The stuff of childhood fantasies - and adult
The film memorabilia market has exploded over the last 20 years, with prices now hitting new highs. But who buys the stuff and what do they do with it?
By Megan Lane and Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
It's the stuff of childhood fantasies, the Jedi knight cloak worn by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Never has something resembling a plain brown, woollen sack been coveted by so many but in the price range to so few.
If you're hoping for a bargain forget it, the cloak has a reserve price of £50,000. And if recent movie memorabilia sales are anything to go by, it could go for a lot more.
The Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's went for £467,200 last November instead of the estimated £70,000. In December the Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard Of Oz fetched more than £350,000 at auction. Dorothy's very own blue and white dress fetched £140,000 just months earlier.
An unexpected £467,200 price tag
Another slice of Hollywood is up for grabs on Tuesday when Angels, the London's film costumiers, sells off part of its unique collection of outfits.
Along with Obi-Wan Kenobi's cloak, also up for grabs is Mel Gibson's costume from Braveheart, the armour worn by Richard Burton in Cleopatra and suits worn by Pierce Brosnan in three James Bond films. Reserve prices range from £150 to £50,000. But who buys such memorabilia and what do they do with it?
Anyone from high-end collectors to amateur film buffs and wealthy City boys looking for an investment to someone looking for that "extra-special" present, says Adrian Cowdry, film memorabilia expert at the auctioneers Bonhams, where the sale is being held.
"Pieces, such as the Jedi cloak, will go to a very high-end collector. These include Martin Scorsese and George Lucas - he bought Charlie Chaplin's hat from us last year - because they're all film buffs themselves.
"City boys may well be looking for investments. Then there are the people who hope to pick up a suit that Michael Caine wore for £100 to wear as a talking point.
"The previous record-breaking dress we had was Dorothy's from the Wizard of Oz. That was a private buyer who bought it for his wife because it was her favourite film."
The market for movie memorabilia started to kick off in the late 1970s when items like vintage posters of Casablanca took on rarity value.
Braveheart is popular with collectors
"Because these things were on paper, they used to get thrown away, so the few that survived became more desirable," says Mr Cowdry.
"Then you might have been able to buy Bogart's dinner jacket for a few hundred quid; today it would be up to £300,000. Film really is the art form of our age and these pieces of art are within reach of the masses.
"I've been collecting since I was 12 - so 30 years. In that time, movie memorabilia has never gone down in value. It may plateau but it has not lost value."
Most high-end items will go into a museum-type storage facility - the Jedi cloak will probably go into a glass case on a mannequin, same with some of the Bond pieces, says Mr Cowdry. Companies like Planet Hollywood buy memorabilia for asset purposes and as decoration in their restaurants around the world.
But there is also an army of dedicated, individual collectors who buy items just to display in their own home, they even use the costumes and props in their everyday lives. Why?
Henry Cook, life-long collector
I think every child likes to collect stuff, it just became a passion for me. By 13 I was in trouble at school because I was spending more time at auctions than in the classroom. I think my love of film memorabilia comes from my love of history and stories - I'm passionate about both. I have never been a dealer, what I buy is all for my archive. I need five storage units to house my collection. My dream is to display it all one day. I love the rush of blood I get when I'm bidding for something I want. The most I have spent at one auction is about £20,000. I don't want to say what I spent it on, but I think it was worth it. Also, most of the things I buy mean something to me, I have grown up with them, they are iconic to me. I think the market has really flourished because people want pieces of their past, like a trophy. What I like to do is identify markets and trends before they become popular and get in there first. I don't store everything. I recently bought a coat from an Antonio Banderas movie. I wear it just like any coat you'd buy from a shop.
Adrian Cowdry, Bonhams' film memorabilia expert and Bond collector
Harry Harris, Aliens collector
It's quite unusual to have a collection on just the one movie. It's a cool film, very iconic.
I was lucky enough to get a few pieces cheap and it snowballed from there. In 1992, I saw an ad for an auction for costumes from Alien 2. That's not how you say the name of the film, so I wondered if they knew what they were talking about. I bought a flak jacket, overalls and flight suits worn by the main cast for £260. My star item is a costume worn by Bill Paxton - camouflage suit, body armour over the top, shoulder lamps, the lot. I've got a mannequin for it. I don't display it at my house, everything's in storage. I don't like to. I go to other collectors' houses and they've got, say, a Superman costume. But after you've been there a few times, it's like a lamp in the corner - the special qualities leave it. I get a thrill by exhibiting my stuff at memorabilia fairs and sci-fi conventions. There are the inevitable nerdy conversations about "what if it were all real", but mostly we talk about who's got what.
I hope I'm not an Aliens nerd. Some of my friends don't even know I've got this stuff. I've probably spent about £5,000 on my collection, I could sell it for £20,000. I don't collect to sell. But if I got into trouble, it would have to go.
Denis Ahmed, trader and former collector
It all started with a vintage Bond poster for me. I can remember how happy I was as a child seeing my first Bond film with Roger Moore and I wanted something to remind me of that feeling. Then I got into props. I loved the film Aliens and in the late 1980s, some of the props came up at auction. In those days you could still pick up such things quite cheap. Today some of it goes for tens of thousands of pounds. I bought a full-size alien egg for £50, a "face hugger" alien and uniforms worn by the Marines - a full uniform cost about £90 then, and I sold it for £1,200 three years ago. Some of it I boxed up in the spare room, but the egg I had in the corner of the front room. It became quite a talking point. It's early stuff that's worth a lot because they used to just throw things away at the end of filming. After making Star Wars they just "skipped" loads of props, it was the same with Thunderbirds. But the film companies are now more shrewd and know it's big business so they hold on to props for extra revenue. I sold most of my stuff about five years ago when I realised how much some of it was worth. I've had my day; I've made money on it. But I've still got a few of my favourite vintage posters - and that egg.
One of the first pieces I bought was a poster for Goldfinger. I paid £6 and it's now worth £3,500. It's on my wall in my hallway. I'm a 007 collector, and if I branched out, the wife would kill me. But she's got the bug as well. Her favourite film is Singing in the Rain, so I got her an original poster a couple of years ago. But props are out of my league. If I could afford it, I'd go for props touched by Sean Connery or George Lazenby. The good thing about working at Bonhams is that I get to play with these things for a while; once it's left my hands, someone else will get joy from it. The big money pieces tend to go to the United States and Japan because that's where the big collecting markets are. Carry On memorabilia will probably stay in this country - great films but they are English seaside postcards; same with the Only Fools and Horses Batman and Robin costumes.
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I once saw a queue of people around Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson, getting him to sign random puppet arms and legs from various Anderson series. Each one he had to look at seriously to make sure it wasn't fake.
There's nothing wrong with this memorabilia being on offer, but it's sad that a lot of the best stuff goes to private collectors instead of museums who might be able to professionally look after them and display them properly. It would be very sad if Obe-Wan Kenobe's cloak ended up destroyed from use in the owner's front room rather than seen by the thousands of fans who can't afford 50 grand.
John Gammon, Brighton, UK
I once visited an auction of film memorabilia as a child with a friend. I must have been about 13. There were some Star Wars models there and my friend and I were asked to hold them for a local newspaper. That's the closest I ever got to an X-Wing fighter! We felt priviledged and we had smiles on our faces all the way home.
Lee Pike, Cardiff, UK
When I was a teenager I worked at a Virgin Megastore and I used to go to the pictures alot, (so much cheaper then, and pre-Lovefilm, downloads etc!) and I always used to pick up the advertising postcards and A3 promo posters that were either free or excess when a video was released. I've kept them perfectly so I'll fish them out to see if any have any value. Most impressive were my 6ft tall posters for films and albums, but I have a feeling they went to the tip when we moved house once.
Sarah Connolly, Chester
I think it's a bit sad. These films aren't real, why spend so much on something that's real value is only a few pounds. Buy some real history or something of actual significance. Waste of money, nearly as bad as spending it on 'Modern Art'.
Bob Mcdermont, Sudbury
I've just bought Gene Kelly's autograph with a picture of him from Singing In The Rain. It's beautiful but I also see it as an investment. I love film and film memoribilia but only recently had the means to afford any. By the looks of this article, I won't be able to get any of the big stuff for many years!
Kate, Exeter, UK
I think it's bound up in a little hero-worship for me. The idea of owning something that Marilyn Monroe once touched, or watching a classic film, and seeing an object on screen that is hanging on my wall - it's like being ina movie myself. However, I can't actually afford to collect myself, so i can only dream!
Toby Morgan, Bath
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