Silently sitting in Mariah Carey’s penthouse, Marilyn Monroe’s white piano is locked away from the world. Sold at a private Christie’s auction in 1999, it is unclear if the public will ever be able to view it again. Is the sale of personal memorabilia threatening the loss of parts of music and film history?
However, It’s positive news for auction houses. The popularity of film and music memorabilia have steadily increased over the last decade. Christina Moriame from Ewbank Auction house believes its due to “more activities and awareness of sales in this specialism, marketing and being able to be pushed by valuers” another significant point is that “items are becoming older thus more collectible” she added.
Auction houses are now cashing in, generating profits boasting far higher than their estimates as private buyers attempt to invest and own a part of history. Christie’s recent auction of Audrey Hepburn’s personal collection saw her Burberry trench coat circa 1980’s sold for £68,500. A far cry from the £9000 it was estimated at. Bidder, Sheridan Jones found the estimations to be underinflated adding she believes the auction house “did not fully grasp the publics insatiable appetite for all things “Audrey”.
The process of an auction is quite complex. Ms, Moriame explains that all items must go through a valuation process, this is after their authenticity has been checked. During this time, the vendor remains the owner of any item until sold during the sale. Once there is an established auction value, its put into appropriate lots and a catalogue with an estimation to give buyers a guide. Followed by this is a viewing and then an auction.
So why do people want to buy memorabilia? Owner of Reckless Records UK sums it up in two words: “nostalgia and investment.” Collector, Ms. Jones capitalises on this notion of investment. She adds, that in order to see a return on your money (should you ever have to sell) you should buy only from older film stars due to the somewhat limited merchandise available back then. As private buyers still dominate this exclusive market, Paul Bloom and George Newman conducted a study of three auctions. Their results concluded that private buyers who pay high prices believe that by collecting objects such as film and music memorabilia they will be closer to the individuals to whom they belonged.
While it is understandable where the attraction of collecting memorabilia comes from. The harsh reality is that we are losing a great deal of music and film history that should perhaps be preserved for the world to see. This loss was something the late George Michael struggled to accept. Michael famously bought the piano on which John Lennon wrote “Imagine” for a reported £1,670,000 at an auction in 2000. The Wham frontman donated the piano back to the museum it was being held in going on to say that it was “not the type of thing that should be in storage somewhere or be protected, it should be seen by people”.
The idea of these precious mementos sitting in storage is a hard one to swallow. It’s found that more often than not they are preserved in unfavourable conditions damaging the items over time with some even becoming lost. This was the case in which a couple unbeknown to them, found an archive containing the entire Beach Boys catalogue lying in a storage facility in Florida. The salvageable original hand-written notes, scores and vinyl fetched 7,000 in an auction and were not able to be viewed by the public.
However, although many people are like George Michael in wanting to preserve memorabilia, there is simply not enough money or space in museums to compete against private buyers in order to protect and preserve every piece of memorabilia out there. Although collectors, including Ms. Jones, do believe in their hearts that certain items of memorabilia being sold at auctions should be donated to a museum. It’s simply not happening and unfortunately, we are faced with the saddening realisation that these private collections won’t be seen together by the public in their entirety ever again.