Philip Weiss interview: 'people are finding better places to put their money...'

Philip Weiss has previously described himself as a 'second generation' book and stamp specialist. His father owned one of the older book stores in New York City and - as with many of the world's most devoted collectors - Philip's passion was instilled in him at a young age.

Today, Philip Weiss Auctions is one of the world's most consistently impressive auctioneers - not least for the sheer variety of collectibles they offer. Over the years, Philip has branched out into auctioning much more besides rare books and stamps; including art, tobacciana and even rare Star Wars figures.

So who better than Mr Weiss to ask about the 2011 collectibles markets? Native New Yorker Philip kindly took time out to speak with us via telephone. Below, he discusses his firm's best 2011 sales and what you can expect from the collectibles markets in 2012...


Philip Weiss's father was a rare
book dealer - and the New Yorker
has been in the industry from a
young age

PFC: 2011 was a very successful year for Philip Weiss Auctions. What have been your auction highlights this year?

Philip Weiss: We auctioned off the original chess set used by Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in their famous tournament in Iceland, which brought $76,000-plus. That was one of the big highlights.

We also had a wonderful archive of Titanic memorabilia. Letters and photos from one of the survivors which went for over $100,000.

Animation art did well. We had a nice Snow White publicity cell which sold for $32,00. And we had a cell from Snow White of the evil queen bring $15,000.

PFC: Animation art has been doing very well this year - and also comic book art. Why do you think these are such 'hot' markets right now?

PW: Comic art has been very, very hot, yeah. We had a really good comic art auction and had some really nice prices. Especially vintage comic art. We had a Sunday Crazy Cat [vintage comic strip series] page go for over $15,000. One of our sales of Peanuts art did very well.

The comic markets have always been very hot, especially for high grade books. It doesn't surprise me that a comic sold for over a million dollars, it really doesn't. The comic market has always been strong [since] back in the 1960s. Good comics are always very expensive to buy.

Back in the '60s selling a Superman #1 comic for $500 was big money. I mean, comics have always been good. I don't really get involved too much in modern comics. Anything past 1980 is a little too new for me! But the vintage comics, I would compare those more with classic rare books.

PFC: There was much talk of economic downturn and recession in 2011. Did Philip Weiss Auctions face any challenges?

PW: I honestly did not see any real difference in people's buying. The only difference that I saw was in the lower part of the market.

On high-end, good, rare items, I found people [are] spending more money. Because I think they're finding a better place to put their money: into high-end rarities or collectibles. Rather than putting them in the bank, where they get one quarter or three quarters of a percent interest.

The only thing I did see was a difference in the people buying $25, $50, $75 lots. Now they have to be more careful. Whereas a lot [at auction] two years ago might have gone for $50, it may bring $45 now.

But the items that brought $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 [in previous years] could be bringing $30,000 or $40,000 now.

PFC: Philip Weiss Auctions deals in a wide range of collectibles. From art and tobacciana to rare Star Wars toys. Are any high-end collectibles growing in value more than others?

PW: Comics are doing well. It seems to me that animation's making a little bit of a comeback. High end animation seems to be picking up a little bit. And I'm tempted to say paintings, pottery and porcelain.

I just find that [model] trains are holding strong. Especially high-end trains. Baseball memorabilia, especially early tobacco cards and things, seem to be doing well.

It's the rarity. And the high-end stuff is not just holding its own, but going up in value.

Rare Star Wars figures are among the pieces auctioned by Philip Weiss

PFC: The collectibles markets saw many new World Record prices in 2011. Including for Hollywood movie memorabilia, like Marilyn Monroe's Seven Year Itch dress. Why do you think such pieces are going up in value?

PW: It's like anything else. It depends who's buying it, what the market is.

You do have a very good celebrity following [for movie memorabilia]. And people with celebrity status have plenty of money to spend. Celebrities don't show up at auctions themselves, they'll have agents bid for them. You don't know who's bidding, that's the thing.

It's really part of Americana that people are buying - that's what it is. They're buying American history when they buy things like that.

We have a bunch of costumes in our sale coming in January which I think should do well. But, again, you really have to get iconic pieces to get the big money.

PFC: Speaking of which, are there any highlights in Philip Weiss Auctions' upcoming sales that you're especially looking forward to?

PW: Well, there's a bunch of really cool costumes that we're auctioning off in these sales coming up. The Charlton Heston costume from Planet Of The Apes. Two really neat parkas from one of the Abbott and Costello movies.

Actually, probably the most iconic piece is Jane Russell's costume that she wore in The Outlaw. That's in the auction. There's some really, really important rock 'n' roll memorabilia. I think there's one of Paul McCartney's gold records in the sale. Which is very, very cool.

Charlton Heston's Planet Of The Apes costume is in Philip Weiss's January sale

PFC: Paul McCartney's memorabilia had a very successful year in 2011...

PW: Yeah, absolutely. And there's actually a lot of stuff out there on the market. That's what people have to realise. Certain things are one-of-a-kind that you'll never get another chance at. We have a really nice collection of vintage movie posters coming up in that sale [on January 20].

And I have a great transportation sale coming up in March of next year. Really nice, high-end automotive material. Plus, with the anniversary of the Titanic coming up, we're looking forward to having some good Titanic material in that sale as well.

PFC: You had previous RMS Titanic success earlier this year (when Philip Weiss auctioned a collection of Titanic memorabilia for $100,570 in October)?

PW: Oh yeah, definitely. What happens is, when you have a successful sale like that, generally people contact you because they have similar material. So I've already been contacted about two interesting pieces.

Also coming into the sale - we're picking it up next week - is a Demuth punch cigar lighter, The two previous ones sold for over $100,000. We get our 'highlight pieces' every now and then! So it should be a good season, it really should.

PFC: At the time of your Titanic auction, you told us: "Key to the success ... is really the fact that this material was never offered for sale before." Will your up-and-coming sales offer many 'fresh to market' pieces?

Almost everything we sell. That's one of the things we do, we kind of 'key' on. We don't take very many dealer consignments. Almost everything we do is straight from the states or people's collections.

RMS Titanic Snyder letter
RMS Titanic passenger John Snyder's letter manuscript brought $100,570

PFC: What are your tips or advice for collectors in 2012?

PW: The same thing I would say in 2011, 2010... Look to buy the best possible condition you can in what you collect.

And look to buy one great quality piece, rather than 100 mediocre low-end pieces.

PFC: And what advice would you give to somebody who is thinking of starting-out in collecting in 2012?

PW: I would tell them to buy something that they're going to enjoy looking at and having.

One of the big mistakes is people going in thinking they're buying something [purely] for investment purposes. And those are usually the people who don't last very long doing it.

They don't even like the stuff. And then, when they realise their investment wasn't so great, they're stuck with something they don't like. Whereas, if it's something you enjoy having, you can rationalise it and say: 'Hey, I have something that's nice, that I like and I'm enjoying it.'

I think the people that do the best are people who are in it for the long-haul. They're pretty sharp buyers, buy intelligently and stick with it because they're doing well with their stuff.

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