Recipients of Academy Awards before 1949—and the heirs to those recipients—are in a better financial position than their counterparts after 1949. That was the year Oscar winners had to sign away the right to sell their statuettes if they happened to need the money it would generate.
Any Oscar won after the cutoff date cannot be legally sold except to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—which would only pay $1 for it. That is considerably less than the value of the gold plating, and far, far less than what the awards bring at auction, when they are infrequently offered. Two examples are the "Gone With the Wind" Best Picture Oscar from 1939, which Michael Jackson bought for more than a million and a half dollars, and the 1934 Best Actor award won by Clark Gable, which Steven Spielberg bought for the (comparatively) bargain price of $607,500.
The next opportunity to pick up such a piece of Hollywood memorabilia will be Wed., Sept. 27, when James Cagney's Best Actor award goes up for auction on television (on the PAX Network) and the Internet (on Ibidlive.tv). The seller expects to get a minimum of $300,000 for the statuette, which Cagney won for his performance in "Yankee Doodle Dandy," the biopic of legendary Broadway tunesmith and producer George M. Cohan.
The connection to Cohan, who wrote "Give My Regards to Broadway" and is now immortalized in a sculpture near the Times Square TKTS booth, prompted a question among some theatregoers: What would happen if someone tried to sell their Tony Award?
According to Tony press representative Keith Sherman, no recipient who won after 1997 would be able "to sell or otherwise dispose" of the award without first offering to sell it back to the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing, who jointly give the annual awards. Such a request would have to be made in writing, after which the groups would have 60 days to purchase the award. Perhaps due to the different economic realities of 1997 and 1949, or possibly because Broadway has a higher opinion of its honors than does Hollywood, anyone who wanted to sell their Tony back would get $10—ten times as much as they would get for an Oscar.
With such a discrepancy between the perceived value of a Tony and the value set by the League and the Wing, an auction of a returned Tony could conceivably raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a charity, as unlikely as that would be. Sherman pointedly said the sell-back requirement is to "ensure the integrity of the award," and besides, nobody has ever offered to sell one.
Sherman said that the League and the Wing also started numbering Tony Awards in 1997. The first numbered Tony (number 101) went to Peter Stone, for his book to the musical "Titanic." Also, Sherman said, if filmmakers, videographers, or legit producers need a Tony to use as a prop, the League and Wing will consider the requests "on a case by case basis."