SMART COLLECTOR

James Dean collectibles still in high demand

Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 4:49 p.m.
The Art Deco cast iron doorstop by Hubley sold for $10,350 recently at Bertoia Auctions.
Courtesy of www.bertoiaauctions.com
The Art Deco cast iron doorstop by Hubley sold for $10,350 recently at Bertoia Auctions.

Q: A neighbor was a close friend of James Dean when they were growing up in Indiana. In fact, he was a pallbearer at Dean’s funeral and gave me original programs from that service. Is there a market for something like this?

A: Born in Fairmount, Ind., in 1931, actor James Dean grew up in California, but returned to Fairmont to live with an aunt and uncle after his mother died when he was 9. He later returned to California, where he acted in films including “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant.” Dressed in a white T-shirt, jeans and a slouchy jacket, he was the image of teenage alienation.

Dean died in 1955 when his Porsche 550 Spyder crashed en route to a race. He was buried in Fairmount, where family guards his legacy. Fans still visit his grave.

Gary Sohmers, allcollectors.com, is known in the collectibles biz as WexRex. He’s familiar to readers as a collectibles expert on radio and on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” as the guy with the long white ponytail and Hawaiian shirt.

According to Gary, “There is still great demand for James Dean items.” Buyers primarily look for things from when the star was still living. That would seem to put a damper on funeral programs.

But all is not lost. Because the programs are personal and clearly linked to Dean and because a finite number were printed, they could be very attractive to collectors.

As to selling, here’s where you need to be very careful. You have something unique. Who knows? You may have the only available remaining programs from that funeral. That makes them very unique and desirable.

Thievery of intellectual property is rampant even (some say especially) in collecting. Sohmers cautions that, when it comes to printed material, one must be extremely vigilant.

It is a truism in collecting that once very good copies become available, the original is devalued. In Sohmer’s own words, “Once it appears in any digital form (on fleaBay for example), someone will start printing copies and the original will be worth less.”

He advises consigning the program or programs to a specialty auction, one geared to memorabilia collectors. Many auction houses have dedicated sales of pop memorabilia and show-business collectibles. I suggest approaching several. The house can tell you whether to sell all programs together or one at a time. Sohmers recommends weissauctions.com.

He thinks a program or programs could bring $100-$500, depending on variables, including condition.

Q: We found a photo of me taken when I was 3. It was in an old wooden frame, backed by cardboard posters featuring Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks and Cary Grant. Any value?

A: Seen in images sent, the “posters” are really only fragments, cut to use as backing for the portrait.

Whole old movie posters sell. Bits and pieces do not.

I suspect the pieces come from old 14-by-22-inch window cards used in movie theaters. How your mother happened to have them could be an interesting story.

Q: I have a Redskins Coke bottle with the Redskins logo on the front. The bottle is still filled. This bottle is 75 years old. Please forward me your contact information so I can discuss this with you.

A: Let me save you some time. Go to eBay, key in Redskins Coke bottle, and you’ll find plenty of never-opened commemorative bottles for sale. When we looked, listed prices ranged from $3.99 to $29.99.

Since Super Bowl I was in 1967, I’d rethink that 75-year figure.

Q: My twin beds have hand-carved tobacco leaf posts. They were made some time in the late 1800s or 1900s. Where can I find information about them, including what they would be worth today?

A: Too little is known about the beds to speculate on value. I suggest you start by learning about tobacco leaf carving. The pattern is traditional for four-poster beds, but has been widely copied and reproduced. Most old originals were mahogany.

Someone who knows old furniture needs to see those beds. An experienced dealer can assess from clear photos or images.

Auction Action

Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., is known for selling antique cast iron banks, doorstops and toys. An Art Deco doorstop known as “Bathing Beauties,” one of about 75 top doorstops in a recent sale, soared to $10,350, a possible world auction record. Made by Hubley, the stop is popular with collectors. This particular doorstop was signed and in top condition.

Collector Quiz

Q: Can you match these antique Champagne-related collectibles to their book price?

1. Veuve Clicquot pencil

2. Figural bottle swizzle

3. Roederer cigar cutter

4. German folding scissors corkscrew

5. Serpent shape soda tap

a. $80-$100

b. $125-$140

c. $400-$500

d. $3-$4

e. $100-$125

A: Answers are 1-d, 2-e, 3-a, 4-c, 5-b. Source: “Champagne Collectibles” by Donald Bull and Joseph Paradi (Schiffer, $79.99). Everything collectible related to the bubbly.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

 

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