Sunday, November 4, 2007


By Rosemary McKittrick

"Calling out, around the world, Are you ready for a brand new beat?"

Remember that song from Martha and the Vandellas?

A snare drum from the Grateful Dead, costume pieces from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour, John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” Frank Zappa concert posters.

Sounds more like a nostalgic stopover in rock ‘n’ roll utopia than an auction. Hocus pocus maybe from the burial grounds of rock legends?

Just like on stage, these rock, pop, and soul legends command big dollars in the auction room. Nearly $280,000 of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia went to the highest bidders in Butterfield and Butterfield’s Sept. 9, 1996, sale in Los Angeles.

It was all there, from gold records and played instruments to Elvis childhood photographs and Elton John belt buckles.

What’s the fascination here? Things, or something more intangible?

“People are passionate about rock music,” said Michael Schwartz, director of entertainment memorabilia at Butterfield’s. “An opportunity to own a handwritten lyric from Lennon or a stage costume from Elvis brings you closer to that person. People are collecting artists that were important to them growing up.”

Rock ‘n’ roll is also purely American, the first music voicing the notes of a smoldering youth culture. “From black America came the rhythm, from white America the musical form,” said Richard Carlin in his book “Rock and Roll 1955-1970.” “It’s also a unique tribute to the power of integration.” A power that covers every emotion from ecstasy to desperation.

A scan of the auction room in Los Angeles revealed mostly baby boomers, people who grew listening to the keyboard sounds of Stevie Wonder and the voices of ‘60s recording artists like The Who and The Stones.

There was a buzz in the room and the energy shifted as John Lennon items came on the block, Schwartz said. Lennon turned out to be the top-selling recording artist. His handwritten lyric for “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” 1967, expected to bring $15,000-$20,000 sold for $48,300 to an overseas collector.

Paul McCartney’s handwritten (partial) lyrics to “Hey Jude,” released as a single in 1968 realized $20,700.

“Lennon rises above the other three Beatles in desirability because he’s dead,” said Schwartz. “Lennon items are hot right now.”

How much do you think a dress worn by Madonna in the music video “Like A Prayer” brought? Brown with a lace bodice and spaghetti straps, the outfit came in a hard plastic case with a color photograph of Madonna and realized $8,625.

“There are different types of collectors in this field,” Schwartz said. “Some look for classic rock items from The Beatles and The Who. Others look for older groups like Buddy Holly and Elvis.”

His advice to beginning collectors: “Buy what you really love. Don’t buy something just because someone tells you to. Use your gut experience to guide you.”

“In this type of auction,” Schwartz added, “Everyone goes home happy.”

Q. I’m enclosing two pictures of items left to us by my husband’s aunt. They’ve been in the family for generations and I don’t know anything about them and would appreciate any information you can provide. Mrs. Richard Moore, Pittsburgh.

A. Your first item is a bride’s basket. Victorian ladies received these baskets as wedding gifts and they were popular. The glass inserts, made by both European and American glassmakers came in a variety of soft colors. Your peach-blow basket with enameled floral decoration is a classic example.

The glass inserts usually rested in silver plated holders. Some were plain; others featured cherubs, flowers and animals. Pairpoint and Wilcox were two notable makers.

Tastes change and after the turn-of-the-century bride’s baskets fell from favor. Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide lists baskets like yours at $150-$250.

Your second piece is a Mary Gregory pitcher. Gregory worked for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company for two years in the mid-1800s. Whenever you see these fine colored or crystal decorated pieces with figures of children in white enamel they’re called Mary Gregory.

They were popular from the mid-1800s until the turn-of-the-century. Mary Gregory glass originated in Europe and was copied by American glassmakers. Pieces with all-white figures are generally considered to be the American examples. Schroeder’s lists similar pitchers at $150-$200.

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