A New Auction Acknowledges Tupac As 1 Of America’s Most Important Historical Figures (Video)
People are willing to spend considerable amounts of money on collectible items, especially thanks to online auctions. Within Hip-Hop alone, collecting items belonging to rappers and others has become a multi-million-dollar industry, particularly when it involves artists who have passed away. Unsurprisingly, Tupac Shakur is one of the most highly sought-after musicians in history, as far as memorabilia is concerned. Next month, the late icon will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but not before a historic auction takes place that will likely see sales totals well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ambrosia For Heads recently spoke with Paxton Baker, a 30-year veteran executive in the entertainment business, and longtime collector of memorabilia who will be organizing the Black Heritage Auction on April 7. Baker believes that memorabilia plays a vital role in documenting history, preserving heritage and acknowledging the value of culture–in this case, Black culture. He spoke at length about why collecting Black historical memorabilia is so important, what makes Tupac’s legacy so popular with collectors, and which of his items will be up for sale to the public next month.
“One of the blessings in my life is being able to collect catalogs, buy and store African-American and Americana memorabilia,” Baker says. As an informal collector, he began amassing the autographs of artists he saw perform, in college, but it was in 1992 when he began exploring collecting in any formal sense. It all began with iconic actor, singer, songwriter and social activist, Harry Belafonte. After visiting Belafonte’s home, Baker noticed his collection of memorabilia, which he calls “overwhelming and nothing short of amazing.” Belafonte shared some insight about how auctions and estate sales function, and how he was able to amass such an astounding amount of historical possessions. After that, Baker began to pursue a similar path and it took him across the country.
Focusing primarily on African-American collections, Baker credits Charles Blockson of Temple University as a collector whose trove of possessions inspired him to pursue Black history as his focus. Such individuals, he says, “have taught me the importance of history, and in particular, African-American.” Of special importance in collecting such memorabilia is preserving the parts of history he says “have been taken from our past,” as well as those things we might be unaware of. Listing milestones in African-American history like crossing the color line in sports, integrating the army, and the abolitionist work of Frederick Douglass, Baker emphasizes the value in Black Americans being able to own tokens of past chapters. “The heritage of what we’ve overcome as a people is overwhelmingly important,” he says. “When you really embrace Black culture, you embrace American culture. And you get to see how much a part of history we actually were.”
Contemporary history and culture are also focal points of Baker’s collection. “On this auction that we’re working on right now, the Black Heritage Auction, we have contemporary people in there like Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Jeffrey Osborne, Freddie Jackson, and other artists who are contemporary living artists, as well as other artists who have recently passed on,” he says. Of those, items related to James Brown, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali are being featured in this particular auction. “Our heroes are just as important as any other American hero,” Baker argues. Ali along with Michael Jordan are two of the three most sought-after African Americans, as far as collecting goes. “They have whole books, literally, of their stuff that’s gone up in auction…they’re probably the two greatest contemporary figures of collectible material, given the body of things they’ve signed in their careers.”
Heads will not be surprised to hear that Tupac Shakur is who Baker calls “the most cherished and iconic African American figure” – and creator of one of the three most collectible legacies. He credits ‘Pac’s incredible career, as well his young life cut so short. “He was a very, very colorful figure,” says Baker. “And, as an artist, was probably up there with the greatest artists of our lifetime.” Calling the late rapper a poet, Baker says ‘Pac was a figure as great as anybody of his day, and the body of work he left behind combined with the lionization of his memory has made him a dream for diehard collectors. But ‘Pac isn’t just competing with some of history’s greatest sports icons.
According to Baker, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are the two most collected Presidents. A formal, two-to-three page letter from either can range anywhere in price from $150,000 to $250,000. At an auction this past October, a four-page handwritten letter from Tupac Shakur, sent from jail to a Black charity, went for $169,000, putting Pac in the company of Presidents and some of the country’s greatest national treasures. Baker adds that “a one-sheet, handwritten lyric sheet to one of his songs goes for about $30-35,ooo. A canceled check, $2,500. A contract, $7,500. The tickets that he had in his pocket when he was killed, that went for, like, $7,500.” Just today, it was reported that Tupac’s handwritten lyrics for his landmark single “Dear Mama” are up for sale for $75,000. These astronomical prices are driven by the simple fact that “people want Tupac Shakur.”
On April 7, some of Tupac’s items will be available at the Black Heritage Auction organized in part by Baker. “We’re building the auction around Tupac, who that day is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” he explains. The induction ceremony begins at 7pm at Barclay’s Center in Downtown Brooklyn, New York, whereas the auction will run from 1pm to 6pm at a nearby loft. Shakur-related items include his Death Row Records medallion, handwritten lyrics for songs from All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, some of the clothing he wore in music videos, and more.
For a look at some of the items being auctioned off that belonged to Tupac Shakur, Frederick Douglas, President Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Miles Davis and more, visit the Black Heritage Auction website.