A Conversation With Doug Norwine, Director of Music and Entertainment Memorabilia at Heritage Auction Galleries
Editor: Tell me about yourself and about your background in music and entertainment memorabilia.
Doug Norwine: When I was 10 years old, I wrote to Charles Lindberg, Jimmy Stewart, and Boris Karloff requesting their autographs, and they all answered me back. That began my passion for collecting autographs and memorabilia. And here I am today with 50,000 autographs.
At the age of 12, I started playing the saxophone. I eventually attended Berklee College in Boston and taught there for two years. In 1977, I moved to Los Angeles and pursued a successful career as a studio saxophonist for 22 years. I worked with Chaka Khan, Frank Sinatra, Sheena Easton, Melissa Manchester, Ray Charles, and others. I also played the saxophone on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” which led to “The Simpsons.” I didn’t think much about it at the time because it was just a cartoon show, but it is now the longest-running cartoon show. On it, I played sax for Lisa Simpson and the cartoon character Bleeding Gums Murphy, who teaches Lisa Simpson how to play. That episode won an Emmy.
Then one fateful day in 2004, I got an email from Heritage, looking for someone to head up their Music and Entertainment Department. I told my then fiance that I was a saxophone player, not a memorabilia dealer, so I sent a short response, never thinking this job was for me. They replied back with interest, and the next thing I knew, I was meeting with the owners of Heritage at a coin show in California, and what they told me was quite intriguing. They brought me to Dallas for an interview, and then they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I realize now that my whole life has been training for this job at Heritage. My job is wonderful and rewarding; every day is like Christmas. I get to see the finest memorabilia in the world.
Do you still have your 50,000 autographs?
DN: Yes. I have an 18-year-old son who is expressing interest in the collection. I sold some it through Heritage to buy a car for him after I found some boxes of autographs that I didn’t know I had.
Beatles’ autographs on Elvis’ personal stationery. The Beatles visited Elvis at his home in Bel Air. At first in awe of one another, the group warmed up to each other after playing guitars together (with Ringo banging on a chair instead of drums). Jerry Schilling, a member of Elvis’ “Memphis Mafia,” got the Beatles to autograph a piece of Elvis’ stationery and dated it “8/27/65.” It sold for $59,750.
What else do you collect?
DN: In addition to autographs, I have a lot of the machinery from the original “Frankenstein” movie. I learned how to repair it, and I have it all working. I love to work on old high-voltage equipment.
You must have great Halloween parties at your home.
Every day is Halloween at our house! I am good friends with Boris Karloff’s daughter and Bela Lugosi’s son.
Collecting should always be fun, but where would you steer the serious collectors, the ones who want to have fun and have their investments appreciate?
DN: I think you should never collect as a pure investment. Collecting has to be fun. You have to have a passion for it. If you are doing it just to make money, you will probably get stung. Collect for love and then investment.
My advice is, find something you love that’s unique, that others aren’t collecting. I have a friend who has collected memorabilia related to Ichiro of the Seattle Mariners since he was a rookie, and now he is surely headed to the Hall of Fame. That collection will be worth money.
The Beatles original 1963 English prototype poster, 17.25 x 22, with four concert images capturing each Beatle and signed by all four.
Right now, good investments are the Beatles and Elvis, as well the top names in sports like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio.
Always collect the tragic stars like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Because they died early, their memorabilia will only increase in value.
James Dean’s instructions for feeding his cat (that was given to him by Elizabeth Taylor while on the movie, “Giant”). He left these the night before his departure for Salinas. The instructions read: “1 teaspoon white Karo, 1 big can evaporated milk, equal part boiled water or distilled water, 1 egg yoke sic, mix and chill. Don’t feed him meat or formula cold. 1 drop vitamin solution per day. Take Marcus to Dr. Cooper on Melrose for shots next week.” This grouping sold for $8,962.50.
What is hot in music and entertainment right now?
The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Jim Morrison, Buddy Holly, Elvis.
Anything signed by all the Beatles—pictures, albums, contracts—will increase in multiples. I have never seen a guitar, or any instrument, authentically signed by all the Beatles; that is rarer than a hound’s tooth!
We have sold a Paul McCartney-signed guitar for $17,000 and Kurt Cobain’s Moserite guitar for $131,000.
The Beatles band-signed “Please Please Me” album cover. These three signatures date from mid-1963. The Ringo Starr autograph was taken from another “Please Please Me” album cover that was signed by him in 1964 and affixed to this one by a professional paper restoration expert. The album sold for $10,755.
Stevie Ray Vaughn (October 3, 1954-August 27, 1990) is hot and will increase in value, as he was such an important pioneer in music.
Heritage’s 20th Century Icon auction coming up will have a November 22, 1963 “Dallas Morning News” signed by JFK on his picture on page 1. A maid got him to sign it that morning in Fort Worth, and it could be the last signature he did, or at least one of last. This will be a hot item in the sale.
What would you say are the “sleeper” memorabilia, the items under the radar now that will really increase in value in the future?
DN: Seinfeld memorabilia is going up; they are getting fantastic prices for signed scripts. Look for reclusive stars like Billy Bob Thornton. Bob Dylan rarely signs autographs; his is one of the fastest increasing in value. Many stars have secretaries who sign for them so make sure the autographs are authentic.
Paul McCartney signs autographs, and we’ve seen what has happened with Lennon’s. John’s signature is money in the bank.
With the death of Michael Jackson, some collectors are wondering which of his memorabilia will appreciate?
We have been flooded with questions about him. Michael Jackson’s signature has value, but I don’t think it will go through the roof. He signed a lot of items.
Now, his sketches and handwritten lyrics are really desirable and valuable, as is performance-worn gear with photo proof that he wore it. The jury is out on how he will be regarded in future years. I think he was the greatest entertainer at one time, but it will be interesting to see how history judges him.
There is a glut of his stuff on the market now, so choose the best of the best, the closest to one-of-a-kind you can get.
Which music or entertainment items have surprised you with their auction prices?
DN: Paul McCartney-signed Hofner bases have gone for $20,000. Buddy Holly always goes for great prices. The watch he wore in the plane crash went for $155,000.
I was surprised by the prices of some sketches from the Brown Derby. A set of two framed sketches of Jimmy Durante with his nose extending into the second sketch sold for $26,000.
The hat W.C. Fields wore in the movie “Poppy” went for $35,000. Theda Bara’s costume archive sold for $100,000. [Silent film star Theda Bara made more than 40 films from 1914-1925 and was known for her risque costumes.] By the way, her real name was Theodosia Goodman.
Of all the items you have seen over the years, which do you wish you owned?
DN: Buddy Holly’s watch, some of the signed Beatles items we’ve had, the application that James Dean filled out for the race in Salinas that he never made it to, and the handwritten instructions James Dean left for feeding his cat the night before he died.
Buddy Holly’s 14 karat white gold Omega wristwatch (1958) that he was wearing when his plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959. The watch sold for $155,350.
What would you say is essential information for a serious collector to know right now?
DN: Buy wisely, buy from reputable dealers, do your homework. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is a great incentive these days to fake autographs. Be very careful; many people are trying to make a quick buck.
What are the top quality items?
DN: Items from all of the names mentioned before and from music or entertainment figures of huge stature who died young. How many signatures of theirs are there?
Collect the people who changed the entertainment medium like Paul Newman (who didn’t like to sign autographs) and Katharine Hepburn. Presidential autographs are valuable, but they often use autopens.
Focus on the major names who changed history, all the pioneers. People should pay attention to space collectibles. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrich are the Christopher Columbuses of our generation. Armstrong does not like to sign autographs, by the way.
What do you think of the crypt above Marilyn Monroe’s selling for more than $4 million on eBay?
Someone who was passionate about Marilyn, hopefully, bought it. The question is, will someone pay $4 million for the crypt near Michael Jackson in 45 years? That I am not sure of.
Our thanks to Doug Norwine for this interview. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-800-872-6467 Ext. 1452, or 214-409-1452.
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