Deb Elliott is saddened by Michael Jackson's sudden death, but she's also a little wealthier because of it. The response was underwhelming earlier this month when the Volant, Pennsylvania, resident tried to auction a pair of 1980s Jackson dolls for a starting price of $9.95 apiece on eBay Inc. She turned to the e-commerce site after six months of Craigslist postings drew little interest.
"I would have been happy if they sold for $20," said Elliott, a 55-year-old homemaker.
But within minutes of Jackson's death Thursday, eBay bids started coming in. A doll depicting Jackson at the American Music Awards fetched $265 after 21 bids. A Grammy Awards Jackson doll got 36 bids and sold for $227.50 on Friday.
"This was definitely a cause for mixed emotions," Elliott said. "I finally got rid of the dolls, but now Michael is gone, too." The singer's death triggered a surge in the Jackson collectibles market Friday, including newly minted items such as T-shirts hawked online with "R.I.P." and "June 25, 2009" alongside his image. On Friday afternoon, an Internet search for Jackson items turned up more than 24,000 offerings from auctions on several sites and fixed-price "buy-it-now" sales.
In addition to surging volume, eBay reported the average selling price for Jackson items jumped 31 percent on Thursday from daily averages last week. Among the items up for sale were a signed fedora hat, offered at $9,795.
For anyone selling now, there's some uncertainty: Can you get a better price by waiting? And if you're a buyer, should you delay until the frenzy subsides?
"People are telling me I should've held out, maybe they'd be worth even more in a week, month or year from now," said Elliott, who added that she is "not one that was taking advantage of Michael Jackson's untimely death."
Another question for collectibles marketers is whether the damage Jackson's reputation suffered from his eccentricities and late-career pedophilia allegations will erode the value of memorabilia once the shock of his death passes. Or, like Elvis, who had his share of late-life troubles, will the collectibles hold value because the power of the legend prevails?
"Is he Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, or is he Mike Tyson?" said Jim Lentz, chief operating officer of American Royal Arts, a Boca Raton, Florida-based memorabilia dealer that holds publishing rights with a firm overseeing commercial use of Presley-related items. "Does the controversy get downplayed, and does his career get played up, or do people continue to hold the strangeness and rumor against him?" The singer struggled financially following his 2003 arrest on charges that he molested a 13-year-old boy. A jury acquitted him of all charges.
Jackson's problems and death might help the marketing of some, but not all of his memorabilia.
"Notoriety might be great for say, the autograph market," said Martin Brochstein, senior vice president at the New York-based Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. "He's not signing any more, to put it bluntly.
"But in terms of licensed merchandise bearing his likeness, the notoriety is not necessarily such a good thing." The rich Jackson collectibles market is the legacy of his huge popularity in the 1970s and '80s, when all sorts of mass merchandise emerged, from Jackson dolls to posters to commemorative coins. That period also produced a trove of signed valuables, from autographed album covers to the signature white sequined gloves he wore on stage.
Jackson "was a guy who toured the world, and signed autographs, and was very public," Lentz said. "There is a fair amount of inventory out there."
There's also a market for Jackson's personal belongings. However, a Beverly Hills auction was canceled in April after Jackson and Julien's Auction House reached a settlement to their dispute over whether 2,000 of his personal items from his Neverland property in Southern California were ever intended for sale.
At a celebrity auction in Las Vegas that coincidentally occurred Friday, 21 pieces of Jackson memorabilia fetched a total of $205,000. A crystal beaded shirt worn by the performer during his 1984 Victory tour was the top-selling item in the collection, at $52,500.
The auction, at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, had been planned for months and also featured Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe items.
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, a New York-based auction house, helped conduct a Las Vegas auction in 2007 during which more than 1,200 Jackson items grossed about $1 million. On Friday, he spoke a bit wistfully about that event's timing.
"Things would have been different had they come to auction now," Ettinger said. The items "got infinitely more valuable just a short while ago."
"The world," Ettinger said, "clearly is sort of willing to forget all of what has happened before of a less-than-thrilling nature, and really honored the memory of Michael Jackson, which is as it should be."
His death is also expected to inspire an array of commemorative gear of potentially dubious value, such as T-shirts. "I'm honestly expecting to see a Web site pop up by the end of the day selling Michael Jackson commemorative plates," said Allison Southwick, a spokeswoman with the Better Business Bureau. Elliott, the Pennsylvania woman who sold Jackson dolls on eBay, says she has other collectibles, but they have more personal than market value. Although she made money from selling the dolls, she won't part with other items.
"My kids grew up with him _ they're the reason I went to two concerts," she said. "I still have several CDs, 45s and VHS tapes. I even have my son's little 'Beat It' jacket, too _ and no, I won't be trying to sell it."