Please tell us a little bit about the background
to the MEM business Mike.
I was working in The City in the eighties, and I
did so for fifteen years actually. I was cash rich and
time poor and was a keen collector. I had good
connections with the major auction houses and
tended to focus on dealing with them rather than
individuals. And the collecting turned into a
business as it often seems to.
You are running three distinct websites. Can you
tell us about that please?
The 'junior website' is the Record Art website and
that trundles along. The two key websites are
the Rock/Pop website and the Cinema Poster
websites. Both of those are focused mostly on
Thatís a USP for you as is the fact that you
are catering for both Music and Movies?
Yes. The combination is unusual and there
arenít many dealers or galleries who cover
those two sides of the memorabilia business. And
I find it works for me. But itís paper and
essentially UK Ė itís primarily centred on
the sixties and the seventies heyday of vintage
That might roll forward a bit as time goes on?
Yes, obviously as the demographic changes, so
youíre going to expect to see some shift along
the chronological curve, but I think itís fair
to say that there are certain actors, actresses
or bands from the sixties and seventies whoíve
achieved that kind of iconic status. The
Beatles, The Stones, Marilyn Monroe, Steve
McQueen Ė in those areas what you find is
theyíre not simply being collected by people
who were there at the time and young at the time
but youíve got twenty and thirty year olds who
are going after those iconic stars as well.
Thatís good. Is it because they appreciate
what they did or that they realise theyíre
valuable or a bit of both?
I think itís a bit of both but itís very
particularly focused. So,
for example, I
have plenty of younger female clients who are
very interested in Audrey Hepburn. I couldnít
say the same for Doris Day.
Iíve got plenty of young clients who go after
Sex Pistols material and they obviously
werenít around when The Sex Pistols were on
the scene. But theyíre not necessarily going to
be interested in Cliff Richard. So itís only
certain stars who have achieved already that
iconic status that will carry them from
generation to generation. There are plenty
from the sixties and seventies who have got that
kind of status.
if you could work out whoís going to be
Ďhotí it would be worthwhile.
But it is tricky because there are some very big
stars, for example, Robert Mitchum. Now, in his heyday
he was one of the greats but you donít really
find too many people who just collect Robert
Mitchum movie posters.
I used to collect on Janet Leigh in a big way
but there wasnít much competition. One guy in
Texas and another in Australia!
But itís the same with the acts in the
music industry that have been
commercially very successful Ė 10cc for one,
theyíre very talented and very successful.
They always get sidelined, they do.
I think theyíre really undervalued, but then
again you take someone like Phil Collins. He is
one of only three stars in the world to have
sold a million albums as both a solo artist and
as a band member but is he collectable? Not
really. So itís strange how this works but I
suppose then we could start talking about the
distinction between being commercially
successful and having a cult appeal as well.
I like the cult bands from the sixties Ė The
Action and The Creation.
Fortunately these days thereís some stuff on
Youtube to watch. Reg King narrating a
documentary about them although it only lasts
for a few minutes.
They are fantastic bands and theyíre one of
the types of music I like. Thereís a book
being written about The Action which should be
very good, written by a fan and those who were
connected with the band.
Great. Because, sadly, we lost a couple of them in the last
couple of years.
What is your retro passion and what do you enjoy
most about what you are doing?
Because I started out as a collector I think I
bring that to the business. I know what
collectors want and I hope Iíve got some
appreciation of the service that they would want
from a dealer. When I was a collector, I met and
had dealings unfortunately with plenty of
dealers who I felt fell far short of the mark. I
ended up just buying from a small handful in the
the big auction houses. I try to bring that sort
of experience to the business now and the
websites are meant to be user-friendly,
theyíre meant to provide as much information
as is practical.
Is there much of a physical presence these days?
Do you do the fairs and auctions?
Well, thatís a good question. I have, over the
past ten years, done a number of the memorabilia
fairs and shows. I do very few, a select number.
I concentrate more on private exhibitions. I
think it is an important part of the business,
because obviously one wants to get out and meet
people in the flesh and give them a chance to
look at the product. And I think in many
cases itís an educational process to get
people to understand that this memorabilia is
collectable. And that it is visually stunning in many
cases and also can be a very good investment.
You need to meet people and they need to take a
look at your product and take a look at you and
work out whether or not youíre someone they
trust and want to deal with.
I can remember going to the Westminster Movie
Fair a few times and there really were quite a
few grumpy dealers there. I thought they
werenít doing themselves any favours.
I feel very strongly that these markets are
quite small and quite esoteric and one needs to
really get out there and broaden the appeal and
obviously that is good for business. So there is
a certain amount of work I do in the year which
is along those lines. Exhibitions and talking to
people. And there are still some people that
will not buy online. If you donít meet
them face-to-face youíre not going to get that
business so I would never want to become
Weíve lost the ability to browse and flick
through like we used to. I suppose you still can
at fairs. Itís a shame that some of these
stores have closed down. I know why they have,
but it's a shame even so.
Of course the shows really are hard work and I
think itís a sort of a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Obviously there are fewer dealers
therefore fewer people come to the shows and
thereís less product on show. So it sort of
has been feeding on itself. But we try to keep
in touch, as well as our web presence, to meet
and greet and bang the drum for the sector and
itís an important part of the work.
You mentioned the most popular stars and items
to collect. What sort of feedback have you had
from clients about your products and service?
I used to have everything rolled-up in one
website but at the end of 2009, start of 2010, we
opened up the two new websites and split the
businesses into two. And the feedback has
generally been very positive with the new
websites. Every item on the website is imaged so
people can look at everything and thereís a
close-up tool built into the website as well so
you can zoom in. We try to give as much
information as is practically possible about the
condition and thatís something that many
competitors donít do. If we have a movie
poster and there is some damage then rather than
ignore it we actually draw peopleís attention
to it. Thatís part of my business philosophy
that when I sell Iím hoping that the sales
You donít want returns and all that involves.
You want to make sure that if people are
surprised then theyíre pleasantly surprised
because weíre in for the long haul and our
business is based on a long-term approach. Iíd
much rather be able to sell to someone several
times over several years than just get one big
sale, the client be unhappy and for us not to
get any further business.
Repeat business being the best feedback you can
get, of course.
It is, yes, and recommendations. If you provide
a decent service or aspire to, and hopefully
often you can provide a decent service, then
people will mention you and pass you on to
others. I think because this is a small market,
reputation is jolly important and there's a different
business approach than somebody who would rather
not bother and just get a quick sale. We do try
and take care that we've got a good reputation in
That's probably your
strength over a lot of the competition?
Well, I think as we touched upon previously, the
combination of movies and music is unusual and I
think it's a good thing because it broadens our market
and we have clients who have interests in both
fields. That's one key factor. I think the other
is the range of products I've got. We have got
quite considerable amounts of stock and it tends
to be pretty good quality-wise. Certainly, the
average sale price on both websites is probably
about £100 per purchase, so we're looking at
quite good quality material. The other thing,
and I'm probably bound to say this although it
is a fact, where it is possible to compare
prices we are generally speaking quite price-competitive. I am very conscious of the
competition that I have, particularly in the
movie poster world via the Lonodn galleries. And
where we have the same posters, most often, they
will be forty to sixty percent higher than mine.
I have the original US 1960 Psycho One-Sheet
Poster and I have seen some wild variations of
the price for it the on The Internet, from about
£800 to $3,500. Quite a range.
I think it's a sign of how small the market is and
how relatively immature the market is. And also,
quite often, if you wanted to go out into the
market and buy that poster today, you might only
find two places worldwide that could offer you
that poster straight away. So there is an
argument to be made that if you happen to have a
dealer that has something that nobody else does
then in a way you can name your price. I think
that's sometimes why you see these wild variations.
Also, of course, if you look at a gallery in New
York or London then, as a potential buyer from those
galleries, you have to pay for their overheads -
the shiny wooden floors, the Armani clothes and so on.
It depends on your business model but the way
we're set-up we've made a considerable investment
with our Internet presence and we do have a big spend
on the external shows that we do. But having
said that our overheads are considerably smaller
than might be the case if we had a gallery
presence. That gives us a price advantage. I
think also the fact that we've come from a collecting
background and we still have a love and a
passion for the material and hopefully that translates
through to the service we provide. I'd say that
many of my friends are actually friends made
from the world of memorabilia. Those are the distinct
features of MEM.
Why do you think retro and nostalgia are so
strongly in people's minds and are so
I think several things are going on here. I
think a lot of people tend to collect memorabilia,
whether it's rock and roll or toys or cinema
posters - they tend to collect memorabilia from
their childhood or their teens or their early
adulthood. And why would they do that? I think
one of the reasons is that it's the time when we,
as humans, have the greatest capacity for
learning and absorbing experience and it's
natural. And generally speaking those are
happier times without the stresses of adulthood,
looking at life through rose tinted spectacles.
Yes, that's my logo on the front of my website.
Well, there you go. And it's a nice comforting
thing psychologically to do. But of course as
you grow up then people's interests do become
more sophisticated as well. And a lot of people
like to go back and look at the history of the
bands and the evolution and the quality of the
poster artwork and the development of that particular
They rediscover it in a way?
Yes, exactly, so I think there's quite a lot of
that going on. I think also memorabilia used to
be a much poorer cousin in terms of antiques and
collectables but we've seen over the past ten or
fifteen years a real development in the higher
echelons of the auction industry. Christies and
Bonhams hold regular auctions alongside their
auctions of collectable travel posters. They have
auctions of rock pop memorabilia and cinema memorabilia
and I think this has also given a
respectability within the market as well. And finally,
although I would say that what fires most
collectors if that collecting gene and that
passion, but it's also very nice to know that if
you've been a canny collector you are in many,
many cases sitting on a very, very good investment.
And it's also people's ability to buy when
they're a little bit older as well, I should
Yes, there are some people who collect and hoard
through their childhood and they simply supplement
as they grow older and as their budget expands.
But in many cases what you're seeing is that when
people have got some disposable income as they
move into their forties, forties and fifties
then some of that gets ploughed back into buying
memorabilia and building a collection. I think
we've been very lucky in a way, people involved
as collectors or dealers. Because although you
would be foolish to say there's been a straight
line appreciation of prices and values. Nonetheless
over the past ten or fifteen years good quality
cinema posters and good quality rock and roll
memorabilia has really been a fantastic investment
when you compare it to the travel poster market.
Yes, there are travel posters that sell at Christies
for £10,000 or £20,000 - it's a mature market,
but you don't see that price appreciation over a
corresponding period. Whereas
people buying a Beatles gig poster 10 years ago
might have paid a couple of thousand £'s, nowadays
you're more likely to have to pay £10,000 plus.
That's a sign of the growing Investment
potential over recent years.
Bill Wyman has always been a big collector and
he said to me that when he was collecting all of
his memorabilia in the sixties and seventies his
contemporaries all scoffed at him and his suitcases
full of stuff. But now he's having the last
laugh because the same people are buying the
items off of him because now they're realising
the value of their past and want things to commemorate
I remember sitting in someone's kitchen in
London about twelve years ago and he opened up
an old tin box of gig fliers, tickets,
programmes and so on. His teenage daughter was
flitting in and out and you could just see from
the look on her face, her attitude and demeanour
that she thought dad was a bit of a pillock for
keeping all of this stuff. And she probably
thought that we were a couple of sad gits
talking about something that was quite inconsequential.
When it came to me making an offer, which fortunately
was accepted and at that time was quite a few hundred
pounds, her attitude totally changed.
Funny how that focuses people's minds.
I did actually say on the way out "Maybe
dad wasn't quite so silly keeping all of this
rubbish all those years ago, was
he?!" The bigger auction houses have done
a lot to popularise the market and, of course,
all of the coverage on TV antiques-based
programmes, in magazines and so on.
There are quite a few experts and valuation
It seems to me that there an awful lot of people
setting themselves up as experts and bandying
around very silly figures. I had someone who had
some Beatles autographs recently and they got a
valuation, believe it or not, from someone who worked
at a national newspaper! And who this person was
I have no idea but they suggested to them that
their autographs were worth £15,000. Now
Beatles autographs are valuable but autographs
on a piece of paper, such as this lady had, are not
worth £15,000. Closer to £3,000 or £4,000.
If you can prove the provenance and the
It seemed rather odd to me, like wanting to buy
a Scottish wild salmon and going to see a car
mechanic about it. (Digger laughs) So I've got
slightly mixed views over many experts. It's
very easy when you're valuing. And the tendency
with human nature is to not disappoint people
and to overvalue and I always tell people that
talk is ever so cheap. When you have to come to
actually hand the money over that's when you get
a much better appreciation of the value.
What are your plans for the future development
of the MEM business Mike?
Time permitting, the emphasis is getting more of
our stock listed. We still have lots more
material to go through and obviously it's a
time-consuming exercise. We do sell a lot of
material, so it's a constant process of renewal.
It's also more time spent sourcing as well and
sourcing is becoming more difficult and so we
are putting more resources into that side of the
business. Also, of course, getting out there and
doing the evangelical bit and trying to spread
the word and popularise the product. So it's
really all of those things. It's like any
business - you've got to keep looking at how the
market's developing, what the competition are
doing and what clients want and keep progressing.
There was a time fifteen years ago when you
could buy and sell memorabilia on the basis of
an ad in the paper - there was no need to have
an image of the item, and that's actually how
most memorabilia was transacted. Well, these
days everything that we sell off the websites is
imaged. Yes, I do private sales as well which
never even go onto the website, but the visual
image of pieces on offer is a big change.
Thanks for talking to us Mike.
Thank you David.