Renowned collector Laurence Johns on buying and selling the counter-culture, including the iconic DIY punk zine
The world of collectables, especially counter-cultural ones, is inhabited by fascinating, beautiful and weird objects and same goes for the characters in it. I started my career with legendary dealer Simon Finch, who certainly fits this description, and his mentorship gave me access to this colourful world at the very highest level.
In the subsequent two decades, I have handled magical scrolls, the rarest first editions and even an explosive – and semen stained – letter between two warring members of the most successful four piece in musical history. I have bought and sold items in some of the finest and strangest places, including the penthouse suite of The Four Seasons and a cold water tenement in Brooklyn on the same day. I dealt with madmen, models, film stars and the legendary guitarist and last of the true book runners, Martin Stone.
But of all the things I have handled, in the all the weird places I have been, and through all of the weird and wonderful people I’ve met, what I have learned was that people are never really interested in the items.
As dealers and collectors, what we are really selling is time travel. Be it books, posters or ephemera, we are selling a connection to another time, another group of people, and another place. What they really want to own is a piece of that history. Objects associated with past important people, causes, movements, and fashions have become cultural currency, and the ones I like most are those self-made ephemeral objects. Seemingly nothing at the time, often disposable, they went on to influence so much. Sniffin’ Glue is one of those.
Sniffin’ Glue, the first punk fanzine, was conceived and produced by Mark Perry in his bedroom in 1976 after reading an article criticising The Ramones for all the reasons he felt made them great. He stole a title from one of their songs and in the 14 issues that followed – not 12 as some claim – its photocopied cut and paste graphics, typewritten or felt tip text, misspellings and crossings out, created the mouthpiece for a generation.
Sniffin’ Glue became the true chronicle of the early days of British punk rock and in the history books, it will go down as the zine that launched a thousand others and established a culture of DIY underground rock criticism that thrives to this day, both in print and online.