As fans reeled with news of Michael Jackson’s unexpected death June 25, collectors and speculators watched a spike in prices for memorabilia and collectibles draw new items to market and prompt a warning from experts to beware of fake autographs.
The speed with which dealers posted Jackson memorabilia spoke to the power of the Internet, with eBay, TIAS and private online collectibles Web sites all seeing new Jackson items listed within days after the death. Within just 24 hours after the death of the King of Pop, nearly 26,000 results for Michael Jackson could be found on eBay.
Nostalgia fans were searching for more.
Michael Jackson dolls from the 1980s, the pinnacle of the entertainer’s career, were attracting bids despite a seemingly ample supply. A boxed Michael Jackson doll dressed in the “Beat It” costume had received 27 bids, pushing the winning bid to $305. A like doll wearing the costume like the one Michael appeared in at the 1984 American Music Awards had received 15 bids going to $530. Both dolls remained sealed in the original packaging marked “MJJ Productions Inc.”
One week before his death Jackson items languished on eBay.
A pair of lightly used L.A. Gear Michael Jackson buckle and lace shoes from the 1980s sold for only $38.99, even though the seller noted that others had been listed on eBay for $600. The bargain-priced pair came with no box or hang tags.
In London, jersey-style T-shirts picturing a Michael silkscreen and “Thriller” on the front failed to get opening bids of $12.99 before his death, but were selling for as much as $220 apiece afterward.
A scarce Michael Jackson View-Master Gift Set from 1984 that contained a 3-D viewer, three reels, and a white glove decorated with glitter and his name sold for only $39.99 on June 20. A single pack of View-Master reels listed on June 29 sported a sales price of $159.99.
The April 29, 1971, issue of Rolling Stone that pictured an 11-year-old Michael on the cover sold for $102.50 with 21 bids. The Feb. 17, 1983, issue of Rolling Stone pictured Jackson on the cover with the headline, “Life as a Man.” It sold for $50. The March 31, 1977, issue of Jet magazine with a picture of Michael in a recording studio and the headline, “Michael Jackson: A Young Bachelor Married to His Music,” sold for $127.50. A September 1984 Life magazine in near-mint condition featuring Michael dancing on the cover and 12 pages inside devoted to his concert tour sold for $44.
A red jacket modeled after the one Michael wore in the Thriller video had jumped to $560 with 5 1/2 hours left in the bidding. The lightly worn jacket had a Phoenix brand label and was size small. It had a polyurethane shell, and polyester lining. The seller said she bought it in 1983 for her daughter, who seldom wore it. A similar jacket failed to garner a starting bid of $100 early in the week. The seller from Tennessee prophetically wrote, “This jacket will definitely be worth a lot whenever Michael Jackson’s time ends on this earth.”
Gary Sohmers, the self-described King of Pop Culture who appears as an appraiser on the PBS TV program “Antiques Roadshow,” told Antique Trader magazine he does not put much credence in sales results of “completed items” on eBay. That’s because it is impossible to verifying if the an item actually sold and if it was real.
“An accurate reading was Julien’s Auctions sale Friday night in Las Vegas. Twenty-one Michael Jackson items from David Gest’s collection, which had a total estimate of $6,000, sold for $205,000,” said Sohmers.
“The Michael Jackson items that are going to become valuable are the Jackson Five material from 1968 to 1972 or ’73,” said Sohmers. Albums in close to mint condition will be worth around $30; 45rpm singles will remain $1 or $2 apiece, but 45 picture sleeves will be worth $10 to $20 apiece. Big-ticket items will be authentic concert posters and stage costumes.
The Julien’s Auction sale was scheduled for months but coincidently was held the day after Jackson’s death. The sale saw bidders pay $25,000 for a painting of Mickey Mouse Jackson did as a child and a crystal-studded shirt from his 1984 Victory tour sold for $52,500, ahead of its $1,000-$1,500 sales estimate.
Collectibles featuring the King of Pop were mass-produced and mass marketed similar to his music. The brand building that took place in the early ‘80s sparked a Jackson memorabilia craze that, at the time, satisfied collector’s appetite. More than 20 years later, the secondary market is so packed with merchandise that pieces turn up frequently at flea markets, rummage sales and swap meets.
“If you were a Michael Jackson fan in the ‘80s you could have everything you ever wanted – and there was more that you didn’t,” says Rich Spidle, owner of Spidle’s Collectibles of Mechanicsburg, Pa. “We see a lot of Esquire magazines, albums, key chain fobs – you name it.”
One collectible Spidle said should gain in value is the relatively unknown Jackson Halloween costumes produced about 25 years ago. However, items are considered too “new” to be seen at major shows such as the Atlantique City Antiques & Collectibles Show at which Spidle exhibits every year. Spidle said celebrity deaths tend to bring out speculator-like buying habits.
“In 20 years people are going to horde this stuff like the Kennedy assassination newspapers,” he said. “There’s a ton of it because everyone kept it. Unfortunately, it’s worthless – nobody wants it.”
The auction site eBay was the single largest repository for Jackson items to be found on the Net. Numerous Michael Jackson autographs were listed and some were bringing incredible prices. A Boston autograph dealer sold an 11-by-14-inch concert photo signed by Jackson for an asking price of $1,495. A special edition Thriller CD that Michael Jackson autographed for a fan he encountered at a Sam Goody music store in Indianapolis about five years ago sold for the “buy it now price” of $999.99
Several new electric guitars reportedly autographed by Michael were listed with one example having a high bid of $3,999. The seller claimed the signature was authenticated by PSA/DNA.
“This happens every time a famous Hollywood, sports or political celebrity passes away,” said Joe Orlando, President PSA/DNA Authentication Services, the world’s largest autograph and memorabilia authentication company. “Online auctions and flea markets are suddenly filled with spurious signatures, and frankly many collectors don’t know exactly what they’re buying.”
Orlando also cautioned that autograph buyers might not have adequate consumer protection even if the signature is accompanied by what appears to be a certificate of authenticity. “While Michael Jackson certainly was popular, he usually didn’t offer fans frequent autograph access like some other celebrities,” he said. “So, there simply are not as many Jackson autographs as there are of other contemporary mega-stars.” Orlando warned collectors who purchase autographs or memorabilia should know the reputation of the seller and the reputation and expertise of the authenticators. A certificate or letter of authenticity is only as strong as the name behind it, Orlando said.
Within four days after his death, autographpros.com listed three Michael Jackson autographed guitars on TIAS.com, the Web’s virtual antique mall. The guitars, authenticated though a third party and accompanied by photographs, range in value from $2,995 to $5,123.75.
An item often listed was Jackson’s 1982 Thriller, the best-selling album of all time. Examples in complete, near-mint condition were selling from $70 up to an incredible $500. From Motown Records in 1970, the Jackson Five album ABC reached $51.
Toy collectibles were in high supply. A Bubbles the Chimp stuffed toy from the Michael’s Pets line made by Ideal Toy Co. in 1987, sold for $105.50 on the 13th bid. The scarce toy was still with its original box and song cassette tape. Also in the original box, Cool Bear sold for $60.89, Muscles the Snake made $26 and Jeannine the Ostrich sold for only $21.50.
Three pinback buttons, two picturing Michael in the 1980s and the other proclaiming, “I love (heart) Michael Jackson,” received 16 bids climbing to $41.
A box of 1984 Michael Jackson trading cards with all 36 unopened packs of cards, stickers and bubble gum brought $150. The pink box has Michael’s picture on the top. A 1991 Michael Jackson Hollywood Walk of Fame trading card had 17 bids before selling for $50. An identical card sold a minute later for $45. A week earlier packs of 1984 Michael Jackson photo cards and stickers sealed in original packaging did not attain their $4.99 starting bids.
One of the strangest items on eBay was a slice of toast bearing what the seller from Florida claimed was an image of Michael Jackson’s face. Apparently no one else saw the likeness because it failed to garner a $5 starting bid. However, a Cheeto snack the seller thought resembled Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk moves found a buyer for $35.18 … plus shipping.