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Memorabilia: How to Qualify?

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 24 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Memorabilia Records Posters Dolls

One question that’s sometimes asked is exactly what qualifies as memorabilia? Does something have to be older to have value? What might be worth collecting?

The simple answer is that age has very little to do with how desirable a piece might be as memorabilia. After all, those ELO albums came out in the late 70s, but they’re essentially worthless. What is important is rarity. That’s what decides the price and the desirability. It could be something from the early days of music or something made last week. If there are very few copies of the item then people will want it and be willing to pay for it.

What Do People Want?

Memorabilia collectors fall into three distinct groups. The first are those who collect memorabilia in general, selecting items of value that catch their eye. What they look for doesn’t have to fall into any particular genre. The second group are those interested in particular group and artists, who’ll seek down anything and everything to do with that artist, whether rare or not. They’re completists, and their goal in life is to look for everything to do with their heroes. The final category is filled with those who collect a particular style or period of music, which might be early blues or 1970s punk, or any other kind. That offers much wider scope.

Older Items

As a general rule, almost anything old will qualify as memorabilia. There’s one simple reason behind this: time will have taken its toll on the amount of anything available. Almost anything from before, say, 1955, will have some value, especially 78 rpm records, posters, and more. So little from this period survives and, in fact, so little was originally produced. There were the records, trade ads for the records and items relating to the artists, which would be limited to publicity pictures and posters for appearances.

Beyond the discs themselves it can be hard to always know the authenticity of the items. That applies into the 1960s with the Fillmore posters, many of which have been reprinted and are collectible in all versions. If people want it, it’s memorabilia, even as a reprint.

Newer Items

With the mass production of records, then CDs, only the rare records have real value, and those are few and far between (one example would be a CD that was withdrawn after just a single day; these do happen and can fetch up to £100, depending on the artist).

From the 1960s onward, after pop music became a commodity, the emphasis is on items besides the recorded music itself. Clothing, autographs, sheet music, instruments, books, music magazines and newspapers all fall into the broad definition of memorabilia, and extremely rare authenticated items, like handwritten lyrics, can command small fortunes.

The closer to the present you come the harder it is to discern what qualifies as real memorabilia. You can discount anything produced in quantity, with a few exceptions. Dolls of different artists will generally always retain their value and often increase in price in a few years; they’re the kind of novelty item few purchase when they’re put out. Similarly, autographs are unlikely to lose value.

Ultimately, memorabilia is what you make it. If you’re collecting as an investment it will be one thing, and you’ll have your eyes on the rarities that will go up in price. If you’re collecting for the purer pleasure of a collecting relating to something, the future monetary value will be less important than acquiring an item you don’t already have, however little it might be worth.

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