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What Makes a Collectible Valuable?

Could VALUE Be Based on a Story and a Box of Tissues ?

With the advent of technology people are far more difficult to please and impress. Stories still have the power and impact that they always did, it’s just more difficult to get people to “stop” long enough to listen (as they self indulge in meaningless texting and social media  dialogue). That’s what makes extraordinary collecting so valuable. Hold up an original poster from the 1931 classic “Frankenstein” and watch people stop to listen. Or introduce them to a handwritten letter from Abraham Lincoln or Elvis Presley or photo signed by Babe Ruth and all of a sudden all the electronic distractions are put aside and an “old fashion” intriguing conversation takes place.  They want to hear the “story” of how and when.

What really makes a collectible valuable?  As a collector since I was eight years old, the answer has always pointed back to the “Story”. That story could be a personal experience such as treasured childhood memories of when the family use to gather round the old TV to watch westerns or the annual showing of the “Wizard of OZ” on CBS (remember how exciting it was to wait for that one annual opportunity to watch “OZ” long before our culture was turned into a complacent on-demand society we now live in as a result of technology?). The story may be a special connection to an athlete or historical figure and the influence they had on you. On the other hand, that special bond that resulted in a passion for collecting may have been due to a memorable encounter with a notable celebrity.  What’s your Story?

When someone pays $25,000 for a Marilyn Monroe signed photo or $7,000 for John Wayne autograph (last week) it is the story behind that intense passion that drives the value and excitement of collecting. Consequently, I personally like to find autographs acquired in person. And when I am fortunate to communicate with the original recipient of the autograph I always ask them to write a letter of provenance including any details they recall of their encounter with fame. These relics are so extraordinary, I often keep some in my own collection. For example, more than ten years ago I was contacted by a man who ran into Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin back in 1962 on LA Sunset Strip. He had an autograph of Frank Sinatra (which I now own). But what makes this autograph priceless is “the story” which is told in a very detailed letter of provenance of when, how and where he met Mr Sinatra including what they said to each other and what he remembered as Mr Sinatra drove away (see original letter below to find out what happened). The story was so special I have never wanted to part with this piece of history. A genuine Frank Sinatra autograph is rare as about 95% on the market are secretarial signed or outright forgeries. So one of the only ways to get a genuine Frank Sinatra autograph was an in person encounter. Sure, most people could locate a reputable dealer knowledgeable with Sinatra signatures and purchase one. However, it’s the story that brings an autograph to life and makes it so desirable and often priceless. 

Another great Frank Sinatra story was an autograph acquired in 1972 by a woman who ran into him at a Phoenix Airport Giftshop. Mr Sinatra was there buying a newspaper. She details the encounter of how nervous she was, but at the same time had an overwhelming desire to get his autograph.   Her letter of provenance goes into more detail.

But, the point is “stories” always excite us. From when we were toddlers , there was nothing ore exciting than having Mom or Dad read a story to us. My own six year old can’t go to sleep unless I read her a story first. As a collector, I have a passion for vintage movie posters that tell a brief story about a classic movie. But, it also tells a more important personal story. It recalls a place and time in my life that elicit memories of innocence, simplicity and a dreams of a whimsical future. Remember the days when our minds were pure, before eventually being contaminated by TV, the news, bad influences, the on-demand culture created by technology and the often harsh realities of life?    Well, for me the “stories” take all that away and the purity returns, even if just for a moment….;} 

And what better time to tell and listen to Stories than with friends and family on Thanksgiving!    Have a Great Thanksgiving!

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