RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
If the death of Michael Jackson reminded you of that old Michael Jackson album or trading card or autograph, here's something to think about: Michael memorabilia is selling big right now, as NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH: Talk about timing. For six months, Darren Julien had been planning a Michael Jackson memorabilia auction in Las Vegas for June 26th. That, of course, would turn out to be the day after Jackson's death.
Mr. DARREN JULIEN (Julien's Auctions): I mean Michael Jackson's collectability changed overnight, and he went from an icon to a legend. And we knew his value had increased, but we had no idea how high.
Unidentified Woman: This is signed by all the Jacksons: Tito, Marlon, Jackie, Michael, and Jermaine.
SMITH: Before the auction, Julien thought a signed Jackson Five album might go for about $600.
Unidentified Man: Yeah. Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: Four-fifty.
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: Five hundred.
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: Five-fifty.
Unidentified Man: Hey, hey. Two thousand!
Unidentified Woman: Two thousand dollars, (unintelligible) 2,250.
Unidentified Man: Three thousand...
SMITH: But the bids kept coming, as they did for everything, from a beaded shirt from Jacksons Victory Tour, to a thank you note scribbled by the King of Pop.
Mr. WARRICK STONE (Buyer, Hard Rock Café): I paid 20 grand for a scrap of paper.
SMITH: Buying for the Hard Rock Café, Warrick Stone bought Jackson's note thanking an unknown Greg for a, quote, "magic moment." I hope it was the same for you, Jackson writes. Please come to visit me at Neverland. Let's hope this is the beginning of a long friendship, and never lose your boyish spirit. Love always, M. Jackson.
Mr. STONE: And I thought that it was a remarkable open letter that anybody could interpret the way they wanted. And it will continue to leave Michael as an enigma.
Unidentified Woman: Eight thousand. Thank you, 8,000. At eight...
Unidentified Man: Hey, 9,000.
Unidentified Woman: Nine thousand dollars...
SMITH: Little wonder that even the little guys are trying to get in on the action.
Mr. HERVE JEAN (Internet Seller): It's a huge opportunity.
SMITH: Herve Jean, who sells clothing online, says he started ordering Michael Jackson Rest in Peace T-shirts less than 24 hours after the pop star's death.
Mr. JEAN: I said, okay, let me just see if I can get a taste of the pie, as well.
Unidentified Woman: Seventeen thousand dollars. We aren't done yet.
SMITH: It's exactly why fans everywhere ran for their closets and attics. And faster than you can say A-B-C, 1-2-3, they flooded eBay and Craigslist with their old Michael Jackson LPs, posters, dolls and more.
Mr. PAUL SPRAGUE (House Painter): I got about 70 or 80 of, what do you call them? They're tapestries, life-size Michael.
SMITH: Paul Sprague, from Brockton, Massachusetts, says his neighbor was about to throw him out a few years ago. Sprague took them to a local flea market, but...
Mr. SPRAGUE: Nobody would bite. I mean I was willing to take a dollar apiece and nobody would bite.
SMITH: So no you're thinking of selling them for...
Mr. SPRAGUE: Well, hey, I put them on the market for $40 each.
Mr. SPRAGUE: Yeah. I'm willing to, you know, negotiate. I mean, God, it didn't cost me anything, so why not try to make a buck? I don't think he'd mind.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman: Twenty thousand dollars. I have bid at 20,000 now.
Unidentified Man: Twenty-one.
Unidentified Woman: Twenty-one thousand dollars.
SMITH: But amid the frenzy, buyer beware. There are more fakes than ever, according to Michael Frost, who authenticates autographs on eBay.
Mr. MICHAEL FROST (Professional Autograph Authentication Services): Within hours of Michael's passing, there were thousands of forged autographs up on the Internet. I mean I've been nonstop for the past five days removing things.
SMITH: But the real deal, like that album signed by all five Jacksons...
Unidentified Woman: I think this it. It's 27,000 (unintelligible) for 27,000. Congratulations.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
(Soundbite of song, "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough")
SMITH: That fetched 45 times what was expected. As one auctioneer put it, Michael Jackson is now selling for Elvis Presley prices, and Michael would love that.
SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News.