A set of black-framed prescription glasses worn by Bill Collins may never achieve the $US80,000 hammer price paid in 1998 for a pair of Buddy Holly’s spectacles, but in their own quiet way Mr Movies’ glasses are iconic to Australian film lovers who grew up watching Collins present classic films on television for half a century.
Next month Collins’ spectacles go under the hammer in Sydney, along with treasures and ephemera from the film historian and TV presenter’s vast 10,000 piece collection in an online auction bound to draw attention from cinema buffs around the world.
Among one of the most treasured items in the Bill Collins Golden Years of Hollywood Auction catalogue — which took auctioneer Nicholas Cadey of Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers four years to evaluate and catalogue — is a tattered red autograph book gifted to Collins in 1976 by film lover Norma Copas of Panania.
The little book, treasured by Collins for another 43 years before his death last year, features the pencilled signatures of Hollywood legends Buster Keaton, Eddie Cantor, Norma Shearer, Maurice Chevalier and Bing Crosby.
An accompanying letter from Mrs Copas explains that at age 16 she would visit her father, a hotelier in Wellington, New Zealand, always taking her book with her.
At the hotel she would offer it to visiting stars and artists from abroad to sign.
In 1936 one artist, American performer Harry Troupe, promised to take the red book back to America and have it autographed by the actors and stars of the day.
Good to his word, the book returned with some dazzling inscriptions.
Other treasures in the auction include sought-after Gone with The Wind memorabilia, including the cherished set of lobby cards Collins packed into his car in 2001 as bushfire threatened his Blue Mountains’ home, a porcelain vintage Shirley Temple doll, dozens of autographed Hollywood portraits from stars including Judy Garland, Mary Pickford, Olivia de Havilland and Tom Cruise, and an extensive laser disc movie collection.
Auctioneer Cadey said he’d never encountered such a collection in his career.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s all I’ve been doing for four years,” he said, explaining Collins and wife Joan invited he and Theodore Bruce proprietor James Badgery to their South Coast property to assess the collection in the years prior to Collins’s death.
The task was almost finished last week.
Mrs Collins said she was unable to guess which of the items would fetch the best price at auction.
“Bill didn’t collect for value. It was his passion. These were his beloved treasures — the tools of his trade. His love for education fuelled his motivation to collect and it is now wonderful to share these items,” she said.
Thousands of books, posters, publicity material and some furniture will also be included in the auction – which will stream live from Sunday, October 18, over six weekends to Sunday, November 29, on the Theodore Bruce site – including one leather Chesterfield sofa from the theatrette at the couple’s house, Winmalee, where Collins and Joan would settle in to watch their best-loved films together.