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Giving Props Where Due: Propstore Auction Demonstrates Persistent Entertainment Memorabilia Demand

Giving Props Where Due: Propstore Auction Demonstrates Persistent Entertainment Memorabilia Demand
November 16, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: Propstore

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"It's against my programming to impersonate a deity."

While C3-PO wasn't comfortable serving as a figure of worship to the Ewoks, the robot became a god of the memorabilia space last week at Propstore. A C3-PO head from A New Hope, included in the iconic medal ceremony ending, sold for £687,500 (approximately $843k). The sale comes just weeks after Heritage sold an X-Wing model for $3.1 million to establish a record for Star Wars memorabilia, yet it seems the rebellion is only gaining momentum.

At a Propstore auction in the summer, Princess Leia's dress from A New Hope was notable in its failure to sell despite bids approaching $1 million, but there was no such failure for the top Star Wars lots in last week's event. On the contrary, a screen-matched TIE Fighter Pilot Helmet also sold for £537,500, settling comfortably in its £300,000 - £600,000 estimate range.

While other collectible categories are trying to regain their footing following market decline, entertainment memorabilia (specifically movie props) seems to be securing its footing on a continued ascent.  

The top-billed Star Wars lots were only partial contributors to the event's success relative to last year's London Entertainment Memorabilia Live Auction. The top 100 lots combined to gross £7.45 million last week, a 9% improvement over 2022's £6.84 million. Twenty lots took to six-figure territory, showcasing improved high-end depth versus last year's twelve lots. Bidding at a lower tier was perhaps slightly subdued but comparable to the year prior: 232 lots attained five-figure results (excluding those reaching six figures) in 2023 versus 246 lots in 2022.

The overall (motion) picture is one of growth, but the event had both highlights and lowlights. Star Wars appetite is well documented, but the James Bond franchise also flexed its popularity in its native London. The hand-painted poster artwork for Thunderball was one of the standout results of the auction, selling for £275,000 over an £80,000 - £160,000 estimate range. With a bathing-suit and diving fin-clad Connery coolly holding a spear gun and nursing a cocktail, all while surrounded by adoring women, it's easy to see why. The Ocean Club poker table from the 2006 Casino Royale also trounced estimates, selling for £150,000 versus a £40,000 low estimate.

But that's nothing.

Somehow, the red telephone seen on M's desk in Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun inspired one of the great bidding wars of the event, with 42 bids lifting the final result to £150,000. It's estimate? £3,000 to £6,000.

In lowlights: 56 of the 300 highest estimated lots went unsold. That's growth of the wrong variety, with just 43 such lots last year. Sell-through of 81% suggests this is a market with both high supply and high expectations, with bidders spread too thin to meet all of those expectations. Collector focus shifts instead to items of perceived quality within a franchise.

For instance, it was a largely successful auction for Star Wars, but items from the prequel trilogy prove less desirable: Revenge of the Sith lightsabers from both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu were among the more expensive lots to go unsold. Other items might simply seem out of place to a bidding audience of cinema buffs; hopefully Liam and Noel Gallagher Don't Look Back in Anger, but five Oasis guitars have gone unsold between this year's event and last. That didn't stop Michael Jackson's jacket from the Pepsi New Generation "Street" music video from selling for £250,000, though, notching one of the more significant results of the last few years for the King of Pop.  

Overall, last week will have offered a feather in the cap for those bullish on one of the memorabilia world's most fun, developing categories. Speaking of feathers in the cap, Captain Hector Barbossa's costume from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, complete with a black and brown feather-accented hat, sold for £112,500. We wonder if the underbidder will remember it as the day they almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow's costar's costume.

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