For both the amatuer and professional collector an original Oscar statuette is probably the
most desired and "dreamed" after piece of memorabilia. From the 1950's into the late 80's
many Oscars were bought and sold between memorabilia dealers and collectors. The price
ranged in the hundreds of dollars. Many of the Oscars sold were from lessor known
individuals and/or Academy Award categories.
Although a difficult concept to grasp today, some finacially struggling award recipients began
to pawn or sell their awards in the 1940's. This troubled the Academy as it risked the stature
of the Award becoming commercially exploited. There was also a concern over control of the
closely gaurded copyright. As a result, in 1950 the Academy introduced a contractual
agreement that all recipiants to this day must enter into upon being bestowed with the
coveted trophy. The contract stipulates that should the Award winner or heirs wish to sell
the award, (as the award may be passed down) they must offer the Academy first right to
purchase the statuette back for the sum of ten dollars. In the 1980's the monetary figure was
lowered to one dollar. The monetary figures of course had nothing to do with Oscars actual
worth. This was more or less a legal formality insuring Oscar was in a sense "donated" back
to the Academy for preservation. This agreement also addressed the concern over Oscars
Stature becoming commercially cheapened.
Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School, "It may well be a binding contract, but
it doesn't say anything about damages. The contract isn't broken until the statuette is, say,
sold--at which point there's not much to be done against the seller, since he or she no longer
owns it. The only question would be what damages the Academy could collect--the value it
could have itself sold the statue for? The literal value of the statuette, which apparently the
Academy can crank out like the Treasury minting dollar bills, minus $1?"
Despite the sheer number that have been produced and handed out, only a few have circulated
amongst collectors of Hollywood memorabilia, for that very simple reason.
The contract implimentation did however allow for pre-1950 Awards to be sold on the open
auction/dealer market. A recent Forbes article suggests that only an approximate 150
statuettes have ever been sold; often, the buyer returns the award to the Academy, which
stores them in its vaults.
The market for Oscars was forever changed in 1993 with the sale of Vivien Leighs Best
Actress Oscar for Gone with the Wind. Her Oscar was sold through Sotheby's for $563,000.
This made the Oscar a viable investment commodity. In December of 1996 Clark Gables
Oscar from 1934's It Happened One Night was auctioned, after legal action by the Academy of
Motion Pictues Arts and Sciences failed to stop the sale. Clark Gables Oscar sold for
$607,500. The buyer was Steven Spielburg, and acting in the Academy's best interest donated
the Oscar back to the Academy. This occured again with several different Oscar sales.
Steven Spielberg purchased Davis's Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) when
they were offered for auction for $207,500 and $578,000, respectively, and returned them to
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In September of 2001 Kevin Spacey
anonymously purchased composer George Soll's 1945 Oscar for Anchors Aweigh for $156,875
this was seven times more than the auction estimate. Spacey then donated the Oscar back to
Magician/entertainer David Copperfield purchased the 1943 Best Director Oscar from
Casablanca at auction for $232,000, and keeps it in his bedroom.
In June of 1999 David O'Selznick's 1939 Oscar for Gone with the Wind auctioned by Sotheby's.
The pre-auction estimate was $300,000. The winner of the auction paid $1,542,500 who
happended to be one Michael Jackson. To date this is a record price realized for an Oscar.
The sale of Oscars today is virtually nonexistent, ocassionaly a pre 1950 Oscar surfaces for
sale. The Academy however has began to threaten and or execute legal action against those
selling pre 1950 Oscars using the threat as a potentially costly deterrent.
Many Oscars are now sold in a sort of black memorabilia market. Meaning the deals are
done privately with no report of the sale.
Harold Russell (1914-2002) won two 1946 Academy Awards for his portrayal of Parrish: one
for Best Supporting Actor and the other, a special Oscar, for "bringing aid and comfort to
disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures". In 1992, Russell became the first
and only actor to sell his Oscar (Best Supporting Actor).
In 1992, Russell needed money for his wife's medical expenses. In a controversial decision, he
consigned his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor to Herman Darvick Autograph Auctions, and
on August 6, 1992, in New York City, the Oscar sold to a private collector for $60,500. Russell
defended his action, saying, "I don't know why anybody would be critical. My wife's health is
much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn't."
In 2007 after four years of legal antics, the Oscar that Orson Welles won for co-writing
"Citizen Kane" was allowed to be placed up for auction. Sotheby's put it up for auction on
Dec. 11 2007.
Christie's Auction House tried to sell the Oscar in 2003, but had to stop the auction due to
intervention by academy lawyers. There should no have been any disaproval of the sale. Since
Welles won the award in 1941, thus it fell outside the post 1950 agreement that banned
winners from selling their Oscars to anyone but the academy for the sum of $1).
Welles' Oscar was thought to have been lost, but surfaced in 1994 when it was put up for
auction by Sotheby's. Evidently a cinematographer claimed that Welles had given him the
Oscar as form of payment for work. Welles' youngest daughter Beatrice sued and got
ownership of the Oscar, which she tried to sell at Christie's 9 years later, but in turn got sued
by the academy.
The academy's legal claim was his daughter couldn't sell it due to a agreement she signed in
the 1980s when the Academy issued a replacement Oscar before the original surfaced. The
agreement stated that the person who signed the contract agreed never to sell the
replacement statuette or the original, if it ever resurfaced.
When the case finally reached the court Welles' daughter won due to the language in the
agreement. The agreemet only applied to members of the academy and she was not an
academy member. She also retained the right to sell the lifetime achievement Oscar her
father received in 1970.
The Oscar however failed to draw suitable bids and thus was not sold. It is beleived an
attempt to sell the Oscar privately will be made.
In March 2011 an unidentifed Oscar pictured left was sold on ebay with the name plate
An unkown recipient pre-1950 Oscar missing the base and no serial number which sold on
ebay in April 2011 for $11,200.
Pattern and mold designer Manfred Steffan
of Germany displays the original plaster
cast model of the modern-day Oscar
statuette for the Academy Awards
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