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John Brennan Collection: Collector life

Robert Eaton
14 min read
Autograph collector John Brennan Collection Robert Plant Led Zeppelin RR Auction

This is first in a series of blogs highlighting the life of autograph collector John Brennan. The Brennan Collection will be offered by RR Auction from May 10-17.


Collector life: John Brennan

Lifelong autograph collector John Brennan is ready to (reluctantly) part with a sliver of his vast 20,000+ collection. Gleaned over the past 40 years, the Brennan Collection features pretty much every rock n roll band of the last half-century, and then some. He used to be out 270 days a year collecting; he’s still out there, but only about 50 days a year nowadays. But it’s still a total labor of love for this diehard music fan.

I was a collector first; I just wanted my own albums signed.

“I was a collector first; I just wanted my own albums signed,” said Brennan, 53. Now living in New York City, he grew up in Connecticut and developed his love of rock n roll at an early age. From Aerosmith to Zeppelin, he listened, collected and followed the defining bands of the last decades of the 20th century. “Music WAS the drugs (for me),” he said. “All the Led Zeppelin, the Black Sabbath.”

‘The original selfies guys’

“We were the original selfies guys!” he joked about himself and his fellow hobbyists, posing with rock stars for photographs taken with actual cameras. “I was the Master of Getting. In the early days, it was always at the stage door; I was a teen with no connections, just wanting to be part of it. I wasn’t going up to these people to make a living; I just loved music. Once you do it just to sell it, you start to cut corners. I was a collector first.”

Daily life of collecting autographs was on-the-job – or maybe on-the-hob(by) – training. Brennan learned as he went; where the stars hung out, when and how to approach them. And for him, it wasn’t going to be just anyone. “The key to my success was that I was listening to the music. I stuck with what I knew; I wasn’t, like, going after Garbo,” Brennan said. “Whoever I listened to, I had to like; they had to have talent. I was a music guy; just a total maniac fan.”

It wasn’t easy

He cautions seekers to know when to say when, while soliciting autographs or photos. “My advice is just be nice and polite; if you get rejected, try again another time,” he said. “Keep asking. Their niceness [about signing] goes in and out, based on where they are in their own personal lives” – e.g., relationship problems, etc. Stars are human too, after all.

Modern-day autograph collectors might not realize how much more work it was just a few decades ago. No cellphone pics, no touchscreen finger-signatures. If you wanted an autographed photo with a celebrity, it was going to be more than one interaction.

You had to go through a time-consuming process to get a physical photo,” Brennan explained. “After we’d get a photo with someone, we’d immediately run to a photo store and print a photo — you didn’t even know if the picture came out! You’d wait a day, or at least an hour or two, hoping it’s not blurry, etc. And you had to order and wait for an 8×10. It was much more difficult to get the actual photo. And then you had it to get the autograph!”

Finding the celebs was no picnic, either. Remember that just a few decades ago, there was no social media oversharing; no instant check-ins at locations to let you know where to find your music or Hollywood hero. “I don’t think people [now] realize what a different world it was back then,” Brennan said. “There weren’t huge crowds of autograph seekers crowding around [celebrities] who just tweeted where they were. They weren’t guarded and annoyed because they figured you’d be turning around and selling their autographs on eBay or wherever. It was a totally different vibe back then,” he said.

See the results of the John Brennan Collection auction here.

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