Who’d have thought it? An old shop sign for K West, the Soho furriers, is now a collectible vintage artefact and the centrepiece of a selling exhibition at the Movie Poster Art Gallery in London W1.
Why? Because the yellow-tinted lightbox originally featured in the artwork for David Bowie’s seminal Ziggy Stardust album, illuminating the weird one as he posed on some office steps. And while the sign is not for sale, the clobber surrounding it in the gallery – posters, photos and promotional materials from throughout the singer’s career – is going for hundreds of pounds apiece.
When the sign hung in Heddon Street – whence it was removed by an anonymous music biz veteran in 1982 – it was an object of veneration to fans. (‘Kwest’, they thought, was a clever spelling of ‘Quest’.)
Now, according to the show’s co-curator Tim Maddison, “Bowie does know it survived and we gather he’s very pleased that it did.”
Whether he would want to buy it is another matter, though. These days, high-end rock memorabilia goes for silly prices – and even the Z-list stuff can fetch a tidy sum.
I mean, can you believe an old guest pass for a Hawkwind gig is now worth £15? That’s more than the original price to get in. And who would own up to hanging on to a Judas Priest backstage pass, never mind going to the concert in the first place? Somebody did, because both were recently for sale through Lancashire-based rock memorabilia firm Tracks.
It seems that, if you are searching for the perfect present for the old fart in your life, memorabilia is the way to go. Especially if your eyes met over a sticky bar at a student union gig by Free or (surely not!) The Groundhogs.
But for anything rare, be prepared to pay big bananas. I almost had a heart attack when I saw Tracks selling a Zippo lighter with the Apple logo on it, from the original Beatles store, at £800. I’ve got one, somewhere. I was impressed to see also that a plastic model kit of Ringo Starr from 1964 is going for £250. Wonder how much George was worth?
What people are prepared to pay is a cruelly accurate indication of a celebrity’s popularity. Not many takers for a Gary Glitter programme, then. But Tracks thinks someone will pay £100 for an old ticket to the Isle of Wight Festival when Jimi Hendrix headlined.
As with all collectibles, provenance is all-important. The internet is awash with repro. Autographs are the hardest to authenticate, as band members often signed photos for each other, or their roadie did the lot in the dressing room.
RockPopMem is for serious collectors. It was set up by a Cambridge-educated former investment banker who acquired a collection of rock memorabilia during his City career. He buys from auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, sells only original items with no reproductions, and has a knowledgeable private client base. This might be hard to believe, but this year he offered a poster for a Bay City Rollers’ gig in Hull for £125. Tartan cut-offs revival, anyone?
The main auction houses such as Bonhams hold regular rock and pop memorabilia sales, but you’d be bidding against international buyers as well as home-grown, which could bump up the price. (Bonhams recently sold a John Lennon commemorative £5 gold coin for £72,000.)
Then there’s Pop Memorabilia, offering ephemera, original sheet music, gig posters (which look good framed), original newspapers and magazines. Based in Cambridge and offering free shipping in theUK, they also buy in from the major auction houses in the UK and overseas, and sell only authenticated items.
Taking a different tack, Henrietta Bannister set up Rock Music Memorabilia to reproduce items from events organised by her father, Freddy Bannister. He ran festivals at Bath, Lincoln and Knebworth from 1969 to 1979, so it’s a fairly specialised market. She offers second-printing, limited editions of the original posters, so you know what you are getting and they are cheaper than the real deal.
There is also a range of T-shirts and commemorative sets that include photos, repro flyers, programme, ticket and CDs (not invented at the time of the Lincoln Festival – I was there, and it was cold, wet, miserable and the Incredible String Band were Incredibly Rude to me).
A happy-clappy package if all you’re looking for is memories. But not, alas, the K West sign. Now, that would be an investment…
David Bowie: Golden Years 1969-81, a free exhibition, is at The Movie Poster Art Gallery until 1 December