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By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss

When you go to a concert and see the plethora of things on offer from CDs to tee shirts to key rings and far beyond, you’d be excused for thinking it’s a fairly recent phenomenon. In fact it dates back to the 1950s, when there was a veritable flood of Elvis merchandise, although, because of his stature, he was about the only one deemed big enough to warrant merchandise – items which were licensed to use the star’s name, did so to help sell them by association.

It’s important to remember that back then, no one knew that rock would last. Most people imagined it would be a passing fad. Certainly Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, thought so. It was why he edged his client towards movies, and also why he agreed to all manner of merchandise which would sell while Elvis was still hot – which he believed could end at any moment. So Elvis Presley Enterprises Incorporated was formed to deal with the merchandise. It was an entirely new phenomenon, only possible because Presley was such a major star, and it wouldn’t be repeated until the Beatles’ global conquest

The fact that most of it was cheap tat didn’t matter; it was Elvis, so it would go like hot cakes – and it did. Elvis toy guitars were popular, lunch boxes, clothes, even dolls and board games. The problem for modern collectors, of course, is that not much has survived. Cheaply made, they often broke, and what didn’t was often thrown out as the teenage (or younger) Elvis fan grew up.

The peak years for this early merchandise were 1956 and 1957, and those are the items truly worth collecting. You can also collect other merchandise produced during his life, and it will rise a little in value, but steer well clear of anything produced after Elvis’ death in 1977 (that said, a 1986 limited edition doll authorised by Graceland, in mint condition, was being offered on eBay for £500).

What to Buy

Virtually anything from the 1956-57 period, in good condition, is going to increase in value. For example, an Elvis board game from the period was offered at more than £1,000, and a bubble gum wrapped with the head of the box was going for more than £250 (the bubble gum packet had been opened).

Original Elvis dolls are very difficult to come by these days. You can find plenty from 1984 onwards, and Mattel has produced a range of Elvis dolls (they’ve also done a Barbie Loves Elvis set!). If you chance upon one that’s obviously older and the price isn’t astronomical, snap it up immediately; you’re guaranteed a large profit.

Much the same is true of Elvis lunchboxes. In America they’re still being made (a true sign that the King’s popularity hasn’t faded) and sold, but it’s the 1950s ones that are of interest, and readily identifiable from the relatively crude designs. It’s unlikely you’ll find one in mint or even very good condition (truthfully, it’s unlikely you’ll find one at all at an affordable price), but if you do, again snap it up, because you’ll have a market in both Elvis fans and lunchbox collectors.

The toys, such as a toy guitar from 1956, can be quite valuable (it fetched £250 at auction, but was in excellent condition). Even an official Elvis Hound Dog (reflecting his ‘50s hit) brought more than £150 – quite a lot for a stuffed toy. Few of the toys from the ‘50s have survived, so if you see one, buy it. The value will only increase, as they’re desirable not only with Elvis fans, but also vintage toy collectors.

What You Should Look For

Ideally you want something still in its original packaging and in mint condition. However, in virtually every case, mint condition will be unlikely if the item’s been used at all. The more wear it’s had, the more the value drops. However, if you can find something worn but with the original packaging, it can make a good investment; without it’s probably only worth money to fans (buy it if the price is low enough – you can always sell to them). One word of caution – very little Elvis merchandise made it to England back in the 1950s. So be wary if you do make any finds at car boot or jumble sales.

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