Nostalgia, history drive art and memorabilia markets

Claire Barrington-Jones is senior vice president - group sales at Borro

With the passing of Muhammad Ali last week there has been a renewed interest in his life and achievements. Inevitably, this interest will be reflected in the sports memorabilia market as buyers look to own part of a historic legacy.

A study by Williams University in American showed that the value of collectible baseball cards increases by about 11% after the death of the player. In the art market Jean-Michel Basquiat work saw a 350% increase in value in the 5 years after his death.

But this isn’t always the case, explains Borro’s Director of Valuations, Samantha Lilley, ‘Art is a matter of taste, unless an artist is appreciated at the time of their death it will have little effect on the perceived value of their work. It is only once they are “rediscovered” by the market that prices will increase. Van Gogh, the post-Impressionist painter, is the ultimate example, he died penniless but 100 years later his paintings were selling for record amounts.’

A study by Germany’s University of Konstanz confirmed this. Looking at over 400,000 data points, it showed that an increase in value after the death of an artist is most likely amongst artists with an already strong reputation.

This explains why celebrity memorabilia can cause such a stir when it comes to the market. For instance, the last 18 years have seem a number of Lady Diana Spencer’s dresses come up for auction – Kerry Taylor Auctions in London will be selling a dress in June with a high estimate of £100,000. Similarly, one of Prince’s guitars will be auctioned by Heritage Auctions in America this month, with an estimate of $30,000 (roughly £21,000).

An association with a historic event can be equally appealing. Brazil legend Pelé will be auctioning a variety of his possessions in London this June. Available items include a specially made replica World Cup trophy from 1970, expected to make up to £420,000. Similarly, in 1997 at a Christie’s auction the trunks worn by Muhammad Ali in his legendary fight against George Forman sold for $57,500 (roughly £40,000 today).

‘These types of sales focus on nostalgia,’ continue Samantha Lilley, ‘it’s about providing buyers with the ability to bring themselves close to a moment or person that is special to them. It’s an opportunity that many people argue you can’t place a price on.’