The Propstop’s 2014 state of the prop union address (Part 2: Dealers)

First up apologies. I am after all writing this on my free time which hasn’t been as much as I would have liked this week. Thanks for all the emails though pushing me to finish it.

So last time we dealt with a little background on the formative years. Since the early 1990’s in England Propmasters David Oliver (Then the Twilight Zone) was one of the foremost authority’s in props, along with Jason Joiner (especially Star Wars) and Tim Lawes (later to join Prop store of London). There were a few other collectors but most of the transactions were in person in comic stores or thru the pages of Model and collectors mart/Starburst magazines classifieds, or directly with studio personnel. Forbidden Planet in London, a well thought of comic shop was also were a few props could be found. I distinctly remember walking in their about 1991 and seeing Ash’s head from “Alien” starring at me from the glass case, although for the life of me I can’t remember now what it cost. Alien War in London in the early 1990’s also had a great display of props from the second and third films and Planet Hollywood was the Mecca where after Christies or Bonham’s we would go to eat the crispy chicken and Oreo deserts!

Prop store of course has gone on to now pretty much dominate the landscape. Its really funny to me that after all the years of coa’s in the 1990’s being a non issue that now I’m pretty much asked out of the gate if I sell something does it come with a Prop store COA. Whilst I would venture that Prop store does an excellent job, and has one of the, if not the best guarantees of authenticity in the business a piece of paper isn’t the be all and end all of items. In fact as I’m reminded by members of the MPF, the item should speak for itself, the letter should back that up and be a link to its history and past…and in fact a lot of items on eBay aren’t worth the piece of paper that is with them. This applies to several companies too who list solely what’s on the wardrobe tag and don’t do any attempt to make sure that it matches with the costume. This has happened fairly regularly at Premiere props, and sometimes it comes out in ones favor as per my Arnold Schwarzenegger sheriff costume from the “Last Stand” you can check out last we wrote about, that was sold as a stunt but had hero markings, and sometimes it can be a problem where a stunt is sold as a hero…..most people I’m sure not wanting to be on the end of that problem.

Picture courtesy of moviepropcollectors.com

So….does Prop store not deliver in certain areas. Well comments from interviews I have done with a smattering of buyers in the community are universally happy with most of the service. Top call outs go to Stephen, Brandon, Tim, Dan, Sian and others in the team. Shipping seems generally good although some people have complained about international fees etc., but I see that as just the part of the cost of doing business with government taxes involved.

When it comes to selling them items I had two comments stand out from my phone questionnaire.

“I was a disappointed that Prop store said they were looking for items to buy on their site but when I approached them they didn’t want to make an offer on any of my stuff.”

and

“I received an offer from them but it was very low compared to what I had seen them sell for originally on their site.”

Now of course I’m not suggesting any dealer has to take any item offered by anyone but when I started digging into this further, and mixing it with some things I had discovered with the market these last few years it has become apparent that its much easier to buy something today, than it is to sell it tomorrow….and really hard in most cases with mid to low end pieces to get your original investment back if you paid too much. Of course anyone buying from a dealer typically has this problem as of course their is a tendency from any dealer or private seller to want the very most for an item they can get for it and it is also compounded when buying from auction houses where the bid can have anywhere up to 29% extra added plus shipping, taxes et al.

This fault can’t be laid exclusively at Prop stores doorstep. Obviously most people want to buy when the film is hot….that’s usually the day and weeks of early release and then months later when the BLU/DVD come out. After that the heat starts to wane, unless the film becomes a cult, or personnel movie to the guy wanting the item. We see this pretty much with every VIP auction sale where items go very high at first then taper off, and the secondary market takes a bit of a beating on their items down the road.

Premier props tends to also have a similar model to VIP in that they get the rights to the whole production, except VIP doesn’t do monthly auctions with icollector/liveauctioneers, and they don’t sell direct. Premiere drops the ball unlike VIP with timing. I have seen items sit for years on Amazon, and ebay and turn up for sale mixed in with other movie sales where originally if they had been sold when the film was “hot” they would have gone for many times the amount. Now, as a buyer I like this but one has to pay a lot of attention. Nearly 3 years after being released a Ms Carmody costume came up last year from “The Mist” and sold for $50.

Example of Ms Carmody from THE MIST sold by PP

Years before similar pieces not as complete sold for $500-600. It doesn’t really benefit the studio, the collector or PP but I have seen this happen over and over. Speaking to Dan Levin he has promised their computerized system should solve most of these issues but I still think rather than try to sell the same item week to week over and over and nobody bid they should dump like items in boxes (they did this last year and seemed to work on ebay) and move the junk out and get some of the good items on Premiere props.com and sell them now. My two cents.

Other comments about Premiere Props included from those questioned:

“I wish they would stop selling items from thrift stores in their sales marked as Lord of the Rings background items. With no provenance I looked at the film and couldn’t see them anywhere”

“I waited four months for shipping and had to hound them weekly”

“Twelve hour sales are ridiculous. I have to watch an auction for 3 hours and only 60 items have gone by and have to wait until 11pm at night to bid on one item”

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Screenused.com has also done seriously good work in the selling and authentication department. With a clean and easy to navigate sight there business has shifted more to online auctions, pretty much dictated I think by consigners not wanting to wait 8 months for payment plans to be completed, when they can have all the money upfront in a week and only pay a 15% commission. To Screenused’s credit this is about the best deal as a seller in the business but it has resulted in the website being actively checked daily by nearly every one of our respondents to now every 2-3 days. This is actually in line with my personnel thinking that its sad because now so much more effort has been put into the auctions its kind of ruined the other side of it as quality pieces just don’t show up on the site hardly anymore.

Desi and Jeff are people I love to work with and I do give them a thumbs way up, and I’m sure they know this is the direction that the site has taken, but I am a little concerned that sales have declined as more and more competition ahs entered the arena, and with Propstore now doing auctions, along with RRauction.com, and Propdomain things are getting a little busy out their, especially in September/October this year with the VUE auction, Enders game and Pacific Rim sales and a huge auction from Profiles along with others. Personally….I don’t see them all hitting the highs of yesteryear based on sales so far this year which seem fairly weak.

So what’s the number 1 thing that has effected the community. Check out these quotes….

“Sorry brother can’t afford that right now”

“I’m committed to a payment plan”

“Its easier to buy and pay later”

Is this the death of the hobby?

Of course not. Its however a serious poke in the eye when analyzed. Of course without hard numbers its to some degree guesswork but looking into peoples habits in the questionnaire 75% of people were on a payment plan for 1 or more items, and 50% for three or more. I think that’s actually quite a shock to me, as someone who doesn’t believe in them and tries not to ever get someone on them upfront.

Taking that $8000 prop down to “3 easy payments” to quote has done a number of things to the hobby. One its made things easier to purchase, increased prices able to ask, and taken the ability to sell items quickly up to $500 off the general table as people are already committed to a payment on something they don’t already own until its paid off. This is why items on the forum sales boards tend to be unsold as they have already been seen by the community once, and woah behold you if you ask for more than it sold for originally. It also means that quick deals of the past are off the table…although Paypal has been a significant form of payment in the prop community that at one time was pretty much all cash and check.

Well there are some of my thoughts about dealers in 2014. In Part 3 of this series we will examine the interesting new way that the studios have found to liquidate their assets and look closer at some of the events where that has happened in the last 10 years. See you then.

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