In prior issues of HORROR-WOOD, we explored the world of collecting posters and lobby cards, as well as collecting autographs with Dennis, of "The Harry Thomas Web Page." Now, we're entering a whole new strata of...
(Dennis, an avid collector who has contributed a very special movie prop collectible to the Harry Thomas Halloween Horror Art Contest, kindly consented to be interviewed on the subject of collecting movie props and other memorabilia. The interview follows below.)
HORROR-WOOD: Dennis, I've heard of collecting movie memorabilia like posters, lobby cards, and autographs, but collecting movie props seems unique. How long have you collected props and what got you started?
DENNIS: Renfield, prop collecting can be a unique hobby. Many of the low-budget movies from long ago only made one of each prop. Unlike today where multiple copies of major props are made in case one is lost, stolen or damaged. Here is a wonderful story... I am not sure if it is true or not but it sounds very possible. Years ago, Clint Eastwood was filming one of his spaghetti westerns in Italy and someone stole his famous hat. It wouldn't make sense for his character to change hats in the middle of the movie for no reason so filming was stopped for several days while a replacement hat was found in a local shop. I got started collecting props in the late 1980's. The first prop I ever got was the head alien's eyes from Killers From Space. They arrived in the mail with Harry Thomas' return address on the package and the rest is history.
HW: You have an extensive collection of movie props, some of them tied to the memory of makeup maestro Harry Thomas. Which of the props from Harry Thomas are you fondest of? Which would you consider your "top prop" of all?
D: I think my favorite Harry Thomas prop has to be the eyes of the head alien from Killers From Space. I was very excited to get them and it was a thrill to hear Harry tell the story about how he attached thread to the eyes and placed them over a second set of eyes. Then he pulled on the string to move the eyes for the camera. It is a very clever effect and you can see the eyes move a little in the finished movie. I later found an original 8x10 still of the head alien and you can see that he is wearing both sets of eyes. My favorite prop changes sometimes when I get something new but I think I like my hockey mask from Friday the 13th Part 6 or my Mantis from The Deadly Mantis best.
HW: I've heard of movie props at auctions going for many hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Can an average person with an average income afford to collect props?
D: Props can sell for huge amounts of money at auctions but this is usually the result of two bidders getting carried away. I usually avoid the big auctions because Planet Hollywood and other big bidders drive the prices above my reach. There are some great bargains out there if you search. I've bought props for between $5 and $1,500 so it depends on what you are looking for and how badly you want a specific prop.
HW: Which kind of props are most collectible--costumes, set dressing items, weapons, gadgets? Which kind are likely to appreciate faster in value?
D: All of these items are collectible and can increase in value. I don't collect very many costumes because they are difficult to display unless you buy mannequins. Set dressing items are fun to collect and are usually the least expensive. Weapons are very collectible and expensive especially if you have a "working" weapon used in close ups as opposed to the "non working" model that was carried by the actor during most of the film. It is usually made of a lightweight material. The "Sandman" gun that shoots fire is an example of a "working weapon". There are a lot of replica weapons out there so be careful. I like collecting props that were seen on the finished film and instantly recognizable by anyone who saw the film. For example, many props from Titanic are for sale on the Internet. I'd rather have a life vest from Titanic than a butter knife from the dining room scene. FYI--Some people have been searching the dump in Mexico looking for Titanic props.
HW: What about having celebrities autograph props? Does it affect the value of the props?
D: I like having the celebrity who used the prop autograph it. It really helps with the authentication and will make it more valuable. You might want to have it autographed on the back so it doesn't interfere with the display.
HW: Is there any kind of "price guide" to movie props that you use? Are price guides useful in determining a fair price to pay for a prop?
D: I am not aware of any price guide for movie props. The best way to determine the value is to ask around (other prop collectors), shop around, and watch the auction houses.
HW: What are good sources to buy props from? Do you have anyone specifically to recommend? What should a novice buyer take into consideration when dealing with dealers and private owners of movie props?
D: The Internet has been a great source of props for me recently. I like to shop at Ebay http://www.ebay.com . You can view the feedback on sellers at Ebay to give you an idea on if the seller is honest or not.
HW: How can you authenticate props? How can you discern a "real" Star Trek prop from a reproduction? Are there professionals who can authenticate props?
D: Authenticating props can be difficult sometimes. First, buy from someone you feel you can trust. Try to buy props from people who worked on the finished film. If their name is in the credits, that is another plus. Ask for a few behind-the-scenes photos from the seller if he worked on the film. These photos will help authenticate the prop and verify that he was actually on the set of the movie. Ask for references and follow up. ALWAYS get a letter of authenticity from the seller with details like where he got it from, was it used on film or was it an extra prop, etc. Usually the more I am paying for a prop, the more authentication I'll want with it. Show the prop around and ask others for their opinion. Take your new Star Trek prop to a Star Trek Convention and show it to some of the dealers selling reproductions and ask for their opinion. If there is a cast member from Star Trek signing autographs, have the item with you and ask for their opinion too. Get as many opinions as you can but keep in mind that that's all they are is opinions. Here's a story to tie it all together... I used to own a pink nightgown that was worn by Lilly Munster in The Munsters TV series. I sent photos to Yvonne DeCarlo and she wrote back saying that she wore it in the series. I asked several people who specialize in wardrobe pieces and they both said it looked good. Then I talked to a self proclaimed "Munsters expert" who is "the foremost authority on Munsters props and is often asked to authenticate Munsters props for the big auction houses." He went on and on about how Yvonne DeCarlo is now an old drunk and she wouldn't know what she wore in the series anymore, etc., etc. My point is that sometimes even the experts don't agree.
HW: What kind of prop (hopefully not too expensive) would you recommend a "newbie" to look for to being his or her collection?
D: Search Ebay and some of the other online auctions, then buy what you like and can afford.
HW: Any final words on the subject of collecting movie props?
D: Yes, prop collecting should be fun. Buy the props you like and can afford and display them for you, your family and friends can enjoy. If anyone has questions regarding props or where they can find that special prop, they can e-mail me.
Thanks as always, Dennis! This interview should "prop" up the plans (ouch!) of horrors fans wanting to venture into collecting props. Cheers!