Published: Tuesday, 14 August 2012 | Written by Christiane Elin
By Christiane Elin
Syfy’s new reality show programming takes a peek inside of the world of the collector with Collection Intervention. Host Elyse Luray, from the PBS series History Detectives and a former Christie's Auction House expert appraiser, helps collectors who are at a critical point with their collections. Elyse shared in more detail what we can expect from the new six-episode series during a press conference call.
This series isn’t exactly the next Hoarders. The collectors have a well-chosen, controlled collection of items. Elyse says the collectors on Collection Intervention aren’t at an unhealthy point with their collection but they are, “out of control either from a monetary or a space point of view.” Collection Intervention comes in and helps get collections in order. Elyse says, “What the show tries to do is to curate, streamline, and focus. So how do you display your collection? How do you curate your collection? How could you get rid of some of the things that don’t add to your collection and at the same time, not let it overtake your life?”
The premiere episode features Star Wars and Catwoman collections. Elyse said, the series also includes “a Transformers collection, a robot collection, a Barbie collection, an underground collection of movies, movie posters and underground art. We see action figures, a big hot rod collection, a GI Joe collection and another comic collection.”
Being a former collector myself, I’m looking forward to seeing how Collection Intervention reforms the collectors and helps them to enjoy their collections without harming their relationships or bank accounts.
Collection Intervention airs on the Syfy network, Tuesdays beginning August 14th.
QUESTION: I know a lot of Syfy fans are collectors. I'm certain that we have readers and maybe even staff members who are concerned that their collections might be looked upon as unhealthy obsessions. So, do you have guidelines for what you consider too much?
QUESTION: Well, I actually don’t think that any of the people that are on the show we’re looking as at as if they’re unhealthy. I think it’s when a collection gets out of control either from a monetary point of view or from a space point of view that we come in and help people.
You know, it’s important I think for everyone to have passions and have collecting - and to collect. What the show really tries to do is to curate, streamline, and focus. So how do you display your collection? How do you curate your collection? How could you get rid of some of the things that don’t add to your collection? And at the same time, not let it overtake your life.
So the first thing is to really focus, to look at what are you focusing on? What are your main things that are really collectible? What things don’t fit into your collection? Are you displaying it properly?
And then to really take a hard look at the economics of your collection. Are you spending too much money? Do you have the money for it? How can you streamline that? Are there things that you can sell that maybe add to storing the collection properly or getting the collection appraised and under insurance?
So it’s really more about helping people who have large collections focus on how to curate their collections the best.
QUESTION: And I think that came across really well in the first episode too. It was really well done and you helped those people a lot.
ELYSE LURAY: Good. Good.
And I think you'll see if the show goes on we give really good examples of not only helping them but helping others, because you know the beauty of - and I think why this show works so well is the beauty of collecting, of sharing it with others. And a lot of people have amazing collections and they’ve just never had the opportunity to share it with others or sell some of their collection to somebody who might make that person very happy.
And it works really well with Star Wars, because they ended up actually even donating the proceeds to their auction to the Obi Wan Ranch. So at the end of each episode, I think each collector feels great.
QUESTION: Can you talk a bit about the difference between a collector and a hoarder? Because many hoarders think they’re collectors.
ELYSE LURAY: Yes. I think it’s an excellent question and it’s come up quite - I don’t think anybody on the show are hoarders. You know, hoarders are people that collect anything with no focus and don’t really have as an emotional attachment as a collector does.
All the people on this show collect with a focus. Their collections have just gotten very big and out of control, and they just haven’t had the time, or maybe the space, or maybe the economics to get it back under control. But they’re not collecting everything under the sun. They’re not going out and not throwing away things just because they have maybe the image of something that they haven’t. They have boundaries and they have a focus.
So a hoarder is somebody who - and I did a show last year on hoarders for the Style Network, so I'm really in tune to what real hoarders are. You know, none of these houses are dirty. They’re very focused. There’s an emotional attachment and a rhyme or reason as to why they’re buying things. They’re not picking up just every little thing in the entire world and not letting go of it.
And most of the people that we have in our show have sold before. You know, some of them it’s part of their business, so the art of letting go, although it’s not easy, they have done it before. And I think a hoarder can’t even let go of one little item, and that could be a piece of trash.
So these are collectors who are extremely intelligent and they’re extremely focused.
QUESTION: With the Star Wars collection in the premier, was Consetta really enjoying it as compared to Mark and his Catwoman collection in the garage? Can you bridge the gap between the two?
ELYSE LURAY: Well, the difference is that Mark’s wife did not want the collection in the house, where Consetta’s husband was a collector as well, so they both enjoyed their collection in their home.
You know unfortunately for Mark, which I think is a big problem, is Lolly wasn’t allowing any of the things in the house, and then he just got shoved into the garage and then he - he really shoved it into the garage and then the collection - A, he wasn’t enjoying it and B, it was detrimental to the condition of the (unintelligible).
So my advice to people is always to be like Consetta and her husband and enjoy it. Live with it. And that was a really big red flag for Mark. Mark also had some major financial problems at the time, and in a weird way his collection came to the rescue because he was able to sell it and save his marriage and make good on a lot of bills that he needed to make good on.
So, it’s two totally different scenarios.
QUESTION: How many episodes will be in Season 1?
ELYSE LURAY: Six.
QUESTION: I've only seen the commercial, but I saw all of the people you were appraising their collection - it was couples. Have you been helping any single men who - or have you...
ELYSE LURAY: We have. Yes, we do.
QUESTION: And females, of course.
ELYSE LURAY: Yes. There are actually more single men than there are - I don’t think we did any single women. That’s interesting now that I think about it. But we did a couple single men whose friends have come as a concern.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I thought the stereotype might apply where the wife or girlfriend just doesn’t like the nerd paraphernalia and so they get it out and so they...
ELYSE LURAY: Yes. Yes. No. No. No. We have friends coming to the rescue as well.
QUESTION: And so would you say that you've added comic book authentication and appraisal to your long list of things that you're an expert at appraising?
ELYSE LURAY: Well, I've worked for Christie’s Auction House for 11 years, and I ran the Collectibles Department, comic books fell onto that genre.
I was in charge of multi-million dollar sales and I run the Animation Department as well. I worked with Warner Brothers, Chuck Jones, Hanna Barbera - actually, every major studio but Disney because they went to Sotheby’s.
So yes, I've been working with people, artists, and studios for over 20 years. It’s been part of my life. So it’s actually for me when I walk in and I see these collections, its norm. It’s totally normal for me. I don’t look at these people and think, “Wow. These people - you know, what is this?” I've been seeing it for 20 years and I actually admire it. I think it’s a big feat to have a passion and be able to collect. Not many people can do it. And if you can stay focused and really go out there and get a collection like that, I'm very impressed.
So I think the point of the show is really to help people whose collections have just gotten so big and so out of control in the sense of maybe of an economic value. I mean, you'll see throughout the whole season the first thing I say is, “Okay. Do you know what its worth?” And 90% of them say, “No,” because they haven’t taken the time to make an inventory. You know, get a list going and - I mean, not everybody that we do is all over the place. Some of them are very well managed but it’s just they got so big and so out of control that their responsibility for the collection gets overwhelming.
SCIFI VISION: Is there anything that you need, like an intervention, if you had a collection or like to collect?
ELYSE LURAY: Do I - me personally?
ELYSE LURAY: Oh, God. Well, I collect Marx Brothers posters because my children’s last name is Marx. My ex-husband’s last name is Marx, and I have two boys, hence Marx Brothers. And it’s and they are X. And if I had more wall space, I would probably continue to - I probably have about 10 or 15 of them. They’re vintage movie posters from the the time of the Marx Brothers. I would probably have more if I had room in my house.
I have a large collection of Luray China, L-U-R-A-Y, hence my last name. I've probably got 300 pieces of that, and I stopped just because Martha Stewart at the time was very big and she started talking about it, and the prices just went sky high and I was like, “Okay. I'm not doing this anymore.”
I collect sports memorabilia for my kids because I'm a sports auctioneer and I'm always at auctions a lot that sell sports memorabilia and I happened to run the department at Christie’s for a long time and I love sports.
I like Southwestern art. I like photography. I love diamonds if someone would buy them for me. Yes, I collect a lot of things. I've gone through a lot - I used to collect Fisher Price toys. I sold those. You know, the vintage wood ones. I went through a major (unintelligible) series where I tried to get the whole series with my mother concentrating on Lautrec and (Mooca). They’re French - I don’t know if you know what they are. They’re French illustration posters that were put out in the ‘20s.
I had French posters for awhile. I've gone through quite a bit of stuff, but I could sell. You know, when my tastes change I could sell.
SCIFI VISION: So it looks like a lot of people once they get organized and they have the ability to let go of the items, where would a collector go?
ELYSE LURAY: Well, that’s a good question. No, I think you have to look at a lot of different things to decide what’s best for you. Clearly if you have the time, you can put it online, but you have to have the time to put it online, take the pictures, be able to go and get them boxed up and ship them.
A lot of the times what we’ve been doing because it’s collectibles and there’s very big collectible shows out around the country, we’ve been taking the stuff to a collectible show where they can sell it that day for cash. And they really only have a day. And time seems to be a big problem with most of these collectors.
And then you know, you also have to look at is it high-end and rare? Because if it’s high-end and rare, it should go to an auction house. You know, certainly, you're going to get your highest price at a - and I'm not just saying that because it was my life for so many years, but really good stuff should go to an auction house.
SCIFI VISION: What do you think is about the rarest collection out there? I mean, a lot of this stuff is very popular culture. Are a lot of the shows [geared] towards just sci-fi collections?
ELYSE LURAY: Well for what we did, everything is obviously on target for Syfy. But there are some collections that we did - we did one guy who collected horror posters and spook posters, more of an underground collecting, and he had a fabulous collection. And he held a party for him - you'll see he made a couple thousand dollars.
I think one person came in and spent $4,000 on a Warhol piece, a Warhol book, and a Keith Haring piece. So he had a very rare collection in the sense that not many people collect underground posters and underground art. You know, Robert Crumb is probably the most collectible of that genre, he was the rarest, but that doesn’t necessarily always mean it’s the best. It just means that it’s really rare.
One of the things that I do preach throughout the show is please stay away from limited editions that are you know produced in the thousands, because they’re not holding their value. So I like to see collections if you're buying a limited edition, it’s below $300. Those values seem to go up. So there’s a lot of things in these six episodes that are not very rare, but they’re very relatable.
QUESTION: Is in the first episode, we saw the Catwoman collection. We saw Star Wars. What are we going to see in the next five episodes?
ELYSE LURAY: Good question. We see, if memory serves me correctly, a Transformer collection, a robot collection, a Barbie collection where the mother actually has taken over the entire house with her Barbie collection. The kids don’t even have closets anymore.
We see an underground collection of movie posters and underground art. We see action figures. What else? That’s pretty much it. Action figures. Movie posters. Barbie. Oh, hot rods. They have a big hot rod collection. A GI Joe collection. So you know, another comic collection.
And I will say this, there’s not a collection besides Barbie that I walked into where I haven’t seen Yoda. Yoda is everywhere. Everyone has Star Wars. And particularly Yoda. He seems to be following me around this summer.
QUESTION: There wasn’t a Yoda Barbie?
ELYSE LURAY: There was not a Yoda Barbie. She did not have anything Star Wars, but she had everything - I walked in and I said, “Oh, my God. This is my past.” I mean, she had everything I played with when I was a kid.
QUESTION: So what would you say to someone if they wanted to know what is the best way to take care of a collection?
ELYSE LURAY: Oh, there’s a couple tips. One is display is really, really important. And depending where you live in the country, you need to know the humidity, sunlight, cold, hot. And you need to really be careful of dirt. There was a Flintstones collection we also did and the guy had amazing, amazing Hanna Barbera toys but they were so filthy.
And the plastic from that time period - so you actually went from cellulite to heavy plastic from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, so plastic actually changes and in the earlier toys, it really absorbs dust. And it can change the plastic and really damage the toys. So display is very important on how you take care of your objects.
The second thing is know what you have. You got to know what you have. You got to know where it is. Where you have it. Every collection I walked into, they knew they had it, they just couldn’t find it. So I think curating your collection, inventorying it, knowing what you have is really important.
And really focusing. What’s the focus of your collection? Don’t stray. And those pieces that you stray with, get rid of them at some point because you need to sell off or put money towards your collection. Because at some point, a collection is worth money if you (come to) responsibility.
QUESTION: Of the people that you've dealt with in this first season, which ones really touched you the most?
ELYSE LURAY: You know, they all touched me in certain different ways. I will say that Consetta was probably the hardest one to break because she was so emotionally attached to Star Wars in so many different ways. It wasn’t just about collecting for her. It was her childhood. I mean, her wedding, she dressed up as Princess Lea.
She ended up donating some money back to Obi - the ranch that we held the auction in. And I really saw a very strong transformation in her in the understanding that letting go of objects to other people that enjoy objects just as much as you do is a real joy. The art of giving and giving to other people is the beauty sometimes of collecting. And I think when she just did not want to let go of anything and when she was able to feel that giving, she really (unintelligible). So she was probably one of the hardest nuts to break in that aspect.
And then you will see in one of the episodes where we do give some toys to an orphanage - and I had never been to an orphanage before, and I was very overwhelmed by the children and their appreciation for these toys that one collector was giving. It was very emotional for me.
QUESTION: We see some of what you do, some of your techniques, but what’s your real secret then to cracking those nuts?
ELYSE LURAY: Well, A is honesty. You know, really being honest and saying, “Okay. This is not worth anything and this is really what it’s worth.” I get it because I've been doing this, this has been my world, collecting and collectors for 20 years, so I respect them. To me, these collectors have an incredible feat and they’ve done something that a lot of people can’t do. And I think that that’s great. I don’t think they’re crazy or hoarders, or anything like that.
So there’s a trust element. I think that’s the first thing we try to establish.
And then it’s really the process. Teaching them the process. Like, “These are great. I love the way you're doing this. These are things that maybe you need to get rid of, and this is why.” And after you sit down and rationalize it with them, they know - I mean, there’s a reason they’re going on the show. They know they need help, and sometimes the help is just they haven’t had the time to mentally sit there and think, “Okay. What do I need to do to get through this?”
And once we start trusting each other and working together - I mean, I'm down on my hands and knees helping these people crate their stuff and bringing them to shows to sell it. We’re in it together.
QUESTION: What are the three elements that make a collection worthy of going to an auction house as opposed to someone sticking it on eBay or keeping it in their garage for future family members?
ELYSE LURAY: Well, it really depends on what the item is. If it was going to go to an auction, A, it’s really usually the monetary value. Because if it’s a lower-end piece, it’s not worth the money. You know, putting it up to an auction house costs money, and so usually they don’t take things that have a certain monetary value. That’s really the first echelon is how much is it worth?
The second for eBay is what is a piece? If it’s a multiple where there’s a lot of - do you have a lot of it and a lot of volume? I always say just put it up, put it up for eBay. It’s not worth that much money. You might as well put it up there.
And then keeping stuff in your garage, which I don’t like to say your garage, but keeping stuff in your house - the garage is really a bad place to store stuff. But things that are very contemporary that are unique, I always say hold on to. We’re specifically talking about maybe the sci-fi with character in comics. Usually if a movie is coming out or a movie has been collectible for awhile, I say hold on to it because it creates awareness and then usually increases in value.
So, it really depends on what the pieces are.
QUESTION: How about in today’s erratic economic times, you think collecting is becoming a luxury, or do you think that people budget their money so that they can maintain a collection?
ELYSE LURAY: I think it depends on what you like to do. I think you can collect on any level. And it’s not cheap to go to the movies, but you could spend one night instead of going to the movies going to a flea market. There are finds out there. You can easily collect things that are not worth a lot of money. And I do encourage people to - no matter what your economic means are, you could still collect.
What we do on the show is if you are having some financial strains, we try to think what’s the best way for you to collect if that’s the issue? Maybe that’s selling some pieces that don’t fit into your collection? Maybe that’s not buying (almost) every day and (unintelligible) once a month. You know, there are ways to curtail. But I wouldn’t want anybody to ever stop having passions for collecting. There are ways to do it no matter what your economic means are.
QUESTION: Do you think sports cards are as in demand as they once were for collectors?
ELYSE LURAY: Sports cards? Is that what you said? Cards as in like baseball cards, or cars?
QUESTION: Yes, as in baseball cards. I'm sorry.
ELYSE LURAY: No, I don’t. I think the market got burned when some of the cards exploded. But the vintage cards are very still in demand. It’s the contemporary market that’s been really killed in the last couple of years. But I would encourage people from sports to collect - a vintage Tops Mickey Mantle, ’52 Mickey Mantle is a very, very expensive card. It’s the first appearance of Mickey Mantle.
A Honus Wagner is going up for auction right now. It’s a Piedmont card from 19 - I think it’s 1918, and it could be a million dollar card. Magic cards, which are not sports cards, but non-sports cards, are very collectible right now and they’re contemporary. They’re doing very well.
So it really depends, but sports cards in itself I would stick to vintage.
QUESTION: What age do you think a lifelong collector begins at? This is not just you know, “Hey. I'm collecting stuff. This is something different that I really want to display.” What age do you think it begins? Five or eight?
ELYSE LURAY: (Unintelligible)..
QUESTION: Well, five or eight years old? What did you collect at that age?
ELYSE LURAY: Barbies. Barbies and stuffed animals. I can’t even begin to tell you how many stuffed animals I had.
QUESTION: Your favorite stuffed animal?
ELYSE LURAY: My favorite stuffed animal was Snoopy, and I had all the clothes to change into. I used to have goals. And when I got the goals - you know, if I got a report card or if I did something, I would get another Snoopy clothes.
QUESTION: What was the most expensive item that is featured on the show?
ELYSE LURAY: That’s a good question. I have to think about that one. Off the top of my head there was a Warhol book that was about $1,000. I don’t - you know what? I can’t remember. Is that terrible?
Things about $1,000 to about $2,000. There’s a Warhol book. There was a Transformer that was worth maybe $1,000 that was one of the first Transformers. There was a couple GI Joe toys that were maybe $500 to $800. There were things in like the $1000 range. There was nothing like $10,000 or $15,000.
But I will say this. The collections themselves, a lot of them were six figures. Easily six figures. I mean, these people have serious collections.
QUESTION: And was there any item that you wanted to take home with you?
ELYSE LURAY: A lot. In probably every episode, there was something I could take home. You know, things are cool. Maybe I would not need a Transformer in my life, but there’s something called Hot Toys, which are sculptures that are limited edition that I was never really a big fan of, but now I'm like the artistic value in them is so strong that I want to buy them.
I've always been obsessed with Star Wars, so I would take anything from Star Wars.
QUESTION: Was there any item that you had never seen before that you were surprised to...
ELYSE LURAY: Yes. Yes. Yes, there were a lot of items I hadn’t seen before. I've heard of them before, but these collectors in each genre had crème de la creme. There were a couple of robots I hadn’t seen before. There were many Transformers that I hadn’t seen before. Even Barbie. In the episode with Barbie, there’s a Number 1 Barbie, and I'd never physically touched the Number 1 Barbie before. They’re just really rare and not out there.
So I would say in every collection there was something.
The beauty of collecting is seeing and learning. And you always think there’s nothing else to see or learn and then boom - you walk into somebody’s house and they have it. And that’s the beauty of it.
QUESTION: And what was it like touching that Number 1 Barbie?
ELYSE LURAY: Oh, it was totally cool. Luckily for me, through Christie’s and PBS, I've had access to some unbelievable archives in my life and I've touched incredible objects. But physically being with one of them is a great thing.
QUESTION: So then in your career, what has been the best item that you've ever seen from a collection that really stays with you?
ELYSE LURAY: Oh, God. The Rosebud sled. The Maltese Falcon. Maybe the first storyboard from Disney. Oh God, there’s so much. (Unintelligible). I did Chuck Jones’ personal collection, and his storyboards and his creations of Bugs Bunny were incredible. I mean, the list is endless.
In that story on PBS when the Titanic, I have - I found a piece of the Titanic. I did a story on Bob Dylan’s guitar from when he went electric in the Newport Ja Festival in 1965. God, it’s just that’s a really strong question.
I found a piece of the Star-Spangled Banner. So I've seen some really fascinating artifacts in my life, luckily.