Few items unsold as auction's bidders vie for Elvis' collectibles
By Michael Lollar (The Commercial Appeal)
Elvis Presley's grand piano, valued at $1 million, failed to receive a starting minimum bid of $500,000 in
Saturday's "Ultimate Elvis Auction," but at least one seller walked away happy.

"That will be my daughter's tuition," said Blair Hill, who had just sold a gold-and-diamond cameo ring given by
Elvis to Hill's grandmother, the late Janelle McComb, a close friend of the Presley family and founder of the
Elvis memorial foundation in Tupelo, Miss.

Hill, recently named sales manager for the Elvis birthplace and museum in Tupelo, said his grandmother
kept the ring for years before giving it to him. Hill had expected the ring to sell close to the $10,000 minimum
bid. With bidders from around the world via the Internet, bids quickly sailed past the minimum. They then
climbed to the estimated value of $20,000 and kept going.

When a winner was declared at $32,500, a cheer went up in the Venetian Room of The Peabody, where
more than 100 seats were filled. Spectators also lined the walls of the packed room. Hill happened to be
seated immediately across the aisle from the winning bidder, Michael Werner of Las Vegas.

Werner, a former Belgian, already was wearing another Elvis diamond ring. He said he considered the
cameo ring "the top item in the whole auction . . . It's just the look of it actually -- shiny and golden."

The auction, held by Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, was expected to continue until almost midnight.
Major collectors involved in the bidding said they are not immune from the flailing economy and unwilling to
invest based primarily on the look of an item.
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A gold-and-diamond ring once owned by Elvis had a
minimum price of $10,000. But it proved to be a
popular item in the auction, selling for $32,500. Top
bidder Michael Werner called it "the top item in the
whole auction."
But collector John Heath of Marion, Ark., said there are hallmarks of whether an Elvis item will hold its value.

Heath had predicted prior to the auction that an Elvis belt worn in several 1956 photographs would be one of the best sellers in the auction. Like the cameo
ring, the belt, valued at $20,000, sold for $32,500. "Everyone wants a piece of Elvis," said Heath. "If he wore something, especially if it is in a photograph
and if he wore it onstage, it will be more valuable."

Heath, who has worked as an appraiser for Graceland in the past, also had predicted no one would be willing to pay the minimum bids for a love letter from
Elvis to onetime girlfriend Anita Wood ($37,500) or for Elvis' 1955 contract with RCA ($75,000). Like the piano, those items remained unsold.

A succession of Elvis movie posters from "Loving You" in 1957 to his last film feature, "Change of Habit," barely met minimum bids.

But Elvis' personal address and phone book, valued at $3,500, sold for $8,500. A pair of maroon Western-style slacks valued at $4,000 sold for $17,000. A
Bulova Accutron wristwatch worn by Elvis in 1964 was valued at $3,000 and sold for $6,000.

Doug Norwine, director of music and entertainment memorabilia for the auction house, predicted high-dollar bidders would not be deterred by the economy.

But collector and Elvis author Jerry Osborne (who wrote "Elvis Like Any Other Soldier") said most of the bidding came from phone and Internet bids and
seemed to indicate reticence on the part of potential bidders. "The economy is always a factor."

But the economy did not stop someone from going beyond an estimated $2,500 value to bid $3,250 for an empty prescription bottle of antibiotics prescribed
by Elvis' physician, Dr. George Nichopolous