Running across a prop reportedly used by an actor like Tom Cruise may feel like a shot at one-of-a-kind piece of movie memorabilia. Imagine a collectible such as the iconic pool cue Tom used in The Color of Money directed by Martin Scorsese popping up in an auction. The mere thought is enough to get the hearts of authentic memorabilia collectors or billiard enthusiasts racing.
This week such an auction was reported on the online auction site, eBay. For a substantial investment – $50,000 – the supposedly legitimate cue stick wielded by Tom in his epic confrontation with Paul Newman could be in the hands of a lucky fan.
One problem: the prop was a fake. A fraud. A fugazi.
The auction was rightfully taken down following complaints about the authenticity of the suspicious cue. What movie fans can learn from situations like this is how to spot these fakers before losing out on serious money for worthless merchandise. Here’s a short guide on steps to help safeguard purchases of movie memorabilia.
- Certificate of Authenticity (COA) – One of the easiest ways cinema fans can verify the memorabilia they’re getting is the authentic is through a COA, also known as a Letter of Authenticity (LOA). Any reputable collectibles dealer will make a certificate available to an interested buyer, along with a carefully researched back-story or pedigree of the item. This should include a chain of ownership leading back to the original production studio and often will include a signature from a prop manager. In the case of Tom’s fake cue from The Color of Money, the seller gives a vague promise of a notarized letter in a different location verifying the authenticity of the prop. The description goes on to swear the pool cue is legitimate. Not the kind of promise someone would want to risk the kind of money you could use to buy a car or three with.
- Expert Opinion – While a COA is good, having it backed up by an outside expert is even better. Companies exist specifically to research the authenticity of memorabilia of all kinds. These experts are especially helpful when verifying movie stars’ autographs, which is a science all its own. This kind of assurance from a third-party adds a deeper layer of trust to a purchase.
- Photos – Legitimate movie memorabilia is likely to be featured in still photos from a movie production. Potential buyers should scrutinize photos in comparison to the item, attempting to find marks or flaws from the photo that show in what is being sold. Look for scarring, wear or unique marks that correspond with the action in the movie. Remember, over the course of multiple takes for a scene, there will inevitably be wear on props. Back to Tom’s pool cue, the reporter discuses his purchase of a cue used by Paul Newman in the film authenticated by these means. The moment Newman struck the cue against a lamp over a billiards table, a visible mark was left and found in the right place at the time of purchase.
- Tags – Some of the most popular movie memorabilia comes from the wardrobe department. Thankfully, many wardrobe managers will mark the tags on the interior of costumes with actors’ names, initials or measurements. These identifiers can easily be used to establish a first level of authenticity for an iconic item worn by your a silver screen star.
When talking about making an investment in a small piece of movie magic from your favorite film, making sure you’re getting the real thing is paramount. With a little research, a COA and maybe an outside opinion on a purchase, you can be assured your slice of Hollywood isn’t just make believe.
What piece of memorabilia or collectible would you like to have from a Tom Cruise film? Or any film for that matter! Let us know in the comments section, or keep the conversation going on our Facebook and Twitter pages.