August 16 is the apex of Elvis Week, so a blog article posted on this date usually celebrates Elvis’ legacy and marvels at how the fans come back to honor him each year. Unfortunately, this theme has been covered by ElvisBlog several times already, and it’s hard to find new ways to say it. So, this year we’ll do a report on the marvelous auction of Elvis memorabilia that unfolded on Thursday night and early yesterday morning.
Everybody who follows ElvisBlog knows I cover several Elvis auctions every year. But the Auction at Graceland was different. We were able to watch all three-and-one-half hours of it on streaming video via LiveStream. I found it fascinating viewing.
This is Terri Walker of Walker Auctioneers, a local Memphis company. This woman should have been hoarse after the first hour, because she talks non-stop. She’s pretty, funny, and excellent at pulling higher bids out of people. Once in a while you’d think the bidding stalled out at say $2,000, but she’d spike it up and the item would end up going for $6,000.
She had a staff of about ten people helping her, things like describing each item, spotting bidders, taking phone and internet bids, and recording all the pertinent stuff. Behind her is the screen showing the item under bid, often including alternative views.
The unexpected bonus to this online streaming of the auction was the chat room on the right of the screen. There were a hard-core group of folks doing most of the texting, and I found reading it strangely addicting. Here are three to give you an idea how it went.
Wendy Auliff: His body was in that…. I want it to use as my PJs. (describing the White Puffy Shirt)
Deborah: The same thing happened to me. I woke up and remember seeing the stage covered with flowers. I truly felt like I had stepped out of a dream and I don`t remember it to this day. (Response to someone talking about her first Elvis concert experience)
Kyle Vanover: This would be even cooler than having Fonzie’s little black book! (Comparison to Elvis’ Personal Address Book).
It will take more than one post to cover all the interesting items at this auction. So, let’s start with the ten who didn’t reach the minimum starting price or failed to meet the reserve (whatever that is).
1975 Martin D-28 Guitar:
This Martin D-28 Guitar was gifted by Elvis to his friend and bodyguard Sam Thompson in January of 1977 and has an interesting history. It was later sold to the National Enquirer for use as a contest prize, which helped Thompson fund his college education. What it lacks is pedigree. It’s not one of Elvis’ early Martin guitars from the 50s. As they stated on the auction floor, Elvis used Gibson and Fender guitars before coming back to Martin in the late 70s.
This Martin D-28 guitar was one of six items featured in the pre-auction promotions, so they obviously had high hopes for it. Quite a few Elvis-owned guitars have brought in big bucks, but this one failed to generate the $30,000 minimum bid. The pre-auction estimate of $70-90,000 was wildly over-optimistic.
Considering that there are four address books in this lot, I was very surprised no one offered the minimum bid of $7,000.
The description on the auction website tried to beef up interest.
The books contain names, numbers and addresses for almost everyone in Elvis’ life including Priscilla, Colonel Parker, J.D. Sumner, Jerry Schilling, all his entourage members, old girlfriends both pre-and-post Priscilla, and countless others. Transport yourself back in time and live the life of Elvis through his personal contacts and business associates. The address books offer a peek into the life of the King.
Elvis jumpsuits are among the most desirable memorabilia items and sell for lots of money. This must have been the consideration when the targeting the estimate for this outfit at $70-90,000. However, although Elvis wore it one time on stage, it is not a jumpsuit and collectors bid accordingly (or didn’t bid, as it turned out).
This black and white suit, is referred to as the “penguin suit,” and was made in the mid-1970s for Elvis by the IC Costume Company. Elvis wore it as part of his off-stage wardrobe. On September 19th, 1975, in Las Vegas, Elvis was dressed in this suit, and because he was running behind schedule without time to change into a jumpsuit for the show, Elvis wore this suit on stage for that particular performance.
The Penguin Suit is still a valuable piece of Elvis clothing, so we will see it up again at auction. However, it needs to have a lower minimum bid than $40,000 it had this time.
Bean Bag Chair:
This faux leopard fur bean bag chair with small and large matching pillows was used in Elvis’ Chino Canyon, Palm Springs home. I saw it back in 1999 in Las Vegas when Graceland held a huge auction at the MGM Grand Hotel. I’ve often wondered why EPE dumped a lot of good stuff then. I’ll bet they wish they had most of it back now that they have opened the new Graceland Archives Experience.
Anyway, the beanbag and pillows failed to generate the minimum bid of $2,000. It probably would have soared past that if a photo of Elvis sitting on it had been provided.
Molds for Elvis Sunglasses:
When I saw the projected sell price of this item at $10-15.000, I said no way. You can buy the actual sunglasses for less than that, and they are much cooler. Here’s what the auction website description had to say about them.
An iconic part of Elvis history, Elvis’ sunglasses, whether aviator or neo-nautic style, are recognizable anywhere and all Elvis tribute artists and fans alike want “the look.” These iconic shades were customized by Dennis Roberts of the Optique Boutique in Los Angeles. The offered three molds are the original molds used by Dennis to create the gold and silver emblems that adorned Elvis’ glasses. The “EP” was typically placed on the bridge of Elvis’ aviator glasses, and the TCB logo with the lightning bolt adorned the temple arms.
Sounds good, but not worth the minimum bid of $4,000.
The Impersonal Life:
There were a number of items at this auction that originally came from Ginger Alden. The folks in the chat room didn’t much like her. Maybe the bidders didn’t either, because not one would cover the $4,000 minimum on this book.
This surprised me, because it has a lot going for it. This copy of The Impersonal Life is signed on the interior “To Ginger, with love, E.P.” Ginger Alden states in an accompanying letter that the book was one which she and Elvis read together in bed. It also shows many passages and phrases underlined by Elvis, highlighting meaningful parts of the book or placing emphasis on certain words. Perhaps the fact that Ginger also made similar marks soured the bidders.
This thing is really strange, and it’s no surprise that bidders didn’t think it worth the minimum of $5,000, let alone the projected $12-15,000. There is no way I can describe it better than this from the auction website.
Two pages of handwritten notes by Elvis written ten days prior to his death. These note pages were obtained directly from Ginger Alden, Elvis’ fiancée. Accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Ginger Alden stating that Elvis had written these notes during his visit to her Memphis home. She discusses in detail his interest in numerology and words and the ways in which each can be broken down into smaller parts, such as “his-story” or how the word woman is so appropriate because when you break it down into its two syllables it can be pronounced as “wo-man.
Wrought Iron Chair:
Like the beanbag chair, this yellow wrought iron chair came from Elvis’ Palm Springs home on Chino Canyon Drive. And it suffered the same fate. Bidders did not find it worth the $2,500 minimum. Again, a picture of Elvis sitting on it would have made a world of difference.
I thought this personal checkbook would make the minimum of $6,000, if not the estimate of $12-15,000. It got neither. It has 43 entries for checks Elvis wrote, so it certainly has his handwriting if not his autograph. He used it from May 21, 1975 to January 22, 1976. The checks totaled $89,000, showing Elvis’ incredible generous to his friends, family and even to strangers. This checkbook also contained a handwritten note giving his foreman an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii and a new car. The auction says, “This checkbook is a treasure trove of examples of Elvis’ generosity.” I can’t believe the stupid high prices some bidders paid for certain items at this auction, but passed on this checkbook register.
So, what do you think Elvis and Priscilla’s original marriage certificate would sell for? The pre-auction estimate was $40-60,000. Sorry, it didn’t even bring the minimum of $15,000. Again, I’m mystified by this, compared to what some other much less significant items went for.
This original Las Vegas, Nevada marriage certificate, dated May 5, 1967, is signed by Justice David Zenoff and best men, Marty Lacker and Joe Esposito, but not Elvis or Priscilla. The Clark County Nevada clerk claimed that the marriage certificate was mailed to Elvis and Priscilla, but came back to the county office marked “return to sender.” The clerk retained it in a file until selling it to Chris Davidson in 1995.
Can’t you just imagine her thinking: “That Elvis marriage certificate has been in the file for 28 years, and I’m the only one that knows it’s there. Screw it, I’m selling the thing and making some money.”
So, that’s Part 1 of our look at the Auction at Graceland results. Stay tuned for the big winners next week.
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