The money doctor: rock'n'roll - making money

John Lowe

It may only be rock'n'roll, but investors love it. During the last days of May 2007, while stock markets all around the world were suffering an attack of the jitters, two international auction houses, Christie's and Bonhams, achieved record prices for some of the choicest rock and pop memorabilia ever offered.

There's no doubt that buying a shirt that once belonged to John Lennon or a concert programme signed by Elvis Presley to Elton John's mother is infinitely riskier than investing in stocks and shares. But the market's appetite for items directly connected to the biggest names in music appears to be insatiable. Making it an option for anyone with cash to spare and a desire to earn above average returns.

Rock and pop memorabilia meet all the requirements for a sensible alternative investment. That is to say: the scarcity value of the objects is assured; demand is strong; prices have been rising steadily; and there are plenty of ways to buy and sell.

Add to this the fact that there are collectors willing to spend €100,000 or more for top items and you will understand why investors have been diversifying into everything from Michael Jackson's sequinned gloves to Eric Clapton's Brownie guitar.

Interestingly, the first auction of rock memorabilia was in 1970 as a fundraiser for anti-war politicians and it raised a mere $15,000. Bargains abounded. Roger Daltrey gave a jacket he had worn at the Isle of Wight Festival and it fetched just $330; Joni Mitchell donated all the handwritten lyrics for her debut album Blue and they made just $90. Prices remained relatively low for the following decade but in 1981 Sotheby's decided to launch a regular sale. That year they sold Paul McCartney's childhood piano for $16,920 -- not much when you consider that the piano John Lennon used to write Imagine made $2.1m in 1991. Or that in 1996 a Canadian businessman paid $2.3m for Lennon's psychedelic 1965 Phantom V Rolls Royce.

As almost every item of memorabilia is unique it is hard to know quite how much prices have increased. Still, it is possible to make some comparisons. In 2000 a pair of John Lennon's sunglasses sold at auction for £7,800. In 2005 a nearly identical pair made £63,250. That's a gain of over 800pc in just five years. Handwritten lyrics by John Lennon made £31,000 at auction in 1996. In 2005 a similar sheet of lyrics went for £690,000. That's a gain of over 2,200pc in less than a decade.

Recently I spotted an Isle of Wight Festival poster from 1969 for €150 and a pair of Elton John's platform boots for €400.