There are wives who discourage husbands with habits like the one Steve Wilkin has.
“I’ll keep an old bottle cap,” Wilkin admitted. “I love finding scraps of history.”
But Jennifer Wilkin has never tried to change her 58-year-old husband, a Gig Harbor landscaper, so much as guide him toward the light.
“She’s suggested I get rid of a few things over the years,” he said.
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One of those things was a movie poster from the 1931 film ‘Frankenstein’ that he found more than 40 years ago.
At auction next week, it’s expected to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It turns out ‘Frank’ is the most valuable thing I’ve ever owned,” Wilkin said.
As a 17-year-old working in a Long Island, New York, movie theater in the early 1970s, Wilkin was drawn to the old projection booth in the balcony.
“It was sealed in the ’30s or ’40s.” Wilkin said. “I asked if I could cut a small hole in the ceiling and check it out. The manager said I could if I cleaned it up.
“So I went in through the ceiling and found two dusty old posters. I was pretty disappointed.”
One was a lobby card for the 1927 German film “Underworld.” The other was a three-sheet poster from “Frankenstein,” the classic mad-scientist movie starring Borlis Karloff. It was 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
“It had great colors and I had it up on a wall in my parents’ home for years,” Wilkin said. “When Jennifer and I moved to Gig Harbor in ’79, ‘Frank’ came with us.”
This year, after Jennifer retired, she began downsizing. Yes, that movie poster was mentioned.
“I went on YouTube and saw that horror movie posters from the ’30s were being sold at auction for a lot of money. I couldn’t believe it,” Wilkin said. “I put the poster on Craigslist in New York and the first offer was $10,000.
“I put it on Craigslist in Los Angeles and got an offer of $45,000 the first day. Jennifer and I just looked at each other. This was a world I didn’t know existed.”
In Dallas, Gray Smith of Heritage Auctions heard about the poster.
“Someone called to tell me about this man in Washington who had a three-piece ‘Frankenstein,’ ” Smith said. “My first reaction? I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to shake people in the collecting world.”
“Not one of those had surfaced since the movie was playing in 1931,” Smith said.
The poster wasn’t in pristine condition. When Wilkin found it, there were quarter-sized holes in the monster’s eyes. The theater had cut them, put lights behind them, so the eyes would shine.
Smith told Wilkin his estimate of the poster at auction, once restored, would be about $200,000, but that ceiling might be raised once competitive bidding begins March 28.
Last November, Heritage Auction sold a smaller poster from the same film for $269,900.
In February, Steve and Jennifer Wilkin made a road trip to San Diego to visit a company that specializes in poster restoration.
“We rented a van, loaded ‘Frank’ up and hit the road,” Wilkin said.
Before they left, the Craigslist bidder who’d offered them $45,000 doubled his bid to $90,000.
“When we moved to Gig Harbor, I tended bar at the Tides Tavern,” Wilkin said. “Now, we’re going to Dallas to watch the auction.
“We were stunned when someone offered $10,000,” he said, then laughed. “Now there’s an online offer for $110,000 and a part of me says, ‘That’s chump change!’ It’s hard not to start seeing pie-in-the-sky numbers.
“Whatever it sells for, I’ll probably hit the floor like a flounder. This is all new to me.”
From Dallas, Smith is a bit more cool and collected.
“I talked to a collector the other day who said, ‘But it’s not in perfect condition.’ I told him he could wait for the next one to surface, if he wanted,” Smith said. “This could be the only one of its kind, and collectors know that.”
Meanwhile, Wilkin said, there may be a moral to this story.
“Never throw out anything your wife tells you to.”