On Tuesday, December 11, the Marilyn Monroe collections of Spanish collector Maite Minquez-Ricart and others were offered at auction by Profiles in History.
The sale, titled “Essentially Marilyn,” included costumes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Prince and the Showgirl, and the Seven Year Itch among others. Also up for grabs were wardrobe pieces, personal items, and original photographs owned by Marilyn. Studio recordings, Marilyn Monroe autographed photos, and Milton Greene prints of Monroe rounded out the sale. Overall there were 173 individual lots offered in the auction. It was billed as a “last chance opportunity” as “no other private collection contained the breadth and scope (of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia) presented” in this sale.
But, perhaps a tagline of “second to last chance opportunity” would have been more accurate and appropriate. Why? An astonishing number of items went unsold. Sixty-four of the 173 lots had no takers. That’s a whopping 37.3% of items not selling.
I’m used to writing about Marilyn Monroe memorabilia breaking records at auction for sky high prices. This is the first time I’ve ever written about Marilyn Monroe items not selling at all.
I watched the action online and was literally glued to the proceedings, but it wasn’t because of the usual excitement surrounding a Marilyn Monroe auction. It was due to the sheer disbelief and dismay at the number of lots not selling. Why did one out of every three lots not sell? Plain and simple, there were very few buyers. Usually, there are multiple bidders competing for Marilyn Monroe memorabilia at auction, and if an item doesn’t sell its because it didn’t reach its reserve (the minimum amount the seller is willing to accept). The Profiles in History auction was very different. It wasn’t an issue of lots not reaching the reserve. Incredibly, most of the unsold items didn’t even get one bid.
While some of the lots in the auction had questionable provenance, (Marilyn Monroe’s swan ashtray for example), most of the items offered were verifiable costumes from Marilyn’s films, and several of the items were originally sold at the 1999 Christie’s auction, “The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe.” Here is a rundown of just some of the lots that didn’t sell. Items like these would normally would garner a bidding frenzy:
IS MARILYN STILL COLLECTIBLE?
With over 37% of high-end Marilyn Monroe items not selling at the Profiles in History auction, the logical question is, “Has Marilyn lost her luster in the collecting world?” Marilyn Monroe has always been highly collectible and a “bankable investment,” hasn’t she? Marilyn memorabilia ranks at the top, along with the Beetles and Michael Jackson, right?
The answer is still resoundingly yes, proven simply by results from the Julien’s entertainment memorabilia auction, held a mere 25 days before the Profiles in History auction.
By way of comparison, Julien’s offered 150 Marilyn Monroe lots, compared to 173 Monroe lots offered by Profiles in History. Of the 150 lots offered by Julien’s, 97.3% sold, compared to only 62.7% of Marilyn Monroe items being sold by Profiles in History. The Julien’s auction saw multiple bidders on nearly all items, many of which greatly exceeded auction estimates. Some items sold for sky-high prices, for example, Marilyn’s 1962 Golden Globe award had a final hammer price of $200,000.00. This actually EXCEEDED the amount the award sold for in 1999.
Also, on November 12, J. Greenstein & Co, Inc., an auction house specializing in “antique Jewish ritual objects and art,” (and completely unknown to the entertainment memorabilia collecting world) sold Marilyn Monroe’s Jewish prayer book for $26,250.00.
The Profiles in History auction had some lots selling for $100,000.00, but no single item exceeded that $100,000.00 hammer price.
How can there be such a huge difference in outcomes in Marilyn Monroe auction results between two well-known companies in just 25 days?
WITH PROFILES IN HISTORY, IT WAS MORE THAN MARILYN MONROE THAT WENT UNSOLD
Analysis shows that with Profiles in History it wasn’t just the Marilyn Monroe memorabilia that took a hit. PIH offered 2,111 lots in their entertainment memorabilia sale, which lasted four days (December 11-14, 2018). Only 1,259 of their lots sold. A whopping 40.4% of the items PIH offered in this auction didn’t sell. By comparison, Julien’s Auctions sold an impressive 95.6% of 705 lots offered in its own entertainment memorabilia sale on November 11, again, just 25 days earlier. For more details on overall results from the Profiles in History auction, visit the Original Prop Blog here.
How can these results be so different? In my opinion there were a few issues attributing to such poor results for the Marilyn items at Profiles in History.
First, the Prince and the Showgirl costume displayed at the “Essentially Marilyn” exhibit at the Paley Center was not the same gown that was to be sold at auction (at least not initially).
Fans and collectors were immediately confused as to how PIH could be exhibiting Marilyn’s costume from this film when the costume owned by Mingez-Ricart was actually on exhibit in Europe at the same time it was allegedly on display in Los Angeles.
The Showgirl costume exhibited at the Paley Center, while authentic, was not owned by Maite. The gown exhibited was actually from the collection of a different collector, and it was in better condition than the one being sold at the auction. (Bait and switch?)
Second, multiple Marilyn Monroe costumes from past PIH auctions have caused concern and surfaced doubt among the collecting community. Twice now I’ve written about high profile Marilyn Monroe costumes sold by PIH that were questionable for various reasons. Specifically, the Travilla designed white halter-top costume from the Seven Year Itch. “Monroe Frock Fetches Millions, But Was It THE Dress?”
The Seven Year Itch costume PIH sold in 2011, which was owned by Debbie Reynolds, was significantly altered from the gown Marilyn wore in the film, which caused a great deal of confusion. The dress sold at auction just didn’t look the same as the dress worn in the film.
I’m still contacted today by people wanting to know whether or not PIH sold the actual dress. Interestingly, the Profiles in History website originally reported having sold this costume for $4.6M. After Julien’s Auctions sold the Marilyn Monroe Happy Birthday Mr. President dress in 2016 for $4,810,000, the Profiles in History website now states the dress was sold for $5.52M. And, with that, questions remain as to whether or not the dress was ever paid for following that auction.
While the Essentially Marilyn auction turned out to be not so essential after all, the fact is the Marilyn Monroe collecting market is actually quite solid and strong as demonstrated by the results of auctions taking place less than a month before the PIH sale. Julien’s sold 97.3% of Marilyn Monroe lots, and 95.6% of all lots in its entertainment memorabilia auction. Profiles in History sold only 62.7% of Marilyn Monroe lots, and only 59.6% of all lots in its own auction. With such significant variances in results, one can logically assume these kinds of stark differences are attributable only to the auction company itself, and not the memorabilia being sold. I know Maite personally. I had the honor of displaying my own collection with hers in Australia in 2016. I’d hoped for a better outcome for her with this auction. Hopefully we’ll see these items up for sale again at a company offering better chances of success.