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Editorial: December Entertainment Memorabilia Pop Culture Auction Review and “The Bubble”

December 26, 2011 by  

Now that I am back in the States, I thought I would take the time to review the results of the overwhelming number entertainment memorabilia auctions that took place throughout the month of December.  Interestingly, while I personally met with a number of participants in our field while traveling in England and France this month, the one unsolicited and seemingly universal topic brought up by all was the question of “the Bubble”.  Is there a bubble?  If so, what are the contributing factors, and when and how will it burst?  And what would the consequences be on our art market?  Since the results of these high profile auctions speak to these notions and related speculation, I thought it would make sense to frame my results analysis in this discussion.

It would seem the the origins of widespread talk about “the bubble” come from the first Debbie Reynolds auction held by Profiles in History back in June (see “Impressions, Questions: Profiles in History’s Debbie Reynolds Sale Event Raises the Bar on Values Realized at Auction”).

Of course, the biggest news out of that auction was the sale of the Marilyn Monroe dress from The Seven Year Itch for over $5.6 million (with fees), though there was some post-sale analysis and questions that were of interest as well (see “The Marilyn Monroe Collection Blog Asks: “Was It THE Dress?” (Profiles in History’s Debbie Reynolds Auction)”, “The Marilyn Monroe Collection Blog: New Evidence “The Seven Year Itch” Profiles in History Subway Dress Altered for “Bachelor Flat”?”).

In any event, there is no denying that new benchmarks for prices were realized in this historic auction, which led to open questions about whether it was a unique sale with special circumstances, or a sign of further growth in the field.

Given the number of auctions with quality material offered at public sale this month, it would seem an appropriate time to look at those results and consider the state of the market.

Julien’s Auctions
Icons & Idols – Sports & Rock ‘n Roll
December 3-4, 2011
Beverly Hills, CA

Julien’s Auctions publishes their results in a concise format on their website:  Sports, Historical, and Rock ‘n’ Roll  |  Hollywood & Marilyn Monroe

Notable Results – Sports, Historical, and Rock ‘n’ Roll:

Lot 1008: Coca-Cola Bottle Original Sketch – $228,000

Lot 1009: Coca-Cola Prototype Bottle – $240,000

  • Comment:  These are incredible prices for pieces that likely attracted a wide cross section of collecting interests.  The prices reflect the importance of these pop culture artifacts.

Lot 1102: Elvis Presley Diamond and Sapphire Ring – $26,880

Lot 1147: John Lennon & Paul McCartney Jacket from Help! – $43,750

Lot 1356: Bono Played and Signed Irish Falcon Gretsch Guitar – $132,000

Lot 1405: Lady Gaga Photoshoot Worn Ensemble – $31,250

Lot 1573: Michael Jackson Crystal Glove – $35,200

Lot 1661: Michael Jackson Utensil Jacket – $67,650

Lot 1663: Michael Jackson “Scream” Armchair – $35,200

Lot 1677: Michael Jackson Stage Worn Mask – $60,000

Lot 1699: Michael Jackson Worn and Signed Shirt – $43,750

  • Comment: It is interesting to compare classics – like Elvis and The Beatles – with more contemporary acts (i.e. Lady Gaga), though Michael Jackson material seems to do the best with Julien’s Auctions.

 Notable Results – Hollywood & Marilyn Monroe:

Lot 44: Sean Connery James Bond Never Say Never Again Walther Pistol – $10,880

Lot 48: Conan the Barbarian Stunt Sword – $10,240

  • Comment: It would appear that the recent Schwarzenegger-related scandals have not diminished interest/value in key pieces from his films.

Lot 58: Back to the Future No Tech Hoverboard – $5,440

  • Comment: This is an interesting benchmark to compare against prices realized by Profiles in History in their end of month auction, which included a large number of lots from this franchise

Lot 75: The Big Lebowski Jeff Bridges Costume with Hoodie – $10,000

Lot 77: The Big Lebowski John Turturro Jesus Outfit – $28,750

Lot 85: The Big Lebowski Bowling Alley Ball Return – $16,875

Lot 91: The Big Lebowski Jeff Bridges White Sleeveless Coveralls – $11,250

Lot 92: The Big Lebowski Jeff Bridges Robe and Shorts – $21,250

  • Comment: The Dude abides – and Lebowski items command huge prices, reflective of the fact that the Cohen brothers movie is cemented as a cult classic; interestingly, the Jeff Bridges coveralls were claimed “stolen” back in 2007 (see “eBay Auction: Missing Big Lebowski Costume”).

Lot 518: Elizabeth Taylor 1973 Golden Globe Award – $43,520

  • Comment: Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards continue to realize very high prices in the marketplace.

Lot 524: Steve McQueen Le Mans Gulf Oil Jacket – $44,800

  • Comment: This is of interest in that Profiles in History sold Steve McQueen Le Mans wardrobe this month as well, which is listed as a notable result in their end of month sale further below.

Lot 649: Marilyn Monroe Joseph Jasgur Negative & Copyright – $21,875

  • Comment: These photos and associated copyrights were highly publicized, and this lot represents the highest price realized among the grouping.

Lot 765: Marilyn Monroe / Norma Jeane Handwritten Letter – $37,500

  • Comment: Interesting to compare and contrast with some of the other Monroe letters sold by competing auction houses in other notable results within this feature.

Lot 784: Marilyn Monroe Screen Worn Costume – $79,950

  • Comment: Again, an interesting point of comparison with other Monroe costumes sold by competing auction houses.

Overall, Julien’s Auctions, while holding events that cross many of the popular culture arts (historic, film, television, sports, music), they seem to do best with more classic material over contemporary, and do very well with Michael Jackson pieces, though strength with certain properties (such as The Big Lebowski) shows that they can realize “Profiles-like” prices on more current material as well.

Profiles in History
Debbie Reynolds Auction, Part 2
December 3, 2011
Paley Center, Beverly Hills

Interestingly, the second Debbie Reynolds auction was also in Beverly Hills on one of the same days that the Julien’s Auctions event was running.

The first Debbie Reynolds auction earlier in the year astonished many in the field with the incredible prices realized on the majority of the items sold.  With the follow-up, the general feedback that I have been receiving is that the magic did not appear to repeat.  However, estimates set on most items were modest, so most everything sold through.

Results from the Profiles in History auction can be found on the iCollector website:  Debbie Reynolds: The Auciton, Part II

Lot 68: RKO Camera Crane Used By Orsen Welles on Citizen Kane – $92,250

Lot 219: Marilyn Monroe “Rose Loomis” Light Aqua Suit – $258,300

Lot 221: Marilyn Monroe Aubergine Grey Evening Dress – $319,800

Lot 282: Marilyn Monroe Strapless Pale Green Silk Empire Gown – $295,200

Lot 311: Panavision Mitchell 65mm AC Rack-Over Camera Used For 2001: A Space Odyssey – $86,100

Lot 331: Star Wars Panavision PSR 35mm Motion Picture Camera Used For Star Wars – $639,600

  • Comment: The big winners in this sale were Marilyn Monroe wardrobe pieces and movie cameras used on classic films.  Generally, the balance of the items sold in the hundreds and single digit thousands of dollars.  Though I am not as well versed in the classic Hollywood material, it would seem that the superior material was part of the first sale, so one would not therefore expect a repeat with this sale.

Premiere Props
Holiday Auction Extravaganza
December 10-11, 2011
El Segundo, CA

The results of the Premiere Props auction cannot be evaluated, as they do not make the results public (any item listed on the iCollector site states “Winning Bid Undisclosed”).  In addition to an aversion for transparency, some of the material that was offered from non studio/direct sources exhibited provenance that, in my personal opinion, left a lot to be desired.

Update 12/28/2011:

Another collector pointed out to me that the results of the Premiere Props auction can be found on the LiveAuctioneers website, if logged into an account (both iCollector and LiveAuctioneers served as online bidding partners on this auction, though results are only published on the latter).

If you create an account with LiveAuctioneers, you can review results here:  Hollywood Auction Holiday Extravaganza IV  |   Hollywood Auction Holiday Extravaganza-Day 2

Of note, many of the Michael Jackson lots were passed (Lots 63, 68, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76), though two sold for significant sums:

Lot 66: Michael Jackson Handwritten Thriller Lyrics – $10,500

Lot 67: Michael Jackson Worn Military Jacket – $8,800

Other highlights (in terms of prices realized):

Lot 231: Prototype Gremlin from Joe Dante – $13,500

Lot 241: Paul Newman Jacket from The Sting – $10,000

Lot 718: Screen Worn Christopher Reeve Superman Costume – $23,000

  • Comment:  Really?

Generally, results are fairly unremarkable (most passed, under $100, or in the $100s).  In fact, I don’t remember seeing an auction with so many passed lots.

Heritage Auction Galleries
Music & Entertainment Memorabilia – Signature Auction #7042
December 13, 2011
Dallas, TX

The results of the Heritage Auction Galleries sale can be found within the extensive archives on their own website: Signature Auction #7042

Lot 46002: Marilyn Monroe Six Times Signed Group Of Legal Documents – $23,900

  • Comment: As noted with the Julien’s Auction letter, it is interesting to compare and contrast similar material across multiple auction houses, all sold through within weeks of each other.

Lot 46025: John Wayne Jacket From “The Alamo” – $119,500

Lot 46063: Elizabeth Taylor Wig From “Cleopatra” – $20,315

Lot 46100: Cast-Signed Copy Of Novel “Giant” – $18,522

Lot 46188: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Cast Signed Poster – $13,145

  • Comment: On a personal note, this is one of those auction results that I find difficult to process and comprehend – $13,000 for an autographed poster?  It reminds me of an autographed screenplay in the LOST auction by Profiles in History selling for about $15,000.

Lot 46193: Elvis Presley Personally Owned Pink Shirt, Black Pants – $19,717

Lot 46195: Elvis Presley Owned and Worn Omega Watch – $15,535

Lot 46283: Beatles-Related Abbey Road Street Sign – $16,730

Overall, the results of this auction are consistent with the regular and ongoing auctions of the same kind of material held by Heritage auctions throughout the year.  As with Julien’s, they tend to do better with older “classic” material.  In this case, the $13,000 Harry Potter poster would be an anomaly.

Bonhams
Entertainment Memorabilia & Animation Art – Sale 19431
December 14, 2011
Los Angeles, CA

Results for this auction can be found on the official Bonhams website: Sale 19431

Lot 4058: Frank Sinatra Surreal Painting (1980s) – $15,625

Lot 4059: Frank Sinatra Landscape Painting (70s-80s) – $17,500

Lot 4060: Frank Sinatra Signed Abstract Painting (90s) – $32,500

Lot 4126: Original Scene Study by Peter Ellenshaw for Mary Poppins – $10,000

Lot 4127: Original Scene Study by Jim Schaeffing for Mary Poppins – $10,000

Lot 4128: Original Scene Study by Peter Ellenshaw for Mary Poppins – $28,750

Lot 4129: Original Scene Study by Peter Ellenshaw for Mary Poppins – $20,000

Lot 4130: Original Scene Study by Peter Ellenshaw for Mary Poppins – $22,500

Lot 4142: Tracing Paper Sketches by Mento Huebner for Planet of the Apes – $31,250

  • Comment: Interestingly, the best performing pieces in this sale were all artwork.

Overall, these results are consistent with past Bonhams sales, which tend to be smaller scale and lower priced items.

Bonhams
Entertainment Memorabilia – Sale 19037
December 15, 2011
Knightsbridge, UK

Results for this auction can be found on the official Bonhams website: Sale 19037

Note: Prices here are in GBP

Lot 59: Get Carter Michael Caine’s Double Breasted Black Trench – £7,500

Lot 149: Gerry Anderson Original Character Puppet Head from ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Joe 90′ – £4,375

Lot 162: Doctor Who – The Girl in the Fireplace Clockwork Droid Costume – £5,000

Lot 379: Autographed Publicity Photograph of The Beatles – £9,375

  • Comment: The bulk of the lots in this sale went for modest prices, with the autographed Beatles photo realizing the highest price.

As with their Los Angeles sale, these results are consistent with past Bonhams sales, which tend to be smaller scale and lower priced items.

Profiles in History
Hollywood Auction 46
December 15-17, 2011
Beverly Hills, CA

This was the second major Profiles in History sale in the same month.  Again, results can be perused via the iCollector website: Icons of Hollywood Session 1  |  Icons of Hollywood Session 2

Probably of equal interest of what sold and for how much is which lots were passed with no bids, and the start price/estimates on those lots.  I believe this speaks directly to the “bubble” discussion topic.  Though in having just reviewed the full results, there were far fewer passed lots than I expected based on my feedback from other hobbyists who paid attention to the auction at the time.  I believe that because some of the passed lots were higher profile items, the lack of sale made a bigger impression of the success of the event overall.

Having said that, when I personally perused the hardcopy catalog, I was struck at the high starting bids/estimates on many items (which are typically dictated by the consignor), and the fact that the bulk of items have sold through, it is actually quite a feat.

As a preface, there are so many incredible results in this sale, it is a challenge to pare it down to highlights, so consider the number of items and that this is a purely subjective editorial of what is of particular interest to me on a personal level.

Lot 555: Robin Williams “Mork from Ork” Signature Space Suit Costume – $49,200

  • Comment:  I was a big fan of the show at the time of the original broadcast as a kid, so it was nice to see that this survived, but more, it is a remarkable sale result, all things considered – this costume would not have sold for this much 5 years ago.

Lot 570: Monica’s Frame Around Door from Friends – $52,275

  • Comment: Though an iconic piece from a classic modern day sitcom, over $50,000 is a staggering amount for what it is…

Lot 589: Bela Lugosi Signature Dracula Screen-Worn Cape – Unsold (Start $1,200,000 | Est $1,200,000-$2,000,000)

  • Comment:  I have not researched the provenance on this piece, but assuming it is authentic, it would obviously be an important piece, but I don’t personally view it as breaking the million dollar barrier (or anywhere close to it), and it would appear that the marketplace agrees.

Lot 617: Kenneth Strickfaden “Nebularium” Lab Device from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein – $49,200

  • Comment: On a personal level, the handful of lots associated with Bride of Frankenstein, for me, was the most exciting material in the auction.

Lot 637: Judy Garland “Dorothy” Test Dress – Unsold (Start $60,000 | Est $60,000-$80,000)

  • Comment: This was one of the lots referenced by some as an indication of… something… regarding this auction.  Interestingly, this did not sell, yet one of the spears sold for about half as much, and I feel like I’ve seen those spears appear at auction again and again.  I don’t personally collect Wizard of Oz, but if I did, this would be of far more interest to me than one of many spears used by background characters, so I’m a bit surprised that this one did not sell.  I’m also a bit confused about the results from the first Debbie Reynolds auction and these pieces, in that “test” ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz fetched $627,3000 and Dorthy’s “test dress” sold for $1,119,300… yet another “test” dress here went unsold with a $60,000 opening bid?  If someone can explain this to me, please contact me or publish a “Reader Comment” below…

Lot 638: Judy Garland “Dorothy” Screen-Used Dress – $282,900

  • Comment: Again, if a “test dress” sold over the Summer for over $1M, why did a “screen-used” dress only realize a quarter of that here?

Lot 639: Judy Garland “Dorothy” Screen-Worn Ruby Slippers – Unsold (Start $2,000,000 | Est $2,000,000-$3,000,000)

  • Comment: If “test” ruby slippers sold in Debbie Reynolds I for $627,300, why no buyer at $2,000,000 for what have been touted as the hero, screen-worn slippers?  Some argue that these are the most iconic props in existence, so $2M does not seem as though it would be an unreasonable value – why no sale?

Lot 644: Bert Lahr Screen-Worn “Cowardly Lion” Costume – Unsold (Start $2,000,000 | Est $2,000,000-$3,000,000)

Lot 670: Hans Drier’s 1945 Oscar for Best Art Direction for Frenchman’s Creek – $246,000

  • Comment: As noted earlier in the article, Oscars continue to realize huge prices at auction.

Lot 678: Treasure Island Original Prop Vellum Treasure Map – $73,800

Lot 694: 18 Year Old Marilyn Monroe Signed Letter – $64,575

  • Comment: Again, this is an interesting lot for comparison purposes with other auction houses and their respective, comparable material.

Lot 732: Marilyn Monroe’s Platinum & Diamond Eternity Ring – $516,600

Lot 733: Marilyn Monroe’s Signature Camisole Top by Travilla, River of No Return – $49,200

Lot 734: Marilyn Monroe’s Dance Costume from Let’s Make Love – $98,400

Lot 737: Marylin Monroe’s Invitation  & Call Sheet from JFK Birthday Celebration – $49,200

  • Comment: These three Monroe lots are of interest to compare with other Monroe wardrobe pieces sold this month as well as comparing with the Debbie Reynolds I auction results.

Lot 754: Howard Terpning Cleopatra One-Sheet Poster Artwork – $246,000

  • Comment: A staggering amount for original poster artwork.

Lot 794: John Chambers Three Personal Make-Up Cases – $79,950

  • Comment: This is also a huge and somewhat surprising amount, and I believe reflects that there is some depth within the hobby of significant buyers that are interested in material that is not as obvious as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Wizard of Oz, etc., and are willing to pay large funds for material that truly excites them.

Lot 805: Michael J Fox “Marty McFly” Jacket from Back To The Future – $36,900

Lot 859: Mattel Hoverboard from Back To The Future II – $27,675

Lot 860: Hero Remote Control Pitbull Hoverboard from Back To The Future II – $18,450

Lot 865: Back To The Future III Delorean – $541,200

  • Comment: There was a lot of interest in this piece, which has been well featured in the mainstream media and at places like San Diego Comic Con.  Vehicles are always a bit more challenging to find buyers for, but this is probably on the lower side of what many expected.  Having said that, it realized over half a million dollars, so it is still very impressive. (see OPB exclusive Photos and Videos)

Lot 899: Steve McQueen Gulf Griving Suit from Le Mans – $984,000

  • Comment:  This is another staggering amount for one wardrobe set, and shows that, if there is a bubble, it certainly has not burst yet.  A friend believes the suit was offered for sale on this website earlier this year for a fraction of the price realized in this sale by Profiles.

Lot 934: Christopher Reeve Superman Costume from Superman III – $36,900

  • Comment: This appeared to be a genuine set, and the price realized is actually on the lower side; I speculate that the problems with the costumes in the marketplace at large have damaged the value of the authentic pieces that are in the marketplace, as many simply don’t want to risk capital at all at this point.

Lot 982: Red October Submarine from Hunt for Red October – $116,850

  • Comment: Truly an incredible price realized for a model from a non-classic (but very good none the less) film.

Lot 988: Michael Keaton Batsuit from Batman Returns – $49,200

  • Comment: As with the Wizard of Oz spears, this is one of those pieces that seem to be present in just about every auction… yet still realizes an impressive price (given that there seem to be dozens of these, or the same ones are auctioned over and over).

Lot 1082: Star Trek TOS Type-1 Hand Phaser – $79,950

  • Comment: I know TOS Trek pieces are exceedingly rare (and highly replicated), but given the result, I am left to assume that this one was genuine – I have not had the time to look into this one any further.

Lot 1099: Darth Vader Promotional Costume – $147,600

Lot 1104: Screen Used Piece of Death Star Surface – $18,450

  • Comment: On a personal note, this one falls into the Harry Potter poster category for me… there are seemingly endless pieces of Death Star floating around in the marketplace, so what makes this one worth upwards of $20,000 is a complete mystery to me.

Lot 1130: Jack Skellington Filming Miniature House from Nightmare Before Christmas – $49,200

  • Comment: Again, Profiles realizes extraordinary prices on dozens of small miniatures from Nightmare Before Christmas…

Overall, from my perspective, this was another truly remarkable sale for Profiles in History.  The tremendous size and scale of the catalog, the number of truly high end items, and the prices generally realized across the board.  And this speaks directly to the “bubble talk”.  Is this sustainable?  Is the marketplace large enough to continue to absorb this much material, at this rate, with this level of pricing?

Christies
The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor – Sales 2627, 2628, 2634
December 14-16, 2011
New York, Rockefeller Center

I am not qualified to really pull out highlights from this collection, but per the Los Angeles Times, the material sold for over $137 million dollars, with the Orson Welles Oscar making news for selling at $861,542.

Julien’s Auctions
“100 North Carolwood Drive Auction” [Michael Jackson]
December 17, 2011
Beverly Hills, CA

Items from the home in which Michael Jackson died collectively sold for nearly $1 million dollars.

“The Bubble”

Having gone through the results of thousands of lots across many auction houses for events that took place over just a few weeks… my initial impression is simply that it is a collective (and maybe literally) a ton of material, sold for many millions of dollars.  The biggest question I have is: who is buying this material?

There is a distinct “online hobbyist” component to this field, but this component is only responsible for a small percentage of what is sold into the marketplace.

I find that there is a lot of mystery surrounding who is buying the rest of these assets.  As such, it is that much more challenging to speculate about “the bubble”, and make predictions about the future of the hobby, in that there is not really enough information even available to guess at what the hobby is today, let alone where it is going.

As such, I can only really subjectively offer my views of values, and whether I feel that they are 1) inflated and 2) sustainable.

Are values inflated?

I think one inherent problem with the auction house system is that in some ways, it does not offer a true market value on items.  It is somewhat manipulated by starting bids/reserves and estimates.  I believe that many people that consign to auction houses are doing so with hopes of hitting the lottery, in many ways, and try to achieve this by setting high reserves and estimates.  This is then compounded by hype, which manifests in a variety of ways.  So there is a concerted effort to convince the marketplace of value, leading up to an auction (particularly on the high end, high profile pieces).

Interestingly, in this case, this month, this did not seem to work with the ruby slippers offered by Profiles in History.  The set is arguably among (if not the) most important pop culture artifacts of our time, yet no one in the marketplace felt compelled to spend $2,000,000 for these pieces.  More has been spent on lesser pieces.

So are we on the cusp of seeing some push back on the rocketing trajectory of values on the best of the best that these auction houses are offering?

Though, as noted, there were few high profiles passes at the latest Profiles auction, there were still some passes on some really important and desirable material, and the results at the first Debbie Reynolds auction over the Summer still eclipse the results of the two Profiles sales this month.

However, this could merely be a rolling plateau of values, not the bursting of a bubble, and perhaps things will more or less stay within these ranges for some time.

Another thing to consider is that we are in the midst of a global financial and economic crisis, and even still, we are seeing staggering prices on what amounts to most people at large as “memorabilia” and discretionary spending.

Eventually, the economy will improve and grow, and one would assume, at some future date when times are better, this will contribute to additional growth in this field.

So are these values sustainable?

That is probably a more difficult question to answer as, again, I really don’t have a grasp over who is buying this material, and why they are buying it.

Preservation efforts? A hobby?  Investment?

So I don’t really have an answer.  But as noted in my opening, in having met with a number of savvy members of our field, “the bubble” seems to be on the mind of many, and I get the sense that many of them feel that we are in the midst of a bubble of some sort.

The true test of whether a bubble has occurred will be when we see a solid, consistent trend of 1) “like” pieces substantially underperforming compared to the results of directly comparable pieces that sold in the past, and/or 2) of pieces coming back to market and selling for substantially less than what was realized in the prior sale.

I would be interested in feedback from others on the state of the market, and perhaps I will revisit the topic with my eventual year in review article.

Jason DeBord

Comments

3 Responses to “Editorial: December Entertainment Memorabilia Pop Culture Auction Review and “The Bubble””
  1. Jason DeBord says:

    Another collector pointed out to me that the results of the Premiere Props auction can be found on the LiveAuctioneers website, if logged into an account (both iCollector and LiveAuctioneers served as online bidding partners on this auction, though results are only published on the latter).

    This article has thus been updated accordingly.

    Jason DeBord

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