Tips of the Trade
An Audience With "The King"
Gary sized up a collection that includes this painting of Elvis, autographed to someone with another kingly name: "Regis."
An early Elvis favorite: "Anyway You Want Me"
Elvis memorabilia has taken every conceivable shape over the years—including pork pie hats.
"50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong"—No they cannot.
Before he was The King, Elvis apparently pulled down a C in music.
Wow! Another Elvis spotting! Not in Graceland or in Las Vegas, but at the collectibles table at the ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in Memphis! Apparently nobody but Gary Sohmers, of allcollectors.com in Framingham, Massachusetts, could see the ghost of Elvis, but while it lasted he took the opportunity to educate The King about the state of all that "stuff" produced during his rock-n-roll career. What follows is an edited transcript.
Elvis pays a surprise "visit" to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW to learn about his own memorabilia and collectibles
Elvis: Hey, I thought I was coming back to Kentucky Fried Chicken in Memphis. This is not Kentucky Fried Chicken, is it?
Gary Sohmers: This is Memphis, but you're at ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, where you will undoubtedly find a good deal of stuff with your name and face on it.
Elvis: Does this mean that all that stuff the Colonel marketed way back when is now a bona fide antique?
Gary Sohmers: Well, not quite, Elvis. Most of what you touched, and lots of stuff you may never have touched, falls into the category of what is commonly referred to as Pop Culture. Funny to think about, but I've seen more knick-knacks with your image on them than you've seen screaming girls.
Elvis: Pardon me for saying this, but I'm all shook up.
Gary Sohmers: Don't be ... you set the standard for licensing a celebrity image. Your estate has licensed your name to sell everything from pillows and beer mugs to silver-plated spoons and whiskey. Much of it is sold as "limited editions," but all that's usually limited in those cases is the resale price. Congratulations is in order, because for three years running, you've been named the most marketable deceased celebrity.
Elvis: I guess you might say that my fans still love me tender.
Gary Sohmers: You better believe it, big guy. A lot of your fans are still stuck on you. It's just that they're getting older and many have had to downsize and move into smaller digs. They've cleaned out their attics and started selling all the old records, concert handbills, toy guitars, and hats. And demand is shrinking as the people who care the most about your stuff are now getting rid of it. The value of a lot of your memorabilia is actually dropping, I'm sad to report.
Elvis: Did you say my fans are getting old?
Gary Sohmers: Just a little gray around the sideburns. But I don't want to leave you with the impression that everything with your name on it is hyped kitsch and dumped memorabilia. Some Elvis collectibles have held their value, especially the things that came out when your career took off in 1954, '55 and '56. Some of the early RCA records are worth up to $100 each. Your Sun label records, if they and their covers are in good shape, are worth up to two grand.
Elvis: As James Brown once said, I taught white America to get down.
Gary Sohmers: You sure did. And given that you've sold about a billion records to date, most of the used records are worth little. But lots of what you and Colonel Tom Parker marketed in those early years as Elvis Presley Enterprises is still what we call "investment grade" memorabilia. That means that it could go up in value over the years. For example, we sold a 1954 concert poster of yours in an online auction in December 2005 for $24,570. In the same auction, a 1956 concert ticket stub with a parking receipt for one of your 1956 concerts sold for $500. That's what we in the business call "maintaining value."
Elvis: Was it all down hill from there?
Gary Sohmers: Well, the later 1950s and early 1960s were not the most magical of times for you, Elvis. There was the army stint and those B-grade movies. ... You lost some of the appeal that endeared your fans to you. Come on—you have to admit the music was wimpy and the Beatles were kicking your butt on the charts.
Elvis: Please. Don't be cruel.
Gary Sohmers: The good news is that anything associated with your comeback in 1968 has strongly held its value. When you showed everyone that Las Vegas was for older rockers, you personally changed the city's image in a big way. The menus and handbills from your Hilton shows are very much in demand. And we recently sold some alternative lyrics you scribbled in 1972 for the song "America the Beautiful" for $11,700 at auction.
Elvis: Well, wiggle my hips. One thing I was wondering about. All that stuff I autographed—how did it do?
Gary Sohmers: Well, 90 percent of the memorabilia we see on eBay and elsewhere with your signature on it is probably fake. Forgers have been doing your autograph as long as you have, because it brings in the moolah. If they get caught, they just give the money back and sell the fake to someone less suspecting.
Elvis: I believe I may have gotten arthritis in my wrist from all the times I signed my name.
Gary Sohmers: Well, the stuff you signed with your full name is worth more than the stuff you signed just "Elvis." This painting with your first name, which you signed about 1960, is worth somewhere between $500 and $1,000. Original photographs of the 1954-1957 or 1968-1972 periods signed with your full name can be worth between $1,500 and $2,000.
Elvis: I wish I still had a few of those to sell to pay for my hip replacement. ... Wait a minute—is that my high school report card?
Gary Sohmers: Yes it is, dug out of the trash by a buddy of yours from the Memphis Mafia and given to his son to remember you by. ... And while you're here, I wanted to ask you how you managed to get a C in music your senior year of high school.
Elvis: Well, okay, I'll explain that to you, if you explain something to me. ... What's eBay?
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Collectibles category:
Space "Junk": Buying, Owning, and the Law (Houston, 2006)
Is This the Real Rudolph? (Providence, 2006)
On Track With Railroad Ephemera
Calling All Elvis Fans! ... Got This Photo? (Memphis, 2005)
Cornucopia of Crate Labels
Raging for Roadmaps
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.