Movie Memorabilia: The Many Items Collected Around the World March 04 2022
During the 1920s the movie industry really started to bloom, with big blockbusters capturing the imagination of old and small all over the world.
For a select few that passion went further than just watching and re-watching their favorites on the silver screen, they wanted something more, something they can touch, and feel.
Those passionate movie fanatics started collecting items that were associated with the films they loved. Back in those early days, collecting movie memorabilia meant getting your hands on posters, lobby cards, production stills and autographs.
Some of the lucky few who had friends or family work in the film industry were able to get some more special items, like scripts, or props that were actually used in a movie. There were not that many collectors during the early days, and collecting movie memorabilia was not the big business it has become today.
Movie studios certainly did not see the value in a hobby being practiced by only a select few around the world. To them old movie props, posters and other promotional materials for movies that went out of rotation were just taking up precious backlot, warehouse or office space. A lot of those items were just thrown away, destroyed or being adjusted or reconfigured for use in other movies.
This all changed in 1970 however, when studio MGM sold items stored in seven sound stages to auctioneer David Weisz for the amount of $1.5 million, which seemed like a ridiculous high amount at the time.
The sale included costumes, furniture, automobiles, trains, tanks, boats, airplanes and space ships that had been designed and built or purchased for use in various movies. Weisz reportedly made over eight times what he had paid for the items in auctioning them off, with the highest selling item being Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz (1939), selling for $15,000.
Items that did not sell during the auctions were sent to the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and were sold in the gift shop or used as hotel decorations.
This made the film industry take notice, and collecting movie memorabilia grew into a big business, with millions of collectors around the world, and large auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams creating their own departments devoted to selling movie related items.
The items being collected also grew, with new items like soundtracks, trading cards and action figures finding its way to eager enthusiasts. In this article, we will be taking a closer look at some of these collectibles, and talk about its history and highest selling pieces.
The phrase ‘collecting movie posters’ might seem like a no brainer in terms of meaning, but think again, because ‘movie posters’ is a term used to describe all movie art that a studio used to promote a film. And not everything is considered original or even collectable by serious collectors.
[Image] King Kong original movie poster 1933
Just like with just about anything that one can collect, there are several factors to keep in mind when determining authenticity, value and the items collectability, which more often than not is based on supply and demand.
The poster market originated during the 1870s when French artist Jules Cheret invented a printing technique that produced images with bright color and rich texture.
About ten years later, Paris’ streets were plastered with lithographic images highlighting everything you can think of, and these artful graphics became instant collectables.
The history of movie posters also originated in France when an illustration by Marcellin Auzolle was designed to promote the showing of the short L'Arroseur arrosé (1895) at the Grand Café in Paris, using the same printing technique.
These new highly sought after eye-catching posters in turn resulted in exhibitions, journals and dealers. That initial interest died out by the time World War I hit, and it wasn’t until the 1960s interest in movie posters grew again.
Over the last decades movie art collectors have clashed on more than one occasion on the criteria used to determine if an item is collectible or not, with newer collectors not always agreeing with the older generation.
[Image] King Kong movie remake - Original Poster
However most collectors seem to agree on one thing: For movie art to be considered collectable it must have been created, and preferably used, for promotional use only, and should never intended to be given, sold or distributed to the general public.
These items are generally only printed in limited numbers and must be returned after use. This makes these items harder to find once a film has ended its run thus creating a limited supply.
Of course what is considered collectable or not always depends on one’s personal interest and taste. For instance some posters used in video stores during the golden years of VHS are considered highly collectible by some, while others can’t care less about them.
According to financial blog Top Dollar the most valuable movie poster of all time is the poster for Metropolis (1927), which was designed by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm and reportedly sold at an auction for $690,000. It is rumored the poster was purchased by acclaimed actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lobby cards were usually located in the lobby of movie theaters, hence their name, and were meant to be seen and experienced up close, and ultimately were meant to be responsible for their viewers to buy a ticket to the film they were representing.
[Image] Original lobby cards for the classic 1939 film "Gone with the Wind"
The first ever lobby cards appeared in the early 1900s and were basically glorified black and white still images. The cards were printed on card stock-like paper using the rotogravure process which resulted in either black and white, sepia, or brown colored images.
Lobby cards came in sets of 8 and varied in size, but 11”x 14” eventually became the standard. From around the 1920s and onward, the cards were printed using the photo gelatin process resulting in images that were sharper and highly textured. This allowed lobby card designers to add decorative borders, tinting, coloring, and lettering.
Lobby cards have been collected by movie enthusiasts practically since their introduction, and it is not hard to understand why. They are easy to store and frame, and there are some beautiful cards out there that really capture one’s imagination. And let’s be honest, a few sets of framed lobby cards displayed on a well-lit wall is a sight to be seen.
The reason for collecting lobby cards differs per collector and the subject he or she is interested in. Some collect cards representing a specific genre, like 1980s horror or 1950s science-fiction, while others are more interested in cards of specific actors or movie studios.
Niagara (1953) original lobby cards
According to the Antiques Trade Gazette website the highest selling lobby card ever was one for Dracula (1931) which was sold at an auction in Dallas, Texas for the incredible amount of $95,000.
People have been collecting autographs for much longer than you might think. Historian Pliny the Elder, who reportedly wrote the world's first encyclopedia, recorded that Roman dictator Sulla's son-in-law was a collector of signet rings that were used to sign and seal official documents, and those rings can be considered an ancient form of an autograph.
[Image] Signed photograph by the Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in the classic 1931 film
Film fanatics have been collecting movie related autographs since the beginning of film. Many of those autographs collected are by either actors or directors, and were put on promotional or publicity stills, posters or scripts.
Naming the highest selling movie related autograph is a little tricky. According to website Finance 101 an autographed baseball signed by famous actress Marilyn Monroe sold for $191,200, but there’s a catch, because the baseball was also signed by Baseball player Joe DiMaggio, who is considered to be one of the best players that ever lived.
If we are looking at strictly movie related autographs the highest selling one was by James Dean. An autographed picture of the iconic actor sold for no less than $23,320.
[Image] Autograph of the star American actress Marilyn Monroe shown in the 1954 film "There is no Business like Show Business"
There is also a big downside to collecting autographs, and that is verifying its authenticity. Unfortunately there are many sellers out there that are selling fake autographs for ridiculous prices. And sometimes autographs were made by people close to the person which it should represent.
The famous Italian actor Bud Spencer for example had his secretary autograph his pictures for him for years, and it took fans a little while to catch on to this fact. Luckily there are many reliable sellers out there, but it will take some time and effort to investigate and identify the real from the fake.
Feel free to visit our section on autographs by film actors and actresses as well as our section on autographs by film directors.
Movie based action figures are among some of the most collected items by movie enthusiasts these days.
Action figures originated during the 1960s when toy company Hasbro released the G.I. Joe line of action figures in 1964, which were likely some of the earliest, if not the first, toys of that kind ever produced. Hasbro executive Don Levine came up with the term ‘action figure’ to distinguish his toys from dolls.
But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that movie action figures became very popular and the collecting craze started. During that time, Kenner Products, a relatively small toy company at the time, started releasing a line of action figures based on the movie Star Wars (1977) in 1978.
Original Ghostbusters film action figures
These 3.75 inch action figures were so popular that its size became an industry standard, and it made the company a lot of money. Today, some of these vintage Star Wars figures can be worth up to several thousand dollars, depending on its condition. A year later Kenner would also release a line of action figures based on the movie Alien (1979).
While the original Star Wars figures were, and still are, insanely popular, they were not the very first movie based action figures. That was in fact a James Bond figure produced by AC Gilbert in 1964, based on the movie Goldfinger (1964). And a popular line of action figures based on the Planet of the Apes series of films released in 1974 by Mego also preceded the Star Wars figures.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the highest selling movie action figure was based on the Star Wars series of films. The Rocket Firing Boba Fett figure was a prototype released in 1979 and sold for $150,000 on auction website Hake’s in 2019.
Movie props are items purchased, or created specifically for use in a motion picture. Movie fanatics have been collecting movie props since the beginning of cinema. Back in those early days props were hard to come by.
The Lord of the Rings - A fantastic example of props in films
You would need to have connections to someone working in the movie business or someone who at least had access to studio warehouses. When movie props were becoming more common at auction houses you could get your hands on them more easily but only if you were willing to spend a good amount of money on them.
Over the last few years however this has all changed and quite a few auction websites selling authentic movie props have popped up, making movie props widely available, and not always at insane prices either.
When you are looking to start collecting movie props, there are quite a few things to consider. To start with, there are basically three types of props: hero props, stunt props, and replicas. A hero prop is an item that received a lot of screen time, and was used by the main character in a film.
Usually there are only a few of them, and in some cases only one. A stunt prop most often looks the same like the hero, but is made of a different material, for instance rubber, or it is a similar looking item with fewer features.
Iconic Lightsaber used in Star Wars Saga
Stunt props are generally used in stunts, or for appearing in background shots or in large numbers. Replicas are exactly that, replicas of the hero prop, usually intended for sale or collecting, and never used on screen.
What kind of props you decide to collect is up to you, there are no rules, and there are collectors that collect all three kinds. It all depends on your taste, your budget and the props availability of course.
Another thing to keep in mind is longevity. Especially in horror and sci-fi flicks props are often made of latex, a material that is not made to lasts for years and it will start to dissolve sooner rather than later.
So you will have to think about ideal storing conditions, or having the latex treated for it to last longer, which can be a costly operation. Even if you don’t own latex props it is always a good idea to look at your storage or display situation, because just simple exposure to sunlight over a long period of time can have a negative impact on your priceless props.
Space is another thing you need to consider. If you decide to collect large props, like furniture or even vehicles, you have to make sure you have the space to store them, preferably under good conditions.
As we mentioned collecting authentic movie props can be an expensive hobby. If you want to collect movie props and don’t have a big budget it is a good idea to keep an eye on auction houses as soon as a production has finished.
Props used in "There Will Be Blood" (2007)
More often than not you can pick up a few movie props for good prices that way.
As soon as a movie gets released, and more so if it’s a big hit, the prices of those props will go up in a hurry. Another thing to consider when you’re on a budget is to get the stunt prop instead of the hero prop, as they tend to be cheaper.
Over the years collectors have paid high sums of money for movie props. According to movie website The Guardian the highest selling prop ever is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956), which was auctioned off for $5.375 million at Bonham’s New York auction house.
007 Funko Pop
Funko Pops are relatively new in the world of collecting. But in just 11 years they turned out to be a huge obsession for collectors all over the world. Mike Becker founded Funko in 1998 and released a nostalgia-themed bobblehead line called Wacky Wobblers.
But the company’s most successful line to date started in 2010, it is called Pop! Vinyl, but is most often referred to as just Funko pops. They are very simple looking figures based on pop culture characters or persons.
There are close to 9000 different figures released to date, with many of them being based on movie characters.
There have been Pennywise, The Joker, Iron Man, Godzilla, and Michael Myers figures, just to name a few.
[Image] Marilyn Monroe Funko Pop
According to the Wealthy Gorilla website the most valuable Funko Pop is actually a movie based pop, the glow-in-the-dark Alex DeLarge Clockwork Orange figure, based on A Clockwork Orange (1971). Its value is estimated around $13,300, and some figures have reportedly been sold on eBay for around that amount.
MOVIE TICKET STUBS
This is a somewhat popular collectible in other areas, especially in music and in sport events and collectors of things related to transportation, but rather rare among movie fans.
[Image] Vintage movie ticket stub
Most moviegoers of the past did not keep the ticket stubs, so old movie tickets are quite scarce, and this maybe one of the most important reasons why not so many people collect them. Yet some do, and it deserves a spot in our list.
Besides these main categories there are many, many more items available that are considered movie memorabilia, like key chains, trading cards, press kits, soundtracks, and scripts.
There are also loads of collectors out there who collect all kinds of items related to a specific film or based on a movie character, like James Bond or the Frankenstein monster.
Whatever you collect, or intend to collect, it will always be based on personal taste, and there are no rules when it comes to collecting movie memorabilia. Thank you for reading, and happy collecting!
Written by Mark de Wit - Edited and Illustrated by Tamino Autographs
Top Dollar Blog: The Most Valuable Movie Posters of All Time
Antiques Trade Gazette: Dracula lobby cards from 1931 film taken to record high in Dallas
Finance 101: Valuable Autographs
Wealthy Gorilla: Most valuable funko pop vinyls
The Guardian: The World's most expensive film props and costumes in pictures
- Film Actors Autographs & Memorabilia
- Film Actresses Autographs & Memorabilia
- Film Directors Autographs & Memorabilia
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