As per tradition, (see 2007 Year in Review, 2008 Year in Review, 2009 Year in Review, 2010 Year in Review, 2011 Year in Review, 2012 Year in Review), what follows is an editorial featuring my personal observations and opinions with regards to the business of buying, collecting, selling, and preserving original pop culture artifacts – looking back at the top trends, developments, and news stories of 2013. As is always the case, this is a completely subjective exercise, and merely touches on the developments and events that relate to the hobby.
In past years, I’ve broken the year down into the Top 10 stories and developments. This year, I find that the one big issue – the state of the market – dominates all else, so I thought I would talk about that predominantly this year.
My position has consistently been that the market for original television and movie props and costumes and related production material peaked with the first of two Debbie Reynolds auction events by Profiles in History, which took place in June 2011, two and a half years ago. If there was a bubble, it burst following that auction.
Markets generally are either on the upswing or in a decline, and I would say that this art collecting market has been in an overall decline after that first Debbie Reynolds sale.
Yes, there are always going to be a handful of stand out lots with impressive results at auctions, but those have been the rare exception, not the rule.
Profiles in History in particular has been the barometer of this market, in that they specialize in this material and have two to three giant auctions focused on Hollywood memorabilia every year, going back to 1995. They have also consistently realized the most impressive results in this hobby.
Compared with past auctions, I would say their two big “Hollywood Auction” events in 2013 were particularly bad, overall.
The funny thing is, as apparent as it might be to me and others, some just don’t get it.
I was in London in December, and met up with others in the hobby at the Knightsbridge Bonhams auction, and in chatting with other collectors pre-auction, I was discussing this very topic, and a few looked at me like I had three heads.
I’ve come to think of this category of hobbyists as “market deniers”. In much the way I talked about the “I want to believe” syndrome with some people with regards to authenticity, I speculate that for some the same sort of blinders are applied when looking at the state of the market.
I think part of it is that some are so invested in the bubble, by virtue of their collections, that it is impossible for them to see the market for what it is, as it means that the equity in their collections as taken a big hit, and is continuing to erode away.
Regardless, some still chase the market with “jackpot” reserves and estimates on their pieces consigned to auctions, and we see much of this material going unsold. Now it is more like playing the Hollywood memorabilia lotto, and chances for a big payoff are coming into the same alignment, in terms of statistics.
10) Breaking Bad and Hunger Games
In spite of the overall declining market, there have been a few properties with which things sold for more than might have been expected in 2013. And I think that this is consistent with what we’ve seen in the past with high profile, single property sales like LOST, Captain America, Star Trek, and things along those lines. And expect that this will always be the case. But newcomers Blacksparrow and ScreenBid had some real stand out results with Hunger Games and Breaking Bad respectively. Both auction houses also seem to have their acts together, for new endeavors in the hobby.
9) People Keep Complaining About Premiere Props, Keep Doing Business with Them
I have a steady flow of people coming to me privately with complaints about Premiere Props – buyers and consignors – and this has been true for years. And much of these types of complaints find their way onto various discussion forums and the like… yet people still do business with them. And then complain. And then do business with them. I don’t know what to say about it. They have crafted their reputation, but I guess some don’t do their due diligence, and some just don’t care. But this is an ongoing constant, and I imagine 2014 will be no different.
8) Reality TV Gets Even Worse
As articulated in the past, I’m not a fan of Hollywood Treasure for a variety of reasons, but it seems to have come to an end anyway. But that show is like the modern day television equivalent of Citizen Kane compared with the atrocious mess that is Beverly Hills Pawn.
I actually wrote a review of it earlier this year, but did not publish it as I really hadn’t eviscerated something so completely as I did that show. But it was cathartic, and I made myself laugh. I never thought someone could match Comic Book Men for worst “reality” television show ever, but maybe that is the show’s one real accomplishment. I would probably hate it even more if I could understand what the star of the show was actually saying.
Like Indiana Jones 4, it’s one of those impossibly bad shows where you can’t begin to critique it, as where would you stop. It’s just awful and stupid. But at least they stopped calling me and e-mailing me asking me to come on the show to sell something, or not sell something, or pretend to sell something, or have someone cast as me to sell or not sell or pretend to sell something…
The good news is, it can’t get any worse than it is today.
7) Mystery of MovieProps DNA (MPDNA)
Like Beverly Hills Pawn, MovieProps DNA is another seemingly half baked idea, attached to but supposedly unaffiliated with Premiere Props.
I posed questions about it all back in September, but never received any answers.
No one seems to really get it. Nor has the “panel of industry experts” ever been announced. I don’t even know if it exists anymore, in that if you go to the official webpage – www.moviepropsdna.com – is returns “service unavailable”. Maybe that is truth in advertising?
6) More Auctions, More Auction Houses, More Material
Profiles in History, Heritage Auction, Christie’s, Julien’s Auctions, Bonhams, ScreenUsed, Premiere Props, Guernsey’s, RR Auction, Nate D. Sanders, Blacksparrow, Mercer Auctions, Anovos, VIP Auctions…
I’ve probably missed a few, but you get the point. And there is more and more material, more frequent auctions, larger auctions… and this is all in a declining market. But, competition is good, so hopefully that will lead to some positives. But an interesting development in any event.
5) Confidential Reserves and Chandelier/Shill Bidding Issues Linger
We started and ended the year with mainstream attention on this important issue. That probably won’t change anytime soon, and never globally self correct.
- New York Times Article Highlights Issues of Auction Oversight & Transparency; Discusses Use of Chandelier and Sham Bids in Art Market
- Gallerist Feature Tackles Auction House (Hidden) Reserves and Transparency – Heritage Auctions Leading in This Regard with Publicly Disclosed Reserves
4) Live Auctions vs Online Auctions
There seems to be a trend of auction houses shifting to an online-only auction format, rather than a live, in-person auction with online bidding as an option.
ScreenUsed, ScreenBid, RR Auction, Nate D. Sanders… heck, even Christie’s did their “100 Years of Pop Culture” auction as online-only a month ago.
3) Bill Mastro Pleads Guilty
- Mastro Auctions Scandal: Bill Mastro Pleads Guilty To Fraud & Altering Memorabilia; Faces Up To Five Years in Prison
Hopefully the tip of the iceberg. And hopefully some attention will be paid to Hollywood memorabilia, and not just sports memorabilia…
2) Confessions of a Fraud
I love this story. A rare spotlight on honesty in what no one wants to believe. I’m sure it happens on a much, much higher order of magnitude in this art market. Absolutely positive.
1) Market Decline, Denial, “Jackpot” Estimates/Reserves
So this is pretty much the same choice as in my 2012 Year in Review article, which I’ve copied below:
1) The Bubble (“Jackpot” Estimates Jump The Shark?)
“The Bubble” was the number one story on my 2011 list, and has been at the forefront of topics for 2012 as well.
Is there an artificially inflated market? Are there signs of a bubble bursting? Or are values merely leveling off, or cycling? Are collectors becoming investors looking to metaphorically “hit the jackpot” by setting high reserves and estimates on consignments to auction houses, hoping to lure lightening into a bottle? Will the auction houses “self police” this trend and force consignors to set realistic values on pieces for sale, or continue with “hopeful” estimates with high (and sometimes unprecedented) opening minimum bids?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but perhaps 2013 will prove informative.
Maybe the most significant data to mine with regards to these questions are the results from the last Profiles in History auction of 2012 (see “Profiles in History ‘Hollywood Auction 53′ Results in Passed Lots, A Few Surprises; “Jackpot” Reserves/Estimates Finally Out of Control?”).
I followed-up on this again in August of this year, after Profiles in History’s Summer auction:
- Profiles in History ‘Hollywood Auction 56′, ‘Dreier Collection, Part 2′ Post Auction Reaction – Update on “Jackpot Reserves/Estimates Finally Out of Control?” (8 Months Later)
Of course, I also wrote extensively about “The Bubble” in an editorial two years ago, in December 2011:
Really, all one needs to do to see the pattern is do some “apples to apples” comparisons.
One of a handful of bright spots for Profiles in History in December 2012 was their sale of the Legolas bow from Lord of the Rings for $310,000 ($372,000 with buyer’s premium).
Fast forward to their December 2013 sale, and Frodo’s “Sting” sword (a better prop though with lesser provenance) sold for just $65,000 ($78,000 with buyer’s premium). Julien’s Auctions sold the same piece for twice as much – $130,000 ($156,000 with buyer’s premium) – a few weeks earlier in their Trilogy Collection sale.
Their highest priced piece of the sale for contemporary Hollywood props and costumes was the Han Solo stunt blaster, which sold at $200,000. But it would appear that was the reserve (the low estimate), making it more of a successful “jackpot”-style, Buy It Now kind of proposition, more than competitive bidders pushing it up to that amount and determining a real market value.
More interesting to me are the passed lots (particularly because Profiles in History did seem to get their reserves and estimates down a bit on *some* lots with their last sale). Passed lots include Dick Van Dyke’s jacket from Mary Poppins ($80,000-$100,000 estimate), Steve McQueen’s Gulf racing jacket ($80,000-$100,000 estimate), Batmobile interior ($60,000-$80,000 estimate), Steve McQueen’s motorcycle ($50,000-$70,000 estimate), Michael Keaton Batman Returns costume ($40,000-$60,000 estimate), Titanic lifeboat ($40,000-$60,000 estimate), Titanic engagement ring ($30,000-$50,000 estimate), etc.
As I’ve explained to others, Profiles will blow something out of the park – with a first offering of a particular item from a film or associated with a star – and then try to duplicate and not measure up to that initial success.
Obviously they’ve done really well in the past with Steve McQueen, Mary Poppins, Batman, Titanic… but then price to that success and end up with a bunch of passed lots (or in the case of Lord of the Rings, poor results with lower estimates).
Even medium-level value stuff got a lot of passes… no buyers for an Endor blaster rifle from Return of the Jedi for $15,000? No buyers for a Scotty TOS tunic for $15,000? No buyers for a Spock ST:TMP uniform for $15,000? No buyers for a complete Tron costume for $15,000?
Even some of the items that did sell went for shockingly low prices… $20,000 for a Daniel Craig James Bond tuxedo from Casino Royale? $22,500 for a Captain Kirk TOS spacesuit? $15,000 for a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea large-scale submarine?
In December 2011, Profiles in History sold the Robin Williams “Mork from Ork” Signature Space Suit Costume for $49,200 (including buyer premium) and two years later, with last month’s sale, it was passed and unsold with a $20,000-$30,000 pre-sale estimate (and presumably a $20,000 reserve).
In November 2010, Profiles in History sold the Original Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for $47,500 (including buyer premium) and two years later, with last month’s sale, it sold for $27,500 (including buyer premium).
In December 2005, Profiles in History sold the Antonio Banderas hero “Zorro” costume from The Mask of Zorro for $35,000, and the same style costume went unsold in May 2009, June 2010, and again now in December 2013 with a $15,000-$20,000 pre-sale estimate (and presumably a $15,000 reserve).
In August 2007, Profiles in History sold the Excalibur sword for $20,000, and with their recent auction, it went passed unsold with a $12,000-$15,000 pre-sale estimate.
In December 2007, Profiles in History sold a LeVar Burton “Geordi La Forge” hero VISOR from Star Trek: The Next Generation for $15,000. In May 2011, they sold one for $6,000, and then in December 2012 they sold one for $7,000. With last month’s sale, Profiles in History put up the same prop with a $4,000-$6,000 estimate and it was passed with no sale.
In any event, there seems to be a large-scale, buyer market adjustment going on… and it will be interesting to see how that continues to shake out across the industry. Regardless of what people want to believe.