Andy Warhol’s Collectibles: More than 15 Minutes of Fame
Andy Warhol amid paparazzi.
When Andy Warhol died in 1987, it was quite unexpected. He very nearly succumbed in 1968 when a deranged acquaintance shot him three times. But he survived that attack and lived almost 20 more years. He passed away at age 58, after seemingly routine gallstone surgery. Five years later, his estate won a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital.
As everyone knows, Warhol was a pop icon—as well as a talented, influential and highly successful artist. His visual imagery is legendary and is still impacting the art world today. But he was also a regular jet-setter and a renowned publicity hound, frequenting the tabloids as often as exhibit openings.
He left behind an exhausting oeuvre—more than 4,000 paintings and sculptures, 5,000 drawings, 66,000 photographs and 19,000 prints. His will directed that sale proceeds were to fund the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts and his legacy has benefited thousands. The foundation sponsors grants and fellowships, and has given many of the art pieces to colleges, museums and educational institutions all over the world.
Despite his prolificacy, Warhol’s work continues to sell well today, nearly 30 years after his death. Many screen prints regularly sell in the $10,000 to $30,000 range and his most famously documented art can bring jaw-dropping prices. Warhol signed a ton of autographs and those still bring high values as well, especially if they are connected to one of his pop art images. Since the foundation owns rights to the Warhol brand, it also raises funds by selling new merchandise like calendars, posters, refrigerator magnets, puzzles, clothing, books and stationary.
Mao is one of a series of silkscreened portraits of the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976) that Warhol produced in 1973.
Despite the fading and staining of the label, this Campbell’s Soup can with Warhol’s autograph on it sold for $1,575 on eBay in 2013.
But Warhol was also an avid and informed collector (some would say hoarder). He scoured flea markets and junk shops and, in keeping with his eclectic personality, he amassed a wide variety of kitschy memorabilia. These included such things as cookie jars, Fiesta and Russel Wright pottery, Bakelite bracelets, watches, 19th-century American furniture, cigarette cases, Navajo blankets and rugs, miscellaneous trinkets and press clippings. In 1988, Sotheby’s held a 10-day auction of 10,000 personal items and raised more than $25 million dollars for the foundation.
Warhol’s art has certainly retained its value, but what about those collectibles today? Are they still in demand? Luckily, Sotheby’s has put a sticker on each piece of Warhol memorabilia in the 1988 sale. The sticker identified the piece as part of the Warhol Collection, with a lot number and a classic image of Warhol himself. Amazingly, not very many of the 10,000 items have reappeared. Apparently, the owners just don’t want to part with their Warhol treasures.
When Sotheby’s auctioned the Warhol cookie jar collection in 1987, they had been estimated to sell between $75 and $250 apiece. Instead, each two-jar lot hammered from $1,980 and $23,100, netting a stunning $250,000 for the whole collection.
Exhaustive search results produced only a few dozen recent auction listings, consisting mostly of watches, figurines and 1930’s dinnerware
A gold Cartier wristwatch (which sold in the original 1988 auction for $5,000) resold for $10,625 in 2012. But that is about what the regular watch retails for today. Fiesta and Russel Wright pottery fared better, probably because fans of these lines are usually on the lookout for unique items to add to their collections. Most Warhol values in this genre topped regular values by significant amounts.
One big-ticket item best characterizes the volatility of celebrity provenance value. Warhol bought a brand new Rolls Royce for $9,883 in 1974. He didn’t have a driver’s license, but his glitterati friends (like Jackie Onassis) supposedly chauffeured him around. The car sold at the 1988 Sotheby’s auction for $77,000, setting a record for the highest single item in that sale. But the owner has been unable to sell it at several auctions in the past few years. In 2012, it failed to reach a starting bid of $40,000.
This Warhol red Fiesta sauce boat, purchased originally at Sotheby’s (as it still has its Warhol auction sticker) was resold on eBay for $199.
Warhol’s Rolls Royce sold at the 1988 Sotheby’s auction for $77,000, setting a record for the highest single item in that sale. But the owner has been unable to sell it at several auctions in the past few years. In 2012, it failed to reach a starting bid of $40,000.
The original paperback auction catalogs (in six volumes) from the 1988 sale are fairly easy to find (often selling in the $50 to $100 range). They include comprehensive descriptions and photographs and make interesting reading. They can also be used to authenticate items found on the secondary market.
If you do find a small Warhol bauble, it would be a good investment and a fun novelty to own. Many pieces are affordable and continue to hold their values, but be careful to differentiate between original collectibles and new ones sold at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (which will not have a numbered Sotheby’s sticker). And be prepared; if a cookie jar ever surfaces it will probably sell in the thousands.
Sadly, Warhol’s luxury relics don’t seem to do as well today. Their price points make them less attainable and they attract a smaller audience. It’s one thing to have a Warhol Fiesta bud vase on display in the cabinet with the rest of your Fiesta collection. That’s a cool conversation starter. It’s a little more awkward to wear a Rolex with a Warhol sticker on the wristband.
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who appraises books and collectibles.
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