Questioning Provenance

In collectibles, authenticity and provenance are two intertwining concepts. They are related; there are overlaps. But authenticity and provenance are hardly the same thing. Unfortunately, oftentimes they are conflated and people use them interchangeable. That’s a mistake.

Here’s an example: Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit bat that is on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The provenance appears impeccable. Yet, there are serious visual discrepancies. The bat that’s at the HOF appears too new and it just does not fit the description of the bat that can be seen from video footage. However, the HOF bat was given by Clemente to then-Pirates public relations director Bill Guilfoile to send to Cooperstown. Adding to the intrigue, there are several other sources who claim that they each have the historic bat. So questions continue linger.

Scenarios like this happen with movie props as well. An example recently brought to my attention is a pair of Wolverine claws from X2. They originally sold at the “Hollywood Helps Hollygrove” charity auction on November 29, 2004, which was organized by Lauren Shuler Donner, producer of all the X-Men films. The pair of claws came with a signed letter of authenticity from Donner that certifies the claws “were made for and used by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X2.”

With what appears to be ironclad provenance, this is an open and shut case, right? Well, not so fast. In an interview with Kris Abel for CTV News on October 26, 2006, claw maker James Gawley–a.k.a. “Jimmy Claws”–said that he was making a “hero” pair to be placed at a charity auction by X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner. (The original Kris Abel CTV article is no longer available at http://krisabel.ctv.ca/blog/_archives/2006/10/26/2450325.html. However, a Hugh Jackman fan site in Russia has a copy here.)

The latest version Jimmy has created is a special “Hero” version that have the benefit of “more love and three days spent sanding, painting, and perfecting”. These will be placed for charity auction by X-men producer Lauren Shuler Donner.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem that complicated because if you note the date of the Kris Abel interview it was October 2006. The Lauren Shuler Donner’s charity auction was in 2004. Jimmy Claws could very possibly be talking about a different pair of claws that he was making for a future charity. But as far as anyone knows, Lauren Shuler Donner auctioned off only one pair of claws and it was in 2004. Could it be that the interview was published two years after it was conducted? That seems strange, but anything is possible. Could it be that Jimmy Claws did fashioned a set for the charity, but Donner opted to go with an actual screen-used pair instead?

To further muddy the situation is the fact that the Donner charity auction claws came in the same case as pictured in the interview (see below).

So like the Clemente bat, questions continue to linger with the Wolverine claws (at least for me). Are the claws in question screen-used? Or are they made specifically for a charity auction? If you were a collector, would you be comfortable with Lauren Shuler Donner’s letter of provenance?

I would love to hear from anyone with additional info. Can anyone reach Lauren Shuler Donner, Jimmy Claws or Kris Abel?

(Thanks to Lennard for the Clemente article.)

2 comments

  1. Rusty says:

    I purchased what was said to be one of 2 hero “Sam” costumes from Moonrise Kingdom in a charity auction (a “Gift from Mr. Anderson and the Worldwide Film Company Focus Features”) . What arrived was essentially a reproduction that didn’t match the screen used at all (it was obvious in this case). It was a mock-up with a couple of parts from a secondary character. The uniform had been used in an Arclight Theatre display but not on screen. It had a very vague LOA from one of the Producers of the picture. It was quite expensive. I did my due dilligence, trying to get down to the bottom of it and managed to piss off a couple of people in PR at Focus Features and the poor charity group. No other explaination was ever given.
    I have since heard other stories about charity auction items.

    • Fong Sam says:

      It’s a shame that it happened to you. I hope it hasn’t completely soured your perception on the collectibles market. This is something that I will keep in mind when I work with charities. Frankly, it shouldn’t happen, but I can see if the people running the charity auctions are not versed in the collectibles market, these things can happen. If they are intentionally deceiving people, then of course that is a whole different story. Nevertheless, I hope you are not deterred from collecting.

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