Interview: Bobby Livingston, RR Auction - a life spent in autographs
'The most rewarding part is items with historical significance,' say sautograph expert Bobby Livingston
Bobby Livingston has been around autographs his whole life.
Today, as Head of Public Relations at RR Auction, he has been involved in some of the biggest sales of the global autographs market.
This afternoon, he kindly took time out from his busy schedule to chat to Paul Fraser Collectibles.
Here, he discusses signatures, John Lennon and the Battle of the Alamo - and how a personal letter from former US President Jimmy Carter made for a very exciting day...
How did your background lead you into autograph dealing?
My cousin, Bob Eaton, started the business back in 1976. So it has been in the family since I can remember, and I have always been familiar with it. I joined RR Auction about a year ago to help rebrand the company.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Without question, the most rewarding part is receiving items that have a historical significance.
For example, opening a box and seeing a letter from Thomas Edison talking about the phonograph, or an interesting letter by Bob Dylan, or a beautiful photo of Marilyn Monroe.
It's an amazing experience each time. Something different happens every day and the job never becomes redundant.
And consistently learning new historical facts makes it so interesting and insightful.
What is the most demanding part of your job?
Every month RR Auction receives over 1,500 items and these all have to be researched and catalogued, and scanned and posted.
We have such tight deadlines with 12 auctions a year - from one month to the next don't know what items we will have. This 28-day cycle never stops.
What have been the highlights for you since starting at RR Auction?
The most significant highlight for me is definitely the photo of Einstein and his tongue sticking out. We had never seen the famous photo signed by him.
When we had the German inscription translated, it explained his intentions for the photo which was basically freedom of expression. It sold for $74,000.
Can you tell us about RR Auction's plans for growth and development?
This year, we have introduced the 30-minute rule so that every lot closes individually.
Beginning at 10pm Eastern Time on the night of the auction, a 30 minute timer starts. If there is no further bidding on a lot, the item closes at 10:30pm.
Modernising our website, and making it easier for customers to consign and bid are our goals for the year.
How has the recession had an impact on your business?
A year ago, we saw a great deal of fear and restraint - no-one wanted to consign or commit. However, in the last 12 months, gross figures have been very strong and above projection.
Are you seeing a growth in the number of collectors? Are they from any particular part of the world?
Yes, from Europe. And in particular from England. This may be due to the foreign exchange rate, or the result of good publicity and a growing knowledge of RR Auction.
During the last year, what were the most popular items being sold?
And also there's been a significant growth in Comic Art. Mainly the big names, like Disney and Schultz.
Has there been an item that sold surprisingly well and took you by surprise?
A Neil Armstrong cheque for $10.50, wrote and signed on the day of the Apollo 11 launch, July 16, 1969.
He wrote it to a friend to whom he owed money and told him, if he should die in space, that he didn't want to owe anyone money - and for him to cash it only if he didn't return.
It was a real surprise and fantastic to see it take off in auction (no pun intended)!
How can you tell if the item is authentic?
After being in the business for 30 years, we have a great sense of what is real.
We have our in-house team of authenticators and have a good source of professional specialists around the world that we show everything to.
The more eyes that see the items, the better. We are very conservative when accepting items because we guarantee autographs forever.
What is the most memorable item you have seen sold at auction?
Quite a row was caused when John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. We had this original magazine article signed by Lennon.
It was incredible because he signed it JC Lennon, when we all know his middle initial was W.
The signature marks an historic occasion and, with all the demonstrations and rioting and burning of Beatles records that was going on, Lennon was still making riffs and jokes about it.
And the most expensive?
We had a receipt from the Battle of Alamo, an IOU signed by William Travis, Commander of Alamo. It was for six cows bought to feed the besieged troops of the Alamo.
It sold for £176,000.
What is your most interesting story from your years in this business?
Some papers belonging to Jimmy Carter were stolen in the 1990s, and were placed in the RR Auction.
Jimmy Carter called up the office when he discovered where they were and asked if we would return the papers. The next day, on receiving the papers from us, Jimmy Carter took the time to send a hand-written note thanking us.
This letter was now worth more than double what the original documents were worth! It is, of course, invaluable to us.
And finally, what is your hot tip for 2010? Which market will excel, and are there any new trends emerging?
Stay with the biggest names and [signatures] of the highest quality.
Buy a Beatles piece, stick with the Lincolns and the Henry VIIIs, as these premium pieces will continue to grow. The other stuff: you just don't know...
Bobby Livingston joined RR Auction in 2008 after a 25 year career in film, music and advertising.
While living in Hollywood, California, in San Antonio, Texas and Naples, Florida, Livingston has received many national awards for his documentary films and television commercials.
- More news on Memorabilia and Autographs
- Enjoy the read? Don't forget to sign up for your free newsletter with exclusive content
Images: RR Auction