An issue that seems to come up with every official studio auction of original props and costumes from popular television shows is that of buyers feeling mislead by descriptions of auction houses, particularly use. We saw this with Christie’s and their official “40 years of Star Trek” auction, with Profiles in History and their sale of material from ABC’s LOST, and based on a reader comment today on my article about newcomer ScreenBid and their Breaking Bad auction, it would seem that the same issue is in play with this latest sale as well. Since people likely don’t check my articles for comments after reading it, I thought it might be worthwhile and productive to highlight that comment and my response in a new article, as it is an issue that seems to occur with each of these official studio sales, particularly because it brings in participants who have not participated in such sales before, and perhaps have not purchased or collected original props, costumes, and other artifacts from film and television.Interestingly, with these official studio auctions, I would speculate that because the sales are “official”, new entrants to this art market assume that everything sold is literally “the” piece seen on screen in that particular series, whereas seasoned collectors, I suspect, have more of a perspective of having reassurance that, fundamentally, everything is “original” and authentic, and that actual “use” warrants research and investigation.
The best example of this, taken to an extreme, was the collector who sued Christie’s and Paramount over a poker visor worn by Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, for which he sought $7 million dollars in damages and, after two years, lost his case in the Supreme Court of New York’s Appellate Division (see Christie’s, CBS, Paramount Prevail in ‘Star Trek’ Memorabilia Auction Lawsuit).
Conversely, most of the hubbub over the Profiles in History LOST auction was prior to the auction ever taking place, with a story by Zap2It providing a good example (see Zap2It Questions Authenticity of TV Prop Assets from ABC & Disney’s Upcoming LOST Auction Managed by Profiles in History).
Funny enough, in the case of Christie’s and Star Trek, they published a lot description amendment on that item the buyer later complained about, and he sued them anyway. And Profiles in History continually tried to get ahead of their issues with the LOST auction leading up to the live sale event.
In any event, the old auction house boiler plate really serves to guide in these sales… “as is, where is”, “buyer beware”, and all of that.
I am about as pro-consumer/collector as it comes in this hobby, but with this particular set of issues, my position is that if a buyer’s priority is that what they are buying is “seen on screen” and other considerations regarding use (frequency, one of a kind, etc.), it is really incumbent on the buyer to make those determinations, to the best of his or her ability, prior to the auction, unless the auction house is in some way claiming and/or certifying the item is such.
On the other hand, if an auction house lot description makes claims and/or attributions that are not correct, that should be addressed.
With the Christie’s Star Trek auction, the Profiles in History LOST auction, and now with this ScreenBid Breaking Bad auction, these are officially sanctioned sales in which all items should be “Original”. My personal definition of “Original”, per my Lexicon, is as follows:
An artifact from a film or television production that was 1) made by the production or acquired by the production, 2) during the production, and 3) used or intended to be used during the production. All three of these criteria must be met in order for a piece to be considered “Original”.
Because this seems to be a recurring issue with these types of sale events, even if it is on a small scale, perhaps auction houses should in the future create a campaign of their own that really addresses and educates on the front end. To their credit, and because they were being challenged so early in on the preparation of their sale, Profiles did a commendable job of publishing something to this effect at the front of their published auction catalog at the time:
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In any event, below are the “Reader Comments” from my original article, encompassing the dialogue between Adam and myself…
Below is the comment published by Adam earlier today:
Screenbid is a con!! Please can a journalist get in touch with me and all the other winners and expose this scam. A lot of the items were made out to be unique but weren’t. The leaves of grass book was shown with a picture of the book being used in the show and on very careful examination you can see 3 slight differences in the handwritten part…so the poor winner has bid $65,000 on a backup prop that wasn’t used!!
I bid on a watch described as “The watch worn by Jesse in Seasons 1-3”. I won it then double checked it was indeed THE watch and not one of many. The screenbid guy on the phone who was ‘so delighted’ with my great win eventually told me it was one of many and then started to to make out it was 1 of 2 that he knew of, then at the end of the conversation he said “yeah, so you’re ok with that, it’s 1 of 2 watches…..on our site, ok bye then”, so i had to stop him and clarify i didn’t want to know it was 1 of 2 watches they’re selling (they were selling a season 4 watch too) but wanted to know if it was 1 watch of lots used throughout the seasons. He then waffled on how they have multiples of everything and an actor will blah blah….it was 1 watch of lots of watches.
I asked why they didn’t word it as “One of the watches worn..” but instead opted to describe it as “The watch worn by…in seasons 1-3”. Yes you could argue that the wording isn’t exactly a lie, they haven’t said “The only watch…” but without doubt they’ve worded it to be misleading to get maximum value out of the watch. It’s ambiguous on purpose. In legal contracts there is the contra proferentum Rule. Under this rule, the ambiguous contract term (i.e. two or more meanings) may be interpreted by the Courts against the profferer (the person who drafted / tendered the document to the other contracting party), applying an interpretation of the contract term which is most favourable to the other party (Me), so wording a description so that it’s misleading is wrong, and a cheap trick used by con sites. The only reply I got from Screenbid was to invalidate my bid. No explanation about their description or follow up to my comments how I felt cheated as I was unable to bid on anything else as my money was tied up in this watch. If it was clearly described as 1 of many i wouldn’t have bid, nor would most people who did, and I would have bid and won something better…though that will have been 1 of many too.
I then went through seasons 1-4 quickly and only saw Jesse wearing a watch in one scene (every other time he has jackets covering his arms, and when his wrists are out or he’s topless, he wears no watch!). Anyway, the watch appears in season 2 …and wasn’t the watch! lol. It was the one that screenbid were selling as Season 4 watch!! So a) only once is a watch seen in season 1 – 4, b) it’s not the one they were selling as season 1 – 3 …so people were bidding thousands of dollars on a watch that was “the watch worn by jesse in seasons 1 – 3” but is never ever seen in any episode, lol.
The bell that went for $26,000…they would no way have only one as if it had broken in a scene they couldn’t wait to get a new one, so they’d have 3 or 4 of them, even more (some to be used as damaged ones for the explosion scene)…the people who bid on that bell will be looking at it in scenes and thinking, that’s my bell i’ve just won….no it isn’t, it’s possible it may be the bell in one of the scenes, but it’s also very possible it was always on the shelf as a back up.
Screenbid is an absolute con where they phone you all the time so things aren’t written down. I had to push them to stick to emails and from then on i got 1 short email followed by complete silence…compared to phone calls every 10 minutes when I first one it and they were getting the sell. They have no idea what they’re selling, whether it was used or backup…completely amateurish. I’d feel more confident buying a watch from some fat in a pub who promised me “it’s the watch that jfk had on his wrist when he was shot, the exact one…mine for $120”
Below is my response:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the auction and your experience in participating in the sale.
Below are some comments and questions and opinions in reaction to your post…
My primary question is to know if this was your first purchase of original prop or costume?
Reading your message, I have the sense that perhaps this was your first experience, in that some of the questions you raise could apply to most any auction houses and dealers with the sale of similar material.
You declare that “Screenbid is a con” and that the sale was a “scam”, and based on what you wrote in support of your statement, I personally don’t agree.
As I’ve written about for years on this site, in my attempt to education collectors/consumers, frequently there is more than one of any prop or costume used in a film or television production.
Obviously such productions are costly, and time is money, so it makes more sense to have multiples of props and costumes to mitigate the risk of something becoming lost or damaged and delaying filming/production.
There are also variations of the same props and costumes (see my “LEXICON” link at the top of this site for definitions for terms such as “hero”, “stunt”, etc.).
Unless something is specifically stated to be “one of a kind” or “the only one”, most collectors assume that there are multiples. In some cases, for a variety of reasons, there may indeed by just one of a particular prop or costume, but that is the exception, not the rule.
With your first example, the Leaves of Grass book, I would imagine that they probably had several, as it was a key prop and it crossed over more than one season. Since it was a key prop, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more principals from the production kept one as a keepsake.
Taking as a given that there are usually multiples of a given prop or costume, there are often some that are never actually “used” on set and/or filmed.
Some of the ways in which to be certain that something was actually used is if 1) there is an identifying mark that you can match up to a screencap from the production (“screenmatched”), 2) if there was only one of that given item (one of a kind), and/or 3) if you were personally on set and saw it used and took custody of it at the time. There are some other, less common methods by which to know, but those would be some of the most obvious.
Even still, something could have been used on set, and filmed, but still not be “screen used” if that footage did not make the final cut of the film or episode of the television series. Or something could have been used and filmed extensively, but if there are multiples, there could be no way of knowing which one was used, or if all were used.
In the case of this particular auction, if I were personally bidding and was set on winning at auction and buying a piece that was certainly “used” on set and seen on screen, I would have done research prior to the auction and studied the item and the particular episode(s), asked the auction house questions, etc. It is really incumbent upon the buyer to do his or her research prior to the sale to be satisfied with the item, its attribution by the seller, etc., prior to bidding. That is really the nature of this art market, unfortunately.
Similar issues and concerns that you raise here were also raised during the Profiles in History auction of original material from LOST (another studio auction for a popular television series).
As was the case with this ScreenBid Breaking Bad sale, the material in the Profiles LOST was provided by the production/studio, and it was an official sale on behalf of the rights holders of the production.
Some in this art market at the time of the Profiles in History LOST auction attacked me for not criticizing Profiles and taking them to task over the fact that some of the material in their auction was not used and seen on screen in the actual show (or at least differed from the version of the same prop or costume seen on screen).
My view with this ScreenBid sale for Breaking Bad, limited to what you are saying and taking your opinions at face value, is pretty much the same.
Below is what I wrote on my Original Prop Community forum in a topic on the LOST auction, prior to the auction, back in 2010, which I think applies to this situation as well:
My own viewpoint is this – everything in this auction is “original” (An
artifact from a film or television production that was 1) made by the
production or acquired by the production, 2) during the production, and
3) used or intended to be used during the production. All three of these
criteria must be met in order for a piece to be considered “Original”.).
Now, some pieces may have been “used”, some may not have been used. Some
may have been “filmed”, some may not have been filmed. Some could have
been filmed and that footage used in the final version of an episode –
some may be been filmed and that footage could have been unused or cut.
Some pieces may be screen-matches – others may not be.
Whatever the auction house can provide to determine actual “use” is awesome.
Having said that, there are thousands of items, so I wouldn’t expect any
auction house to break down every item in a catalog as to actual use.
If some other auction house or dealer has done this in the past, let me
know, as I can’t remember any such circumstance.
Having said all of that, we, as collectors have about a month to do research, from the
release of the PDF catalog. Many key pieces have been on display at
various events over the past 12 months (Comic Con 2009, D23, etc.). Profiles
has a preview at their offices 8/2-8/18. We have the catalogs, DVDs,
Blu-Ray, etc. As with any live auction, the typical “as is, where is”
There were just as many pieces in the last Profiles
auction, Julien’s auction, etc., but people weren’t expecting all of
those pieces (most not direct from a studio) to screen-match.
Having said all of that, if there are some examples of pieces that don’t make
sense, further investigation and questions are warranted. But bottom
line is that everything is “original”, everything has a studio COA, and
everyone has an opportunity to research what they are interested in
In any event, if you have specific questions (i.e.
sentences that end with a question mark – not narrative opinions),
please make it easy for me and I’ll try to get answers. I think my
biggest question is – did Disney keep stuff? I know they are pretty
dedicated with their archive, so that may be a possibility (I didn’t ask
There was also confusion in the mainstream media about the LOST auction; as an example, Zap2It wrote an article asking if the items were reproductions (and later published a correction), which I addressed here:
I also find it curious that you are complaining that ScreenBid communicated with you via phone – at least they were responsive to your concerns and got in touch with you directly to resolve your issues. I know I’ve had issues with another auction house in the past and couldn’t get any response (phone or e-mail), so I certainly would not cast that as a negative.
You also criticize them for not making claims as to the use of your item… but if they don’t know, it would seem that they are being honest about it, and when it comes down to it, they were not on set during the production, so I think it would be impossible for them to know if/when/how one of many wristwatches might have been used.
Did they give you the option to back out of your purchase?
Just my own personal reaction to your post, but I think what you wrote could be applied to most live auctions in this hobby. The plus side of the Breaking Bad auction is that everything is “original” and “authentic” and from the production. The only question is how it was used in the show, if at all.
If anyone would like to contribute to the conversation, they are welcome to post a “Reader Comment” below.