Lost and Found Treasures: The Continued Mystery of The Maltese Falcon
In 1941, Humphrey Bogart, starred, along side Mary Astor, in one of the first film noirs of our time, The Maltese Falcon. A prop for that classic film became one of the most sought after treasures of today, just like it was in the movie so many years ago. The movie prop is The Maltese Falcon.
In the movie, the Maltese Falcon (sharing the film’s title) was a statuette; a treasure believed to have been owned by the famous Knight Templars. The introduction to the movie gave its history:
In 1530 the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels- but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day.
As the story goes, to keep the treasure hidden, this studded jeweled and golden bird, was encased within an outer covering to make it seem worthless; to conceal the priceless treasure inside. It is this Maltese Falcon’s appearance which is shown in the movie. An ordinary looking statuette of solid color, about a foot high.
After years on the quest for tracking down the lost treasure, Gutman (played by Sydney Greenstreet in the movie), finally thinks he has the missing Templar Treasure in his possession. He excitedly scrapes off the outer layer of the Falcon with a pocket knife, only to discover the Golden Jeweled Falcon, believed to have been hidden inside, is not there. Gutman had been double-crossed.
He was not discouraged, though, and said he would continue with his quest for the lost treasure of the Gold Falcon.
The movie ends with Bogart being asked about the plain looking statuette left in his hands, ‘what is it?’, the policeman asked. Bogart answers, with what is now one of the most famous and repeated lines of the movie;
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
And so it seems it is.
In 2013, a metal Maltese Falcon was auctioned off for over 4 million dollars. One of the largest amounts paid for movie memorabilia. It was the Maltese Falcon believed to have been held by Bogart and others in the 1941 film.
As of today, it is not known for certain how many original Maltese Falcon film props were made or might exist. For the longest time, up to 1994, it was thought there was only one authentic Metal Maltese Falcon; that owned by Dr. Gary Milan. The Falcon auctioned off in 2013.
However, in 1994, there was a discovery of a second metal Falcon. This falcon was nicknamed the Conrad Falcon, after William Conrad who acquired the movie prop as a gift from Jack Warner of Warner Brothers Studios who produced the film. It was found after Conrad had passed away just sitting on his shelf.
Are there others? Warner Brothers can’t say for sure as precise records don’t exist. What is known, however, is there weren’t only the two metal Maltese Falcons created for the movie, but lighter resin Maltese Falcons were made for scenes as well. These lighter falcons were used during filming when actors had to carry around the object. They didn’t want to lug around the 45 lb. metal Falcons.
The resin Maltese Falcons can hope to bring hefty sums at auction too. Although the minimum bid of 1.8 million for one of these Resin Falcons wasn’t received at auction in 2013, Hank Risan, who actually owns two of them, believes they are worth that amount.
What is tricky about the resin Falcons is trying to gain authentication for being the real deal and not props used in a later film of 1975. Risan’s examples were found to have the artists initials, FS for Fred Sexton, near their base. This solidified their provenance.
In 1991, at a flea market in New Jersey, a movie enthusiast by the name of Mr. Chekmayan discovered what he thought to be another plastic Maltese Falcon made for the 1941 film. After spending countless efforts to confirm authenticity, this Maltese Falcon was finally able to be auctioned off as a real deal. The Maltese Falcon brought 305,000, and was sold to a group of buyers that included Leonardo Dicaprio and Stewart Rahr.
All in all, as of today, it is thought there are 6 resin and 2 metal Maltese Falcons, now in hands of collectors, which are believed to be props used in the 1941 film.
As with anything that becomes known to be of high value, counterfeits and clever replicas often begin to surface. Because it cannot be proven exactly how many original film props existed, it is extremely difficult to know whether the discovery of one is of true value or a fake.
Could there be another authentic Maltese Falcon out there waiting to be discovered? Who knows?
The search for real life treasure picks up where the movie left off. The quest continues for where true Maltese Falcons used in the movie might reside.
Best of luck with all that you seek! Treasure the Adventure!
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