Classic Car Prices Music To Milhous Brothers’ Ears

Last month The Milhous Collection went up for auction, with the two days of bidding on the 550 lots coming in just shy of the auction estimate of $40 million, reaching $38.3 million in sales.

The huge custom-build merry-go-round, considered the collection’s center piece, reached the estimated price range of old $1,000,000 – $1,500,000, selling for nearly $1.3 million. I think at that price, the piece deserves to be called a carousel.

While The Milhous Collection was most noted for its world-class vintage and antique instruments — ornately decorated orchestrions, theatre organs, and other mechanical musical instruments, the bids for these pieces came in lower than anticipated. Sadly, of the eight automated musical instruments with estimates of $1 million (or more), only three obtained bids of seven figures.

Lest you think the economics of space was on the minds of bidders, you should note that most of the 30 automobiles in the collection sold at or above their auction estimates. Among the high-horsepower Brass era cars, Indianapolis racing cars, and coachbuilt classics, it was the 1912 Oldsmobile Limited which fetched the highest price; as the only known surviving car of the model, it more than doubled its estimate, selling for $3.3 million.

Perhaps there’s always room for another classic car in the heated garage, but antique mechanical music pieces? Not-so-much.

Images via RM Auctions.

Books On Film That Bibliophiles Will Approve Of

Whether you’re a member of the Hollywood elite with a book addiction or a less notable bibliophile, you’ve probably desired to see the insides of a book up for auction but haven’t had the time or money to fly to the auction location to inspect it. While many auction houses have made it easier for you to bid long distance, with online and phone bidding, getting a good look at the goods (or bads) remains a problem.

This is especially true of books. But Joe Fay, Manager of Rare Books at Heritage Auctions, explains how the auction house is addressing the issue for book collectors:

Books are especially difficult to fully represent with photography, or to completely describe to someone else in words. A 300-page book has about 320 surface areas to show, counting the covers, all sides of the book, any preliminary pages, and so on. So, here in the rare books department, whenever we can, we take advantage of Heritage Auctions’ continued commitment to employ technology to make the auction process easier, faster, and more transparent, and to deliver to bidders as much information as possible in order to help them make an informed decision about a lot. One particular way we do this is through the use of Video Lot Descriptions (VLDs) for premium lots in our auctions.

A Video Lot Description is a two to four minute video presentation of an auction lot, produced entirely by Heritage Auctions, and hosted on a given item’s webpage once online bidding opens.

Whitney Houston Auction Raises The Question: Is Collecting Movie Memorabilia Morbid?

While some folks (who, themselves, live in glass houses) cry, “Beyond Tacky!”, Julien’s Auctions is going ahead with plans to auction off Whitney Houston items at their 2012 Hollywood Legends auction to be held on Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1 in Beverly Hills, California.

Among the over 800 items of Hollywood memorabilia and historic Americana, the Houston tems up for sale include a pair of earrings and a brown satin vest worn by Whitney in The Bodyguard (1992) as well as a black velvet dress owned by the legendary performer.

Celebrity auctioneer Darren Julien said Sunday the pieces and other Houston items became available after the singer’s unexpected death on Feb. 11 and will be included among a long-planned sale of Hollywood memorabilia such as Charlie Chaplin’s cane, Clark Gable’s jacket from “Gone With the Wind” and Charlton Heston’s staff from “The Ten Commandments.”

Julien said celebrity collectibles often become available after their namesakes die.

“It proves a point that these items, they’re an investment,” Julien said. “You buy items just like a stock. Buy at the right time and sell at the right time, and they just increase in value.”

But could it be too soon to profit from Houston’s passing? She was just buried on Saturday.

“It’s a celebration of her life,” Julien said. “If you hide these things in fear that you’re going to offend someone — her life is to be celebrated. These items are historic now that she passed. They become a part of history. They should be in museums. She’s lived a life and had a career that nobody else has ever had.”

Houston is “someone who’s going to maintain a collectability,” he said. “For people who are fans of Whitney Houston and never would have had a chance to meet her and never got to talk to her, these are items that literally touched a part of her life. They are a way to relate to her or be a part of her life without having known her.”

Whatever you think of profiting off celebrity, in life or after death, this isn’t anything new. Julien’s, naturally, takes the rather pragmatic position of collecting entertainment memorabilia as investment:

Accumulating these coveted treasures is often a twofold endeavor; obtaining tangible nostalgia and making a sound investment choice. Acquiring such a collection gives buyers the opportunity to gain intimacy with fond memories anchored in the property. The other reason is based on the steadily increasing prices, which has been recently noted as a solid asset for Wall Street investment bankers and executives around the globe.

And why shouldn’t they? As a culture, we stalk celebrities by collecting, alive or dead.

If there is any such thing as a cultural rule about the length of time which ought to pass before we profit by selling off items connected to a recently deceased celebrity, it is far less a matter of morbidity and more a matter of our capitalistic nature. The market dictates that we bid as high as our emotions run; and emotions run pretty high when there’s a death.

As my friend and fellow columnist at Collectors Quest said upon the passing of Michael Jackson, “One’s fame is directly proportional to how fast people will learn the intimate details of your life, or death, as the case may be… Where celebrity meets mortality, there is eBay.”

Celebrities thrive by this very rule — they use our emotions to sell us less than proper things while alive, such as Michael Jackson “Thriller” panties. So why wouldn’t we buy-buy-buy when they die?

Etiquette rarely, if ever, applies to celebrity.

And how can Perez, of all people, complain about this when he’s “beyond tacky” and a “bloodthirsty” parasite living off celebrities himself?

I’m not sure there’s anything inherently wrong with buying Whitney Houston’s movie-worn clothing weeks after her death than there is buying Clark Gable’s jacket from Gone With the Wind decades later. Do you?

Related: See my article at Collectors Quest on the dangers of Certificates Of Authenticity (COAs).

The Witching Hour Draws Nigh For Rare Anne Rice Work

Absentee bidding ends tonight at Heritage Auctions for an unpublished screenplay of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. Dated June 13, 1995, this unpublished and unproduced script combines two of her novels, The Witching Hour and Lasher. The Witching Hour being one of my favorite Rice books aside, this work is spectacular for other reasons.

Along with being signed by the author no less than three times, this screenplay has a well documented history (primarily) in Rice’s newsletter, Commotion Strange, regarding the arduous process of getting the film underway — even though it had been optioned by producer David Geffen. A brief synopsis of the grief is given here by Rice herself, but the details are so complicated and frustrating, that it prompted Heritage Auctions cataloger Paula Bosse (who researched well) to say, “If ANNE RICE — one of the most popular novelists of our time — has this much trouble finding a home for her baby, how much more difficult is it for an unknown to get a project produced and released?”

2011: The Year In Antiques & Collectibles

Antiques & Collectibles
Last year was an excellent year for collectors.

A plethora of television shows debuted on the subject, along the new seasons of the established favorites. I haven’t seem them all, but here are few mini-reviews of what I haven’t yet covered in full reviews here at Inherited Values:

It’s Worth What? managed to make it into the prime-time line-up at NBC in the summer. Though the horrible forced catch phrases were annoying, I really disliked the game show focus on monetary value. However, it should be stated, from a parenting and cultural point of view, that the money focus clearly illustrates our societal fascination with celebrity and luxury over history; food for significant thought.

History’s Real Deal has a concept I really like. Like Auction Kings, it shows the realities between estimate and actual prices realized at auction. This maybe it will, maybe it won’t, scenario is amplified against a backdrop of Las Vegas style gambling as deals for cold cash are negotiated as an attempt to avoid going to auction. However, Real Deal, even more than Auction Kings, suffers from a lack of cast or characters with enough quirk, drama or intensity to really hold interest.

Storage Wars spin-off, Storage Wars: Texas, seems to be holding up well. Perhaps the organic dynamic of rivalry in bidding, especially on camera, brings out a certain kind of person that makes the show work.

The popularity of collectibles and antiques in TV land is said to have “spawned an American collectible craze,” according to this article in USA Today:

Greg Dove of the National Flea Market Association, noting the reality-based programs have also helped level the playing field between serious collectors and the yard-sale set.

“It’s bringing in new faces, people from all economic strata,” says Dove. “We’re seeing more and more middle-class and upper-class folks coming to flea markets. Some are just curious, others are seeking collectibles and others are trying to stretch their dollar in a bad economy.”

Though no empirical data exist, Dove says the flea market industry, with estimated annual sales of $30 billion, has been energized by the renewed interest in antiques and collectibles.

I daresay this is also true for storage auctions.

The article continues:

Other venues are also benefiting from the uptick in demand for collectibles, however, namely online auction site eBay, which redefined the art of collecting when it went live in 1995.

In the third quarter of 2011, sales volume for its collectibles category reached $557 million, up 18% over the same three months in 2010, says Colin Sebastian, a senior analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co. asset management firm in San Francisco.

Its antiques and arts category posted sales of $263 million, up 17 percent over the third quarter last year; and coins and stamps hit $415 million, up 47% year-over-year (likely due to the skyrocketing price of gold.)

“It’s still a rough economy and I imagine there are still people trying to create some cash by selling things they have around the house,” says Sebastian, noting part of the category’s success stems from efforts by eBay to make its marketplace more appealing to buyers and sellers.

Those of us who have painfully been experiencing the snub of eBay’s nose regarding the lack of concern over the antiques and collectibles categories relish the numbers. Surely this will lead to better treatment, right? Don’t count on it.

Despite eBay’s own “Top Shopped” list for 2011 (a list, with an infographic, the company describes as “editorial in nature” and “focused on pop culture crazes”), eBay continues to move away from antiques and collectibles to it’s apparently preferred place as the Big Box Marketplace, catering to clients with contemporary inventory, big lots of identical new products, even if last year’s styles and lines. That’s not to say you can’t find a good deal there; it’s just that they are not going to focus on the needs of dealer and collectors of vintage and older items which are unique and certainly do have different requirements from the listing of multitudes of identical products.

I feel I must whine.

I just don’t understand eBay’s complete abandonment of what it was built upon: collectors and collectibles. We’re still here, in greater numbers even; why don’t you have our backs, want our bucks?

To illustrate my point, I draw your attention to this quote from eBay, Inc. covering the 2011 “Top Shopped” in more depth:

Retro Glamour: Between “Mad Men” and “Pan Am”, the small screen has never been so blessed with pitch perfect vintage style. And despite its mid-season cancellation, shoppers were still inspired by Pan Am, flocking to eBay to snatch up related items – 41,003 in total. Mad Men (30,378 related items sold) may have more seasons under its belt, but when it comes to memorabilia, the coolest fictional ad agency in the world can’t compete with the romanticism of 1960s air travel.

Clearly those seeking “retro glamour” want the actual iconic stuff from the past. (And, as a side note, Pan Am has not officially been cancelled… Fans like myself can hope!)

While eBay focused on pop culture, TIAS (The Internet Antique Shop) Hot List for 2011 focused on the old stuff. In this recap and interview with Phil Davies, you can see that vintage living and classic items for the home top the list.

All this seems to indicate that collecting is up and that collectors are looking for more places to buy their antiques and vintage collectibles — online and off. That tells us here at Inherited Values that we’ll need to focus more on helping you find the best places; so look for plenty of shopping reviews here in 2012.

My First Storage Auction

It’s easy today to snap photos anywhere and everywhere with virtually any cell phone, but keeping track of them is no different than those old rolls of film… My surprise today at discovering these photos taken at a storage auction we went to here in Fargo last fall was akin to getting a roll of film back and going, “Oh, yeah, I remember that!”

What I’ve yet to find, however, was the flyer from the auction which read “Storage Wars,” as if it was somehow affiliated with the TV show. The sign outside the storage unit compound said the same, but I didn’t take a photograph of that. But this auction wasn’t affiliated with the show at all. (However, Barry Weiss was here recently.)

As expected, the auction was packed. And, as the regulars told us, it was “full of people who thought they could get rich because they’d seen the shows.”

Disgruntled regular storage auction bidders aside, we had a good time. Even if we never bid, it was beautiful, if chilly, weather and it was my first time at a storage auction. After watching the shows, there were no surprises. Things are hard to see and even my TV-trained eyes were just guessing. (Who can see inside or behind cardboard boxes?) Frankly, I was rather overwhelmed. But then I felt that way at my first live auction too.

The only unit I could see inside quite clearly was a “sportsman’s unit,” full of used fishing stuff. And boxes of DVDs and videos. Adult DVDs and videos. But even that went past the price of what those can sell for. *wink* But we’ll go again. And again. You just never know…

Vintage Fashion Link Round-Up

Secrets In Lace 2012 Collector's Calendar

I’m sure by now that you heard that the Elizabeth Taylor auction set new auction records, but there’s other things to read in the world of collecting and vintage fashion…

Did you know the swimsuit worn by Farrah Fawcett in that ultimate 70s poster was made by Norma Kamali? It was! And now it’s in the Smithsonian.

A Slip Of A Girl tells you all you all about the Measurements You Need To Know When Buying Vintage Lingerie. (Also very useful in any vintage fashion hunt.) She also presents vintage lingerie designers who haven’t been given their due: Helen Hunt Bencker and Ralph Monetenero (More on Monenero here.) And here’s a post about the Colura lingerie lable. For all her hard work, she’s simply asking for help in identifying who the old Frederick’s of Hollywood artist or artists were.

At Couture Allure, see the bubble dress by vintage fashion designer Norman Norell

My husband shares a “true auction story” as it was published in the newspaper in 1877. Things haven’t changed much!

Not specifically fashion, but I heavily researched former pinup, actress, fashion model Vera Francis. Just thought you might be interested. *wink*

Image Credits: Cover of the Secrets In Lace 2012 Collector’s Calendar, featuring pinups posing in front of actual WWII airplanes. You can still order it to arrive for Christmas in the continental US.

Two Lobby Cards From Lost Silent Film The American Venus

These two vintage (nearly antique!) lobby cards from The American Venus are to be auctioned off at Heritage Auctions.

The American Venus was directed by Frank Tuttle, and starred Esther Ralston, Ford Sterling, Edna May Oliver, Lawrence Gray, Fay Lanphier, Louise Brooks (in her first credited role as Miss Bayport), Kenneth MacKenna, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The film was released by Paramount Pictures in 1926 and is considered a presumed lost silent film.

Below is the official auction listing description — with a helpful link provided by me:

The American Venus (Paramount, 1926). Title Lobby Card and Lobby Card (11″ X 14″).
Much has been written about the silent film legend Louise Brooks and her influence on 1920s New York and Hollywood, right down to her trademark “bob” that became widely emulated by ladies of the day. This rare title card and lobby card are from her second film, in which she appeared as a contestant in an Atlantic City beauty contest. Due to its immense popularity, the movie toured the U.S. for two years, along the way making Brooks one of the most noted female cinema stars. Though the borders of both cards have been trimmed and replaced, the restoration was expertly done and the cards present nicely. Very Good.

Vintage Advertising Art For Coca-Cola

These two pieces of art by Pete Hawley were used in ads for Coke; they go up for auction at Heritage Auction on September 30, 2011.

PETE HAWLEY (American, 20th Century)
Two Coca-Cola Advertisements
Gouache on board
22.5 x 18 in. (larger)
Not signed

From the Estate of Charles Martignette.

Storage Wars

A&E enters, sort of, the growing number of collecting shows with Storage Wars.

Billed as “the new original real-life series” (apparently so as not to be confused with “reality shows”), the show follows four professionals who attend auctions to bid on and buy the contents of repossessed storage units auctioned off by Dan and Laura Dotson.

In some ways, it’s not fair to call it a television show for collectors. The four main cast members lead their teams to buy, and then later sell, the contents of storage units; the buyers are simply there for the profits, whether the storage unit contains antiques and collectibles or not. But, like many of the other shows I’ve been reviewing here at Inherited Values, there’s something for many collectors to identify with.  …And that thing is the addictive gambling part of it all.

Darrell Sheets, “The Gambler,” talks about this, naturally enough. He talks about the The Wow Factor. The big scores. Like the four Picassos and the world’s most lucrative comic book collection that he’s scored through storage auctions. And how those finds keep him coming back for more.

Even if you’re a collector who’s not planning on selling, you have to admit you know the thrills of finding something in a stack of what others might call nothing. And how you’re rather addicted to it too.

Only on Storage Wars, it’s not only finding an antique needle in a haystack of used stuff — it’s far more of an intense rush.

In these storage units here are some collectibles (modern space-age furniture, baseball cards, German Micro-cars), but really, no body knows what they will find… Used clothes (awesome when they were the personal property of Suge Knight; not so much when it’s the average non-storage-unit-rent-paying Joe), restaurant equipment, knock-off jewelry — endless, really. And, again, no one knows what they’ll all get.

Because there’s something unique to this sort of auction: there’s no preview time.

Buyers are limited to only looking through the doorway of the storage locker to spot and guess at the contents. They may not open any boxes until/unless they have won the auction. But once the auction ends, another is about to start, so the winner doesn’t waste time looking at what he’s won; he puts his own lock on the unit and moves onto the next storage unit up for auction. He takes another gamble.

This limited ability to see inside, amazingly, prompts Barry Weiss, “The Collector,” to show up at the next auction with stilts (to see what may be hiding in the back of the storage locker), night-vision goggles (to see in the darkness), and his “secret weapon,” a little person named Jay, to assist with spotting.

I don’t know whether to applaud or cringe at the levels lengths Weiss will go to.

This not-knowing alone amps up the auction adrenaline of the show. And then Storage Wars builds on it. Unlike other shows which start with the objects and reveal the price, on Storage Wars the action starts with the nearly blind auction action, moves towards the reveal of the items themselves, then their values — including the obligatory meetings with experts to help appraise (and I think we can assume those experts might handle some of the resale transactions too).

Somewhat misleading is the evaluation of the episode’s Winner. The price of the unit is compared to the resale value of the items inside (or at least the biggest ticket items). However, some of the teams clearly have a much higher over-head; more trucks, more employees, etc. So without an accounting of actual profits, I don’t know how far that final evaluation is.

Dave Hester, “The Mogul,” has the largest overhead. He also has the deepest pockets — but that doesn’t make him magic. He, like everyone else, is still at the mercy of what he sees, what he knows, and what he can sell for profit. We witness him get burned on an organ; but he redeems himself with profits on the rest of the unit’s contents.

The guys may not always seem so likable; they are profiting off of the repossessed belongings of others and they are often impatient, if not rude, even when they are dealing with experts who are not their competition.  But this isn’t a Miss Congeniality competition; this is business. Something that’s made quite explicit when we meet Jarrod Schulz, “The Young Gun.”

Schulz isn’t only the buyer with the least experience; he’s the more intuitive and/or impulsive buyer.  He says he needs to find a storage unit “that feels good to me.” So far, he hasn’t won a lot “storage wars,” something that worries Brandi, his wife and co-owner of his shop, the Now & Then Second Hand Store.  Even if he doesn’t win the “wars,” he’s supposed to be out finding inventory to turn for a profit at the shop; but, well, sometimes what he buys are flops.

This prompts Brandi to join her husband at an auction where she sees first-hand his spontaneous and even sentimental bidding.  Most of the other buyers eschew this particular unit because it’s just a bunch of boxes, but “The Young Gun” has to bid. “I see mystyery in there; I’ve got to see what’s in the rest of the unit.” He places the winning bid, much to the chagrin of Brandi. Did I say chagrin? She’s actually furious.

And she’s right; the highlight of this storage unit is a fake designer watch.

I don’t mention this to pick on Jarrod — or even to defend Brandi from those, like A&E, who call her “hard-nosed, sharp-tongued.” (Why is the wife always to blame?)  I mention this  because he, Brandi, and the rest of the cast are characters. Not only characters on Storage Wars, but the kind of folks you’ll find at any auction or flea market. Or family dinner, for that matter. *wink*

Storage Wars can be seen Wednesdays, 10/9C, on A&E.