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Category Archives: Historical memorabilia

Collectors gear up for Elvis auction

A major sale of artefacts from the life of Elvis Presley is due to take place at Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tennessee later today. The auction consists of 72 lots and includes everything from his marriage certificate to his front door keys.

Ahead of the event, let’s take a brief look at some of the most interesting lots.

Early signature

The signature is one of the  earliest known examples

The signature is one of the earliest known examples

Elvis signed this library card in 1947 when he was in 7th grade. During that year he was beginning to gain recognition for his singing and performed twice on local personality Mississippi Slim’s radio show.

The piece is one of the earliest known examples of Elvis’ signature, meaning its likely to attract a high degree of interest from collectors.

Shooting target

Elvis was an avid gun collector

Elvis was an avid gun collector

Elvis had an enormous collection of guns. After a number of death threats he carried one on his person at all times, even while he was on stage.

His penchant for firing at the TV whenever singer and longtime rival Robert Goulet appeared onscreen in the stuff of legend.

This target was set up in his smokehouse in the grounds of Graceland, which he used as a shooting range.

Marriage certificate

Elvis and Priscilla married in Las Vegas

Elvis and Priscilla married in Las Vegas

This marriage certificate records Elvis’ wedding to Priscilla in Las Vegas in 1967. The couple spent a total of eight minutes in the chapel before jetting off for their honeymoon.

Ironically it was sent back to the marriage office stamped “return to sender” and was kept by one of the clerks, who sold it at auction in the mid 90s.


These keys were used in the couple's honeymoon

These keys were used in the couple’s honeymoon

This set of keys for Elvis’ holiday home in Palm Springs, California were taken on his honeymoon with Priscilla. The couple spent a couple of days in the luxury apartment before flying on to Memphis.

A Los Angeles Police Department keyring is a nice touch. Alongside his gun obsession, Elvis was an avid collector of police badges.

by Tom


The world’s most valuable signature

Day in day out we sell some of the world’s rarest autographs.

From James Dean to Henry VIII, if you can imagine it we’ve either got it or can get it.

However, there’s one I can guarantee that we’ll never have in stock.

I’ll give you a clue.

It belongs to the greatest writer in history.

The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare has led some to speculate that the bard may have been Jewish

The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare has led some to speculate that the bard may have been Jewish

There are only six known copies of William Shakespeare’s autograph in existence – all of which feature on legal documents and are housed under lock and key in some of the world’s most prestigious institutions.

If one was to ever sell, it’s estimated that it would go for around $5m.

That figure would increase significantly if it was attached to a manuscript copy of one of his plays, not a single copy of which has ever surfaced.

Shakespeare's will - one of the few manuscripts to feature his signature

Shakespeare’s will – one of the few manuscripts to feature his signature

The extraordinary value placed on his signature is far above that for any other person, a phenomenon that can be explained both by his extraordinary contribution to literature and the air of mystery that surrounds him.

Despite his fame and status, we still known very little about Shakespeare.

The fact that very few records or relics are known to have survived means that there is no market for memorabilia pertaining to him, despite enormous demand.

As a result copies of his folios, printed after his death, regularly break six figures – with one selling for $6.1m in 2001.

A piece of bloodstained fabric

A piece of bloodstained fabric recently sold for $16,000 at a US auction.

I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly compel someone to pay that amount of money for something that unpleasant?

Well what if I told you that that piece of fabric was torn from the very sofa that Adolf Hitler was sitting on when he shot himself.

Suddenly it becomes much more interesting, doesn’t it?


The fragment of sofa from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin

The grisly memento was taken by a US officer who was among the first to enter the bunker below the Reich Chancellery in Berlin before it was filled in by the Russians. Apparently, it is now the site of a Chinese restaurant.

Most of us are aware of how the dictator spent his final days below ground as the city’s children were conscripted to hold off the inevitable advance of the Red Army, of the frenzied attempts to delay the inevitable up until the final moment.

The events were memorably dramatised in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s extraordinary film Downfall, which was based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge – Hitler’s secretary in the closing months of the war.

It is items like this, despite their obvious unpalatability, that take the past out of the history books and place it squarely within your hands.

From the shirt Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was assassinated in 1914, held in the collection of the Austrian Military Museum, to a cloth dipped in the blood of the executed Louis XVI, there is an immediacy and revulsion that ensures these relics retain their power long after the event.

That Hitler died in the bunker is beyond doubt. His dental remains were identified, but as the auction house put it: “no blood relics of Hitler’s have ever been offered publicly – a DNA test would conclusively put to rest rumors of body doubles, flight to Argentina, and other theories of an escape from Berlin”.

Inevitably, there is a deeper moral issue that comes into play with the sale of memorabilia pertaining to the Nazis and Hitler in particular.

It is, however, the case that the majority of buyers of Nazi memorabilia are the Jewish community. Memories are short, but items that bring to life the darkest moment of European history offer a warning to future generations as the spectre of the second world war diminishes.


The Maltese Falcon – an allegory for high-end collecting?

The Maltese Falcon – the original prop statuette from the movie, that is – sold at auction this week for a staggering $4m, pushing its way into the top ten list of movie memorabilia sold at auction.

Maltese Falcon, statuette, movie, prop, memorabilia, auction, sold

The “priceless” statuette almost disappeared altogether when Bogart dropped it on set

If you’re a collector, you’d have been hard pushed to have missed the news. Yet even if you’re not, the sale was still covered by almost every newspaper. Bonhams’ Dr Catherine Williams explained its appeal:

“The spectacular price achieved reflects the statuette’s tremendous significance. The Maltese Falcon is arguably the most important movie prop ever, and is central to the history of cinema.”

But what struck me with the sale is that the film, in which Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade becomes embroiled with a group who are  prepared to do just about anything to get the statuette, can be interpreted as an allegory for the hobby of collecting itself – particularly those unique items at the high-end of the market.


Was Arthur Hind the inspiration for Kasper Gutman?

The Maltese Falcon symbolises the ultimate object of desire: the villainous Kasper Gutman goes so far as to say, “Well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon”.

I’m not saying your average collector will go quite that far (though maybe some of us have considered worse!), but it’s this same desire that drives the market. Every serious collector wants to obtain that piece that no one else owns, no matter what his or her interest. They each want to be added to the list of illustrious characters who have held the item in their hands and called it their own, if only for a few months or years.

Take the famous 1c Magenta from British Guiana for example, the only known copy of which was owned by US industrialist Arthur Hind until a second example surfaced in the 1920s. Using his vast wealth at his disposal, Hind paid a huge sum to buy the second stamp, only to set fire to it with his cigar, before exclaiming:

“I still own the world’s rarest stamp!”

A real life Kasper Gutman, no doubt.

But the stamp’s tale doesn’t end there. It then passed into the hands of John du Pont, the eccentric heir to the du Pont family fortune, who – among other actions of questionable sanity – hired professional wrestlers as body guards to protect his farm estate, before murdering one of them and spending his life in prison. The whereabouts of the stamp remain a mystery.

With stories like these, its easy dismiss the old stigma of dusty collectors pouring over their prized possessions in a stuffy room. With the right items, the world of collecting can be “the stuff that dreams are made of”.

See our unique collectibles for sale.

By Joe

Halloween collectibles – keep your movie memorabilia, the reality is spooky enough!

With Halloween arriving, the world of collecting inevitably looks toward horror memorabilia. The auction world is full of items from the fiction’s most frightening characters – Michael Myers’ signed mask, an autographed copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a Frankenstein movie poster.

Well, you can keep them. For me, the creepiest collectibles are those that come from real-life creatures of the night. The ordinary can quickly become the extraordinary, the mundane transformed into murder most foul.

Take for example, the Albert Pierrepoint memorabilia collection.

Albert Pierrepoint, memorabilia, collection, hangman, pierrepoint, executioner, halloween, collectible,

Albert Pierrepoint (1905-1992) was your average Yorkshire schoolboy. An average schoolboy who, aged just 11 years old, was asked to complete a “when I grow up” exercise in class, to which he responded: “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”.

That’s a morbid statement that is likely to have sent social workers into a frenzy whichever way you look at it, but in context its something (slightly) less sinister than the murderous desires of a young boy.

Albert was the son of Henry Pierrepoint who, along with his brother Tom, were the UK’s top choppers in a time when capital punishment was still legal. Following the family tradition, Albert took the lives of almost 500 of the country’s criminals in his long-lived career including some of the most famous war criminals and high-profile murders.

The collection, which includes items from each of the family members, is nothing short of chilling. Having recently rifled through its contents at Paul Fraser Collectibles, I can confirm that it sent more than just a small shiver down my spine.

On the surface, there is nothing in the collection that will make you jump out of your skin: a journal, a watch chain, photographs of the family. It’s when you put the items into context that their gruesome nature becomes apparent.

The journals see the Pierrepoint’s coolly calculating the weight and drop of their victims. “Very heavy body, ordinary neck” – just another day at the office for Albert.

The chain, a fine silver piece befitting of the UK’s official executioner, was once attached to the watch that counted down the final seconds of hundreds of lives.

The photographs, somewhat sinister in sepia, show the ordinary men going about their otherwise ordinary lives. Not even Albert’s wife knew of his occupation, at least until he retired. But place these next to the plaster casts of Albert Pierrepoint’s face and hands and the man is temporarily resurrected, bringing a haunting character to the collection – This was the last face that hundreds of criminals ever saw, the hands that secured the noose around their necks.

No spooky movie or horror novel can match the grim reality of this collection.


Ernest Shackleton memorabilia really takes the biscuit

Recently a set of medals belonging to AF Mackay, the physician on Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition, sold for £48,000 ($77,237) – up 864% on their estimate.

 Mackay Shackleton Polar Medals Doctor Surgeon

AF Mackay’s Antarctic medal

For over a century the Shackleton story has captured the imaginations of people around the world. The combination of bravery, stiff upper lips (and even stiffer moustaches) ensures that almost any memorabilia that comes to auction tends to achieve impressive results.

Take for example this biscuit, discovered in Shackleton’s famous Antarctic hut on Cape Royds in 1960 – which achieved a notable £1,250 ($2,026).

Shackleton biscuit

The $2,000 biscuit

You would be forgiven for thinking that that must be some sort of record – however it pales in comparison to the £7,637 ($12,382) paid for a collection of crumbs from a biscuit taken on Shackleton’s ill-fated Endurance expedition in 1915!

Personal items tend to be very popular. Last year Shackleton’s own white polo neck sweater made £9,375 ($15,028) at a sale at Christie’s in London, while a handkerchief, featuring a monogrammed E sold for £2,500 ($4,008).

With public enthusiasm showing no sign of dampening after over 100 years, we can offer you this exclusive letter – written to his wife just 9  months before his tragic death aboard his ship in Rio De Janeiro.

The band that played on

The story of “the band that played on” is one of the most poignant to come from the Titanic tragedy.

This weekend just gone, the violin that belonged to the orchestra’s leader, Wallace Hartley, sold for $1.7m (click here to view the top 10 Titanic items ever auctioned courtesy of Wikicollecting).

The sale is a testament to the enduring fascinating with these brave men who sacrificed their own lives to calm their fellow passengers.

But what was the last song they played as the ship went down?

Folklore decrees Nearer, My God to Thee.

Both US and British survivors stated that they could hear the strains of the hymn at some point, yet it commonly had a different tune depending on whether it was the British or American version.

Harold Bride, a wireless operator who survived the catastrophe, was quoted as saying: “From Aft came the tunes of the band. It was a ragtime tune, I don’t know what. Then there was autumn”. This is thought to refer to Songe d’Automne, a slow waltz that was very popular at the time.

A 1902 hymn by Lewis Carey has been suggested as a third possibility.

Titanic band

Only three bodies were discovered

The truth will remain a mystery. What is known is that the band was forced to stop playing some 30 minutes before the Titanic slipped completely under, when the ship’s slope became too steep to continue.

With all the lifeboats gone, the band and the remaining passengers huddled together on the stern until the ship broke in two, condemning them all to their fate.

Of the eight members of the orchestra, just three bodies were recovered.


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