Does a publicity photo have worth?

  • By Fred Durnbaugh
  • 27 Oct, 2017
publicity photos at auction

I am often asked if an autographed publicity photograph (or still) has value? To be frank – not usually. However, with any definitive answer there are always exceptions.

In general, items have less value in contrast to how many were produced. A common example I run into several times a year is the newspaper the day JFK was shot. It was such an eventful day and the news was so extensive because televisions had made their way into most households by that point, that everyone kept a copy. The value however is diminished because literally millions of newspapers were printed. In contrast, the newspaper that declared Dewey President in error is worth more because there are fewer of them.

Publicity photos (usually 8 x 10) fall into this category. These photos were produced and distributed to almost anyone as a means of advertising. They were mailed to fan club members, media and press personalities, radio disc jockeys, and handed out after performances. They were sent as holiday cards and often as thank you for VIP tickets. Even if they were autographed or inscribed, it was rarely actually done by the performer and often were illegible and even wrong! I have seen autographs that were signed to the wrong photo because the assistant signing was not paying attention. Those have actually become a sub collector category in their own right. For example, a Ringo Starr publicity photo with the name George Harrison might be a collector piece.

There are always exceptions though. If you were present at an event and actually witnessed a celebrity or politician sign a photo and have the selfie to back it up – sometimes they can have more value. A really good example, would be Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek fame. Early on in his career he would sign autographs. After some time, though, whether from indifference, disgust or ego, he started to refuse to sign autographs rendering his earlier autographs much more valuable. For Star Trek fans, this is the holy grail of autographs – apart from Gene Roddenberry himself. Another example might be a short-lived cameo of a major celebrity that went on to success in a different medium. So if Hugh Jackman did a cameo in a Star Wars tv pilot and signed a Star Wars photo but never did another one, and went on to become a major A-List film celebrity – his autograph may be worth more on a Star Wars photo compared to a movie still.

In some cases, autographs can have value even if the photo itself is not worth much. Even if tens of thousands of photos were created but few were autographed, a confirmed autograph might be desired. A good example would be a celebrity that dies suddenly like Kurt Cobain or Heath Ledger. In those cases, the photo may not be valuable but the signature itself could be valuable. There are companies that specialize in collecting and confirming such photographs and framing them with other memorabilia for resale.

In general, a desirable photo/autograph will be worth the most right after a celebrity has passed away. When a celebrity passes, eBay and other Internet sites are usually flooded with their memorabilia capitalizing on the demand. Be careful – some are real but many are faked to take advantage of grieving fans. In my opinion, nearly 90% of all autographs on these sites are not legitimate. Buyer beware. As with anything – find a reputable dealer to make your purchases, do your homework and do not buy anything when you feel pressured or upset.  And now you know. Happy hunting!

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