Who knew that a 4-inch-by-6-inch swatch of carpet could fetch $75 at auction?
Since the patch of rug in question was from the Starship Enterprise, the legendary spacecraft from the "Star Trek" series, Tiara Nappi had a pretty good idea.
Nappi last year convinced CBS Television and Paramount Studios to grant her the rights to auction some Star Trek memorabilia at the online version of her business, It's a Wrap. The well-known auction house Christie's had the rights to sell big-ticket items, but for Nappi to get small pieces, such as the carpet samples, was a coup that could make her millions.
It's a Wrap, which has two stores in L.A., specializes in castoff clothing, costumes and the like from TV and film productions. And the online auction recently sold an official Mr. Spock costume for more than $10,000; three futuristic pens from Jean-Luc Picard's desk for $2,025; and, of course, the patches of carpet from the starship's deck.
"This is iconic stuff," Nappi said. "Getting it from the studios is tough; they reuse it from episode to episode, sell it among themselves or donate it. It is the single largest deal we've ever done."
Such deals have become somewhat more common, however. In the past, if studios didn't donate their old stuff, they tended to hold it, incurring storage and inventorying costs. In more recent years, however, they've been quicker to sell their used wares, mainly to auction houses big and small.
That creates a small but steady revenue stream for the studios and a source of valuable inventory for L.A.'s resellers of everything Hollywood.
Lots of stuff
On the supply side, the memorabilia business includes a wide range of items props, costumes and clothes. On the demand side, there's an even wider range of customers, from teenage Justin Timberlake fans to seasoned collectors of items from classics like "Star Trek."
Classic film props tend to command the most money, since they are unique items that both fans and collectors covet. They tend to be sold by the big auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's.
But there's a growing market for collectibles from current films.
Premiere Props of El Segundo, for example, focuses almost entirely on current films. The secretive company keeps details of its contracts with studios under wraps, but it has deals with Warner Bros., Sony and Miramax. The company's main genres are horror and science-fiction.
It holds live auctions as well as streaming them over the Web, and has even begun hosting a touring auction for collectors called "Hollywood Roadshow." The roving auction is entering its second year and will visit New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. The company may expand overseas, too.
"L.A. has been great because there are so many fans in Los Angeles," said Dan Levin, Premiere's vice president of marketing.
Founded in 2001, Premiere also helps "market" the films it gets the goods from by showing up at movie openings in hopes of boosting attendance and interest. It may display, say, costumes and props from the film and give away promotional merchandise.
"Our services offer an easy, simple solution, more exposure for the films and make it an innovative way to do it," Levin said. "We appeal to the fans of the movies and give them an opportunity to own an item."
Premiere has about 800 lots per auction, with prices ranging from $50 to $40,000 or more. Some big-ticket items sold recently include the "Transformers" vintage Camaro, for $41,000; actress Milla Jovovich's costume from "Resident Evil: Extinction," $6,000; and Michael Myers' bloody coveralls from this year's remake of "Halloween," $4,000. (The last auction drew more than 1,400 bidders, and auctions could generate as much as $1 million each.)
"Our niche is the 'now' actor and what differentiates us is that we only focus on current releases," Levin said. "We hold a lot of the items here until they wrap production."
Premiere charges buyers 13 percent on top of their winning bid in live auctions, and 18 percent online; some auction houses can go as high as 22 percent to 25 percent.
The company also auctions items on eBay, setting the starting bid for all lots at 99 cents. Live auction terms can start at about $50.
Dress for success
Nappi, for one, does the most volume in clothing in past years about 95 percent of her sales came from duds hawked in her retail outlets. Like other areas of the resale market, the business relies largely on shoppers out for a bargain.
This year and next, though, the huge "Star Trek" auction could dramatically shift that figure. The auction, which started last December and will continue through next year, could bring in as much as $3 million to $5 million a chunk of money that could account for as much as 30 percent of Nappi's business. The company has sold more then 5,000 items so far, including an Enterprise ship for $10,000 and pieces of weaponry from the series and films, ranging from $5,000 to $7,000.
Nappi joined the family business in 1992;
her mother had launched the enterprise in 1981 when she started selling castoff wardrobe items she bought on the cheap from studios.
"Wardrobe is what drives our sales and it's what our reputation is based on," Nappi said.
Of course, authenticity is key to the value of collectibles.
Susie Coelho, a former actress and ex-wife of Sonny Bono, had run A Star Is Worn, a two-store retailer that specialized in luxury clothing and costumes from celebs, until the mid-1990s. She built up a collection of stars' expensive clothing, shoes and accessories and sold it at her Melrose Avenue and Brentwood locations. Some fans from as far as Germany and Japan bought the stuff based on its celebrity cache.
"If you can authenticate something and get it signed, it's worth much more," Coelho said. "You have to have that."
Without that confirmation, buyers can't be sure of what they're getting. And memorabilia dealers want to assure that certainty in order to keep the customers coming.
"We want to be the Christie's and Sotheby's of the studio world," Levin said. "Right now, the film business is great. Even though there is a writers' strike we have loads of things in the warehouse, and there are a lot of movies being produced. So it's a good time for us, and a good business to be in."
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