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Movie Props: For What It's Worth

Updated: May 13, 2022

Items that appear in movies can be surprisingly valuable. Here's why some are worth more than others, and why we're grateful to have the hammer. Shown below: the screen-worn boots used by Tim Robbins, during the scene in which we see Andy's favorite hobby, on display exclusively at the Shawshank Woodshop Museum.

Movie props. For collectors and sellers, it's big business. So what makes one prop more valuable than another? There are 6 criteria that determine the value of a film prop:


1. PROVENANCE. Are you sure about where the item came from? First of all, having the paperwork that proves a particular prop was involved in a movie means a great deal to its value. Most props should come with a certificate of authenticity or a letter explaining how the item was acquired. Moreover, having a photograph or video showing the owner handing it to you is an excellent way to demonstrate where the prop came from and how you acquired it. Thanks again, Frank!


2. CURRENT CONDITION. How does the prop look compared to the way it did in the film? As is the case with anything collectible, the condition of a prop plays a huge role in determining its worth. The closer the item looks to the way it appeared in the movie, the better. No damages, dings, scratches, or stains and the item retains its value. 3. SCREEN USE. Was the prop "screen used?" The property crew usually make sure there are more than a few back-up versions of anything that appears in a movie, (although for The Shawshank Redemption, only one chess set was made in Mansfield by a local artisan -- and made out of alabaster and soapstone). Though there may be multiple versions of these important items, only some of them might make it to the screen. How to tell? Sometimes, by freeze-framing a scene, we can confirm that a particular prop was indeed used in a particular segment of film. It's called screen matching. Confirming a prop's appearance in this way adds greatly to the value of the prop.


4. SCREEN TIME. How long did the prop appear in the film? The longer a prop can be seen on screen, the greater the value that prop is in the collecting world. So, for example, the rock hammer gets a ton of time on screen. It’s first mentioned during Andy and Red's first conversation, but it doesn't appear until after the laundry-smuggling scene. We first see it in Red's cell, then it gets handed off to Brooks, and then it quickly goes down the cell block to Andy.

Later, we see Andy use it to start carving his name on the cell wall. After that, we see it being held up by a police officer, to be photographed, and is not at all the one we saw when the film began. Even Red says it was "damn near worn down to the nub." Later, during the escape flashback sequence, we see the hammer again, when Andy discovers the brittle nature of the cell wall, Next, he's using it to carve the hole in that wall, while hiding behind that "big damned poster."


The last reference to the hammer comes up when we learn where Andy had been hiding it: inside his hollowed-out Bible, near the first page of the Book of Exodus. Nice touch, Frank! So it's fair to say that compared to Red's baseball, or Brooks' library cart, the rock hammer appears in several scenes and takes up a good chunk of screen time, and adding even more value as a collectible movie prop.


5. STORY IMPORTANCE. How crucial is the prop to the narrative of the film? This is a big one. The most valuable prop in any movie is the one that has the greatest importance in the telling of the story. And in this film, there truly isn't a more important prop. You could say it's the Holy Grail, of sorts, from The Shawshank Redemption, as it was hidden inside the word of God, for Godsakes! Not only does it feature in the formation of the friendship, but it plays a role in the carving of Andy's "game of kings," and represents how Andy applied his love of geology, "the study of pressure and time" to make his brilliant and secret escape.


6. CULTURAL IMPACT. How meaningful is the movie to the world? This may be the biggest factor of all, affecting the value of a movie prop. For example, you might own a prominently-seen, screen-used item that's in perfect-condition and played a key role in a film's narrative, but what if the movie bombed?


For example, imagine if Judy Dench gave you the whiskers she wore in 2019's Cats (we have to assume she did -- nobody here saw that movie -- or will admit it). Though such a prop might meet all 5 other criteria, the distinct lack of critical acclaim and minimal cultural impact of that film would likely devalue that prop completely. A pair of Dorothy's famous footwear from The Wizard of Oz sold in a 2014 auction for $2 million. That black bird in The Maltese Falcon? In 2013, a screen-used version sold at auction for $4 million. Dooley Wilson's piano in Casablanca was auctioned in 2014 for a cool $3.4 million. And the iconic 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback Steve McQueen drove in Bullit sold in a 2019 for $3.4 million.


The history and provenance of those items were proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Their condition was outstanding. They appeared on screen for a good long time, and played tremendous roles in the narratives of those movies. Finally, each film is considered a classic, having made an indelible mark on our culture.


That's what makes those movie props the stuff that dreams are made of. So, how much is Andy's rock hammer worth, given it's a prop that's firing on all 6 movie-prop cylinders, just like those 4 others? Though Andy prices it out to be about $7.00 (in any rock and gem shop), we can't even begin to guess its current value in the movie memorabilia market.


And where is the rock hammer right now, you might ask?


Remember the warehouse sequence at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Kidding: The Ohio State Reformatory has plans to put the 6-star prop safely on display inside the Shawshank Museum later this year.


Where and when that happens, you will be among the very first to know.


You can, of course, after visiting the Shawshank Woodshop, you can come to the Ohio State Reformatory and see all the other props inside the eye-popping Shawshank Museum. For information about tours, visit ohiostatereformatory.org.







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