Over the years, I have reported on dozens of Elvis auctions. But I went back to my early years in the archives to find one that was unique in format. Instead of covering just the stars of the show, this 2010 post also featured some items that bombed, and even some that were pulled from the auction before bidding started.
Four weeks ago, this blog discussed the upcoming auction of Elvis items presented by Gotta-Have-Rock-and-Roll. Although I didn’t express it in print, I did wonder how it would fare in these shaky financial times. The results are in, and, with the exception of Elvis’ jewelry and clothes, you could not call it a huge success. Thirty-three items received no bids at all, including four out of five of the items with the highest required minimum bids.
Let’s look at some of the successes first. In all Elvis auctions, the jumpsuits get the most media attention, but it helps when they have a famous name, or at least, a cool sounding name. Over the years, Elvis’ designers, friends and fans have come up with tags like the Chinese Dragon, Blue Phoenix and Mexican Sundial. The jumpsuit in this auction was called by the uninspired name of Elvis Presley’s Madison Square Garden Jumpsuit. Yes, that is descriptive, because he did wear it for one of his four shows in New York City in June, 1972. But, it has no zing like the King of Spades or Burning Love jumpsuits.
I did a little research to see if the suit at this last auction actually had a name, and it did – the Wheat jumpsuit. No wonder they didn’t use that name in the auction catalog. As you can see in the picture below, that’s a weak description of this design.
For one thing, wheat doesn’t grow on curvy vines, but It’s doubtful anything else would better describe this design. The pre-auction estimate for the suit was $150-200,000, and it brought in $212,000, so you could call it a success. However, the Peacock jumpsuit, which sold last year, went for $300,000.
And just the cape from the famous American Eagle jumpsuit that Elvis wore on the Aloha from Hawaii special went for $150,000 back in 1999.
The big stars of this most recent auction were the jewelry items. Elvis’ 14KT gold and diamond owl ring had a pre-auction estimate of $7-8,000, but it went for $40,388.
The 14KT gold diamond and Pavé bracelet did even better. It had the same estimate as the ring, but it pulled in $44,427. The successful bidders on these items also get 8”x10” color photographs showing Elvis wearing the jewelry.
Another over-achiever was a black pants and shirt set that Elvis wore off stage. This splashy casual wear brought in over $33,000, well beyond the $9-10,000 estimate.
Here is how several other items mentioned in the March 15 ElvisBlog article fared in the auction:
Seventh Degree Black Belt Karate Card $13,000 21,000
Graceland View-Master $75 $150
Set of Sixteen Elvis Buttons $75 $330
Between Takes Album (the one I own) $25 $40
So, what were the big busts, the high priced items that received no bids at all? The highest pre-auction estimate was for Elvis’ White grand piano, but nobody thought it was worth the minimum starting bid of $500,000. In retrospect, that does seem rather over-priced. The same problem plagued the three Elvis oil paintings by Ralph Wolfe Cowan. He is the artist who did the Elvis paintings in the Smithsonian and Graceland. When he did a third Elvis portrait, it brought $45,000 at the 1999 auction in Las Vegas. I guess he went to the well too often when he produced three more. That may have resulted in a glut-on-the-market feeling, because no one would even pay $25,000 for them.
The other items that no one bid on probably would have sold for something less than the minimum starting bid, but auctions don’t work that way. Among the items that couldn’t fetch a $25 bid include an Elvis pencil, several movie still photos, movie press books, and various pamphlets, folios and advertising manuals. There were even four magazines with articles about Elvis that failed to get the modest $10 minimum. However, the magazines with Elvis on the cover all sold well.
There were a few items pulled from the auction before bidding started. Probably due to ownership disputes, I guess. I would have been interested to see what these sunglasses went for. Note the variation on the standard TCB lightning bolt design.
Here’s a strange item that got pulled — a placard advertising Elvis’ gold Cadillac that went on tour around the country in 1959. With Elvis away in the Army in Germany, Col. Parker found something else to promote.
And finally, here is the item that surprised me the most. It is a hand-written poem that Elvis composed, and it went for over $20,000. If you don’t want your image of Elvis sullied a bit, please do not read it.
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