On the third floor of a nondescript Beverly Hills office building, past an armed security guard and beyond a glass case full of diamond jewelry, is a gleaming Academy Award. But this trophy wasn’t awarded to any of the staff, or to anyone related to them. This Oscar was pawned.
Beverly Loan Co., “the pawnshop for the stars,” has been drawing the Hollywood set since 1938. The upscale, family-owned and -operated pawnshop specializes in high-end jewelry, watches, fine art, and entertainment memorabilia such as the occasional Oscar.
Jordan Tabach-Bank is the shop’s third-generation pawnbroker. He has thick dark hair, a bright smile, and eyes that gleam with well-kept secrets. One such secret is a coveted Oscar that he says is “particularly unbelievable,” and although he can’t reveal the famous honoree, he spills that it belonged to a late director-producer whose family has kept it as an heirloom.
“They have been fortunate enough to be able to use it when they find themselves in a crunch,” Tabach-Bank says. “It’s difficult to get a bank loan in today’s climate, it really is, and one nice thing is, if you come in with that Academy Award, we can give you easily $50,000. For this particular award, $100,000 was a no-brainer.”
Pawnshops, of course, allow customers to use their valuables as collateral in exchange for a loan. Tabach-Bank says he offers on-the-spot loans in cash or wire, with no credit checks, no loan committee, and a boilerplate agreement. This is standard practice for pawnbrokers. When the customer pays back the loan, with interest, he returns the merchandise. If a client doesn’t pay back the loan, however, the pawnbroker will hold on to the merchandise and can resell it. Tabach-Bank says his clients often pawn the same piece several times, and the majority redeem their goods.
|Shop owner Jordan Tabach-Bank
Jessica Chou for Variety
“We are one of the few pawn shops on the planet, that I know of, that has taken in Oscars,” he says. “And we’ve turned away several others because we are very familiar with the Academy’s rules.”
Tabach-Bank, who has a background in law, points out that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has stern restrictions on attempting to sell or auction an Oscar statuette if it was given to the honoree post 1951. After that date, the Academy started holding winners to a contract in which they, and their heirs, can not sell their award without offering the Academy first right of refusal to purchase it back for $10. In a crucial 2015 legal victory for the Academy, a Los Angeles County judge affirmed this rule.
“We have been lucky enough to have pre-1950 Academy Awards that we have taken in,” Tabach-Bank says.
According to the Academy, 3,048 Oscar statuettes have been presented since the first ceremony in 1929.
Tabach-Bank acknowledges that some awards are more valuable than others.
“None of the awards have intrinsic value,” he says. “It’s how rare was it, and then what was the category? Best picture, best actor, best supporting, best screenplay. … Those are important. Sound? Meh. No offense to sound people.”
Tabach-Bank estimates that the value of a statuette can range from a few hundreds dollars to well beyond six figures. Michael Jackson, for example, purchased the 1939 best picture Oscar for “Gone With the Wind” for a record $1.54 million in 1999.
The Academy does not condone such sales. “The Academy, its members, and the many film artists and craftspeople who’ve won Academy Awards believe strongly that Oscars should be won, not purchased,” a rep says.
|A post-1933 best picture Oscar at the shop
Jessica Chou for Variety
The value of a pre-1951 Oscar is not lost on another pawnbroker, Elliott Salter, who has been operating his eponymous West Hollywood shop for more than 45 years. Whereas Beverly Loan Co. keeps most of its baubles and other pricey goods in a nearby vault, Salter’s shop is a classic cave of once-prized possessions. In his Santa Monica Boulevard location there are guitars and saxophones bursting from the rafters, giant antler mounts and other taxidermy, dusty electronics, and glass cases filled with everything from gold chains to leather-sheathed knives.
The shop is the last place you would expect to find the film industry’s most revered award, but more than one Oscar has passed through Salter’s door.
“I had six of them from one guy; his dad was a set designer. And in the end result he got them all back — and then somebody stole them from him in Texas,” he says, with a mischievous glint in his eye.
The pawnbroker looks like a funky wizard, with gray sideburns and bushy eyebrows paired with a goatee, gold wire-rim glasses, and a missing tooth. He’s seen firsthand the hard times that can accompany the those in the entertainment industry. Customers have pawned watches to finance films, and he has held expensive camera equipment ransom so a loan can cover the crew’s wages.
Salter is aware of the Academy’s restrictions on Oscar ownership, but he points out that there is a black market for everything.
“It’s kind of like, gee, let’s see, selling an Oscar that you shouldn’t sell, or dealing in hundreds of pounds of cocaine,” he says. “Now, which one do you think the police or the feds are going to go after?”