5 and 5, The Oscars edition!

Today we talk with Adam, and discuss his amazing collection of Oscar’s related ephemera!

5 Questions On Your Collection

1. What do you collect?

Tickets and other paper and related materials from the Academy Awards.  Basically, there are several categories of items that I chase after:

–Tickets to the Academy Awards ceremony;

–Tickets to the Board of Governors Ball: the Academy’s official after-show party and has been held every year since the 30th Academy Awards [1958]. These tickets are even more challenging than Oscars tickets because there are fewer of them–not everyone who attends the ceremony is invited;

–Invitations to the ceremony and/or ball.

–Passes: the Academy prints up a wide variety of access passes to allow the working press and show participants backstage access to various parts of the theatre and party.  The pinnacle of pass collecting is the “Academy Official” badges and passes category, which are basically all-access passes and are the rarest, for obvious reasons.

–Paper ephemera: There is actually a wide variety of items that are associated with the Academy Awards.  Members of the Academy receive a ballot to vote their choices, screening schedules, membership cards, and all sorts of solicitations from studios.  There are also a wide variety of decorative and collectible ephemeral items like ticket envelopes, auto passes, and so on.

–Programs: I have actually stopped collecting the more recent ones because they are no longer limited to attendees but can be purchased from the Academy directly, hence are not rare.  Older programs are quite a challenge to locate.  There are also menus from the various Board of Governors Ball events that are very difficult to find and present a nice challenge for a collector.

2. Why do you collect this?

I backed into it, really.  For about a decade when I was a teenager my father’s company was the outside public relations agency for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. My father, who was president of the company, sat on the Academy’s Public Relations committee and he and my mother had to attend the Oscars every year as a business thing.  Big sacrifice, right?  They would bring home tickets to the show and the Board of Governors Ball afterwards, programs [some of which had his name in them], backstage passes, and swag bags of goodies given away to attendees at the Ball.  I more or less was gifted with a collection and I was just enough of a packrat to keep nearly everything.  Even so, I wish I’d been more diligent about saving some of the “swag” items, like the candies shaped as the Oscar, as they have now become quite scarce and coveted collectibles.  In my defense, they did taste good.

Owing to my father’s involvement in the show I have always been a big fan of the Oscars.  I get excited every year.  I’d guess that I am the only straight man in the world who is not in the movie business and who actually watches all of the pre-shows and the full Oscars show every year.  I am often the only male in the room in an Oscars viewing party.  One of the great things about collecting Oscars stuff is that there is a new batch of items every year to chase after.  The weeks following the Oscars are very busy Ebay time for me.

3. Is it displayed? 

Not really.  A few of the items are displayed at my office but most are not.  I am not big into displaying items.  I tend to enjoy flat items like tickets stored in orderly albums that I can sit down and peruse at my leisure.

4. Do you have a “Holy Grail” or “White Whale?”

I think every collector has wish list items and realistic items.  The “best” wish list item an Oscars memorabilia collector could ever hope to own is an Oscar statuette.  Even with tremendous financial resources–which I do not have–the odds of owning one are infinitesimal.  All Oscars issued after 1950 are accompanied by a contract that requires the winner or his/her heirs to sell it back to the Academy for a buck if it ever to be offered for sale.  That came to light in a lawsuit filed against the daughter of Orson Welles, who wanted to sell her father’s statuette and was sued by the Academy [which lost because the statuette involved was a pre-1950 version].  Consequently, any Oscar that hits the market legitimately is a pre-1950 statuette.  Also, it appears that Steven Spielberg has undertaken to buy back Oscars on behalf of the Academy, so the prices they realize have escalated to the point where it is unreasonable to hope for one.  A sale in 2012 of a dozen statuettes went over $3 million.

I would happily settle for a “genuine” replica, which I will explain.  There was one Academy-sanctioned Oscar replica, a mini-Oscar made as a swag item for the 11th Academy Awards that was placed at each attendee’s place setting at the banquet tables [the Oscars at that time were dinner-dances held at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, not theatrical shows–that changed only after radio broadcasts of the show became popular].  When the mini-Oscars surface, they sell for thousands but there are no contractual restrictions on trading in them and several hundred were made, so obtaining one is a realistic hope.  Another replica was made by Paramount in 1935 to commemorate its first Oscar win but it is not clear that it was sanctioned by the Academy.  I’d take one of those too.

Barring an Oscar or one of the “genuine” replicas, my realistic want list is for any Academy Awards ceremony ticket that predates the end of World War II.  According to the Academy’s library, which I contacted for help with setting my collecting goals, there may have been tickets issued as far back as the early ceremonies, though no collectors I know have ever seen any and none are known in the public realm.  The earliest known ticket at present is from the 16th Academy Awards held in 1944 as an informal event at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood [I suspect it was informal in deference to the war].

5. Any great stories or experiences as you’ve collected this?

Two come to mind:

When I was in college my father called me shortly before a spring break and told me that I was working over the holiday at his office clearing out old file cabinets and moving furniture.  When I got there and started working I realized that what I was clearing was decades of files relating to the Academy Awards shows.  As a collector I instantly understood the value and significance of the materials I was supposed to trash.  I asked if I could keep any of the items destined for the trash and was given the OK, and I ended up going home with an entire carload of thousands of items: programs, posters, passes, invitations, buttons, backstage materials, pictures, etc.  I even got two of the “envelopes” from the awards shows themselves.  I parlayed that find into a business selling movie memorabilia at Hollywood collectibles shows, which I ran until about 1994.  My only regret is that I was not able to take everything and carefully sort it out at my leisure, as I am certain that I missed some great items.  I know for sure that I stupidly threw away stacks of response cards that were the RSVPs that the Academy members sent back to reserve tickets.  Many of them of course would have been filled out by actors, directors and other notables.  I’ve seen such items sell for quite a bit, so who knows how many great items I trashed that day.

My other story comes from when I was doing Hollywood memorabilia shows.  A customer put me in contact with the heir to the estate of Dory Schary, who you may recall from his cameo in one of the I Love Lucy episodes that was set in Hollywood.  Isadore “Dory” Schary was the head of production and later president of MGM.  He was also a packrat of the first order.  His house in West Hollywood was crammed to the rafters with movie memorabilia, and we are talking some of the greatest items imaginable.  I was give the lead because he had some Academy Awards materials he was interested in selling.

I met with the heir at Schary’s old house.  To set the stage, when I walked into the home into the living room, an entire wall was covered in caricatures of Joan Crawford–who had been a personal friend–done by every major caricaturist and cartoonist of the era.  The bookshelves were filled with signed books on Hollywood, all gifts to Schary.  The walls were covered with large format signed photos of MGM stars.  I recall a 16 x 20 black and white fully inscribed photo of Fred Astaire that was tucked away in one hallway corner, for example.  It was a museum-quality piece.  There were tens of thousands of items of incalculable value falling out of every drawer and cabinet.  In the attic, he had a glass negative archive of MGM behind the scenes materials, including what he said were Samuel Goldwyn’s personal photos.  An artists’ portfolio he produced from a closet contained the original artwork that was used to make the lobby cards for Gone With The Wind.  It was mind-blowing.

The Oscars material I was there to look at wasn’t extraordinary, especially as compared to the museum of Hollywood treasures I’d been shown, just a stack of paper ephemera–ballots, screening schedules, etc.–but did include a couple of Schary’s Academy membership cards.  I bought it all without really going through it.  The surprise was when I went home.  I opened a fold-out poster-sized screening schedule and out tumbled a pair of unused tickets to the 45th Academy Awards!

5 Questions On Collecting

1. How do you acquire your material? Auctions? Trades? Dealers? Shows?

It varies.  Mostly I acquire things through Ebay and auction houses because as a professional and family man I simply don’t have the time I would like to go antique and thrift store hopping.  That said, when it comes to Oscars stuff, one of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that it all took place right here, which means that items that were handed out at the Oscars and anything salvaged from the trash typically went to Los Angeles residents, and the best odds of finding something Oscars-related at random would be around Los Angeles.  I always ask about movie memorabilia at any antique store I visit in town.  I once walked into a junk store near my office in Burbank, asked the owner if he had any Oscars memorabilia, and he pulled out a pair of programs to the 50th Academy Awards ceremony which I purchased for a few bucks.  I’ve had really nice items pop up in local antique and thrift stores, at paper collectibles shows, and even at sports memorabilia shows.

2. Do you have any collecting philosophies? Strategies?

Rarity, rarity, rarity.  I try to collect items that are genuinely and objectively scarce.  And there is nothing like talking to a non-collector who shares an interest in something, like the Academy Awards, and being able to pull out a ticket from the actual Oscars show where their favorite movie won the Best Picture award.  That “holy crap” moment is immensely satisfying for any collector.  If something is mainstream or commonplace but I want to have it, I try to obtain it as cheaply as possible and I patiently wait for a good deal.

I do not believe in the concept of “condition rarity” where the value of an item is dictated not by scarcity but by its condition relative to similar items.  There are inevitably finds of better conditioned items that kill the value of condition rarities.

3. What’s your favorite/least favorite part of collecting?

My favorite part of any collecting is the camaraderie I share with fellow collectors.  Most of my friends are “hobby friends” who share the same defective collecting gene that I have.

I am also an organizer and researcher by nature and habit, so delving into the history of an item and unraveling the backstory is often the most fun.  I have been fortunate enough to have fallen into collecting niches [Academy Awards, boxing cards www.americasgreatboxingcards.com] that are not well-documented and that have allowed me to both accumulate extraordinary items at price levels with which I am comfortable as well as to research and publish information that was lost or unknown.  I have several articles and books on card collecting to my credit.

Another thing I enjoy immensely is the entrepreneurial buzz of finding an item, understanding its significance and value, and flipping it for a big profit.  I have had my own business for nearly two decades where I make my living but I get more of a kick out of finding an item worth a few hundred dollars in a junk box at a flea market than I do out of making many times that at my trade.

The thing I like the least about collecting is when the collectible field in which I am engaged hits a tipping point where prices rise to levels that mean I cannot realistically hope to own the items I want.  Although I remain active to some extent, I gravitated away from primarily collecting pre-war baseball cards over the last 10-15 years because the influx of collectors whose day jobs are in financial services and investing pushed the prices on the cards so high that I could no longer hope to complete many card sets.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not begrudging those wealthier collectors their passions–we are all the same brand of nerd when you come right down to it–but it is frustrating to me as a collector when I cannot put together the collection that I want to have.  For example, when I started out collecting in the late 1970s, the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, which is the most valuable card, was available for several thousand dollars.  A decade later, my first job out of law school in 1990 paid me $48,000 a year and although the Wagner card had increased tremendously, I could have hoped with some thrift and time to save enough money to buy one.  Now, with all but the most destroyed versions of the card selling for more than my house does, I cannot delude myself into believing I could ever own one.  That sort of inflation has spread through the baseball card market.  As a result, there are more and more cards carrying four, five and even six figure price tags, and I am simply priced out of more and more of the cards I want.  As a collector knowing that I cannot hope to own so many items is a real bummer.

The Oscars memorabilia field is one where I am able to realistically compete for anything short of an Oscar statuette.  The problem of course is finding the materials in the first place.  I have literally been collecting Academy Awards tickets for 30 years and I am still far from a complete run.

4. Did you collect anything as a child?

Brother, did I ever!  Sports cards, rocks and fossils, even bugs.  In my view, collectors are born, not made.  My daughter is not a collector and neither is my wife. I’ve given my daughter cards in fields she loves [like dance or movies] but it doesn’t spur her to collect.  They treat my collecting bug as a mild form of social disability or mental illness.

5. Any advice on collecting? 

Definitely:

Learn before you leap.  As Gordon Gekko said in Wall Street, the most valuable commodity of all is information.  There is a lot of great information out there on virtually anything you could choose to collect, but you have to do your homework.  Knowing what I am looking at has saved me from making bad purchases to be sure but more importantly, it has helped me to identify and pick up extremely rare items that I might have otherwise missed.  In any collecting field ignorance is not bliss.

Be nice to people.  It is such a simple, obvious thing, but so many people get so wound up in their own heads that they forget that collecting is often a networking game.  Even if you get taken advantage of occasionally, keep doing it for selfish reasons.  You never know who knows who and what they might be able to send your way, and it only takes one lead to make the score of a lifetime.  When I was setting up and dealing Academy Awards memorabilia at Hollywood collectibles show I made the acquaintance of a retired reporter who had a few items, pretty decent, that he wanted to sell.  I purchased the items for a fair price but I also spent the time to be nice to him because I could see that he was older and a bit lonely.  After several shows he mentioned that he knew the heir to the Dory Schary estate that I mentioned above and put me in contact with him.  Had I been brusque or rude with the reporter I’d never have gotten to see that estate.

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Wow, Adam! Some really great information there, and I really enjoyed your in-depth answers. Thanks so much for sharing your collecting with us!

I’d show photos, but Adam has plenty available on his website, so you should definitely check them all out! Also, if you have any interest in boxing cards, check out his link provided above! Great information!

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About Eye4Collecting

A collector raised in a family of collectors. Sports, movies, books, natural history, magic . . . I love it all.
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