This Month in Collecting History - May 2016
By Mike McLeod

May 1, 1967: Elvis Presley married Priscilla Ann Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. In January 2016, Graceland Auctions put up 100+ Elvis items for sale, and a pair of Elvis-worn prescription Nautic-style sunglasses by Neostyle sold for $8,750, and a 1969 signed and autographed photo of Elvis and Priscilla in Hawaii sold for $4,750.

Photo Right: Elvis’ and Priscilla’s wedding photo.

May 2, 1519: The great Leonardo da Vinci passed away. His manuscript or book of scientific writings known as the Codex Leicester is the most valuable manuscript in the world; it sold for $30+ million at Christie’s in 1994 (close to $50 million today) to Bill Gates. In 2012, one of Edvard Munch’s four versions of The Scream, a pastel on board dated 1895, was sold by Sotheby’s for $119,922,500.

Photo Right: The Scream

May 3, 1937: Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Gone With The Wind ( AFI'S 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time ( lists #1 as, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And frankly, the word frankly was not in the book; it was added in the film.

May 4, 1929: Audrey Hepburn was born in Belgium of British parents. Her iconic “little black dress” worn in Breakfast at Tiffany's sold at Christie’s in 2006 for $923,187. During WWII, Hepburn lived in the Netherlands and acted as a courier for the resistance for a time. She once said, "We saw young men put against the wall and shot…. Don't discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It's worse than you could ever imagine." (Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, Penguin, 2001.)

May 6, 1931: Birth of the great Willie Mays. His 1951 Minneapolis Millers home jersey worn as he transitioned from the Negro Leagues to the Giants hit $44,063 at Robert Edward Auctions in 2011.

Photo Right: Slugger Willie Mays, 660 home runs.

May 7: Birthdays include: Gary Cooper, 1901, and NFL quarterback and Super Bowl V champion Johnny Unitas, 1933. His 1960s game jersey sold for $103,500 in 2015 at Hunt Auctions. A 1942 photo of Babe Ruth and Cooper from Pride of the Yankees inscribed by the Babe to Cooper sold for $11,850 at Robert Edward Auctions in 2013.

May 9, 1671: Thomas Blood and two men stole the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London—but only briefly. They were captured nearby. For unspecified reasons, King Charles II released Blood from prison without a trial—even though the crown was hammered flat and the scepter sawn in half in the theft.

Photo Right: Thomas Blood

May 12, 1820: Florence Nightingale, the “Lady of the Lamp,” was born in her namesake city of Florence, Italy. A 150-year-old brass desk lamp that belonged to her sold in 2015 for £17,000 at Hanson’s Auctioneers in Derbyshire, UK.

May 13, 1914: Joe Louis Barrow, the “Brown Bomber,” was born in rural Alabama. Of his 69 professional fights, he won 66 by knockout or TKO and was World Heavyweight Champion for 12 straight years ( A Joe Louis Soda Punch metal sign, 14 x 10 inches, sold for $275 on eBay in 2016.

Photo Right: Joe Louis Soda Punch sign (Photo: Dr. Randy B. Hayward.)

May 15, 1856: L. Frank Baum was born. He wrote 14 novels about Oz, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; other authors have written dozens more. In 2013, Bonhams auctioned a first edition, first issue of the book for $87,500; it was one of two known to be signed and inscribed by Baum and the illustrator.

May 19, 1962: Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to Pres. Kennedy (ten days before his birthday on the 29th). The dress she wore sold for $1,267,500 in 1999 at Christie’s.

May 20, 1908: Movie star and WWII-medaled veteran Jimmy Stewart was born in Indiana, Penn. AFI’s 50 Greatest American Screen Legends ( listed him as #3 (Humphrey Bogart #1, Cary Grant #2). Stewart rose from private to colonel during the war and flew bombing missions into Germany. In 2006, Bonhams auctioned a sketch of Harvey the Invisible Rabbit drawn by Stewart, signed by “both,” and Stewart’s signed photo for $1,195.

May 22, 1859: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, probably the most reproduced character in movies and on TV. In 2004, Christie’s sold for £948,545 a previously unknown archive of 3,000 of Doyle’s letters, notes and manuscripts—the cache has been left in an attorneys’ office for 40 years.

May 23, 1934: Robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot dozens of times by police outside Sailes, La. In 2012, Bonnie’s Detective Special .38 hit $264,000 and Clyde’s Colt .45 brought $240,000 at RR Auction.

Photo Right: Bonnie and Clyde

May 24: Birthdays of Queen Victoria, 1819, and George Nakashima, 1905. He was held in a Japanese Relocation Camp in Idaho for a period during WWII. His circa 1980 Conoid Bench of American black walnut sold at Sotheby’s for $25,000 on June 9, 2015. In December, another sold for $62,500.

George Nakashima in his workshop. (Photo, courtesy of Nakashima Foundation for Peace,

A Nakashima Conoid bench. (Photo, courtesy of Nakashima Foundation for Peace,

May 25, 1977: The first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, debuted. On a budget of $11 million, it made $786+ million worldwide—and that was just at the box office ( Collecting Star Wars figures has now reached respectability—Sotheby’s held an auction in 2015 of 600 figures and other items from the collection of Billionaire Boys Club founder NIGO® yielding $502,000.

May 26, 1907: Marion Michael Morrison, aka John Wayne, was born in Iowa. In 2011, 700+ articles of John Wayne’s memorabilia rocketed to $5.3+ million at Heritage Auctions, including: his beret from The Green Berets, $179,250; his Golden Globe for True Grit, $143,400 and eyepatch $47,800; and his signature cowboy hat, $119,500.

John Wayne’ beret (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

His cowboy hat (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

May 27, 1837: The legend James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Ill. The Smith & Wesson Model No.2 revolver in his possession when “Crooked Nose Jack” McCall shot him in the back of the head on Aug. 2, 1876 failed to reach the reserve price at Bonhams in 2013; the last bid was $220,000 (, 11/18/2013). McCall was at first acquitted and later rearrested, found guilty and hanged.

Photo Right: “Wild Bill” Hickok

May 28, 1908: Ian Fleming, the author of the book, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, was born in London. Oh, and he also created Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, James Bond. (Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the theme song from Thunderball.) With a total of 26 movies, ten actors played Bond ( An 11th Bond is on the way; 007 has raked in $7 billion ( In 2004, Sotheby’s sold a signed and inscribed first edition of the book Moonraker for $102,000 (

May 30, 1431: Joan of Arc perished by burning at the stake. On May 16, 1920, she was canonized and made a saint. In February 2016, the Puy du Fou Foundation purchased Joan of Arc’s silver-gilt devotional ring for almost $425,000 and brought it back to France. Facetted faces on the ring show “I” and “IHS” for “Jesus” and “M” and “MAR” for “Maria” (

Photo Right: Joan of Arc’s ring.(Photo:

May 31: Clint Eastwood, 1930, and Walt Whitman, 1819, were born. A first edition of Leaves of Grass printed for Whitman was auctioned for $305,000 in 2014 at Christie’s. Clint Eastwood’s Colt .44 Walker in The Outlaw Josey Wales was auctioned at Profiles in History for $35,000 in 2010.


Credits:;; World Timelines,;
Unless otherwise credited, all photos are public domain, PD-US.



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