Entertainment Music

Tuesday 11 December 2018

From a George Harrison Airfix kit to Madonna's knickers - meet the ultimate rock memorabilia collectors

From a George Harrison Airfix kit to Madonna's knickers, Tanya Sweeney talks to owners of some of most sought-after music keepsakes

Terrie Colman-Black has been collecting Beatles memorabilia since she was a child
Terrie Colman-Black has been collecting Beatles memorabilia since she was a child

Tanya Sweeney

It's one thing getting intimate with Ed Sheeran's brand of heartfelt pop music, but quite another to get intimate with his… well, intimates. Yet hardcore fans of the singer-songwriter - or at least those with deep pockets - recently seized on the opportunity to own a more personal piece of their idol. Earlier this month, six pairs of his underpants went under the hammer at a charity auction. While one pair of 'Sexy Beast' pants had a reserve of £120 (€135), over £500,000 (€563,000) was raised when 330 items belonging to the star, from clothes and books to toys and musical instruments, were sold at the Sussex auction.

These days, the financial figures for rock memorabilia can verge on the eye-watering. John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for 'A Day In The Life' raised $1.3 million (€1.145 million) at auction, while a Rolls Royce Phantom once owned by the Beatles star fetched $2.8 million (€2.46 million) when Canada's Royal British Columbia wrote the cheque.

Closer to home, Churchtown native Terrie Colman-Black is the proud owner of one of Ireland's biggest collections of Beatles memorabilia. Part of the collection is currently on display at the Rock 'n' Roll Museum in Temple Bar, Dublin. She is regularly offered thousands of euro for just one poster.

"I've been offered so much money," she admits. "If you float around on the internet, you see a lot of stuff being sold, but at Beatles events that I go to, people have offered me money for items. Most stuff you can no longer get: I have a piece of the Cavern Club that I took off the wall before it was demolished - where would you get that nowadays?"

Terrie grew up in a house where music was a constant: instead of sweets, her father would buy her Elvis Presley singles. Yet a fateful evening in 1962, spent in front of the radio in her Dublin home, meant that for her, "life was never the same again".

"I discovered the Beatles very early on, and when the tickets went on sale for their Adelphi concert in Dublin, my mother queued to get them for us. And at the gig, every dream I'd ever had came true in one minute."

Terrie’s Beatles toy ‘Yellow Submarine’
Terrie’s Beatles toy ‘Yellow Submarine’

Of the Fab Four, George Harrison was a firm favourite. "I was besotted with him," admits Terrie. "I liked how he stepped back a bit, like a quiet genius."

Terrie's records are in their original packets: some carry advertisements for vinyl cleaning products. It's a marking which helps to increase the price, as it is a sign of authenticity. Among her most treasured items is a George Harrison Airfix kit, which has had pride of place on her bedside locker for decades.

Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.
Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.

"The thing about it is, there was so much Beatles stuff on the market back then, and for very little money," she recalls. "Being restricted, you picked what you really liked, and because we had so little money, I savoured every piece I bought as a kid. That's why I still have it.

"No matter what money is offered to me, it's a huge part of my history, and that of my family. The reason I donated items to the museum was because I want people to enjoy it. To me, owning this stuff isn't a monetary thing."

Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.
Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.

Yet for a lot of rock memorabilia collectors, resale value can be a huge part of the deal.

Dubliner Laurence Carpenter, founder of Pop Icons, is a high-end memorabilia dealer who tends to collect items from artists he is genuinely a fan of. He says there is still a good market for memorabilia in an era of digital music as fans still want to hold something of their favourite musicians in their hands.

Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.
Terrie Colman Black’s Beatles memorabilia.

"Usually, collectors are mainly men with disposable income, in the age range of 35-55," he says.

In 2010, Laurence was unemployed and back living at his parent's house in Tallaght, Dublin, when he sold two of Michael Jackson's hats at an auction for $140,000 (€123,000) having bought them on eBay for $2,500 (€2,200). Carpenter noticed memorabilia going for "crazy money" at auction and he tracked down an artwork signed by both the artist and Jackson for $500 (€440), eventually selling it on for $4,000 (€3,525). He was officially in business.

Prince playing the guitar on stage for the last time before his death. PIC: Twitter
Prince playing the guitar on stage for the last time before his death. PIC: Twitter

There was a heart-stopping moment where Jackson's hats got lost temporarily in transit: "At one point they were on their way to Iceland as opposed to Ireland," Laurence recalls.

More recently, he sold Prince's last ever stage guitar at a New York auction for $150,000 (€132,200).

"I specialise in finding unique pieces. I wake up one morning and decide to try and find a Prince guitar, and from there I turn into a bit of an investigator," Laurence explains. "The internet is very handy: I managed to track a guy down in Minnesota who had played a Ray Charles Tribute, and Prince showed up at the concert at short notice and played this guy's white guitar. It happened to be the last time he performed."

Profitability aside, the thrill of the chase of a big-ticket lot is essentially what gets him up in the morning.

"Most of the time I don't know who buys the items, but I do know the type of buyer," he reveals. "You get a lot of celebs buying under an alias - Lenny Kravitz is a huge collector of memorabilia - and places like the Grammy Museum, Hard Rock Café or Smithsonian Museum would buy regularly. America is the place to sell the big items - I don't tend to do much business in Ireland as the market isn't really there."

He may be none the wiser as to who now owns a pair of Ed Sheeran's underpants, but Laurence admits that the odd set of smalls have passed through the business: "I've had Lady Gaga's knickers, Madonna's knickers - how I get them isn't all that interesting. I haven't had intimate relations with anyone! Madonna might have done a shoot for Vogue Magazine and I'll buy a collection of the pieces she wore for the shoot, and that costume might include some latex underwear. The thing with items like that is they'll get good publicity, which is no harm for the business."

As to the one item Laurence wishes he'd never parted with: "I sold a lot of George Michael memorabilia and a part of me would still love to have that collection now," he admits. "But these days, I don't get as attached as I previously would. I consciously chose not to put so much energy into owning objects, and decided to put it into living life and having more of an emotional attachment to people."

Potential collectors and dealers, Laurence advises, would do well to keep an eye on the future, and potential resale value, when putting money down on a piece of rock history. "They key thing from an investment point of view is to ensure it has a watertight provenance," he advises. "Anyone can print a certificate of authenticity from their bedroom, but the proof is, say if you have a jacket worn by Bono on stage, also having something like a letter from a record company or manager on letter-headed paper. Or even better, a letter signed by Bono himself."

For more information on Pop Icons, see popicons.com. To see Terrie's collection of memorabilia at the Irish Rock 'n' Roll Museum in Temple Bar, Dublin, see irishrocknrollmuseum.com.

Read more: How much would you pay for the Oscar for Best Picture?

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