Can’t help falling in price: why Elvis memorabilia is plummeting in value
Sunday 7 May 2017 16.00 BST
Shall we say a tenner for the lot? Photograph: Martin Wahlborg/Getty Images
From the moment Elvis Presley landed, we wanted every piece of him. This turned his old records into vinyl and shellac gold. While the value of discs by other popular mid-century artists such as Cliff Richard and Frank Sinatra dropped as time passed, Elvis’s didn’t. As an omnipresent figure, the prices of the King’s records rose to astronomical levels.
Unearthing an original That’s All Right record became a £4,000 lucky strike; a set of five original Sun singles at one time fetched £25,000. This made them a sort of pension for many collectors. They packed items away, hoping one day to exchange them for a caravan in the Dordogne. However, this has all begun to change.
In December 2015, an unheard, one-of-a-kind Elvis acetate surfaced at an auction house in Aston in the West Midlands. Widely publicised, and open to the worldwide market, the recording of Suspicion was expected to sell for £12,000. It achieved £6,500. This shocked many, but not collectors. It marked the arrival of a moment they had always feared. For the first time in popular music history, Elvis records and collections were dropping in value.
Take the Good Rockin’ Tonight EP. In 1998, the Rare Record Guide listed it for £125 but – according to online record database Discogs – over the past 10 years it has fetched a median price of £13.50. The singer’s You’ll Never Walk Alone LP was worth £400 in the 2012 Rare Record Guide, but is valued at £150 in the 2018 edition. These are indicative of a general trend. “If you try to sell any Elvis record that could easily have sold for £15-£20 each in the 1980s today, you can hardly give them away,” says Red, who runs an online Elvis vinyl store.
Why is this? It’s depressingly apt that John Duffie, the first collector I wanted to ask that question to, has passed away. The Elvis Shop London – the UK’s only Elvis store – closed its doors recently due to “simply not making any kind of profit”. Europe’s last Elvis music store, the Elvis Corner Store in Utrecht now opens just one day a week. The truth is, with many Elvis fans and collectors well into their 70s and 80s, as each year goes by, more are lost. This then floods the market with their wares.
There are about 32,000 Elvis records being sold on eBay at the moment – this number was closer to 20,000 items for all memorabilia five years ago. And it’s not even as if they are selling well. Of the 40,000 vinyl listings to finish in the past three months, only 16,000 have resulted in a sale. The problem is, there simply aren’t enough collectors left. “You’ll barely see Elvis guys here, not any more,” I’m told by Alan Simpson, an Elvis dealer at Stratford-upon-Avon record fair, as he stands over a vacant stall.
It’s sad for those who have spent their lives counting on these hoards that their value is diminishing. But if you consider events in recent years, such as the haphazard sale of the Elvis Presley estate, and Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas closing after just two years (the first show in the troupe’s history to finish early), it seems to be part of a larger issue. One of a once-immovable object in pop culture beginning to slip out of view.