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.