As James Bond prepares for his 23rd film adventure and celebrates his cinematic 50th birthday, ANDY ROUND talks to the collectors and dealers to discover classic Bond is always box-office gold.
Good old James Bond. He may be entering serious middle age, but there’s still plenty of life in the world’s most famous spy. Fifty years after the release of the first 007 film, Dr No, super villains worldwide will be gnashing their steel jaws in frustration that Bond’s appeal is bigger than ever.
This year sees the release of the 23rd film in the Bond franchise, the highly anticipated Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig; there is a new DVD box set of all 22 films by MGM and 20th Century Fox; a reissued autobiography by legendary Bond producer Chubby Broccoli; the commissioning of a new as-yet-untitled Bond novel from author William Boyd, and the reprinting of all 14 of Ian Fleming’s 007 thrillers. Quite frankly there are more 50th anniversary Bond tributes than you can throw a razor-sharpened bowler hat at.
Bond has always been a big box-office draw, but in auction houses around the world, demand for memorabilia associated with Her Majesty’s most famous spy is now generating stratospheric interest. In 2010, Christie’s sold the Walther air pistol held by Sean Connery for the Russia with Love poster for US$437,500—a world record for a Bond gun. When the original artwork for Diamonds Are Forever was sold for $129,500, it was another record, this time for a Bond poster.
“It will always be the case that props and associated memorabilia from the earliest films will attain the largest sums at auction,” says Christie’s Helen Tomkinson. “The most important Bond memorabilia auction took place at Christie’s South Kensington in 2001. Of the 300 lots, 94 percent were sold achieving a total of $900,000. The bikini worn by Ursula Andress in Dr No sold for $59,755.”
For most of us, our Bond dreams vanish with the final credits, but some people buy into the dream for real, like American Harry Yeaggy. In 2010, he took what he described as a “last minute decision” to fly into London to attend an auction by RM Auctions. He left in Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 after paying £2.92 million. The car was the only known remaining example of two that were used in Goldfinger and Thunderball. After the auction he said: “Now I’m going to get my money’s worth. We’re going to fire it up and drive it around London tonight. We’re going to have fun with it.”
Of course, Yeagy is not the only man with the resources to buy iconic cars. Peter Nelson started collecting Bond “bits and pieces, magazines, cards that sort of thing” when he was a boy. By the time he was 21 he had bought the iconic white Bond Lotus from the Spy Who Loved Me. Almost 40 years later, Nelson had amassed one of the biggest Bond collections in the world featuring snowmobiles, boats, helicopters, Aston Martins, Microjet, a T-55 tank, and thousands of props, paraphernalia, and costumes.
“My favorite items? Difficult to say. I became friends with Desmond Llewelyn, the actor who played Q in 17 of the Bond films. I have his tweed suit; the trilby Bond first threw on the hat stand by Moneypenny; a bug detector from Russia with Love; original DB5 seats from studio close-ups; the original Golden Gun… many of my items are loaned to museums.” So what’s that all worth? “I’d hate to think.”
What it is worth is what a room of Bond enthusiasts in an auction room are prepared to pay. And they have deep pockets. “Every time you see a new Bond film release you see the same enthusiasm in the saleroom,” says Katherine Williams, senior specialist for entertainment memorabilia at Bonham’s London. “And there is nothing they like more than seeing original Bond items, particularly from Dr No, the crème de la crème of memorabilia.”
So where do you start if you want your own Bond collection? “Buy the best you can afford, buy it because you love it, and you won’t go far wrong,” says Adrian Roose, director of Paul Fraser Collectibles. “At the top end of the market James Bond’s DB5 returned a 15.61 percent per annum after he bought the car in 1969 and sold it in 2010. Even movie posters that were doing the rounds at $300 each 10 years ago are now changing hands for $5,000 plus.”
The range of Bond material is endless. “Popular culture is a diverse category that ranges from autographs and awards to scripts, clothing, films props, and posters,” says Christie’s Tomkinson. “The international collectors’ market for memorabilia is driven by passion, it doesn’t take a millionaire to build a collection.”
You don’t have to be a good undercover agent to discover these fascinating James Bond facts:
• Fleming also wrote the children’s classic Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang and produced a total of 14 books in 12 years.
• It’s been 50 years since a bikini-clad Ursula Andress first emerged from the surf and asked 007: “What are you doing here, looking for shells?” And Connery replied: “No just looking.”
• Bond has visited most of the world’s countries; been told he’s going to die on innumerable occasions; exhausted himself on numerous Bond girls; and indulged in dangerous liaisons that have included trains, planes, and automobiles, as well as barns, space stations, gypsy tents, submarines, and even a motorized iceberg.
• Seven men have played Bond so far (if you include David Niven and many purists don’t). Popular vote always seems to favor Sean Connery as the quintessential 007.
• More than 40 million Bond books were sold by the time of Fleming’s death.
• Favorite Bond line? Munger: Tell me, Bond, how far does your expertise extend into the field of diamonds? Bond: Well, hardest substance found in nature, they cut glass, suggest marriages, I suppose they replaced the dog as the girl’s best friend (Diamonds Are Forever).