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The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 4, 2006

Rock and Remembrance

The photos on display at La Jolla's Morrison Hotel would make any Beatles fan's heart flutter: Paul McCartney performing during his 2002-03 world tour in places like the Colosseum in Rome, with each print signed by the rock star and photographer Bill Bernstein.

But the $1,000 price for each print is anything but nostalgic.

There's a booming market in rock 'n' roll collectibles as aging baby boomers bid up prices in reliving and remembering their youth.

The market for vintage and one-of-a-kind merchandise is humming like an amplifier at a Rolling Stones concert, with a 1980 U2 handbill selling for $250 and the piano John Lennon used to write "Imagine" going for $2.1 million.

And how about $959,000 for Eric Clapton's famed Stratocaster "Blackie"? That's the amount the instrument brought in 2004 at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Auction at Christie's auction house, setting a record for a guitar sale.

"There is huge interest today in rock collectibles," said Morrison Hotel co-owner Richard Horowitz, who has contracts with McCartney and veteran rock chronicler Bernstein to stage shows across the United States.

Horowitz also has had an agreement with Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, for the last 16 years to sell her late husband's artwork. Some of those pieces can fetch up to $20,000.

The buyers of pricey rock artifacts typically are baby boomers who grew up listening to The Who or Led Zeppelin, and who now have the money to rhythmically walk down memory lane. Some also are investors looking for a place to put their money outside of the now-tepid stock market.

That's because the values of many pieces linked to rock icons of the 1950s and 1960s have more than tripled in the last 10 years, said Gary Sohmers, a regular appraiser on the PBS show "Antiques Roadshow" and owner of Wex Rex Collectibles in Hudson, Mass. "Instead of a Gauguin on the wall, collectors can point and say 'There's a Jimi Hendrix guitar.'"

He estimated that a Beatles poster for the group's 1965 Shea Stadium appearance in New York would fetch about $130,000 today � up from between $10,000 and $15,000 a decade ago.

The Web site It's Only Rock N Roll features real-time bidding for rock music merchandise, including consignment sales and regular sales merchandise, such as a signed AC/DC guitar ($800) or an Audioslave signed microphone display ($250). Last year, the company ( made $3.2 million � a total that included auctioning an oversized Lennon autograph etched on a wooden door for $51,000.

The segment "has gone through the roof," said auction house owner Marc Zakarin, a former El Cajon resident who now works in Huntington, N.Y.

Zakarin, who began collecting pop culture artifacts in the early 1970s, said his company recently began operating a business to certify rock star autographs because of a flood of counterfeits he said are offered on eBay and other sites.

Among the authenticators is Frank Caiazzo, who certifies rock memorabilia for Sotheby's and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

"Signed Beatles albums typically range in price from $15,000 and $50,000," Zakarin said. "But you go on eBay and there will be albums going for $4,000 and sellers telling you to buy it now."

Those prices should continue to climb, said Sohmers of "Antiques Roadshow," because some of the Generation Y kids exposed to their parents' rock heroes have become fans.

But is a $2 bottle of bracing Beatles perfume from the psychedelic '60s � now selling for $12,000 � a good bet as an investment?

"I wouldn't recommend that a client spend money (on rock relics) other than as a hobby," said Michael Carlyle, a financial consultant in San Diego.

For one thing, the items might be difficult to quickly convert to cash in an emergency.

"There is also the Kobe Bryant syndrome. . . . You're a star one day and then you fall like a comet the next," Carlyle said.

But don't tell that to Bill Sagan, who spent $5 million in 2002 for the private collection of late rock impresario Bill Graham. The archive, located in a 30,000-square-foot warehouse near AT&T Park in San Francisco, boasts 30 million Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and Jefferson Airplane T-shirts, audiotapes, posters and handbills, among other valuables.

Some of the merchandise is now on sale via the Internet at Sagan's

"In the audio and video archives, there are 7,000 taped concerts alone," said Sagan, who built his fortune operating insurance and health care firms. "I'm a rock fan who wanted to get into the music business and own intellectual property."

Sagan said the company won't sell the last one or two pieces of any item � "We're also preservationists."

San Diego attorney Stephen McAvoy has amassed a $500,000 collection of 100 or so rock autographs from the likes of Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Peter Frampton.

A copy of "Goats Head Soup" signed by the members of the Rolling Stones that McAvoy purchased five years ago is now valued at $3,000.

And the value has risen on an index card autographed by all four Beatles, circa 1964, which McAvoy bought in 1997 for $3,000. It's now worth about $15,000.

'I don't do this as an investment, but because I love the music," said McAvoy, who has some of his collection at his home, including signed artwork by Lennon over his bed. "I'm a baby boomer honoring myself."

By Frank Green

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