Collecting Punk Memorabilia

It is hard to believe that it was over 30 years ago that the Sex Pistols played their controversial version of ‘God Save the Queen’ in 1977. The tabloid press was in a frenzy. Died in the wool Punk fans would say that the movement had already died by 1977, but most people’s awareness of Punk started here. Punk as ‘public enemy number one’ remained in the consciousness of the British public and left a legacy that lives on to this day.

Any punk memorabilia that survived the raucous concerts and general anarchy would make a brilliant collection. Punk memorabilia, especially clothes have become very collectable and are sought after by collectors as well as museums. Fashion design, graphic design, music and film all owe a huge debt to this creative movement.

When collecting Punk memorabilia we should remember that Punk as a movement is something that is hard to define.  It was a way of life for fans, from attitude to clothing and general outlook on life and its anti-establishment message.  For the general public the best representation of all that was bad about the Punk movement was personified in the band ‘The Sex Pistols’, which had been the brainchild of manager Malcolm McLaren.  The were part of the ‘Punk package’ that were spreading their anti-establishment message throughout the country.

The media outcry and huge take-up by a disaffected youth was better than any music marketing campaign you could run today.  It gave the youth of Britain a sense of focus while poking fun at the establishment and everything the country valued.

Armed with slogans on t-shirts, bondage style clothing and a variety of merchandise, The Sex Pistols took their campaign around the country.  In the 1970s the British view of royalty, politics and public order was vastly different to our more cynical views of today.  Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood had a huge influence on the movement with their clothes designs, which were worn by The Sex Pistols and would be very desirable for anyone collecting Punk memorabilia.

Although the outer trappings of the Punk movement, such as the clothes and hair styles could be acquired by anyone, the essence of the Punk movement was a question of attitude.  Punk was about questioning the status quo and encouraging people to think outside the box.  Punk worked on different levels and was interpreted differently all over the country.  We tend to remember the most extreme images of the Punk movement such as the giant spiky hair and the ripped clothing held together with safety pins.  Clothing, artwork and other memorabilia from this period challenged conformity and English history and youth are embedded in them.  It’s unique British fashion and could not have happened anywhere else.  The clothing of the period shocked, intrigued and still amazes us and kids were actually arrested and charged with indecency for wearing them.

However, times change and what was once seen as ‘the enemy’ has become part of the great British institution of eccentricity.  The impact can be seen today when new bands are wearing Punk inspired clothing.  Museums, fashion magazines, celebrities and today’s youth are now recognising the power of the Punk movement and looking at it afresh.

Punk memorabilia is much sought after now.  The clothes sold at the time by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were not cheap, with t-shirts priced at £6  and shoes costing as much as £60.  If you’ve got any of your old Punk clothes stored in the attic you could make some money – the t-shirts are now sold for upwards of £100, depending on design and condition.  Although pristine pieces are always sought after, remember that these clothes were part of an underground movement and bear the scars of gigs and parties.

The clothing should be considered as combined works of fashion and art.  The screen-printed designs and slogans of Jamie Reid and Vivienne Westwood’s individual style made for an impressive combination.  Taking the image of Queen Elizabeth II and modifying it with a safety pin has a strong impact even today.  In the 1970s, the motifs and wording on this clothing challenged the British ‘stiff upper lip’.

If the T-shirts are out of your price range there are other things to collect.  Posters and flyers are always a great snapshot of the time.  Gigs were frequent and bands came and went.  The Sex Pistols were hugely commercial but were quite tame compared with some of the other bands.   Posters were often produced cheaply and quickly and reproduced on simple copying machines, but few have survived.  They were disposable items designed to create short term awareness.  If you can get hold of one they look great framed.  Prices are reasonable – a flyer can cost £10-£60, depending on the band.  Posters cost more and their impact is greater.  You can build a collection of Punk memorabilia in a relatively short time and on a small budget. 

You need a slightly larger wallet if you want to collect the original records.  Among the most sought after are The Sex Pistols ‘God Save The Queen/No Feelings (A&M 1977 AMS 7284) priced at £7,500 plus.  XTC ‘Science Friction/She’s So Square’ (Virgin 1977 VS188) unreleased in picture sleeve £2,500 plus.   Joy Division ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP (Enigma 178 PSS 139) £800 plus.  Generation X ‘Your Generation/Day By Day’ (77 Chrysalis CHS 2165) unreleased picture sleeve showing pre-peroxide Billy Idol £500 plus.

If you are a collector and interested in Twentieth Century popular culture collecting Punk memorabilia would be a good starting point.

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