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The Original Prop Blog 2010 Year in Review: News, Developments, and Trends in Collecting Original Movie Props and Memorabilia

January 6, 2011 by  

As was the case in previous years (see 2007 Year in Review, 2008 Year in Review, 2009 Year in Review), what follows is an editorial featuring my personal observations with regards to the hobby – looking back at the top trends, developments, and news stories of 2010. As is always the case, this is a completely subjective exercise, and merely touches on the developments and events that relate to the hobby. 

11. The Year of the Screen-Match

Okay, I couldn’t quite figure out where to pare down my usual Top Ten list, so this would be a bonus entry.

For whatever reason, 2010 was clearly the year of the screen-match.  I’ve seen a lot of (enthusiastic) online discussions of collectors showing off various “screen-matched” props and costumes, and it seems to have become a phenomenon.  I even had some discussions with dealers who had noticed a significant increase from customers who were not only more discerning in evaluating the authenticity of a potential purchase, but in many cases, completely uninterested if the piece could not be matched onscreen.  Screen-matching has even been featured on the “Hollywood Treasure” television series.

I’m a huge proponent of diligent research, so this is a positive development, so long as screen-matching is not to the exclusion of all other authentication tools and considerations.

10. Still… The Hobby Without A Name

The first article published on the Original Prop Blog in April 2007 – The Hobby Without A Name – remains relevant.

A summary of that first article is that there was not, and I would argue is still not, a universally recognized name for the hobby of collecting original props and costumes used in film and television.

I feel the true test for this is in reviewing how the new television series, “Hollywood Treasure”, has been marketed to the public.

Even in reading the “About” the show on SyFy.com, the shorthand for describing our pursuit changes from one paragraph to the next:

…the world’s largest auctioneer of original movie, television and pop culture relics

…the intricate world of collecting showbiz and pop culture memorabilia

…search for the most compelling, rare, and sought-after Hollywood memorabilia

Even the name of the show changed during production, from “Hunting Hollywood” to “Hollywood Treasure”.

I think the biggest issue is the narrow focus of the hobby.  While in other collecting pursuits, one can merely refer to say “sports memorabilia” or “poster collecting” and people get it.  Collecting original props and costumes…  it takes a lot of explanation for someone unfamiliar with the hobby to be able to grasp the fundamental concepts, so a universally acceptable descriptor has simply never caught on, and at this point, I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

9. The Hobby Matures (The Year of Good Will)

I know in the past I’ve made comments about a lack of “good will” in the hobby.  I think with 2010, there has been a shift in this regard, as the hobby has matured.  I’ve found throughout the year that there has been a real change with hobbyists’ and dealers’ attitudes, as people have truly seemed to be more understanding of one another.  Perhaps it is a case of maturity, a reflection of the times we live in, or more likely, a variety of factors.  But I think overall, there has been some real good connections among people and a renewed respect and appreciation for one another.  Especially in “real” contact that transcends the Internet (such as telephone conversations and in person get togethers).

No, we certainly don’t live in a perfect world, and there are some rare exceptions that run counter to this trend I believe I have been a witness to, but it does give me hope for the future and strength of the hobby, and I believe that trust, respect, and honesty go a long way, and I don’t feel that I am alone holding onto these notions.  I know I myself have forged many new friendships, strengthened old ones, and had some new beginnings with people that I have had some disagreements with in the past.

8. 12/29/75

One of the most recently unearthed mysteries of the hobby – the number of pieces in the marketplace with Western Costume letters of provenance dated December 29, 1975.  Outstanding questions raised in an article published in June 2010 remain:

  • More Examples of ‘Western Costume’ Letters of Authentication Dated 12/29/75 for George Reeves Superman TV Series Wardrobe Pieces
  • 7. The Profiles in History “Phone Book” (also known as the Hollywood Auction 43 catalog)

    The nickname assigned by some hobbyists to the last Profiles in History catalog for their December 2010 auction event…  Huge in both physical size as well as quality of content, it was a sale unlike any previously seen in the hobby.  Due to my trip out of the country, I neglected to publish my usual preview as well as my post event review and reactions for the sale.  Candidly, the catalog was so voluminous, I have not had much time to truly sit down and enjoy it for what it is.

    In any event, in talking with other collectors and principals in the hobby about the tome, and its impact on the hobby, I’ve had varying reactions, though most applaud the accomplishment of assembling so much material for an auction.  One astute and seasoned participant in the field opined that if you took all of the catalogs from all of the Profiles in History competitors (Christies, Bonhams, Heritage, etc.), excluding the Christie’s Star Trek sale, over the past five years, and this one Profiles catalog would still best all of those efforts combined.

    What is the impact on the hobby?  I think it is too soon to tell, and I have done but a cursory personal review of the results of the auction.  Obviously, some prices realized were likely to the benefit of the buyers over the consignors due to the sheer number of pieces sold.  But it appears that much of it was ultimately absorbed by the marketplace.  Another question is whether such volume and quantity diminishes some of the “magic” of the hobby by making everything feel a little more ordinary and common.

    I don’t have the answers, but it will be interesting to see where the hobby goes and whether or not events like this are duplicated.

    As an aside, one thing that I did notice leading up to and immediately following the event was what appeared to be markedly less mainstream media coverage of the sale.  This could be attributed to a number of possible causes – proximity to Christmas and holidays, or maybe a consequence of the Hollywood Treasures television series with some built-in self promotion?

    6. Star Wars Props 2010

    Original assets from the Star Wars franchise (in particular the Original Trilogy) have long been among the most coveted and sought after, and consequently, most expensive, in the hobby.  2010 would reflect a more challenging marketplace for the sale of these pieces.

    In June, a lightsaber attributed to use by the character Darth Vader, which I discussed with Joe Maddalena as part of my preview interview series, was pulled from a Profiles in History auction prior to the sale event, along with a Leia blaster, a Yoda cane, and two Prequel lightsabers.

    In November, Christie’s made a mainstream media splash with their Darth Vader helmet and components attributed to The Empire Strikes Back, which resulted in much discussion and controversy in online discussion forums, particularly the Replica Prop Forum.  I did have an opportunity to interview the consignor as part of my “Prop Talk” podcast series to discuss the history and provenance of the costume.  Ultimately, the lot passed with no bids at live auction (with a pre-sale estimate of £160,000 to £230,000), and thus went unsold in the public sale.

    The following month in December, Profiles in History had their own Darth Vader helmet up for auction, this one attributed to A New Hope, which passed with no bids in spite of a relatively low $20,000-$30,000 estimate.  A number of other pieces passed with no action, including a Darth Vader underrobe, a Death Star gun tower, and some Death Star surface pieces.

    In addition, within a different section of the same catalog, Profiles had a really impressive assortment of material from Phil Tippet, who worked on the Star Wars films and with ILM, which obviously made for excellent provenance.  However, the prohibitive estimates on the masks in particular appear to have created a barrier to entry for the sale of the pieces, as those starting at $60,000 and $80,000 went unsold, as did some of the less expensive pieces.  The Han Solo stop-motion puppet and costume and Taun Taun test stop motion armature did sell, as did the background AT-AT and a few other pieces.  Overall, the majority appear to have been priced out of the market pre-auction.

    All in all, it was definitely an off year for high profile Star Wars pieces being offered at auction.

    5. James Bond Props 2010

    In stark contrast to the Star Wars franchise, key material from James Bond films realized prices which surpassed expectations.

    In October, the 1965 Aston Martin used in Goldfinger and Thunderball was sold by RM Auctions for a staggering $4.6 million dollars.

    Just a month later, Christie’s sold an airsoft pistol used in iconic promotional photos and posters (though was never actually used in any James Bond film) for $438,000.

    I’ve always viewed the James Bond franchise as singular in its standing among collectors, in that it transcends essentially all living generations, given the number of films produced over the decades.  This seems to be proven again and again at auction.

    4. Debbie Reynolds

    Though very unfortunate for the beloved Hollywood icon, Ms. Reynolds’ circumstances with her bankruptcy appears to have set the stage for potentially highly significant artifacts from film and television to be sold into the marketplace in 2011.

    Rumors continue to circulate as to what will be sold, when it will be sold, and what company will handle the liquidation, but what is likely is that it will happen this year.

    This is lamentable, as Ms. Reynolds made substantive efforts to share the collection with the public in a proper museum, but the project simply could not come together as planned and envisioned.

    3. Music, Sports, and Poster Memorabilia…  Fraud, FBI Investigations, Lawsuits

    Though not about this hobby per se, there were a number of developments in other memorabilia collecting fields that were of interest.

    As followed leading into 2010, the FBI investigation into sports memorabilia fraud continued this year, with extensive coverage provided by the New York Daily News.

    Another interesting story, which was also covered in televised media, was the discovery of doctored photos which were designed to show celebrities signing items as proof of their authenticity, when in fact the photos provided as proof were allegedly faked.

    And, as covered in depth in 2009 and 2010 was the controversy over alleged counterfeit collectible vintage movie posters, which resulted in the filings of lawsuits.

    All of these developments are informative and of particular interest to our field, as we struggle with many of the same issues, challenges, and concerns.

    2. Shill Bidding

    Shill bidding is an issue that has historically been a concern for original prop and costume collectors, as much of the material offered for sale is done via auctions, whether through auction house events, eBay, or other outlets.

    Bidding manipulation is a concern due to the challenges in detecting it and the dramatic affect that it can have on the outcome and sale price of a given item.

    In 2010, this issue was front and center in the public, as the issue was a topic of debate and consideration as a result of a number of developments.

    The Original Prop Blog continued to follow the status of a bill that has been under consideration by the New York State Assembly, which is significant due to the number of auctions (though generally outside of our field) held in the state.

    Internationally, changes in UK law made the news, as did the prosecution of an eBay user who was found to have bid on his own eBay auctions, a violation of eBay policy and violation of UK law.

    The shill bidding issue also crosses over in the aforementioned FBI investigation into sports memorabilia fraud.

    1. Reality Television (Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Hollywood Treasure)

    Television is an incredibly powerful medium.  Universally accessible, immediate, (relatively) free.

    So with 2010, we saw a number of shows become extremely popular, via the production of what are essentially “hip” versions of the classic PBS series, Antiques Roadshow.  The new programs have sparked a popularization of collecting things that capture the imagination across all generations.

    While the types of material showcased on Pawn Stars and American Pickers is generally not original props and costumes (though the former has actually had some great examples), both shows did an excellent job by laying the foundation for the Hollywood Treasure series which followed, which is squarely focused on our field (with some non-original prop/costume variety thrown in for good measure).

    These shows, what they’ve done, and where they will lead, have and will continue to have a huge impact on our hobby.  While Hollywood Treasure obviously has a tremendous benefit to the Profiles in History auction house business, it does a great job in explaining the hobby to the uninformed.  Having the luxury of 30 minutes to educate and inform, while entertaining at the same time, is a remarkable development for this hobby.

    Regardless of one’s opinions of the show, anyone would have a challenging time denying that it is spreading the awareness and understanding of the field in a way that has never been possible before.  Consequently, I am tremendously interested in watching to see how the program affects the hobby over the next year.  The television series has made this hobby much more mainstream, debuting to 1.5 million viewers.

    As an aside, I had intended to publish my own reactions and reviews to each episode on a weekly basis, and simply have not had the time to keep up.  Hopefully as some point in the future I will have an opportunity to continue these reviews of the series.

    _______________________________

    I’d like to just take a moment to thank all of the hobbyists and friends who have supported and helped me and this website over the past year and since its inception in 2007. It is always very much appreciated.

    Jason DeBord

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