The Academy Award of Merit, more renowned as the Oscar statuette, is one of the most prestigious and significant awards that recognize excellence and achievements of professionals in the world of cinema. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) started this fantastic way of acknowledging hard work, creativity and talent of members of the film fraternity by honoring the winners with the Oscar statuette for nearly a century ago. Presented in a much awaited star-studded annual grand ceremony, which is filled with lots of excitement, glamour, red carpet fashion, breathless moments, emotional acceptance speeches and much more and viewed by millions worldwide, the statuette is a symbol of honor and pride for the recipients that is valued and cherished for a lifetime.

Oscar Statuette – How Did the Design Take Shape?

Louis B. Mayer, a co-founder of AMPAS, wanted to come up with the Academy Awards to bring together the five sections of motion picture industry, namely actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. The Oscar statuette that is made in Art Deco style portrays a knight with a sword standing on a film reel that has five spokes, with the spokes representing the five sections of motion picture industry. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) art director Cedric Gibbons designed the Oscar statuette in 1927 which was then sculpted by George Maitland Stanley. Although not authenticated, some sources mention that the Oscar statuette was modeled on Mexican film director, actor and screenwriter Emilio "El Indio" Fernández. It is said that Gibbons was introduced to Fernández by Gibbons’ wife and famous Mexican actress Dolores del Río and while Fernández was initially reluctant to pose nude for a sketch to create design of the award, he eventually agreed.

The now closed foundry C.W. Shumway & Sons that was located in Batavia, Illinois cast the original mold of the statuette in 1928. Time to produce a statuette that weighed 3.9 kg was between three and four weeks. The company continued to cast the award till 1982, following which the Chicago, Illinois based awards design and manufacturing company called R.S. Owens & Company became official manufacturer of the award. It remained so until 2015 after which the statuette contract went to Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in Walden, New York.

What Material is the Oscar Statuette Made Up Of?

AMPAS presented the 1st Academy Awards ceremony at a private dinner on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California, with about 270 people in attendance, thus initiating the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony. The statuettes presented during the early years of the ceremonies were made of solid bronze with a plating of gold. Some years later the statuettes were cast in Britannia metal instead of bronze and thereafter plated in copper, nickel silver, and lastly 24-karat gold. Scarcity of metal during the Second World War prompted the AMPAS to give painted plaster statuettes for three years. After the war ended, the recipients were invited to exchange the plaster war-time statuettes with the ones made of metals having gold-plating. Britannium remained the solid core of the statuettes till 2016 following which it was again replaced with bronze. Original design of the statuette has remained more or less the same with the only exception of a slight increase in height of its pedestal base in 1945. This elegant statuette that is presently made of gold-plated bronze having a black metal base is 13.5 inches (34.3 cm) in height and weighs 3.856 kg. It is cast in liquid bronze from 3D-printed ceramic molds and polished before being electroplated in 24-karat gold. Approximately 50 such statuettes can be produced is three months.

How Did the Statuette Derive Its Name?

Over the years several accounts surfaced and have been disputed on how the statuette derived its nickname, Oscar. American librarian and Executive Director of the AMPAS Margaret Herrick is often credited for nicknaming the statuette as she possibly said that she nicknamed the award in 1921 after her Uncle Oscar, asserting that it looked just like him. A 1938 clipping of the newspaper Los Angeles Examiner shows Herrick giving an account where she and her husband were joking using the phrase, "How's your uncle Oscar". American writer Sidney Skolsky, most noted as a Hollywood gossip columnist, claimed that he created the nickname in 1934 and wrote this in his 1970 memoir. Although such claim of Skolsky is also not supported by any evidence, the fact that he was the first person in history who mentioned the award’s nickname in print while writing a column on that year’s ceremony on March 17, 1934, is acknowledged by the AMPAS. American actress Bette Davis said that she invented the nickname in 1936 as she found its posterior to bear a resemblance with that of her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson’s. She claimed this in her 1962 autobiography however in a later biography of her written by Whitney Stine in 1974 that included a commentary from Davis, the latter relinquished any such claim. The nickname has also been attributed to Eleanore Lilleberg by a former executive director of AMPAS, Bruce Davis. According to Davis, Eleanore was working as a secretary at the AMPAS at the time of launch of the award and was taking care of pre-ceremony handling of the statuettes, and that an autobiography of Eleanore's brother Einar Lilleberg, which Davis came across, mentioned about a Norwegian army veteran named Oscar who the two siblings knew and was recollected by Einar as someone who at all times "stood straight and tall."

Names of winners of the Academy Awards are kept secret until they are called out onstage to receive their statuettes. The awards are thus not engraved with recipients’ names beforehand and have blank baseplates when presented to the awardees. Earlier the recipients used to contact the AMPAS at a later date and return their statuettes so that the AMPAS could engrave their names on their awards. It would take several weeks before the winners would receive their personalized awards. This changed in 2010, from which time the awardees have had the choice of personalizing their awards by visiting an inscription-processing station at the Governor's Ball party soon after the ceremony is over and affix nameplates bearing their names in their pre-drilled statuettes. Engraved nameplates of all the nominees are kept ready ahead of the event by R.S. Owens among which the ones of non-winning nominees are recycled after the ceremony.

Can Anyone Sell the Oscar Statuette?

The statuettes received by the awardees were considered their possessions till 1950. Certain rules and regulations were levied thereafter which necessitate the Oscar winners to sign an agreement according to which a winner is not allowed to sell or dispose of the statuette before first approaching the AMPAS to buy it back for US$1. AMPAS has the right to keep the statuette in case a winner does not agree with this pre-condition. American Second World War veteran and actor Harold John Avery Russell became the first person to sell his Oscar statuette that he received in 1946 in the Best Supporting Actor category for the epic drama film The Best Years of Our Lives. He sold it through auction in 1992 to raise money to meet medical expenses of his wife.

Besides the Academy Award of Merit, the Oscar statuette, which through decades has remained the most desired and valued award of tinsel town, is also given by AMPAS while honoring recipients with several other honorary (non-competitive) awards which falls under special categories and are presented by the organization from time to time. These include the Academy Honorary Award, winners of which usually receive the same gold Oscar statuettes if not mentioned otherwise and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, both of which are given during the Governors Awards ceremony; and the Academy Award of Merit (non-competitive) that is given during the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony.