From the earliest stages of Elvis Presley's career, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, hit on collectibles as a way to market his client. In the early days, Colonel Parker arranged for a blitz of products targeted largely at teenage girls as a way to expand and enhance Elvis's image as a rebellious, sexual rocker. The products that bore Elvis' likeness in the late 1950s ranged from lipstick and jewelry to clothing, shoes, even perfume.
As Elvis matured into a bona fide film star in the 1960s and concert legend in the 1970s, his marketing plan was suitably modified, and the difference in the collectibles from the period is noticeable. Instead of being marketed to rebellious youth, Elvis was finally a grown-up, and collectibles like calendars, catalogs, and concert souvenirs reflect the change.
After Elvis' death in 1977, his estate continued to market different collectibles, many as a way to honor the fallen star. The collectibles in this area range from the simple and tasteful to the outrageous.
In the pages of this article, follow the phases of Elvis Presley's career and the collectibles that serve as a snapshot of the period. See the next section to begin by learning about Elvis Presley collectibles in the 1950s.
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Elvis Presley Collectibles of the 1950s
When Colonel Tom Parker became Elvis' manager, he began to look for ways to get his sole client further into the public eye. In addition to advertising and promotional appearances, the Colonel signed a deal to merchandise a line of Elvis Presley collectibles. Here are some of the highlights of the collectibles created in the Elvis craze of the late 1950s.
Elvis Presley Lipsticks
Elvis Presley Enterprises was established in the summer of 1956 by Colonel Tom Parker in a deal with Hank Saperstein. Saperstein had successfully merchandised Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger, Lassie, and other icons of American pop culture. The Colonel and Saperstein approved 18 licensees, who produced about 30 products. Among them were Elvis Presley Lipsticks, which Saperstein claimed would be so popular "they would walk off the counter.”
Shades included Hound Dog Orange, Heartbreak Pink, Cruel Red, Tender Pink, Tutti Frutti Red, and Love-ya Fuschia. Each lipstick came attached to a card with a picture of Elvis and the tag line, "Keep me always on your lips." The lipsticks are a popular collectible today, partly because the colors were named after Elvis songs. A tube attached to the original card is quite valuable, while the lipstick chart that lists all the colors is extremely rare.
Elvis Presley Sneakers
After the Saperstein deal, fans could literally dress themselves from head to toe -- hats to shoes -- in Elvis Presley merchandise. Elvis Presley Enterprises licensed the Randolph Manufacturing Company to make Elvis canvas sneakers in 1956.
Two different colors were available, a green and black pair and a black and white pair. The former are the most valuable, though sneakers in both colors are rare and highly sought collectibles. The tan-colored box that the sneakers came in featured a photo of Elvis on the front and the back. The photo on the front was a shot of Elvis performing, which was the famous pose used on his first album cover.
The photo on the back was a dreamy portrait, with "Love Me Tender" printed at the top and Elvis' signature at the bottom. The box is now considered extremely rare. A pair of sneakers in the box is currently worth up to $4,300.
Elvis Presley Record Player
Two models of the "Elvis Presley Autograph" record player were produced in the fall of 1956 by RCA Victor. Both were covered with blue vinyl contrasted with a light blue-gray tweed material, and both were distinguished by Elvis' signature, which was stamped in gold on the top.
The more sophisticated model, which sold for $47.95, could play up to fourteen 45-rpm records automatically. Those on a budget could put down one dollar and pay one dollar per week at participating RCA dealers. A bonus was included with this model in the form of an Elvis three-record EP set that featured 12 songs.
The other record player was a four-speed model that cost $32.95, or 75 cents down and 75 cents per week. The less expensive model came with a two-record EP set with eight songs. Both record players came with an instruction booklet titled "How to Use and Enjoy Your RCA Victor Elvis Presley Automatic 45 Victrola Portable Phonograph."
Love Me Tender Necklace
Several pieces of jewelry were manufactured by Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1956, including a charm bracelet, a pair of earrings, a pin, and the Love Me Tender necklace. The necklace was issued to coincide with the release of Elvis' first movie, though nothing about the design of the trinket relates to the film.
Available in a gold or silver finish, the heart-shaped pendant bore an engraving of Elvis playing the guitar. The card to which the necklace as attached is dark blue and white and contains a printed list that names four of Elvis' songs from 1956.
The necklace and card together make a nice keepsake commemorating that all-important year for Elvis. The gold finish version is slightly more valuable than the silver finish to collectors today, and a necklace still attached to its card increases the value of the item by almost twice as much.
The Pink Items
In 1956, Elvis Presley Enterprises issued an autograph book, diary, scrapbook, photo album, and record case as a set of must-have accessories for every teenage girl. All of the items were dusty pink and featured the same black line drawing of Elvis with white highlights. The collectibles are commonly referred to as the pink items. The material used to make the items was a stimulated leather called "leatherette."
The drawing was based on the photo that adorned the cover of his first album, Elvis Presley. A small hound dog also graced the covers, which was a reference to Elvis' biggest hit single of 1956.
The scrapbook and photo album are the largest items in the set, but the diary is extremely difficult to find, making it the most valuable collectible.
The Elvis Presley Hat and Head Scarf
The 1950s was an era of crew cuts and curly pony tails, and Elvis Presley Enterprises licensed several hats and scarves to take advantage of the fashions of the day. The head scarves, which were made of a blend of rayon and silk, featured a four-color print of Elvis. The largest scarves measured 32 inches square and cost under $2. Women's kerchiefs and hankies were also available, as was a more exotic-looking form of head gear -- the Elvis turban!
Comfortable and casual, crew hats became popular among teenage boys. Even Elvis was known to don one on occasion. Elvis Presley Enterprises sold two different styles of gabardine crew hats. Both featured titles of popular Elvis songs in the wide band around the crown. The more common style included a portrait of Elvis inside a yellow burst; the other showed a picture of Elvis clasping his hands by his face. The latter is currently higher in value, and both hats inflate in value if the original price tag is still attached.
Elvis Presley Bubble Gum Cards
In 1956, Elvis Presley Enterprises authorized the Topps Gum Company to produce a set of Elvis cards to add to its line of collectors cards. The color cards sold in packages of five for a nickel, bubble gum included. Single cards sold for a penny.
The complete set contains 66 cards, which are divided into two parts. The first set includes cards 1-46 and is referred to as the Ask Elvis Series. Each card in this part features a question for Elvis and his answer and signature on the back. Cards 47-66 depict scenes from Elvis' first film, Love Me Tender, and feature details about the movie on the backs.
All of the cards are colorized black-and-white photographs. Counterfeit reproductions of this set of cards were produced in black and white, which makes them incredibly easy for collectors to identify.
Teddy Bear Perfume
Teen-Age, Inc., came up with Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear" Eau de Parfum in 1957, licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises. The name was undoubtedly inspired by the success of Elvis' hit single, "Teddy Bear," as well as by the rumors that he collected teddy bears.
The tall, slender bottle with a white cap featured a photo of a smiling Elvis from the mid-1950s. The perfume came in a plain yellow box with a look that was supposed to simulate cork. There was no writing on the box.
Later, Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear" Eau de Parfum was reissued with the bottles bearing a 1957 copyright. However, the photo of Elvis on the label was clearly from the 1960s. Also, the bottle shape is square, and the cap is a metallic color. The date of reissue is not known, but the reissued perfume is worth considerably less than the original.
Elvis Presley Guitar
Elvis was credited with starting a boom in guitar sales that reached mammoth proportions by 1957. Elvis himself generally used his guitar more as a prop than a musical instrument, but popular imagery of the era usually associated him with a guitar. That year, Elvis Presley Enterprises licensed the Emenee Music Company to manufacture several different toy guitars bearing Elvis' name and likeness.
The "Teddy Bear" and "Hound Dog" models originally sold for $12 and came in both four-string and six-string versions. The "Love Me Tender" guitar was more elaborate. The two-tone plastic body measured about three feet long and came in a carrying case. The "Love Me Tender" model, which was sold only through Sears stores and catalogs, also included a small songbook and an automatic chord player. The four-string versions of all three guitars are more rare and therefore more valuable.
Dog Tag Jewelry
To commemorate Elvis' induction into the army, or more likely to exploit it, Elvis Presley Enterprises issued jewelry reproductions of his dog tags, complete with his proper serial number -- 55310761. The dog tag jewelry included two styles of bracelets, sweater holders, anklets, necklaces, and key chains. The jewelry featured a chrome finish over a brass base.
Currently, the sweater holder is the most valuable piece. Several years ago, many boxes of dog tag jewelry were uncovered, and consequently, the jewelry is not as valuable as other Elvis collectibles. The dog tags remain popular items, however, because they represent Elvis' stint in the service. In 1977, reproductions were produced, which were not made of chrome over a brass base but instead were tinted gold. The originals have a copyright date of 1956, though they were not issued until 1958.
Among the most delightful of all magazines about Elvis Presley are the teenzines (teen magazines) from the mid to late 1950s. They are also among the most valuable because they cover the burgeoning days of rock 'n' roll, an exciting period in American popular culture. This period is of interest to a variety of collectors in addition to the Elvis fan.
Teenzines fall into two groups: single publications that focus entirely on Elvis Presley and regularly issued magazines that feature cover articles about Elvis. One of the most sought-after single-issue magazines is Elvis Presley: Hero or Heel?, which addresses the question all parents wanted to know in 1956. Another is Elvis Answers Back, which included a 78 rpm flexi-disc recording with the voice of Elvis attached to the magazine. The most colorful regularly issued teenzines of the era include Dig and Hep Cats.
Elvis' first four films represent the oldest and most popular phase of his film career, making the 1950s movie memorabilia the most valuable. The most sought-after movie collectible is probably the one-sheet -- a poster that measures 27×41 inches. At almost $1,500, the one-sheet for Jailhouse Rock is the most valuable.
Lobby cards, which measure 22×28 inches and come in sets of eight, follow one-sheets in popularity. Complete lobby-card sets for the 1950s movies are scarce, making them worth a great deal. The set from Love Me Tender is valued at about $850. However, the set was reissued after Elvis died, and the reissues, which are marked with an R preceding the date in the lower right corner, are not nearly as valuable. Generally speaking, the memorabilia for Jailhouse Rock is the most valuable of Elvis' films. The movie King Creole was rereleased in 1959, with a whole new set of posters and lobby cards. The 1959 memorabilia is not as valuable but features a better selection of images.
As Elvis' image changed from rebellious rock star to family-friendly movie star in the 1960s and concert giant in the 1970s, collectibles that bore his image also changed. See the next page to learn about Elvis collectibles in the 1960s and 1970s.
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Elvis Presley Collectibles of the 1960s and 1970s
After he returned from the army in 1960, Elvis Presley sought to change his image. Elvis and the Colonel wanted to present Elvis as a more mature artist and family-friendly movie star, rather than the rebellious rocker of his youth. In keeping with Elvis' new image, the collectibles marketed with his likeness were no longer geared toward teenage girls, but rather to a wider audience of fans. This trend continued as Elvis' movie career ended at the end of the 1960s and gave rise to the concert legend of the 1970s. Here are a few of the Elvis Collectibles from the 1960s and 1970s.
Elvis Presley RCA Pocket Calendars
From 1963 through 1980, RCA Records printed pocket calendars with Elvis' picture on one side and a 12-month calendar on the other. To promote good will, as well as Elvis' singles and albums, RCA issued the calendars to fan clubs and to record stores as give-aways for their customers. Versions of the calendars were printed for foreign markets as well, including Germany and Japan.
The promotion proved to be a popular one, particularly after Elvis died. The rarest and most valuable calendar is the 1963 issue, while those from the years 1976 to 1980 are worth less than any others.
In 1980, RCA celebrated 25 years of releasing Elvis Presley records. They issued authentic reproductions of all 18 calendars for individuals who ordered the 25th Anniversary limited-edition Elvis Presley box set. The reproductions feature small imperfections and differences, making it possible to spot the reissues. The pocket calendars remain a popular RCA collectible because they are inexpensive and part of a series.
Elvis Presley RCA Catalogs and Bonus Photos
Promoter extraordinaire Colonel Tom Parker convinced RCA that they should more actively tout their top artist by offering slick-looking annual catalogs to list available Elvis records. Issued throughout Elvis' career, the catalogs were compact booklets that not only promoted Elvis' music but were also collectibles. Some were printed vertically and stapled in the spine, and others were printed horizontally and spiral-bound.
RCA also offered bonus photos with many of Elvis' albums though only for a limited time. Sometimes, bonus photos served the same function as the catalogs because lists or photos of available Elvis albums were printed on the backs to promote the singer's records.
Because they were offered for a limited time, bonus photos have a higher value than the catalogs. Currently, the photos offered in the Gold Records Volume 4 and It Happened at the World's Fair albums are worth over $250, making them the most valuable.
Elvis Presley Holiday Postcards
Every year at Christmas, Colonel Tom Parker printed greeting cards as gestures to fan clubs, lesser business associates, the media, and miscellaneous contacts. Occasionally, one of these postcards ended up as a bonus in an Elvis album. Sometimes Elvis was pictured alone on the cards, but often the Colonel was pictured alongside him, usually in a Santa Claus suit.
As the years went by, stranger versions of the annual Christmas postcard began to appear. One card from the early 1970s showed Elvis performing in his white jumpsuit on a snowy rooftop while the Colonel, dressed in a Santa suit, popped out of the chimney. The most valuable are the two Christmas cards issued while Elvis was in Germany.
The Colonel had Easter postcards printed between 1966 and 1969, though they lack the humor and imagination of most of the Christmas cards. The holiday postcards are an interesting collectible because they typify the Colonel's carny-style promotional tactics.
Elvis Presley Movie Memorabilia
All but four of Elvis' narrative films were released in the 1960s, so movie collectibles best represent his career during this decade. One-sheet movie posters and lobby card sets remain the most popular collectibles, because they are relatively easy to obtain.
Perhaps the most entertaining movie collectibles are the miscellaneous items given away as promotion. Each movie slated for promotional gimmicks inspired a different trinket, with the wackier items bearing the mark of the Colonel. Some of the most interesting items include a lei with a color photo of Elvis to promote Blue Hawaii, pens with feather tips to advertise Tickle Me, and a brown paper army hat to tout G.I. Blues.
When the promo items for It Happened at the World's Fair ran out, the Colonel struck a quick deal with a novelty manufacturer to make Psycho-Sticks -- two flimsy sticks that were rubbed together to spin a propeller on the end of one of the sticks. While certainly a memorable promo item, they bore absolutely no connection to the movie.
Books Into Movies
Elvis' movies are frequently criticized as quickly produced, formulaic musical comedies written by Hollywood hacks. While some of his films had original stories, many were based on popular novels. In general, books that were made into movies are desirable collectibles, and those that inspired Elvis' movies are no exception. Several of the books are difficult to find today, though most are not very valuable.
The paperback version of Wild in the Country, written by J.R. Salamanca, is perhaps the most sought after because the cover shows a photo of Elvis and costar Hope Lange. Other books include A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins (King Creole); Charro! by Harry Whittington; Pioneer, Go Home by Richard Powell (Follow That Dream), Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker (Flaming Star); Kid Galahad by Francis Wallace; Mister, Will You Marry Me? by Frederick Kohner (Girls! Girls! Girls!); and Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Babcock (The Trouble wth Girls).
1968 Elvis Presley Comeback Special Promotions
Elvis, the 1968 television special sponsored entirely by the Singer Company, marked a turning point in Elvis' career. The success of the special inspired him to return to live performances and helped revive his recording career. In retrospect, the program was his finest hour, and it is known in Presley lore and literature as "The '68 Comeback Special."
Promotions for Elvis were not particularly clever or attractive, but they are worthy because of the special's significance. The best collectible is a 32-page, 4×9-inch booklet that listed every television station carrying Elvis' special on December 3, 1968, and every radio station airing his half-hour Christmas radio special, also sponsored by Singer, two days later. Other "Comeback Special" collectibles include electric store displays of the album cover, posters, ads for the special, and insert cards given away at Singer stores.
Albert Hand Elvis Presley Publications
One of the most collected publications about Elvis Presley is a fan club magazine from England titled Elvis Monthly. Albert Hand, who was the president of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain, launched the magazine in February 1960.
The first 18 issues were 51/2×81/2 inches and contained 24 pages, but the size was changed permanently to 5×7 inches with 32 pages in August 1961. The content consisted of fluffy, fan-targeted stories about Elvis and his family, but the professional-looking production values made this fan publication highly respected. Todd Slaughter took over the presidency of the fan club and the publication of Elvis Monthly after Hand died in 1972.
From 1963 to 1982, Elvis Monthly issued an annual covering Elvis' activities for that year. The hard-cover annual, titled Elvis Special, featured rare photos, cartoons, poetry, and complete lists of every Elvis song, single, and album released in England.
Elvis Presley Concert Souvenirs
After Elvis returned to live performances in 1969, a whole new field of collectibles appeared. Whenever Elvis performed, souvenir stands were erected in the lobbies of venues where he appeared in concert. The souvenir stands sold tour books, pennants, posters, pins, scarves, and other trinkets.
Among the better concert souvenirs were the tour books, also called concert photo folios. Because a new tour book was featured every year, they serve as a chronicle of this phase of his career. Usually 16 or 24 pages in length, the tour books contained color photos of Elvis in performance.
Shows at the Las Vegas Hilton always generated additional souvenirs in the form of menus, vinyl or cardboard promo disks that hung from the ceiling, mobiles, and postcards. The menus have since become popular and very valuable collectibles, while the promo disks (which were stolen by adventurous fans from the ceiling areas of the Hilton) have become much sought-after collectibles.
Elvis Presley Scarves
Elvis established the tradition of tossing scarves and towels to the fans in the audience as soon as he began appearing in concert in Las Vegas in the summer of 1969. In the beginning, he threw one or two of his sweat-soaked scarves into the audience per performance. As the habit turned into a ritual, dozens were hurled during each show. Sometimes, fans walked down to the edge of the stage, and Elvis would hand them a scarf. Occasionally, he might pick some lucky soul out of the audience and place the scarf around her neck before kissing her.
Anyone who ended up with the scarves now owns an irreplaceable collectible that is priceless. More than memorabilia, a scarf from Elvis' hands is a virtual relic of a performer whose concerts represented extraordinary personal experiences for the members of the audience. Scarves with Elvis' name printed on them were sold at the souvenir stands in the lobby for those not lucky enough to receive one from Elvis himself.
Elvis Presley Mathey-Tissot Watch
The Mathey-Tissot wristwatch represents one of the first jewelry items that Elvis had custom designed. A tastefully designed man's watch that displayed the date, the timepiece featured the name "Elvis Presley" on the beveled edge that encircled the face. Elvis gave the watches as gestures of respect and fellowship to friends and acquaintances.
After being honored as one of the Jaycees' Outstanding Young Men of the Year, Elvis hosted a cocktail party at Graceland for the other nine honorees, and he presented each of them with a Mathey-Tissot watch as they came through the door. A mix-up ensued, and Elvis accidentally gave one to an assistant transportation chairman for the Jaycees. Elvis as embarrassed but would not ask the Jaycee to give the watch back, lest he would embarrass the man as well. Instead, he ordered an additional watch for the ninth honoree. Today, any of the Mathey-Tissot Elvis Presley watches are worth at least $8,500.
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Post 1977 Elvis Presley Collectibles
Although Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, Elvis collectibles live on. Even now, thirty years after his death, fans find comfort and connection by taking home a little piece of Elvis memorabilia. Here are some of the collectibles popular since Elvis' death.
Unused Elvis Presley Concert Tickets
Elvis was scheduled to leave on another grinding road trip of one-nighters on August 17, 1977. In poor physical shape, he was not looking forward to yet another tour, at least according to some of those around him. He had just completed a tour in June of that year, with his last performance at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 26.
Around 2:00 p.m. on August 16, Elvis Presley was found dead at Graceland. Many of the shows on the tour that never happened were completely sold out or close to it. After the announcement of Elvis' death, promoters offered a refund for ticket buyers. Many fans chose not to return their tickets, keeping them as souvenirs. The fans' reluctance to receive are fund caused a great deal of confusion for promoters who had to account for their losses, pay cancellation fees, etc. Later, many fans decided to sell their tickets for many times the face value.
Memorial Issues of Newspapers and Magazines
News of Elvis' death dominated the front pages of major newspapers around the country, pushing other prominent stories off the page. These editions of many newspapers have become highly desired collectibles, particularly Elvis' two home-town newspapers.
The Commercial Appeal's headline offered a conventional news headline: "Death Captures Crown of Rock and Roll -- Elvis Dies Apparently After Heart Attack." By contrast, the Memphis Press-Scimitar's headline read more like a eulogy: "A Lonely Life Ends on Elvis Presley Boulevard." Both of these editions are reprinted regularly, which devalues the originals. The newspapers are not valuable, but they are popular souvenirs among fans.
Memorial editions of music magazines such as Rolling Stone, New Musical Express, and Crawdaddy also make worthy collectibles. Elvis was largely ignored by these magazines in life, but after his death, they assessed and analyzed his contributions to popular music and culture.
Always Elvis Souvenirs
"Always Elvis" was a ten-day convention staged by the Colonel and Vernon Presley near the first anniversary of Elvis' death in 1978. Held at the Hilton in Las Vegas on September 1-10, it marked the first organized convention of any type to commemorate Elvis. That year, fans had journeyed to Memphis to pay their respects, but there were no official ceremonies or activities.
Typical of the Colonel's approach to marketing, "Always Elvis" featured banners, buttons, photos, programs, copies of a poem that the Colonel had written about Elvis, and other souvenirs -- all for a nominal fee. A highlight of the convention was the unveiling of a statue honoring Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton.
After that year, activities were organized in Memphis each August as a tribute to Elvis. The ceremonies and activities grew more elaborate with each passing year. However, the Colonel rarely became actively involved again as per the outcome of the lawsuit brought against him by the Presley estate.
Elvis Presley Liquor Decanters
After Elvis died, McCormick Distilling Company of Weston, Missouri, began issuing liquor decanters in the form of Elvis Presley figurines. The decanters were expensive collectibles even at the time of manufacture and were sold to liquor stores or directly through McCormick Distilling.
The suggested retail price at the time was $199.95 per decanter, but many are worth much more. The decanters were often issued in series, with each figurine representing an important phase or key event in Elvis' life or career.
One popular series, entitled Elvis' Musical Pets, consisted of figurines of Elvis singing to animals that might remind fans of one of his songs. The series included "Elvis & Hound Dog," which depicted Elvis singing to a basset hound, just as he did on The Steve Allen Show in 1956. The base of the decanter was a music box that played "Hound Dog." Another in the series was "Elvis' Teddy Bear," which was in reference to the popular song from Loving You.
Elvis Presley Dolls
Dolls of Elvis Presley have been issued as far back as 1956, when Elvis Presley Enterprises licensed a rubber doll in a plaid shirt and jeans -- clothing that Elvis himself never wore. The 1956 Elvis Presley doll is now a valuable collectible, perhaps because the "magic skin" that covered the upper torso was made of a lightweight rubber that deteriorated with age. Thus, few exist in good condition.
After Elvis' death, other dolls were manufactured that look more like him. Most of these dolls were made of durable material, such as vinyl or porcelain, and were intended to be collectibles. The Elvis Presley Limited Doll Series by World Dolls is arguably the most highly regarded series because of the close resemblance to Elvis. The models for the series were sculpted by a noted doll portraitist named Joyce Christopher. Each issue in the series constituted a limited edition and featured Elvis in a different jumpsuit. Some of the pieces included "Flame," "Phoenix," and "All American Elvis."
Elvis Presley Commemorative Plates
Several companies have manufactured collector plates since Elvis' death. In 1977, Factors Etc. and the Colonel's company, Boxcar Enterprises, licensed a French company called Limoges to make a commemorative plate with a lithograph of Elvis in brown ink. The expensive Royal Orleans series of collector plates and figurines depicted Elvis in his best-known concerts or jumpsuits. Each plate or figurine was limited to a run of 20,000.
The Bradford Exchange, a specialist in collector plates, has done a number of Presley plates over the years, and they are probably the most well known. Among their limited-edition Presley collectibles was the Elvis Presley: Looking at a Legend Series, which included "Heartbreak Hotel" by Nate Giorgio and "Elvis at the Gate of Graceland" by Bruce Emmett. Among Elvis fans, the plates of artist Susie Morton were very well liked. Her richly colored and detailed plate portraits were sold by Ernst.
Elvis Presley Bronze Sculpture
Noted artist Bill Rains interpreted Elvis' career through his bronze sculpture "Journey to Graceland." Three distinct images of Elvis performing are captured in one piece. On one side, a young Elvis sings to the beat of rock 'n' roll as he strums his guitar. Another side features Elvis in a jumpsuit and a cape, which represents his early years in Las Vegas. The final image depicts Elvis in a dramatic pose from his later Vegas period.
Three castings of "Journey to Graceland" were done. Bronze I stood 41 inches high and was limited to 42 castings, making those pieces the most rare. Bronze II measured 18 inches high and was released in an edition of 142 castings, while Bronze III topped off at 12 inches in an edition of 1,042 castings. The more castings in an edition, the less valuable the individual pieces. Originally, the Bronze I pieces sold for $25,000 each. "Journey to Graceland" represents an effort to market a tasteful, high-end collectible.
Elvis Presley Collectors Cards
During the 1970s, a relatively new manufacturer of collectors cards, the Donruss Company, was struggling against their main competitor, the Topps Gum Company. In 1978, the license to make Elvis Presley collectors cards was given to the Donruss Company, primarily because they were based in Memphis -- Elvis' hometown. The Donruss set includes 66 cards that use both color and black-and-white photos.
On October 15, 1992, the River Group released the first of three 220-card series of Elvis Celebrity Cards. The 660 cards were sold individually or in 12-card packs. The cards sold for $1.50 a packet, though prices were inflated almost immediately because they were touted as collectibles. The front of the cards featured photos, with biographical information about Elvis printed on the back.
The Donruss cards do not have the same popularity with collectors as the 1956 Topps cards. However, the Topps, Donruss, and River Group sets represent three decades of Elvis cards and offer an interesting comparison and contrast for collectors.
Elvis Presley Wine
Elvis wine provides an example of the attitude toward the merchandising of Elvis in the months after he died. Most fans know that Elvis rarely, if ever, drank alcohol, so his image and name on a bottle of wine seems out of character. This point was not lost on Colonel Tom Parker, who claimed, "Elvis never drank wine, but if he did, this is the wine he would have ordered."
The Colonel, who had a large measure of control in the licensing, was not very discerning about what type of products were approved. In addition, bootleggers manufactured Elvis products illegally to make a quick dollar off the fans. As a result, many items were produced that were ill-suited to Elvis' image or were just plain tasteless -- Elvis Presley Sweat, for instance.
Despite the incompatibility of Elvis and alcohol, the Elvis wine and bottles remain a popular collectible among fans. No longer manufactured, the spritzy white wine was available in 1979 through Boxcar Enterprises, which imported it from Italy via Frontenac Vineyards.
In 2003, Graceland Cellars (a division of Signature Wines) launched a new series of Elvis Presley Wines in conjunction with Elvis Presley Enterprises. Vintages include Jailhouse Red Merlot, The King Cabernet Sauvignon, and Blue Suede Chardonnay. They also feature a seasonal Blue Christmas label, and launched a Stuck On You Shiraz in honor of the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death.
Elvis Presley Cologne
During the 1980s and 1990s, a fashion trend for celebrity perfumes accounted for fragrances named after and endorsed by everyone from Cher to Elizabeth Taylor. At the height of that trend, the Presley estate authorized Elvis cologne, which was issued by Elvis Fragrances, Inc., of Atlanta. Though Elvis cologne was pan of a trend, it also harkened back to 1957, when Teen-Age Inc. manufactured Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear" Eau de Perfume.
The Elvis cologne and the Teddy Bear perfume make a pair of significant collectibles, because they are similar items manufactured at different phases of Elvis' career. The former was part of a merchandizing blitz designed to help make Elvis a household name among mainstream audiences, while the latter is in response to his status as a pop culture legend. Teddy Bear perfume was marketed to teenagers, which is apparent from the name and the photo of Elvis on the label. Elvis cologne was marketed to mature men, as indicated by the tasteful packaging and abstract design.
Elvis Presley Stamp
Issued by the U.S. Postal Service on January 8, 1993, the Elvis stamp quickly became a popular and inexpensive bit of memorabilia. The stamp ballot, which featured illustrations of the two final stamp designs, has also become a desired collectible. The post office also offered a sheet of 40 stamps in a sleeve that looked like an album cover.
Fans soon developed their own schemes for unique stamp collectibles, including writing erroneous addresses on Presley-stamped envelopes so they would be marked "Returned to Sender.” The ultimate collectible is a pad. All stamps are shipped from the printers to the U.S Postal Service in units called pads, which contain 4,000 stamps.
No pad has ever been offered for sale to the public. Before the Elvis stamps went on sale, however, some pads were evidently slipped to collectors, complete with interoffice instructions and warnings from the U.S. Postal Service not to sell any stamps before the designated day. These intact pads are currently worth $2,000.
Elvis Presley Velvet Paintings
Much Elvis Presley memorabilia over the years has been less than sophisticated or less than tasteful. Some of these gauche items are getting a second look from collectors, including velvet paintings. Of particular interest is the work of fine artists such as Julian Schnabel and Eleanor Dickinson, who began to work in black velvet to blur the line between high art and popular art.
A 1994 book entitled Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate by Jennifer Heath focused attention on painting on velvet, which began in Persia centuries ago. The paintings became kitsch in the 1930s when Mexican-based companies began mass-producing them. One well-known black velvet painting is a giant Elvis by David Swierz and Dennis Scott. Commissioned by Chicago radio personality Buzz Kilman for his band to use in their stage show, it has been displayed in several Elvis art exhibitions. Why does black velvet attract artists to paint subjects like Elvis, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood? According to Heath, it is because velvet is the medium of heroes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Doll holds a Ph.D. in radio, television and film studies from Northwestern University. She is an instructor of film studies at Oakton Community College and a writer of film and popular culture. A sought-after expert on the works and life of Elvis Presley, Susan has appeared on The Joan Rivers Show and National Public Radio to discuss the King and other topics related to popular film. She is the author of numerous books on popular culture, notably Elvis: A Tribute to His Life, The Films of Elvis Presley, Marilyn: Her Life and Legend, Elvis: Rock 'n' Roll Legend, Best of Elvis, Understanding Elvis, Elvis: Forever in the Groove, Elvis: American Idol, and Florida on Film.