This is the latest edition of a multi-part blog series produced in partnership with The Realest on the key events and factors shaping the music memorabilia market. The Realest is the first dedicated authentication standard and marketplace for entertainment memorabilia.
In our Guide to the Music Memorabilia Market, published last month, a recurring theme was the dominance of vintage artists relative to active acts more popular among Millennial and Gen Z audiences. The market composition skews vintage in nature for myriad reasons:
The fourth point, however, is partially rebutted by the extreme spend of Taylor Swift and Beyonce fans on concert tickets. Millions of fans spent four-figure ticket prices to see those women live, and yet you’ll be surprised to learn just how non-existent the markets for their memorabilia are. These acts - Taylor, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, and Drake - fill the world’s largest stadiums for multiple nights, but that popularity hasn’t transferred to collecting realms. It seems, though, to be less an issue of demand and more an issue of supply.
Let's take a closer look at their markets to understand.
Taylor Swift’s fame needs no introduction. Providing one would only fall on already-fatigued ears. Since you already understand the size and scope of her superstardom, you might expect her memorabilia market to be sizable. But total sales volume of Taylor Swift memorabilia at all the auction houses* featured in our Guide to the Music Memorabilia Market was merely $36k in 2023.
That’s it. A pittance. A rounding error for some iconic vintage artists.
Many prominent houses registered zero dollars in T-Swift volume. That’s hard to comprehend, as her tour single-handedly boosts local economies.
The reality is that high-quality material simply isn’t out there. The most expensive Taylor Swift item to sell at those auction houses last year was a signed 1989 album, which sold for $5,500 at Gotta Have Rock and Roll. There were no stage or video-worn or played items to bid on.
It was at one-off charity auctions where there were some fireworks. A Swift-signed guitar sold for $120,000 at Toby Keith’s OK Kids Korral Auction, while another autographed guitar sold for $50,000 at Hometown Foundation’s Dream Ride. Such items have not typically drawn big dollar figures in the past, but the results show that demand may be significant from the Swift-loving crowd that hasn’t previously dabbled in memorabilia.
Another Swift-autographed guitar (which the listing notes was not played by her) comes to Julien’s this winter for its Musicares Charity Relief Auction, with the donation coming from the artist. Could it clear the 2023 sales volume total? It’s not a particularly high bar, though the $1,000 - $1,500 estimate remains tame.
In 2016, Beyoncé embarked on her seventh, and until 2023, most lucrative world tour. The Formation Tour spanned 49 sold-out shows across the United States and Europe, becoming her highest-grossing tour with more than $250 million in total ticket sales. Despite the series of record-breaking shows and an overall surge in popularity, the demand displayed for Beyoncé concert ticket sales did not translate to a notable auction presence. The only piece of stage-worn memorabilia from that famed Formation Tour to sell for more than $10,000 is a signed black felt hat which totaled $27,500 at a 2017 auction hosted by Heritage.
Those days might have been the peak, as the majority of Beyoncé memorabilia sales took place between 2016-2019, and some music-centric houses such as Iconic Auctions haven’t sold a single Beyoncé-related collectible in nearly four years. While the music industry surrounding Beyoncé is valued in the millions and billions, and resale prices for her concert tickets reach the thousands, prices for Beyoncé memorabilia usually settle in the hundreds. In September 2023, RR Auction struck its most expensive Beyoncé sale ever when a 5x3 index card signed by the pop legend sold for.. drumroll… $650. While that might seem low, it’s no knock on RR, as the price plus premium was more than six times their pre-sale estimate.
Unlike many in the music industry - no comment on Taylor Swift - Beyoncé’s career has intertwined with professional sports. Beyoncé belongs to a rare unique collective of performers who have taken the stage at multiple Super Bowls, with her inaugural performance coming in 2013 followed by a second showing in 2016. The sports crossover dates back to the early 2000s when Beyoncé appeared in the 2007 Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Edition.” Scenes from which would later be used for her first trading card. In 2021, Goldin sold a PSA 10 specimen for $3,900, which stands as their most expensive Beyoncé sale to date. As for an update on the market, in 2023, a different gem-mint version hit the block at Goldin and closed for $377.
Even at Julien’s, it’s not particularly cumbersome to tally the artist’s sales volume, so few are the available lots. The auction house best known for delivering impressive numbers for the biggest names in music has racked up a mere four Beyoncé sales with a total tally that sits below $14,000 all-time. Her 2023 auction house memorabilia total sat at $20k, led by Propstore’s $15,500 sale of her Foxy Cleopatra costume from Austin Powers in Goldmember.
If there’s any current market for Beyoncé, it might rest in royalties. The company Royalty Exchange, which acts as an online auction platform and marketplace for music rights, copyrights, and royalty streams, has offered opportunities in multiple offerings related to Beyoncé. Their most lucrative transaction totaled $66,500 for the public performance rights to a music catalog that was headlined by Beyoncé’s “Flawless” in addition to a remix featuring Nicki Minaj.
There is little doubt that the overall demand for Beyoncé has never been higher, as her 2023 Renaissance World Tour grossed $580 million, which more than doubled the total sales from her previous record, established in 2016. In a year where Swift stole headlines, Beyoncé broke the record for more career Grammy wins while her tour generated an estimated $4.5 billion for the US economy according to an article published by the New York Times. And to think her memorabilia market is as scarce and underappreciated as it is…
Harry Styles’ second concert tour, Love On Tour, grossed more than $600 million with north of 5 million tickets sold. While his popularity is perhaps not quite to the Taylor Swift or Beyonce standard, he boasts a remarkable global following with nearly 50 million Instagram followers. And guess what that rabid following spent on Harry Styles memorabilia and collectibles at auction houses of note in 2023?
We’re not missing any commas, nor are we missing any zeroes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a larger incongruence between a person or entity with a large following and the associated collectibles spend. Make it make sense!
Of course, fans are buying merchandise in venues other than these auction houses, which are perhaps missing the mark altogether when it comes to younger demographics in the music space. But, still…..we’re talking about 3 lots across eleven notable auction houses grossing only $1,341 for one of entertainment’s biggest superstars.
Maybe Ed Sheeran isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you think “megastar,” but the numbers don’t lie. He was, at least at one point in 2022, the most followed artist on Spotify, and his Divide Tour is the third-highest grossing of all-time.
His 2023 auction numbers actually compare very favorably to the peers listed here, though there are caveats. His auction sales totaled $68k. However, $57k of that can be attributed to two Tudor watches sold at Sotheby’s which were made for the Divide Tour crew. Though the Tudor Black Bays would have value on their own (think mid-four-figures), the prices were certainly raised by the rarity of their unique backstory. Those two items account for the lion’s share of Sheeran’s volume.
Otherwise, business isn’t necessarily booming. The Julien’s website basically stopped just short of asking us if we took our pills today when we searched for Ed Sheeran.
Easy Tiger! No such thing as a “ed sheeran” here!
Drake generated a whopping $18k in auction house volume in 2023, though there were signs of broadening collectability across handwritten lyrics (some authenticated and slabbed) and graded CDs and vinyl. Still, put it this way: Drake, the buyer of Tupac’s $1 million crown ring, seems to spend way more on memorabilia at auction than is spent on memorabilia of his.
These are the results of only five artists from a mere selection of auction houses (albeit the ones that do the most music memorabilia business), but the findings are clear: the collectibles market for the megastars of modern music is woefully underdeveloped. If these are the volumes for the megastars, imagine what that says about the market for artists of lesser popularity.
There is a teeming, but unstructured collecting economy on eBay, where the volume of merchandise transacted is higher. Here’s a sampling of volumes in eBay’s “Entertainment Memorabilia” and “Music” categories in 2023, where the frenzy for the Eras Tour was most prominent.
Taylor Swift: $7.72 million
Harry Styles: $207k
Generally, items sold are manufactured collectibles of larger quantity, rather than artist-used or rare memorabilia. There aren’t big-ticket sales among those volumes, but the sales are significant in magnitude, demonstrating the broad appetite for a more concerted and targeted effort from auction houses and artists alike.
Given the size of other collecting categories and the tools available to better engage with fanbases through social media, it seems odd that we would wait for an artist’s estate sale to see more active markets for their desirable memorabilia and collectibles. The channels to bring assets to market have underwhelmed to date, and an opportunity appears sorely missed, even if that opportunity is only for artists to raise money in support of causes dear to them. Supply of desirable assets is limited, and large, global fanbases have been given little reason to take interest. It’s possible that the same means of achieving auction success in other categories won’t work here - those methods haven’t always cultivated engaged, female audiences, and many of these fanbases skew female.
It’s hard, though, to look at the size of following for Harry Styles and his $1,000 sales volume and come to any conclusion other than this: the modern music space is one of the most untapped opportunities in collectibles.
Included auction houses: Bonham's, Christie's, Goldin, Gotta Have Rock and Roll, GWS, Heritage, Iconic, Julien's, Propstore, RR Auction, Sotheby's
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