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Film memorabilia are objects considered of value because of their connection to the cinema. These include costumes, props, advertising posters, and scripts, among other things. Fans have always coveted memorabilia, but in recent years, what was once a hobby has mushroomed into big business, with millions of dollars changing hands in auctions held by such top firms as Christie's and Sotheby's. In addition, many popular films have their collectible items sold via independent, online movie memorabilia stores, web auctions, and at film 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 full of various sellers offering mail order catalogues or asking to buy bulk lots, or particular items of interest. Occasionally, events would be organized which were structured around a live auction — these, while fewer in number today, still occur, and one can still buy memorabilia in person from trusted sellers on-site. The community was also fairly fragmented, with collectors and dealers spread out across the globe and no real consistent and reliable way to communicate with one another.
Movie studios were slow to recognize the value of their property, stored or reused after their use in their initial productions. Often, workers would just take souvenirs or sell items without permission, aware that their employers did not particularly care. One of the more notorious of these was costumer Kent Warner, who amassed a large private collection and made money selling to interested buyers. One of his friends claimed that Warner rescued Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca trench coat, which had been slated for burning.
The turning point came in 1970. Kirk Kerkorian had bought MGM the year before 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.
- Film posters
- Lobby cards
- Still photos
- Film props
- Pressbooks and presskits
- Glass slides
- Industry magazines and related material
- Scripts, storyboards, and original concept art
- Promotional material of any kind
- Commercial collectibles
- Several pairs of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz 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. Also, the black hat belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West 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 (21 kg) each, and a seven-pound (3.2 kg), more finely crafted, resin model — all handled by Humphrey Bogart. Christie's auctioned one of the lead figures, part of the estate of actor William Conrad, 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 prop "at an enormous profit" — for as much as $1 million — to an unknown European collector. In 2013, Bonhams, in association with TCM, sold the other lead figure as a part of a large auction of American movie memorabilia on November 25, 2013, for over $4 million, including the buyers fee. This version has a prop number WB 90067. (See also The Maltese Falcon.)
The William Conrad statuette, bearing Warner Brothers prop number WB 90066. It sold for $398,500 at an auction in 1994 and was subsequently re-sold for a large profit. Its twin was auctioned for more than $4 million in November 2013.
- On November 24, 2014, the piano on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By" in Rick's Café Américain (and in which Rick hides the letters of transit) was sold for $2,900,000 (the buyer's premium bringing the total to $3,413,000) by Bonhams in New York City. In the same auction, the only known surviving copy of the transit papers, though apparently not used onscreen, went for $118,750 (including buyer's premium).
Audrey Hepburn was not only a celebrated actress, but also a fashion icon. In 2006, her "little black dress" from Breakfast at Tiffany's (plus a few other minor items) fetched £467,200 ($923,187) for the City of Joy Foundation.
Steven Spielberg paid $60,500 (including 10% commission) in June 1982 for a "Rosebud" sled from Citizen Kane. Orson Welles stated in a telephone interview that there were three made of balsa (as is Spielberg's purchase) that were intended to be burned in the final scene, and one made of hardwood for the beginning of the film. After the Spielberg purchase, news outlets began reporting the claim of Arthur Bauer, a retired helicopter pilot in New York, that he owned the hardwood sled used at the beginning of Citizen Kane. "I'm sure it could be true," Welles said when asked for comment. In early 1942, Bauer was a 12-year-old student in Brooklyn and a member of his school's film club. He entered and won an RKO Pictures publicity contest and selected Rosebud as his prize. In 1996, Bauer's estate offered the painted pine sled at auction through Christie's. On December 15, 1996, the hardwood sled was sold to an anonymous bidder in Los Angeles for $233,500.
- The white suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever was purchased by film critic Gene Siskel in a charity auction. In June 1995 it was auctioned at Christie's for $145,500.
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