Why now is the time to collect James Dean

A photograph signed by James Dean£36,000. IT’S A LOT OF MONEY to pay for a jacket. Yet it’s one of the shrewdest memorabilia investments I’ve seen. Because James Dean wore the jacket in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause and James Dean memorabilia is among the most undervalued around.

Undervalued at £36,000?

I’ll explain. James Dean is an investor’s dream. It’s a simple mathematical equation: Rarity + Growing Desirability = Rising Prices. Rebel Without a Cause starred Dean in director Nicholas Ray’s film, which took one of the first realistic looks at teen life in post-war America. Dean played the troubled anti-hero who tried to take on the world. It was a generation defining film.

Let’s consider Dean’s autograph. The PFC40 Autograph Index states that a top-grade Dean-signed photo can sell for £18,000. Dean died aged 24. Which means he signed his name far fewer times than someone who lived to old age. The same goes for clothing, jewellery and all his personal effects…Rare, rare, rare.

What’s more, Dean only became famous in March 1955, when his first feature film, East of Eden, aired. That’s only a six-month window of signing autographs for fans before he died in September. Futhermore, his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause, was released a month after his death. Which means fan requests for Dean’s autograph were modest in number by film star standards in the six months prior.

A pre-fame note signed by James DeanBefore March 1955, few people would have held on to a James Dean letter or cheque. Because who keeps the autograph of a struggling actor nobody has heard of? It makes pre-fame Dean signatures
particularly rare and sought after. Paul Fraser Collectibles recently sold a Dean signed note from 1954 for £4,950.

And what of his film-worn clothing? Dean starred in just three films. This leaves collectors fighting over a minuscule amount of screen-used garments. I seldom see them at auction. It’s a key factor in why prices are strong and will go higher.


This is an excerpt from a full article taken from the October issue of Antique Collecting. To read the full article take a look at our subscription options in both print and digital.

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