Movie Props
The MGM Studios auction in May 1970 was a watershed moment for film scholars and the auction business, which
essentiality created a new market for an area of collecting that previously only existed among a few film enthusiasts.  The
studio's objective was to simply consolidate space on an already overcrowded lot by creating a three-day film memorabilia
auction to clear seven soundstages. A vast assortment of costumes, film props and related property from the studios
beginnings dating from the 1920s were cataloged, tagged and placed on the auction block.

In and among the multitude of items that were placed under the gavel were 350,000 plus costumes, furniture and
decorative-art related items, automobiles, busses, trains, tanks, boats, ships, airplanes and space capsules that were
previously incorporated into studio productions.  Highlights recall the full size sailing ship from Mutiny on the Bounty
(1935), Elizabeth Taylor's wedding gown worn in Father of the Bride (1950), Clark Gable's trench coat worn in several films,
a group of swimsuits worn by Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller's loin cloth worn in Tarzan films of the 1940s.
However, the most coveted pieces sold were from The Wizard of Oz (1939), which included a pair of ruby red slippers worn
by Judy Garland that hammered on the auction block for $15,000.
Prior to the 1990s, collectors had few opportunities and even fewer public auctions through which to buy these exciting
relics.  Today many items can be found via the internet from ebay to specialty auction houses.

I turned to an expert reputable source
Profiles in History www.profilesinhistory.com for what to look for in collecting film
props.

What to look for in props:

In general, there are three types of props, classified according to production use.

1.  A “heroâ€� or working prop, finely crafted by hand and intended for use in close-ups.  This is the most desirable type
of prop, and may have working lights or other moving parts.


2.  Stunt props, made of soft material used to protect the actor or stuntman/woman, of generally rough construction for use
in an action scene in which the prop might be thrown or dropped.


3.  Background props, which are not finished to the high-quality of a “heroâ€� prop.  These are usually “staticâ€� or
non-working versions of hero props, and may have been constructed for use by background actors in group or long (or far-
away) shots.


Studio wear on a prop is, in fact, desirable.  If a prop looks too pristine, that’s an automatic yellow flag, unless it was
made as a study model.  Most importantly, look for any unique markings on a prop that can be positively ID’d on-
screen.  While not every prop that was made for a production may have been used on-screen, it’s awfully nice to see a
one-off flaw or some other imperfection that’s clearly visible in a specific scene, which helps to verify its authenticity.
What to look for in costumes:
As with props, the production team usually makes more than one of each item to prepare for on-set contingencies or
damage during production, so there may be multiple costumes in existence that were made for a specific actor in a film.  
And of course, any stuntperson would require a similar, if not identical costume to that worn by the principal actor.


1.  Vintage costumes are custom-made by hand for a certain actor or production, and have internal studio or costumer’s
tags, either with the studio or costume rental house’s name printed boldly on the label, and perhaps a type- or
handwritten production number with the name of the actor or character.  Those companies with custom garment labeling
such as these are MGM, Twentieth Century-Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros., as well as Western Costume Company, a
rental house that served the film and television industry for over 50 years.  Their rental wardrobe can sometimes be
spotted in many different films, worn by numerous actors.
In the absence of a tag, look for studio or costume rental house ink stamps on the inside of the garment, or studio dry
cleaning tags.


2.  Contemporary [or "off the rack"] costumes are usually store-bought, and will not have custom, vintage studio or rental
house tags.  Consequently, we recommend that collectors acquire contemporary film costumes from a reputable source.  
Although that Tom Cruise GAP shirt may in fact have been screen-used, how can you be sure it’s not just another of
the 3 million identical striped cotton shirts sold in GAP stores across the country?  Use common sense, verify the source of
the costume, and be skeptical when necessary.


A quick note about Certificates of Authenticity.  The Studios have recently begun selling props and costumes from their
most current films, and in certain instances will supply an accompanying COA with their endorsement.  However, caveat
emptor!  Many times, the studios themselves mis-identify their own pieces.  We’ve handled consignments that were
acquired directly from the studio or production company, yet the pieces are mis-matched, incorrect, or otherwise
problematic as to film or actor use.


As with all props, costumes and set pieces, we encourage collectors to do their homework and actually watch the film prior
to buying a piece.  If you cannot positively identify the piece on-screen, it may not truly be what it’s being advertised to
be.  Please be aware, however, that sometimes props and costumes are made for a film or television production and either
not used on the set, or used in a scene which was later edited out of the film.  In this case, you would obviously not see the
artifact on-screen. Also, costumes are sometimes altered for use in a later film, and in that case would not match on-screen
with the original version.


When buying from an individual, be wary of COAs issued by the seller – they’re typically not worth the paper theyâ
€™re printed on.  The only COAs of value are those signed by someone who actually worked on the film, or those from the
studios themselves.  And since most studios did not appreciate the value of their production artifacts until very recently,
older items from film and television will typically not have any such studio COA.

Remember that the studios make props, costumes and set pieces for short-term use, and not longevity or museum-like
display.  Most production materials are very fragile, and do not hold up well over time without good care.  As custodians of
these rare film and television relics, you, the collector, must ensure their proper care and storage to preserve Hollywood
history.

**Recently I have seen a lot of auctions on ebay for movie props claiming to be from legendary films such as "Wizard of
Oz", "Gone With The Wind" etc. These in some cases appear to be nothing more than common antique items; vases, pots,
silver dishes.  The claim is they were allegedly purchased from a prop vault. Most of these items however have no
provenance what so ever. To me it appears to be a scam of some kind. I could go to any antique store and pick many of
these items up for a couple of dollars add a nostalgic description and my own authenticity documentation and instantly be a
vintage hollywood props dealer.  USE CAUTION especially on ebay.
Fertility God Stattue
"Raiders of the Lost Artk"
Judy Garland dress
"Wizard of Oz"
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