Ask the Gold Digger
Were you there at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 23, 1978 when Bob Marley performed the North American leg of his Kaya Tour with the Wailers? Because if you were, you might remember what he was wearing: a short-sleeved military-look shirt, a faded green, with yellow patch pockets, and orange yoke trim. This shirt is being auctioned through Nov. 19, so it is not too late to get a piece of this great Reggae celebrity’s wardrobe. The auction is held online by RR Auction in a themed sale offering other music celebrity memorabilia called The Marvels of Modern Music Auction.
The auction website explains that the concert, at which the shirt was worn, was held on Haile Selassie’s birthday, in honor of which Marley sang a rare live performance of “Sun is Shining.” If any (older) fan of Marley was in attendance, I hope you tell me how this went down!
Because this is a celebrity piece at auction, we understand the importance of provenance (meaning from whence an object comes). This shirt was a gift from a friend, who apparently knew Marley’s sister, to another friend (the present owner and consignor), who searched for photo documentation of Marley wearing this shirt. This was achieved this summer, when the owner-consignor discovered press materials from our Santa Barbara Bowl, showing Marley clad in a similar shirt at the 1978 performance. Press materials from RR Auction say that since Bob Marley’s mother was known to have made shirts for Bob, so the question is – were there other shirts like this one made by Marley’s mother? Is this the shirt that was worn at the Bowl? Did anyone other than his mother create shirts like this one?
Folks who do not regularly bid at auction may not know that authenticity is not definitively determined by the auction house, although they do their best to track down provenance. Usually a statement will appear in the auction house terms and conditions, such as this one, on RR Auction’s site: “Each bidder’s determination of its bid should be based upon its own examination of the item(s) and independent investigation, rather than any reliance as to what is represented in the Catalog, on-line, or elsewhere.” So in this case, we have good photo documentation that a shirt like this one, up for sale with a starting estimate bid of $2,500, existed on the night of July 23, 1978, and that Bob Marley wore such a shirt.
Why do people spend money for celebrity items? The closeness to celebrity creates a great feeling in the buyer, and people are willing to spend for that feeling. J. K. Rowling’s chair, upon which she sat when writing the first two Harry Potter books, sold in 2016 for $394,000. Way back in 1999, Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” gown sold for $1,267,500. The desire to own a “part” of a celebrity can get dicey: Scarlett Johansson’s tissue, used on Jay Leno’s show, bagged and signed, sold for $5,300. Justin Timberlake’s French Toast remnant sold for $1,024. Lady Gaga’s artificial nail sold for $12,000. Britney Spears’ pre-chewed gum sold for $1,400, and a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair sold for $40,000. The proximity of an object to a star causes buyers to bask in the reflected glow.
Most auctions, because of COVID, are completely online. That makes authentication difficult. Previously, auction houses held previews, and it was not unusual to see prospective buyers accompanied by experts with magnifying glasses. Because of restrictions, auction houses have refined the online bidding procedures. RR Auction Company of Amherst, MA, offering Marley’s shirt, does it like this: when bidding closes at 6 p.m. (EST) on November 19, if you have already bid, there is an hour extension to bid against other active bidders. At 7 p.m., the auction imposes the 30-minute rule, which means that if there is no new bidding, the ‘lot’ (the object(s) up for sale) closes at 7:30 p.m. Maximum nail biting happens during the 30-minute period.
And auctions do sell objects of extreme value: a record was made in 1994 for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex, “hammered” (sold) at $30,802,500.
A Guarneri del Gesu violin sells at auction in the $4 million dollar range. Big money changes hands.
If you were at the Marley Concert at the Bowl on July 23, 1978, loved the concert and loved what Marley wore, now is your chance to make a bid before the auction ends on Nov. 19. Bid on www.rrauction.com, or liveauctioneers.com, invaluable.com, or icollector.com
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s new book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.