Photo: Heritage Auctions
This article was featured in our newsletter, Alts & Ends. Click here to subscribe for free and receive the best collectible market insights straight to your inbox on a weekly basis!
As far as we can tell, the set from Cheers - the 1980s and '90s sitcom that ran for 11 seasons - is the second most viewed item to sell at Heritage Auctions in 2023. Among items of the last three years, it ranks in the top 10.
Traditional collecting categories like sports cards and comic books, they have their audiences. They're large and loyal, and the activity is consistent and frequent. No matter the week, there's almost always something to buy.
Some categories, though, aren't like that...at all.
Some items are so rare and so uniquely 1-of-1 that they rarely see the light of day. And some collectors in those categories are so dedicated and so active that their collections swallow up these items before anybody else has a chance.
That's the Comisar Collection in a nutshell.
There's an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer (a recurring Alts & Ends character at this point) finds the entire set of The Merv Griffin Show discarded in an alley and brings it into his apartment to conduct his own talk show. By the looks of it, James Comisar could have done just that with about a half dozen different late night and game show sets, from Carson to Letterman and beyond. Since 1989, Comisar has been identifying, valuing, and securing the most comprehensive archive of television costumes, props, sets, and memorabilia in existence.
This past weekend at Heritage, treasures from that collection were up for sale, and the interest was remarkable.
The sale totaled $5.4 million. That's an impressive figure, particularly for assets where a frequently active and liquid secondary market doesn't really exist. In that regard, perhaps no event has more uniquely demonstrated the power of nostalgia.The sales figures, though, pale in comparison to some of the page view statistics. The auction event has received over 822,000 page views in total. Believe it or not, that's almost as many page views as the 877,000 recorded by Summer 2022's Platinum Night Sports Auction. Why is that significant? At that event, Heritage recorded its most expensive ever sports sale: the $12 million sale of an SGC 9.5 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card (more on that in a moment). Again, we're talking about a collectible category - television ephemera - that doesn't really have a developed, active audience, and it punched above its weight with the biggest sports auction in the house's history, an event that had nearly $35 million more in sales volume.
Clearly, there was a media offensive at play here. Even for those not remotely involved or interested in the collectibles, memorabilia, and auction worlds, it would've been hard not to be aware that the original bar from Cheers was coming up for sale. Without knowing the cost of those efforts, it appears they paid off. Not only did the Cheers bar sell for $675,000 (as part of over $820,000 in total Cheers sales), it also garnered over 58,000 page views.
Let's put that in context. The SGC 9.5 Mantle, the single most expensive sports card ever sold, a card desired by almost every person who's ever collected cardboard, amassed 215,000 views. Okay, that's a drubbing, but even so, isn't it a smaller gap than you would have expected?!
Amazing Fantasy #15, the most expensive comic book ever sold by Heritage and at one point the most expensive comic book ever sold period, had just under 67,000 views - just 9,000 more than the bar from Cheers! Dmitry Muratov's 2021 Nobel Peace Prize sold for $103,500,000 in July of 2022 with 100% of proceeds benefitting UNICEF's humanitarian response for Ukrainian children displaced by the war. It has just under 47,000 page views. If you're keeping score at home, that's 11,000 LESS than the bar that saw Sam Malone serving up drafts and Norm and Cliff gulping 'em down. That's nuts!
While the page views were strong, the sale prices and bid counts perhaps don't match up with those coveted items to the same degree. It speaks to a category that has high mainstream interest and forges an intense nostalgic connection but isn't yet perceived as museum or fine art quality and is inaccessible to most people - the type of problem fractional might have solved in brighter days. You can downgrade from a '52 Mantle to a more common Mantle card of a lesser grade to find something in your range. Going from the set bar to a Norm-worn outfit from the show doesn't really hit the same, though... no disrespect to George Wendt.
It should be noted that over 420 of the sale's 924 items sold for less than $1,000, so perhaps there are some entry-level dynamics at play.
Inability to act aside, the high degree of interest in such an anomalous event points to widely-held aspirations to own items of that unique caliber. Unlike Kramer, nobody will be lucking into an entire TV show set dumped in their back alley in 2023. Instead, they'll have to contend for them at the likes of Heritage, where future suitors will likely be attracted by the events of this auction. That's a shame - we were really hoping to strike a cut-rate deal for the AFC Richmond locker room in Ted Lasso.
Anyways, to the buyer of the bar, don't hesitate to get in touch. We'd love to saddle up to the house that Danson built for a cold one. We promise to speak only in Norm-isms.
"How's a beer sound, Norm?"
"I dunno. I usually finish them before they get a word in."
We've got dozens just like that one.
Enjoyed this article? Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive more like it in your inbox weekly!
Disclaimer: You understand that by reading Altan Insights, you are not receiving financial advice. No content published here constitutes a recommendation that any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. You further understand that the author(s) are not advising you personally concerning the nature, potential, value or suitability of any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy. You alone are solely responsible for determining whether an investment, security or strategy, or any other product or service, is appropriate or suitable for you based on your investment objectives and personal financial situation. Please speak with a financial advisor to understand if the risks inherent in trading are appropriate for you. Trade at your own risk.