Does a Celebrity Name Make a Good Collectible?
Many celebrities have branded commercial products with their own name. This Newman’s Own Salsa poster sold for $600 in 2017.
We all know that collecting the famous and well known can be quite gratifying whether it is a pop celebrity or a person of history. Their autographs, photos, and personal memorabilia have always been collected, traded, and sold.
More recently, though, the famous, mostly those in entertainment and sports, have branded commercial products with their own name. Paul Newman, for example, has an entire food category named for him known as “Newman’s Own.” Each product such as popcorn, salad dressing, pizza, and lemonade, featured his name and likeness with the tagline “All Profits to Charity.” It still operates the same way since 1982 even after Mr. Newman’s death in 2008.
Other celebrities have separate businesses with their name on them as well. Elizabeth Taylor had her “White Diamonds” perfume and beauty products line, Frank Perdue has his chicken business, and even Martha Stewart has her line of home wares.
The question then is whether the products with the celebrity’s name, not just an endorsement, have a higher value compared to their more traditional collectibles? Let’s find out.
Let’s start with “Newmans Own” brands. An original Paul Newman signed “Newman’s Own Salsa” advertising poster circa 1991 sold at auction for $600 in 2017, yet a signed theater program sold in the same year went for $300. The poster seemed to do better than the program. “Newman’s Own” advertising items that were auctioned include items such as coupons, unsigned marketing posters, and cookbooks (even signed ones) that sold for $20 to $80*. But there were only about 60 sold overall (not counting unrelated items).
On the other hand, there were about 15,000 items sold under the actor’s name “Paul Newman” (not including the commemorative Rolex Daytona watch Newman favored that was his personal Rolex which sold for nearly $18 million dollars) ranging from signed movie posters to a signed racing helmet for $15,000.
Mickey Mantle, the venerable New York Yankee and baseball Hall of Famer, lent his name to a variety of businesses such as a billiards parlor, family restaurants, a bowling alley, real estate developments and hotels when he retired in 1968, with some of these ventures lasting longer than others. However, with each venture, all manner of collectibles became available as this article from Sports Collectors Digest in 2008 shows. Plates and dishes from his now shuttered restaurants were available from $10 to $40, while rarer coffee cups and food trays sold in the hundreds. Cigarette lighters and matchbooks from his from bowling centers sold for $150 to $300 or more with about 160 auctioned items in total. Yet his autograph and baseball memorabilia, about 28,000 auctioned items, still outsells his business venture items by far.
Another sports figure, Joe Theismann, quarterback for the Washington Redskins football team from 1974 to 1985 including two Super Bowl appearances, opened the first “Theismann’s Restaurant and Bar” in 1975. While there were six locations, there is just the one now in Old Town Alexandria, VA, which Joe Theismann still co-owns and patronizes frequently. An early menu sold for $35 and there are buttons referring to his winning 1983 Super Bowl XVII appearance with only 4 items sold at auction. Theismann’s football memorabilia, with over 12,000 items sold, though, still commands auction values much higher.
Elizabeth Taylor sold fragrances with her name starting with Passion in 1987 followed by White Diamonds in 1991, a collection of eleven in all. A recent WorthPoint search showed about 500 fragrance auctions ranging from a diamond and sapphire large display bottle for $1800 with most bottles and accessories selling for $75 or less. Her jewelry line, The House of Taylor, was introduced in 2005 with a set of diamond and green beryl earrings selling for $462 in 2015, the only auction item related to the jewelry line itself.
On the other hand there were about 40,000 individual items attributed to Elizabeth Taylor, ranging from her Golden Globe selling for $51,200 to scripts, costumes, autographs, photos, books and ephemera.
If we were going strictly by availability, there are far fewer product-specific items available than there are traditional items for each celebrity. But does that make the product-specific items uniquely collectible? It may not appear so.
Then, how about if the celebrity becomes infamous in some way. Does the product that bears their name also suffer as a collectible?
Martha Stewart created an entire line of household products under the Martha Stewart Living label and sold mostly through K-Mart. Her homewares company went public in 1999 making her a billionaire. However her conviction for insider trading in 2003 forced her out of the company as she served a 5 month prison sentence and 2 years supervised probation. There were 2,084 items, mostly magazines, auctioned for Martha Stewart Living starting at $580 for a large collection of her magazine as the highest item auctioned. Apart from her signature housewares, her autograph remains mostly at $50 or less, with a few higher values based on the unusual item signed such as a cutting board or chair, but not much more than $200 or so.
In short, having a product or product line centered on an individual, famous or otherwise, may be beneficial to the company – or not. Within the collectible community, though, it may just be another subcategory of the larger memorabilia category for the celebrity themselves. Whoopi Goldberg and Snoop Dogg, both have their names on medical marijuana (appropriately enough) and Justin Timberlake has his JT jeans. Business for these celebrities may just do well because their name is on the product.
However, John “Papa John” Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza and its spokesman since its founding in 1984, recently was ousted as CEO after uttering a racial epithet in a conference call. The company now is trying to save the business by removing its founder and spokesman. Will the collectibles suffer, too? Only time will tell…
Collecting celebrity products, though, does follow one of the key rules of collecting – find the most unusual items and collect them. Popcorn, perfume, and pepper shakers certainly qualify if a famous name is on it. But, is it a good thing?
*Newman’s Own Organics was a separate brand managed by his daughter, Nell Newman, from 1993 to 2001 when it became a separate company and is not counted here.
Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.
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