From George Michael’s jackets to Rihanna’s dresses, this Irish collector has amassed some of the most iconic items in the world
The exact number of items that constitutes a collection is arguable; some say two while others believe that three or more is the ideal figure for any collector to own. Well statistics aside, one man who certainly knows a thing or two about accumulating is Dublin-born Laurence Carpenter. Founder and manager of his business Pop Icons, Laurence has been a collector and dealer of culturally and historically relevant music memorabilia for more than 20 years.
“I’ve always had an interest in collecting since childhood. My father Larry was a big collector and I suppose I got it from him. He used to take me to the city centre on his bike every weekend to have a look around the markets and charity shops. He would be looking for antiques, Dinky cars, Star Wars toys and things like that. My uncle is an antique dealer as well so it’s in the family.” It was two old auction catalogues that Laurence’s father picked up many years ago, which first sparked his interest to start a collection of his own. As a teen Laurence was into bands like Oasis and he began by collecting some of their older records and posters, with his passion eventually growing into a profitable career.
“I had collected various items as a teenager but I was always aware of the really rare items like hand-written music lyrics and stage-used guitars, although I would never have had the money to buy anything like that back then. I stopped collecting when I was in my early twenties and I kind of got on with life. Then when Michael Jackson passed away in June 2009, I instinctively went online and started looking at music and memorabilia.
“I heard about a big auction that was happening in Beverley Hills in LA and lots of that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Circumstances in Laurence’s personal life at that time are what led him to make the decision to do something different and ended up being the driving force behind his determination to make a success of his new business venture.
“I had left a really good paying job because I wasn’t happy there, so I was out of work and stuck for money to be honest, but I had a little black book that I always used to write down my ideas in. I moved on from looking for memorabilia for myself and began thinking about other opportunities. Then I thought if someone sold something for $10,000 at an auction, or whatever the price may be, it might be the type of item that there are only ten more of in the world or a limited-edition piece. So, if I could track down the exact same item, I would hopefully be able to sell it for the same price that it sold for at the big auction. at was the logic behind my initial idea and that’s what I did for 12 months; I tracked down Michael Jackson memorabilia from all around the world, to the extent that I was able to acquire many of his stage worn black and white fedora hats. Two of the hats ended up selling for over $125,000 which was quite a big break and the point when I really got going with it all.”
That figure works out at almost €120,000, quite a costly hobby by anyone’s standards. However, Laurence says that the rush he gets from buying and selling these rare pieces can become almost like an addiction.
“It’s expensive in the sense that there’s always something more valuable to buy and more rare items to be had, so there’s a bit of an addiction there, in a good sense though. I constantly have a strong desire to chase something.”
It may not be much of a surprise to learn that the majority of Laurence’s business takes place overseas, in American celebrity hotspots such as New York, but Los Angeles is the most prominent place where people buy and sell these types of collectibles.
“LA is where it’s happening, that’s the main hub. I take a couple of trips over every year to check out stock. I usually go over there around the time of the Grammys to do some networking at the awards. Sometimes when I purchase stock from the States, I don’t see it until I fly out again.”
So, who is the Pop Icons customer and why would someone be willing to part with so much money? Laurence believes it is the feeling of exclusivity and being close to their idol that entices people to splurge on these extravagant purchases.
“It’s partly to be close to the artist, the buyer feels like they’re intrinsically connected. Everybody can have a CD or an autograph but to have something very special that the artist has worn or a guitar that they’ve played a song on, that’s unique. There’s the feeling that you’re the only person in the world who has that. Places like museums would purchase a lot of items and the Hard Rock Café would have loads of memorabilia on display that
I have sold them, all over the world. It’s mainly celebrities and lotto winners as well, because of the value of the items - prices typically rage from $5,000 to $100,000 - they usually want something that nobody else can have and I can provide that.”
The very nature of his job means that souvenirs and keepsakes surround Laurence on a daily basis, but he says the temptation to keep said mementos for himself, simply isn’t there. e benefits of selling them on far outweigh the alternative.
“I would part with pretty much anything. I’m a massive fan of George Michael and I have a huge collection but all of those items are going to go on sale this year. I try not to be too materialistic about things. I feel that instead of me owning items and leaving them hanging up in storage, I’d rather have the money to put back into my business and also to improve my personal quality of life. I bought a set of autographs from a lady
in Dublin recently, whose father worked in the Adelphi Theatre; he met e Beatles, e Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison and he got all their autographs. The lady used the funds to travel to Australia to go see her daughter, so it can be beneficial to me and to the other person if they have something that is quite valuable.”
Going forwards the future of Pop Icons is forefront on his mind and Laurence plans to focus more on the Irish market in the years ahead. “I’ve done a lot of work abroad so I’m trying to do more business in Ireland, in the context of buying as opposed to selling. I run my business from an office in Dublin and I’m now trying to find people who have rare music memorabilia. I’ve thought about doing exhibitions and things like that but I intend to keep things simple because otherwise I could get distracted from my core business. I’m going to concentrate on buying higher quality, more valuable items, as I already have a really good idea that’s working. I’m just trying to fine-tune it really.”