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"it's not the world that's heavy,
it's just the things that you save"

Collecting Pearl Jam

This will be a multi-part article that discusses the various aspects of collecting Pearl Jam memorabilia. By memorabilia, we mean anything beyond the standard cd's you can walk into a record store and buy any time you like. The dictionary says that "memorabilia" is defined as "things that are remarkable and worthy of remembrance; also : things that stir recollection." We're talking about promotional cd singles, posters, vinyl, tshirts, guitar picks or even randomly flying guitar splinters...

Table of Contents:

coming next *:
Part 5: Promotional items
Part 6: T-shirts
Part 7: Misc. [including setlists, guitar picks, stage props, etc.]

NOTE: We are going to roll this series out over the next month. When we don't parcel these things out piece by piece, no one reads the whole thing!

Part 1: Introduction

For many people, Pearl Jam is the first band they have been serious fans of, and therefore you may not be familiar with the ins and outs of collecting. We have watched as fans get themselves seriously ripped off by buying items (especially autographs) that are of dubious provenance. The purpose of this series of articles is to educate and inform; it is not in any way shape or form to try to imply that one must spend all one's money on buying Pearl Jam related items in order to be some kind of super-fan. Some people enjoy collecting, and this article is to help them. If you do not collect, we are in no way making any kind of judgements about your fandom; you can be a huge fan and only own the albums. We cannot stress this enough. This article is not to make you feel unworthy, it's simply provided to help those to whom this is of interest.

Finally, the standard disclaimer: this article reflects our own personal opinions & experiences. We have found these things to be true to us - you may or may not agree. Collecting is a highly individual, personal activity and as such there is bound to be disagreement or differences in approach. We offer our viewpoint, based on 20+ years of collecting various bands, not just PJ, for education and discussion.

the zen of collecting

To us, collecting is not about immediate gratification; it is about patience, it is about the thrill of the hunt. If you need to have it now now now, and you don't enjoy the hunt, if you don't love getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning to be first in line at the record show, or spending rainy Saturdays poking around record stores, collecting is probably not for you. Or rather, you aren't going to have the real thrill of finding a copy of the "Rudolph" single going for $5 because someone doesn't know what it is, while the "Angel" single sits on the shelf in the same store for $85 because the people that work there don't know a damn thing about Pearl Jam. If you have more money than time, sure, you can obviously still collect - but you will probably end up paying that $85 because the next store down had it for half that price. It's not a value judgement, it's just the way things kind of seem to balance out.

In collecting, you need money, and you need patience. If you don't have patience, you will spend more money. And only you know what your personal breaking point is. Only you know how much money you are willing to spend to have the item of your dreams. But you can't know if you're overspending unless you take the time to educate yourself first.

why collect?

This is really hard to explain. Once you have all the music you can get, and as many live shows as you want or need, there's this whole other aspect to fandom. It's about coolness, it's the neat-o factor, and sometimes it's the fact that you're holding a little piece of Pearl Jam history in your hand. It's a totally individual thing. I like posters, but I don't have to have every single one, and I don't want them if they are really ugly. (There are exceptions to this.)

There's one rule to collecting: if you don't love it, don't buy it. You really have to love it; you're not going to get rich on buying and selling Pearl Jam memorabilia. Pick an area you love, or that interests you, and focus on that. Don't try to collect everything, there are people who have, but they're also the people you see selling it off a few years later. Or just collect the things you think are cool, period.

This may not interest you. Or you may not be able to afford it. That's fine. Owning a large collection of Pearl Jam "stuff" is not any test of ultimate fandom. It's just one part of being a fan, and you can participate or not participate.

where to collect

This is a tough one, and we get asked this all the time. Rather than oversaturating our favorite places with thousands of people, we can tell you what kinds of places to look for, and where to look for them.

The first place is record shows. A good place to start to find one is by picking up a copy of Goldmine Magazine. They have national listings of record shows (and even then, that's not exhaustive). If you don't live in a big city, you will likely need to target the next closest city. Goldmine is not by means exhaustive; it costs money to list a show in them and so there may well be a show in the next town and it won't be listed. (For example, none of the Seattle shows are ever listed in there.)

So how can you find out if your town, or a town nearby, has a record show? Find a local mom and pop music store and ask. By "mom and pop" we mean independent - if it's a chain it's a local chain - not a Musicland or Wherehouse or Tower Records. Look in the phone book; search on the net; call your college radio station (if you have one) and ask. And, the aforementioned chain stores probably have people working in them who would point you in the right direction if you asked.

The aformentioned mom and pop stores are the other place to start. Go in, look around, and see what they have. Become a regular customer, or at least regular visitor. Get to know the people that work there, and eventually they'll know you as "the Pearl Jam person" and one day you'll walk in and they'll say "Oh, we found this in a box of stuff that we just bought" and it's that fan club single you've been looking for. "How much?" "Ah, we don't care, no one else will want it, give us $20, how's that?" Really. This can happen to you.

Another place to look is garage sales and swap meets. While those aren't as focused as a record show, you can sometimes find fantastic bargains there because the people selling don't always know what they have. However, they do require infinite amounts of patience to navigate. Some garage sale folks are smart enough these days to list the fact that they are selling records in their ads; however, this means that you spend a lot of time going to garage sales that have three reissued Beatles albums that the people think are worth $50 because they saw them on "Antiques Roadshow." A lot of things at swap meets are similarly overpriced.

How to navigate a record show

Rule #1: GET THERE EARLY. I mean, be there at least 30 minutes before the doors open. Some shows will allow you in before the doors open for an additional fee; pay it, it's worth it. Not only do you get first shot at everything, but you can navigate the show much faster & easier. The times I have paid for early admission, I have finished my shopping and left before the doors opened to the general public.

Rule #2: Have enough cash. Record show dealers are mostly only going to deal in cash. While it's more tempting to take it out because you'll spend it, the worst feeling of all is finding the holy grail and not having enough cash on you. If you're worried about willpower, go with a friend, have them hold your money, and make sure they know what they're supposed to give it up for.

Rule #2a: Know how much something is worth, and how much it is worth TO YOU. Record show dealers are usually more obnoxious than Jack Black's character in High Fidelity. They will insist that the 1995 fan club single is worth $125 because they saw it somewhere once for that price. Nothing you can say will talk them down from that number. If you didn't know better, you might well pay that $125 because you thought that was a fair price. On the other hand, if you have been searching for the "Ten" promo doormat for three years and never found one, you will pay whatever the price might be in order to have one, even though you know you could probably get it for less money if you just held on a little longer. Don't be afraid to make a serious counteroffer, however. If you know that it's worth $35 and it's priced $50, offer it. Finally, if you buy more than one thing from a dealer, ask for a discount. Add up your total in your head and take 5 or 10% off. You'll usually get it.

Rule #3: if you don't see it, ask. You don't want to be one of those annoying people who goes to every vendor saying "Show me everything you have by this artist," but if you are looking for something specific, once you've gone through the Pearl Jam section, ask "Do you have any other items that aren't out?" or "I am looking for [name of item here]." They may have items they hadn't put out because they didn't have time to get to them, but will happily take them out if they think they can make a sale; they may have that item you want, or, more importantly, they may know one of their colleagues who DOES have it. I have gotten very lucky this way.

Rule #3a: If you are successful with one dealer, see if s/he has a store or ask them what other shows they go to. Make a habit of going over and going through their PJ section and saying hello at every show you go to. Cultivate the dealer. After a while, they will know that you are the Pearl Jam person, and the next time they see you, they may pull something out from under that table that will make you very happy.

Rule #4: Bring a bag to carry stuff in - most dealers won't have bags - and if you're going for posters, bring a poster tube. No one will have a tube.

Rule #5: Ask questions if you have them. You're paying for it. If the dealer won't answer, you have a choice of moving on or buying it. It's generally not worth buying from someone who is a real asshole. There's some kind of karmic thing involved, I think. Even if s/he says that they are the only person in the world who has it, they are lying.

Rule #6: Unless you're at a major show in a big city with a known dealer, DO NOT BUY AUTOGRAPHED ITEMS AT A RECORD SHOW. (See our note on autographed items below). There is a regular dealer at a record show we patronize with an autographed Temple of The Dog photo that is so obviously fake it's laughable. He's had that photo for the last seven years. There's a reason it's not selling (besides the ridiculous price). When you ask him how he got it, he tells a different story every single time. Even if you don't know your autographs (and you should not be buying at a record show if you do not - sorry to sound like a broken record here, but this is a pet peeve - more on this below), that's one sure way to tell if something is fishy.

Rule #7: Unless you're independently wealthy, know what you are going to the record show for, and be prepared to leave empty-handed if there's nothing good there. You can drop $50 at a record show on things you didn't even really want just because it's there, and you're there, and it's a good deal. Sometimes it is a good deal, and you can get all of Neil Young's early catalog on vintage vinyl that's just pristine for $.50 an album because the dealer just wants to get rid of them, but know the difference. Having a friend along to sanity check is good for this reason.

The "eBay of Pigs"

Contrary to popular belief, we do not have anything against eBay. In fact, we buy plenty of things there ourselves. (Our issue is with bootleg sellers, especially those who think they are free to cut-and-paste from the concert chronology for their listings, or people who steal our images for their listings.) Lots of the same criteria listed above goes for eBay, some of it even more important because you can't physically touch the item:

1) If you can't get a picture of the item before you bid, ask lots of questions. You are paying money, any reputable seller will happily answer any amount of reasonable questions.

2) If you're at all suspicious, and even if you're not, pay with a USPS money order. Did you know that if you buy something via mail and pay with a USPS money order, and you don't get it, that it becomes a case of mail fraud which is a federal offense? You go to the post office, file a report with the postmaster, and they initiate an investigation. Unless you're dealing with a real deadbeat, getting the letter from the Postmaster usually triggers a very quick shipment of the item you bought, and if they are a deadbeat, you can get a refund from the USPS. This is not the case with store-bought or Western Union money orders - it's mail fraud, but it doesn't launch the automatic investigation that a USPS money order buys you. It's worth it.

3) Don't buy an autographed item on eBay. More on this below.

4) Know what you're looking for; the best way to get that ultimate item is to find it listed without a photo. If you know what the item looks like, you can confirm it in writing with the seller and clean up. Items with photos sell better & are more attractive, while items without photos are less desirable.

And finally, the biggest and most important eBay rule:

5) Just because some dorkweed seller on eBay says that an item is "MEGA RARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!" does not mean that it is! In fact, 99.9% of the time, it means that the item is nowhere NEAR rare. Do your homework and know what you're buying. (Ferry Groen's is a big help here); when all else fails, ask other fans. Ask around. You've got this huge community of experts -- USE IT.

Special note regarding autographed items

It is with a very heavy heart that we watch many Pearl Jam fans throwing their money away buying autographs of dubious authenticity on eBay and other online auction sites.

We are not judging you if this is how you want to spend your money. Many fans feel that this is the only chance they have to get an autograph, and it has meaning to them. This is a personal choice and decision. All we are trying to do is help you to not get ripped off.

We are not saying that every autograph on eBay is a fake, or that everyone selling an autograph is dishonest. What we are saying is, think about it this way: if it *is* a real autograph, would you sell it for a starting bid of $9.99? Common sense really comes into play here. If you spend any time at all looking around sales of autographs in online auctions, you will see some frightening things, like copies of Who albums released after Keith Moon's death...with his signature on them! (That's one trick we'd like to learn!)

Our point is, BE AWARE. It's your money; you are the customer; ASK QUESTIONS. Guarantees of "certificate of authenticity!" (or "CoA") are also worthless unless you know who stands behind the certificate. If they don't tell you who is behind the CoA in the auction description, ask. It is your money; you are the buyer; you are perfectly entitled to ask these questions. The CoA should be backed up by a known authority, someone you can call yourself and ask about the item in question. That is the whole point of a Certificate of Authenticity. If the seller objects or is evasive, that should indicate to you that the provenance of the item is seriously in question. (For those who are not "Antiques Roadshow" junkies, "provenance" means:"the source and ownership history of an item". In other words: it is most likely a fake! )

If there is no CoA (and we really don't recommend buying an autograph from a private individual without one), then please ask for a closeup scan or photograph of the autograph on the item in question. Most sellers put up a large photo of the entire item; you don't care what that item is, you care about the autograph. Again, if the seller is legit, there should be no problem providing you, the serious bidder, with as much information and detail as you require, and that includes closeup scans of the autograph. Hopefully you are not spending large sums of money on autographs without knowing in advance what the autograph should look like; we hope you have done your research on this. This is, of course, only an option if you have seen the band's legitimate signatures in other places.

Ask how the seller acquired the autograph. They may be a professional autograph hound (someone whose job it is to stand outside shows and wait for bands and get signatures; you can recognize them because everything is wrapped in plastic, they have 5 copies of each item, and they have about 12 pens just in case one runs out). They may have been a fan who got lucky but to whom the item no longer has any meaning. But you need to *ask*. If the story sounds bogus, then it's likely that the item is as well. A photograph of the seller with one of the guys means nothing, unless the photo clearly shows them signing the item being sold (and even then, professional autograph hounds have multiple things signed so it could be a photo from 5 years ago.)

Finally, please remember that *you* are the customer, and it is *your* money at stake here. You are absolutely entitled to ask as many questions as you want about the item you are bidding on. If the seller is legitimate and the item is genuine, they should be happy to answer your questions. If they are not, or you do not like their answers, then we would strongly urge you to save your money.

People write to us all the time and ask us to help them verify that autographs are real. We had considered posting examples of the various signatures that we know to be real, but the problem with that is, the vultures would just copy those too, and we don't want to be in a position where we're validating such an expensive purchase. We are not professional autograph appraisers. This is an area you are going to have to research if you want to spend your money this way. You are just not buying the real thing if you bid on a signed index card on eBay for $9.99.

Our personal feeling is that the thrill of an autograph is in getting it for yourself. If you really feel that the only way you can get an autograph is by buying it, we'd strongly urge you to buy from a charity auction (the band donate signed items all the time) or from a highly reputable dealer.

This has been a public service announcement (with guitar!).

On to:
Part 2: spin the black circle
Part 3: The lesser evil: cds and cassettes
Part 4: you never thought you'd habit: posters

Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons