Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Cape Fails To Sell At Auction

The Dracula cape worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal classic film failed to sell in the first session of the Icons of Hollywood auction at Profiles in History on December 16th, 2011. The starting price of $1,200,000 may have been overly optimistic, but the cape wasn’t the only iconic Hollywood artifact that priced itself out of a sale. A pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz scared off potential buyers with its starting price of $2,000,000.

The surprise announcement that Bela Lugosi Jr. was auctioning his father’s cape caused consternation amongst fans. Not only were they mystified by his decision to sell such an important heirloom, which was left him by his mother, Lillian, upon her death in 1981, they also feared that the cape would disappear into the vault of an investor or be buried away in a private collection. 

The cape (Lot 589) wasn’t the only item to be put up for auction by Lugosi Jr. Among various photographs, posters and lobby cards, two were of such a personal nature that his desire to sell them seems even more surprising than his wish to sell the cape. Inscribed, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of  Mine,” a 1905 Hungarian portrait of Bela failed to reach its starting price of $1,000, while a 1940s portrait inscribed by Bela to his wife Lillian sold for $2,250. The highest selling lot was Bela’s own jumbo lobby card from Dracula, which sold for $22,500.

In addition to the lots from Bela’s estate and family, five other items, including photographs from Bela’s own collection, were offered for sale. The most interesting lot, however, was a pair of Bela’s 1930s wingtip shoes, which fetched $1,600.

In remarkable condition, Bela’s wingtip shoes

Bela wearing the shoes at the Hollywood Athletic Club sometime during the 1930s

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Below is a full list of the lots from Bela’s family and estate, with catalogue descriptions and starting and selling prices. (Andi Brooks)

Lot 585

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Hungarian cabinet portrait ca. 1905. Silver-bromide matte print 4 ¼ “ x 7 ½”on photographer’s imprinted  card-mount. A very early original-period reprint, as it bears Lugosi’s  inscription in the print itself in Hungarian, “To the Sweetest Good Mother of Mine.” 

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Lot 586

Starting price $800 – unsold

Two vintage ca. 1920 Hungarian 3¼”x 5¼” photo-portrait postcards  of Bela Lugosi in striking poses with his facsimile signature, by “Angelo” of  Budapest. From the estate of Lugosi himself, and passed down to his heir. Cards  of this type were marketed to the public as promotions for Lugosi’s early film  and stage work in Europe, where he had already made a significant mark in the  public esteem. Tiny spot of age browning at one corner, else both Very Fine.

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Lot 587

Starting price $1,000 – sold for $1,000

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi in his Hollywood study,  ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  contemplative portrait of  Bela Lugosi contemporaneous with his role in Dracula,  in the study of his Hollywood home, replete with the infamous nude painting of  Clara Bow which Lugosi kept close at hand until his dying day. This photograph  is from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir. Excellent condition with  virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 588

Starting price $600 – unsold

Vintage profile portrait of Bela Lugosi, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print, being a  stern profile portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1930. Print is of an exceptional  photographic quality for its lighting and sharpness of grain. Excellent  original condition; from Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his heir.

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Lot 590

Starting price $20,000 – sold for $22,500

Dracula near-mint unrestored original Jumbo lobby-card  from Bela Lugosi’s own collection – (Universal, 1931)  14” x 17”original release Jumbo lobby-card  depicting Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, surrounding Helen Chandler with his  signature cape, about to anoint her with his very special “kiss”. This is not  only one of the most vital and essential images to perfectly distill the true  nature of the film, in virtually mint, totally unrestored condition, it was  also for decades, possibly even from the beginning, the property of Bela Lugosi  and passed down to his heir where it has resided to this day. Remnant trace of  scrapbook adhesive on verso margins, and very faint and insignificant handling  lines and background crease are the only signs this extraordinary artifact was  ever touched. Colors are rich and totally unfaded (the jumbo set was printed with  softer colors intentionally than the 11 x 14 set). We are not aware of another  example of this remarkable scene coming to auction previously, let alone an  original poster item of this caliber from Lugosi’s own collection. Authenticity  is beyond question on this exceptional piece. Very Fine to Near Mint.

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Lot 591

Starting price $1,000 – unsold

Vintage oversize portrait of Bela Lugosi full figure in white  linen suit, ca. 1930 – Silver-bromide 11”x 14” double-weight custom matte print, being a  standing portrait of Bela Lugosi in white linen suit with hat and cigar, and a  mischievous “Mona Lisa”smile. From Lugosi’s estate, and passed down to his  heir. Excellent condition with virtually no trace of handling or age.

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Lot 593

Collection of (16) Bela Lugosi portrait stills from his estate and  family’s collection – Mix of original and reprint portrait stills, primarily head-shots  in 8” x 10” size, all from either the estate or family of Bela Lugosi. Majority  are from the 1940’s-1950’s with the William Morris Agency credit slug in lower  margin. All in Very Fine condition.

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Lot 594

Starting price $2,000 – sold for $2,250

Vintage portrait of Bela Lugosi ca. 1940 inscribed by him to his  wife Lillian  – Silver-bromide 8”x 10” double-weight custom matte print being a  very personal, smiling portrait from the 1940’s which Bela Lugosi inscribed in  green fountain pen, “To Lillian- Bela”.  In 1933 Bela married 22-year-old  Lillian Arch, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants.  They had a son, Bela  G. Lugosi, in 1938.  From Lillian’s estate, and passed down to Bela Jr.  Very Fine condition.

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Lot 595

Starting price $300 – sold for $325

Bowery at Midnight original folded U.S.  one-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Monogram, 1942)  27 x 41 in. U.S. one-sheet poster folded,  for one of Lugosi’s better low-budget “programmers”. He is ably supported here  by a sexy Wanda McKay and a tough, juvenile pre-Detour Tom Neal.  Condition is Good only overall, though it benefits greatly from its provenance  of the Bela Lugosi family collection.

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Lot 596

Starting price $600 – sold for $950

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. Title-card  from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for one of Bela Lugosi’s last roles worthy of his talent and  dignity. Good only condition, though colors are rich, with light soiling and  tape around rear margins; its strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 597

Starting price $500 – sold for $550

The Return of the Vampire original U.S. portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Columbia, 1943) 11 x 14 in. U.S. lobby-card, best portrait  in the set with Bela Lugosi in his signature cape, about to bite the neck of a  lovely young woman. Very decent unrestored condition (handling, and tape on  rear); its great strength is the provenance of Lugosi’s estate.

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Lot 598

Starting price $600 – sold for $850

 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein original  U.S. Title-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1948)  Original unrestored U.S. 11 x 14 in. Title  lobby-card for Lugosi’s finest late-career appearance. Very light soiling from  handling, one pinhole; VG to Fine. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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Lot 599

Starting price $300 – sold for $400

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla original  U.S. half-sheet poster from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Jack Broder Productions, 1952)  22 x 28 in. U.S. half-sheet  poster, one fold. Film is remembered only for the presence of Bela Lugosi.  Poster is unrestored, in Good to VG condition, and is from the Bela Lugosi  family collection.

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Lot 600

Starting price $300 – sold for $550

Son of Frankenstein 1953 reissue portrait  lobby-card from the Bela Lugosi family collection – (Universal, 1938/ R’53)  Near-mint unrestored 11” x 14”  portrait lobby card of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff from the 1953 Realart  reissue. From the estate of Bela Lugosi.

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