Auctions as Peer Review

Now that C2E2 is over, I’ve had some time to digest the events of the past week. It was a busy one as you can imagine. There were tons of press interviews to schedule, in addition to arranging deliveries/pickups, preparing the auction room and organizing our bidders. In the middle of the cyclone of chaos, we also held a panel discussion on the eve of the auction. It was billed as a Hollywood Treasure panel, but the topics discussed were very much relevant to the memorabilia and collectibles industry.

On stage were the cast of Hollywood Treasure–Joe Maddalena, Brian Chanes, Tracey McCall, Jon Mankuta–and Stacey Roman, our auctioneer. The questions from the audience were astute and poignant. The answers were equally thought provoking. I won’t rehash everything that was talked about, but I do want to bring up one thing that was discussed and that was the concept of auctions as peer review. Brian actually brought up this idea. I believe that the question that prompted this was, how do we go about verifying provenance? Brian’s response was the usual: ascertaining sales history, following the paper trail, consulting experts, etc, etc…

Then Brian cited the fact that the culmination of our research is summed up in our catalog descriptions. We send out 6,000 catalogs worldwide and published every one of our auction catalogs online for anyone and everyone to review. We also offer preview of the items prior to the auction. Moreover, we are a recognizable company with a listed telephone number, email and website. Anyone is welcome to contact us with questions, concerns or comments. In essence, we put everything out in the open that is pertinent to the item and does not infringe on client confidentiality, making this process a type of peer review much like what is done in the scientific community.

In fact, I know that there are forums and blogs that talk about our catalogs and auctions. The discourse and discussion that take place is great for our industry. Transparency is a good thing. However, what is counterproductive are discussions based on groundless accusations and meritless insinuations. I can say with confidence that many of the people that engage in these discussions that take place in private forums do not get their information directly from Profiles. I would know because I would be the one addressing these inquiries. A simple phone call or email could actually clear up a lot of things.

This makes one wonder why we are not approached directly. If there are legitimate concerns, then why not go to the source? Like I’ve said, there are numerous ways to contact us. It makes you question the motives of those doing the finger pointing. Also suspect is that there are private forums, where comments are routinely edited by moderators. Is this not the antithesis of transparency? If community policing is so important, then shouldn’t everything be out in the open?

Unfortunately, this business is also about acquisition and that means information is gold. If you are armed with better info, then you are better positioned to acquire an item than your competition. Equally effective is disinformation. Normally I would not even entertain this notion, but I’ve heard about collusion by some collectors who enter into non-compete agreements for things at auction. This kind of back alley activities is infuriating considering that we are often accused of so many things by our detractors. Yet, here I am declaring Profiles’s open door policy, as opposed to closed forums where shady handshakes take place.

$1.1M

That’s the number at the end of the Captain America: The First Avenger Auction. Not a bad number.

But guess what? It could have been better. The Shields sold for about the right prices ($20K+) and the hero costume went better than expected ($190,000 hammer!). Yet, the Iron Man autopsy suit undersold at $110,000, in my opinion. In addition, there were two officially unsold lots. So in other words, if there were no unsolds and the autopsy sold for its proper value, then we are probably talking about $1.25M. For a 219 lot niche auction, that’s phenomenal.

Although C2E2 is not quite over (today is the 3rd and final day), the event has left me with several thoughts. One, the superhero genre, when well-produced, will have high value. Captain America: The First Avenger was a decent movie, but the quality of the props and costumes were superb. Rather than viewing items as investments, I think when you beginning talking about the high five-figures and six-figure dollar amounts, they enter the perimeters of fine art.

Two, this was our first away auction. Profiles has typically stayed within the comforts of Southern California, where setting up an auction–and display–requires minimal effort. Having this auction in Chicago indicated to me that we can take our show on the road and excel. That’s a great feeling to have. As good as this event has been, I think the next one will be better.

Finally, it’s important to have good people around you. I’ve been singularly blessed for having amazing people be involved. From the creativity of the displays to the brilliant raffle promotions to the versatility of improvising on the fly, a few selected people went beyond the call of duty to make this event successful. But beyond the execution, it was really the conscientiousness and core ethics of this special crew that made it all possible. They worked extra hours, shouldered more than they should, and not once thought of themselves. They say a good team is made of people who complement each other. I think a great team is one where everyone has each other’s backs.

All the planning and promoting comes down to this week

Since Profiles got the Marvel account and began working on the Captain America: The First Avenger Auction, I have been living, breathing, eating and drinking Captain America. We began putting the catalog together in earnest in January. We literally hit the ground running immediately after the holiday break.

The first visit at the Marvel warehouses got our brains spinning, as we instantly started envisioning what kind of catalog we wanted to produce. The Shield was unquestionably going to be on the cover–that, we pretty much all agreed on. There was just a decision of which version to use. Everyone would immediately recognize the iconic stripes and star. What about using the shield in ice? Perhaps backlight it and have it pop out against a dark background.

As a matter of fact, that was the first cover that we submitted to Marvel. However, we were asked to resubmit a different cover and use the conventional view of the Shield. The final cover is admittedly a safer route, but I think it is still a good one. Maybe Marvel was right in that we didn’t need to convey mystery or drama. The Shield, indestructible and symbolic, can and should stand on its own, unhidden and in full view.

The contents of the catalog almost wrote themselves. Marvel was and is a dream partner. Everything we asked for, we almost always received, if it was available. (Schmidt’s car, sadly, was not available.) As you can see from the lots being offered, we got the best of everything. From hero costumes to hero weapons and vehicles to artwork and special effects props, even material that were still in the UK, Marvel personnel went out of their way to accommodate our needs. It was a matter of our editorial and graphics staff getting the proper descriptions and images together.

This was Ryan Dohm’s final catalog and Joe Moe’s first. It was sort of like the passing of the baton. I think it’s one of Ryan’s finest work. Joe Moe will have big shoes to fill, but with his already extensive background I am sure he will be just fine.

Similarly, the art department unleashed a dose of creativity that has not been seen before. The clever rotoscoping of the features of the models in the costumes was playful and ironic, since this was a comic book movie made into live action. Even the stylized line drawings in the certificate of authenticity is sort of whimsical and lighthearted, something that Profiles is arguably not known for.

In deciding how to lot the items, it was actually easy. The story was told so well in the movie that we wanted to maintain that narrative. So we lotted the catalog chronologically based on order of appearance in the film. That is why you don’t see all the shields together in one section, or the costumes grouped in another section, or the numerous weapons one after another. No, that would not have worked. We had to keep in mind what it would be like at the auction if we did that. The audience–more importantly the bidders–would doze off due to the monotony. To successfully run an auction, it is important to take into account pace and cadence, much like a movie.

After the catalog was completed, we began promoting the auction. Press releases, media interviews, private and public previews, were all on the schedule. However, this was not a typical auction for us. As such, we needed to promote differently. This was a fan-driven genre and the fans deserve to be rewarded. This was the thinking behind the raffles. With Marvel’s blessing, we will be giving away two original prop Captain America comic books from the movie, one via online raffle and the other raffle is live in-person at C2E2.

Speaking of C2E2, we will have a booth (#609) there. We will be setting up about 50 items from the auction to be on display, including the hero Captain America costume, the Cosmic Cube, a vial containing the Super Soldier serum, Schmidt’s SS costume, a Hydra soldier costume, a Hydra motorcycle, the hero Captain America motorcycle, both Allies and Hydra weapons, and much more. You will also see Mjölnir, Thor’s war hammer on display, along with a few other Asgardian weapons. It will be an epic showcase. It behooves you to come see it if you are in the Chicago area.

The months of work now come down to this week. The planning and promoting is essentially done. It is time to execute. I have staggered the Profiles crew’s arrival in Chicago. As the Hand, I get to go first to set the table for the events of the week, which will consist of more than just the auction. For example, Joe Maddalena will be doing an on-the-air interview at WGN Thursday morning. On Friday from 4:45 to 5:15pm, there will be a Hollywood Treasure autograph signing session at C2E2. Then at 6:15 to 7:15, the cast of Hollywood Treasure will host a panel discussion to talk about the show, the collectibles field and most certainly about the auction as well. (Oh, and, Sean Astin will be hanging out with us.) So it’s a busy week, to say the least. But this is the fun part of my job.

Wheels down in Chicago in 36 hours. See you there!

It’s a Zombie Small World

Happy Easter, everyone.

Or, as I’ve seen it being referred to on an Internet meme, “Zombie Jesus Day.” Get it? Jesus supposedly rose from the dead on this day about 2,000 years ago…

Anyway, zombies are all the rage these days. To commemorate this holiday, feast your eyes on the video below, which was brought to my attention by a friend who is a big Disney fan. The unintended post-apocalyptic rendition of the knock-off Small World ride is great, in my opinion, because it features the Ninja Turtles ( still mutants at this point, I think, until next year when they become aliens) and Voltron.

Voltron FTW.

SF Weekly no fan of Harry Knowles

Apparently not everyone is a fan of Harry Knowles or his recently launched Ain’t It Cool web series on the Nerdist Channel. Alan Scherstuhl of the SF Weekly called the 5-minute premiere webisode “wretched, a trip to the heart of geekdom that is intended to be whimsical but instead comes off as a braggy bleat from a needy fool.”  Ouch.

Harry’s humor isn’t for everyone, but Scherstuhl’s attack seems heavy-handed and personal. Unsolicited advice for Mr. Scherstuhl: If you don’t like the show, or the website (for which Scherstuhl had some choice comments), then simply don’t click play. Really, sir, change the URL.

Scherstuhl’s criticism smacks of self-importance and cultural elitist arrogance. Worse are Scherstuhl’s handful of readers who pile on the insults like they are the supposedly cool kids picking on the nerdy science kids at school. Yet although Scherstuhl’s assailment indicates that he and his readers had given Harry Knowles much scrutiny–evidently they have a lot of time on their hands, as one reader with the handle, “CreepyThinMan” (really!), offered a psychological profile of Harry–I can assume that Harry isn’t giving them any thought in return. Because, like, you know, Harry has better things to do with his time.

A kidney is worth an iPhone and iPad?

I love my iPhone and iPad. I use them daily, excessively, adoringly, and ideally, exclusively. But we all know that they are not cheap and unlike other consumer products, Apple products tend to inspire insane behavior from both fans and detractors.

As much as I love these gadgets, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the atrocities and horror stories that are involved in making and owning them. The working conditions at Foxconn, where Apple products are assembled, have been well documented, in spite of the recent Mike Daisey controversy. These are things that Apple is accountable for and things that Apple can change (and will change, according to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple). But is Apple responsible for what consumers do? Specifically, is Apple responsible for what consumers do to acquire an iPhone or iPad?

Regardless of your opinion, this Xinhua story from China has to make you shake your head. In short, a teenager from Anhui, one of the poorest provinces in China, sold his kidney last year to pay for an iPhone and iPad. WTF? The kid is now suffering renal failure and his condition is deteriorating. Five people, including a surgeon, is being charged with human organ trading, which was banned in 2007 (oddly enough, the iPhone was first released that year). Apparently the surgeon was paid 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for the operation. The teenage donor received 22,000 yuan. Other suspects are still being investigated.

So is Apple directly responsible for this outrageousness? Is this akin to blaming McDonald’s for making you fat. Or, blaming the cigarette companies for your lung cancer? There is no doubt that this kid from China is a victim here. But the real perpetrators are the con-men who took his kidney, not Apple. Right?

That gotta-have-it mentality that Apple fanboys have is similar to what I have observed in memorabilia collectors. Occasionally, I see the overwhelming desire to own certain props or costumes override better judgment. Some collectors would pawn their cars or take second (and third) mortgages, so they can pay for something that, in the big scheme of things, they do not need. Some clients live on credit, continually borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. At Profiles, we do not screen bidders for recklessness. Does that make Profiles guilty of enabling or perpetrating this behavioral disease? Perhaps memorabilia auctions are a dark microcosm of our capitalistic nature. After all, auctions let people, a.k.a. the market, decide the price. What they do to be able to afford that price is irrelevant to the auction house. Is this callous?

The fact of the matter is that the number of collectors who are financially irresponsible is small, while the vast majority of collectors are sensible and would collect within their means. It would be unfortunate and unfair for all collectors to be defined by a small minority. I think most fans of Apple would agree with that statement.

Sean Astin added to C2E2 lineup

It’s official: Sean Astin is coming to C2E2.

The actor is known best for his roles in The GooniesRudy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is a great pickup by ReedPOP. Sean has fans that span three decades, with the aforementioned films/trilogy. He is also a steadfast activist and social advocate, and recently ran his 3rd LA Marathon for his many charities.

Moreover, Sean has a big presence on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention his own website, which he actively updates. He will undoubtedly take to the Internet with fury and drive fans to the expo next week.

Again, nice pickup by the C2E2 team.