Movie memorabilia are considered valuable items because of their connection to the cinema. These include costumes, props, billboards and scripts, among other things. Fans have always coveted objects of interest, but in recent years, what was once a hobby has multiplied into a big business, with millions of dollars changing hands at auctions held by companies such as Top Christie and Sotheby. In addition, many popular movies have their collectibles sold through souvenir stores, independent film online, web auctions, and at movie studio charity events.
In the early days, most people sought autographs or original photographs or posters. Collectors had to rely on a handful of news magazines that were filled with various vendors offering mail order catalogs or soliciting to buy bulk lots, or particular items of interest. Occasionally, events would be organized that were structured around a live auction – these, while in smaller numbers today, still occur, and you can still buy items of interest from the vendors’ trusted person on site. The community was also quite fragmented, with collectors and dealers spread out all over the world and there is no real consistent and reliable way to communicate with each other.
The film studios were slow to recognize the value of their property “in general, viewing the material as garbage by taking valuable real estate film sets. Often, workers could take only souvenirs or sell items without permission, knowing that their employers did not care. One of the most notorious of these was client Kent Warner, who amassed a large private collection and made money selling it to interested buyers. One of his friends claimed that Warner rescued Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca raincoat, which had been scheduled for recording.
The turning point came in 1970. Kirk Kerkorian had bought MGM the previous year and installed James Thomas Aubrey, Jr. as president. As part of his cost-cutting measures, Aubrey decided to auction off hundreds of thousands of items. The success of this mammoth event made people take notice.
MGM sold the contents of seven sound stages “for a mere $1.5 million” to auctioneer David Weisz. There were more than 350,000 single suits. Weisz hired Kent Warner to help catalog and prepare for the auction. In the course of his work, Warner found several pairs of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (it is a common practice to make multiple copies of major props). One pair became the centerpiece of the event and sold for an then unheard of $15,000 (Warner kept or sold an unknown number of other pairs).
Actress Debbie Reynolds spent $180,000 and “bought thousands of items”, the beginning of her great collection. Weisz “recovered” eight times what she paid “from eager nostalgia enthusiasts.
Among the items sold were:
The unsold items, “…trucks filled with sketches of costumes, video stills and other items were sent to the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas to be sold in the gift store and used as hotel decorations. The auction catalogs now have themselves become coveted collector’s items.
Debbie Reynolds’ collection was sold by Profiles in History at two auctions in June and December 2011. Among the points to be placed on the bid at the first of these auctions are
Marilyn Monroe’s subway dress, whose skirt is lifted by the upward flow of a subway train that passes in Temptation Lives Above.
One of Charlie Chaplin’s trademark bowler hats
First versions, Arabic motif of the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz
Audrey Hepburn Ascot’s dress and My Fair Lady hat
Charlton Heston’s tunic, suit, and accessories from Ben-Hur
On June 18, 2011, the subway dress sold for $4.6 million well above pre-auction estimates of $ 1-2 million. Another Monroe dress, worn by gentlemen who prefer blondes, sold for $1.2 million; it was expected to go for $200,000 to $300,000. Estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, a blue cotton Judy Garland dress used in several test shots for The Wizard of Oz was $910,000. In total, the auction raised $22.8 million.
At the second Reynolds Auction, on December 3, 2011, a working Panavision PSR 35mm camera used to film Star Wars was $625,000, breaking the records for Star Wars objects and period cameras.
In the early days of the Internet, the general community began to contact each other through Usenet newsgroups (e.g. alt.binaries.pictures.movie posters). As the Internet grew, collectors began to communicate in a way they never thought possible. In 1995, the popular online email group MoPo was formed, creating a central place for people to keep in touch about things and events important to the community. This group continues to provide information to new and old collectors.
By 1997, the community had changed forever; eBay was quickly becoming the alternative marketplace after two years of steady growth. Professional sellers realized this, causing many of them to close their brick and mortar businesses and focus their attention entirely on Internet sites and the future of the online marketplace.
In the early days of selling on the Internet, prices varied widely. One could find posters normally worth hundreds of dollars selling for twenty dollars, or, alternatively, posters normally worth twenty dollars going for a hundred, or more. Today, the market for film memorabilia has mostly stabilized. While you can still see a rare movie poster go for large quantities, it is much more common to find that the items have a price, either at or near their market value, or are on sale until then.
Several pairs of The Wizard of Oz ruby slippers are known to exist. One pair is on permanent display at the National Museum of American History, several others are in the hands of private collectors, and one pair was stolen in 2005. The last auction price, in 2000, was $666,000. In addition, the black hat belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West was sold for $33,000 in 1988 and $197,400 in 2008.
There were several statuettes made for the 1941 The Maltese Falcon – two lead figures weighing 47 pounds each, and a seven-pound, more finely crafted, resin model – all handled by Humphrey Bogart. Christie auctioned off one of the lead figures, part of actor William Conrad’s estate, on December 6, 1994; it was purchased for $398,500 by Ronald Winston, president of Harry Winston, Inc. Within two years, Winston had resold the propeller “at a huge profit” – for as much as $1 million – to an unknown European collector. On November 25, 2013, Bonhams, in association with Traditional Chinese Medicine, sold the other lead figure, the only one confirmed to have appeared in the film, for more than $4 million, including the buyers’ fee. This version features a BM 90067 prop series. (See also the Maltese falcon).
On November 24, 2014, the piano on which Sam plays “As Time Goes By” at Rick Americain’s Cafe (and on which Rick hides the playing cards) was sold for $2,900,000 (buyer’s premium for a total of $3413,000) by Bonhams in New York. At the same auction, the surviving copy of the transit documents, although apparently not used on screen, sold for $118,750 (including buyer’s premium).
Audrey Hepburn was not only a famous actress, but also a fashion icon. In 2006, her “little black dress” from Breakfast with Diamonds (plus a few other minor items) went for £467,200 ($923187) for the City of Joy Foundation.
Steven Spielberg paid $60,500 (including 10% commission) in June 1982 for a Citizen Kane “Rosebud” sleigh. Orson Welles stated in a telephone interview that there were three made of balsa wood (as is Spielberg’s purchase) that were destined to be burned in the final scene, and one made of hardwood for the beginning of the film. On December 15, 1996, the wood sled was sold to an anonymous buyer in Los Angeles for $233,500.
The white suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever was purchased by film critic Gene Siskel at a charity auction. In June 1995 it was auctioned at Christie for $145,500.
The following is a list of memories from famous movies. If such items have been auctioned, the current owners and the last price paid, if available, will be listed below.
Audrey Hepburn’s black dress (plus some minor items) was auctioned off for £467,200 (£580,990) for the City of Joy Foundation in 2006.
The piano that Sam played in the flashback in Paris (not the one that As Time Goes By used to play) was for the Japanese company C. Itoh & Co . The item was won at an auction with a bid of $154,000 (119,182) by an anonymous bidder.
The white uniform worn by the captain of Renault was auctioned off for $55,000 (?42,565) in June 2011 at Debbie Reynolds’ auction.
The working machine of the six built for the film authenticated by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang star, Dick Van Dyke, and auctioned by Profiles in History. However, the initial price of $950,000 ($735,214) was not offered. It was subsequently sold to an anonymous buyer for $800,000 (£619,128).
Steven Spielberg paid $60,500 (including 10% commission) in 1981 for a raft sleigh used in the Fourth Estate. Orson Welles stated in a telephone interview that there were three copies of the raft, which were scheduled to be burned in the final scene of the film, and one solid wood copy for the opening. A period photo shows him with the sled, which in the photo is red.
The “Welcome Home, Mr. Kane” mug went on sale at an eBay auction in the winter of 2008 for $2,710,000.
Auctions of a costume worn by Lord Vader did not sell at the minimum price in 2010, stopping at £150,000.
Marilyn Monroe’s red sequined dress was auctioned for $1.2 million in June 2011 from Debbie Reynolds’ collection.
The skeleton of King Kong’s largest miniature model, including the auction fee, was sold in November 2009 for £121,250.
Several figures were made for the film The Mystery of the Falcon , the two main ones weigh 21 kg each, and another 3.2 kg, more refined and made of resin, all held in the hand by Humphrey Bogart. Christie’s sold one of the two main ones on December 6, 1994 for $398,500 (308,400 euros) to Ronald Winston , president of Harry Winston Inc.
An original poster set a record selling price when it was purchased for $690,000 in 2006.
The plastron used by Audrey Hepburn sold for $3,700,000 ($4,551,000 with taxes added) in June 2011 at an auction of Debbie Reynolds.
The white suit worn by John Travolta was purchased by film critic Gene Siskel at a charity auction.
The subway dress used by Marilyn Monroe, which went up due to the subway’s upward flow, was purchased for $4.6 million (not including the additional 20% auction fee), in a June auction.
A still working Panavision PSR 35mm camera used in the first Star Wars sold for $625,000 (?483,700) at a Reynolds auction in December 2011, breaking all records for both a Star Wars relic and an era camera.
The Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve sold for $115,000 at a Hollywood auction in 2007.
Four pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland have survived. An anonymous donor gave the museum a pair that is on permanent display at the National Museum of American History . This is probably the pair sold at the 1970 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer auction for $15,000.
Another pair was sold to Michael Shaw the same year. While the pair that was on display at the Judy Garland Museum was stolen in 2005 and never found. Philip Samuels paid $165,000 (124,560 euros) for a series in 1981 . The fourth and final pair was purchased in 2000.from David Elkouby for $666,000 (‘515,424). Actress Debbie Reynolds bought a more eccentric pair of slippers with Arabic drawings that were only used in dress rehearsals before failing to write the final script. The latter were the first to be sold in a series of auctions of her collection, which in 2011 would have yielded $510,000, for a total of $627,300, including the auction fee.
Judy Garland’s blue and white checkered dress was auctioned in London for 220,000 euros, with a base price starting at 50,000 euros.
Judy Garland’s blue cotton dress, used in test shots or during the first two weeks of filming, sold at Debbie Reynolds’ auction in 2011 for $910,000.
Two sets of cowardly lion costumes. It is debated whether they were actually worn by Bert Lahr. One set, initially part of the MGM auction, was purchased by sculptor Bill Mack in 2006 for $826,000. The other suit, supposedly rescued from dumpsters at the MGM auction, is in the possession of well-known collector James Comisar.
The scarecrow costume, without a mask (which had to be replaced several times during filming), is preserved at the National Museum of American History.
The black hat of the Wicked Witch of the West was sold in 2008 for $197,400 (152,770 euros).
An Audrey Hepburn dress, a James Bond car, the camera George Lucas used in ‘Star Wars’… If you want them to be yours, you will have to become a millionaire.
Cinema, they say, is an ephemeral art: once the film is over, we the spectators can only relive it by paying the ticket again or pressing the play button again, without anything in the tangible world reminding us of what we have just seen. A very poetic notion, yes, but an inaccurate one, because after the last clapboard stroke, a film shoot leaves behind an enormous amount of props, props, clothing and objects of all kinds. If the film becomes a classic, these props will acquire the condition of collector’s items. And it is enough to add two more factors to turn the thing into a real madness: cinephiles with money to spend, and auction houses in search of millionaire bids. Once the chips are laid out and the game begins, all that remains is to sit back and watch the prices for the most banal object go up, and up, and up…
In spite of the crisis, at CINEMANIA we do not rule out that our readers may have such accounts with many figures (in black, of course). That’s why we’ve put together this flirtatious collection with the most expensive collector’s items in the cinema. As banal as some of them may seem, all these items reached dizzying prices in the cinemas of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and similar when it came to putting them on the market. And, pulling the checkbook, who’s to say they couldn’t be yours someday? So that you don’t throw your money away, we have also included a practical shopping guide with the pros and cons of getting hold of each one.
Can you take advantage of it? Assuming that it is in good condition (and, with that price, it better be), let’s admit that the cut of this dress signed by Travilla is still sober as well as sexy, so it would be easy for a cinemaniac to wear it on occasions that are dressed up but informal. Just two warnings: be very careful with the subway vents, and don’t even think about making them narrow your waist, or you’ll be haunted by the ghost of Billy Wilder.
Can you take advantage of it? Giving up her Givenchy of her soul, Audrey let herself be dressed as a Victorian damsel by Cecil Beaton, legendary photographer and art director in this musical. With that tail, that eclipse-sized pamela of the sun and those bows, the ensemble would fall like a shot in an urban and modern meeting, but in the races of Ascot (the place where a Hepburn recently debronzed by Rex Harrison was wearing it in the film) it continues to be a tip.
Can you take advantage of it? According to Judi Dench, who took the co-pilot’s seat in Skyfall, this sports car is uncomfortable to drive. But what are folding seats or central locking in front of the ejection seat, armored windows and an arsenal of weapons capable of wiping out a small country? Not to mention the interchangeable license plates, with how well that should go for the fines. Just one piece of advice: if Daniel Craig shows up at your house and asks to borrow it for a ride, don’t refuse – and forget about seeing him (in one piece) again.
Can you take advantage of them? Let’s go with the truth in mind: trying to dress a modern day boy or girl in the suits of Liesl, Friedrich, Gretl and company (so modest and so Austrian of them) can have consequences that are incompatible with life. But watch out, because here we are not talking about vulgar pieces of clothing, but about the outfits worn by the young actors in the film when Julie Andrews pierced their ears singing Do, Re, Mi.
Can you take advantage of it? Indeed, this is another vehicle of the Bondi fleet. Specifically, from a first generation Lotus Esprit (1977) tuned by the firm Perry Oceanographic to turn it into a fully functional mini-submarine. Thanks to this retrofitting, which in its day cost a whopping 300,000 euros, you will be able to use this sports car to take a dip in the sea, without any special effects. There’s only one “but”, of course: on land, the vehicle doesn’t work.
Can you take advantage of it? It is clear that the writer Ian Fleming had a weakness for superpowered cars: as if the James Bond saga were not enough of an example, the only children’s novel signed by the Englishman (and published posthumously) focused on the adventures of a very vintage Ford 3000 equipped with an infinite number of gadgets. For the film version of the book, the artist Frederick Rowland Emmett was in charge of designing a Bug that was left for history as the most expensive prop ever used in a movie. This venerable antique may not fly or serve you to fight the troops of Vulgaria, but how good will it look telling the story to your friends?
Can you take advantage of it? Let’s rephrase the question: has Audrey Hepburn been the most fashionable actress in history? Surely, yes. That is why this sixties dress by Givenchy is still imitated to the point of exhaustion, and it will be worth for any cinemaniac to give the bell in the most select act, as long as its forms are as slender as those of the original owner. Combine it with an extra-long mouthpiece, a pearl necklace (probably fake) and a cat named Gato and you will look like a real Holly Golightly.
Can you take advantage of it? If you consider yourself a coward, and are willing to walk the Yellow Brick Road in search of courage, this outfit is made for you. What’s more, wearing it could be an act of courage in itself, because the actor Bert Lahr cooked himself alive on the set under those seams covered with real lion skin. Although, compared to Jack Haley’s metal suit or Margaret Hamilton’s toxic makeup, the ordeal doesn’t look like much either.
Can you take advantage of them? With the ups and downs of fashion, and given the times of excess we are living in, this jeweled shoe (with the signature of Gilbert Adrian, no less) could be the most if it is combined with an outfit to match. However, the idea of bumping up against each other and then saying “there’s no place like home” may not be effective as a quick means of transportation. We also warn that, as Judy Garland stated at the time, they are a bit tight in size and can be very tight.
Can you take advantage of it? As you can easily imagine, the memorabilia of the galactic saga fetches considerable prices: an original 1977 lightsaber, for example, can fetch almost 180,000 euros. Now, the highest priced Star Wars gadget ever appeared in front of the camera, basically because we’re talking about the 35mm Panavision TSR with which ‘Uncle George’ shot the first film of the series. Now that, according to what they say, analog cinema has kicked the bucket, making use of this relic again would be a good way to prove the opposite. As long as, of course, it is not used to film pre-schools.