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’Casablanca’ Piano Could Fetch $1.2 Million at Sotheby’s

Poster art for the 1942 Warner Brothers film "Casablanca." The film, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, won three Oscars. Source: Warner Brothers via Bloomberg

One of the spinet pianos on which Dooley Wilson played “As Time Goes By” in “Casablanca” returns to the auction block this week.

The 58-key upright has been estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million by Sotheby’s, where it will be offered in New York on Dec. 14.

It was consigned by a Japanese collector who bought it in 1988 for $154,000, at the time one of the top prices for Hollywood memorabilia.

“The piano is in very good tune,” David Redden, Sotheby’s vice chairman and director of special projects, said in an interview. “It’s very playable.”

The 1942 Warner Bros. classic, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, won Oscars for best picture, best writing and best director.

In the World War II-era film Wilson was the piano player Sam at Rick’s Cafe Americain, the club owned by Bogart’s man of mystery Rick Blaine.

The piano -- one of two used in “Casablanca” -- was discovered at a prop shop sale in the early 1980s by Los Angeles-based collector Gary Milan, who sold it in 1988 through Sotheby’s.

“It was covered with probably 20 layers of paint,” Milan said in an interview. “I recognized the size and the shape. At the back of it there was a Warner Brothers number.”

Lovers’ Toast

The piano was used during a flashback scene as Blaine recalls a Paris idyll with Bergman’s Ilsa Lund. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick says, as the lovers toast each other with Champagne.

Milan owns the piano used in the Rick’s Cafe scenes; it’s currently on loan to the Warner Bros Museum in Burbank, California.

“No one thought that these props had any intrinsic value,” when “Casablanca” was made, Redden said. “They were just used in the next movie.”

Prices for collectibles including Hollywood and music memorabilia have surged in recent years. A dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch” fetched $5.52 million in 2011. Madonna’s stage corset designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier fetched $52,000, more than doubling its presale high estimate in November.

“It’s about diversification of assets,” said Jim Halperin, co-founder of Heritage Auctions, in a recent interview. “People who put 2 percent to 15 percent of their net assets in collectibles are making the right move.”

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