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, 2013 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 2014. As is always the case, this is a completely subjective exercise, and merely touches on the developments and events that relate to the hobby.
2014 was, overall, a pretty good year for this art market. Prices seem to have stabilized a bit. There was less controversy and strife than usual. There seemed to be some positive growth overall. There are some dealers in the hobby that are professional and have solid business practices. Those that don’t share these traits, I suspect, maybe saw a decline in business.
10) The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Greenlighted in late 2012, 2013 and 2014 have been pretty quiet on the news front. Even their own self-generated press ceased in July. But they do have a well received Hollywood Costume Exhibit running through the beginning of March, so kudos on that (unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to check it out yet). Hopefully more progress will be made in 2015.
9) The Final Debbie Reynolds Auction
Speaking of Hollywood Museum projects… in a series of diminishing returns, Profiles in History held “Debbie Reynolds – The Auction Finale” in May. While the original sale in June 2011 was a massive success in terms of prices realized (apart from the questions about “THE” dress) and the bubble it helped to blow up, the follow-ups have received relatively little media attention and the material has not matched up to the original sale in terms of prices realized.
This art market is still recovering, with “jackpot reserves/estimates” being an ongoing issue since the market peaked with that original Debbie Reynolds sale event.
Regardless, it would appear that this is now “done”. I wonder what kind of collection might have as big of an impact in the future? I believe it will happen (I do have one specific idea of what it could be), but probably not for some time.
8) Comic Con Rules
San Diego Comic Con continues to be the main event of the collecting/hobby side of the market, despite the fact that no one has capitalized on that fact with a live prop and costume auction on site in conjunction with the massive pop culture event.
San Diego Comic Con 2014 featured, as usual, Prop Store and Profiles in History as exhibitors, as well as fantastic exhibits by DC Comics and their 75th Anniversary of Batman and (offsite) HBO’s amazing Game of Thrones “Survive The Realm” experience.
More fun and interesting than attending any live auction, it draws in the largest number of hobbyist/collectors every year by far.
7) The Authentication Genie
The subject of an upcoming feature on the Original Prop Blog… (spoiler: the authentication genie does not exist)
So many people want it to be so easy, and the pattern I consistently see from new collectors is: 1) buy something 2) find someone to print out a piece of paper saying it’s authentic.
6) Star Wars
Given the insane (and in my opinion unwarranted) levels of hype surrounding a short (and in my opinion boring) movie trailer for the upcoming Disney Star Wars film, I expect that this time next year, values on Star Wars props and costume will hit new highs.
5) Profiles in History, Christie’s, Julien’s Auctions Shift Some Business To Online-Only Auctions
Increasingly, memorabilia dealers known to sell almost exclusively in “live auction” events are tipping toes into the “online-only” world. Julien’s Auctions has done a few of these this year with material that is maybe of a lower value than what is found in their live auction catalogs, via their Julien’s Live, as has Christie’s. Profiles did one better, taking over online dealer Hollywood Parts and relaunching it as Hollywood P.R.I.M.E. (“A Division of Profiles in History”), though I haven’t seen anything interesting materialize from that (though I haven’t paid much attention either).
Having said all that, the online-only business for each of them seems more like positioning… a foothold… rather than a significant aspect of their business.
4) Prop Store Enters Live Auction Event Business
Conversely, long-time retailer Prop Store – known as the biggest and most successful (non-live auction) online dealer – held their first big live auction event in London in October.
While not a perfect execution, I would say it represents the best and most professional first effort in this space that I’ve ever seen. They did so many thing right, it’s hard to nit pick the few minor areas that could use some tweaks next time around.
Coming at things with a different perspective (of all those in this space now, Prop Store is the only outfit that is comprised of genuine collectors at the top of the business), I think that they did some really innovative things, and hopefully their competitors will take notice and improve things themselves.
I am a firm believer that having people who have such a unique perspective of being collectors themselves and putting on an auction is a great thing. They also did a fantastic job with quality images of each lot, quality videos on the highlights, and they brought some real positive and high end press.
I think that they will improve with each sale in the future, and they will come up with more innovation to combat the competitive nature of the live auction business.
I see their biggest hurdle being the location of the auction – in London – which I think may be a turn off to the “all business” buyer outside of England/Europe who don’t want to figure out the logistics and details specific to buying from the UK instead of the U.S.
Also, on some level they are competing with themselves and their long-standing business model, wherein value is determined by their pricing, rather than the open marketplace.
But I think their expansion is great for the marketplace, and it will be interesting to see their impact in 2015.
3) An End To The Andrew Ainsworth “Prototype” Stormtrooper Helmets?
I’ve been writing about the “Prototype” Stormtrooper helmets with Andrew Ainsworth provenance since June 2008.
In spite of debate and controversy about the authenticity surrounding these helmets, they have been sold publicly for significant sums of money (many thousands of dollars a piece) for years.
In March of this year, online auction dealer Nate D. Sanders offered one in one of their monthly auctions with an opening bid of $7,500, and it passed with no sale. It was then moved to eBay with a $15,000 “Buy It Now” price.
Christie’s put a different one up for auction in their June sale, and subsequently withdrew the piece from the auction.
Nate D. Sanders put theirs up for auction again in one of their monthly sales in July, and received favorable press from the Daily Mail. Four days after pointing out this Daily Mail piece, Nate D. Sanders pulled their piece from their own auction.
I’m not aware of any of these “prototype” helmets being part of any subsequent auction from any dealer. Perhaps it has come to an end?
You can read all of the past features on these pieces on the Original Prop Blog here: LINK
2) The “Easy Rider” Motorcycle
I wrote an extensive article about this (non?) sale of the chopper put up for public auction by Profiles in History in October in their Hollywood Auction 65 (67 and 68?) event.
In the OPB article, found HERE, you can read about how the lemmings-like media is all about copy and paste “journalism” of whoever did the same story before them… so a couple of media outlets reported that this lot sold at auction for $1.35 million dollars, and few bothered to follow up to see that it is not included in the official “Prices Realized Detail” published by Profiles in History themselves on their site, indicating that it was not sold.
So the potential embarrassment of the negative attention given to the piece (the authenticity of which was openly questioned by the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and others) prior to the live auction was mitigated by the headline of it being “sold” for $1.35 million, and then everyone lost interest.
I guess it is a half empty/half full question… I’m surprised it was questioned at all by the mainstream media on the lead in, but a major fail on misreporting the outcome, and lacking the intellectual curiosity to follow it up meaningfully. Baby steps.
1) There Are Still Important Artifacts “Out There”
Just when you think all of the critical, historical artifacts have been known about and in most cases found… I’m always still surprised when things still turn up. Especially when there is so much media attention paid to the value of some pieces sold at auction.
I’ve experienced this a few times since launching the Original Prop Blog in 2007. One example being the prop carpet bag from Mary Poppins… A few years ago, the owner contacted me for advice about how to part with the piece, and I referred them to Profiles in History (with no referral fee/finder’s fee from Profiles); a fictionalized story of how Profiles came to find it was developed for the premiere episode of Hollywood Treasure.
For the record, since I’ve read a number of incorrect accounts about the background of the piece, the owner explained to me that his grandfather worked for the advertising agency Foot, Cone and Belding in Chicago. In the 1960’s, there was a promotional contest/giveaway and the grand prize was the original carpet bag from Mary Poppins filled with $10,000 in cash. He said that the winner was only interested in the money, and left the bag, so his grandfather kept it and gave it to his wife as a gift.
I always thought it was a cool story, and it ultimately sold at auction for six figures.
In any event, I do come across interesting things from time to time, and the biggest find in 2014 was not just pop culture artifacts but a principal in film and television, who himself was lost to time for decades. As with the Mary Poppins carpetbag owner, he actually found me by way of the Original Prop Blog.
I’ve done a number of stories about Colin Cantwell in the past few months, all of which can be read HERE.
Colin Cantwell is a scientist, inventor, artist, special and computer effects wizard, architect, and engineer, and played a significant role in Star Wars: A New Hope by making the first prototype models for George Lucas back in 1974/1975; the first realizations for the X-Wing Fighter, the Y-Wing Fighter, the Tie Fighter, the Star Destroyer, the Death Star, the Landspeeder, the Sandcrawler, and the Millennium Falcon, as well as the T-16 Skyhopper.
He also worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Omnimax/IMAX, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and WarGames, working with some of our greatest film auteurs like George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg. He worked with NASA and CBS on the Apollo XI moon landing mission. He even won over “the greatest architect of all-time”, Frank Lloyd Wright. And at 82 years of age, he continues to work on his life achievements; with his concept of Cosmic Biodesics, only now is the rest of the world catching up to his ideas.
It was personally rewarding for me help him part with his memorabilia collecting, which included never before seen by the public concept artwork created for Star Wars, but more than that helping add details about his contributions to the public awareness and pop culture history.
So as much as I tend to come around to feeling like there are no “secrets” still out there to be uncovered, maybe I shouldn’t be terribly surprised should something of significance come up in the future.