“You Bet Your Life” Prop Duck

Value (2013) | $8,000 Auction$12,000 Auction
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GUEST:
This is one of two original ducks that were used on the TV show “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx. When they said the secret word, the duck would come down and would have a tag around its nose saying how much the secret prize was worth, whether it was $100, $200, $300 or $500. Only if you said the secret word would it come down, and before he interviewed any celebrities or people on the show, he would tell the audience what the secret word was.

APPRAISER:
Tell me about how you got it.

GUEST:
I purchased it from a little tiny memorabilia store in the Melrose area. I tried to buy it off the owner for eight years, never could buy it because he said it's the most prized item and he had it hanging by his cash register. I would offer him more money all the time. And then one day, I went into the store and he wasn't there, and I said, "Where's my friend? I always negotiate with him on the duck." And she said, "I'm so sorry, it was my son. He passed away." And she goes, "Are you the guy that comes in every month for the duck?" And I said, "Yes." And she goes, "The one thing he told me before he passed was that if that guy comes in, make sure you sell him the duck." I asked her how much she wanted for it, and she goes, "I know he loved it so much and you love it so much, just give me $250 and take it. I just want it to go to somebody who can appreciate it."

APPRAISER:
And how long ago was that?

GUEST:
That had to be in 19... I want to say '86, '87 timeframe. I've owned it since then.

APPRAISER:
And what else do you know about its participation in the show?

GUEST:
It was one of two. I believe this was the backup duck. And he also mentioned that it was used one time at one of Groucho's birthday parties.

APPRAISER:
But we don't know if this particular duck was in any aired episodes.

GUEST:
No, we don't.

APPRAISER:
Well, of course, “You Bet Your Life” was a very popular American game show. It was a radio and TV show.

GUEST:
Yes, it was a radio and TV Show. I have some of the original recordings.

APPRAISER:
Started 1950.

GUEST:
Yep, uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
And then Groucho continued through the early '70s.

GUEST:
That's right.

APPRAISER:
But its heyday was in the 1960s. This is a custom made set prop, something that they would have commissioned from a prop shop or an artist. Sometimes they're one of a kind-- in this case, we believe two of a kind-- having the primary and then the backup, or second, for the set in case one was lost or damaged. It's very impressive how it's held up over the years because of its fragile construction. It's papier-mâché. It does have some wear, but I don't see any damage. There are no cracks or fractures. Just a couple of feathers are missing. Have you ever had anybody appraise it?

GUEST:
No, never. I did show it to Dick Cavett, and he fell in love with it and he goes, "I don't care how many years you own it. When you go to sell it, contact me to be the first person to buy it.”

APPRAISER:
Anybody know where the primary duck is?

GUEST:
I believe that's gone.

APPRAISER:
There's no known record of where the primary duck may be?

GUEST:
Not that I could find.

APPRAISER:
Well, the Marx Brothers props are very rare, very hard to come by. A piece such as this, we would expect at auction to sell for somewhere between $8,000 to $12,000.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
If we had any record of it being in an aired episode or if it was the primary duck, you can increase that value quite a bit. If it was indeed in an aired episode, perhaps double. If you were to ever find the primary duck, that could even be three or four times the value.

GUEST:
I would think so.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Mroczek Brothers Auctioneers & Associates
Renton, WA
Appraised value (2013)
$8,000 Auction$12,000 Auction
Event
Anaheim, CA (June 22, 2013)
Period
1950s
Material
Papier-mâché
October 06, 2014: In this segment appraiser Grant Zahajko tells us that the heyday of the show was in the 1960s and the guest explains that there was a "tag around [the duck's] nose saying how much the secret prize was worth." After this episode's broadcast a viewer wrote in to point out two things: First, the duck has money rolled up and held in its feet and what was actually on the plaque was the secret word. And second, the show ended in 1961, with its best ratings having come in the 1950s.  

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