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How Propstore founder Stephen Lane made it big with a hobby gone 'madly out of control’

The auction house is set to have one of the world's largest auctions of TV and film memorabilia

Propstore founder Stephen Lane with Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels, who has given the company his personal collection for auction (Propstore)
Propstore founder Stephen Lane with Star Wars actor Anthony Daniels, who has given the company his personal collection for auction. (Propstore)

Propstore is one of the most revered auction houses of film and TV memorabilia in the world, but it took a lot of hard work to get there, the company’s founder tells Yahoo UK.

Stephen Lane founded the company 25 years ago, taking his passion for movies and discovering the wondrous world of collecting. But, to hear him tell it, Lane’s career path was forged simply by being in the “right time, right place” and having a “very passionate entrepreneurial spirit and wanting to have a lot fun”.

“It's a hobby that just went madly out of control,” Lane says. “Frankly, it was never meant to happen like this. I didn't plan it like this.

“It was just an opportunity… I started collecting at a time when nobody was really paying attention to either the cultural or historical significance of these artefacts, or the commercial value either.”

“These things were being thrown away back when I first started collecting,” he goes on.

Propstore CEO Stephen Lane holds a Paul Stanley from KISS autographed and inscribed stage used custom silver glitter Washburn Starfire guitar (estimate £40,000 - 80,000) during a preview for the Entertainment Memorabilia Auction, at the Propstore in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Picture date: Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Stephen Lane founded the company 25 years ago, and has built it into an auction house that is the 'gold standard' of the industry. (Getty Images)

“They were basically rented in a lot of instances to a production, went back to the rental house and then they were repurposed or reused for sequels or other [films].

“If it was a sci-fi blaster from aliens, for example, they’d repaint it and try and put it on another film or Flash Gordon.

“And if that didn't happen, it just sat there on the rental shelf and it wasn't going anywhere. I mean, that was it.

“When I first started going to some of these rental houses to find out what they had, they thought I was bonkers. You know, ‘why would you wanna buy our old hand-me-downs?’”Stephen Lane

But persist he did, and the Propstore began to grow and thrive, they house the biggest collection of spacesuits used in film in the world and other rare items. And now it is seen as the “gold standard” of the industry thanks to their auctions – the latest of which is taking place from 9 to 12 November.

Their upcoming auction is one of the world's largest auctions of TV and film memorabilia, and it will see items from Anthony Daniels’ personal collection of Star Wars memorabilia be sold as well as other items like the bullwhip Harrison Ford used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and a rare hat from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

American actor Lee Van Cleef on the set of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo), written and directed by Italian Sergio Leone. (Photo by United Artists/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
One item up for sale in the Propstore's new auction is a hat worn by Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which was a rare find. (Getty Images)

“We got this form dropping on our website from this gentleman living in Italy,” Lane says of the hat which was worn by Lee Van Cleef in the movie.

“And not only with photos of the hat, but with photos of him as a 6-year-old kid sitting on Lee Van Cleef's lap and with the family.

“He got to know him really well when he was filming at the studios in Rome, and so this consigner, now in his 70s, is the six-year-old kid that was sitting on his lap wearing the hat that Lee Van Cleef gifted him.

“To see something like that turn up, from arguably one of the best Westerns and nobody even knowing that it still exists today excites me immensely, because it just means what else is out there? What else is still to be discovered?”Stephen Lane

The item that Lane is particularly proud of procuring, though, is the lightsaber used by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and not just any lightsaber, the lightsaber from the ‘I am your father’ scene.

“That was literally hanging on a casino wall,” Lane admits. The lightsaber was featured on a website for replica props, but Lane noticed that the item was not a replica but the genuine artefact.

Darth Vader implores Luke to turn to the Dark Side of the Force. (Lucasfilm)
Another rare discovery was the lightsaber used by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, which Lane found hanging on a casino wall. (Lucasfilm)

Lane’s biggest challenge was persuading the casino in Aurora, Illinois, to sell it to him: “How do you motivate a casino? Because the casino of course is by default almost cash rich, they don't need the cash.

“But luckily their CEO at the time was a massive James Bond collector, and so they said to me, ‘We'll agree a number on this to sell it to you, but you've also got to find us a Daniel Craig complete tuxedo costume from Casino Royale for our collection.’

“At that point in time it was actually as hard to find almost as a lightsaber, there were none out there.

“It was soon after Casino Royal had come out, but luckily for me one popped up at a charity auction, so I booked a table at the and I sat there with my paddle up until I won."Stephen Lane

“I phoned the casino, said ‘I've got it’ and then we'd done the deal within a few weeks. So I flew out there and picked up Darth Vader's lightsaber.”

While Lane is the founder of Propstore, he shares his gratitude for his team and the work they do, saying he’s “lucky” to work with them.

Propstore CEO Stephen Lane holds Chris Evans' Captain America shield from the 2011 film 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (estimate £50,000 - 100,000) during a preview for the showbiz memorabilia auction, at the Propstore in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Picture date: Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Stephen Lane has called his time building the Propstore as an "astonishing transition" from a home-run business to the auction house it is today (Getty Images)

“I have 70 people working for me, we have a 15,000 square feet facility in the UK, we have a 20,000 square feet facility in Los Angeles.

“We're producing 10 to 12 auctions per year. We work directly in partnership with the film studios.

"It's an astonishing transition from me working from home with my lovely wife Lizzie, who is a very passionate collector."Stephen Lane

“We were just doing this out of our front room in the garage thinking it will be quite a nice cottage industry — and that was really the perception back in the day.

“I would like to say to you I had this grand plan that I was going to have a facility here and a facility there, but, no, we just could never see it coming really.”

The Propstore's new film and TV memorabilia auction, which includes items from Anthony Daniels' personal collection, takes place 9 to 12 November, and registration is open at propstore.com.

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