickets from the 100 Club and Marquee; an original bondage shirt from Seditionaries (formerly called SEX, the boutique on King’s Road run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood); handmade badges and personally designed cassette tape covers of famous punk albums. Whilst the collection of handmade badges may not have made a splash at Christie’s Auction House, there is no doubt it is a cool, unique and totally vital part of the punk experience.
If you are going to start investing in some pieces for your own collection, at the very least, you don’t want to pay above the odds. As with anything, there are some rather unscrupulous people around who may try and tell you that a poster from The Ramones gig at The Roundhouse is worth a bajillion dollars, so if you are splashing the cash, make sure it’s a fair price.
According to Record Collector magazine, prices for punk memorabilia have been rising over the years. The interest from galleries and museums in original punk items has added to the overall desirability of vinyl, clothes, books etc.
Legendary auction house Sotheby’s New York held a sale in 2014 entitled ‘From Presley to Punk’ which saw some items fetch an impressive amount. It might not be a surprise to see that in that particular auction, items related to The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and to Elvis Presley himself fetched some eye-watering totals- a guitar strap worn by Hendrix at the Newport 69 Festival was sold for $15,000.
Amongst the classic rock god bric-a-brac were some punk gems that went for prices that demonstrate punk has found its way onto the radar of serious pop culture collectors:
*12 copies of ‘Punk’ magazine, signed my ‘Legs’ McNeil went for $3,125
*“God Save the Queen” A&M single with promotional items went for $25,000
*Autograph manuscript of the first verse of Dreaming, signed by Debbie Harry. C. 1980. sold for $3,750
Not everything sold; a Crass stencilled and signed drumhead remained unsold at the conclusion of the auction, despite an estimated price of $15-20,000.
Of course, we can assume that Sotheby’s are able to perform due diligence when checking the authenticity and provenance of their items- the average person sifting about online or in car boot sales will have to rely on their own research and judgement to ensure they are getting the real deal.
Cautionary tales aside, what kind of items are available to buy?
Posters and gig flyers are popular pieces of punk history and can command high prices. Sex Pistols tour posters (the earliest known ones dating back to 1975) can be very rare indeed, and one poster for their show at a Christmas Party in 1975 in London could be worth around £5,000.
Posters for The Clash White Riot Tour or for some of the early US punk bands who came to the UK to tour in the mid-1970s can fetch anywhere between £300 and £3000. Condition is obviously a factor in the price, as is the rarity, but as there are many fakes out there- if you are searching for the genuine article, you may need to get some advice from an expert, so you don’t end up forking out for a widely available reproduction. Flyers and handbills may cost less to buy outright, but they are also a lot easier to fake, so beware.
As we saw above with the sale of the ‘Punk’ ‘zines lot at Sotheby’s, there is also a market out there for authentic ‘zines from the punk era. Not all original copies are worth a lot of money (although they will undoubtedly be very cool), but certain titles will invoke a lot of interest.
Anarchy In the UK, Strangled fanzine, early Maximum Rock N Roll, Sniffin Glue…. Copies are available to buy for those that want them, and depending on the issue number, the publication can either go for £25 or £1,000. According to Andrew Roth, a New York-based dealer, a complete run of the British punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue in perfect condition is worth up to $40,000.
Badges are a great (and fun) way to start your collection, and it is likely you already have a few of your own anyway. You wouldn’t expect to pay out a lot for an individual badge. Some people have particular badge designs in mind and will pay out more if they know the badge was part of a limited run, such as the 1977 Damned and Adverts tour button, or better badge designs such as the Clash, Police and Thieves badge.
And of course, the most commonplace item is punk vinyl- something that most punk fans have, but which ones are the ones that are considered the most valuable? Going by how things have sold in the past, bands like The Sex Pistols invite higher prices, perhaps because their career didn’t last that long, perhaps because each release has a few variations.
A Sex Pistols 7 inch of God Save The Queen became the most expensive single ever sold on Discogs when it went for just over $15,000 in 2018, breaking the previous record held by The Beatles. But it’s not just the most well-known punk bands that can bump up the price of vinyl. A record by ‘the 80s straight edge band Judge- Chung King Can Suck It- sold for over $6,000, which is remarkable considering the band are not that well known.
Putting a price on your vinyl collection can be difficult, and with valuing any of these items, it is more of an art than a science. Age alone does not make it a rare item, but if there was a limited run on a particular issue and/or you are confident you have an original issue and not from a reprint, you may have something more valuable.
The condition of the vinyl itself and the cover are essential, and something that is mint condition is going to be more attractive to a buyer. There are plenty of resources to consult when deliberating, such as record collector magazines, price guides and online forums. When looking at past prices that similar items have sold for, do consider how long ago that sale took place as the market is not static- prices fluctuate.
Some desirable relics from the punk area are now gone forever thanks to a publicity stunt in 2016 by McLaren and Westwood’s son Joe Corré. Corré claimed that he was angry at the ‘Antiques Road Show’ approach to punk rock collecting, and to restore some sense of anarchy and power to the punk legacy, he decided to set fire to £5million worth of punk memorabilia.
It wouldn’t quite have had the same sense of spectacle if he had done that in the privacy of his garden or (god forbid) sold it and gave the money away. So instead, he conducted this folly on a boat on the Thames and invited all the press because that’s punk, apparently.
The lot to be sacrificed included rare records, posters, badges, clothing and newspaper cuttings. So, by narrowing the pool of available items, his stunt had the knock-on effect of driving up prices for everything genuine left out there on the market.
Some collectors have a passion for a particular band that provides a real focus to their collecting habits. One of the most impressive stocks around belongs to Neil Horgan, whose love for The Stranglers has meant one room in his house has had to be sacrificed to his growing collection. Punktuation caught up with Neil to get his secrets of the trade.
“By the age of 16, I wanted to be a collector and very definitely wanted to own everything Stranglers! I was very dedicated and obsessive from the beginning and I am the only person to have every known single released in every country in the world.
“I also own their unreleased single Two Sunspots from 1979. JJ’s Wanking Man t-shirt from 1977. Eleven presentation discs, including Hugh’s gold disc for Golden Brown. Handwritten lyrics, unreleased master tapes, gig posters from the mid-1970s. My house is a museum; you get the drift!”
So, where does Nel source his stuff from, particularly as the window of things he doesn’t own is getting smaller and smaller, presumably requiring some detective work to find?
“I use E-Bay, contacts I have built up over 40 years, fellow collectors, social media, including the Facebook page I run- Stranglers Memorabilia Collector’s forum which has over 5,200 members. Meeting other collectors is useful as swapping/buying is commonplace. The hardest thing for me now is finding stuff I don’t have!”
Does Neil have everything he wants?
“No, not everything. I have a few wants and am most interested in posters, acetates, test pressings and artwork. The Japan Tours of 1979 are a particular favourite of mine at the moment. My collection is insured for around €120,000, and I spend about €7,500-8,500 per year on my collection”.
Whether you are looking to make a serious foray into collecting or just want to get a few cool bits and pieces, remember to do a little bit of research, have in mind what kind of things you would be interested in and get yourself in a Facebook group or the like for some advice.
Of course, the real value in all punk paraphernalia is the connection it has to one of the most exciting and vibrant eras of music, so even if something is not worth enough to fund your early retirement, that doesn’t mean it is not valuable in here *points to heart*.
Whatever you do, happy collecting! And please don’t burn it like a massive pillock.
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I’m Molly Tie- I am the UK Editor for Punktuation and a general punk enthusiast! I play drums (badly), write a lot about punk (not as badly) and I’m particularly interested in issues relating to women in the music scene.