Marilyn Monroe (pictured circa 1950) is one of the 'icons' whose belonging can guarantee a good price at an auction / Getty

Collectors tell The Independent how they come across such rare items, how they are authenticated and which ones go for the best price

From Jimi Hendrix’s guitar to Lady Gaga’s acrylic fingernail, items put up for auction which have been linked to a celebrities often vary from the impressive to the downright  bizarre

The prices these items fetch is often eye-watering. Recent high profile examples include Bonhams auction house selling the piano played in Casablanca for $3.4million sale, Jimi Hendrix's guitar for £209,000 and George Harrison’s leather jacket for £110,450.

Similarly, in 2011 a collection of Elizabeth Taylor’s possessions – including jewellery, clothes, and film props – collectively raised over £100.3 million for the late actresses’ Aids trust after being auctioned at Christie’s. In 2015 a range of Margaret Thatcher’s personal belongings including a gift from Ronald Reagan and a pearl necklace collectively amassed £4.5million.

For those uninterested in celebrity culture, the whole escapade can seem confusing. However, Nic McElhatton, the Chairman of Christie’s who oversaw the sale of Pele’s 1970 World Cup final shirt in 2002 for £157,750 believes that “we are all to some degree fascinated by celebrity”. 

The actual process of finding and selling celebrities’ past clothes or belongings can certainly be interesting and unexpected, and also requires a lot of work to authenticate and value the item.

Paul Fraser Collectibles, based in Bristol, have the largest private stockholding of collectibles and deal with a vast range of celebrity memorabilia. Their list of high-profile people who have used or worn items they sell ranges from historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi to singers like Madonna.

While they cannot reveal past prices, they are currently selling a lock of Lord Nelson’s hair valued at £15,000, a bowl and utensils used by Gandhi while in prison, lingerie worn by Madonna valued at £4,950, bed linen slept in by the Beatles estimated to fetch around £595 and a Christmas card signed by both Prince Charles and Princess Diana valued at £1,950.

When some think of celebrity memorabilia auctions, it can conjure up recollections of some of the more bizarre auctions such as when William Shatner sold his kidney stone for $25,000 in 2006 to raise money for a housing charity or when Winston Churchill’s false teeth were sold. 

Fraser says some might deem the locks of hair he sells as weird (currently, locks from Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy are up for grabs) but says others view it as “wonderful”.

Fraser got into the trade in the late 1970s after coming into possession of a signed Beatles album which he put on display in the record store he owned at the time.

“I put a signed Beatles album on the wall for decoration, with a sign, “not for sale”. The next day a man came in and offered me £45 for it – 15 times the price of the regular record,” he told The Independent.

From then on, he was hooked and started selling autographs full time; he founded his company in 2009.

So how do collectors obtain these items, especially the rarest? Katherine Schofield, head of the entertainment memoribillia department at Bonhams, says it can vary from things being donated by fans who were lucky enough to get their hands on an item or a prop that being thrown out by a film studio. 

 

Fraser finds many of his items from scouring auctions himself but otherwise they come from members of the public.

“It's amazing the rare and wonderful objects that people keep on their walls and in their attics for decades and decades. Often these pieces pass down a generation before coming to us. We get a lot of calls that begin: “Just been clearing out my dad's study and found this...”

Verifying the authenticity of a celebrity-owned or worn item is a multi-step process and not something that is not taken lightly, with Fraser saying they “research every aspect of its history: particularly previous owners and sales”.

His checklist for verifying autographs includes having a detailed knowledge of the history of someone in the public eye as well as a historical memory bank of pens.

“We see so many John Lennon-autographed CDs - yes CDs. Or Bruce Lee signed memorabilia from his posthumous films,” he says.

Once authenticated, how much an item is valued at depends on a range of factors mainly rarity, condition and desirability - for example, a Charlie Chaplin-signed photo of him wearing his iconic costume compared will be more valuable than one of him in an ordinary outfit because it is more desirable.

“You also need to factor in recent changes in the market. Big anniversaries often boost interest in a particular area. For example, Titanic memorabilia has been hugely popular since the 2012 centenary of the sinking.”

However, sometimes there are just certain celebrities who are guaranteed to produce the highest price tag and Fraser has his predictions of the modern day stars who are likely to go down as legends.

“The celebrity fame generally comes and goes. But there are some ‘icons’ who transcend the generations. Think of the names we will remember in 100 years' time. For example, Marilyn Monroe. The Beatles and James Dean. More recent figures who are perennial auction favourites include Madonna, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. The fame of all three looks set to endure for decades.”

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