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All About Appraisals — Valuing Celebrity
By Meredith Meuwly

My 11-piece set of yellow LeCreuset pots and pans are worth $999.95 new in the box. I might get $50 for them on eBay if I decided to sell the set after very light use. So why are Marilyn Monroe's well-used 12-piece yellow LeCreuset pots and pans worth $25,300? Because she's Marilyn Monroe, international celebrity icon, and I'm Meredith Meuwly, Dallas appraiser.

How do you value the celebrity factor? It's an interesting problem for appraisers, as we try to pinpoint fair market value for items. We know the intrinsic value — used pots and pans $50 — but what is their value when you add in the fact that the items once belonged to a celebrity such as Marilyn Monroe? Estimated in 1999 to sell between $800 and $1,200, no one would have guessed that the final price would soar to just over $25,000 including buyer's premium.

Setting auction estimates is so much easier than determining fair market value. With both values, the appraiser looks at past sales comparables, but an estimate is just that — an estimate. You offer a conservative, but fair, low and high estimate and then leave it up to the marketplace to decide how much the item is worth. The old adage — an item is worth as much as someone else is willing to pay for it — is so often true. And sometimes at auction, bidding can skyrocket on the most random item!

With fair market value, it's a little more difficult. Instead of setting a range of values, the appraiser needs to determine the single value of an object that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller. To do so, the appraiser compares related examples and makes adjustments to account for the celebrity factor. Was the item owned by an A-list, B-list, or C-list celebrity? Was the item important to the celebrity or just something that they owned? Was the item a freebie from a film they did or something from their personal life? Luckily, many auction houses, including Heritage, have hosted numerous sales of personal property from famous celebrities, so there are comparables available to use as starting points.

In the end, it's all about the name. Marilyn Monroe is a big one, and Heritage bet that John Wayne is a big one too. Starting on October 3rd, 2011, Heritage hosted a four-day auction extravaganza of The Personal Property of John Wayne. A combination of professional and personal memorabilia, the auction featured awards, costumes, scripts, hats, boots, and personal correspondence, with pre-sale estimates ranging from $100 to $50,000, with dozens of items bringing at least two-to-three times their pre-auction estimates. For example, his beret from "The Green Berets" had an estimate $5,000 - $7,000 and sold for Sold for: $179,250! For more on that $5.38 Million Record-Breaking Event visit HA.com/JohnWayne.


After five years at Christie's in New York, Meredith Meuwly joined Heritage Auctions in 2007 as Senior Consignment Director in the Fine & Decorative Arts Department and currently manages the Appraisal Services department. In 2009, Meredith participated as an appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. She is also a member of the Fine Art committee for the International Society of Appraisers and looks forward to assisting with any formal appraisal needs.