Trusts & Estates
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
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.