Investing in screen/production used items


Well-Known Member
I've been entertaining this thought lately that I would invest in a few select screen used or production used items. I'm curious what everyone, preferably those with experience in the area, think of this as an investment. Obviously, I would be very selective in the items I purchase (iconography, cultural significance, etc). Does anyone have any stories to share? I want to get as much information as I can before deciding to take the leap.
I think the one over riding criteria is finding a treasure - period. If, you purchase a piece at a major auction, that is correctly described and sells at the top of it's value, I see little chance of making money if resold later. This was not true of Debbie Reynolds who, for the most part, held her pieces for decades before cashing out in a hot market with a major museum, well financed, in the works. That is the exception.

You must find barn fresh pieces that are important and buy them for less than they are now worth. Presented well, with images and documentation, will assure you get a fine return on your money. I continue to do this, with limited success, although it has been my sole means for 20 years now. I feel I am lucky to find one or two good pieces a year that are "steals" and will make a profit. But, as with intangibles, you must be prepared to lose as well and that it all comes out in the end with gainers outpacing losers. My one failing with many pieces is that I sold too quickly and forfeited profits. I have seen pieces of mine resell a few years later for double and triple what they achieved for me. Certainly, I used the funds to purchase other good pieces, but it makes me regret I was in a hurry to cash out. Also, as a collector, I want to keep most everything I find and certainly, many are impounded, but I have often made the hard choice to let something go with the intent to add to a current collection or take advantage of a new purchase opportunity.

The same rules of homework and diligence apply to this as they do in the stock market. It isn't for sissies, or if you need to cash out fast, as it involves waiting for the next big auction which takes months from deadline to payday.

I am sure someone here will say "buy what you love since everyone loses money with props" blah, blah, blah. It's like a mantra on many boards and maybe with a lot of the market it is true. But, there are people here and elsewhere who make their living doing it or supplement their income with such deals, whether they be vest pocket dealers or full time board sponsors. Do one thing and do it well. Know your subject and then find the pieces. Unlike stocks, you cannot order one from column A or buy on website B, but you have to be clever and lucky to find them before the dealers do. I know lots of people doing quite well with it, but they are advanced, well networked and tireless. They know, in many cases, who wants what or if there is an unknown entity active at the auctions, and then produce the pieces for sale. Sometimes you hit big when the timing is like that. I had a piece I bought in 2007 that I could not get anyone to share my enthusiasm for, until early this year I saw another sell very well and brought my to auction. This piece that I could find little interest in for a few hundred sold for mid five figures. Every dog has it's day, but, you really need to know what you are doing.
People say you'll lose money on props. But you'll lose money on most things. The TOTAL collectible market AVERAGE has been pretty good over the last few decades.

Here's a few basic suggestions:

1. Think about who a prop is valuable to. Some props have been valuable for decades which makes them seem to be a "sure thing". But if the appeal was only for certain generations, and if those generations are in their later years, then you may be buying it just in time for the value to start falling off. If you are going to hold things for a while then it needs to be stuff that has not already peaked.

2. Consider the feasibility of storing larger things. Everyone's space has value, and holding an item for years purely to resell can start to make that cost significant. A $1000 pair of shoes is much more desirable than a $1000 piece of furniture if you are basically using it for long term wealth storage. I personally like old cars but this issue mostly keeps me out of the game.

3. Most movie props would be junk without the screen pedigree. That is where the entire value lies. So the authenticity had better be pretty airtight.

And along these same lines, you want to aim for the biggest star-power you can.

Han Solo's blaster? I'm sure it's worth a ton.
Practically the same blaster, same movie, made by the same hands, and used by somebody else? Not the same value at all.
No matter how similar it is in theory, it just ain't HAN SOLO'S BLASTER.
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Please do not take this as me being mean, I am just being an old fart.

Make sure you aren't just trying to find a rationalization to buy something.
I would say three things

1. You will need to find a good deal. Just buying from a dealer at top dollar will probably not make a good investment. To find a good deal, you'll need to put in a lot of work networking in the hobby or digging on ebay or trying to find original sources.
2. Stick with properties with cross generational appeal to insure that 10 years from now people will care. No one is going to give a rip about Elysium props in 10 years. People will still care about Marvel or DC characters. People will still care about Star Wars. People will still care about Lord of the Rings.
3. Invest only money that you are ok with speculation on. Don't put your retirement money into props. Use some extra mad money that you're ok with loosing. Treat it like betting on a crazy stock, with the added benefit that you get to enjoy the prop while you own it as well. Then if it goes up, great! But if it goes down, it won't wreck your finances.

Items can be found at great prices that will make good investments, the trick is trying to find them in the current market. I aggree with others that have said dont expect to find your investment pieces by paying top dollar to a dealer or at a major auction. Get out there and do some leg work and find "new" items at the source.

But dont totally rule out auctions and ebay, good deals can be found and many times items go for opening bids that are a fraction of percieved value. If you hold onto them awhile and sell when the time is right you can do pretty well in this hobby. I've been collecting for about 15 years and I have not had to put any new money into my collection for at least 10, I only fund new prop purchases with the sale of other prop items. I have sold a few items over the years at less than I have paid but the majority have made money.

It can be done but you need to know the market and general values of these items, plus you need to be good at predicting what new properties might do well.
Good luck its a fun hobby and one I treat as an investment.
Very good advice across the board! I'm not looking to make big money, or invest my retirement or kids' college funds or anything like that. The appeal to me is owning a piece of film history and the potential for a little bit of profit in the end. It's a much more exciting prospect to me.
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