Elvis Presley may have left the building 45 years ago, but auction houses still feel the temperature rising.
In June of this year, Baz Luhrmann’s music biopic "Elvis" won its box-office dance-off with "Top Gun: Maverick," ultimately grossing $31.1 million during opening weekend. The film, starring Austin Butler as the "King of Rock ‘n’ Roll," opened above expectations and resurrected one of the most iconic figures in American music.
Stephen M. Shutts, founder of Rockology Auctions in Nashville, Tennessee, told Fox Business the demand for all things Presley has skyrocketed following the film’s release – but the interest among veteran collectors has always been there.
"Historically, it’s gone up every year," he explained. "I know when I talk among other collectors and historians like myself, we think, ‘Will it taper off on the 30th anniversary?’ It didn’t. ‘Will it taper off the 35th?’ And it didn’t. So every anniversary we’re surprised. There was talk before this film last year of, ‘Is anyone going to be around for the 50th?’ And today, I would say the 50th is going to be even bigger than the 45th. I don’t see it dropping off now in my lifetime at this point. I think with the new generations… the interest will continue to accelerate. And therefore, I think those that have disposable income to acquire and buy will… see it as an investment."
"If they maybe don’t have the money to collect, I do think they’re going to spend their money going to Graceland, going to Sun Records, going to Tupelo to see his birthplace," Shutts continued. "I know there’s a lot of foreign buyers coming in that are traveling now since COVID [restrictions] lifted. And everyone I’ve talked to, from the travel side of it to the collecting side of it, they’ve seen a real spike in their sales and in businesses, which is good. It keeps Elvis’ name out there, but it’s also good for people like myself [who] are truly immersed in the Elvis business side of things."
Presley passed away on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42. At the time of his death, Presley’s net worth was $5 million, which was far less than what he earned over the previous three decades. In his lifetime, Presley spent several million dollars acquiring and maintaining Graceland. While Presley left his money to his only child Lisa Marie Presley, his ex-wife Priscilla Presley and the family accountant, Joseph Hanks, oversaw Presley’s estate after his father, Vernon Presley, the estate’s executor, passed away two years later at age 63.
Presley’s estate was only bringing in about $1 million in 1979. Today, Presley’s net worth is $20 million. In 2021, Forbes reported Presley ranked #7 in their list of highest-paid dead celebrities with $30 million thanks to his estate recuperating and landing new partnerships.
Rockology is currently running an auction, which ends on Aug. 17, featuring dozens of items from iconic artists, including Presley. Notable items include a stage-worn scarf from his final concert in June 1977, a gold rotary telephone used by Presley at Graceland during the ‘60s, as well as a diamond-encrusted ring and matching bracelet from Ginger Alden, who was engaged to Presley in 1977.
Shutts, who has been uncovering authentic memorabilia for 35 years, said his pieces will "definitely hit our estimates."
"It’s truly an investment," he said. "If you look at it from a business perspective, the value continues to escalate, especially when it comes to stage-worn clothing and jewelry. Every year passes, and I struggle to wrap my head around the phenomenon. It just grows and grows. And especially with this film… the popularity just keeps going up."
Shutts said it is easy to see why Presley memorabilia is more popular than ever.
"There’s certainly that mystique factor," Shutts shared. "He died young… but he also had everything. It wasn’t just the looks, there’s the talent, the charisma. I think very few entertainers in the world have all those qualities… His image is youthful, his attractiveness continues to permeate into new generations. And I think young people… are rediscovering his music. He’s not just a beautiful face. This is also someone who had true talent and has ushered in so many artists that everyone listens to today."
With the demand for authentic Presley pieces at an all-time high, Shutts warned that the forgery market is just as strong. He said jumpsuits from Presley’s glitzy ‘70s era are a major red flag. Shutts will even go as far as run a background check on a potential seller to ensure any item, especially a jumpsuit, is the real deal. It’s also the decade from Presley’s career that’s most popular among collectors. Still, Shutts noted that following the release of "Elvis," collectors have been inquiring about items from the ‘50s.
"When I hear ‘jumpsuit’ I’m immediately skeptical for the fact that I know where all of them are located, whether it’s in Graceland or private collectors' hands," he said. "About 25 years ago, the jumpsuits were in the $70-$80,000 range. Now they’re in the $350,000 range. Capes and belts once brought in $15-$20,000. They’re now in the six-figure realm… I could see in my lifetime a jumpsuit from a key concert or key era hitting the million-dollar mark."
Shutts advised curious collectors to fact-check their sources before investing in any potential artifact. He also recommended first-timers to invest in authentic autographs as those can be put on display.
"Based on your budget, go after something that you would truly enjoy," said Shutts. "Jewelry and autographs are always strong. If you have $2,000 or $2,500 hypothetically, there’s a lot you can still buy for that. "
But most importantly, have fun, he said.
"Elvis to me is probably the most Americana recording artist," said Shutts. "If you look at the lineage, there are so many recording artists that stated Elvis was an influence. I don’t know anybody who’s not an Elvis fan. If someone said to me, ‘I’m not an Elvis fan,’ you’re just looking for attention… As far as his image and music, that will last beyond my lifetime. You can’t lose. It’s never going to go down in value. You can hand it down to your kids and grandkids, and they’re going to know exactly who Elvis was."