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The Charms of Collecting Memorabilia

Some of the most fascinating and downright fun objects in the world of antiques are pieces of entertainment and celebrity memorabilia, and the market for collecting them has exploded in popularity in recent decades. From the glamour of Old Hollywood to the thrill of an iconic sporting event to the gravity of a personal presidential object, memorabilia is a diverse and magnetizing collecting category. Read on to discover the ins and outs of a world-class memorabilia collection, and discover some of M.S. Rau’s most rare and nostalgia-inducing objects that serve as a fitting homage to some of the most popular figures in American history.


There’s No Business Like Show Business


Entertainment and other pop-culture memorabilia as a serious and investment-worthy collecting category really came into its own with the landmark MGM sale in May of 1970. Auctioneer David Weisz bought the contents of seven sound stages from the studio for the enormous price (for the time) of $1.5 million. The sale included thousands and thousands of objects from costumes to automobiles to furniture from studio productions, and Weisz recouped his costs an astonishing eight times. Highlights of the sale included Ben Hur chariots, Tarzan’s loin cloth and Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding dress in Father of the Bride, but the pièce de résistance was Judy Garland’s iconic pair of ruby red slippers worn in the Wizard of Oz. The slippers sold for the astronomical sum of $15,000 (over $100K today), and legendary actress Debbie Reynolds reportedly purchased $180,000 worth of items. It was a watershed moment for the auction business, essentially creating a brand new, multi-million dollar market that expanded beyond a few film enthusiasts.


Memorabilia sales exploded in the following decades after larger auction houses took notice of the MGM sale, and items command top dollar at auction still today. For instance, the 2018 Sotheby’s sale of Frank and Barbara Sinatra’s estate included 26 of the couple’s personal items valued at over $3 million and the sale of the aforementioned Debbie Reynolds collection in 2011 which brought in a total of $26 million at auction.


All-Important Provenance


One of the most important considerations when collecting celebrity memorabilia is provenance. More so than many other collecting categories, memorabilia needs proof of provenance to authenticate it and evaluate its condition and worth. Look for a certificate or letter of authentication to establish a piece as an original and not a reproduction and that it did, indeed, hail from the celebrity, historic event, etc. in question.


Lights, Camera, Action


Jean Harlow is remembered as Hollywood’s original blonde bombshell, and although her career spanned only nine years due to her sudden death in 1937, she has had a lasting impact on classic cinema. As an actress on the silver screen, she became one of the first American sex symbols and was a huge box office draw. Her personal objects represent the glamour of the golden age of cinema and are highly collectible today.



The great American actress Jean Harlow once owned this 14K gold pill box and gilt makeup compact.



Few figures evoke the essence of Hollywood glamour quite like Marilyn Monroe. Now, over 50 years later, it is the enduring images in these signed, limited-edition photographs taken by famed photographer, director and author, Lawrence Schiller, that thrust this larger-than-life figure back in the spotlight.


Schiller shot Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love and her last film, the unfinished Something’s Got To Give. During this “golden age” of Hollywood, studios hired photographers to take pictures on the set of their movies as a means to publicize their films. On August 5, 1962, less than three months after these photographs were taken, Marilyn tragically passed away. Schiller created only 75 sets of these photographs, and each speaks volumes about a woman who was both a cultural phenomenon and, in many ways, a misunderstood, gentle soul ahead of her time.



This portrait of the blonde bombshell was taken by Lawrence Schiller on the set of Something's Got to Give in 1962.


A Good Sport
New York Yankees’ center fielder and Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio enjoyed an honor-studded 13-year career with the franchise. With all of his tremendous sports career achievements, such as winning multiple American league MVP awards, it’s no wonder that the personal effects of the great Yankee Clipper command such incredible attention and fame by lovers of baseball, sports and unique Americana.


This Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Joe DiMaggio at the 2nd Annual Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Awards on July 12, 1993.
“The Rumble in the Jungle” world heavyweight boxing match between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman on October 30, 1974 is considered the greatest event in boxing, if not the greatest in all of sports of the 20th century. When the bout was announced, most analysts believed Ali was no match for the younger and seemingly stronger Foreman, who had won 18 of his last 20 matches by knock out. Ultimately, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Ali bested Foreman in the eighth round by a knock out. Over four decades since the fight, the names Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to inspire.


These boxing contracts from the legendary Rumble in the Jungle World Heavyweight Championship bear the fighters’ signatures.



Presidential Provenance


Strands of George Washington’s hair and vest fiber belonging to him are showcased in this presentation.
Even though America is a relatively young country, it possesses a rich history and objects that reveal that history, particularly regarding the presidency, are some of the most sought after items on the American market. Interest in the presidency has remained high since the first president took the oath on the balcony of the Federal Hall on Wall Street in 1789. Speaking to the near celebrity status that every president has achieved, pieces owned by the President - or even simply within the President’s realm - possess a higher importance than any other. Accordingly, these presidential memorabilia takes on a new personality of immense grandeur, reverence and popularity.


This Tiffany & Co. silver gilt box was presented by Jacqueline Kennedy to Conrad L. Wirth, Director of the National Park Service, who was responsible for the White House grounds renovation during President Kennedy's term. Mrs. Kennedy commissioned the box after the President's death as a token of their gratitude.
A High Note
Elvis Presley is regarded as one of the most important cultural and musical icons of the 20th century. The star emerged in the late 1950’s and drew crazed crowds of fans throughout his career. And though he passed in 1977 at the young age of 42, his power lives on; the late artist’s home in Memphis, TN, Graceland, welcomes over 500,000 visitors every year. “The King of Rock and Roll” was known for his showy and bright persona, which subsequently transferred to his stage clothing and everyday wear. His jewelry, in particular, was a prized possession that completed many of his outfits. Many of the most coveted pieces of Elvis memorabilia come from his grand jewelry collection.


This watch in particular was of great importance to Elvis. He not only wore this stunning gold and diamond watch on stage, but he later gifted it to friend and backup singer J.D. Sumner, adding to its impressive provenance.

Prince, the revolutionary and eclectic musical artist, leaves a legacy that will last generations. The artist was mourned world-wide after his untimely passing in 2016. However, left behind is his collection of highly collectable memorabilia, and some of the most exciting pieces include his jewelry. His flamboyant and expressive showmanship and style created an iconic look that he expressed through accessories and fashion. There is no mistaking Prince memorabilia for any other artist’s — it is truly one-of-a-kind!



Prince’s famed “Love Symbol” was an unpronounceable glyph that he famously took as his stage name. This necklace was the first piece of jewelry he commissioned that featured the motif.

Though these stars may be gone, their memories live on in these personal effects. Owning and collecting celebrity memorabilia is a great way to preserve the heritage and fame of your favorite household names. Please explore more of the exciting and exclusive treasures currently available on our website. To stay up to date with all incoming, fascinating objects, sign up for our virtual newsletter here.


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