Elvis's biggest fan

Written by Deena Waisberg

Quiet and unassuming, 61-year-old Brian Allward projects the reassuring Steady Eddie image that you want from someone who prepares your taxes. But tucked away in the backroom of Tax 2000, his accounting business, you’ll find another side of this mild-mannered accountant. The room is awash with all manner of Elvis Presley memorabilia-from T-shirts to teddy bears to CDs-all laid out on tables covered with black velvet. These items represent Allward’s other life: buying and selling everything Elvis through his hobby business, King Collectibles.

Elvis is still big business: although The King died some 28 years ago, his estate generated 2003 revenue of US$45 million, with US$15 million of that coming from Graceland, his former home-turned-theme park in Memphis, Tenn. But it’s not the money that interests Allward: “We do it because we like it,” he says. “Accounting is all about paperwork. This is much more exciting.”

Whether you amass sports cards or antique cars, collecting can produce rich rewards; there is the thrill of the hunt, the joy of owning a piece of history, plus the camaraderie of sharing a passion with like-minded individuals. Collect wisely, and you may even reap financial rewards.

Allward has been an Elvis fan since 1956, when he saw The King’s first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. “He’s the greatest entertainer that ever was,” says Allward with unbridled enthusiasm. “He had more No. 1 hits than The Beatles.”

An Elvis collector since 1985, Allward has accumulated a personal collection worth about $30,000, which includes three framed Elvis autographs worth about US$1,500, and a Coca-Cola limited edition antique jukebox filled with Elvis records. One of his most prized possessions is the last pair of horseshoes worn by Elvis’s horse, Rising Sun, which Allward picked up for US$2,000 from the singer’s horse handler. Today, the shoes are mounted on an engraved leather backing and displayed proudly in his office.

“I love the thrill of the hunt and the thrill of the sale,” says Allward. “My father was a salesman, and there’s something of a salesman in me as well.” He gleefully spent months, for example, negotiating to buy a ’50s-era record player that was in Elvis’s house in Memphis, which he picked up in August when he and his wife made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland to commemorate Elvis Presley’s death in 1977.

That same passion is why Allward launched King Collectibles in 1992, buying and selling about 100 items from his King City, Ont. office and at Elvis conventions and festivals in Canada and the U.S. It’s more fun than work, says Allward, who enjoys negotiating and trading with other dealers. Besides the old gold, new Elvis memorabilia is continuously being produced; last year, an Elvis wine was among the more unusual items to hit the market.

Possessing an accountant’s common sense, the majority of items that Allward targets are priced from $5 to $50-the meat of the market-although he does have a gold record that sells for about $200. Although he faces competition from other dealers, he says everyone has slightly different merchandise. “There’s so much stuff out there, it’s rare there’s a lot of overlap between dealers,” he says. “King Collectibles is known for having the newest stuff.”

He typically makes 12 trips a year, including to the semi-annual Elvis Con convention in Memphis, which draws up to 40,000 people from around the world, and to the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Ontario.

Although Allward sells some $80,000 worth of Elvis merchandise a year, King Collectibles operates at a loss, primarily because of travel expenses. “It’s not just about business,” he explains. “It’s about being part of a legend.”

Collect like a pro

You can collect almost anything: celebrity or sports memorabilia, coins, stamps, dolls, plates, spoons, stuffed animals or art. Interested in getting into the game? Here’s some advice from Jeff Ferguson, who heads up Canadiana and collectibles at Waddington’s, an auction house based in Toronto.

Follow an interest rather than collecting what’s hot

Items that become hot properties also cool down, so you’re better to collect something you have a passion for.

Educate yourself

Research the subject by reading books, talking to dealers and going to collectibles shows. You’ll learn the value of different items so you can spot a deal or a rip-off.

Collect antique or vintage items

Modern collectibles don’t usually increase in value.

Buy from reputable sources

Good dealers, auction houses, or in the case of celebrity collectibles, someone who had a personal connection with the star are best. Be careful when buying on the Internet. Realize that fake objects come with fake certificates of authenticity.

Start small

Don’t buy expensive items until you understand the market. But when you do, buy the best items you can afford, as they appreciate in value more than common items.

Take your time

Forming a good collection usually takes years.

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