Unrealistic Prices being asked for Elvis Memorabilia

On a regular basis EIN examines a new release or issue in the Elvis world. In this edition we shine our spotlight on: Fans Beware - Unrealistic Prices Being Asked for Elvis Items!

The past decade has seen an increasing number of fans trying to sell their Elvis collections. They are doing this for a variety of reasons although one seems to predominate: as many fans get older they are asking the question - what will my family do with my collection when I pass away?

In the late 1980s EIN received around one enquiry every three months about how to sell an Elvis collection or parts of a collection.

Today we receive more than one a week! In the late 1980s there were buyers – today there it is very difficult to find a buyer particularly if the collection does not include rare items. Most buyers tend to be established collectors and they prefer to ‘cherry pick’ particular items rather than buy an entire collection.

While the free market will generally establish buying and selling prices, EIN is concerned that some fans are paying significantly more for items than they should. This occurs due to ignorance about an items real worth and the lure that “this item is a very rare, limited edition, collector’s item”.

Many fans are unaware of how much their collection is worth and what are the best ways to sell it. The really worrying aspect is that some fans have very unrealistic expectations about the value of their collection (either in part or as a whole). Many believe that because a release was marketed as a ‘limited edition, collector’s item’ it is necessarily valuable. In most cases this is not true. A good example is Elvis collector’s plates. These porcelain plates are ‘limited editions’ based on the number of firing days for each plate. Unfortunately two things work against their value rising appreciably:

1. you don’t know how many kilns were used to manufacture them during the ‘firing days’ period (it could have been 1 or 100); and

2. there now around 150 (and growing) different Elvis collectors plates that have been released, meaning few are going to rise in value due to the high numbers available. In fact many of the plates are still available from the distributor at the base retail price, ie. they haven’t ‘sold out’.

One Australian fan club president has had to reduce the asking price of her plate collection to half its original purchase price in order to attract buyers!

What is generally regarded as the original Elvis collector’s plate, ‘Elvis at the Graceland Gates’, has doubled in value since its release in the late 1980s but it is the exception rather than the rule.

An even worse situation exists with Elvis vinyl and CDs. Since 1954 there have been probably at least 5,000 different Elvis vinyl and CD releases worldwide. With so many released not surprisingly high supply acts to dampen price. So unless you have an original Sun single, original 1950s release or ultra rare 60s release in very good condition it is unlikely you will receive much for your record or CD.

It is a reality that Elvis was the first mass merchandised star and marketers continue to flood the market with Elvis product - in 1956 more than 100 lipsticks, lunch boxes, scarves, trinkets, badges etc were sold, today DVD box-sets, half a dozen new Elvis CDs (not to mention many more released overseas), re-releases of his videos, a dozen collectors plates, 20 new book titles, a dozen calendars etc, are issued in the USA each and every year! And remember when Elvis was alive, the days of three new Elvis albums and four or five singles each year? We loved it at the time but the downside is so much product means reduced values!!

The marketers behind other major acts like The Beatles, Michael Jackson and David Bowie got it right. Sure at the height of each act’s fame there were numerous trinkets etc to be bought, but on an ongoing basis product relating to each act has been rationalised. How many albums do The Beatles, Bowie or Michael Jackson release each year? One if you are lucky.

The situation with Elvis has always been very different. If you look at ‘celebrity’ auctions, recorded material by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix regularly fetches much higher prices than Elvis material (Sun singles being the exception). RCA recently acknowledged that they had got it wrong over the past decade by re-packaging numerous greatest hits packages and simply releasing too many Elvis CDs. The result: annual unit sales have dropped significantly.

In future we can expect to see a more restricted and controlled CD release schedule from RCA. There has also been a proliferation of promo or sampler CDs in recent years. While the guide price for these is significant few sales occur at that price, rather many are ‘traded’ by established collectors wanting to obtain other rare releases.

One of the services offered by EIN is valuing Elvis collections. We base our estimates on the plethora of price guides available and recent sales through Elvis dealers. Fans are often very disappointed when they see our market valuations. Some steadfastly believe their collection or particular items are worth considerably more.

Recently EIN observed fans wanting to sell items for far in excess of their real worth. One example is a signed copy of the Ed Parker book, Inside Elvis. The fan didn’t like our valuation of $40.00 believing that they can obtain around $100.00. It is a fact that Ed Parker personally signed many copies of his book but unfortunately his autograph doesn’t raise the value by much. While you might find someone willing to pay a high price the reality is that 90% of sales occur either at or less than price guide values.

Also, there are more than 1,500 books that have been published about Elvis. Very few of these are valuable. Another example is a fan trying to sell the Australian box-set, in cassette form, of Elvis The Legend 1954-1961 Volume 1 plus a bonus cassette featuring coverage of the Vancouver Canada Press Conference and other interviews such as Witchita Falls, the TV Guide interview and Elvis Sails. The asking price: A$2,000.00!

The fan suggests “that to the best of my knowledge no further volumes were published”, when in fact it was part of a four volume series. The price guide value for a mint condition ‘vinyl’ set of Elvis The Legend 1954-1961 is A$65.00. Cassette versions usually sell for less than vinyl releases.

The material on the additional cassette is reasonably accessible in CD format for around A$30.00, although you would have to buy two CDs to obtain all material on the cassette.

Around the 25th anniversary commemoration when media and public interest in Elvis was at very high level one fan advertised his entire Elvis collection (nearly 200 items) in the newspaper for A$4,000.00. He received no offers.

A popular way of selling Elvis items is on one of the online auction sites like ebay.com or amazon.com. However, while this exposes your item(s) to a large, global audience there are literally thousands of Elvis items for sale and if you analyse activity on the sites only a minority of items receive even one bid.

Verdict: EIN recommends that when in doubt, before buying Elvis items fans should consult a price guide or their local fan club for pricing information. Shop around and critically analyse claims that items are rare limited editions. Remember an item may be rare but it doesn’t automatically follow that the price is therefore high.

This edition of Spotlight on The King was prepared by Nigel Patterson, President, Elvis Information Network, © 2002

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