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.