An article I wrote about Django Reinhardt and a guitar connected to him was just published in the Worthpoint newsletter view it here or enjoy it below.


“Django, c’etit la musique fait l’homme”

(Django was music, made man)
~ Emmanuel Soudieux

In 1946, at the Aquarium, a jazz club in New York City, photographer William Gottlieb took photographs of jazz great Django Reinhardt playing a guitar.   These photographs have become some of the most popular images of Django.  However, the guitar he is holding did not belong to him; it was borrowed for the photograph from Fred Guy, rhythm guitarist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

On May 20, 2017, Julien’s Auctions will sell this Swedish-made Levin guitar.  It is one of only a few pieces of property ever to be auctioned with an association to Django Reinhardt.  The following is a brief history of Django Reinhardt’s life and his connection to Ellington, his journey to the United States, and the fateful guitar.

Django Reinhardt was born Jean Reinhardt on January 23, 1910, in the Belgian village Liberchies. His father Jean-Eugéne was a musician, juggler, basket weaver and his mother was a dancer or jewelry maker, depending on what was called for.  They followed a traditional Romani lifestyle of seasonal travel around Europe.  They just happened to be in Belgium when his mother, Négros (Laurence Reinhardt), gave birth to Django in the back of their caravan while Jean-Eugéne performed at a local inn.

Legal names for Roma people are not that important; they were provided for paperwork required by governments.  A family name, a Romani name, is what is used more commonly. These names are descriptive, “Bear” or “Violet.”  Django’s sister Sara was referred to as “Claw” purportedly for holding her own with her brothers during fights.  Négros dubbed baby Jean, Django.  This is not a common Romani name.  It means “I awake.”

Django’s first instrument was a violin.  Violins are portable, versatile, and traditional among Roma musicians. He began learning music from his family.  This was not formal training and Django never learned to read music.  He eschewed school and did not learn to read or write until much later in life.  Music he learned early, by ear.

At 10, Django encountered a banjo and was fascinated.  At 12, an acquaintance saw Django’s interest and gave him a banjo of his own.   Django’s busking brought in much needed financial help for the family.   Jean-Eugéne left them and Négros was providing for her children on her own.  Soon 12-year-old Django was hired to perform in the dancehalls of Paris, which he did until the age of 18.

At 18, Django was a married man expecting his first child with his first wife.  On October 26, 1928, Django excitedly returned home, eager to tell his pregnant wife about an opportunity to perform with a new orchestra.  As he entered his caravan, a candle was knocked into a pile of cellophane flowers his wife had made.  The highly flammable cellophane ignited a fire.  Django was able to push his wife to safety but sustained extensive burns, including disfiguring burns on his left hand.

The doctors told Django he would never play music again.  And whether it was from Django’s stubborn arrogance or the will to survive in a life that would be worthless without music, Django slowly and secretly re-learned how to play guitar.  The music would be singular to him – his ring and pinky finger were largely paralyzed, leaving him his thumb, index and middle finger to chord the frets.  Over his six months of convalescence Django created a new style of playing.

After his recovery, he continued to travel and to perform; meeting musicians and admirers who would help shape his career.  He was also introduced to Jazz.  It is reported that when Django heard Louis Armstrong for the first time he wept, and repeated the Romani phrase “Ach moune! Ach moune!” (My brother!  My brother!) over and over.  A love affair with jazz began.   Duke Ellington is quoted as saying Django was “(T)he most creative jazz musician to originate anywhere outside of the United States.”

Django gained recognition with the Le Quintette du Hot Club de France who performed and recorded together in the 1930s.  As an all-string jazz band they were unique to jazz – the jazz of the West was horn-based.  The Quintette would have several line-ups but at its heart were Django and violinist Stéphane Grappelli.  Initially, the band was a side project, developed out of a backstage improvisation.   With the support of the Hot Club de France and jazz fans around Paris,  the Quintette began performing and recording.

In 1939, Duke Ellington was touring Europe and came to Paris.  Django played for Ellington at the Hot Club and then later jammed with him at a smaller club.  The pair hatched plans for Django to come to the US and tour with Ellington.  Before those plans could come to fruition, World War II began.

As an ethnically Romani person and a performer of jazz, Django had two strikes against him with the Nazis. When Hitler began his murderous campaign, it was the Roma people he targeted first. Over the course of the war 600,000 Roma would be murdered.  Jazz was vilified in Nazi propaganda and condemned as “degenerate music.”  But it was music that German officers secretly liked, and Django benefitted from their patronage and protection.

Django not only survived the war, he managed to thrive, arguably achieving the zenith of his career. His song “Nuages” (Clouds) became hugely popular, almost an anthem for occupied Paris.  Django’s image was sold on street corners throughout Paris.  But still, he lived in fear of the Nazis who were surveilling and imprisoning his fellow Roma and jazz counterparts.  When an invitation came from the Nazi High Command in Paris for Django to perform, he stalled until they would be put off no longer and then he fled rather than perform.

Despite arrests and failed attempts to flee France, Django and his family withstood the war.  The invitation to go to the United States was renewed and on October 1946, Django Reinhardt arrived in New York to perform with Duke Ellington and his orchestra.  Thirty-six-year old Django travelled alone and arrived with no luggage, not even a guitar.  He was convinced that given his popularity as “the World’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist,” luthiers across America would line up to give him a guitar.  Django was blissfully unaware that he was not a household name in the US.

William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

The day after Django arrived, Down Beat magazine sent reporter and photographer William Gottlieb to the Aquarium to meet Django.  With Django’s limited English skills Gottlieb said it was hard to get an impression of Django’s personality.  He decided to focus his photographs on what he saw as the most interesting thing about Django – is hands.  Django used Fred Guy’s guitar as a prop to pick on.  The images Gottlieb took that night were published on the cover of the magazine and are now some of the most famous images of Django.

Fred Guy rhythm guitarist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra with his Levin guitar as photographed by William Gottlieb.
Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

Fred Guy had purchased the guitar while touring Europe with Ellington in 1939.  In April 1939, the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed numerous concerts throughout Sweden, including Göteborg on April 4 and again on April 30.  While in Göteborg, Guy purchased the Levin De Lux archtop.

There is no record of what Guy and Django thought of each other; or how they worked together.  The guitarists likely met in Paris, perhaps even performed together.  Guy, as Ellington’s longtime rhythm guitarist, would have most likely backed Django during his 1946 US performances. They shared a similar music history; both began their musical careers on the banjo.  Whatever the relationship, Guy lent Django his guitar for the historic photographs.

Ellington had arranged for performances in 21 cities over the course of one month, culminating in performances at Carnegie Hall.  The tour zig-zagged around the East coast and Mid-West.  Django was a literal and musical surprise to most audiences.  His presence hadn’t been advertised because it was unknown if he would arrive to perform.  His guitar playing was the second surprise – it was a sound unlike anything most US audiences had heard before.  Ellington was generous to his French friend, allowing him to steal the spotlight and working around his idiosyncrasies.  Django was not much for practice; he sometimes overslept, and when performing in France some nights he didn’t show at all.  For Ellington, Django had mostly arrived on time.  Except for one of the most important of nights.

Django was scheduled to play two shows with Ellington at Carnegie Hall.  These programs were well advertised and according to one reviewer on the first night “The hall was packed out.  I can safely say that by far the greater part of the audience was made up of admirers who had waited for this moment for 10 years.” Django took six curtain calls that night.

Django Reinhardt and David Rose photographed by William Gottlieb at the Aquarium.
Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

The following night Django was to perform at 10:30pm.  When he didn’t arrive Ellington continued playing until he could no longer put off apologizing to the crowd and telling them that Django would not perform.  At 11pm Django arrived but without a guitar.  A guitar was found but the entire performance was a disappointment and an embarrassment for Django.  He remained in New York for another month performing at Café Society, but when his 60-day visa was about to expire, he returned to France, homesick and feeling as though he had not conquered America.

Django returned to France a new performer.  He was influenced by the music he heard in the West and this transformed his style from swing to modern jazz.  In the following years his relationship to music and his popularity waxed and waned.  In 1950, he hung up his guitar for a while and spent time with his family, returning to a more traditional Romani life.

In 1951, saxophonist Hubert Fol came looking for Django and coaxed him back into performing. This return to music lasted until May 16, 1953.  On that day, at age 43, Django died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  The funeral service was performed in a typical tradition for his family including the burning of the deceased caravan and all of their worldly possessions.

Django Reinhart had a wild personality and full life – much of which could not be contained in this small article.  Missing is the story of the love of his life, his son, the family monkey, stolen chickens, many talented collaborating musicians, more than 550 recordings, and an influence that spread to musicians around the world.

The Levin guitar will be auctioned by Julien’s on May 20, 2017, during the Music Icons Auction at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, only blocks away from the former site of the Aquarium where Django was photographed by William Gottlieb.

When the Levin guitar is sold on May 20, 2017, during the Music Icons auction at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, it will be only blocks away from the former site of the Aquarium where Django was photographed by William Gottlieb.

Please join Julien’s for the historic sale live or online.  For more information please visit juliensauctions.comor call 310.836.1818.

[Writer’s note: The Roma people, of Romani culture, are often inaccurately called “Gypsies.”  This is an exonym at best and a racial slur at worst.  The term originated in Europe when it was believed that the Roma people came from Egypt.  The author has attempted to use the correct terms, correctly, for this article.]

Megan Mahn Miller is an appraiser and owner of the consulting and appraisal service, Mahn Miller Collective Inc. which specializes in Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hollywood memorabilia. Mahn Miller is also a Property Specialist with Julien’s Auctions.

“The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Market” Journal of Antiques and Collectibles

I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles in their most recent issue dedicated to the Rock and Roll memorabilia market.  Special thanks to Laura Woolley, Margaret Barrett, Dr. Catherine Williamson and Darren Julien who all contributed their insights to the article.

The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Market

The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Marketby Megan Mahn Miller

If the art auction market is a civilized dinner party, where beautiful works of art trade hands, the rock and roll memorabilia auction market is a stadium rock show, complete with raucous fans, huge contracts and auction prices sky rocking like pyrotechnics.

Last year saw a number of new auction sale records. Why? Why is it that this market continues to grow?

In 1981, Sotheby’s held its first dedicated rock and roll memorabilia auction. But the compulsion to collect began years before. While there wasn’t a dedicated memorabilia auction market in the early sixties, young fans were smart enough to have The Beatles sign a photograph, album, or whatever was at hand. Even years earlier, Frank Sinatra, Enrico Caruso, and Elvis Presley fans were ignited by the music, appearance or personality and wanted a souvenir to take with them. Collectors have always collected. Now, however, there is a market for it.

At auction in 1984 a Beatles drumhead could be had for $6,550. In 1994 the drumhead seen when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show sold at Sotheby’s for $44,000. Fast-forward to November 2015, that same Ed Sullivan drumhead sold for $2,050,000 at Julien’s. A tidy $2 million profit. Prior to that, the drumhead used on the cover of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper album held the record for a drumhead sold at auction when it sold in 2008 for $1,071,133 at Christie’s. What we are witnessing is exponential market growth.

What about an entire drum kit? In December 2015 when Julien’s offered Ringo Starr’s #1 Ludwig drum kit it sold for $2,110,000. In 2004, five pieces of Keith Moon’s 10-piece Silver Premier drum kit sold at Christie’s for $252,487 – breaking the record for a drum kit at that time.

Also in November 2015, Julien’s auctioned John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E. The guitar is remarkable because of the winding story of how it came to market as well as being one of the few Lennon guitars ever to appear at auction. The guitar broke the public auction sale record at $2,410,000. The prior public auction sales record was held by Bob Dylan’s Newport Folk Festival electric guitar, which sold at Christie’s for $965,000. Eric Clapton’s sale of Blackie, also at Christie’s, was the previous record holder at $959,500.

The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia MarketOne last sales record that was broken last year was for the sale of an album. Ringo Starr’s White Album no. 0000001 sold at Starr’s memorabilia auction in December 2015 for $790,000. It was suspected that this sales record would be broken by the Omega Auctions recent sale of the earliest known Beatles acetate. The selling price did not even come close to touching this record when the acetate sold for $110,000 on March 22, 2016.

Breaking auction records is all well and good but it doesn’t explain itself. Why is the market doing so well? The answer is simple and as clear as mud ñ no one knows specifically why the market is growing. There is not one single trend that can be pointed to that explains this market. There are some logical conclusions I can offer, but the answer seems to lie in something less concrete; something more like nostalgia and sentimentality.

Here is my analysis of the logical reasons why the market is growing:

Globalization – More on this from my colleagues in a moment, but suffice it to say, the market now has buyers from all over the world.

A diverse buying audience – The rock and roll market doesn’t rely on a single type of buyer. There are three general types of rock memorabilia buyers: the collector, the fan and the investor. These are distinct types of buyers but what they share is an insatiable desire to purchase a specific item. If two of these types of buyers are interested in an item, the price will rise. Included in this group of buyers are the businesses and institutions that are buying rock and roll memorabilia – Hard Rock Cafe, The Experience Music Project, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reality TV – Antiques Roadshow has helped educate the public in a variety of collecting areas. There are a number of other collecting-based reality television programs that not only make memorabilia buying and collecting appear accessible, these programs make the market appear profitable.
Now for the less logical, more emotional reasons for a growing rock and roll market:

Nostalgia – As auction records show The Beatles have most consistently been at the top of the auction buying market. If you were 10 in 1964, you are now a 62-year old who perhaps still loves rock and roll and perhaps has worked to get to a certain financial position. You are able to invest in memories.

Touching fame – Rock and roll memorabilia is less like collecting art than it is like collecting religious relics. One brings you closer to God – the other, closer to a Rock God. If you play a Jimi Hendrix guitar, will you sound like him? Will you feel like him? What would you pay to experience that if you had the means?

I have exceptional colleagues in the memorabilia auction industry and I sought out several to get their opinions on why the market is doing so well. They also cited a mix of globalization and nostalgia as the driving forces behind this market.

Laura Woolley, appraiser and owner of The Collector’s Lab said, “I think people with a certain amount of wealth are harkening back to their childhoods.” She also pointed out that the market is just under 40 years old. “In the beginning people were buying because they liked the property not because they were thinking it would go up in value. Enough people have put money into the market to pave the way for memorabilia to now be perceived as less of a risk.”

When I called Margaret Barrett, Director, Entertainment and Music Memorabilia, she laughed and said, “The market keeps getting bigger and stronger but no one knows why, exactly.” She agrees with Woolley about buyer’s nostalgia. “I think people are sentimental about the rock stars they loved. We recently sold a card from a regular deck of playing cards that was signed by Jim Morrison for $11,000. Our buyers are looking for a tangible connection to the stars. There are people who buy for an investment, but at Heritage we see more passionate collectors who want to display these items in their personal collections.”

The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia MarketPrior to the Sotheby’s 1981 sale, large auction houses sold memorabilia items within manuscript or document sales. Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of the Fine Books and Manuscripts and Entertainment Memorabilia at Bonhams, Los Angeles, echoed this when I spoke to her, saying that 20 or 30 years ago a collector would have to be in-the-know about where to find rock and roll memorabilia. Now through globalization and the prevalence of the Internet there is access. Williamson notes this is helping to boost sales in many markets – not just rock and roll. As for the state of the current market Williamson said, “Collecting is more personal now than it was 50 years ago. Collectors aren’t on a prescribed scavenger hunt. They are looking for items with personal meaning from their youth.”

Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions was less sentimental in his emailed response to my question: “The rock and roll market is on a rise due to many factors. First the global interest in western pop culture especially from markets like Russia and Asia. The internet has also made awareness of items for sale to countries such as China who normally would not have been able to participate or understand how to participate in an auction in the U.S. or U.K. The biggest reason that this market has exploded is due to the hedge funds and financial institutions who are looking at rock and roll historical artifacts as a blue chip investments and a way to diversify their portfolios.”

Collecting fads come and go in waves. Currently the Beatles are on top, a couple of years ago Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley were a sure bet at auction. So what are auction houses offering this year? At Julien’s upcoming Music Icons auction on May 21 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, items from more contemporary musical celebrities are hitting the auction block. Offered at this auction are: Lady Gaga’s first piano; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s first professional guitar; David Bowie’s response to his first American fan letter; and pieces of a guitar Kurt Cobain broke on stage.

Will Gen X-ers and Millennials who are purchasing at auction now reap the same benefits as their Baby Boomer parents? Will Gen X-ers and Millennials maintain the same passion for music, propensity toward nostalgia and desire to collect as their parents have collected? For the sake of the market – let’s hope so. May the loud rocking concert performance that is the rock and roll memorabilia market continue its world tour for years to come.

Megan Mahn Miller is the owner and president of Mahn Miller Collective Inc., an appraisal company specializing in Hollywood and Rock & Roll Memorabilia. Mahn Miller is also a property specialist with Julien’s Auctions. She can be reached at

The State of the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Market

“Putting a price on Prince collectibles: Don’t be fooled by rip-offs”

I recently spoke to Kim Palmer of the Star Tribune about Prince Memorabilia.

Putting a price on Prince collectibles: Don’t be fooled by rip-offs

The musician’s sudden death boosts demand for related memorabilia. But be wary of rip-offs.


When Prince died, Megan Mahn Miller felt the same shock and sadness shared by many Minnesotans. But because of her profession, she also knew what would inevitably follow: a flood of people buying and selling Prince-related memorabilia, some of it authentic, and some just a moneymaking scam.

“As an appraiser and auction professional, I run the risk of looking like an ambulance chaser if I start discussing the crass realities of property, money and death,” she wrote in a blog post on her website ( “Here is the reality. When a celebrity dies, more of their memorabilia hits the market.”

Grieving fans want to possess a link to a celebrity they loved and admired, and others see an opportunity to cash in. “Some are legitimate, but some are criminals.”

Mahn Miller of Minneapolis is an expert on celebrity memorabilia. She’s a property specialist for Julien’s, a California-based auction house, and she also runs her own appraisal company, Mahn Miller Collective Inc.

“The rock’n’ roll memorabilia market is insane right now,” she said, and a sudden death of a high-profile musician can trigger a buying and selling frenzy.

Would-be collectors need to take a deep breath and avoid buying on impulse. The value of a Prince artifact is determined by the same factors that determine value for any piece of memorabilia: provenance (origin), age, condition and scarcity, according to Mahn Miller.

A paper flier from the 1970s advertising a Prince appearance could have more value than a more durable artifact, she noted, “because that’s the kind of thing people tend to crumple up and throw away.”

If you want to own something relating to the life or career of Prince, be careful, do your research and try to make certain that you are buying from a reliable source, she cautioned. “Ask a lot of questions. It’s on them [the seller] to prove to you that what they have is genuine.” If the seller claims that an item was worn or played by Prince, ask for or look for a photo showing that the musician had contact with the item.

Fan forums can be a good source of information, she said. “They know better than anyone what’s authentic. … You can also research people online. Companies that sell fake memorabilia get sniffed out and develop a reputation.”

The longer-term market for Prince memorabilia remains to be seen. “We won’t know for another year,” she said.

A few deceased celebrities, such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, have stayed in consistently high demand. The market for Michael Jackson memorabilia after his sudden death followed a different arc. “It experienced a tremendous peak right away, stayed high for a few years, and has gone back down,” she said.

Scarcity may keep the market robust for Prince memorabilia. “The Prince market was already strong,” said Mahn Miller. “In the rush to get property to market, you run the risk of inundating the market, but I don’t see that happening with Prince. There’s not enough property, and there’s a lot of interest. He died so young. It’s not like a Frank Sinatra who had a longer time to amass things. And Prince was a private person. Michael Jackson signed more autographs.”

Before Prince’s death, the priciest piece of Prince-ly memorabilia was the handwritten lyrics for “Purple Rain,” which sold for $70,000 in 2010. Prince guitars have sold for up to $30,000, Prince clothing for $2,500 to $5,000, and signed documents for $600 to $1,000, she said.

Bottom line: Buy something only because you value it personally, not because you’re hoping it will appreciate substantially in monetary value. “The most important thing is to be sure to buy a piece you love,” said Mahn Miller. “Buy a piece you love, and it will always have value for you.”

And approach any potential purchase with a grain of skepticism.

“If it looks to be too good to be true, it probably is,” Mahn Miller said. “If someone is trying to sell a Prince guitar for $300, it probably isn’t a Prince guitar.”



Newsweek Analyzes the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Market

Newsweek weighs in on why collecting Rock and Roll memorabilia has risen in popularity.  In the article, published yesterday, author Greg Evans, gives his assessment of the state of the industry.


Rock ’n’ roll’s history, it seems, is being bought up by the 1 percent. And while that’s true about so many buyable things, why are the rich spending the money now, and why on this stuff? In some strange convergence of economics, sentiment and availability, wealthy baby boomers looking for interesting places to park their money occupy a historical moment in which the elders of rock’s greatest generation have realized they can’t take it with ’em. As rock stars give up their long-held keepsakes—and auction houses tap into a public schooled on Antiques Roadshow andPawn Stars—modest items like lyric sheets and autographs seem increasingly to share gavel time with rock-museum-level items that would cost more in insurance alone than the average 99 percenter could scrape up.

Meredith Rutledge-Borger, who has been a curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland for 20 years, says she first noticed tremors in the rock market in the early 2000s. “Eric Clapton sold his Blackie guitar and got so much money for it,” she says, referring to the 2004 Christie’s sale of Clapton’s ’50s-era Stratocaster that raised $959,500 for the guitarist’s Crossroads Center rehab facility. That and other high-profile sales around the same time “brought so many people into the market,” says Rutledge-Borger. “Sotheby’s and Christie’s started having more and more high-end rock ’n’ roll memorabilia auctions, and new auction houses like CooperOwen and Heritage got into it as well. Now it seems like every month there’s an auction bringing in record amounts of money.”

She isn’t complaining. Institutions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and L.A.’s Grammy Museum rely hugely on private collectors for exhibitions. “There are people who just have this collecting gene,” says Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. “And thank goodness they do because music museums around the world rely on them.” Though auction houses can be extremely tight-lipped as donors demand anonymity, public exhibits would dwindle without the kindness of billionaires. How much good stuff is stashed away in private vaults will likely remain unknown.

Garry Shrum, consignment director at Heritage Auctions, traces rock’s broader investment appeal to 9/11. “After September 11, everything went screwy,” says Shrum, whose Dallas-based auction house recently sold a lock of Lennon’s hair to a British collector for $35,000. As traditional investment options underwent a post-attack slump, some of the more adventurous 1 percenters sought new financial havens, from rare coins to Superman comics. Says Shrum, “It was like, ‘Damn, this is really cool, it has good value, and you know what? Twenty years from now, it’s still going to be cool.’”

Cool, yes, but will the rock treasures hold their monetary value? Collectors seem to think so, even if sellers aren’t so sure (hence the selling). But even the most seasoned buyers, when pressed, admit that the sentimental tug of owning your childhood guitar hero’s Les Paul trumps potential resale value. Predicting investment payoffs is a risky game, never more so than when placing bets on the enduring appeal of rock stars. Even if we agree that David Bowie’s artistic legacy will hold strong, are his fans the long-term collecting type, secure in the knowledge that a post-mortem bump in stock will hold value in coming years?

Certainly emotion will drive one of the biggest upcoming auctions, when Prince’s black-and-gray motorcycle jacket from 1984’s Purple Rain is sold by California’s Profiles in History auction house this summer. Bidding runs from June 29 to July 1, and the auction house placed an estimated price of $6,000 to $8,000 on the piece prior to the rock star’s death in April, but a spokesman for Profiles in History has said he wouldn’t be surprised if the price sails past $100,000.

Stakes like that have their own special appeal. Irsay can make a big-money auction sound as exciting as any NFL playoff game, a contest made all the more intoxicating by a sense of cultural responsibility: Irsay, who also owns the scroll on which Jack Kerouac typed On the Road, describes himself as a temporary custodian of souvenirs from an era when “multiple Shakespeares were walking around—like Lennon and Dylan—and their likes won’t be seen again.”

Exclusive club

That combination of idée fixe and financial wherewithal makes for an exclusive club. “You’ve got to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions, to spend $2 million on a guitar,” says Andy Babiuk, author of the lovely and definitive Beatles Gear and Rolling Stones Gear books. Match the drive with the capability, he says, and “that’s maybe 25 or 30 people worldwide.”

Longtime collectors ready to cash out aren’t the only ones benefitting from the memorabilia boom. In 2014, San Diego contractor John McCaw noticed that the Gibson acoustic-electric he bought from a friend in 1969 for $175 looked nearly identical to one featured in a magazine article about the late George Harrison’s guitar collection. After a bit of research and some guidance from Babiuk, McCaw confirmed that his scratched-up Gibson once belonged to John Lennon—the two Beatles had received their guitars from Gibson in 1962, and Lennon’s was left behind by a roadie at a 1963 London Christmas gig. Over the years, the missing Gibson J160-E had taken on near-mythic status in Beatles lore, unbeknownst to the man who bought it from a friend in San Diego upon returning from a stint in Vietnam decades ago. Though gaps in the guitar’s travels have yet to be explained, the Gibson somehow made it from Swinging London to a San Diego guitar shop in 1967—one theory holds that another, unnamed British invasion band snatched the left-behind instrument, toured with it through the mid-’60s and finally traded it in for an upgrade. Whether this hypothetical band knew it was strumming Lennon’s guitar is unknown: certainly the guitar store and the 1967 purchaser didn’t, or the price would have exceeded $175, even back then.

In any case, once McCaw realized what he’d had all these decades, he decided that his San Diego home was no place for a rock ’n’ roll holy grail. The guitar sold to an anonymous bidder through Julien’s Auctions in Hollywood last October for $2.4 million, proceeds which McCaw offered to share with Yoko Ono’s Spirit Foundation charity.

Neither McCaw nor Julien’s Auctions owner Darren Julien will disclose the identity of the winning bidder—anonymity is guarded fiercely in the auction industry.

Sometimes though, the big game bidders don’t mind who knows what’s in their collection. In 2000, Rick Tedesco, the owner of the Guitar Hangar music store in Brookfield, Connecticut, tracked down the 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom once owned and played by Mick Ronson, David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars guitarist whose work on The Man Who Sold the WorldHunky DoryThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From MarsAladdin Sane and Pin Ups defined the sound of glam rock. “I wasn’t trying to sell it,” says Tedesco. “It was just the purest form of ‘I want to own the guitar that made me want to play the guitar.’ I always said that to sell it would take an enormous, stupid amount of money and then some.”

Enter Simon Dolan, the 46-year-old British-born multimillionaire entrepreneur and race car driver. In 2014, Dolan learned of the Ronson guitar, and after a small bit of haggling and a $200,000 check, the Les Paul was headed to Monte Carlo, Monaco. “If someone offered me $5 million, I wouldn’t sell,” Dolan says in an email to Newsweek . “The first time I played it was about a week after Bowie died. I knocked out the Ziggy riff, and it was simply magical—actually brought a tear to my eye.”

“Local Auction Expert Weighs In on Prince Memorabilia”

I had the privilege of being interviewed by the talented Jessica Miles of KSTP regarding Prince and the memorabilia market.  It’s a bit of a follow-up on last week’s Prince Memorabilia post:

Local Auction Expert Weighs In on Prince Memorabilia

The Loss of Prince and the Effect on Value of His Memorabilia

Astonished is the best way to describe what I felt yesterday when I first heard about Prince’s death.  At 57, he was simply too young – too vibrant of a performer to be gone.

As an appraiser and an auction professional I run the risk of looking like an ambulance chaser if I start discussing the crass realities of property, money and death.  I would not have posted this if media outlets weren’t already discussing this topic.

Here is the reality, when a celebrity dies more of their memorabilia hits the market.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Fans want to possess a link to the celebrity they love
  2. Attentions turn to the celebrity.  Their name is everywhere and trending, including in the marketplace.
  3. People see an opportunity to make money.  Some of these people are legitimate and some are criminals.

If you are interested in owning something relating to the life or career of Prince, be careful, do your research and find an experienced outlet to purchase items from.    Auctions take a long time to put together.  I don’t think you will see Prince memorabilia at auction until later this year.  If you can’t wait there are legitimate retail outlets that specialize in memorabilia.  Jeff Gold’s Record Mecca comes to mind, but there are certainly others.

The most important thing is to be sure to buy a piece you love.  There is a perception that the value of an item will increase with the death of a celebrity.  Items from Prince were fairly scarce in the marketplace prior to his death.  Now there may be a rush of memorabilia from people who have been holding on to it.  I suspect we will see concert posters, photographs, perhaps even amateur recordings, yearbooks – all nature of items from Prince’s personal and professional life.   Will there be a flood in the market that ultimately lowers values?  Or will fan and collector enthusiasm sustain high prices?  There will be more questions than answers until there is an opportunity to look back on the market trends.  Buy a piece you love and it will always have value for you.

Additionally, it behooves the buyer to contact another source before purchasing an item, in any situation.  This is true in all areas of collecting.  Find an expert, find other knowledgeable fans, or fan forums, get another opinion on authenticity.

If you have Prince memorabilia to sell, the burden is on you to prove its authenticity.  Do you have a photograph of Prince with the item?  Other provenance proving the association to Prince?

As a property specialist I approach each piece with suspicion.  Not everyone in the memorabilia business is as careful – or perhaps they have a more trusting nature.

As a professional I am bound by certain ethics and codes of conduct that prevent me from saying anything disparaging about other auction houses and memorabilia sellers.  I can say there are a number of auction houses that I have great respect for: Bonham’s, Heritage, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and, of course, Julien’s where I am employed.

Prince will be with us, in his music, forever and I am so thankful to live in a time, and a place that appreciated his genius and influence.  My thoughts go out to his family, friends and fans.  We lost someone really special yesterday.

Fast Talking Podcast With Andy Imholte

Andy Imholte graciously let me come on his show.  We talk about comparable sales, the memorabilia market, the Graduate Personal Property Appraiser (GPPA) designation, and more.

106: Appraising Memorabilia: Megan Mahn Miller

With the success of programs like Antiques Roadshow, many people think they own valuable collections or items. However, interest does not always mean value. To dig into the topic of appraisals Andy welcomes Megan Mahn Miller, property specialist with Julien’s Auctions to discuss her experience valuing items that could be considered priceless.