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Observations

How Punk Rock Paid for My iPad

Keepsakes from formative years of Austin’s music scene turn into eBay jackpots

I’d been thinking for several months about auctioning off something on eBay, mainly for entertainment. But what? My books didn’t seem to be worth much. Selling some of my Mexican folk art collection was a possibility, but I’d have to charge a lot to ship heavy pottery pieces. What did I have of value that I would be willing to part with? Grandma’s Van Briggle pottery? No, I wanted to keep that. I don’t have jewelry or silver, or vintage lunch boxes.

Finally, it hit me. I had at least 50 rock ’n’ roll posters and handbills from the 1970s. I was never much of a music groupie, but I had a boyfriend who was one of the owners of the Armadillo World Headquarters, the famous venue that sparked Austin’s musical renaissance. Posters from the Armadillo just wandered into my life, and I kept them. The only ones I really value are by artists Jim Franklin and Michael Priest, and they usually feature an armadillo.

I bought a copy of the book “eBay for Dummies,” set up a PayPal account for receiving online payments, and in no time I was in the poster biz. (Fortunately, in my retirement I have developed enough patience to deal with computer programs, and eBay makes online auctions simple.)

My rationale for selling the posters now was that pretty soon nobody would remember what the Armadillo World Headquarters was. (It was the Texas equivalent of the concert halls Fillmore East in New York City and Fillmore West in San Francisco.) The people who went there are pretty long in the tooth now. Better to sell before they get any older.

The first item I put up for auction was a Bill Monroe poster for a starting bid of $30, and it sold for more than $200. That wasn’t too shabby. I followed with a Balcones Fault poster that sold for $15, a Fats Domino handbill for $36, a colorful Ravi Shankar handbill for $71, a Doug Kershaw handbill for $50, a Pointer Sisters poster for $36 and a disappointing $69.88 for a Frank Zappa poster by the Austin artist Guy Juke. Most of the bidders had computer monickers like AusTxPeaceLove, Vulcan Gas, 13th Floor Elevator, Snowblower, MSBluesman, Crawdaddy Jones —many of them from Austin. I was probably old enough to be the grandmother of most of my bidders.

MSBluesman, an Austinite in the broadcasting business, came by to pick up his Bill Monroe poster, and I showed him some of the others. He gave me an idea of what would probably sell well. The Monroe poster had made a good profit because he and another bidder had gone to war over it.

I didn’t particularly want to sell any poster with an armadillo on it, so I was browsing my collection for bands that didn’t mean anything to me but might mean something to others. I offered a poster, signed by Priest, of a band called the Ramones for a starting bid of $35, and there seemed to be a lot of interest. People emailed me asking for confirmation that it was an original. Somebody wanted to buy it early if we could agree on a price (that’s an eBay no-no, by the way). Wow, I thought, this is going to sell for as much as the Bill Monroe poster.

I was away from home the afternoon the Ramones auction ended. I pulled up my eBay account on my Mac mini as soon as I returned, but what I saw made no sense at all. There had to be a mistake. EBay said the poster sold for $887.77. I refreshed the page on my computer—it still said $887.77. And I had a message from the winning bidder, Mario Panciera, identified in previous messages as Devildog, in Venice, Italy. Panciera said he had written a book about punk music, and the Ramones were credited by many as the first punk band. The poster was going to a punk museum in Venice. He said I should come visit. Woah! $887.77 and an invitation to visit Devildog in Venice!

Well, of course, it has been downhill ever since. My eBay sales career had peaked. I did get to watch the final bidding for a Bruce Springsteen poster. Serious bidders rely on computer programs that allow them to bid up to a certain limit, usually in the last 30 seconds of an auction. Bruce went from $50 to $385 in that final 30 seconds. I couldn’t refresh my screen fast enough to view the bids.

Some posters—Commander Cody, Kenneth Threadgill, Sons of Uranium Savages—didn’t sell at all. I think I may have mined the best of them. And it isn’t all pure profit. PayPal and eBay both take a small percentage of the sale, and the Internal Revenue Service will take even more.

But I still have my beloved whimsical posters and handbills of armadillos crossing the road, digging holes, dancing and wearing headbands. They may not be as valuable as some of the posters I sold, but they are dear to my heart.

In July, my sister Karen, in St. Paul, Minnesota, broke her left ankle in three places and sprained her right ankle. I flew up to help, which also includes tending to Lyle Leave It, her Irish wolfhound mix, and the garden. The proceeds from the Ramones poster was just sitting in my PayPal account, so I bought an iPad with a good keyboard on which I am spinning this tale.

Karen is mending, but it will be at least another month before the cast comes off. Fortunately, I’m retired and can spend a month in beautiful, cool Minnesota. I’m cruising garage sales looking for something new to sell on eBay. But I’ll never find another goldmine like the Ramones.

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Kaye Northcott is a former editor of Texas Co-op Power.