Lost relics auction eyed by celebrity collectors

People who collect celebrity memorabilia are anxiously awaiting the weekend, when props and costumes from the TV show Lost go up for auction.

People who collect celebrity memorabilia are anxiously awaiting the weekend, when props and costumes from the TV show Lost go up for auction.

Auction items that belonged to Michael Jackson are seen at the Julien's Auctions warehouse in Los Angeles. ((Matt Sayles/Associated Press))
Collecting movie and TV relics has become a big business, and a great passion for many people.

"This market is fun because it's probably the most accessible market that's sold at auction today," said appraiser Laura Woolley, president of The Collector's Lab.

"You don't need to have a huge history of connoisseurship to get the visceral reaction to the ruby slippers, and you don't need to be told why they're important. These pieces just have an instant connection with people."

For collector David Davis, it all started with Barbra Streisand's houndstooth cap.

Davis heard on the Today show that the wool cap she wore in 1972's What's Up, Doc? was going up for auction a few years ago, and on a whim, he called and placed a bid.

"I thought I could never possibly afford or win something that Barbra Streisand wore in a movie," he said. "I thought it was out of my league."

But his bid won the cap. Five years later, his collection includes several Streisand costumes, along with those worn by Cher, Carol Burnett and Paul McCartney. Davis displays the iconic outfits around his home on mannequins custom-made to look like the stars.

While Davis says his collection obsession "is bordering on insanity," the 58-year-old is at the heart of a booming business.

"What keeps this industry alive are the fans who love this stuff," said Darren Julien of Julien's Auctions, which specializes in celebrity memorabilia (and famously sold Michael Jackson's bejewelled glove for $420,000 US to a buyer from Hong Kong last year).It's pride of ownership, the bragging rights and the fact that you want to own them.

"Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe popularized the idea of what memorabilia was," explains Joseph Maddalena, president and owner of Profiles in History, which will administer the Lost auction in Santa Monica. "It's the same exact thing as what you'd do with a Van Gogh: You buy it, hang it on the wall and look at it. It's pride of ownership, the bragging rights and the fact that you want to own them."

A hat and sequined glove once belonging to Michael Jackson is displayed at the Motown Historical Museum at Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit. ((Carlos Osorio/Associated Press))
"There's something about having it in your house, in your possession," said Davis, who has spent $300,000 on his collection. "You feel a connection to the celebrity."

Other collectors see themselves as custodians of history. Scott Fortner has been collecting Marilyn Monroe books and photos since he was a kid. One of those books was an auction catalogue, and it inspired him to place bids and start buying Monroe's costumes, clothing and keepsakes.

Fortner doesn't display the items at home because they're fragile and sensitive to light. But he has lent his vast collection to museums, including an exhibition at the Hollywood Museum that closes Aug. 31.

"I feel more like a curator, a holder of Marilyn's goods, rather than buying them to be close to her," he said.

But he's not immune to the intoxicating charm of her celebrity: "It's pretty amazing to be able to hold a garment or article of clothing that still has Marilyn's perfume on it and you can smell what she smelled like."

Collections a passion, not an investment

"You can't look at any of this stuff as an investment," said Kathleen Guzman, a longtime auctioneer and appraiser who works for Antiques Roadshow.

"These are sentimental purchases that may or may not retain their value in the long term."

Some collectors eventually sell their prized pieces. The ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz have been sold several times (most recently for over $600,000). A few Marilyn Monroe items sold at a Christie's estate sale in 1999 are back on the market.

It used to be that collectors sought only old Hollywood memorabilia, she said, but now modern day props and costumes can generate just as much interest. More recent celebrity memorabilia is often more affordable, too.

Where art auctions might be intimidating, memorabilia auctions are marked by a colourful energy, Guzman said, perhaps inspired by all that celebrity love.

"I'm sure people who buy contemporary paintings are passionate, but they just don't seem to be as dramatic," she said. "It's about a psychic connection... I think people identify with these stars and feel that owning something of them is like a magic talisman toward sharing their lives."