Hollywood Memorabilia - The Fun of Collecting It September 30 2022
Hollywood Memorabilia has been around forever, or so it seems. But it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s movie related merchandise started to become more common. In 1977 Hollywood memorabilia really took off with the release of the first Star Wars films, and its associated figures and other merchandise.
So what exactly is Hollywood memorabilia? It is a collection of items that reminds one of a film, often a so called "blockbuster", a successful movie that was produced by a Hollywood film studio.
Items like action figures and other toys, autographs of actors and actresses, directors in photos, programs, books, lobby cards, movie scripts, props like costumes and other screen used items, etc. Also these items can be autographed by people associated with the film the memorabilia belongs to, but that is not necessary for an item to be regarded as Hollywood memorabilia.
THE EARLY YEARS
In the early years of film hardly any merchandising took place in Hollywood. Except by the Walt Disney Company who started this practice very early on. With the success of Mickey Mouse's Steamboat Willie cartoon in 1928, Walt Disney was offered $300 to put an image of Mickey Mouse on writing tablets in 1929. This extra income helped Disney to finance their rather expensive productions. As a result all kind of Disney products started to appear in markets around the world during the 1930s.
Items like comics, bars of soap, ice cream and eve Cartier diamond bracelets became available, often carrying the image of Mickey Mouse. In fact that crazy mouse is often claimed to be the most popular licensed character in the world.
The Marx play set figures and accessories that became available from 1951 featuring a wide range of cowboys and Indians can also be considered some of the earliest instances of Hollywood memorabilia. But the very first merchandise tie in with a movie actually happened in 1962 when several figures and model kits were released for the James Bond film Dr. No in 1962.
While it is not a rule, we see the most successful memorabilia is often associated with a movie franchise, which is a collection of related films in succession that share the same fictional universe. And it will come to no surprise to anyone that the most successful movie franchise as it relates to memorabilia is the Star Wars franchise.
[RIGHT] Mickey Mouse writing table 1929
George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars saga, changed the way licensing deals were made, and Star Wars toys also changed the popular format of action figures. The first film marked the beginning of a collecting craze that still continues today. “From the 1980s onward, it became common for Americans to purchase toys and keep them for collectible purposes.” writes historian Sharon Scott in her book Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia.
A BOLD MOVE PAYS OFF
Back in 1977, 20th Century Fox, the studio that was about to release the first Star Wars film, assumed it had a B-grade sci-fi movie at their hands that would not do much business. As a result they had little to no interest in maintaining merchandising rights to the film. But Lucas believed in his film, envisioning a world where consumers would wish to recreate his universe via toys and collectibles.
In what was a bold move at the time, he ceded $500,000 of his directorial paycheck in order to keep the merchandising rights to his film. Of course now we all know how that turned out for him, as today revenue for Star Wars related memorabilia runs into the billions. The Star Wars films even hold the Guinness World Record for being the most successful film merchandising franchise.
IT'S NOT ALL STAR WARS
But i is not just Star Wars that made a ton of money in Hollywood memorabilia. The Cars franchise, owned by Disney, is not far behind. With this franchise Disney started to take another approach to merchandising, making many more products with these automotive characters and drastically expanding the Cars toy universe.
[LEFT] James Bond Dr No 1962 figure model kit
And Disney has yet another franchise right at the top of memorabilia revenue sales: the Frozen franchise. The first Frozen film was a massive box office success for Disney, making $1.27 billion. But the real money was in merchandising. In 2014 alone Disney sold close to $5 billion in Frozen memorabilia.
Other noteworthy movie franchise we have to mention that did massive numbers in merchandising and memorabilia are Toy Story, The Jurassic Park films, all those Marvel and DC superhero films with their intertwined universes, Back to the Future, James Bond, The Transformers, Toy Story and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
COLLECTING HOLLYWOOD AUTOGRAPHS
Collectors look primarily for signed movie stills (most especially a movie that made the signer famous), of a bit less of interest are signed original photos made by professional photographers (stamped on verso), then, autographed promotional photos (taken in photo studios) of actors, actresses and directors and signed posters, magazine clips - and last, signed album pages or signature cuts.
People at younger age, even before they were famous, are usually of higher interest than those of the same person at an older age. Autographs that are not inscribed to anyone tend to be a bit easier to sell than those that were inscribed or dedicated to a particular fan.
Signed photos of Hollywood celebrities can be framed with other flat pieces of memorabilia, such as magazine clips, brochures, stickers, ads, and more.
HOLLYWOOD MEMORABILIA AUCTIONS
A lot of money is also being made at Hollywood memorabilia auctions. In fact the most valuable piece of memorabilia ever sold at an auction is James Bond‟s 1965 Aston Martin DB5. This car featuring a machine gun in each bumper and a retractable rear screen was driven by Sean Connery in a number of 007‟s early films. It sold for a whopping $6,3 million dollars in a 2019 Sotheby‟s auction in California.
[CLICKABLE IMAGE AT RIGHT] Marilyn Monroe Autograph in the Film "There is no Business like Show Business" (1954)
The second most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia ever sold at an auction was Marilyn Monroe‟s subway dress from the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch. The dress, which is arguably the most famous dress in film history, ended up selling for $5,5 million in a 2011 auction.
Other noteworthy pieces of memorabilia that sold for large numbers at auctions are The Wizard of Oz's lion costume ($3 million), a life size R2-D2, the robot from Star Wars ($2,7 million), and Saturday Night Fever's iconic colored disco platform ($1,2 million).
NOTEWORTHY PAST HOLLYWOOD MEMORABILIA AUCTIONS
Over the years there have also been a number of auctions where a large amount of Hollywood memorabilia items were being sold off. In September of 2017 Prop Store in London auctioned off close to 600 items of memorabilia, including Jack Nicholson's Joker costume, Indiana Jones' whip, and Marty McFly's 2015 Nike Hyperadapts sneakers from Back to the Future II.
Later that year a large collection of Hollywood memorabilia collected and owned by Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher was also auctioned off. Carrie Fisher went into cardiac arrest at the end of 2016 while on a flight from London to California. She died a few days later, on Dec. 27, at the age of 60.
[LEFT] A Hollywood memorabilia auction catalog
Only 1 day later Reynolds had a stroke and died at the age of 84 while planning her daughter's funeral. Both women lived next to each other for years in Beverly Hills and they had quite the collection of memorabilia consisting of about 1,500 items.
There were quite a few special items that became available during this auction. Like Carrie Fisher's on-set director's chair from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, a life-size "Princess Leia" statue, a Joseph Cotton Underwood No. 5 typewriter screen used in Citizen Kane, and tuxedos worn during a nightclub performance by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES AUCTION
During July of 2022 Turner Classic Movies partnered with auction house Julien's Auctions and sold close to 1,600 iconic movie props and costumes. Among them Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy costume from Breakfast at Tiffany's, Marilyn Monroe's dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Chris Evans' shield from Captain America: The First Avenger, and an original Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars: A New Hope.
GETTING IN ON THE COLLECTION CRAZE
Collecting movie memorabilia can be a very fun hobby, but you will need to consider a few things before getting in on the action. Compared to other types of collections, movie memorabilia can be a lot more expensive, depending on what you are getting.
So make sure to set a budget, and also invest time into researching how much an item is worth. Also make sure to look out for shady sellers who deal in fake memorabilia. Before buying always make sure the item is authentic. Also consider storage. Make sure you know what an item is made of and what the best way of storing it is. That way, you can enjoy your valued pieces for as long as possible.
And remember collecting Hollywood memorabilia is not just about buying screen used props. There are a lot more types of items that can be added to your collection.
You can look for (signed) movie scripts, pictures from directors, costumes, movie posters, lobby cards, merchandising items like toys, and much, much more. In fact, your imagination is the only limit in finding items to add to your collection of Hollywood memorabilia.
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