The Rise of the Props and Memorabilia Market

The market for props and memorabilia is booming as collectors are eager to snatch up any piece of history related to their favorite movies, TV shows, and sports teams. From costumes to cars, from autographs to instruments, anything and everything related to pop culture is fair game. And with the advent of online auction sites and social media, it has never been easier for collectors to find what they're looking for or sell their own prized pieces.

The Beginning of Props and Memorabilia Collecting

It is not a new trend to collect movie props and merchandise. Such items are prized by fans and collectors for their sentimental value, cultural and historical significance, as well as their insight into the celebrity world.

The memorabilia community was fairly sporadic and disconnected during the early days since dealers and collectors were spread out across the world with no reliable way to communicate en masse. The film industry didn’t even recognize the value of such items at first. They even thought of them as taking up valuable space. Thus, iconic props were frequently stored away and forgotten about. Some were even destroyed. Workers used to have complete access to items used in film production, some were able to take trophy objects as souvenirs or sell them without their employers’ knowledge.

Kent Warner, the costume designer, is famously known to have stolen the iconic ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, as well as many other pieces he lifted from the MGM Studio storage room. Kent is credited with launching the lucrative, somewhat shady aftermarket for Hollywood memorabilia.

The Turning Point

The 1970 MGM Auction was the catalyst for realizing the enormous economic value that lay dormant in the props and memorabilia collecting hobby. The studio’s new president, James Thomas Aubrey Jr., decided to hold an event where numerous items would be auctioned off to consolidate space and generate a little extra revenue for the company.

He sold an entire collection of more than 350,000 costumes, as well as tens of thousands of additional props to an auctioneer for a mere $1.5 million. The event brought in more than 8 times that amount which resulted in a cataclysmic moment for the film studio company but a watershed for film scholars and the auction business. A new major market was created for an area of collecting that was previously available to a few film enthusiasts and hobbyists.

With the increasing influence of film media in our culture today, it is difficult to imagine a time when it did not have an impact on our lives. When looking at props and memorabilia, one is reminded of the history of cinematic culture, what these items meant at the time they were created, and what they mean to us today.

Collecting memorabilia is popular because movies, sports, and musicians have emotional significance. It could be from their favorite film as a child, the first music gig they ever attended or they have been a lifetime fan of a sports team.

Memorabilia can be highly valuable. These goods might be extremely rare, and obtaining them as part of a personal collection may feel prestigious. They provide a wow factor and are immediately impressive to anybody who is able to experience them in person.

Last but not least, they provide excellent investment potential. Many collectors invest in their collections knowing that the market value is increasing rapidly.

The Market for Props and Memorabilia

Investing in collectibles such as props and memorabilia has become a big business. Props used in older classic films have more than doubled in value in 10 years. Some items have skyrocketed in value far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

A Star Wars Tie Fighter pilot helmet, for example, first sold for  £3,000 in 1992. When it was auctioned again in 2017, the winning bid was £216,000, a 7,100% increase in only 13 years.

The famous leather outfit worn by Olivia Newton-John in the 1978 musical Grease was expected to sell for $160,000 at an auction in the United States last year, but it sold for $405,700 - more than twice the anticipated bid.

Darth Vader memorabilia are highly sought-after in the film memorabilia market. Only a few Darth Vader helmets have been offered on the collectors market since the early 1900s.

A dress is worn by Marilyn Monroe in the film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” which sold for $1.2 million in 2011, up from $14,300 in a 1989 auction. And just recently, Kim Kardashian stepped out in a $5M Marilyn Monroe dress at MET Gala 2022. Riccardo Tisci designed the gown and it was made of white silk organza and had over 5,000 crystals sewn onto it.

One of the most expensive pieces of film memorabilia ever sold is a figurine from the classic 1941 film noir, The Maltese Falcon. It fetched a record $4.1 million at an auction surpassing the $2 million paid for Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz in 2012.

The Riddler's green costume for Jim Carey in Batman Forever (1995) is estimated to be worth between £10,000 and £15,000 with a final winning bid of £27,675. The suit was made by one of Hollywood's most renowned costume designers, and it is said that only one was ever made.

The Harry Potter Hogwarts acceptance letter with a wax seal from “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was sold for £5,000, up from £3,000 previously.

Even the billionaire tech entrepreneur, Elon Musk, acquired a vehicle from James Bond’s The Spy Who Loved Me at an auction in London for nearly $1 million dollars.

The increase in sale prices demonstrates how the market for high-end film props and memorabilia has grown over time, with explosive growth rates seen in recent years. In 2020, the market size for collectibles was estimated at $412 billion and is expected to reach $628 billion by 2031.

The Opportunity

The growth in the market for props and memorabilia can be attributed to a number of factors. The popularity of shows and movies like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Star Wars has led to an increase in demand for related items. As time has gone on, movies that were once deemed pop culture have now taken “classic” status.

In addition, as society becomes more digitized, people are increasingly looking for physical reminders of their favorite pop culture moments. As the market continues to grow, we can expect to see even more unique and innovative products enter the fray. What's your favorite piece of movie or TV memorabilia?

If you’re ready to jump into an auction or hunt down your next piece, that’s exactly what we’re here for. We’ve helped clients acquire everything from Star Wars lightsabers to Indiana Jones' fedora hat and everything in-between. We’d love to help you next!


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