Sunday, 26 April 2015

James Bond under the hammer

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had acquired a copy of the catalogue produced for an auction of James Bond-related memorabilia, ephemera, costumes and props at Christie's in September 1998. I discussed one particular item – a collection of scripts owned by Berkely Mather, who contributed to the screenplays of the first three Bond films.
Christie's catalogue for the 1998 Bond auction
This was just one of some 270 lots, which included some very special items. There were vehicles, among them a shell of the submersible Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me, Peter Franks' Triumph Stag from Diamonds Are Forever, and General Ourumov's Gaz Volga limo (which failed to sell) from GoldenEye. Then there golden bullets from The Man With the Golden Gun, a Universal Exports wall plaque from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Oddjob's steel-rimmed bowler hat from Goldfinger, and a pair of briefs owned by Shirley Eaton. And interspersed with the props, costumes and production material were many posters, photos, toys and games, and general memorabilia.

Fortuitously, my copy of the catalogue included a sheet of results, so I was able to compare the original estimate of each lot with its final selling price. The scripts were one of the highlights; they were valued at between £5000 and £8000, but were sold for £18,400. Oddjob's hat (its estimate was available only on request) went for an incredible £62,000. The results raised a few questions in my mind. What were the best selling items? What type of objects represented the best investment? Which Bond films generated the most interest? And how do the results compare with the '50 Years of James Bond' auction held by Christie's in 2012?

To answer these questions, I entered a short description of each lot into a spreadsheet, and assigned a category (prop, costume, poster, toys and games etc.) to each. I entered the selling prices and the average from the estimate range for each item. (Thus for the scripts, I added £5000 and £8000 and divided the result by two to obtain £6500.) I had another field for the difference between the mean estimate and the selling price, then calculated the percentage increase. The selling price of the scripts, for example, represented an increase of 183% on the mean estimate ((£11900 / £6500) x 100).

On this basis, I could see that Oddjob's hat was the most expensive item on the day, while a poster and standee to accompany Smith Crisps' promotion for A View To A Kill was the cheapest lot, selling for £57. However, the item that made the best return relative to its estimate was a commemorative paperweight presented to the cast and crew of Dr No. It was estimated at £250, but sold for £2300, representing an increase of 820%. Excluding items that did not sell, the lot that performed least well, making something of a loss, was a dinner suit worn by Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. It was estimated at £4000, but sold for £1725, a decrease of 57%.

Turning to category, vehicles used in the Bond films were on average the biggest sellers, achieving the highest mean selling price of £8510. Soundtrack albums had the lowest mean selling price, £460. However, looking at the percentage difference, Bond vehicles appear to have been overvalued; the category saw a decrease of 28% based on the difference between the original estimate and final selling price. Books, including a number of Ian Fleming first editions, were considerably undervalued. Out of all the categories, books achieved the highest mean increase of 327%. (I should add that I excluded two items from the 'prop' category – Oddjob's hat and the Lotus Esprit shell – from my calculations, since no estimate was available for them. Consequently, the category's mean increase of 238% is not necessarily accurate.)

The 'best performing' film, as represented by the highest mean selling price of £4475, was Live and Let Die, thanks largely to Bond's modified Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner wristwatch, which sold for £21,850. Bottom of the list of films was Moonraker; items associated with the film sold for an average of £392. The film that saw the largest gains, as measured by percentage increase, was The Man With The Golden Gun, which had the highest mean increase of 263%. The only item attributed solely to For Your Eyes Only – a set of promotional display cases made in Germany – failed to sell (-100%). The next lowest placed film was Licence to Kill, items for which made an average decrease of 24%.

Generally, the Bond films of the 1980s and 1990s were the worst performing films (relatively speaking) in the auction, while key films of the 1960s and 1970s – Dr No, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, Live and Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me – made the highest gains compared with original estimates. While most lots sold for values at least within their estimate ranges, clearly the lots that excited bidders most were those associated with certain Bond films of Sean Connery and Roger Moore – films that saw the introduction of elements that would go on to define and shape the series, and, before the Daniel Craig era, had arguably made the biggest impact on popular culture.

Christie's catalogue for the 2012 auction (image: Christie's)
How might the inclusion of films released since 1998 have affected these results? We can gain an idea of this by looking at the results of Christie's '50 Years of James Bond' online auction held in 2012. In that auction, the lot that achieved the highest selling price (£85,250) was a modified BMW Roadster from The World Is Not Enough. The lowest selling price was a prop pendant from Licence To Kill, which sold for £4375. A lot comprising the set of prop tarot cards and a script from Live and Let Die saw the best return based on its estimate and final price, increasing its value by 2900%.

Listing the films by mean percentage increase, however, we get a somewhat different order to the one based on the 1998 data. Live and Let Die tops the list with its mean increase of 2900%, but Skyfall is second (2225%), Casino Royale (2006) is fifth (1265%), and The Living Daylights and For Your Eyes Only are in the top ten. Octopussy and A View To A Kill occupy middling positions (both with 650%), while Goldfinger is closer to the bottom with a mean increase of 337%.

While this might reflect more realistic estimates for some of the earlier films, particularly in light of the 1998 auction (and it should be noted that all lots sold for considerable sums of money), there appears to be increasing interest in the later films, possibly owing to generational factors (the fans who grew up with the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton films of the 1980s are now in the auction halls), if not to these films gaining cultural respectability. The immediate impact of the extraordinarily well received Casino Royale and the eagerly anticipated Skyfall (the film had not been released at the time of the auction) is obvious.

Analysis of auction data has given us an insight into the changing levels of interest in Bond-related material and individual Bond films. But the data show, above all, that public fascination in the films of James Bond remains as strong as ever.

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