Q: I have the stretcher used to pick up the body of James Dean. I’m good friends with the director of the funeral home that did the job. I also have the tools used to prepare Dean for burial. Kind of morbid, but do these items have any value?
A: You’re telling me what you have is morbid? It positively gives me the willies, but post-death celebrity memorabilia does sell. Steve McQueen’s Le Mans racing suit sold at auction for nearly $1 million. The memorable white dress Marilyn Monroe wore in “The Seven Year Itch” brought $5.5 million at auction.
Note that both items were related to fame: Neither was directly related to the star’s actual demise. There’s a line that you cross when dealing with the actual death.
One problem is that the reader’s items are not directly linked to Dean by photos or documentation. Both lots are common, widely used tools. Clear ownership is another problem. In 2010, when an auction listed autopsy tools used on Elvis Presley, the funeral home that did the work sued, claiming provenance and lack of proof of authenticity. The sale was canceled.
If our reader wants to sell, I suggest shopping the items to auctions that handle celebrity memorabilia. To donate, several museums handle celebrity-death memorabilia. The Famous Endings Museum in Dover, Ohio, is housed in a funeral home and run by the owner.
Q: We inherited this chair and believe it came from England in the early 1900s. After searching on the Internet for similar chairs, it seems to be a type called an early Victorian carved throne chair. Any info?
A: Smart collectors know that when a seller posts an item on the Internet, he can call it whatever he wishes. The chair could have been described as a Samurai seat or a Vegas settee. But calling it a throne chair does make it seem grander.
Responsible sellers make every effort to label items accurately. In this case, whether selling or as description, someone thought that labeling this a “throne” chair enhanced its possibilities.
Looking over the chair in an image sent, it’s a better grade, mass-produced armchair that was once part of a dining room set. Imposing chairs with arms were called masters and sat at the head(s) of the table. Other chairs in the set had no arms.
The wood is probably mahogany, perhaps walnut. Hard to tell. Carving is machine-done. The style is a mash-up of 17th century William and Mary (the tall back and curved arms), American Chippendale (finials on the back plus fan motifs on the back and stretcher), and Rococo (loops on the frame). The basic lion’s paw feet are Empire.
In the late 1800s through the first quarter of the 1900s, assembly-line furniture went through a revival phase as the Industrial Revolution made Gothic, Rococo and Elizabethan design influences available to the bourgeoisie. Purity of design was not an issue, so mix-and-match themes were common.
Comfort, on the other hand, was an issue, so this chair has a deep seat, now reupholstered.
The reader is smart by placing his chair around 1900. It is an excellent example of its kind, and in top condition. We found somewhat similar chairs sold at auction listed on www.liveauctioneers.com online. Most sold as part of a set. With eight chairs (two masters) and six chairs (one master), each sold for $650.
Dining fashions have changed, and chairs, unless remarkable, are a hard sell today. Your target buyer needs to want a single chair. Retail value for this master would be about $200 to $225.