Beyond Vinyl: Elvis still King of rock memorabilia

By Stephen M.H. Braitman

Jump suits — these are the ultimate in Elvis Presley memorabilia. The current world Elvis auction record is $300,000 paid for a peacock jump suit worn in several 1974 concerts. Even his Bentley sold for less! A blue jump suit from his Madison Square Garden concert in 1972 sold in 2009 for $212,588.44. The “nail mirror” jump suit worn at the Astrodome brought $175,000.

It’s telling that even “Elvis style” jump suits regularly bring bids of $500 and $1,000. You can find dozens for sale or auction right now. Every man is a King in an Elvis jump suit.

With so many willing to pay so much, there’s something daunting about Elvis memorabilia. Not even The Beatles approach the commercialization of Elvis the man, the music and the myth. Col. Tom Parker realized the gold mine he had from the start. He created Elvis Presley Enterprises when “Heartbreak Hotel” was still on the charts and by 1957, Elvis merchandise was a $25 million business. By now, it’s equivalent to the gross national product of several countries.

Elvis became more than an industry. As George Plasketes’ book “Images of Elvis Presley in American Culture, 1977-1997: The Mystery Terrain” puts it, “An excessive enterprise, empire and entity, Elvis appears on memorabilia and merchandise, in roadside relics and Graceland’s gift shops; at fast-food chains, in front-yard flea markets and back-yard shrines; World-Wide Web sites in cyberspace and sporting events; at parties and parades or as part of promotions, protests and pranks.”

This massive subject can only be properly dealt with in book form, and it has. Abrams published “Elvis Presley: The Official Auction Catalogue,” and Robert Gordon came out with his Graceland-sanctioned “The Elvis Treasures.” In these and other books and numerous Web sites, you’ll find data about thousands of rings, trading cards, wallets, handkerchiefs, pencil cases, flip books, key chains, figurines, ashtrays, menus, programs, phonographs, calendars, buttons, astrology charts and other objects of desire.

Australian Lea Frydman runs Web site ElvisPresleyNews.com. It’s her duty to notify more than 30,000 fans worldwide whenever there is any news even remotely related to Elvis Presley. Recent postings announced the death of songwriter Aaron Schroeder, who wrote “It’s Now or Never,” scotched rumors that Elvis’ 17-year-old grandson Ben Keough had signed a record deal and reported that hair clippings from Elvis’ Army days sold for $18,300 in a Chicago auction.

Frydman has a lot of good things to say about Elvis collectibles. Besides jump suits, most valuable Elvis memorabilia falls into one of three significant categories. “Simple rule of thumb,” Frydman says, “Anything produced during Elvis’ lifetime will always increase in value. Pre-army Elvis souvenirs are the most sought after, as not only Elvis fans but rock ’n’ roll and collectors of 1950s artifacts are willing to pay top dollar for items of the Baby Boom era.” And the most desirable are autographs, real ones. Elvis was kind in his early years and willingly signed almost anything for his fans.

She does interject some needed caution about counterfeit items. “The biggest issue has to be with Elvis autographs for sale on eBay,” she says. “Most are fakes or just pre-printed signatures.” She has an autograph authentication service that is even used by major auction houses. “After 20 years I can spot a fake Elvis autograph a mile away.”

The clutter of Elvis memorabilia can be confusing. One example: Promotional postcards of Elvis. For many years, the publicity department of RCA Records sent an Elvis Presley Christmas postcard to its list of writers, editors and other media types. They stopped doing this after his death in 1977.

Then the Graceland museum started sending postcards to Elvis fan clubs in the 1980s. Fan clubs themselves were sending out postcards since the 1950s. Local distributors and radio stations would also sometimes send out Elvis cards as thank yous and little gift items. This is not to mention all the thousands of retail postcards printed over the years.

What really makes sense is to dedicate yourself to one area of Elvis collecting. If you’re just getting started now, with a limited budget, try the easier things, like postcards or sheet music or magazines with Elvis covers. Someday you may jump up to sport shirts, pants, suede jackets and even, perhaps, jump suits!

Stephen M.H. Braitman is a music appraiser (www.MusicAppraisals.com), writer, collector, and fan.

Recent Auction Results:

  • Rare Elvis Toy Guitar, 1956: $540
  • Personal astrological chart prepared by Dane Rudhyar: $4,680
  • Elvis Presley’s personal script for the film “Love Me Tender” on eBay: $5,400
  • Blue stretch gabardine jump suit designed for Presley to allow the star to perform karate kicks and jumps onstage: $10,200
  • “Elvis in Concert” red nylon jacket designed for his entourage to wear during the (cancelled) 1977 tour: $420
  • Elvis Signature RCA Record Player: $715
  • Elvis autographed shirt — a vintage ’50s short-sleeved shirt in celadon-green raw silky material: $1,560
  • Las Vegas Souvenir Briefcase: $602
  • Early “Yule Tide Jamboree and Dance” concert advertisement featuring a young “Elvis (That’s All Right) Presley”: $2,040
  • Early Elvis Presley RCA Victor Album cover mounted together with a pencil signature on pink paper: $600
  • Elvis White Satin Comet-Style Cape created for his 1970 Las Vegas concerts, designed by Bill Belew: $28,800
  • TCB (Taking Care of Business) pendant and necklace: $1,440
  • Official Elvis Presley stuffed hound dog: $324

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3 thoughts on “Beyond Vinyl: Elvis still King of rock memorabilia

  1. Very interesting article about Elvis memorabilia, You can see my photos of Elvis, taken just 6 monthes before he passed, at the West Palm Beach Auditorium, 2/13/77. at http://www.oldrockphoto.com This is a great site for collectors ho like limited edition prints of classic concert photos. Mega-stars like Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, plus too many more to be allowed in this e-mail.
    Peace, Ken Davidoff

  2. i liked the article and have been an elvis fan since i was growing up
    i heard that the elvis presley expert from america named jeff schrembs has purchased many of these rare elvis items
    i checkout one of his sites at http://www.elviscollector.info but it does not say what all he buys
    it would be nice to know who buys these things
    just curious

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