YOU NAME IT, we've got it. The Fonz's leather jacket from Happy Days? Right here. Howdy Doody's costume? In that box. And everything else — from Gilligan's hat and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show set to the Cheers bar and Pee-wee's Playhouse set to the original operating room from ER.
I started in Hollywood with two credit cards and a used Jeep. I was 19, working as a punch-up writer for TV. Nobody cared about this stuff back then. So I filled my apartment with these TV treasures. Then I couldn't park in my garage because I had a spaceship from My Favorite Martian inside. I later got a storage unit and eventually 10 more. Now the Comisar Collection conserves about 10,000 objects in two warehouses. Why? I am documenting our shared American pop-culture experience.
Each piece has a story. The famous bottle from I Dream of Jeannie is actually a recycled 1955 Jim Beam Christmas decanter. Cindy Brady's costume came with a marble in one pocket. And I found Colonel Klink's monocle from Hogan's Heroes at a rural auction house in Wisconsin.
Things once considered junk have now become priceless treasures in a white-hot art market. It's a great honor to have them, but it's also a giant responsibility. I make money for the collection by buying and selling pieces that are not essential to the TV-collecting mission, such as the Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz, which I sold for $3 million in 2014.
It bothers me that some people refer to classic shows as comfort television. I find that pejorative. The Andy Griffith Show, Batman, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, I Love Lucy — they've endured because they're timeless, quality entertainment. We're making progress toward building a Museum of Television to make the collection available to the public, and I hope these pieces can live on to tell their stories.
—As told to David Hochman
James Comisar, 50, is a memorabilia dealer and an adviser to auction houses and museums.