One Love: Bob Marley memorabilia
Reggae legend Bob Marley passed away thirty two years ago this week, on May 11, 1981.
Bob Marley is credited with introducing the wider world to reggae, as well as the Rastafarian culture. He was massively influential on a global scale in his music, his political and religious views, and his character. He remains a cultural icon, and a widely recognisable figure.
Bob’s music was heavily influenced by social issues of Jamaica, and the ideals of the Rastafari movement. He was, and still is, considered by many as the mouthpiece of Jamaica.
Wikicollecting looks at the collectibility of this cultural hero, a man who is synonymous with reggae and Rastafarianism, and credited with introducing the larger world to Jamaican music and the Rasta way of life.
Nesta Robert ‘Bob’ Marley grew up in Jamaica. Along with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, he formed The Wailers in the 1960s. The band produced groundbreaking music, making the transition from ska and rocksteady to a new style of Jamaican music, reggae. This was heavily influenced by the beliefs and ideals of the Rastafari movement.
In 1974, Tosh and Bunny left the group, and Bob began recording under the name Bob Marley and the Wailers, with an assorted group of new band members.
Bob Marley died aged just 36, in 1981.
Rastafarian culture rejects the degenerate society of materialism, oppression and sensual pleasures, which they call Babylon. Marley was a fierce believer in this, advocating love and freedom from the corporate machine.
With this is mind, some argue that the corporate market in Marley collectibles has destroyed the spirit and the message of Bob Marley and his music, by commercialising and pacifying his militant and political side. Marley was an agitator, an agent of social change, speaking out against oppressors, and his music was a force in this.
Marley’s songs are now played as easy listening music, his character ‘immortalised’ in numerous items of mass produced merchandise. Marley rebelled against the Babylon system, but in death and legendary status, has been absorbed by it.
The Marley estate, who license the mass produced memorabilia, claim that they are spreading his ‘universal message of peace and love’ further.
Collecting Bob Marley
For many, Bob Marley is the world of reggae incarnate. Items connected with him, even merchandise, becomes symbolic of a whole culture. Many teenagers buy into it as a lifestyle brand, as an identity, perhaps due to its connotations of rebellion and Rasta philosophies.
Marley also has a cross-generational appeal, loved by adults who remember him as their first introduction to reggae. The iconography of freedom, love and resisting oppression that is synonymous with Bob Marley is incredibly appealing.
Having died tragically young, his legendary status was perhaps even more firmly cemented. The short span of his life and career has also resulted in a limited supply of memorabilia such as autographs, making these likely to increase in value in the near future.
His true fans know that his memorabilia should be treasured –not hidden away as an investment, exploited for financial gain. While collecting Marley merchandise can be seen as going against everything the reggae legend stood for, you could argue that a shrine to Bob and his ‘universal message of peace and love’ is no bad thing.
A note on merchandise
As mentioned previously, it is often seen as a cultural statement and lifestyle brand to decorate with and/or wear Marley related items.
Bob Marley merchandise is widespread and affordable. It can be bought on numerous outlets across the internet. Modern-produced items with Marley’s face, iconic dreadlocks, song lyrics, and the Jamaican flag are practically ubiquitous. Marley apparel and accessories in particular are a massive business, exceeding $100 million annually in the United States alone.
Items can be as diverse as clothing, badges, mugs, cushion covers, clocks, pop art canvases, lava lamps, and baby grows.
‘Real’ Bob Marley memorabilia
The profusion of merchandise throws into sharp relief the incredible scarcity of ‘real’ memorabilia relating to Bob Marley. Whether this is because items are being jealously guarded in the hands of true fans (and institutions) who won’t part with them for years to come, or whether there is a dearth of items owned, touched, or produced by the man himself is uncertain.
However, while autographs, music memorabilia and personal items linked to Marley are somewhat more exclusive and a hell of a lot rarer than the myriad of merchandise produced in bulk over the last three decades, they are actually quite reasonably priced compared to the memorabilia of some other music legends. Marley items will often fetch a few hundred or a couple of thousand at auction, rather than pushing tens or even hundreds of thousands, like items related to John Lennon for example.
It is likely that most of Bob Marley’s possessions remain in the hands of his family, friends and fellow musicians, or in music memorabilia museums.
However, some items are ever so occasionally seen at auction. Notably, a Christie’s auction in 1998 sold a worn denim tour work shirt for $6,900, and his American Express credit card and three bank cheques for $3,680 apiece.
Lyrics and set lists, handwritten by Bob Marley, are perhaps the most sought after collectibles as they represent his words and his music in a tangible and highly personal form. They are also extremely rare.
A collection of lyrics and set lists that he scribbled in his art director’s notebook are the most expensive piece of Bob Marley memorabilia ever sold, having achieved $72,000 at Christie’s in 2006.
A single sheet of partial lyrics for Ambush in the Night sold for $10,120 at Christie’s in 1998.
Autographs & Photos
Numerous photographs of Bob Marley have been reprinted, so photos can be picked up cheaply all over the place. The rarity is signed photographs, because of course these were printed during Marley’s lifetime and came into contact with the legend himself. Autographs, and signed photographs are rare, because he died so young – they are in limited supply and thus become increasingly valuable as more collectors get their hands on them. Autographs are not too expensive at present, and can usually be found for under $1,000, so now is the time to buy them, before they enter the realm of investment grade collectibles and prices skyrocket.
Copies of Bob Marley’s records on vinyl are also likely to increase in value as they become more rare. Of course signed copies are particularly desirable. A signed copy of the album Kaya sold for $1,000 in 2007, and a signed copy of Bob Marley and the Wailers Live sold for £1,500 in 2005.
You must always keep records in good condition, as mint copies are the ones that will appreciate with time.
It is easy to forget that Marley’s career coincided with the dawn of the cassette tape. Whether these will one day become sought after collectors’ items is as yet unclear, however, an original cassette tape upon which a young Bob Marley recorded some songs with R&B musician Jimmy Norman in the Bronx, known as the Bronx Jam tape, sold for $26,290 at Christie’s in 2002.
Original posters from concerts are much more valuable than the myriad of posters produced as fan merchandise after his death. Original concert posters are a fantastic addition to a collection, and have great eye appeal.
That’s not to say they can’t be eminently affordable. A poster from his 1978 Kaya tour from a concert at the Greek Theater in UC Berkeley sold for $400 at Heritage Auctions in 2008. An oversize billboard poster for Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1980 sold for £125 at The Fame Bureau in 2009. A 1975 concert poster for Bob Marley and George Harrison sold for just $75 at Nico Auctions in 2013.