My hints and tips for collecting movie memorabilia on a budget.
Part three of my Definitive guide to screen used props. This doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, especially for those of you just starting out. So please read on for my best tips on collecting movie memorabilia on a budget!
In this post I focus mainly on production made / used props and wardrobe. I share my tips to save you money, give some entry level ideas, discuss where and how to look for inexpensive memorabilia and offer some handy hints and first steps to help you establish industry contacts.
Keeping it real
First, always opt for an original authentic piece! For example, If you can’t afford the whole “Krayt Dragon” skeleton (who could?), settle for a small inexpensive piece of it! It’s still real, and nothing will ever beat real!
Where to start
- Trading cards are a great inexpensive entry to owning props and wardrobe. You can expect to find relic pieces, costume swatches, autographs, etc. There are thousands to choose from. They are inexpensive, take up a brief amount of space and are easy to display.
- Production “Set Dec Sales” (liquidation sales) are where and when production used props & wardrobe are at their cheapest! Production just want it cleared out! Check your local studios and production companies’ Facebook pages etc for early notification of sales. Often, local auction houses are used. Contact your local auction houses & join their mailing lists.
- Place a “Wanted to buy” notice on your local Facebook / Gumtree marketplace, stipulate what you collect. By doing this, you are inviting direct contact with the seller and effectively removing a lot of competition.
- Props & wardrobe can often end up in thrift & charity shops. It’s always worth a look. It’s surprising just how many pieces (along with “production crew gifts” such as caps / shirts etc) you’re likely to come across.
For example, I once owned an outfit worn by Andy Serkis for his hilarious 2003 MTV Awards acceptance speech – Here on YouTube. He’d donated it to a charity shop, it sold & subsequently made its way to the Prop Store. A hand signed note on a postcard accompanied the piece.
- Estate sale items of memorabilia, are generally always worth more to the poor soul who collected them, than to the eager people who are now disposing of them. This is so true of screen used props & wardrobe. You will very likely pick up bargains here. Remembering We are very much a part of a “niche” hobby that has relatively little understanding from those people outside of the hobby.
As a side note, I continually stress the importance and value of my own collection to my children. This is to prevent my wife from hiring and filling a giant skip bin when my time comes!!! [I jest sweetheart]!
Gotta have friends
- Make friends in this hobby! Join social media communities and let members know what type of memorabilia you are collecting and have them look out on your behalf. Invite them to tip you off about pieces they’ve passed on – maybe those pieces interest you! I personally know of many collectors who will offer an incentive or spotter’s fee in order to find that special item!
- Once you’ve established a group of friends, look at “splitting up” buys between members of your group. Buying a “job lot” privately or at auction and sharing pieces among your group, can seriously reduce your individual spend.
- Shameless plug! My ebay store always has lots of great inexpensive pieces! Please check it out if you’re interested in collecting movie memorabilia on a budget.
Best buying experience
- In my experience, the more passionate collectors are, the more realistic their prices. Let me explain: A collector always wants to improve the “collection” generally by selling pieces to acquire better pieces. Most collectors, I know, usually lose (or at best, break even). Unlike dealers, they’re less about profit and more about the hobby. I shudder at how many hours and repeated viewings it’s taken for me to “screen match” particular pieces that I end up selling for less than fifty bucks! That is definitely not a good hourly rate! However, over time, I get to invest in a better piece.
- Dealers who are “passionate collectors” are the best to deal with! They both understand what you want & will often have what you want (or know where to locate it)! They will happily “deal” with new collectors to them get started in the hobby. Please ask about dealers I’d recommend!
- As a general rule, I suggest you steer away from “make me an offer” deals. The seller knows what price they want and they are simply hoping you will offer more. Only offer a price if the seller provides a starting price & invites lower offers.
- Most Tradesmen, Production Assistants & Crew members are contracted only to the completion of a particular film or project. So between engagements, they have lives outside of the industry. That includes having the odd garage / yard sale. Don’t be surprised if you discover the odd prop or piece of set decoration at their home, in their shed or workshop, etc.
- I was once checking Facebook marketplace garage sale ads and noticed, in the background of one photo, an instantly recognisable piece from a major blockbuster. It was production made (unpainted). I contacted the seller, who explained he had worked as a set painter on two (huge) films! My excitement somewhat amused him, but he was however able to offer me some really nice production made pieces & even a couple of delightful crew gifts he’d received.
- If you get the chance to acquire a piece directly from a member of a production, check their IMDB (Internet Movie Database) page entry. Not only does that help establish their bona fides, it will give you an insight into other productions they’ve worked on. Chances are they will respect that you’ve researched their work & they may be open to discussing their other projects, which may result in more leads to more items.
- An excellent example of this: I responded to a Gumtree ad with the seller offering a hand signed (by the cast) movie script from a favourite film of mine. I asked him about provenance. He happened to be the producer! I picked up the script and through further conversations it turned out he had been storing props and wardrobe from several of his productions that he was willing to let go. It pays to engage!
I’m happy to say I regularly get calls from my industry contacts who offer me pieces from time to time.
Please remember, In order to maintain relationships with production crew, be discreet and never be pushy! It’s also okay to ask for a note of provenance but don’t always expect to receive one.
Being a part of this hobby, we have the opportunity to meet and connect with some amazing people involved in the film industry, along with some awesome collectors. I hope this guide helps you in collecting movie memorabilia on a budget!
Check out my “YourProps” page to see more of my collection.