Collecting

Elvis’s Rhinestone Jumpsuit Tops $1.5 Million Memorabilia Auction

Legal contracts, a guitar-shaped ring, and even a pistol were also hot lots.

American singer Elvis Presley performing on tour.

Photographer: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical

Forty years ago today, Elvis Presley left the building—permanently. The original rock-and-roll superstar died Aug. 16, 1977, of a myocardial infarction, but his death gave birth to a multibillion-dollar industry that seems to be immortal.

Right now, tens of thousands of devotees are in Memphis for Elvis Week. Of course, that takes place at Graceland, the King’s residence and the second most visited home in America (after the White House). It has undergone significant upgrades in the past year, including the addition of a 450-room luxury hotel, the Guest House at Graceland, and an entertainment complex, both the result of a $137 million makeover by Authentic Brands Group LLC.

Among the week’s fan reunions, dance parties, and concerts, the festivities included a memorabilia auction that closed Aug. 12—and that featured some impressively high-ticket items, with the total haul topping $1.5 million. 

Big ticket items included an Elvis-owned and stage-worn sleeveless jumpsuit and jacket that sold for $250,000. 

Jeff Marren, consignment director for Graceland Auctions, said the stage-worn suits tend to fetch the most money because only 15 to 18 of them are owned by collectors. 

Elvis’s “Blue Armadillo” jumpsuit—a sleeveless, bell-bottom jumpsuit with matching jacket and rhinetone details—sold for $250,000, including the buyer’s premium, the high end of its estimate and the most expensive item at the auction. Worn by the performer in 1975, when he was 40 and touring, it’s apparently “an exemplary example” of his “evolving style.”

Lot 34, a sleeveless jumpsuit with matching jacket, sold for $250,000.
Source: Graceland Auctions

The King’s jewelry also attracted high bids, with a gold-and-diamond ram’s head necklace going for $138,750 (near its high-end estimate) and a gold-and-diamond, guitar-shaped ring selling for $112,500, far above its estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. Several legal documents sold—a contract with Colonel Parker, a power-of-attorney letter, a contract for Elvis to appear on the Louisiana Hayride radio show—along with a couple of perhaps surprising items: Elvis’s weapons.

A Savage .32 semi-automatic pistol he bought in Palm Springs, Calif., sold for an above-estimate $10,000, while an M1 rifle, similar to the one he trained on in the Army, went for $9,375. His Spanish percussion rifle sold for $4,500.

The most bid-on lot, with 45 bids, was a 16-millimeter reel of Elvis’s first post-Army press conference, but right behind it, with 44 bids, was a note he wrote by hand: “When you’re not in love your [sic] not alive. God is love, E.P.” That Instagram-ready letter was estimated to go for $2,000 to $3,000 but sold for $27,500.

Lot 252, a hand-written note by the King, went for $24,500 above its high estimate.
Source: Graceland Auctions

A couple of notable items among the 315 lots that did not sell include the Bible used to officiate at his funeral, a puka-shell necklace he wore while shooting Blue Hawaii, and a 30-foot, trailer-ready mini-museum (“Your own personal Graceland!”).

Maybe next year?

Although the auction brought in some surprising bids, it was by no means a record-setting sale of Elvis merchandise. In May, a red Lockheed Jetstar the singer once owned sold at auction for $450,000, while Elvis’s white piano—built in 1912 and a fixture in Graceland’s Music Room for 12 years—is currently up for auction, through Aug. 20, on EBay. The estimate is $2.5 million to $5 million, but if it’s anything like that “Blue Armadillo” suit, you might want to put aside a little extra.

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