The Oscar: How It’s Made, and What It’s Worth
Presented by: JMBullion
The “Academy Award of Merit”, more commonly known as an Oscar, has been awarded since 1929. The modern Oscar stands 13.5 inches tall with a weight of 8.5 lbs, and it is made of solid bronze with a electroplated coating of 24-karat gold.
However, the world’s most beloved trophy wasn’t always made this way. Here’s the evolution of how an Oscar is made, and what people are willing to pay to get their hands on one.
The Evolution of the Award
1928: The original Oscar was sculpted by Los Angeles artist George Stanley. The design was based on sketches by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, who came up with the idea of a knight standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword.
1929: The first ever Oscar was presented at the initial awards banquet on May 16, 1929 to Emil Jannings for Best Actor. It was made of gold-plated solid bronze.
1930s: The bronze was abandoned in favor of britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally, 24-karat gold.
World War II: Due to a metal shortage, Oscars were made of painted plaster for three years. After the war, the Academy invited recipients to redeem the plaster figures for gold-plated metal ones.
1983: R.S. Owens and Company, a Chicago-based awards manufacturer, takes over the contract to build Oscars.
2016: The Academy announced that New York-based Polich Tallix will help return the statuette closer to its original design.
The New Oscar
Using a cast bronze Oscar from 1929, Polich Tallix artisans have restored subtle features of George Stanley’s original sculpture, which was based on sketches by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons.
This was done by creating a digital scan of the 1929 statuette, and then 3D printed and molded so the form could be cast in wax.
Here’s how each new Oscar is made:
- The modern wax versions are dipped in a ceramic shell slurry for ten coats. Once the shell is cured, it is fired in an oven at 1600° F.
- Bronze at 1860° F is then poured into the hot ceramic shell and allowed to cool overnight.
- The next morning, the bronze castings are broken out of the ceramic shell and the plumbing system that guides the metal into the body of the casting is cut off.
- The castings are then sanded to a mirror polish finish and electroplated with a permanent layer of 24-karat gold by Epner Technology.
- The statuette’s bronze base receives a smooth black patina, which is hand-buffed to a satin finish.
The time required to produce 50 statuettes in this manner is about three months.
“With the help of some 21st century technology, we’re able to honor the Oscar’s proud beginnings,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “The new statuette exemplifies impeccable craftsmanship and the enduring nature of art.”
What’s an Oscar Worth?
Oscars on the open market can command up to millions of dollars. However, this wouldn’t be the case if the Academy had its way.
Since 1950, the Academy has not allowed winners to keep Oscars unless a First Right of Refusal agreement is signed. It stipulates that an Oscar cannot be sold by a winner unless it is offered to the Academy first for the sum of $1.
Here’s what an Oscar is really worth:
According to R.S. Owens, the longtime maker of modern-day Oscars up until this year, the cost to produce one statuette is $400.
Assuming $1,200/oz gold, a standard gold electroplated coat of 15 millionths of an inch thick, and a 2.2 sq. ft surface area, the melt value of the gold coating alone is $57.40.
A hypothetical solid gold Oscar? It would weigh 18 lbs and have a melt value of $330,522.
Stars Hit the Bid
Since 1929, approximately 150 Oscars have been sold on the open market, with around half of them being grey-market sales from the post-1950 era.
Here’s some stars that have bought or bid for Oscars during their careers. All numbers are converted to 2016 USD:
David Copperfield – $299,000
Oscar for Best Director to Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, 1942)
Copperfield bought it in 2003, and kept it in his bedroom. He auctioned it off for over $2 million in 2012
David Copperfield – $907,000 (failed bid)
Oscar for Best Screenplay to Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, 1941)
Copperfield tried to acquire a second Oscar in 2011, but was outbid by a private buyer
Michael Jackson – $2.19 million dollars
Oscar for Best Picture (Gone With the Wind, 1939)
Bought in 1999 for a record price of $1.54 million at the time, Michael paid far higher than the pre-sale estimated price of $300,000.
Steven Spielberg – $917,000
Oscar for Best Actor to Clark Gable (It Happened One Night, 1943)
Spielberg bought the Oscar, and donated it back to the Academy for safekeeping
Steven Spielberg – $773,000
Oscar for Best Actress to Bette Davis (Jezebel, 1938)
Spielberg bought the Oscar, and donated it back to the Academy for safekeepingEmbed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):
The Silver Series: The Start of A New Gold-Silver Cycle (Part 1 of 3)
As the decade-long bull run shows signs of slowing, is it time for precious metals to shine? Here’s why it could be the start of a new gold-silver cycle.
The world has experienced a decade of growth fueled by record-low interest rates, a burgeoning money supply, and historic debt levels – but the good times only last so long.
As the global economy slows and eventually begins to retract, can precious metals offer a useful store of value to investors?
Part 1: The Start of a New Cycle
Today’s infographic comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines some key indicators that precede a coming gold-silver cycle in which exposure to hard assets may help to protect wealth.
Bankers Blowing Bubbles
Since 2008, central bankers around the world launched a historic market intervention by printing money and bailing out major banks. With cheap and abundant money, this strategy worked so well that it created a bull market in every sector — except for precious metals.
Stock markets, consumer lending, and property values surged. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s assets ballooned, and so did corporate, government, and household debt. By 2018, total debt reached almost $250 trillion worldwide.
Currency vs. Precious Metals
The world awash in unprecedented amounts of currency, and these dollars chase a limited supply of goods. Historically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before the price of goods increases or inflates – eroding the purchasing power of every dollar.
Gold and silver are some of the only assets unaffected by inflation, retaining their value.
Gold and silver are money… everything else is credit.
– J.P. Morgan
The Perfect Story for a Gold-Silver Cycle?
Investors can use several indicators to gauge the beginning of the gold-silver cycle:
- Gold/Silver Futures
Most traders do not trade physical gold and silver, but paper contracts with the promise to buy at a future price. Every week, U.S. commodity exchanges publish the Commitment of Traders “COT” report. This report summarizes the positions (long/short) of traders for a particular commodity.
Typically, speculators are long and commercial traders are short the price of gold and silver. However, when speculators and commercial traders positions reach near zero, there is usually a big upswing in the price of silver.
- Gold-to-Silver Ratio Compression
As the difference between gold and silver prices decreases (i.e. the compression of the ratio), history suggests silver prices can make big moves upwards in price. The gold-to-silver ratio compression is now at high levels and may eventually revert to its long-term average, which implies a strong movement in prices is imminent for silver.
- Scarcity: Declining Silver Production
Silver production has been declining despite its growing importance as a safe haven hedge, as well as its use in industrial applications and renewable technologies.
- The Silver Exception
Silver is not just for coins, bars, jewelry and the family silverware. It stands out from gold with its practical industrial uses which account for 56.1% of its annual consumption. Silver will continue to be a critical material in solar technology. While photovoltaics currently account for 8% of annual silver consumption, this is set to change with the dramatic increase in the use of solar technologies.
The Price of Gold and Silver
Forecasting the exact price of gold and silver is not a science, but there are clear signs that point to the direction their prices will head. The prices of gold and silver do not accurately reflect a world awash with cheap and easy money, but now may be their time to shine.
Don’t miss another part of the Silver Series by connecting with Visual Capitalist.
Why Gold is Money: A Periodic Perspective
Gold has been used as money for millennia. People often attribute this to beauty, but there are basic physical properties for why gold is money.
Why Gold is Money
The economist John Maynard Keynes famously called gold a “barbarous relic”, suggesting that its usefulness as money is an artifact of the past. In an era filled with cashless transactions and hundreds of cryptocurrencies, this statement seems truer today than in Keynes’ time.
However, gold also possesses elemental properties that has made it an ideal metal for money throughout history.
Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer from Columbia University, broke down the periodic table to show why gold has been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years.
The Periodic Table
The periodic table organizes 118 elements in rows by increasing atomic number (periods) and columns (groups) with similar electron configurations.
Just as in today’s animation, let’s apply the process of elimination to the periodic table to see why gold is money:
- Gases and Liquids
Noble gases (such as argon and helium), as well as elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine are gaseous at room temperature and standard pressure. Meanwhile, mercury and bromine are liquids. As a form of money, these are implausible and impractical.
- Lanthanides and Actinides
Next, lanthanides and actinides are both generally elements that can decay and become radioactive. If you were to carry these around in your pocket they could irradiate or poison you.
- Alkali and Alkaline-Earth Metals
Alkali and alkaline earth metals are located on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and are highly reactive at standard pressure and room temperature. Some can even burst into flames.
- Transition, Post Transition Metals, and Metalloids
There are about 30 elements that are solid, nonflammable, and nontoxic. For an element to be used as money it needs to be rare, but not too rare. Nickel and copper, for example, are found throughout the Earth’s crust in relative abundance.
- Super Rare and Synthetic Elements
Osmium only exists in the Earth’s crust from meteorites. Meanwhile, synthetic elements such as rutherfordium and nihonium must be created in a laboratory.
Once the above elements are eliminated, there are only five precious metals left: platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold. People have used silver as money, but it tarnishes over time. Rhodium and palladium are more recent discoveries, with limited historical uses.
Platinum and gold are the remaining elements. Platinum’s extremely high melting point would require a furnace of the Gods to melt back in ancient times, making it impractical. This leaves us with gold. It melts at a lower temperature and is malleable, making it easy to work with.
Gold as Money
Gold does not dissipate into the atmosphere, it does not burst into flames, and it does not poison or irradiate the holder. It is rare enough to make it difficult to overproduce and malleable to mint into coins, bars, and bricks. Civilizations have consistently used gold as a material of value.
Perhaps modern societies would be well-served by looking at the properties of gold, to see why it has served as money for millennia, especially when someone’s wealth could disappear in a click.
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