Elvis Presley Collectibles for Every Budget

By Barry Krause
   “By the latter part of 1956, there were already hundreds of items that appeared in every department store, drugstore, specialty shop and music store in the country. There were bubble gum cards, pin-back buttons, handkerchiefs, dolls, guitars, billfolds, photograph albums and… you could even buy sideburns from a coin-operated machine,” says the Elvis Presley collectibles section of the “Garage Sale & Flea Market Annual” for 2007.
   Elvis Aron Presley (1935-1977) was the first rock music super star, a major influence on pop culture during his career, and continually celebrated even three decades after his death on August 16, 1977.
   I was playing poker at a home game with some friends on the day he died, and one of them came back to our card table and told us, “Elvis Presley just died,” and another one said, “Good riddance!” I didn’t say anything because I didn’t admire Presley as much as I do now, but I knew then that he had been a major player in the game of life which beats any card game any day.
   “His intensely charismatic personal style – the sexy hip shaking that earned him the nickname ‘Elvis the Pelvis’ and the condemnation of television censors, the ducktail haircut, and the characteristic sneer that combined with an aura of vulnerability – excited young fans, especially females, to wild adulation,” says “The Encyclopaedia Britannica.”
   The five original 45 RPM records that Presley recorded for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis were Elvis first commercial records. They were locally popular, but are rare enough now that each one is worth from $1,000 to $5,000 or $6,000, depending on the songs and record condition.
   Presley’s five sun 78s from the same time period of 1954-1955 are also valuable, priced today at $500 to $3,000 each. Watch out for reproductions and counterfeits of the original Presley Sun records, some using genuine out-of-stock Sun labels to fool collectors.
   “Any Sun Elvis recording pressed on colored or swirled vinyl is a reproduction; the originals were pressed only in black. There were never any ‘picture sleeves’ for Elvis Sun recordings [and] legitimate copies of his first four releases have ‘push marks’ – three circles pressed into the label itself,” says “Warman’s American Records” collector guide book.
   After Sam Phillips sold Presley’s recording contract to RCA Victor, the original Sun recordings were reissued with RCA catalog numbers and labels in 1955, but these “first reissues” are now worth only $30 to $60 for each 45, and $75 to $150 for each 78, with the price range for Very Good+ to Near Mint, according to Warman’s.
   However, Warman’s adds that “Presley is one of the very few artists whose company-produced reproductions have collectible value.” Presley’s autographs are also lofty in price, but buy them only from the most ethical sources such as a long-established autograph dealer or auction house, because there are many fakes floating around.
   His signature all by itself on a scrap of paper or page torn from an autograph collector book is worth $500, signed photos of him start at about $1,000, signed albums start at $1,000 also, and documents or typed signed letters begin at well over $1,000.
   “The standard Guide to Collecting Autographs” (1999) by Mark Allen Baker doesn’t even give a price for an “Autograph Letter Signed” (ALS) by Presley, that is, a letter written entirely in his own hand and signed by him. If an authentic Presley ALS should appear at auction, it would attract spirited bidding, especially if it had good contents.
   Presley appeared on endless magazine covers, and these can be found for sale today at about $10 and up. The “TV Guide” from September 8-14, 1956 with the “Plain Truth About Elvis Presley” is worth $500 or so in pristine condition.
   Presley badges and pin-back buttons can bring $100 or more if early, $20 or $30 if later in his life. Movie posters from Presley’s films can sell for several hundred and up, but be careful about later reprints made to feed collector demand.
   Presley memorabilia from his movies is always popular with collectors. Whereas a simple black-and-white publicity photo signed by Presley can be valued at $1,000 or so, an autographed photo with inscription of him in his “G. I. Blues” costume, circa 1960, is priced at $5,295 in “Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price List” for 2007.
   Kovels also mentions a sample of Presley’s hair, authenticated, in a sealed plastic container, for $8,722 but it had better be genuine at that price!
   I’d feel safer buying a “Jailhouse Rock” lobby card from 1956 for $75, or a ticket to see Elvis perform at a show in 1956 for $80, as listed in “Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide” for 2007, but those can be cheap replicas, too, and worth little.
   Don’t get discouraged by the costly scarce Presley record albums. He sold about half a billion records during his lifetime, and the most common ones are available today for a couple of dollars each.
   The album soundtracks to Elvis’ movies may contain promotional posters or postcards. “For an album to qualify as near-mint, these postcards and posters must be part of the package, with no tack holes or pen marks,” warns Warman’s.
   Also, most Presley RCA records came with a picture sleeve which can be worth more than the record itself. “Oftentimes the company would continue to press an old-style jacket with old-style logos, while inserting a new recording inside,” says Warman’s. Genuine signed sleeves are valuable.
   Any early Presley souvenir item marked “Elvis Presley Enterprises” with a 1956 or 1957 copyright date is highly desirable. The “Boxcar” trademark in one form or another was used in Presley memorabilia from 1974 to 1981. The name “Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.” reverted to Graceland, Presley’s estate and business office after death, in 1982, and all new objects marketed today with Presley’s name or image must have official permission from Presley Enterprises, including the 29 Presley U.S. postage stamp issued a few years ago and now worth double face value to some Presley fans, although it isn’t rare.
   You need a guide book to wade through the amazing quantity and variety of Presley collectibles to get your money’s worth whether buying or selling. May I recommend “Elvis Collectibles” by Rosalind Cranor, “Elvis Presley Memorabilia” by Sean O’Neal, and the “Official Price Guide to Elvis Presley Records and Memorabilia” by Jerry Osborne.
   A bewildering array of biography books have been written about Presley exclusively or as a chapter in a wider book by authors who mayor may not have experienced Presley as a personal acquaintance. It’s hard to sort out the myth and speculation from the facts in many of these references, which always happens when a world famous entertainer gets written about, particularly after his death when he can’t defend himself against rumors and criticisms.
   The “Last Train to Memphis” (1994) and “Careless Love” (1999), both by Peter Guralnick, are a two volume narrative that, together, “constitute the only accurate standard biography” of Elvis Presley, according to the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” and might be a good place to start reading about Presley if you know little about him. When he died, hundreds of thousands of his fans mourned outside the gates at Graceland in Memphis, Presley’s mansion estate, which continues to be a tourist attraction today. The local hotels and motels fill up fast around the anniversaries of Presley’s birth day (Jan. 8) and death (Aug. 16) when Presley admirers pay their respects at his home and grave site, so visit at a different time if you don’t like crowds.
   When I was a kid, I played Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” records until they got badly scratched and worthless for record players or collecting, and I think I later threw them away. I never saw Presley perform in person, but I recommend the “Legends in Concert” floor show at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada where the Elvis impersonator is usually excellent and worth seeing if you like Elvis music and history, and a lot better return for your money than you’ll probably get in the casinos there.
Sam, can you take the pictures for the Elvis article from the pdfs. I’m sending them here:
You can also take the America the Beautiful from page 11.

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