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Megadeth Memorabilia Auction

Megadeth Memorabilia Auction

This is the sixth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

​​Megadeth: Megastars of the Thrash Metal Universe

Emerging from the Los Angeles metal scene in the early 1980s, Megadeth, spearheaded by Dave Mustaine, has etched its name into the halls of heavy metal history.

Founded after Mustaine’s departure from Metallica, Megadeth has become a cornerstone of the thrash metal genre. With a notable front-man driving the show, Megadeth has managed to not only cement its place within a competitive metal scene, but has also secured the admiration and respect of fans, with the Cyber Army providing one of music’s strongest followings.

The band’s debut album, Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!, released in 1985, served as a declaration of intent for the fast rising act. Backed by Mustaine’s blistering guitar riffs, combined with his easily recognizable vocals, it didn’t take long for Megadeth to establish itself as a formidable force within the world of thrash metal. In a later interview, Mustaine would note that the debut album, and the emergence of Megadeth, were borne from a desire to be faster and heavier than Metallica, a theme that would continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s. With an initial album that showcased Mustaine’s songwriting prowess while offering timely and relatable context, the album would go on to become one of Combat Records’ highest selling releases despite failing to chart on the Billboard 200.
Megadeth’s subsequent albums, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986) and Rust in Peace (1988), further solidified their position as thrash metal royalty. Peace Sells…, with its anti-war and socially conscious themes, expanded the band’s reach into the realm of extreme metal while also incorporating a unique blend of the more common progressive metal. The album’s title track provided an indictment of the global arms trade and became somewhat of a protest song for a generation that felt a growing sense of disillusion with the world around them.
Throughout the late 1980s, productions like Rust in Peace delivered songs such as “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” “Hangar 18,” and “Tornado of Souls” which played a role in laying the foundation for what would become a breakout stretch over the next decade. Known as the “big four” of thrash metal, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer each carved their own path up the Billboard charts as various renditions of metal became increasingly popular both in the states and in Europe.

The early 1990s witnessed Megadeth’s commercial breakthrough with albums like Countdown to Extinction (1992) and Youthanasia (1994). Countdown to Extinction propelled the band into mainstream success as it was the band’s first certified platinum record and reached number two on the Billboard 200. Youthanasia followed with a top-four Billboard appearance and yet another RIAA Platinum award while three years later, Cryptic Writing also hit the top-ten.

Much like their big-four counterparts, Megadeth started to weave radio-friendly singles within their albums to broaden their appeal and attract new listeners while retaining their core fanbase.

Despite lineup changes and various personnel struggles, Megadeth continued to release critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. After their 1999 album Risk left much to be desired with its attempt to garner mainstream success, The World Needs a Hero went live in 2001 with a quick climb to #16 on the Billboard chart and a return to metal supremacy for Mustaine and Co.

Megadeth Memorabilia Market

This influence extends beyond their music, as the market for Megadeth memorabilia offers a diverse and dynamic range of collectibles from guitars and stage-worn clothing to handwritten lyrics and original posters.

Stage-used guitars played by Mustaine have realized five-figures at auction in various styles, ranging from Jackson King V double-necks to Dana Bourgeois acoustic guitars.

The Realest has opened its inaugural auction with a significant collection of Megadeth memorabilia on the block. There are multiple setlists, including one from a show in Prior Lake, Minnesota that is signed by members of the band in addition to Tama drum sticks personally autographed by their user, Dirk Verbeuren.

This Summer, Megadeth embarked on a tour across Europe and The Realest will be showcasing collectibles from their performances. We’ve previously highlighted the market for concert posters and three limited edition originals, including a pair from intimate yet equally iconic shows, will be available through the marketplace hosted by The Realest. As with all of the memorabilia sold through the site, collectors can rest assured knowing all posters and autographs have been authenticated as original as opposed to reprints that can be found on other secondary market sites.

The headline item of the event is an iconic Gibson Flying V guitar that was used on stage by Dave Mustaine. In an opaque market where authenticity is often questionable at best, this guitar has been personally presented by Mustaine and Megadeth management with authentication covering both the instrument and Mustaine’s signature. With an impressive 40 bids and counting, the Gibson is nearing $4,000 with more than 5 days remaining in the event.

In total, 36 different Megadeth collectibles are up for auction with each of them having already secured at least one bid. To explore the Megadeth memorabilia market and their latest auction hosted by The Realest, head over to

The Art of Collecting Musical Moments

The Art of Collecting Musical Moments

This is the fifth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

The allure of music memorabilia is a unique blend of nostalgia, art, and cultural significance. The impact and influence of a pivotal moment within the music industry can transform a tangible piece of history into a cherished artifact, offering collectors an opportunity to own part of the legacy of a specific musician or performance. The journey from legendary event to iconic collectible is one deeply intertwined with the emotions and passions of fans and the appreciation of significant moments in music

​​Woodstock: The Festival that Defined a Generation

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

Woodstock, the legendary 1969 music festival held in upstate New York, stands as an enduring symbol of the counterculture movement and one of the most impressive musical lineups ever assembled. The rain-soaked event featured iconic performances by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who, set against a backdrop of peace, love, music, and mud.
While organizers initially anticipated approximately 5,000 attendees, more than 180,000 tickets were sold as 400,000 people ascended upon Bethel, New York. In August 2021, PSA eclipsed 1,000 graded Woodstock tickets, and by August 2022, that population had ballooned to nearly 3,700 graded tickets and stubs. As of August 2023, the population has finally shown signs of plateauing as the grading agency has recorded 3,916 full Woodstock tickets and 54 stubs. Contributing to nearly 50% of the total population, Three Day $24 tickets to the “music and art fair” are the variation with the highest PSA population and can be acquired for less than $400 today.
While the ticket market might be oversaturated, the market for other Woodstock-related collectibles continues to appreciate. Much like tickets, Woodstock programs and posters are abundant, but if they’re signed, their values multiply. In 2014, RR Auction sold a Jimi Hendrix signed program for $22,050, while signed prints of the easily recognizable red festival posters have sold in excess of $10,000. Even unsigned advertisements can command top dollar if the perfect storm of condition and rarity are met. Earlier this year, Heritage Auctions sold a cardboard bus sign which listed all the headline performers for $15,625. While paper and cardboard can reach five-figures, it takes something stage-used to hammer for six. In 2019, Heritage sold the Martin D-45 Acoustic Guitar used at Woodstock by Graham Nash for $162,500.

The Beatles: Collections Curated from the Invasion

There are few events that can compare to the sheer spectacle and stardom of The Beatles’ 1965 and 1966 performances at Shea Stadium. For the most convincing evidence to support that statement, just look at the liveliness of the market for its original concert posters.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

In 2021, Heritage Auctions tied the concert poster record with their $150,000 sale of a 1966 Beatles poster before eclipsing that mark with another Shea Stadium specimen one year later. In April 2022, the auction house presented a rare, unrestored edition of the unmistakable yellow poster featuring the Fab Four with the ad ultimately selling for $275,000.
The 1965 showing drew more than 55,000 fans, but only two photographers received press passes. Marc Weinstein, an amateur photographer who used a fake pass to sneak backstage, snapped a set of 61 black and white photos which were sold through Omega Auctions in 2013 for more than $46,000.

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”: The King of Pop’s Legacy

PHOTO: Juliens Auctions

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, released in 1982, is a landmark in the history of music videos. Credited as one of the first albums to use video as a promotional tool, “Thriller” would go on to become a best-selling album with global sales exceeding 70 million copies.
From jackets to zombie costumes, collectibles associated with the “Thriller” video, have commanded significant sums at auction. Most notably, the iconic red jacket, synonymous with the video with its winged shoulders, sold at Julien’s Auction in 2011 for $1.8 million. The jacket established a new standard for music video memorabilia as it hammered for 4.5x above its pre-auction estimate of $400,000. While the jacket has remained in a private collection for more than a decade, zombie costumes from the video appraise between $15,000 – $30,000 today.

Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” Video: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Classic

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video, released in 1984, is a quintessential rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.
Produced at a rising moment within the MTV era, memorabilia related to the production and performance of the “Hot for Teacher” video has long piqued the interest of collectors. In 2020, the scaled-down version of Eddie Van Halen’s red, black, and white guitar used by Bryan Hitchcock sold for $50,000 at Juliens. The pint-sized strings were shredded by the child actor in his role as a young Van Halen in the video. Consider that Eddie Van Halen never played or even touched that non-playable guitar and it still sold for $50,000 – that’s the power of the MTV generation.
If that sale left anyone wondering what the full-sized Van Halen-used guitar would sell for, Sotheby’s provided an answer in April 2023. The auction house presented the custom made guitar with an estimate of $2 million – $3 million with the lot officially selling for $3.9 million.

Live Aid: A Global Event for a Noble Cause

The Live Aid concert, organized by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Utravox vocalist Midge Ure in 1985, was a historic global music event aimed at raising funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. The televised tribute featured a legendary lineup of artists like Queen, U2, and David Bowie while attracting an audience of more than 1.5 billion viewers.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

In turn, Live Aid memorabilia, including original tickets, posters, and even stage-used instruments, have become valuable collector’s items. Signed programs command hundreds of dollars at auction while prices for slabbed ticket stubs have neared five-figures in recent years. As is often the case with music memorabilia though, it’s the instruments and stage-worn clothes that, if made public, command the top prices. Christie’s sold the guitar used by Pete Townshend of The Who for nearly $43,000 in 2011 and in 2021, the grail of the show finally emerged. Played by the legend himself, Elton John’s Steinway Model D Grand Piano, which carried nearly 20 years of use, including an appearance at Live Aid, sold at Heritage Auctions for $915,000. In more recent news, earlier this summer, Sotheby’s sold a plethora of stage-worn Freddie Mercury attire including a sleeveless top worn by Queen’s late lead vocalist during Live Aid rehearsals for more than $50,000.

“We Are the World”: Stars align for Charity

“We Are the World,” a song and music video released in 1985, brought together an all-star ensemble of artists to raise funds for African famine relief. The video featured the likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and other decorated stars.
Memorabilia associated with “We Are the World” often includes autographed items such as sheet music, with various copies tallying more than $10,000 at auction. Add provenance to that equation, and the value increases exponentially: Kenny Rogers’ sheet music, signed with personal inscriptions to him from the other artists, sold for $156,000 at Julien’s in 2022. Other rare grails that have realized top dollar at auction include trophies such as the “We Are The World” MTV Moonman Video Music award which hammered for $72,000, or 9x its pre-auction estimate at Juliens in 2009.

PHOTO: Heritage Auctions

As we’ve explored the iconic moments that shaped music history, from Woodstock to “We Are the World,” we’ve witnessed how these events have become a gateway to the world of music collectibles.
In recent years, the music memorabilia market has seen continued appreciation in the value of specific items associated with noteworthy events and influential videos. In a trend replicated across markets like game-worn sports memorabilia, collectors have demonstrated an ongoing willingness to invest substantial sums in owning a piece of history, a tangible connection to the music, videos, and moments that once defined an industry and today, define a market.

Don’t Stop Me Now: Freddie Mercury’s Record Breaking Memorabilia Auction

Don’t Stop Me Now: Freddie Mercury’s Record Breaking Memorabilia Auction

This is the fourth edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.
Back in April of this year Sotheby’s announced a 6-part sale made up of over a thousand objects from the collection of one Freddie Mercury. Spending a lifetime as the frontman of Queen endowed him, and thereby his estate, with countless artifacts connected to one of the most beloved bands of the last century. Instruments, outfits, fine art, knick-knacks, what have you…Sotheby’s sold it all. The sales were a smashing success, netting £39.9 million against a low estimate of £7.6 million initially forecasted by Sotheby’s. Starting on September 6th, the House spent a week in London selling nearly every piece in Mercury’s collection, by way of his ex-fiancee and long time friend Mary Austin. Mercury not only collected priceless objects from his career with Queen but was also an avid auction-goer. His proclivity for bidding was evidenced by lot 665 in the ‘At Home’ sale–a collection of fourteen well-worn Sotheby’s and Christie’s sale catalogs from 1991, the year of his death. That lot, by the way, was only estimated to sell for between £200 and £300 but instead reached £12,700. Over 63 times the low estimate.

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

The initial evening sale that began the week of Freddie-mania, wherein a reported 140,000 people descended on Sotheby’s London to view the collection, yielded an impressive “white glove” showing, meaning each and every lot that went up to the block was successfully sold. More impressively, the estimates of between £4.8 million and £7.2 million were decimated with a sale total of £12,172,290 ($15.2mm) and an aggregate hammer of £9,613,563 ($12mm).

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Even with certain higher-estimate objects like Mercury’s piano or an Eugen von Blaas canvas selling below estimates, the aggregate hammer-to-low-estimate ratio was still 1.99. Meaning: even before fees, the total sales nearly doubled Sotheby’s projections. Averaging the hammer ratios of all 59 lots in the evening sale would give you a hammer ratio of 9x, pulled up by the numerous lower end lots that severely outkicked their coverage. This phenomenon can be somewhat explained by Sotheby’s head of single client sales, David Macdonald, who said:

“When it comes to the more everyday objects, the brief to the team was to please put these things up at market value because you can’t anticipate someone’s love for it — you can’t value love”

Justification for imprecise estimates or marketing strategy to stir up bidding wars? You decide!

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

The real star of the evening sale was the lyric sheets handwritten by Mercury in crafting some of Queen’s most memorable tracks. Among the 27 Mercury lyric lots that were sold by Sotheby’s 14 of them broke the six-figure barrier; the house’s site only shows nine previous lyric lots to have previously done the same.

In total, the 27 lyric lots found £4.9 million against an aggregated low estimate of just £2 million. This surge in lyric sales underscores the immense value collectors see in pulling back the curtain on his creative process. It is maybe an explanation into why the piano went relatively underappreciated compared to these lots. The handwritten lyrics give collectors a glimpse into the creative process of one of music’s most beloved songwriters; the piano – albeit a very nice one – may have many stories to tell, but collectors can’t see the various trials and tribulations of the songwriting journey. Not to mention it’s far easier to find a spot for a piece of paper than a grand piano. Though if you’ve got the cash for either, you probably have the real estate for it. Sotheby’s has become somewhat of a specialist when it comes to selling the collections of British rock stars. Before Mercury, Elton John and David Bowie both sold their collections at the house, achieving similar success to the Mercury sale. Bowie’s sold for £24.4 million against a low estimate of £8.1 million in 2016 and Elton John’s totaled $8.22 million against a low estimate of $5.1 million in 1988. The context of each sale is as deep as the collections they were selling. Elton John’s is more comparable to this most recent sale, using the sale as a means to clean out his home of decades of early career memorabilia and start fresh. Freddie is sadly not alive to use this sale to “clean house”, but Mary Austin, his longtime friend and steward of his collection did note that selling the collection will allow her to move on. She sold nearly all of Freddie’s possessions, keeping only a few photos and personal items. Mercury and John’s sales were replete with more than a thousand objects each. Anything and everything was on the table: furniture, mementos, clothing, sunglasses, records (platinum and otherwise). These sales gave hundreds of fans the opportunity to own a piece of the artist, however insignificant a stinky Adidas bag would have been to Mercury if he were alive today. Very curious to know what he would think about someone paying £10,795 for his sweat soaked bag though…

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Bowie’s sale was much more traditional when it came to auction. His 2016 sale was made up of only 350 lots, nearly all of which were works of fine art from established artists. Bowie began collecting art in earnest in early 1993 when he began working with art advisor Kate Chertavian. Bowie’s tastes aligned with the modern art market much more so than Elton John’s or Freddie Mercury’s; the few paintings seen in the latter sales were mostly Old Masters that rarely receive as much attention as Impressionist and Contemporary offerings. Bowie, on the other hand, collected names like Basquiat, Hirst, Duchamp, and Picabia, along with quite a few works from modern British painters like Frank Auerbach and David Bomberg. With big contemporary names, it’s harder to understand the impact of rockstar provenance on the value of a work. Bowie’s name was certainly additive to the price, but 2016 was a good time to sell a Hirst or Basquiat work anyway. The confluence of factors to the upside may have skewed the perception of the importance of Bowie’s name in the provenance. Mercury’s collection, however, featured quite a few artists that rarely see the limelight, composed mainly of 19th and early-20th century portraits. The standout among these artists is John Bagnold Burgess. Mercury owned two of his portraits, “A Spanish Girl” and “The Offering”, both exquisite oil paintings acquired in 1991 during a buying frenzy in the last months of his life. During this time, he acquired several works as gifts for close friends including Mary Austin and Elton John.

The Offering

PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Freddie purchased these works for just £3,960 (The Offering) and £4,400 (A Spanish Girl), and they sold for £82,550 and £43,180 respectively, generating CAGRs of 9.95% for the first and 7.39% for the second. It’s unlikely these works would have sold for such sums if they were not owned by Mercury. This becomes especially apparent when you consider the last five recorded Bagnold Burgess sales detailed on LiveArt generated an average hammer ratio of 0.82 and an average price of around $20,000. ‘The Offering’ and ‘A Spanish Girl’ hammered at 20.47 and 8.57 times the low estimate respectively. Other artists like Eugen von Blaas and William Russell Flint found their way above estimates, but more narrowly, though works by these artists in the Mercury sale did notch higher prices than their works in any other sale. Flint works in the ‘At Home’ sale hammered at an average of £26,206 vs. £1,710 when sold normally. As far as name-brand artists go in the Mercury sales, there were at least four depending on who you count. Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali made appearances in the evening sale, but not a single canvas was offered among them. All were either quite small works on paper or editioned works. It would seem that the Freddie provenance did the trick here as each flew past their high estimates.

Jaqueline au chapeau noir


PHOTO: Sotheby’s

Most impressive was a Picasso print expected to sell for between just £50,000 and £70,000 that ended up finding a final price of £190,500 ($237,909) with fees. One might think it normal for a Picasso work to reach into the six figures, but it’s worth knowing that the man created countless editioned sets, and collectors regularly pick them up for low 4 figure prices. This one, depicting his second wife Jacqueline, is more desirable than most. However, it’s difficult to say whether the premium to estimate was derived more from the Mercury provenance or the scarcity of the set.
Cred: Denis O’Regan
In spite of a subdued art market, the Mercury sale offered a reprieve from the doom and gloom. The Mercury collection reminds us that the value of art and collectibles often transcends standard valuation philosophy. As Sotheby’s showcases the rich tapestry of these rock stars’ lives, it paints a vivid picture of the growing opportunities in merging art, memorabilia, and storytelling.

Skyrocketing Trading Cards

Skyrocketing Trading Cards

This is the third edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.
The trading card boom of late 2020 and early 2021 invited huge sums of cards into grading facilities to join the circulation of a suddenly red-hot market. Those sums created bottlenecks that slowed the progress of cards into their cozy acrylic slabs, but now that we’re multiple years removed from the spark that lit the flame, shifts in collecting tastes are becoming more clear. It’s also becoming clearer what was popular before the boom and what was only more recently discovered.

In the latter category?

Trading cards of various superstar musicians.

Now let’s get this out of the way up front. Music trading cards themselves are not a new phenomenon in terms of popularity. Key Beatles and Elvis cards from the 1950s and 1960s have seen very little population growth over the last two years, with collectors previously coveting these issues. However, that existing interest served as evidence that cultural icons are indeed coveted and collectable, whether those icons ply their trade on a field or on a stage. .
What’s interesting though is that the cards of many star musicians both young and old were already out there long before the market for trading cards exploded. They just weren’t targets of widespread collector interest, at least as it pertains to graded examples.

Let’s take for example one of the more well-known musician “rookie” cards: Jay-Z’s appearance in 2005 Topps Basketball. When GemRate began tracking the population of the set back in April of 2021, there were just 22 PSA-graded copies of Jay-Z’s base card. Today? There are 450. That’s nearly 2000% growth, which makes the 340% growth of the overall set look extremely modest.

For reference, at the time of writing, PSA has graded 1,958 of the 2005 Topps Chris Paul base card, the most of any card from the set. In the last twelve months, the total population of the PSA-graded Paul rookie has increased 36% from 1,435 a year ago. In comparison, the graded population of the Jay-Z Topps card has climbed 64% over that same period.

22 graded copies will seem like a glut compared to some other “newly” discovered music cards. A little under two years ago, there was just 1 PSA-graded copy each of Nirvana’s and Snopp Dogg’s rookie cards from the 1995 Panini Smash Hits Stickers set. Today, there are 278 and 235 respectively. Given the humble starting point, there’s no need to even compare the growth to other mainstream sports sets from the period.

The story is similar for a fun card from 2011 Topps American Pie, which depicts Taylor Swift and Kanye West in the midst of the infamous VMA speech interruption. “Taylor I’m gonna let you finish…”

He did NOT let her finish. Shockingly, two years ago, just three of those cards were graded by PSA. Today, it’s 107. Over that same period, the overall 2011 Topps American Pie set grew in population by 415%, juuuust a hair shy of the 3,467% growth of “Miss Americana’s” card.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, another trio of examples can be found in the 2013 Panini Black Friday HRX set, featuring cards of Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, and Tupac. Two years ago, the total set population was 10 cards. Today, it’s 357.

It’s not just modern cards lost in a post-millennium supply glut, though. Lesser-known cards from the 60s and 70s are also finding their way through the doors of PSA facilities and into the limelight at a greater rate, though the growth is not as explosive as for the modern issues. 

What about a Jimi Hendrix “rookie”?  The Hendrix entry from 1968 Panini Cantanti has grown in population by 75% over the last two years. Viewed against the 4-5 figure percentage growth of the cards we discussed previously, 75% may not seem like much. But consider the growth of sports sets of that same year over the last 24 months. 1968 Topps Baseball and Football grew in population by just 12% and 8% respectively. Even the premier rookie card of the 1968 baseball set, the Mets Rookies card featuring Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan, has only experienced a 20% increase in PSA population over that two-year period. 

Bob Marley was included in the 1978 Swedish Samlarsaker set, but only 5 of those cards had been PSA-graded two years ago. Fast forward to August of 2023, and 62 Marleys have found a new plastic home. Sports issue populations from that year have more commonly grown in the low double-digits.

In terms of values, while some of these cards have held their ground in recent years, it won’t be surprising to learn that many of them have followed the path of the broader market, which makes even more sense in light of the sharply rising populations. Over the last 12 months, CardLadder’s Entertainment Index is down just 44%, not dramatically better than the markets for Basketball and Football. Over the last two years though, it’s down just 2%, which compares very favorably to the Basketball Index’s -46% performance. The market for these cards demonstrated some lag before enjoying their moment in the sun and eventually returning to earth, which makes sense given their delayed discovery.

Nonetheless, it’s possible that a sea-change has occurred in the last two years, as collectors took increasing notice of off-field cultural icons and their global appeal. That appeal is no longer exclusive to Elvis or the Beatles. Perhaps cardboard isn’t the best vehicle to express their collecting appeal, or to induce non card-collecting fans to become collectors. Maybe it’s stage-used material, concert posters, or rare concert merch. In any case, it seems we’re just in the “sound check” phase of the collecting pursuit of global music icons.

Authenticate and Elevate

Authenticate and Elevate

This is the second edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

As the dollar values go up, the stakes for authentication get higher. And as standards of authentication grow stronger, the dollar values tend to go up. 


This chicken-or-the-egg conundrum is a driving force behind the maturation and increased sophistication of various collectible categories. Often though, it is the egg, or in this case, more rigorous standards of authentication, that takes a collectible asset class into a new price tier. 


Love it or hate it, card grading played an immense role in elevating card collecting from a pure children’s hobby to a booming marketplace. While card authentication and grading is certainly important, ultimately, what’s authenticated is whether or not cardboard is indeed a certain type of cardboard, printed in the right factory by the right manufacturer. We don’t mean to minimize those stakes, but in comparison to verifying whether an item was actually worn or held by a person of influence, it starts to sound quite trivial.


The value of a memorabilia item – whether in sports, music, film, or history – is based in its interaction with the person. Without that interaction being verifiable, the value is severely impaired. As you quickly learn by studying memorabilia markets, verifiability – at least to date – is not a binary quality. It lives on more of a spectrum, with some sources of authentication offering greater credibility than others, and others offering greater credibility than no authentication at all.


For the longest time in most memorabilia categories, effectively the only standard of authenticity was LOA or COAs. An LOA (letter of authenticity) is a written assertion accompanying a piece of memorabilia, affirming that the memorabilia was indeed used or worn by the person of interest. 


It might come from the person themselves, a manager, a family member, or someone else somehow affiliated with the person or the moment. It might already be apparent: credibility of the signer declines quickly as degrees of separation from the person themselves increase. Unfortunately, it’s more often the case that an LOA comes from some tangential party rather than the actual person, weakening the strength of the authentication to begin with. 


Then, there’s the fact that this piece of paper is in no way inextricably linked to the item itself. There are typically no incontrovertible identifiers tying the item to the LOA. Put more simply, there’s plenty of room for shenanigans. The risk only increases the further away in the chain of provenance the item gets from that initial LOA signer.


As prices for memorabilia swelled into six-figures throughout the 1990s, the increasingly lucrative market was in desperate need of better authentication protocols. Demand for concert-played guitars and game-worn jerseys became so significant that federal agencies started policing as much as their budgets would allow. Their work, while limited in both scope and scale, provided some of the first data-backed estimates on just how fraudulent the memorabilia sector was. Take for example, an FBI report released in the late 1990s that estimated between 50% – 60% of all memorabilia sold across secondary markets was, in fact, fake. 


Let’s use sports as an example to understand how authentication has evolved. The use of LOAs and COAs was common, but then specialists emerged to provide more rigor around evaluation of an item’s use. MEARS is a well known provider in this space, examining an item to see if it matches the material that would’ve been used by a player or team at that specific point and evaluating it for characteristics that exhibit game use. Generally, where these evaluations fall short is pinpointing specifically the games in which a jersey was worn or a bat used, unless that information is highly verifiable via provenance. In terms of visual confirmation, though, it’s somewhat limited.


Enter photomatching. Using high-resolution images – typically from a reputed provider like Getty Images – a photomatching service will deeply examine the material worn by a player in a specific game and compare that to the material in hand. They’re looking at extremely intricate details like thread placement, mesh hole patterns, blemishes, and markings to conclusively determine that the piece of memorabilia is the very same one worn or used in the photo. The proliferation and acceptance of these services has recently pushed the sports memorabilia market to new heights. 


In 2022, the top 25 game-worn or used sports memorabilia auction sales were up an astonishing 118% over 2021. 


A big factor in that rise? The ascendancy of photo-matched material. Of those top 25 items sold in 2022, 19 were advertised as being photomatched. This meant a far greater number of jerseys and uniforms reaching new heights than in years prior. In fact, just one year before, the difference in results was stark.


Of those top 25 items in 2021, only 11 of them were advertised as being photomatched. Absent a greater volume of high-quality photomatched material, it was items like vintage, game-used bats that took up a significant swath of the rankings. This is not surprising, as those items also feature a well-known and well-regarded authentication standard from PSA/DNA. Absent stronger authentication, seemingly high-quality items like a Larry Bird rookie  jersey and a Kobe Bryant rookie sneakers find themselves outside of the top 25, relying on MEARS authentication or provenance alone.


While it’s difficult to pinpoint perfectly apples-to-apples comparisons, here’s an illustrative example of the difference in results for rigorously and less rigorously authenticated material. In June of 2022, a photomatched, signed, and inscribed 1998 Michael Jordan jersey sold for $540,000. Three months later, a signed game-worn jersey from the same season with robust signature authentication but no photomatching sold for just $74,400.


The raising of the bar isn’t exclusive to sports. At this year’s Propstore Entertainment Memorabilia Live Auction, despite there being 20% fewer lots than last year overall, 94 lots featured “screen-match” in their title versus just 33 in 2022. That event featured significantly more depth of strong results than the year prior.


The point here isn’t to exalt photomatch or screenmatch authentication as the one and only viable method, but rather to show how a market can take to new levels when a more stringent standard is applied. Music memorabilia is certainly a category in need of greater stringency.


To date, it’s been host to a preponderance of LOA-based authenticity, with a smattering of amateur photomatching. There is no clear standard that has elevated the space, leaving most items to trade a lot like that LOA-based Jordan jersey: money left on the table. Worse, provenance is often murky, further complicating things. 


The increased circulation and sales volume through the 20th century has only muddied the waters for those committed to improving the integrity of these large markets. If more than half of all music memorabilia sold in the 20th century was fake as the FBI report suggested, how can auction house provenance be trusted as a primary source of authentication? In the 2010s, PSA/DNA released shocking estimates that only 6% of all autographed Beatles memorabilia sent to the company is actually authentic while more than 75% of all Elvis signatures submitted were forged.


Today, multiple Kurt Cobain-used guitars have sold for seven-figures, but that market was born from humble beginnings. As the music memorabilia market – and the market for these rare and prized strings – materialized in the early 2000s and 2010s, a greater number of collectible Cobain guitars took to the auction block. One such example emerged in 2007 when a 1953 Martin Acoustic appeared on the block at a major auction house. The mid-century guitar was said to be Cobain’s first Martin D-18, which would become his preferred acoustic brand throughout the 1990s. The auction lot description mentioned that Cobain’s then girlfriend, Mary Lou Lord, had sold the guitar to a collector, and its authenticity was backed by a grainy color photo of Cobain playing the guitar. 


What should have been a breakout sale was shrouded in unanswered questions. For starters, Mary Lou Lord stated that she had gifted the real original D-18 to Cobain before sharing it with other artists after his tragic death in 1994. Lord also stated that the guitar was not actually sold but instead donated to the Martin Museum. Additionally, the grainy photographs showed differences in the guitar’s features and wear. Worse, in the photo, Cobain is holding the guitar left-handed, but it’s strung right-handed. Collectors clearly had their concerns, and the guitar only sold for $29,875 at a time when expectations would have valued the memorabilia in excess of $80,000.


Anecdotes like this one had become all too commonplace in the industry. After years of a ‘wild west’ market, collectors now called for substantial evidence to support claims made by sellers, and without it, prices would hit a ceiling. 


It’s only when an item is able to be verifiably “placed” on the celebrity, athlete, or performer that a greater number of bidders have a greater amount of confidence to engage. Nobody wants to spend five-figures on a Michael Jackson glove only to be left wondering if they were duped by a Smooth Criminal. You’d have to look at the Man in the Mirror after a decision like that.

Rock and Roll never forgets

Rock and Roll never forgets

This is the first edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with Altan Insights on the key events and factors shaping the modern music memorabilia market. Altan Insights provides data and quantitative analysis to help collectors and businesses navigate the emerging collectible asset markets.

The music hasn’t stopped in rock and roll memorabilia markets

In fact, you could argue we’re in the middle of a pretty epic guitar solo. It might not be the kind that makes Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar drop to their knees and shout “we’re not worthy!”, but there’s still music being made.

Back in early May, Sotheby’s conducted the massive $3.9 million sale of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar from the Hot For Teacher music video. Trophy asset sales are not at all uncommon across categories in 2023, so while this was a standout result, it didn’t necessarily say a lot about the rest of the music memorabilia market.

May’s large Music Icons event at Julien’s Auctions, though, provided a broader indicator. While headline numbers were down, a look beneath the surface suggests that despite missing a few notes, the market is still humming.

The event generated $4.9 million in total sales volume. That’s a far cry from 2022’s $13.7 million. The gap, though, isn’t as large as it seems at face value. For example, the 2022 event featured the $4.7 million Smells Like Teen Spirit Kurt Cobain guitar, as well as a massive consignment of memorabilia from Rush’s Alex Lifeson (more than $3.5 million in sales).  Backing those out reduces the total to $5.4 million. There are episodic events and outliers in almost any auction, so completely discounting those unique sales is perhaps not appropriate, but it still hints at normalized sales totals that are holding up better than they seem in 2023.

Notably, the 2023 Music Icons total was up 6% over 2021’s tally of $4.6 million. There aren’t many collecting categories where that would be the case, given how red hot speculation was in the spring of 2021.

Some of the sales highlights from the event:

  • Nearly $1.7 million in guitar sales alone, led by Kurt Cobain’s smashed guitar from Nirvana’s “Nevermind” era. The guitar was estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000, but ultimately fetched $596,900. 
  • $955k in John Lennon memorabilia sales, including $676k consigned directly from Julian Lennon. The lots included Beatles Gold Records, handwritten lyrics, sketches, instruments, animation cels and more.
  • $279k in Michael Jackson memorabilia, consisting primarily of stage-worn clothing.

What types of items comprise these music memorabilia sales? If you look at the top 100 sales, here’s the breakdown:

  • 31 awards or gold records
  • 31 instruments or pieces of musical equipment
  • 18 artist-worn or owned pieces of clothing or accessories
  • 6 handwritten lyrics, documents, or sketches
  • 2 original records
  • 2 concert or album posters
  • 10 miscellaneous items (how does one categorize John Lennon’s Honda Monkey Bike?!)

When we analyze some of the specific sales in greater depth, we get a better sense of how the market is evolving over time. While this event had a lot of fresh-to-market material, we can still find trends. Let’s take some repeat sales for example. These are items that have sold at Julien’s previously and returned to auction this past weekend.
  • Back in 2015, a pair of drumsticks custom-made for Ringo Starr and used by the legend sold for $3,250. Those sticks returned eight years later to a vastly higher price of $22,100 (against an estimate of $2,000 – $4,000).
  • From the OG teenage sensation (The Beatles) to a newer edition (One Direction), an acoustic guitar believed to be Niall Horan’s very first used in lessons last sold in 2015 for $6,875. It nearly doubled in value, reaching a $12,700 price at this weekend’s event.
  • Elvis Presley’s 14K gold Crucifix ring notched a price of $3,200 at last year’s event. Whether that sale was consummated or not is unclear, but the ring was up for grabs again this year, and this time the price was much steeper at $9,100.
    There are also data points that don’t reflect a precise repeat sale, but still give us a feel for price action.

    • Back in 2016, when Abbey Road Studio Two was under construction, 210 bricks were removed, cleaned, restored, and placed in a presentation box. Number 15/210 sold back in 2020 for $3,520. At the recent sale, number 16/210 was up for bidding, and with an estimate of $300-400, it sold for $11,700.
    • Olivia Newton John cleaned up at the American Music Awards in the mid 1970s. Back in 2019, the 1974 and 1975 awards for “Favorite Pop Female Vocalist” sold for $10,240 and $8,960 respectively. This weekend, the 1974 and 1975 awards for “Favorite Country Female Vocalist” sold for $13,000 and $15,875. 
    • An Eddie Van Halen signed and stage-played 2004 Charvel sold for $114,300. Stage-used and signed Charvels have more commonly occupied the $40-60k range in recent years, so it appears there was a post-Sotheby’s sale bump.
    Music memorabilia is not an emerging category, but it does seem it’s now beginning to enjoy a more proportionate share of interest and demand than it had in years past.

    You’ll notice, though, that – Niall excluded – much of the action is concentrated firmly in Boomer territory, with some movement across the border into Gen X.  If you look at the taop 100 sales, the music of all the artists featured remains quite popular for the most part. But, the popularity of only two individuals amongst the top 100 sales actually originated after the turn of the millennium: Niall Horan and Amy Winehouse. That’s it. 

    Or look at the various awards sold. Just two of them date to award shows that took place after the year 2000: VMAs for the Beastie Boys in 2005 and for Moby and Gwen Stefani in 2001. “Ch-check It Out” and “South Side” are great songs respectively, but you might not expect them to motivate younger bidders.

    The concentration in the music of older and middle-aged generations is of course logical given the stage of life those generations are in, but it will be incumbent upon auction houses and marketplaces to reach younger fans and consumers to forge more active markets for “active” artists.

    If and when they do, Niall’s first acoustic guitar might be heading in only One Direction: up.