Yesterday morning a stately room at Christie’s was packed with daytime sunglasses, unshaven faces, straw hats, sneakers, boots, T-shirts and headbands. The occasion: one of the New York auction house’s pop culture sell-offs where many of the lots were pieces of rare rock memorabilia. The concert posters, autographs, instruments, portraits, vinyl and clothing were separated into sections beginning with the Velvet Underground, then moving on to punk, grunge, jazz and blues, Bob Dylan, the Sixties and metal, concluding with Madonna. The total in sales: $650,862.
The most anticipated lot was a Sears model bass guitar owned by a not-yet-famous Kurt Cobain that was used to record his early demos, “Organized Confusion” and “Fecal Matter.” Several were in attendance clearly to bid solely on the bass and left soon after it was purchased for $43,750. Other top lots included a 1967 Official Beatles Fan Club poster signed by all members of the Fab Four ($52,000), a pair of notebooks that original AC/DC frontman Bon Scott wrote song lyrics in ($35,000), a dirty piece of paper from 1964 that Bob Dylan partially scrawled the lyrics to “With God On Our Side” on ($25,000), and a Tokai Stratocaster once owned by Stevie Ray Vaughan ($22,500).
Other interesting lots included handwritten letters between a young struggling Jimmy Page and his American pen pal ($12,500), an opening night invitation to the legendary Studio 54 nightclub ($2,375), and an extremely rare sealed copy of the infamously bizarre Beatles’ “Butcher” album cover for “Yesterday and Today,” in which the band is pictured wearing butcher’s smocks handling loins of raw meat and baby doll parts (surprisingly, this lot was not sold). A pair of groovy green glasses once worn by John Lennon sold for $8,125 and Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to Hank Snow’s “Little Buddy,” scrawled by a teenage Bobby Zimmerman while he was in camp, sold for $12,500.
Though purchasing rock fetish items during a financial crisis may seem unwise, Christie’s Head of Pop Culture Simeon Lipman, says you can’t stop a true fan from getting his hands on beloved goods. “I think that with any kind of collectibles auction it’s more nostalgia driven than investment driven,” said Lipman, who also helped curate the auction. He referenced lot 62, a series of publicity photos of Alice in Chains signed by the members of the band. It was estimated to sell for $600-$800 but sold for $4,375. “That’s what happens,” he said. “It’s not because people think it will be worth X in any number of years, its because those people really want it.”