29/04/2023 General News
Emily Ayson says that as science fiction has become ‘cool’, its value in the saleroom has soared.
It is not so long ago that being a science fiction aficionado was regarded as something a little geeky. There was never any shortage of fans of the genre, but they tended to be a slight breed apart. Certainly science fiction was not seen by the mainstream as something cool.
But in recent years we have seen a massive turnaround in the way that sci-fi, which arguably first emerged in the 1950s, is viewed by the world. Mainly driven by a series of blockbuster movies starring Hollywood A-listers, there can be no argument that sci-fi is now firmly in the mainstream, and admitting to being a fan does not mark you out as a nerd or a geek.
In truth, sci-fi has always had a much wider following than many would care to admit. From the emergence of early Marvel and DC comic books in the 1950s and 1960s, through science fiction making inroads in the so-called Golden Age of television, to decades of sci-fi movie hits from George Lucas’s 1977 Star Wars onwards, there can be no denying that sci-fi is right at the centre of popular culture.
I would even go so far as to claim that sci-fi is finally cool.
Sci-fi fans do tend to be passionate about their enthusiasm, and it’s not difficult to see why. Although some commentators think the genre has a low cultural value, sci-fi often offers strong narrative threads, a very traditional sense of right and wrong, and has been at the very forefront of using technology to drive forward culture (Star Wars was so far ahead of its time technically that it still stands up today, nearly half a century later).
The combination of recognisable, culturally-familiar story-telling and futuristic or fantasy environments is compelling. Sci-fi offers escapism alongside the familiar, and even a sense of nostalgia for simple moral codes.
Perhaps the biggest part of sci-fi’s appeal is its ‘sense of wonder’, as identified by sci-fi editor and critic David Hartwell, who wrote, ‘Science fiction’s appeal lies in the combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous. It is an appeal to the sense of wonder’.
Given that the genre evokes such strong feelings of affiliation and ownership, it is small wonder that there has been a thriving market for memorabilia connected with sci-fi more or less since it emerged. And with a whole new generation finding sci-fi through events such as the Marvel movie franchise, there is a massively expanding market for all sorts of sci-fi-related items.
The original Marvel and DC comic books remain very much sought-after, with complete (or almost complete) collections making good money. For example, in Keys’ May Popular Culture, Music, Film and Sporting Memorabilia Sale, a box containing all but two of the Mighty World of Marvel comic books from between 1972 and 1979, has elicited a huge amount of interest ahead of the auction, and its pre-sale estimate of £300-£500 is beginning to look rather conservative.
Toy manufacturers have never been slow to cash in on the popularity of the various sci-fi franchises, and these toys are very sought-after, especially if they are still in their original packaging. In particular, Kenner and Palitoy Star Wars figures will always see brisk bidding.
Then there are the marquee items, either props from the actual TV shows or movies, or, slightly more commonly, promotional items made to help market them. For example, we have a life-sized Dalek in our May sale which was cast from the original BBC master Dalek mould from the Dr Who series ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. Originally used as a promotional prop, this will probably be snapped up by a fan as an eye-catching ornament.
It is amazing what people find in their lofts and bring for sale, and the inter-generational aspect of this market is striking. The renewed popularity of sci-fi – not to mention modern reboots of older franchises – has brought a whole new generation of buyers to Popular Culture sales, whilst older collectors are finding a whole new set of merchandise to add to their collections.
Who would have thought that science fiction would suddenly be so cool? It has always had a dedicated and passionate following, but now it finds itself in the mainstream, there has never been so strong a market in the saleroom for all things sci-fi.