Silently sitting in Mariah Carey’s penthouse, Marilyn Monroe’s white piano is locked away from the world. Sold at a private Christies auction in 1999, it is unclear If the public will ever be able to view it again.
Private auctions of personal collections including that of Marilyn Monroe’s and more recently Audrey Hepburn’s raise an important question, Is the sale of personal memorabilia threatening the loss of music and film history forever?
Auction houses are 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”.
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 the notion of investment adding that in order to see a return on your money (should you ever have to sell) that 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 by collecting objects such as film and music memorabilia that they will be closer to the individuals they belonged to.
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 a 2000 Auction. 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 thought 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’s fetched 7,000 pounds in an auction and were not able to be viewed by the public.
However, although many people are alike to George Michael in wanting to preserve memorabilia. There is simply not enough money or space in museums to compete against private buyers in order protect and preserve every piece of memorabilia out there. Although collectors including that of 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 again.