An Early Print of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”, a Legendary Ansel Adams Photograph, Could Command $1 Million

An exceptionally early print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, arguably Ansel Adams's greatest photograph, could sell for $1 million at Sotheby's.

What you see: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, a gelatin silver print created in 1941 or 1942 by Ansel Adams. Sotheby’s estimates it at $700,000 to $1 million.

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

Who was Ansel Adams? He defies easy categorization. His work is synonymous with images of the American landscape. He was an exacting printmaker and an advisor to Edwin Land and the Polaroid corporation. He worked with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. It’s hard to overstate Adams’s activity over his seven-decade career.

Where was Ansel Adams in his career in 1941, when he shot Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico? He was a known entity. He had produced the Parmelian prints of the High Sierras, and his photographs had been exhibited at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, in 1936. He was contracting with the U.S. Department of the Interior to create photographic murals. He had much to recommend him.

How did Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico come to be? It was not intended for the photographic murals. He happened to make it in the Southwest, on a day when he wasn’t shooting for that project. He was accompanied by his son and a fellow photographer. They were passing through Hernandez, New Mexico when Adams was immediately struck by the quality of light in the town and its cemetery. He pulled the car over and they all got out. The time was ticking down, and no one could find the light meter. Adams made a quick calculation [based on what he knew about the luminosity of the moon]. Before he had a second chance to shoot an exposure, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the day was over. It was a one-shot wonder, a combination of pure luck, timing, and mastery behind the camera and in the darkroom.

The creation of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico seems to be a story Adams keeps telling, and elaborating on, over the years… And many other people wrote about it as well. The story of taking the negative is legendary at this point. What’s most important is the end result, the photo Adams made. It was one in a million.

By happening to remember a fact about the luminosity of the moon at just the right time, Ansel Adams got a shot that everyone else would have missed. Exactly, but it’s also the mood he was able to capture in the photo. Only Ansel Adams could really pull out that emotion and the visceral response we get to the best of his photos.

Did Ansel Adams know what he had the instant he shot it? Or did that only become clear later, in the darkroom? It was probably a mixture of both. He had visualized what it should look like. When he developed the negatives, the exposures were difficult to get to a point where they looked like what he had visualized. It took work in the darkroom.

Was Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico an instant hit? It’s one of his most popular images, and it was immediately sought after. He started getting orders for prints, but only a handful are known to date from the 1940s. The developing process was so laborious, and Adams was such an exacting printmaker, it was time-consuming. To have an early print is beyond exciting. It stands in stark contrast to later prints.

How does Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico show Ansel Adams’s mastery of his medium? It’s so exceptionally nuanced. The landscape has great detail in the brush in the foreground. You see the late afternoon sun hitting the grave markers and a vast band of inky darkness punctuated by bands of wispy clouds. Then you have the totally luminous central point of the moon. From a composition standpoint, it’s a beautiful photo. How it was delivered by Adams is pure magic.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico was first published in the U.S. Camera Annual 1943. Was this print made for that publication? This is not that print.

How do we know this print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is the earliest to come to market? We’ve done the research–there’s a long history of auction records to look back to. Its provenance is pretty remarkable. It was acquired directly by Sidney Liebes, a family friend of Adams, to mark his fourteenth wedding anniversary. We know Liebes and his wife, Marjorie, married in November 1927. The print was made in late 1941, possibly early 1942. There’s also the physical characteristics. Its dimensions are consistent with prints that Ansel Adams sent to the State Department early in 1942. It’s a magnificent print, and its condition is exceptional.

When we call an Ansel Adams print an “early” print, what does that mean, exactly? Looking at Moonrise, early prints are relatively close to the time of the negative. Here, we mean early 1940s to the mid-1940s. This is the earliest one to come to market, and possibly the earliest one in existence. The next-earliest to come to market dates to 1948. Sotheby’s sold it in 2006 for $609,600.

Adams personally made about 1,300 prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. I realize this is a uniquely desirable example, but how does the print’s relative abundance affect the market? What one primarily sees on the market is later prints, from the 1970s, with the demand for fine art prints. They tend to be standard in sizing–15 inches by 19 inches. Adams also did a handful of mural-size prints. We sold one at the Photographs from the Polaroid Collection sale in 2010 for $518,500. In terms of collector preference… there are two ways of collecting, really. One is seeking the early prints, the rare examples that clearly shows what the photographer intended. They’re very hard to find, and few in number. Finding an early print of Moonrise is like searching for treasure. Later prints have a different type of emotion. They’re higher in contrast, and the mood of the day is totally different.

Can you elaborate on how later prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico differ from earlier prints? Earlier prints are much more detailed and nuanced. With later prints, the band of clouds remains at the horizon line, but you lose all the clouds higher up.

You lose the twilight. Exactly, and the magic of the fleeting instant.

The later prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico were done by Ansel Adams, so no one can claim they aren’t true representations of his work. But why did he make those changes? Why did he squish some of the details and the nuances in those later prints? As the years went on, Adams’s style evolved. He sought higher contrast and greater intensity of dark versus light tones, and greater dramatic intensity.

What is this print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico like in person? I’ve had the good fortune to stand in front of it as it hung on a wall, and to hold it unframed in different light. The detail you get out of the photo throughout is like nothing I’ve seen before. It comes to life in person. If you’re someone who appreciates print and object quality, this photo will make your heart sing. It’s a special experience to stand in front of it.

What jumps out at you that doesn’t quite come over in a reproduction? You don’t understand how much there is in the sky and how exacting Adams had to be to coaxed information out of the negative, and the print negative, to have a nuanced range of tones. It’s not too heavy on the darks, and not too hot in the highlights. It’s an absolutely perfectly balanced photograph.

How many prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico have you handled? I’ve been with Sotheby’s since 2007. I cut my teeth cataloging the Polaroid collection for the 2010 sale, and there were many Ansel Adams photographs in it. I’ve handled many different prints of Moonrise at Sotheby’s. I can say this is in a class of its own. Its scale is more intimate than the later enlargements we most often see. Its visual power and its object quality pack a punch that’s unparalleled.

The early print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico that Sotheby’s sold in 2006–is that the world auction record for the image? It was the world auction record for Ansel Adams–any print–until 2010. It’s still the record for Moonrise. The world auction record is a mural from the Polaroid collection sale, called Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park.

What’s the likelihood that this print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico will meet or beat them? The photograph is poised to break both those records, certainly, and it deserves them. The Ansel Adams market is deep and international. It’s been quite some time since an early print came up. If you’re a collector of Ansel Adams, a collector of photography, or a collector of American masterworks, this is a holy grail, an impossible-to-find jewel.

Why will this print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico stick in your memory? I remember this image from the beginning of my photography education. To have an opportunity to lay my hands on, and spend quality time with, the best example Ansel Adams made–I won’t have that again. Hopefully I’ll get to visit it in its next home.

How to bid: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico will headline A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks, which takes place at Sotheby’s on December 14, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Emily Bierman has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about a rare daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum.

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They Set Auction Records. See What Dethroned Them.

During summers and end-of-year holidays, The Hot Bid features lots that set world auction records.

Since The Hot Bid launched in 2017, at least eight featured records have been toppled–one more than once.

Click on the stories below to see the record-setters and see what beat them.

Alma Thomas’s Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., which set a world auction record for the artist. It was also the first lot ever showcased on The Hot Bid.

A circa 1978 footed bowl by the British ceramicist Lucie Rie, which set a world auction record for the artist.

The Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch, which set records for any pocket watch and any timepiece.

Bold, a painting by Patrick Nagel that set a world auction record for the artist.

Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer 6, which set a world auction record for the artist and for any piece of comic art.

The Converse sneakers that Michael Jordan wore while playing for Team U.S.A. during the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal game, which set records for a pair of game-worn basketball sneakers and for any pair of sneakers.

A distinctive and charming clapperboard used during the filming of Jaws, a record for any filmset-used clapperboard.

A Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese robot toy, which set a record for a Machine Man toy and for any Gang of Five robot toy.

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A Tiffany Pebble Lamp Could Sell for $150,000

A Tiffany Pebble lamp, created by Tiffany Studios at the turn of the previous century, could command $150,000.

What you see: A Tiffany “Pebble” table lamp, dating to circa 1904. Christie’s estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Daphné Riou, head of the design department at Christie’s New York. 

What sort of reputation did Tiffany Studios have at the turn of the last century, when this table lamp was made? Louis Comfort Tiffany was considered one of America’s most important artists. He was, himself, a member of elite society, creating for the elites. He didn’t create for everyone.

This is a good place to point out that while table lamps are necessities today, that wasn’t true in the early 20th century–electricity was not widely available. Yes. Tiffany lamps were about technology as much as beauty. The shades were created to be works of art, but they were useful objects.

How do we know that the Tiffany Pebble lamp design was probably one of the first Tiffany lamp designs? There are two magazine articles that help us establish the timeline of the Tiffany Pebble lamp. One was written in 1897 and the other in 1899, and both referenced Pebble windows. The Tiffany Pebble lamp was a natural offshoot of these windows.

The promotional material from Christie’s describes Tiffany Pebble lamps as “exceedingly rare”. What makes them so? We don’t know how many Tiffany Pebble lamps were made, but very few have appeared on the market in the last five decades. One reason they’re so rare is their creation required extraordinary skill and a great eye. They [the Tiffany artisans] had to select pebbles and cut them. What’s remarkable about this shade is each pebble was cut in half–the exterior is round and soft, and the interior is flat. Some probably broke during cutting. It was a very delicate process.

…so Tiffany didn’t have a few of these lamps finished and sitting in a warehouse, ready to go. They were probably only produced on request. It was a highly sophisticated shade model.

I imagine if a pebble broke during the cutting process, it was a real pain finding a replacement… Exactly. They had to select the pebbles, and they didn’t have a huge selection.

Might the loss or replacement of a pebble require reshuffling the pebbles and glass that surrounded it? Potentially. That’s why selecting pebbles and glass for the shades was such a complicated process. It required a great eye.

Would Clara Driscoll have designed the Tiffany Pebble lamp? Would her team of Tiffany girls have assembled the shades? It’s not known as a Driscoll design, but it’s possible the Tiffany girls assembled the shade. They had the eye, and they had smaller fingers which were more readily able to handle tiny pieces of glass.

We know from period catalogs that the Tiffany Pebble lamp cost $100 in 1906. How does that price compare to other Tiffany lamp designs offered then? Comparing it within Tiffany prices, it was relatively expensive. The [shades with] geometric shapes, which were much more common and simple, cost $25. The Wisteria lamp cost $400. The highest was the Lotus lamp, which was $750.

The Tiffany Pebble lamp was offered until 1911. How fair is it to consider the design a dud? Or did Tiffany Studios just not call much attention to it? It was a very subtle and sophisticated model that didn’t appeal to everyone.

Do all Tiffany Pebble lamps share the same orange-rust-cream-white-beige palette we see in this example, or did they vary? The palette of the shades are the same, but there are very subtle variations. The pebbles came from the same source, and the colors reflected the natural hues of the pebbles. They are pebbles from the beach.

Wait–they are literal pebbles? Like, rocks? I thought “pebbles” was a Tiffany Studios house term for a type of textured glass that was made to look like pebbles. They are actual pebbles that Tiffany and his children picked from the beach. That’s why they’re difficult to cut. They’d gather them from the shoreline, so there was a limited supply.

Wow, this lamp must have been a pain-in-the-butt to make. Exactly, but it reflects the aesthetics of found objects–Tiffany would incorporate found objects in his designs.

How did Louis Comfort Tiffany find out that he could cut beach pebbles just thin enough for light to glow through them? That’s part of his creative process. That’s what the genius of Tiffany is. In some of his earliest designs, he was basically constructing the design around pieces of glass that had flaws in them–pieces that commercial glass houses might reject. Here, it was pebbles, which you wouldn’t normally think about.

The Tiffany Pebble lamps share the same general color palette. Does this one differ from other examples in any notable way? The pebbles around the lower edge are a little bigger. It makes the flower blossoms even more distinctive, and you can make out the patterns in individual petals. When you look at other Tiffany Pebble lamps, you see pebbles first. Here, you see flowers.

Is it possible to know how many pebbles were used in the shade for this Tiffany Pebble lamp? I haven’t really counted, but it’s an extraordinarily intricate pattern.

Was the Tiffany Pebble lamp always and only a table lamp, or did Tiffany Studios produce it in other forms? It’s known as being a table lamp, but there are variations in the diameter of the shade. Ours is 18 inches in diameter, and the smallest we know of is 10 inches.

How does the Tiffany Pebble lamp show the mastery of Louis Comfort Tiffany and those who worked for him? It was a tour-de-force and highly experimental at the time. They used the leaded cane used by stained glass workers to hold glass together. Here, it holds pebbles together, which is even more remarkable.

So they couldn’t have been sure that the technique would translate from glass to pebbles? They were experimenting all the time with glass and leading. I don’t know the genesis of how they tried to get the leading to hold pebbles, but we can assume it was an experimental and inventive process.

Is this Tiffany lamp on its original base? The thing to know about Tiffany lamps is the bases and shades were swapped all the time. This is not on its original base, but the shape of the base compliments the shade.

What is the Tiffany Pebble lamp like in person? What’s incredible, and quite specific to Tiffany lamps, is whether it’s illuminated or not, it’s extraordinary. When it’s illuminated, the pebbles are even more translucent. When it’s not illuminated, it still has a very strong presence, with strong colors.

Have you touched the shade on the Tiffany Pebble lamp? When you touch it, it has a very tactile aspect. The pebbles are very smooth. You don’t get that when you touch another glass lampshade by Tiffany.

Is this Tiffany lamp heavy? It’s not heavy, and no, it’s not heavier than a leaded glass shade. The pebbles are cut in half.

How is the Tiffany Pebble lamp lit? With LEDs (light-emitting diodes)? We select the bulbs. I think, for this lamp, we used LEDs to light it. We experiment with different types of bulbs so the illumination is the best.

What condition is the Tiffany Pebble lamp in? Overall, this lamp is in very good condition. In others, the pebbles may be loose or have cracks or chips, or they may be dirty. That’s not the case with our shade. Some might be cracked, but very few.

And a few cracked pebbles here and there–that’s to be expected with a Tiffany lamp of this vintage? Absolutely. The condition is very good, considering its age and the change of hands [ownership] over the course of the century.

How rarely do Tiffany Pebble lamps appear at auction? I can’t give you a precise number, but there have been fewer than ten over the past 50 years.

What’s the world auction record for a Tiffany Pebble lamp? It was set in 2015 at Sotheby’s by a lamp that sold for $760,000.

Is there any chance this one might meet or beat the record? No, I don’t think it will beat the record. I do think it will generate excitement–it’s a rare lamp in good condition. The record lamp was on a blown-glass base. That’s not the case with our shade.

Why will this Tiffany Pebble lamp stick in your memory? For Tiffany’s ingenuity and his innovative spirit, and the innovative use of found materials. It shows Tiffany’s love of nature. That’s why it’s a stunning example, a stunning lamp.

How to bid: The Tiffany Pebble lamp is a featured lot in Important Tiffany from the Collection of Mary M. and Robert M. Montgomery, Jr., a sale scheduled at Christie’s for December 11, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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A 1970 Wadsworth Jarrell Painting Could Command $150,000

Subway, a Wadsworth Jarrell painting done at the height of his powers in 1970, could sell for $150,000 and a new world auction record for the artist at Swann Auction Galleries.

What you see: Subway, a 1970 Wadsworth Jarrell painting. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

Who is Wadsworth Jarrell? He’s a living artist who turns 91 on November 20. He’s best known as a painter and a founding member of the AfriCOBRA movement in Chicago. [The group’s full name is “the African Commune Of Bad Relevant Artists”.] His work from the late 1960s and early 1970s is rising in stature and prominence.

Is Jarrell still working? I don’t know how much he’s painting at this moment, but he continues to paint and be active. He’s had a wonderful, long career.

Where was he in his career in 1970, when he painted Subway? By 1968, he had been living and working as an artist for quite some time. With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and the growth of the Civil Rights movement, a lot of artists became more socially active. Jarrell was one of the founding members of AfriCOBRA, a group of artists who decided they wanted to reach a larger audience, and who felt that art should not be reserved for the gallery scene. AfriCOBRA brought these artists together, and they made a lot of strong artwork that culminated in a 1970 exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem that really put them on the map.

Was Subway a part of that show? This artwork was not, but AfriCOBRA continued to do group exhibitions. In 1968, he cofounded AfriCOBRA, and by 1970 and 1971, he was reaching a peak with AfriCOBRA exhibitions.

Is AfriCOBRA still around? Not really, no, but many of the artists are still alive.

How does Jarrell’s experience with AfriCOBRA shape what we see in Subway? The AfriCOBRA movement wanted to depict art that everyday people could relate to. They did figurative subjects, not abstraction. They wanted to speak to social and political consciousness, and they wanted to show that art could change peoples’ lives with positive images. The AfriCOBRA style used bright colors, images of people without complex compositions, direct messages people could understand, and the artists brought themselves to their work.

How did Jarrell bring himself to his work? There’s a wonderful variety of things in his paintings. There’s the “coolade colors”–artificial colors not necessarily found in nature, but were bright and vibrant and got peoples’ attention. The floating letters, the “B”s, are representative of black power, blackness, and beauty. They permeate his paintings. The text [in his work] is sometimes explicit. It could be from a speech from Malcolm X or more subtle floating Bs, but there’s a message in his work. Subway fits right into the AfriCOBRA ethos and it’s typical of Jarrell’s work at the time.

I understand the letter referenced another b-word of the time that appears in AfriCOBRA’s name: Bad. Could you explain what “bad” meant in this context in 1970? It meant something good. But the Bs were more about blackness and beauty. They were positive signifiers. If you look at other paintings of Jarrell’s from this time, such as Revolutionary, they have Bs floating through the painting. The visual representation, along with the colors and the shapes, give the work a positive vibe. It’s not just a handsome portrait or a bustling subway scene. The floating letters became a device in his paintings for good things happening in the community–it’s in the air.

So the Bs sort of capture the spirit of the community, and the sense that things were changing for the better? I guess it’s the opposite of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the anxious, nervous energy that emanates from that painting. Subway is the flipside of that.

Is the Chicago subway stop in the Wadsworth Jarrell painting identifiable? I don’t think it is. There’s nothing in the painting that says it’s this stop or that stop.

Did Jarrell include portraits of himself, his wife, or his friends in the painting? The artist might have done these things, but not that I’m aware of. What is specific in the painting is the details in the subway posters, the references to political campaigns that were going on at the time. It’s as if Trump or Biden posters were up today. But Subway is not about a specific group of people. It’s about part of everyday life in Chicago, going to work, going to school. It’s a great subject for an AfriCOBRA painting.

So it’s fair to say that this Wadsworth Jarrell painting is a good representation of his work in the early 1970s? The colors, the composition, the floating letter device–all those things make it typical of that time.

How often do Wadsworth Jarrell paintings come to market? He’s had about 18 works at auction in the last ten years. His market has been slowly developing. He had a breakthrough in 2016 when we sold a painting of his from 1973. It was untitled, but a title was attributed to it later. It was estimated at $25,000 to $35,000 and it sold for $97,500. It was the first significant painting from his prime AfriCOBRA period at auction. That’s why we’re excited about this painting. It has the potential to change his market.

If Subway sells for its low estimate, it will automatically set a new world auction record for the artist, yes? Correct.

What makes this Wadsworth Jarrell painting likely to break the record? It checks all the boxes. It’s a work of his from that moment, it’s a great subject, a good size. Given the current interest in his work and the scarcity of these paintings at auction, we expect it to do well.

What is this Wadsworth Jarrell painting like in person? There’s a life and a character and a wonderful energy to his work that you have to experience in person, but the representation in the catalog is a pretty good one.

What’s your favorite detail of the painting? I like the composition of the figures. I like how he shows people relaxed and talking, and I like how your eye goes around to look at each one. There’s no prominent figure. I see something new and different in the painting every time I look at it.

What does Subway and the record-setting Wadsworth Jarrell painting have in common, aside from having been painted around the same time? They share the same kind of energy, with the floating letters and a lot of busy-ness. The 1973 painting has two saxophone players back to back. It’s a bit more abstract in its colors and patterns. This has more of a feel of city life and the subway.

With Subway, it seems to me that Jarrell is putting as much as he can in the composition without overcrowding it. He definitely pushes it. But there are quiet spaces in the painting. Subway is a little different in that you can identify the place. A lot of his paintings focus on the message and the people.

Why will this Wadsworth Jarrell painting stick in your memory? It’s a great painting with a lot of qualities we look for in his work. I enjoy seeing the subway scene and seeing all the thought he put into it. It’s not just a subject, it’s the message.

How to bid: The Wadsworth Jarrell painting is lot 73 in the African American Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on December 10, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

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Nigel Freeman spoke to The Hot Bid previously about an early piece by David Hammonsan Irene V. Clark painting from the Johnson Publishing Company collectionan Elizabeth Catlett sculpture that went on to set a new world auction record for the artist; an Emma Amos mixed-media work that ultimately sold for an auction record for the artist;  a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglasa story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelouan Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A Ralph Cahoon Painting of Sailors and Mermaids Dancing and Flying Kites Could Sell for $50,000 (Updated November 21, 2020)

"Wedding Dance", a circa 1960s work by the fanciful, folky Cape Cod artist Ralph Cahoon, could sell for $50,000.

Update: The Ralph Cahoon painting sold for $37,500.

What you see: Wedding Dance, a circa 1960s oil on masonite painting by Ralph Eugene Cahoon Jr. Eldred’s estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

Who was Ralph Cahoon? He was a noted artist who lived here on the cape. He and his wife worked in Cotuit, Massachusetts for several decades.

Was he self-taught? He married a woman named Martha Farham, and her father was an artist who did a lot of furniture decorated in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. The only training I know he received was through his father-in-law. He started his career painting used antique furniture with folky-inspired scenes and slowly started to incorporate whimsical nautical scenes.

When did Ralph Cahoon move from painting furniture to actual paintings? He was painting furniture in the 1940s and switched in the mid- to late 1950s. Joan Whitney Payson, a socialite, was responsible for the switch. I don’t know that she discovered him, but she was one of his early backers. She encouraged him to move from furniture to two-dimensional work, and she helped expose him to wealthy clients who bought his art.

How prolific was Ralph Cahoon? Very. I would say he made thousands of paintings. There’s no catalog raisonné for him, but a book of prices will be printed in a year or two, and the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, which is in his former house, has all his journals and records.

Is Wedding Dance a typical Ralph Cahoon painting? It’s a consistent scene, and a popular subject. We’ve handled a fair number of Cahoons, and we’ve seen this at least ten or 12 times in different forms.

How often do mermaids appear in Ralph Cahoon paintings? It’s more usual to have them than to not have them. It’s one of the key things in his work. If there are no mermaids, the Cahoon painting brings less money.

Why was Ralph Cahoon so into mermaids? I don’t know. There are some underwater scenes with mermaids, but most are on land, with them all doing silly things. It fits into the whole sailor narrative, though. They’re attracted to the mythical creature of the sea, which distracts them.

How are the mermaids depicted in this Ralph Cahoon painting? I don’t generally read much into them. I think his motivation is fun and whimsy. His paintings are not overly deep.

This Ralph Cahoon painting is described as “Chinese-influenced”. Does that imagery come up often in his work? It pops up now and again. Some paintings emulate the imagery of China Trade School paintings of the 19th century.

Do we know why Cahoon might have painted this? We believe it was painted for one of his first shows at the Vose Gallery in Boston. The Vose Gallery was a very early proponent of his work and gave him one or two dedicated shows in the 1960s. The family story of the consigner is it was bought in the 1960s at that gallery.

Is this landscape in the painting 100 percent fanciful, or do any features of it–say, the tea house, or the harbor–correspond to places in the real world? I think it’s 100 percent fanciful. It’s possible the backdrop is Canton, but it’s not a slam dunk.

What is the Ralph Cahoon painting like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t capture? It’s lovely, the colors are strong, and it has a very strong presence. He used an antique varnish to make it appear as if it’s a 19th century work.

What is your favorite detail of the painting? The kites, partly because they’re fun and partly because I haven’t seen them in a Cahoon painting before. They’re a wonderful Asian design, and it’s fun to see something new and different.

Is it possible to guess why he might have included kites that look like this? He probably did it because it pleased him. It could be similar to Chinese export paintings he saw in person, or in an image. He based some works off of 19th century prints.

What condition is the Ralph Cahoon painting in, and what condition issues do you tend to see with his works? I rarely see a Cahoon with significant condition issues. He painted almost exclusively on masonite, which is not prone to tears.

As we speak on November 10, 2020, the painting has been bid up to $13,000. Is that meaningful at all? Not particularly. I’d say half the lots in the auction have bids. It really doesn’t tell you much, other than two people are interested in it. Some bid as a bookmark and come back later.

What’s the world auction record for a Ralph Cahoon painting? Was it set at Eldred’s? It was set with us, in August 2010, by A Shocking Incident at the Boston Public Garden. It sold for $207,000. It was very different from Wedding Dance. It has Swan Boats, mermaids and sailors, and the State House in the background. The Swan Boats are an iconic image of Boston. A collector had to have it.

How do Cahoon paintings make you feel? I think they’re fun. You don’t have to be a Ph.D to understand them. They’re lighthearted, and they don’t try too hard. They’re pleasing.

How to bid: The Ralph Cahoon painting Wedding Dance is lot 727 in The Fall Sale: Day II, which takes place at Eldred’s on November 20, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

Josh Eldred has appeared on The Hot Bid three other times, talking about a Joseph Whiting stock portrait of an unknown sea captain, an Antonio Jacobsen schooner portrait, and a record-setting painting by Cape Cod artist Harold Dunbar.

The Cahoon Museum of American Art has a website.

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A Large-format Photograph of Astronaut Ed White Taking the First American Spacewalk Could Sell for More Than $10,000 (Update, November 19, 2020: It Did!)

Astronaut Ed White floats over Hawaii during the first American spacewalk in June 1965. The large-format photograph could sell for more than $10,000.

Update: The photograph of astronaut Ed White on the first American spacewalk sold for £10,625, or just over $14,000.

What you see: The first photograph of man in space, depicting astronaut Ed White on the first American EVA (extra-vehicular activity, aka spacewalk), taken in June 1965. Christie’s estimates the large format print at £6,000 to £8,000, or $7,560 to $10,080.

The expert: James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history.

Let’s talk about how the image came to be. Why did NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) want to take this picture? For science? For promotional purposes? Both? A little bit of both. I don’t think when Jim [astronaut James McDivitt] took the photo, he thought it would be so iconic. When they developed it at NASA, they realized they had a stunning image. The EVA was the primary focus of the mission, but they were always going to take photos.

Do we know how many photographs astronaut James McDivitt took during his colleague’s spacewalk? Yes. He took 16 photos with his Hasselblad.

Are the other 15 images as strong as this one? For me, this is the most striking. If it didn’t exist, I’m sure I’d say the others are equally impressive.

I guess this is a dream photography assignment on one level, in that no matter what you shoot, it will be new, historically important, and maybe even beautiful. Yeah, but the astronauts had to be trained how to do it. My hat is off to the astronaut-photographers.

Is Jim McDivitt visible in the reflection on Ed White’s helmet visor? You can see the spacecraft, but not the photographer. I’ve looked.

Did astronaut Ed White talk publicly about the experience of performing the first American spacewalk? I can do one better. A transcript of what White and McDivitt said to each other exists [this is courtesy of NASA]:

McDivitt: Okay. He’s out. He’s floating free.

White: All right. Now, I’ve come above the spacecraft and I’m under my own control. 

McDivitt: Okay. Just a second. You’re right in front, Ed. You look beautiful.

White: I feel like a million dollars. All right we’ll pitch up and yaw left. I’m coming back to you.

White: Let me get over where I can see you, Ed.

McDivitt: Take it easy now. You’re in a vacuum. 

White: Okay. I’ll come in and take a look at you now.

McDivitt: Wait a second. Let me take your picture.

Was the first American spacewalk uneventful, or did the astronauts face glitches or dangers? As you might imagine, there were a few. I believe they were supposed to do the spacewalk on the second orbit, but it happened on the third. I’m not quite sure they were ready for it. When they were coming back in, they had trouble closing the hatch. If they couldn’t close the hatch, they couldn’t land safely. Fortunately, they were able to solve the problem.

This print of astronaut Ed White on the first American spacewalk measures 11 inches by 14 inches, which makes it large-format. Do we know how many copies were made at this size? We don’t know how many. I think only a few were produced.

In 1965, there was no secondary market for photography. For whom were these large-format prints made? Do we know? I suspect they were for internal gifts for those involved in the mission. I know some were given to dignitaries or other astronauts. With this, I don’t know if it was given to anyone in particular. The lot following this one in the sale was from Ed White’s own collection, and it is large-format.

Did this photograph of astronaut Ed White take on extra resonance after he perished in the Apollo I fire? Certainly. I think the Apollo I accident definitely reminds us of just how risky this was. The EVA was successful, and the mission was completed, but everyone was nervous about it. They weren’t absolutely certain until weeks before the launch that they’d do the spacewalk. The Russians had already done a spacewalk in March 1965. The point of doing it was to show they had the technological capability to do it. You’ve got to do this stuff if you want to get to the moon.

What is the photograph like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come across on camera? It’s not specific to this image, but with a large-format photograph, it’s that much easier to immerse yourself in it. There’s something about handling a vintage print that takes you a step closer to these events. Just handling these real objects brings home the fact that human beings did this.

What’s your favorite detail of this photograph of the first American spacewalk? The reflection in the visor. There’s something playful about it. I love the idea that the photographer could see a little bit of himself in the reflection. In art history, the idea goes back to Jan Van Eyck and the mirror–the distortion. I just love that. It’s not just an accident of a scientific mission. It’s a beautiful photograph in its own right.

Does this sale represent the first time a large-format version of this photograph of astronaut Ed White has gone to auction? If the lots are not described as large format in their dimensions, they don’t always come up [in a search]. There was a sale of a large-format version at Bloomsbury London in 2015. It was £11,000, hammer price, but I can’t find it online.

How often do you see large-format prints of this image of the first American spacewalk? The only one I know of is the one that sold at Bloomsbury in 2015, but I’m sure there are others.

What’s the likelihood this example will meet or beat the one that sold in 2015? There’s certainly a good chance of it. The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was last year, and the optimism toward space and the future of space travel is stronger than it was in 2015.

Why will this image of astronaut Ed White on the first American spacewalk stick in your memory? There’s something special about the first spacewalk, the first earthrise, the first view from the far side of the moon. The large format makes it extra-special.

How to bid: The large format image of astronaut Ed White taking the first American spacewalk is lot 86 in Voyage to Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection, an online Christie’s sale that takes place between November 6 and November 19, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

James Hyslop has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about STAN the T.rex, which went on to sell for a record $31 million;  a rocket-like (ahem) tall gogotte formation from Fontainebleu, France, a Canyon Diablo meteorite, and a Seymchan meteorite with pallasites

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A Vintage Penguin Cocktail Shaker Could Fetch $3,500 (Updated November 21, 2020)

A vintage penguin cocktail shaker, designed by Emil Schuelke for Napier Company in 1936, could sell for $3,500.

Update: The penguin cocktail shaker sold for $4,375.

What you see: A penguin cocktail shaker designed by Emil Schuelke for the Napier Company in 1936. Rago Arts and Auction estimates it at $2,500 to $3,500.

The expert: Megan Whippen, senior specialist at Wright.

Who was Emil Schuelke? There really isn’t much known about him aside from the fact that he was American, he was born in 1901, and died in 1986. This penguin cocktail shaker is probably what he’s best known for.

Do we know how the penguin cocktail shaker came to be? We do have some information. What’s wonderful about this particular design is we have a patent for it. We also know it was launched at Hammacher Schlemmer for the 1936 Christmas season.

What was Emil Schuelke’s involvement with the penguin cocktail shaker? Did he render a prototype? He’s always been credited as its designer. We don’t know of the existence of a prototype.

Was the penguin cocktail shaker an instant hit with the public? That’s hard to say, but it was one of Napier’s most successful cocktail shaker designs during this time period. It was discontinued in 1941. [The Napier Company largely ceased to exist after it was sold in 1999.]

Do we have any idea how many penguin cocktail shakers Napier made? Unfortunately, we do not.

Was the penguin cocktail shaker a stand-alone piece, or did it come with matching cups and a serving tray? The patent in 1936 was only for a shaker. Stand-alone cocktail shaker designs weren’t uncommon in the 1930s and there was precedent for them in Napier’s designs.

What makes the penguin cocktail shaker such a powerful example of commercial design? It has a wonderfully whimsical and playful shape, and it’s streamlined and modern and ultimately a functional piece of design.

The Emil Schuelke vintage penguin cocktail shaker, shown from the side. The inventive design turns its beak into a spout.

I’m impressed by how neatly Emil Schuelke translated the shape of a penguin, which is an exquisitely streamlined bird in the water but comical on land, into a cocktail shaker. The beak becomes the spout, and then there’s the feet… the only departure is the handle. The functional part of it is what makes it cool. It’s a wonderful zoomorphic figure, a nuanced animalistic design, but in the end, it needed a handle. It doesn’t all play into the design paradigm.

This example is silver-plated. Did Napier make other variations on the form? There are examples in gilt silver plate. The one at the Dallas Museum of Art has that–the beak and wings are gilt silver. And there was an example done for the 1939 World’s Fair that’s in the Royal Collection.

What is the penguin cocktail shaker like in person? I haven’t held this one, but I’ve had a model for a number of years. It’s very sleek and modern, and it has a nice weight in the hand. Because it’s a plated silver object, it’s a bit heavier than other cocktail shakers. It’s a functional work of design, meant to be used.

Who doesn't love penguins? Who wouldn't love this penguin cocktail shaker's feet?

What’s your favorite detail of the penguin cocktail shaker? When you see it in person, it’s very sleek and modern, but you see the whimsy in the feet. It’s a functional element that makes sure the cocktail shaker stands upright, and it’s a little bit playful.

What condition is the penguin cocktail shaker in? It has a little light wear from use, from twisting it to take the top off to put in liquor and ice. Otherwise, it’s in very good condition.

Do contemporary collectors of vintage cocktail shakers treat them as sculpture, or do they generally intend to put them to work? There are people who view them as sculpture, but as we come back into an era when we appreciate cocktails, collectors view vintage cocktail shakers as objects to be used.

How often do penguin cocktail shakers come to auction? I see about one a year. It was something produced in larger numbers. It was not a one-off piece, and you have an end in 1941.

Did Napier ever re-issue the penguin cocktail shaker? Other people have issued homages or replicas, but not Napier.

Are fakes a problem? Vintage penguin cocktail shakers are usually marked and stamped, and you see age to the plated silver. Something created recently doesn’t look like this, and it feels different in the hand.

What’s the world auction record for a penguin cocktail shaker? That’s hard to answer. One of the top prices achieved was in the United Kingdom. An example sold for £5,250 (roughly $7,000) at Christie’s in 2013.

Does the penguin cocktail shaker hold its value well? Prices have remained strong. The Cooper Hewitt has a wonderful example and uses it in some of its marketing material because it’s a 1930s icon.

It seems as if the penguin cocktail shaker has become emblematic of the cocktail shakers of the period. Why do you think that is? It has a wonderful whimsy to it. It’s hard to forget a penguin serving a beverage. And major institutions have examples of it–you see it more frequently when you go to museums.

How to bid: The penguin cocktail shaker is lot 717 in Object & Home Day 2, an auction taking place at Rago Arts and Auction on November 20, 2020.

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Rago is on Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Rago/Wright.

Megan Whippen appeared on The Hot Bid previously to discuss a chair by George Hunzinger.

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A Woolsey Bunny Figure Could Sell For $6,000 (Updated November 15, 2020)

A Woolsey bunny figure, made from bottle caps applied to a wooden frame by Iowa folk artists Clarence and Grace Woolsey. This piece could sell for $6,000 at Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Update: The Woolsey bunny figure sold for $9,700.

What you see: A Woolsey bunny figure, created from wood and bottle caps between the 1960s and 1980s by Clarence and Grace Woolsey. Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia.

Who were Clarence and Grace Woolsey? They were farmers in Iowa, very rural, isolated, and living off the land. They had cattle and crops and that was it. Though they came from families that had lots of kids, they had no children.

Where did they get the idea to make art out of bottle caps? They were children of the Great Depression, raised in a time when people made arts and crafts from discarded items. During World War II, bottle caps were gathered for metal drives. After the war, they were still collected. The Woolseys collected bottle caps and the townsfolk helped them. They first made a little church out of bottle caps, to resemble the one they went to. Then Grace encouraged Clarence to make bodies [wooden structures] to attach the bottle caps to. He didn’t have power tools–just jigsaws and pocket knives. He started making fanciful figures, and she would decorate them.

And that’s how they divided the labor–he built the frameworks, and she added the bottle caps? He would whittle the solid wood structure. She applied the caps. The caps were nailed into the structures or she’d punch holes in the caps and string them on wires.

How prolific were the Woolseys? They made about 400 pieces. Out of that 400, a lot are teepees, churches, and wagons, but it was the figures that captured the imagination. Some call them bears, or bunnies, or aliens, though they’re not really bears or bunnies or aliens. They’re totally original, not like anything anyone has seen or done before.

The upper half of the body of the Woolsey bunny figure clearly shows rings of bottle caps, which Grace pierced and strung on wires before incorporating them into the piece.

So other people made things out of bottle caps, but there’s everyone else, and then there’s the Woolseys? In the folk art world, you’ll come across bottle cap baskets and snakes. The Woolseys took that idea and went to a whole different stratosphere with their art. They took the craft and made it into a personal art form.

Grace Woolsey was the one who fostered the idea? She was the one who originally said “Let’s do something”. They were in Iowa, and they didn’t even have working heat. In winter, they’d be snowed in for weeks at a time. That’s when they started making things from bottle caps. From there, it blossomed into an art form. They took something other people would have thrown away and made something beautiful and original out of it.

After a while, the Woolseys launched a tourist attraction that they called the Caparena. What was that? Clarence did rodeos and circuses when he was younger. The Caparena was a cross between a circus and a rodeo, but with bottlecaps. It was a whole environment he set up. You’d spend 25 cents to see it, but it didn’t get many visitors. This was a period when the cattle in the area outnumbered the people. Clarence got sick after he put the Caparena together. It wasn’t up for very long when he was no longer able to take care of it. The figures were put in his brother-in-law’s barn.

Where was Grace Woolsey during all of this? The Caparena was their idea, but Clarence got sick, and then she got sick. They died within a year of each other in the late 1980s. The figures stayed in the brother-in-law’s barn for years.

How was the cache of bottle cap art rediscovered? After it went into the barn, it disappeared, and no one paid it any mind. Then the brother-in-law moved or left and everything in the barn was sold in 1993. One guy bought all the art for $100. It hit the folk art market and things snowballed quickly. Other folk art dealers and antique dealers–everyone who saw them–fell in love with them.

You said earlier that the Woolseys made about 400 pieces. How many of those are bunny figures? Do we have a count? No, but in 30 years, I’ve sold a total of 32 Woolseys. Of those, 16 were bunny figures.

Another angle on the upper half of the Woolsey bunny figure, which features a few thousand metal bottle caps.

Do we know how many bottle caps went into this Woolsey bunny figure? There’s a couple of thousand on this piece.

Can we say how much work this Woolsey bunny figure represents? We can only guess at all the time they put into building a thing like this. They had no TV, and they had their evenings free. Whatever time was available was spent on this.

Was this Woolsey bunny figure part of the Caparena? Do any period photos of the Caparena survive? I don’t believe there were any photos of the Caparena installation, so it’s hard to know if this piece was exhibited. I’m inclined to believe that all of the pieces they created were displayed.

What role does Tom van Deest, whose name appears in the provenance for this Woolsey bunny figure, play in the story of the Woolseys? Is he the person who paid $100 for the whole group of works at the 1993 sale? I don’t know if he bought them or was responsible for buying them from the person who got them, but he was in on it very early. He did follow-up research and tried to learn more about them so the story wasn’t lost. He was very important to getting the word out.

What is this Woolsey bunny figure like in person? What aspects or details don’t come across on camera? You don’t get the details–all the work that goes into stringing every bottle cap to make circles around the arms, the legs, the body. It’s very fun-looking, very enjoyable. You see it and it makes you happy. It really has a personality to it.

A closeup of the face of the Woolsey bunny figure, which has eyes and a nose but no mouth.

The Woolsey bunny figure’s face is engaging… It’s got eyes, and a little button nose, but no mouth. It also has short, stubby arms and protruding ears. It’s really cute.

What’s your favorite detail of the Woolsey bunny figure? By far, it’s the antenna, or the rabbit ears, on top of the head. It’s hilarious. The whole face is fun and it’s kind of alien-looking.

What makes them hilarious? Try to think about anybody now making a figure of a bear or a rabbit or an alien–you’d never get this idea. It’s a really strange, bizarre way to approach it. It’s really unique.

The Woolsey bunny figure shown full-length from the back.

Have you held the Woolsey bunny figure? Yes. It’s thousands of bottle caps attached to wood, so it’s got weight to it. It’s a good example, and it stands up by itself, though the feet are way too big for the body.

What condition is the Woolsey bunny figure in? It is what it is. Some of the bottle caps are rusty, probably because they were rusty when the Woolseys got them. There’s no reason to do any kind of restoration. Its age and its patina is what makes it wonderful, what makes it fun and folky.

What’s the world auction record for a Woolsey bunny figure? Was it set with you? We have the world auction record. We got $10,200 for a bunny figure in 2007. [The link reflects the hammer price, without premium.]

Why will this Woolsey bunny figure stick in your memory? It’s a great example–what you look for when you look for examples of the Woolseys’ work. It’s nice to have one as nice as this. For folk art collectors, it’s exactly what you’re looking for. This is truly an American art form. The Woolseys were in the heartland, and they were very isolated artists. There were no European masters, no outsiders telling them what to do. And it’s a story of something lost and then found. To have something lost and then appreciating it is what this field is all about.

How to bid: The Woolsey bunny figure is lot 0106 in the Self-Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art sale scheduled for November 14, 2020 at Slotin Folk Art Auction.

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Images are courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Sam Doyle painting on tin roofing material that went on to command $17,000a work on paper by Minnie Evans that later sold for $8,000; and a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200.

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A Coelacanth Fossil Could Fetch Almost $65,000

This coelacanth fossil was recovered in Germany in 2017. It measures a foot and a half long, which makes it an unusually large specimen. It could sell for $65,000.

What you see: A coelacanth fossil from Painten, Germany. Summers Place Auctions estimates it at £30,000 to £50,000, or $38,800 to $64,700.

The expert: Rupert van der Werff, director of Summers Place Auctions.

Why is a coelacanth fossil a big deal? The coelacanth is quite a famous animal. It was known from examples in the fossil record that are more than 400 million years old. In 1938, one was spotted in a fish market in South Africa. Since then, living specimens were caught, and the coelacanth became a cause celebre in the world of natural history.

A cause celebre in the world of natural history? How so? It’s a crossover animal. It’s believed the fish derived from amphibians, because of the fact that its fins are so short and muscular and not designed for actual swimming. It walked as much as it swam. It gives insight into the emergence of an important group of animals in our current world.

How do we know this fossil is a coelacanth? By its general makeup and appearance, and by where it was found on the fossil record timeline. Coelacanths are pretty unique. It has quite a bony skeleton. Its skull is pretty massive and its fins are pretty short and stocky. It’s not a terribly streamlined animal. It’s a bit of a plodder and [lived] toward the bottom of the sea.

The lot notes describe this coelacanth fossil as “impressive”. What makes it so? For its completeness and its size. This is quite a big specimen, as far as coelacanths go. [It measures 46 centimeters, or 18 inches, in length.]

Is it possible to tell how old the coelacanth was, or what its sex was, by examining the fossil? I don’t believe so. Coelacanths are rare. More T. rexes have been discovered than coelacanths. There’s not that much knowledge to bear. I couldn’t tell you if it’s an adult, or tell you its sex, and I don’t think anybody could.

What can we reasonably tell about the coelacanth fossil just by looking at it? It’s complete. It wasn’t attacked by a predator. As far as I can see, there’s no signs of it being diseased or unhealthy. Exactly what it died of, I can’t say.

Living coelacanths have been caught. Do they look a lot like this coelacanth fossil? Yes. It’s a successful design for what it was doing. There was no need for it to change.

This coelacanth fossil came from Painten, Germany. Where is Painten? It’s an hour away from Munich, in Bavaria. The rocks are composed of really fine sediment. It’s pretty phenomenal stuff for fossils. You couldn’t hope for more. The fine sediment produces the best resolution as long as the conditions are compatible.

When was this coelacanth fossil found? In 2017, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a good specimen. Modern techniques for preparing fossils are so much better than the older ways of doing it. You can really reveal what lies within the stone.

I imagine we should probably stop here and explain that it’s not as if the coelacanth fossil was hanging around, exposed, just waiting for someone to stumble on it. How was it recovered? An expert paleontologist knows what layers of a quarry are likely to yield fossils, and pays particular attention to those layers. If the expert sees an anomaly in a layer, that’s possibly a fossil. They collect the rock around it and work on it later with fine dental tools, hoping that something is in there and they got it all. It’s like searching for treasure.

Is that area of Germany a known source for coelacanth fossils? In terms of numbers, I don’t know. I know the big ones are jolly rare. The availability of fossils in general fluctuates. Some are always rare, and this fits that category. If coelacanths were more common when they were alive, more would have been found by now.

What is the coelacanth fossil like in person? I suppose it almost has an attitude. It does have a bit of a character to it. It looks almost sad. It’s quite unusual to be captured in a lump of stone, but to me, it has an emotion attached to it.

Kind of an Eeyore sensibility? Yes. It looks a bit like it knew it was the end. Resigned might be another way to put it.

Was this coelacanth fossil found alone, or were there other coelacanth fossils near it? And are coelacanths, living or fossilized, found alone, or in schools? Usually alone. Maybe that’s a reason why it looks sad.

Have you held the coelacanth fossil? It’s quite a big plaque–probably 50 or 60 pounds–so it’s quite heavy. You wouldn’t hold it up to admire it for very long. But I’m an enthusiast for fossils. To get my hands on something as exciting as this is a real treat.

Does it feel rough, or smooth? Pretty smooth, because the particles it’s composed of are so tiny. It’s almost like holding something made of plaster of paris, or chalk.

What is your favorite detail of the coelacanth fossil? Probably its skull, because it does really convey a sense of emotion, which is unusual in a fossil.

What’s the world auction record for a coelacanth fossil? Was it set with you? I don’t know. I very much hope it will be set by us at the next auction. We sold a few Indonesian ones three or four years ago, but they were smaller, and relatively more common specimens. This one deserves to go on to make a lot of money. It really is a tremendous specimen. I think this is the first German coelacanth ever to be offered at auction. I didn’t find reference to someone offering another.

You called the Indonesian specimens “more common”. What does “more common” mean when we’re talking about something as rare as a coelacanth fossil? Common as in I’ve seen four or five. We’re still talking about something very rare. This coelacanth fossil is the only one of this sort I’ve had the pleasure of handling.

Why will this coelacanth fossil stick in your memory? Fossils, because of their nature, are pretty neutral in appearance. But this one does appear to convey a sort of emotion.

How to bid: The coelacanth fossil is lot 65 in the annual Evolution Auction offered by Summers Place Auctions on November 24, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Rupert van der Werff appeared previously on The Hot Bid speaking about a near-complete Dodo skeleton that set a world auction record.

Summers Place Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

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A Group of Seven Tiffany Windows Could Command $250,000 (Updated November 11, 2020)

A complete set of seven Tiffany windows, recovered from a demolished church, warehoused for decades, restored, shown as a touring exhibit, and now consigned to Freeman's. The group could sell for $250,000.

Update: The set of Tiffany windows sold for $705,000–almost twice its high estimate.

What you see: Angels Representing Seven Churches, a set of Tiffany windows created by the famed studio in 1902 for a Swedenborgian church in Ohio. Freeman’s estimates the set at $150,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Tim Andreadis, department head of 20th century design at Freeman’s.

Today, Tiffany Studios is best known for its lamps, but it also supplied custom windows for churches. Could you talk about its work in this realm? From 1870 into the early 1900, ecclesiastic work represented a substantial part of the business. Churches have a lot of money and they have wealthy patrons who are interested in supporting church projects. Tiffany Studios capitalized on that.

Who within Tiffany Studios created the religious windows? Was it the same team who created the lamps? Yes and no. Lamps and ecclesiastic commissions were separate departments in the Tiffany organization. But Clara Driscoll, who’s documented as designing lamps, did work in the area of windows. Interestingly, the process for making a Tiffany lamp and a Tiffany window are similar.

How would a Tiffany window have been made? People who were trained in the arts would create watercolor design drawings, which would be scaled up to a full size watercolor drawing and a full size drawing with outlines in black, suggesting where the leading [the metal matrix that holds the glass in place] would be. A separate group of individuals would select the glass. Tiffany Studios stocked between 200 and 300 tons of glass to pick from, in different colors and textures. They would organize the window using wax to set the pieces. Then it would be carried to a separate department, the glaziers’ department [for finishing]. If the windows were figurative, the faces, hands, and sometimes the feet of the figures were painted by trained artists. That was the only paint used. All the other effects were achieved through the glass itself or how the glass was arranged within the design.

The Tiffany Studios department that made the lamps was staffed by women. The glaziers’ department was mostly male. Was the Ecclesiastic department more mixed? I don’t know. I know a number of women in the firm selected glass that was being used, and they contributed in significant ways to the designs.

What kind of reputation did Tiffany Studios have in 1902, when they made these windows? They were certainly in full flight, to continue the angel metaphor. By 1910, thousands upon thousands of churches all over the United States, and some in Canada, had Tiffany windows.

This set of Tiffany windows has the title Angels Representing Seven Churches. Did the set always have that name, or did the name come later, after the church they were made for was demolished? Tiffany gave the name to the windows.

Is there any period documentation between Tiffany Studios and the Church of the New Jerusalem in Cincinnatti, for which the windows were made? I believe there is at least one letter between the folks at a Swedenborgian church in Ohio who commissioned the windows as a gift for the Cincinnati Swedenborgian church.

The Smyrna window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902.

Do we know which seven churches the angels in the religious Tiffany windows represent? Each corresponds to cities that existed in Asia Minor. All are mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Revelation. Emanuel Swedenborg started the Swedenborgian religion, and it talks a lot about angels.

Where were the seven Tiffany windows placed? In the church’s nave? I think that’s correct. Behind the altar. I’m not sure how much it mattered to the congregation, but I’m sure some knew they were Tiffany windows.

A period photo of an interior of the Church of the New Jerusalem, showing the seven Tiffany windows in place.
A period photo of an interior of the Church of the New Jerusalem, showing the seven Tiffany windows in place.

I’d like to talk through why the angels look the way they do. In the Bible, angels have no gender, but these seven–at least some of them seem to be male, and some seem to be female. In the literature I’ve read about this specific set of windows, the angels are referred to as genderless, but I find myself wanting to refer to them as males or females based on their facial features. When you look at other angels Tiffany did, they’re almost always gendered, and very often female.

The Thyatira window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902.

But this group of angels shown on the Tiffany windows is more mixed? It’s more mixed, or there seems to be an effort to make the angels androgynous. In the Biblical references, they aren’t gendered. They represent the church, and the church is genderless. It’s a quandry, because it’s hard not to look at the figures and not see male or female features.

The Ephesus window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902. Each window features a passage from the Book of Revelation.

It seems that all seven angels on the Tiffany windows share two details in common: red-orange wings, and a blazing star above their heads. Do we know why those details are there? Do they have any theological significance beyond the obvious, or are they there just to graphically unite the group? The motifs were definitely chosen to unite them, and to show that none was more important than the others.

And the Bible verses at the feet of each angel–those are from the Book of Revelation? They are taken from the Book of Revelation. I don’t know if they are verbatim or adapted.

The Sardis window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902.

How do these religious Tiffany windows show the firm’s mastery? First, there’s the overall design. The figures are beautifully rendered in the composition, in the style of dress, and in the way that each relates to one another. All the elements incorporated in the window are carefully designed to best illustrate that particular angel. Two, the glass reflects the firm’s penchant for richly saturated hues and a color palette that was arresting to the viewer. The feather glass not only suggests the texture of the wing, but the shading along the wing in deeply saturated striated reds and vibrant golden yellows makes each feather its own special element. Tiffany was able to paint in glass–to create all that rich texture and subtlety.

It also jumps out at me, when looking at this group of Tiffany windows, that each is a singular work of art, and they work as a group equally well. Absolutely. Each angel stands on its own artistic merit. Each is as extraordinary as the next, but there’s inherent balance.

The Laodicea window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902. Each window references a city in Asia Minor that is mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

What are the dimensions of these Tiffany windows? They’re 96 1/2 inches tall and 22 inches wide.

How much does each weigh? It takes two guys to lift one. Each is probably a good 250 pounds.

How many pieces of glass are in any one window? There’s probably 500 to 1,000 pieces of glass in each window and that’s probably an underestimate. Each wing probably has 100 or so pieces in it.

How much work does each Tiffany window represent? Given all the hands involved in their creation, Tiffany needed at least two months to produce a window like this.

Why were the Tiffany windows removed from the church? My understanding is an interstate was coming through the neighborhood where the church stood. They [people involved with the church] had enough sense to want to keep the windows rather than let them be destroyed. I don’t know how the windows were taken, but they existed in crates in a number of local garages for a decade or two while they were trying to figure out what to do with them.

What happened next? The windows hung around Cincinnati until a Swedenborgian church in Pennsylvania planned to create a chapel with them in the 1970s or 1980s. I don’t know the whole story, but the chapel never came to pass. They [the leadership of the Pennsylvania church] put the windows in a barn. Around the year 2000, the retiring pastor said to the new pastor, “Oh, by the way, we’ve got these windows in the barn, you should be aware of them.” The new pastor saw that the barn needed repairs to its leaky roof. That prompted him to reach out to Tiffany scholars. It took about a year and a half to restore the windows.

So the seven Tiffany windows were stored in peoples’ garages for a decade or so? And then they were stored in a barn for about as long? It’s remarkable to think about. The windows could easily have been separated or damaged or completely disappeared. Because they just left them alone, they managed to survive.

The Tiffany windows have been restored. How original are they? Substantially original. More than 90 percent. Only a handful of panels could not be restored and were replaced. By and large, they’re preserved as they were.

What are the Tiffany windows like in person? Stunning. Extremely striking. They’re very imposing because they stand at almost life size. The glass itself is brilliant, especially in the presence of all seven when they are lit. Perhaps they took them for granted in the church, but when you view them together outside a church, their radiance and their sense of majesty is amplified.

What aspects or details of the Tiffany windows don’t quite come across in the photos? The three-dimensionality of the glass, and the accoutrements the angels have–the crowns, and the jewels on the crowns. Big chunks of glass were used to suggest rough-cut jewels.

The Pergamos window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set, created in 1902.

What is your favorite detail from these Tiffany windows? The Pergamos window shows the angel holding a big chunk of opalescent glass, probably eight to ten inches in the round. It’s meant to be a particular glowing white stone that’s referenced in the Book of Revelation. It’s a big, rough, faceted piece of glass. Light comes through it at different areas, magnifying that element of the window.

The Tiffany windows are, of course, made of glass. Are they fragile? Unless they sustain damage that isn’t treated, they’re very sturdy within the lead matrix. The window is not going to spontaneously fall to pieces.

How did you install the Tiffany windows for display at Freeman’s? Was that a logistical challenge? Luckily, it was very easy for us. The windows have been on tour to more than 15 museums. Prior to the tour, they had wooden, free-standing light boxes custom-built for them. The boxes can be maneuvered however you want–you can display the windows in an arch configuration, or side by side. The boxes will be made available to the winning bidder so the windows can be displayed within them.

How often do religious Tiffany windows come to auction? And how often does an intact set come up? Maybe once or twice every few years you see a window or two. They’re not on the market with any great frequency. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a set like this come up. It’s rare to have a full surviving set for any one specific commission.

Does that imply that religious Tiffany windows were retrieved and then, erm, divorced for individual sale? I do think they got split up. Churches with multiple windows saw them scattered to the winds. It’s rare to see them stay together in any great way.

Are Tiffany windows more likely to be saved from doomed churches, and more likely to survive than religious windows made by other workshops? Maybe and maybe not. I can’t say if Tiffany windows survived at a higher rate. Many of these things were removed, damaged, or lost. And a good number of churches still have their original Tiffany windows, but I don’t know the exact number.

The Philadelphia window, one of seven Tiffany windows from the Angels Representing Seven Churches set. It was commissioned in 1902 for a Swedenborgian church, which follows a form of Christianity that places great import on angels.

The original buyer of these Tiffany windows was a church. Who buys religious Tiffany windows now? They appeal most to private collectors who are specifically drawn to Tiffany windows. They’re a very committed and devoted group, and they’re different from collectors of Tiffany lamps. Some like scenic or floral windows, and some like figurative or angel windows. But we haven’t ruled out the possibility that an institution or a church might be interested in this group.

How did you set the $150,000 to $250,000 estimate for these Tiffany windows? What comparable items have sold at auction? Not a lot. Other figurative Tiffany windows have sold individually for $60,000, $70,000, $80,000, but we haven’t seen a set that’s remotely comparable to this.

What’s the world auction record for a religious Tiffany window? I believe it was The Stream of Life, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2016 for $2.6 million. It was three windows, but a full composition.

Why will this group of Tiffany windows stick in your memory? Not only because it’s Tiffany and it’s angel imagery, it’s the fact that they’ve had an amazing journey from the church to the garages to the barn, and then they went on tour. They touched so many lives in the church they were in, overseeing ceremonies. They remained hidden for decades, then they were brought into the light and shared again in a museum setting. Now they are ready to have their next life with a forever home, where they might be shared with new generations of viewers. It’s a privilege to be part of that cycle.

How to bid: Freeman’s is offering the set of Tiffany windows in a single-lot auction on November 10, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Freeman’s is on Instagram.

Tim Andreadis previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the Thunder Table, an impressive one-off piece Wharton Esherick made for the Hedgerow Theater, a Phillip Lloyd Powell double bed, a George Nakashima Sanso table with Conoid chairs, which sold for $187,500; an Albert Paley coffee table that commanded $8,125; and a Wharton Esherick sculpture that set a world auction record for the artist.

Learn more about the set of Tiffany windows at the In Company With Angels website.

Images are courtesy of Freeman’s.

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A Demon’s Head Card Trick Device Could Fetch $6,000 (Updated November 1, 2020)

A circa 2000 replica of a Victorian era demon's head card trick device, created by the late Rüdiger Deutsch. It could sell for $6,000 or more.

Update: The demon’s head card trick device sold for $13,200, easily doubling its high estimate.

What you see: A demon’s head card trick device replica created circa 2000 by the late Rüdiger Deutsch. Potter & Potter estimates it at $6,000.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

Who was Rüdiger Deutsch? He started out as a pastry chef in Germany. When he met his wife, Ute, he became a photographer, because that was her family business. He was not a professional magician though he appeared on numerous European shows in the 1980s with his wife as Bellchini XIII. He took all the props he collected and used them in the act. He put it together with style and panache. It was kind of surprising how good it was. The tricks really worked.

So his magic collection was a working collection? They weren’t just museum pieces. He put them to use in the show. If he couldn’t find an original trick [device], he made it. A lot of things in the auction are things he constructed based on photographs, catalogs, descriptions, and occasionally, the item itself.

Do we know how Rüdiger Deutsch came to build the demon’s head card trick device? I don’t know specifically, but it’s modeled on pictures in a classic book of Victorian magic called Hoffman’s Modern Magic, from 1876. One of the most fascinating and interesting illustrations in the book are the demon’s head. The cover of the auction catalog is kind of an homage to the way the demon’s head is pictured in the book.

Deutsch created the demon head out of papier-mâché, and installed levers that control the eyes, the mouth, and other elements.

Do we know how long it took him to build the demon’s head card trick device? No.

Did he work alone, or did he have assistants? He had his limitations. He would hire someone to do something he was unable to do. When he needed help, he got it.

Was the demon’s head card trick device part of the routine Rüdiger Deutsch performed on European television in the 1980s? Not this piece, no. I’m sure he demonstrated it, but in what venue, I don’t know. But it set Rüdiger apart in many ways–he could use these things, and he did. He was an entertainer, a performer who put these pieces to work. A lot of collectors buy pieces with no intent of performing with them. Rüdiger was not that guy.

How far back does the principle behind the demon’s head card trick device go? Is it as old as card tricks themselves? No, I don’t think it’s as old as card tricks. The first reference is in Hoffman, but the devices were built years before that.

How common were devices such as this demon’s head card trick device in the late 19th century? They were available for purchase in catalogs of the Victorian era. Dealers offered the items for sale, but they were built to order. They were one of the more expensive things in those catalogs. They were kind of like automata in that way.

Did the devices take other shapes, or were they usually in the form of a demon’s head? Typically, yes, they were a demon or a satyr’s head. I know of one built as a teddy bear, which is just bizarre.

Deutsch worked alone on his replica of a Victorian era demon's head card trick device. It appears to be the only such replica he made.

How would a magician use it in his or her act? The cards are chosen and returned to the deck. The magician puts the whole deck in the mouth of the figure. The demon looks around, moves his jaw, and spits out one of the chosen cards. When another person from the audience says, “I picked one too, where’s my card?” it pops out of his head.

How does the demon’s head card trick device work? It’s activated with levers at the bottom of the base, at the back. Different control levers operate the eyes, the mouth, and the release of the card. There are other versions that are controlled by clockwork. This is manually operated–it’s manual in the sense of pushing a button or pulling a lever to operate it. This is kind of like a glorified, creepy, masterful ventriloquist’s figure in some ways.

What advantage does this demon’s head card trick device give to a magician? Why use this instead of doing card tricks without an expensive device? It offers you a different type of presentation, a different type of entertainment than someone just finger-flinging. It’s the difference between a reading of Hamlet on the street versus going to the Globe Theater and watching the Royal Shakespeare Company–bare bones versus all the bells and whistles.

This demon’s head card trick device is described as a “faux automaton”. Is that because it has no clockwork? Correct, and it’s operated by a human being.

A lever controls the demon's eyes, allowing them to dart and scan the audience as it grips a deck of cards in its mouth and ultimately finds the chosen card.

What is the device like in person? It’s imposing, but also, on close examination, it’s readily apparent that it’s the work of someone who really knew what they were doing, in terms of the painting, the finish, the fabric, the mechanism. It’s a sight to see. You’re not going to buy it at Target for a Halloween display. It’s really something special.

How does Deutsch’s circa 2000 replica compare to demon’s head card trick devices that date to the late 19th century? In some ways, it’s better. There’s less to go wrong. You don’t have to be so nervous about handling it. If it was Victorian era, it could triple or quadruple in price.

I don’t want to say it’s beautiful, but… it’s charismatic. It’s charismatic, magnetic, certainly attractive. It’s evident that a true craftsman who took pride in his work made it. The guy who took over Rüdiger’s photo studio from him said that he searched forever for German newspapers that were contemporary to the era [to use in the papier-mâché].

Deutsch went to considerable trouble to hunt down late 19th century German newspapers to use in the papier-mâché elements of the demon's head.

Just how exacting was Deutsch in creating this replica? Rüdiger did it the way they used to. This is a guy who never used a Phillips head screwdriver because Phillips head screwdrivers weren’t invented until the 1930s. He didn’t buy an 1876 lathe to turn metal, but it’s close to what they’d have during that era. The device shows a level of detail that’s not on mass-produced items.

What’s your favorite detail on this demon’s head card trick device? The paint. Every strand of hair is painted in, within reason. It brings it to life. It sounds strange, but it’s true. And it also brings the illustrations in Hoffman’s Modern Magic to life. It looks like the book almost exactly.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because it looked better in person when I went to Germany to pack up the collection than I would have expected when I saw the pictures. The aesthetics, the quality of construction, the condition exceeded my expectations. It’s a superior object.

How to bid: The demon’s head card trick device is lot 1 in The Magic Collection of Rüdiger Deutsch: Part II, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on October 31, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter. 

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a group of Diane Arbus photographs owned by their subject, albino sword-swallower Sandra Reeda vintage Harry Houdini postcard from the magician’s personal collectionan oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200, a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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A Gold Eid Mar Coin–THE Most Desirable Ancient Coin–Could Fetch $500,000 (NEW RECORD! Updated October 29, 2020)

A gold Eid Mar coin, issued by Brutus in 42 B.C.E. It could sell for $500,000 or more.

Update: WHOA! The gold Eid Mar coin sold for £3.2 million, or about $4.2 million, setting a new world auction record for any ancient coin.

What you see: A gold Eid Mar coin, dating to 42 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). Roma Numismatics Limited estimates it at $500,000.

The expert: David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

The Eid Mar has been described as “the most famous ancient coin of all”. Do you agree? I do. Typically, with coins, you have a cultural or a national interest–Americans want American coins, Indians want Indian coins. Ancient Greek and Roman coins transcend nationalism. In that sense, the Eid Mar jumps out as the most famous ancient coin.

Do we know the story of how and why the Roman government chose to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on gold and silver coins in 42 B.C.E? At that point, Rome was gearing up for civil war between competing factions. One carried on Caesar’s cause and included Mark Antony and Octavian. The other included Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. In the Senate, there was sympathy for both parties.

So the Brutus and Cassius side had this coin made, I’m guessing. Why? The faction led by Brutus and Cassius was gathering a great army to go to war with the other faction. When trying to defend their cause, they had to appeal to the sympathies of soldiers and Senators. There were many who considered Caesar a tyrant and were glad to be rid of him. With this coin, Brutus doubled down on what got him to this stage to begin with.

So this coin acted kind of like a political lawn sign does today? It advertised and boosted a political cause? This is an attempt by Brutus–a very blatant attempt–to make the case that Caesar’s assassination was not only good for Rome, it was justifiable. It’s a peek into the mind of Brutus. The stakes were life and death. He went with the justice of his cause.

The reverse of the gold Eid Mar coin shows a pair of daggers, representing the murder weapon and the two men who conceived the coup, Brutus and Cassius. The hat in the middle was of a style issued to newly freed Roman slaves. "Eid Mar" is a truncated phrasing for the Ides of March, the date of the assassination.

Let’s talk about the iconography on the gold Eid Mar coin. I see two daggers on the reverse side. Why two daggers, when a big group of Senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death? It isn’t necessarily recorded anywhere, but the natural conclusion is one dagger represents Brutus and the other represents Cassius, who were the ringleaders of the plot to murder Caesar.

The designer of the gold Eid Mar coin has placed between the daggers an image of a cap that was given to Roman slaves who have gained their freedom. Nothing subtle about that… It’s such a clear, bold statement linking the act with the result of the act.

This side of the coin features the words “Eid Mar”, which is a shortened form of the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar–the Ides of March, aka March 15. Why include the date? The incident was notorious enough that the designer didn’t really need to include it. Everyone understood the context. The date was just a design choice. I would have loved to have been in the room when they made that choice.

Co-conspirator Brutus issued this gold Eid Mar coin and had his profile depicted upon it.

Why does the other side of the coin, the obverse, show a profile of just Brutus, and not Brutus and Cassius? The two leaders of these armies, which were eventually conjoined before the Battle of Philippi, struck their own coins. If you’re paying soldiers, you want to put your face on the coins. There was no overlap between Brutus’s and Cassius’s coinage. The Eid Mar coin is of Brutus’s design, and is the most spectacular of them. It’s of Brutus, by Brutus, and for Brutus.

So Cassius’s coins were not as evocative? No coins of Cassius directly allude to the murder of Caesar. They speak to local conditions rather than the act that got them there. Brutus’s coin is as blunt and as straightforward a message as could be delivered. It’s really a masterpiece in that respect. It’s very fortunate that Brutus undertook this coin, but in the end, it didn’t save him. [Brutus killed himself in October of 42 B.C.E. after losing the second Battle of Phillipi.]

The Eid Mar coin represents Brutus pushing all of his chips onto the table, then? This is evidence that Brutus was not backing down. He’s saying, “I did it, I did it for the right reasons, and you should support me because of that.”

Is the Eid Mar coin a better-looking coin than most ancient coins? Not necessarily. I would say its strength is not in its artistry. It resonates because of its historical importance.

The gold Eid Mar coin, with both obverse and reverse shown. It is one of only three surviving examples struck in gold.

How would the gold Eid Mar coin have been struck? Typically, coins of this era were struck by hand. The die would be engraved in reverse. They’d take two of these dies, put a blank piece of metal between them, and hammer it several times.

How did the striker know when to stop? Experience. Gold coins of narrow diameter took fewer strikes than a copper coin. With something like this, they’d get away with two or three hammer blows.

Do we have any idea how many Eid Mar coins might have been produced in 42 B.C.E? Unfortunately, we don’t have any surviving records. In warlike circumstances such as this, they would have struck coins based on what they could provide. They probably turned every bit of metal–gold or silver–into coinage to pay the soldiers and suppliers.

So it’s not like Brutus swung by the Roman Mint and placed an order for 100 gold Eid Mar coins and 10,000 silver Eid Mar coins. No. Under other conditions, coinage was planned out and targets were met. These were struck under field conditions. They did whatever they could. With this, it was get it, melt it, strike it.

How much gold is in this Eid Mar coin? Its purity is extremely high. It’s very close to 100 percent pure. There’s some copper and trace elements in it. It weighs a touch over eight grams, which is about $500 in melt value.

How much purchasing power did a gold Eid Mar coin have in the world of ancient Rome? There’s very limited info on this subject. It’s known that in the time of Augustus, a soldier’s annual pay was 225 silver denarii, and there’s 25 denarii per gold aureus. It’s [a soldier’s annual pay in silver seems to be] equivalent to nine gold coins a year. This was an unusual and expensive coin. The average person in the Roman Empire and the late Roman Republic would never handle gold coins. They were for larger payments.

When Mark Anthony and Octavian later assumed power, did they deliberately target the Eid Mar coin for removal from circulation? We don’t know for sure if that happened in this particular case. Coins were melted for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes, they circulated for well over a century. One of the gold Eid Mar coins that does survive is quite worn, and some of the silver ones are worn almost absolutely slick. But there probably was some effort to reduce the coins in circulation, if only to melt them and strike coins in their own image.

To what extent, if at all, has the Eid Mar coin served to burn the memory of Caesar’s assassination into the collective consciousness? Has it helped keep that historical event alive? The sparking of the Renaissance in Europe was promoted strongly by the discovery of ancient coins. When antiquarians studied these coins, getting an Eid Mar was the ultimate prize. There’s something about having an object speak directly to a moment in history. The coin gives it context, meaning, and a tactile reality–here’s the proof of the history, the proof of what you read about. And it inspired Shakespeare. It’s hard to dismiss the coin’s impact on why the assassination is still a memorable occasion. [The Wikipedia pages for the assassination of Julius Caesar and Brutus prominently show photographs of silver Eid Mar coins.]

Do you mean that the gold Eid Mar coin is, in and of itself, historical evidence? Without this coin, one might be able to introduce a scholarly concern about how the assassination was described. But if you get this type of evidence, it’s very hard to dispute that it did occur and Brutus took credit for it. Coins help us have confidence in certain statements. Without a coin to back it up, it’s easy to assume something is exaggerated for political gain.

How did this gold Eid Mar coin emerge? I have no idea. Our role at NGC Ancient doesn’t have to do with the buying or selling of coins. I made no investigation into that.

According to what I have here, this gold Eid Mar coin was sitting, largely unnoticed, in a European collection until now. So it’s a previously unknown example of THE most desirable ancient coin, in its rarest metal form, in something close to mint condition. I assume that alarm bells went off in your head when you got word of this? When you hear that, as you describe it, I assume I need to be very careful. Ancient coins have been collected systematically and aggressively for 500 years. The possibility exists of a coin, even of this stature, being around without being brought to the notice of anyone in the business.

Did you examine the gold Eid Mar coin before it was encapsulated? I have to sign off on it as the director of the department.

What details or clues convinced you, as you looked at this coin, that it was the genuine article? [Laughs] It’s so funny. There’s an initial gut reaction you have, a visceral response, the instant you see a coin. You’re extremely wary, or quite pleased. From the second I saw it, it rang true. Then I looked for any reason to contradict my initial reaction. One way to look at it is as if it were any other gold coin of Brutus or Cassius. We’ve had quite a number of both over the decades. If it was another Brutus or Cassius type, would it give us alarm bells? The answer is no. It really did perform extremely well. There was literally nothing we could find about this coin that raised concerns.

How much experience do you have with handling ancient coins? My business partner, Barry Murphy, and I have over 60 years’ experience. We’ve looked at over five million ancient coins, and looked at them very clinically. Is it something real? Is it altered? That’s always been the principal focus. This coin fits in perfectly for where it should be–a field-mint issue of Brutus from 42 B.C.E. It’s everything we could expect.

Have you seen either or both of the other two gold Eid Mar coins in person? I’ve seen one of the other two.

I take it you’ve examined dozens of silver Eid Mar coins. Absolutely. Between Barry and myself, we’ve handled 30 to 35 of the silver ones. And we see a lot of counterfeits. What’s most important to know is what should it generally look like? There are so many aspects to determine authenticity, and it’s so easy for a forger to mess up on one. With this coin, we did not encounter any of those.

The gold Eid Mar coin as it now appears, encapsulated in plastic.

What is the gold Eid Mar coin like in person? It’s wonderful, and in the holder [the plastic encapsulation], it’s equally wonderful. It doesn’t take anything away from it–it showcases it, honors it. And it makes it possible to take the coin and hand it to somebody else. What people don’t know about coins is if you drop them or rub your thumb across them and you have slightly rough fingers, you can change their appearance. Gold is a soft metal! With the holder, you can reach a broader audience that poses no potential harm to the coin.

The gold Eid Mar coin is described as “mint”. What does “mint” mean when we’re talking about something that’s more than 2,000 years old? It has no observable wear from circulation. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dinged here or there, or hasn’t been cleaned. If it was in a mint state when it was buried, and it wasn’t affected by disruption or acid in the soil, it can come out absolutely perfect. There weren’t any banks in this period. People buried their coins. Then they died, or forgot about them, or were unable to retrieve their treasure. That’s how ancient coins survive in a mint state.

What’s your favorite detail of the gold Eid Mar coin? I’m a fan of Brutus as a historical figure, and I love the portrait on the Eid Mar coin. It captures what I perceive to be his personality.

How does the portrait capture Brutus’s personality? He was a very motivated individual. He had a sense of destiny and was very committed to his cause. To plan a coup, he had to have very strong political convictions. It may be my imagination, but I see it in the portrait. I see the intensity and the laser-focus of his ambitions. This is not an idealized portrait. It’s extremely individual. I could stare at it for hours.

I’d like you to walk me through the grades that NGC applied to the gold Eid Mar coin. You gave it five out of five on “Strike”. What does that mean? On a five-point scale, a five is not necessarily literally perfect. Everything about this coin was done by hand–it was hand-struck, it was melted by hand, the dies were cut by hand. You rarely get what, in a modern coin, would be described as perfection. A five out of five means that for what it is, it’s close enough to perfection.

The gold Eid Mar coin gets three out of five on “Surface”. Explain? “Strike” affects everything up to when the coin left the die. “Surface” covers things that happen after it leaves the mint. There can be circulation wear, or damage. This falls pleasantly in the middle of the range, very typical of coins of this era.

And “Fine Style” means what? It has to do with whether or not the engraver of the dies was inspired. This was carved by a gifted artist on a good day who produced a wonderful work of art in relation to the coin art of the period.

Why will this gold Eid Mar coin stick in your memory? It’s truly one of the highlights of my career. This is the coin everyone dreams of handling. Being given the responsibility to make a determination about it was an honor. When you’re evaluating a coin, you try not to let emotions enter the equation on any level. You try to do a scientific job. Now that it’s out of our possession, I can sort of allow myself to put my guard down and soak in the pleasure of the coin and reflect upon how and why it’s the most important Roman coin we’ve ever handled. That did not hit us initially. We had to keep it at bay.

Only after it left the NGC building you and your colleagues could enjoy the experience of having handled it? Correct. There are two towers of emotion: assuming it’s not genuine and it’s too good to be true, and wanting to believe. I had to shelve my emotions completely. But I have images of it, and the memory of holding the coin. When it actually sells, I’ll be there in spirit.

How to bid: The gold Eid Mar coin is lot 463 in Roma Numismatics Limited‘s Auction XX, which takes place on October 29 and October 30, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Images are courtesy of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) is on Twitter and Instagram.

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A Triple Caille Slot Machine–One of the Rarest Vintage Coin-op Machines–Could Command $300,000 (Updated November 1, 2020)

A triple Caille slot machine, one of only two known. The machine, built between 1898 and 1905, could command $300,000.

Update: The triple Caille slot machine sold for $246,000.

What you see: A Caille (pronounced Kay-lee) Brothers Triple Centaur musical upright machine, built between 1898 and 1905. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

The expert: Tom Tolworthy, chief executive officer at Morphy Auctions.

Who would have bought a triple Caille slot machine when it was new? Who was the target market? They were directly available to shop owners, and to operators who were in the business of putting out machines. In some cases, they were sold to saloons, cigar stores, or restaurants.

I’m guessing a triple Caille would have been much more expensive than a single. Do we know what they cost when they were new? Pulling it out of my memory, you could buy a Caille triple for $125. [That’s roughly equivalent to $3,700 in modern dollars.] If you look at early photos of cigar stores and saloons, you see one slot machine, not two or three. Caille triples were probably purchased by places that had a strong clientele and could afford to pay extra.

The player would insert a coin in one of the six slots at the top, and then crank the handle toward the floor.

What advantages did a triple Caille offer over owning a row of single slot machines? Whoever operated a slot machine needed a license. If they had three machines, they needed three licenses. With a triple, you needed only one license. And they could give the consumer more options. With three individual slots, you have the capability for a nickel, a quarter, and a half-dollar slot.

Do we have any clue about how many triple slot machines the Caille company made? No, there really isn’t. There might be 20 standard Caille single upright slots today. Triple Cailles, there might be two known. Of all the total uprights, less than ten percent are doubles or triples.

Only two triple Caille slot machines survive? Eight triples are known to exist. Two are Cailles. The others are by Mills. There probably weren’t many triples, even in their heyday, though a lot of them got destroyed during Prohibition.

I see the measurements given in the lot notes [62 1/2 inches by 70 1/2 inches by 19 inches], but what does this triple Caille slot machine weigh? I’d guess 250 pounds.

Weighing in around 250 pounds, the triple Caille was pretty much a sitting duck if federal agents came a-raiding during Prohibition.

Ah. So it’s difficult to move a triple Caille fast, even if someone tips you off about the police coming to raid your place. The fact that they survived at all is a mystery to us collectors. I’ve seen pictures of federal agents smashing up machines with sledgehammers, and they’re known to have dragged them to the water and sunk them.

What sorts of things have to happen to allow these vintage slot machines to survive to the present? In several instances, the machine goes from a shop or saloon to a family member’s house. I know specifically of several slot machines that came out of a basement in Omaha that had been there since 1906.

So this triple Caille slot machine might have idled in a basement at some point between the turn of the last century and, say, the 1970s? That’s my best guess. I know of others that have been found in buildings that were locked up for several generations, sitting there from the teens or 20s until the 50s or 60s, that were found and moved into collections. They had to have been tucked away where someone was not going to notice them.

Would these late 19th and early 20th century machines have been pulled from service eventually for falling out of fashion? Things were a bit more utilitarian back then. There were advances in gaming technology over time, but not in this period.

The rear of the triple Caille slot machine shows some of the few parts and areas that might have been replaced over the decades.

How original is this triple Caille slot machine? Has anything been replaced or restored? One of the back doors might be new, and all three of the locks on the back doors are replacements. Aside from that, it appears to be all-original.

The lot notes say the triple Caille slot machine comes with its original keys. Is that rare? And does it make the machine even more interesting to collectors, or is that irrelevant when we’re talking about something that’s as rare as this piece? Having its original keys is pretty unusual. The more original it is, the more collectors appreciate it. It does create value.

The player's coin never fed directly into the slot; it was five coins back in the line. If you inserted a slug into the top of the machine, the so-called "witness window" would reveal you as a cheat.

How does the triple Caille slot machine work? There are six slots at the top that all correspond with a color on the wheel, and different odds appear on the wheel. If you bet on white, there’s a ten-to-one chance of a payout. You could bet on one color or bet on them all, but if you bet on them all, you wouldn’t make any money.

Odds for each color are applied directly to the wheels of each machine in the triple Caille.

Let’s say I’ve loaded a coin in the top slot. What happens next? The triple Caille has three big handles on the front. You crank one toward the floor to make the wheel spin. It’s all mechanical, no electrics. Once you play it, it auto-engages the music. You get to hear a little tune. There’s also a witness window on the top slots. It’s not your coin that gets played–there are five coins before yours in the slot. If you hit the jackpot, they [the venue owner] can see if you played a slug or not.

How does the spinning wheel come to a stop? It’s a random set of actions in the mechanism. Think of a wheel in the back, but it has teeth. At some point, one of six levers will fall and connect to the teeth on the wheel and stop it. The lever is connected to the color of the coin slot that was played.

So the wheel with teeth is kind of like the wheel on the Wheel of Fortune television game show? Exactly, but it’s a bit more aggressive. The lever doesn’t slow it in its tracks, it stops the wheel right there.

The Caille company called this triple slot machine model a Centaur Jackpot. Do we know why? Is there centaur imagery on the cabinet or the castings? There is some centaur imagery on the castings, but it might not be noticeable in the photos. Caille made a Centaur single. When they built a triple with three Centaur mechanisms, they called that a Centaur.

This triple Caille features a nickel-quarter-nickel arrangement. Do we know why? Whoever operated it knew their customers. They could order the triple Caille with whatever coin heads they wanted. They had more customers who could afford nickel slots than quarter slots.

Once you pulled the front crank to the floor, the triple Caille would play a tune. Often, it would outlast the spin of the wheel.

Does the triple Caille slot machine play more than one song? It actually plays longer than the wheel spins. A single play gets you part of a song.

Would we recognize any of the songs it plays? Likely you wouldn’t. I was playing it for someone the other day and I didn’t recognize the tune.

What is the triple Caille slot machine like in person? It’s an impressive piece of furniture. It has oak cabinetry made by craftsmen. There’s detail in the legs and the castings. When you’re there and putting your hands on it and touching it, it’s a completely different feeling. It’s a massive piece and impressive to see.

What’s your favorite detail of the machine? The originality of it. The mechanism shows some oxidation, but it’s [the cabinet has] got its original varnish and original finish. I also like the music, because of the value of music as an option. Music boxes have been added to machines to increase their value. The music box shipped in this machine when it was bought–I can tell by the way it was mounted inside, and by the way it operates. It’s great to see an original music box of that age.

The mechanisms in the triple Caille are all-original, including the coveted music box (which is not visible in this image).

Have you played the machine? What was that like? There’s nothing electric about it–it’s mechanical. It clanks and clunks and makes noise. When you play today’s slots, you accumulate your winnings and bring a receipt to the payout window. With this, when the coins come out, you hear it. It’s a whole different feel.

Vintage triple slot machines have been faked in the past. Aside from a correctly mounted music box, what other clues tell us this triple Caille is genuine? Of the eight triples known, four are believed to be faked. That doesn’t make them worthless, but they’re not triples. What’s faked about them, generally, is the cabinet. When someone fakes one, they build the cabinet and get three [genuine period] mechanisms to populate it.

What condition is this triple Caille in? It has not been refinished. There are some dings in the cabinet, and there are places where the nickel plating has been rubbed thin, but that adds character. If it had been restored, or had recast parts, we would have put it in the description.

Does the upcoming sale represent the first time a triple Caille slot machine has gone to auction? No. There was one in a Witherell’s auction earlier this year. [The Caille Triplet Musical Upright sold for $217,800 against an estimate of $100,000 to $250,000 in January 2020.]

Why will this triple Caille slot machine stick in your memory? Because the last time I saw it, I was at Mel’s house [collector Mel Getlan, who consigned the machine] in 1996, when he was still living in New York, and I played it for four hours. [Laughs]. It’s really nice to see it again. There’s something whimsical about standing in front of a machine and playing it, and wondering who owned it before us, and were they as excited to play it as we are. Whoever buys it, I hope it brings them the same joy it brought to Mel. It’s a spectacular piece.

How to bid: The Triple Caille is lot 1110 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale taking place at Morphy Auctions from October 29, 2020 through October 31, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Tom Toleworthy appeared on The Hot Bid earlier in 2020 to discuss a pair of 1928 Princess Doraldina fortune teller machines that were offered in the same auction.

Images are courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A Walter Lang 100-Blade Knife Could Sell for $7,000 (Updated October 28, 2020)

A Walter Lang 100-blade knife, created around 1960, could sell for $7,000 at Skinner.

Update: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife sold for $5,500.

What you see: A Walter Lang 100-blade Exposition knife, No, 227, created circa 1960. Skinner estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.

Who was Walter Lang? What do we know about his family’s company? He was the fourth generation of a knife-producing family in Germany. Pius Lang started the company in 1852, and in 1889, he showed an 100-blade knife at the Paris Exposition. They say Walter Lang pushed the family to enter the global marketplace. The company is still going.

Do we know why Walter Lang made this 100-blade knife in 1960? Was it for the 1964 World’s Fair? No, I think he just continued to make these. He made 50-, 100-, and 200-blade versions with mother-of-pearl sides and polished stainless steel blades.

I take it he didn’t make this 100-blade knife on his own–he had assistants? I’m under that assumption as well. I think it’s similar to fine watchmaking, with certain people produce certain blades.

Do you have a list of all 100 blades and their functions? No, I can’t find one. [Laughs] When I was researching it for the auction catalog, I went to the Pius Lang website. They don’t have it.

Ok, but how do they account for 100 different blades? I’m thinking after you get past the most popular two dozen, things get a bit too specific or obscure… I think there’s a lot of repetitive pieces, whether they’re different sizes or shapes. [The lot notes mention the following implements: Pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.]

So this Walter Lang 100-blade knife is not a one-off? In my research, I found that 400 100-blade knives were produced by Walter Lang. I think they date to the 1960s, but the information I could pick up was vague.

Shown here closed, the Walter Lang 100-blade knife measures almost 5 inches long and weighs about two pounds.

The lot notes say the 100-blade knife, when closed, measures almost five inches long. How much does it weigh? It weighs 935 grams, or a bit over two pounds.

Was it meant to be functional, or was it a stunt piece? I think it’s a pure stunt, but the precision and the quality of the blades is impeccable. There are a couple of saw blades on it. I would not try to cut down a tree limb with a saw blade, but you definitely could. It took 35 minutes to open all the blades on one side.

Thirty-five minutes! Did it take the same amount of time to open the blades on the other side? Give or take, yes. I’d call it a good hour to do it without cutting yourself.

If you did cut yourself when opening the knife, I’m sure there’s a surgeon’s needle on it somewhere that you could use to stitch up the wound. [Laughs] It’s a conversation piece, for sure.

Can you comfortably carry the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Did you try putting it in your pocket and walking around with it? I did not, no. It’s stainless steel and mother-of-pearl, which is hard to damage, but it’s not ours. Any scratches or scuffs could potentially hurt it.

The bit with the mother-of-pearl is called the “grips”. I take it that’s where your fingers are supposed to rest? Yes. It’s claimed that the mother-of-pearl is from stock set aside by Pius Lang.

What is your favorite blade on the knife? It’s the mustache comb. [Laughs]

The 100-blade knife's implements include pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.
The mustache comb is visible in the fan of tools on the right side of the 100-blade knife, on the bottom, peeking out from under what appears to be a butterknife.

Why? This thing is two pounds. The mustache comb is just shy of two inches long. To have a two-pound object in your hand at the right height to comb your mustache…it’s a challenge.

Who was the target market for the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Or did he do it just because he could? I believe that 100 percent. It’s not a functional piece, its a “Wow” piece.

What is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife like in person? This is craftsmanship at its best. The polishing of each blade, each instrument, is astonishing. No corners were cut with this. The lock and hinge each instrument is on makes a nice click when you open it. It’s pure quality, like fine Swiss watchmaking.

What does it feel like to hold the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in your hand? Is it clumsy or awkward? No, it’s very well-balanced. It’s not top-heavy or bottom-heavy or left-heavy or right-heavy. There’s nothing really I can compare it to.

I imagine that’s how Walter Lang shows his mastery, yes? This thing could have been an absolute mess, but it’s merely ludicrous and still functional. Yes. [Laughs]. I’d be so curious how it evolved over the last 50 years–what the layouts were, what came with the piece, and what happened over that time frame. It’s a work of art.

What condition is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in? There’s no tarnish or scratches. There’s a few surface scratches on the mother-of-pearl, but there’s way to tell with the naked eye. I think a lot of people buy them as curiosity objects, open them once, and shut them.

How often do Walter Lang 100-blade knives come to auction? We had one in June 2012 that sold for $7,110. So this is the second one I’ve seen in person.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Being able to experience an object like this–we called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience in 2012, but now it’s twice in a lifetime. I thought I wouldn’t see another, but here we are.

How to bid: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife is lot 1346 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments online sale at Skinner, taking place between October 19 and 27, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Skinner.

Jonathan Dowling has appeared on The Hot Bid twice previously, talking about a scarce and remarkable crainiometer and unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Reminder: A Wharton Esherick Table Made for Hedgerow Theatre Could Fetch $250,000

Back in March 2020, The Hot Bid posted a story on the Thunder Table, a magnificent unique piece that Wharton Esherick made in 1929 for the Hedgerow Theater.

It was meant to go to sale at Freeman’s Auction a few weeks later, but COVID-19 intervened.

The auction was ultimately rescheduled for October 28, 2020.

Given the unusual hiccups that have postponed the sale, I felt it best to post a reminder with a link to the original story:

A Futuristic Concept Car by a Brilliant Unknown Maker Could Fetch $75,000 (Updated October 15, 2020)

La Shabbla, a unique concept car created by John Bucci, a little-known Italian-American designer. It could sell for $75,000.

Update: The futuristic concept car sold for $30,000.

What you see: La Shabbla, a futuristic concept car designed by the late John Bucci. Everard Auctions & Appraisals estimates it at $50,000 to $75,000.

The expert: Amanda Everard of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

Who was John Bucci? He was an Italian-American who grew up in an area of northern Italy that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. He immigrated around 1959 and found ultimate freedom after coming to America, but he didn’t have a car. He built himself the car of the future, which would get noticed. He drove it around Chicago.

He didn’t have money for a car, so he built one instead? Did he not realize that it would be more expensive to build one? I don’t know him, but I talked to people who did. Bucci had a magnetism about him. He was also an electrical engineer. His mind was always working. His widow said his motto was “nothing is impossible”. If he didn’t have it, he’d create it.

John Bucci dubbed his unique concept car "La Shabbla," which means "the sword", for its aerodynamic shape that slices through the air.

La Shabbla apparently means “sword”. Do we know why he gave his futuristic concept car that name? He chose it because the car’s aerodynamic form could cut or slice through the air. That was the thinking behind it.

Did Bucci have any experience making futuristic concept cars before starting work on La Shabbla? No, he had no experience, but he was an electrical engineer. He was very outgoing, and he would learn as he went.

And he did this alone? No assistants? As far as I know, yes.

From every angle, John Bucci's futuristic concept car looks like something that would fit right into the Jetsons universe.

How long did it take him to finish this futuristic concept car? I asked his widow that, and she didn’t know exactly. He immigrated in 1959 and La Shabbla was in its first custom car show in 1962, so it took at least that long–a couple of years.

Do we know why he chose to build La Shabbla on a Fiat chassis with an Abarth 750 engine? Because it had a potent engine and a compact size.

So Bucci bought a car to make a car… I guess buying a car like everyone else does wasn’t satisfying for him? This was the car of his imagination and his dreams. He couldn’t buy it off a lot. He was the center of attention. He got all the looks.

While we’re calling La Shabbla a futuristic concept car, it doesn’t really fit the strict definition of a concept car. It was never meant for mass production, and never meant to influence car designs that might go in to mass production. It was always for Bucci’s use alone. Yes? That’s correct. His widow said it identified him as an American. It was his American dream.

He designed the body of the futuristic concept car out of fiberglass. Was fiberglass a novel material in the early 1960s? Or was it well-established by then? It was invented in the late 19th century and was used in car design starting in 1949, but not for production cars until later in the 1950s. Bucci liked it because it was resilient and lightweight.

How does La Shabbla show Bucci’s mastery of fiberglass? I don’t think he mastered it. He trained himself, essentially. It’s certainly a slick form, very futuristic. If you look at films from the era that look into the future–1950s space films–it has that look. I always think of the Jetsons flying cars when I see it.

La Shabbla turned the heads of General Motors executives. Bucci declined to take a job with them, but accepted an invitation to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World's Fair.

How did Bucci manage to wrangle permission to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World’s Fair? My assumption is he was seen driving around Chicago or it was seen at one of the custom car shows. General Motors (GM) executives talked to him and wanted him to work for them, but he wanted to remain independent. The executives got him a pass for the 1964 World’s Fair. He drove the car from Chicago to New York. I assume he drove it alone. He was a very determined individual.

Ever the promoter, John Bucci politely pressed the powers that be at the 1964 World's Fair for permission to drive his futuristic concept car onto the fairgrounds for a killer photo shoot.

What happened once he brought his futuristic concept car to the fair? He wanted to drive it on the actual fairground. He wanted a photo op with the globe behind it. He asked for a pass and was told no. Day two, he was told no. Day three, the guy [in charge of fairground permissions] said, “I don’t know who you know, but here’s your pass.” He took shots with the globe behind him. He knew it would be a timeless thing.

Where within the 1964 World’s Fair was his futuristic concept car displayed? In the Transportation Pavilion, in the Cavalcade of Custom Cars.

A period article from 1964 says La Shabbla was “valued at over $250,000”. Did that number come from Bucci? It came directly from Bucci. He was a self-promoter. He thought his blood, sweat, and tears was worth $250,000.

Originally silver, at some point John Bucci repainted La Shabbla a khaki green.

What happened to Bucci’s futuristic concept car after the 1964 World’s Fair ended? It stayed with him the whole time. He stored it for a while, and when he got a new studio in Chicago, he displayed it there. [Bucci died in February 2019.]

Is La Shabbla drivable? No, not currently.

Bucci, an electrical engineer, built the car unassisted. It took him at least three years' worth of nights and weekends to realize his vision.

What is the futuristic concept car like in person? It’s so sleek, like a real-life Jetsons vehicle–the car of the future in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s a very sleek, very sexy car.

Have you sat in it? How could I not? I couldn’t resist. It has amazing woven blue leather bucket seats. Very comfortable.

Does it still have its engine? It has an engine, but we have not turned it on. It probably hasn’t been turned on for a long time.

Bucci designed La Shabbla with a retractable V-shaped steering device instead of a standard wheel.

What features does the futuristic concept car have? Were any of them novel or innovative for their time? It has retractable headlights and a retractable V-shaped steering wheel. The passenger side windshield goes up and down. And it has an 8-track tape reel on the passenger side.

Bucci fitted La Shabbla with a pair of woven blue leather bucket seats.

What is your favorite detail of La Shabbla? The seats. They’re just so sexy, like Bottega Venetta woven leather. And they’re eye-catching. The blue pops with the color of the car.

Did Bucci design La Shabbla without doors, or did it have them and lose them over time? It was designed with no doors.

Though he was living in Chicago when he built La Shabbla, Bucci sent it into the world without doors or a hard top to shield its driver and passenger from the elements.

Did he give the futuristic concept car a hard top or a removable dome? No. It was a sunny day car. [Laughs]. It needs a garage.

Does it have an odometer? It does not appear to have one.

How did you set the estimate for this futuristic concept car? [Laughs] It’s clearly hard to set a value on a one-of-one car by an unknown designer. I spoke to colleagues in the collector car field and developed a gut feeling on what it will bring. Concept cars at auction are mostly made by manufacturers, so they get high-flying prices. I would love for this to do that, but I don’t know that an unknown designer can bring that. There’s not a huge amount known about him, and there should be.

Why will this futuristic concept car stick in your memory? For me, it’s always about the story. I never knew John Bucci, but I feel like I do through his artwork and the cars I’m selling for the family. His widow said she felt the car defined him. That’s what will stick with me–optimism and possibilities and a dream coming true.

How to bid: The futuristic concept car is lot 0020 in Concept Cars & Art from the John Bucci Estate, a sale taking place at Everard Auctions & Appraisals on October 14, 2020.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Everard Auctions & Appraisals is on Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

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A Vase by Contemporary Native American Artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez Could Command $25,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

A black on black water jug-shape vase by Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez could command $25,000.

Update: The Youngblood Sanchez vase sold for $16,000.

What you see: A vase by contemporary Native American ceramic artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez, co-created in 2008. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Mark Sublette, founder of the eponymous gallery and auction house in Tucson, Arizona.

Let’s start by introducing each contemporary Native American ceramic artist. Who is Nancy Youngblood? She is a Santa Clara potter. She began as a young girl, and she comes from a great lineage of pottery-making.

And who is Russell Sanchez? He’s one of the great Pueblo potters from San Ildefonso, a different pueblo from Youngblood, but close to where she grew up. He and Youngblood are considered masters of the Pueblo pottery world. They’re two of the most decorated living Pueblo potters. She has won Best of Show at SWAIA [the Southwest Associaton for Indian Arts, which hosts the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico every August], and he has won Best Of his division.

Where were Youngblood and Sanchez in their careers in 2008, when they collaborated on this vase? They were at the top of their game, as they are now.

Do we know how the Youngblood Sanchez vase collaboration came about? I don’t, but dealer Charles King has represented both of them. My guess is he thought, “Let’s put two of the best potters together and see what comes up.” What they are is in the same league, which is the best. [Laughs]

Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez collaborated on this vase in 2008. It appears to be a one-off.

So it was a contemporary Native American art dealer, and not the artists, who probably came up with the idea to collaborate? I’m sure it was, and I’m sure it was an easy pitch. It’s a natural. Potters have, historically, worked together. Usually it’s family members working together. This vase is a little different, because the artists are from two different tribes.

Is this Youngblood Sanchez vase part of a series of works they did together, or is it a one-off? My guess is this is the only one. I’ve never heard of another. Both are masters of the trade. They don’t need to work with anybody. They did this to see what would happen. It’s beautiful. That’s why it’s at auction.

Native American pottery seems to be female-dominated. The few pots I’ve seen that represent the joint efforts of a woman and a man have been the work of a wife-and-husband team. Does that fact make the Youngblood Sanchez vase unusual? Yes. I would say it’s very unusual. The only other pairing I know of is Tammy Garcia [a Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor and ceramic artist] and Preston Singletary [a Native American glass artist from the Tlingit community in the Pacific Northwest]. Those two are at the top of their field, too. Aside from that pairing and this one, I’ve never seen another.

Do we know how this Youngblood Sanchez vase was made? We can look at the pot and tell who did what. Nancy would have done the ribs on the pot. Russell is known for sgraffito, the etchings on the pot. I don’t know who fired it, but they probably did it together, outdoors, over a fire. My guess is each polished the part they did, with Nancy doing the ribs and Russell doing the neck.

Nancy Youngblood contributed the scalloping at the mouth of the vase and the ribs on the lower half. Russell Sanchez decorated the neck with sgraffito etchings and heishi beads.

I see two thin parallel lines of material on the lower neck of the Youngblood Sanchez vase. What, exactly, do I see, and who would have been responsible for that contribution? Those are heishi beads, from Russell. Heishi are generally shell beads.

How do the two artists’ styles complement each other in this vase? Both are known for working black-on-black. Nancy usually only works in black or red. Russell is more attuned to using lots of different slip colors. [A slip is a mixture of water and clay that can be used like paint.]

This detail shot of the Youngblood Sanchez vase shows off Youngblood's scalloping work.

Is there a narrative or traditional theme expressed on this Youngblood Sanchez vase? The jar itself is a water jar. The two pueblos of the artists have long histories of making water jars. Then they’ve taken the elements of what they’re known for–Russell with his sgraffito and heishi, Nancy with her ribs, and the scalloping at the very top of the jar. They’ve worked from the basis of history and tradition, though they are from two different pueblos.

Youngblood signed the interior base of the vase in letters, while Russell Sanchez opted for a sketch of a rafter on a wave.

Both Youngblood and Sanchez signed the vase on the bottom of its interior. She used letters, and he used graphics. Do we know why? Russell changes his script every so often, when he feels like it. Sometimes he’s a rafter. He was a world-class white-water rafter. That’s what that is. He’ll sign his name too. It just depends on where he is in his life.

What is the Youngblood Sanchez vase like in person? One of the hardest things to appreciate is how finely polished it is. You look at it and you don’t see any flaws at all. If you like the black-on-black sheen in the picture, you will love it in person.

Youngblood hand-polished the lower two-thirds of the vase, while Sanchez handled the upper third.

How does each artist approach the polishing of their ceramic pieces? Do they rely on assistants for that part of the process? They’re the only ones who can do the polishing. I’m sure he did the upper third, and she did the lower two-thirds. To get into those little grooves, she’s using little rocks that have been handed down through the generations.

Why does she use rocks to polish her ceramics? First, it comes from tradition. They’ve [her pueblo] been doing it that way for a thousand years. The rocks–if you’re not absolutely perfect with the pressure on the wet clay, you’ll leave little grooves. This looks perfect. You can’t see how perfect the finish is.

I imagine doing things the old-fashioned way places a natural limit on how many pieces Youngblood and Sanchez could make together. Yes. Polishing slows down the process, that’s for sure.

What is it like to hold the Youngblood Sanchez vase? Any Native American pot, not just that pot, has the sense of a continuation of the culture–watching your mom or your aunt, and helping them. You can tell how much effort is required to get to this point. When you hold the pot, you hold tradition, culture, and personal effort all at once.

This Youngblood Sanchez vase appears to be unique. How did you set the estimate? Did you look at auction prices for Youngblood and Sanchez and average them? Yes, exactly right. Russell Sanchez works have sold in the $40,000 range, and the same is true for Nancy. Both artists are highly desirable. When they do the Indian Market [the Santa Fe fair mentioned above], they sell out in a few hours.

Who do you think will win the vase–a Youngblood collector, or a Sanchez collector? Is there a great deal of overlap between the two? Yes and yes. If you’re a Nancy Youngblood fan, it’s hard to believe you’re not a fan of Russell Sanchez as well. This vase is going to be on your hit parade for sure. It’s hard to come by.

As we speak on September 28, the Youngblood Sanchez vase has received enough bids to meet its $8,000 reserve, well ahead of the October 11 auction. Does that matter? I think it does. It means people are watching. If you want something of this rarity, you need to be aggressive and on top of this. If it sets a record, that wouldn’t surprise me.

The Youngblood Sanchez vase will automatically set an auction record for a collaboration by both artists, but could it set new auction records for each artist as well? It’s possible. In auctions, you occasionally have one shot at a rare piece in your collecting career. This may be that piece if you’re a contemporary Native American pot collector.

Why will this Youngblood Sanchez vase stick in your memory? I’m a fan of both, and I’ve known both artists for 30 years. I considered taking this piece home and putting it in my own collection. It’s definitely selling. And it’s the rarity–having something this rare and unique and beautifully made.

How to bid: The Nancy Youngblood Russell Sanchez vase is lot 0292 in the Rare Early Native, Western Art, Photography sale taking place at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction on October 11, 2020.

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Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction.

Earlier in 2020, Sublette interviewed Russell Sanchez for episode 115 of his video podcast, Art Dealer Diaries.

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STAN the T. rex Skeleton Could Set a New World Auction Record (Did He Ever! Updated October 6, 2020)

STAN the T. rex, one of the best-known examples of the legendary dinosaur species, could command $8 million at Christie's New York.

Update: Whoa! Whoa! And WHOA again! The T. rex skeleton known as STAN sold for $31.8 million–just shy of four times its high estimate, and a new world auction record for any dinosaur.

What you see: A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as STAN. Christie’s estimates it at $6 million to $8 million.

The expert: James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history.

Christie’s describes this T. rex skeleton as “one of the largest, most complete, and widely studied tyrannosaurus rex skeletons on earth”. I’d like to take each claim in turn. What makes STAN one of the largest? He stands 13 feet tall and 37 feet long. [The Christie’s press release notes that the skeleton is “40 feet long with the tail outstretched”.] He is a male T. rex. Females are larger than the males.

A detail shot of the tapering tail bones of STAN the T. rex. When fully outstretched, STAN is 40 feet long from nose to tail.

Is that how we know STAN the T. rex is male? His skeleton is smaller? The size is a clue, but ultimately, it’s the shape and size of the hips that determine the gender of a T. rex. STAN’s are slightly more narrow.

How complete is this T. rex skeleton? STAN has 188 of his bones. Only one or two other T. rex skeletons can boast a higher number of bones than STAN. No complete T. rex will likely ever be found. The circumstances of the animal’s death, followed by the preservation of remains in the geological record, are generally unfavorable to preserving the entire beast.

Would Sue be one of those two T. rex skeletons? She’s probably the best and most complete T. rex. She’s resided at the Field Museum in Chicago for 20-odd years. Another, Victoria, is a more recent discovery.

STAN lacks 112 of his bones. From where on his skeleton are they missing? The famously short, stubby arms of the T. rex aren’t present on STAN. He’s missing one of his femurs, some ribs, vertebrae, and parts of his feet. What’s important is so much of his skull is intact. All elements of his skull are present, including 30 teeth.

STAN's skull is unusually intact for a T. rex skeleton. Christie's New York has displayed the original at ground level, so visitors to its gallery can examine it up close. The skull on the full skeleton is cast from resin.

When you say this T. rex skeleton is widely studied, what do you mean by that? There are countless scientific publications on STAN, and he’s been cast at least 60 times for institutes and museums around the world. I think he’s the most-seen T. rex there is.

When you say “cast”, do you mean STAN’s skeleton has been cast in plaster 60 times? Yeah, originally, but these days, resin is used for lighter weight.

How did the T. rex skeleton get the name STAN, and why is STAN spelled in all caps? The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research [in Hill City, South Dakota] always referred to the dinosaur as STAN. Stan Sacrison found the first bones of the dinosaur in 1987. Unfortunately, it was identified as a triceratops, and triceratops are the most commonly found dinosaur. In the late 1980s, there was less impetus to excavate.

Christie's mounted STAN's skeletal feet in a position that imitates that of an ostrich.

I imagine that’s why they didn’t feel the urge to extract STAN’s bones from the earth until 1992. How much work went into recovering the skeleton? Each bone had to be documented, recorded, and transported to the Black Hills Institute. It was meticulously restored and prepared, 30,000 hours from ground to mount.

What can we learn about STAN’s life from studying his bones? Did he have adventures? Or should I say misadventures? Misadventures is exactly the term for it. Many of his ribs cracked and healed during his lifetime. He has holes on his jaw that are not caused by disease–they are puncture wounds that are pretty much the size of a T. rex‘s tooth. And vertebrae in his neck fused together and healed, right behind the skull. STAN broke his neck, healed, and carried on being at the top of the food chain. That tells you how tough the T. rex was as an animal.

Can we tell, by looking at STAN the T. rex‘s bones, how old he was when he died? Not with great accuracy. It’s thought that mature T. rexes lived to their late 20s or early 30s.

Long since stripped of flesh and photographed from the back, STAN  has lost none of his ability to strike fear into those who get too close.

What is STAN the T. rex‘s skeleton like in person? I’ve been lucky to come face to face with dinosaurs in my career. There isn’t anything like standing close to a T. rex. They are big, really big, terrifyingly big. I’m six-foot-two and I don’t get halfway up to the top of his hipbone. We had him mounted so he’s stooping down in a very dynamic pose. Even then, you look up to his skull.

Wow. With STAN, the skull is displayed separately. We wanted people to be able to see the puncture wounds and his neck. Also, the weight of the skull is severe. We’ve got a [lightweight] cast resin skull on the skeleton so we can have the dinosaur swooping down toward you.

What is your favorite detail of STAN the T. rex? It’s going to sound ridiculous, but it’s the feet. When I was out cataloging him, I watched the photoshoot happen, and I took a shot of my leg and foot up against STAN. His claw was bigger than my boot. He’s just an enormous animal.

What was it like to install STAN the T. rex in the display gallery at Christie’s New York? It’s been an adventure. It’s amazing the operations team speaks to me at all. STAN takes two to three days to install, and in 2020, social distancing is a big consideration. We want as many people as possible to see STAN, and we can’t accommodate them all in the building. We removed a temporary wall so you can see him from the street.

Did you supervise the installation? Because of COVID-19, I’m trapped in London. The last time I saw STAN was at the photoshoot.

Is that nervewracking–knowing that STAN the T. rex was being assembled an ocean away from you, and not being able to watch over the process? Having seen it go up once, I have full confidence in them [the team] to do it without me there. I don’t know where STAN will end up, but the team will be able to install him in any conditions you throw at them.

STAN the T. rex's skull retains 30 of its teeth.

So the team that assembled STAN at Christie’s New York will be made available to the winning bidder? Shipping will be at the buyer’s cost, but we would absolutely help the buyer, and advise them on how to position the skeleton in space. We’d recommend the team because they know the skeleton well.

When was the last time a substantially complete T. rex skeleton came to auction? Would that have been Sue? The last was Sue, in 1997. Sotheby’s sold it for a still-world-record price for any dinosaur: $8.36 million. The main difference, other than the gender and the size, is Sue was sold unassembled. The bones hadn’t been prepped or mounted into a full skeleton. The Field Museum spent one or two years getting it ready. [The original lot notes for Sue are not online, but the Associated Press (AP) archive channel posted video of the 1997 auction.]

Was the estimate for STAN the T. rex based on the price commanded by Sue? Yeah. There’s precious little auction history for T. rexes. STAN is being sold without reserve, but really, almost any price is possible. We’ve probably estimated STAN conservatively. Sue set a world record price and the benchmark for the market. I expect a world record with STAN and I expect another such reset. The number of T. rexes that have gone to market is pretty scant. Really, it’s a generational wait.

You said earlier that STAN’s skeleton has been cast at least 60 times and displayed all over the world. How might his fame make him more interesting to collectors? Or does the inherent rarity of a substantially complete T. rex skeleton coming to market make STAN’s fame irrelevant? I think the two are interwound. He’s been so well-studied and documented over the years, and so reproduced for museums, it’s hard to separate those two. If he was a triceratops, he wouldn’t command an estimate in the millions.

Why has Christie’s placed STAN the T. rex in its October 6 evening sale, rather than a natural history auction, or a single-lot offering? Two reasons. STAN really is the best of the best. The 20th Century Evening Sale is a marquee sale at Christie’s, and STAN is a natural fit for that reason. He was 67 million years in the making, but the T. rex is an icon of the 20th century. The first T. rex was found in Cezanne’s lifetime and was first published in 1905. Within 13 years, the T. rex had made its first appearance in Hollywood, doing battle with King Kong on Skull Island. More recently, the T. Rex was almost the lead actor in Jurassic Park.

Why will STAN the T. rex stick in your memory? Apart from the logistics and it happening in 2020… I was there as the skeleton was going up. I saw it as a pair of hips and nothing else. I saw the bones go up one by one over ten to 12 hours. Seeing it fully assembled with the lights dimmed was magical. It’s big and scary. You don’t forget something like that.

How to bid: STAN the T. rex is lot 59 in the 20th Century Evening Sale taking place at Christie’s New York on October 6, 2020.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

James Hyslop has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about a rocket-like (ahem) tall gogotte formation from Fontainebleu, France, a Canyon Diablo meteorite, and a Seymchan meteorite with pallasites

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An Unheated Tourmaline That Weighs 100.59 Carats Could Command $1 Million

The Jena Blue, an 100.59 carat unheated tourmaline, could sell for $1 million at Heritage Auctions.

What you see: An unheated “Paraíba-type” tourmaline from Mozambique, weighing in at 100.59 carats. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $700,000 to $1 million.

The expert: Craig Kissick, director of nature and science for Heritage Auctions.

How was the tourmaline discovered? It was mined in Mozambique in 2001. A really large rough was pulled out that weighed 262 carats. The person who acquired it was looking for top-quality rough material.

Is Mozambique known for its tourmalines? Yes, especially for gem “Paraíba-type” tourmalines. Tourmalines are a prolific type of mineral also found in Brazil, California, and Afghanistan. There are quality examples from each area.

This large unheated tourmaline is described as “copper-bearing”. What does that mean? Does the presence of copper affect the appearance of the stone’s color? Absolutely. Copper-bearing tourmalines have a gorgeous bluish-green hue. That’s what sets them apart. “Paraíba” is a word for the purest form of copper-bearing tourmalines of this color from Brazil.

What does the phrase “Paraíba-type” mean? The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) can refer to any copper-bearing tourmaline as Paraíba, but old-school people in the business call them “Paraíba-type” or “Paraíba-like” if they’re not from Brazil. There are people who will pay an unlimited amount of money if they get a true Paraíba from Brazil.

And this stone, called the Jena Blue, is believed to be the largest unheated tourmaline? That’s very, very important. We do believe it’s the largest unheated tourmaline gemstone in the world.

Why is it important that it’s unheated? It’s a purity standpoint, and a value driver. There are purists out there who want no enhancements. So much material is enhanced. This is among the small percentage that is not.

But how would heat treatment improve a natural tourmaline? Heating essentially juices the visual attributes of the stone. It will often brighten or intensify the color.

What’s the next-smallest known unheated tourmaline? This is a very casual answer, but in my experience, people looking for 20-carat or 30-carat examples have enough trouble finding them. You normally see five carats. For most people, that’s a plenty big stone, fine for a ring.

Why is this unheated tourmaline called the Jena Blue? The collector prefers to be anonymous, but my understanding is the Jena Blue is some sort of contraction of two of his grandchildrens’ names.

The stone is described as “flawless”. What sorts of flaws can appear in a tourmaline? Because of how it grows, in long, columnar crystals, tourmaline is not an inherently clear material. It’s more likely to be translucent than transparent. You’re not going to hold up a tourmaline and be able to read a book through it.

This unheated tourmaline has what’s called a “native cut”. Why was that cut chosen, and how does the cut enhance the qualities of the stone? The piece was required to be cut before it left Mozambique, and it has not been recut. They [the original owner] wanted to end up with a stone that was over 100 carats. It pains me to say it, but could you recut it and come up with a visually nicer and smaller stone? You could. It was cut for yield, for the largest stone possible.

The chosen cut has a lot of facets to it…The faceting around it gives it a little sparkle. Because of the size of the stone, there’s sort of a large window in the top that allows you to see through it. Because it’s so clear, it almost washes the color out. If this stone were smaller or more included [afflicted with inclusions, a type of flaw] it could be bolder, and it could have more richness in it.

About 162 carats were discarded in cutting this unheated tourmaline. Do we know why the gem-cutter chose to dispense with so much of the rough? I don’t know the answer, but my educated guess is that with a big chunk of rough, only a certain area is gemstone material. It could have been highly occluded. It could have been damaged, or cracked. Some is lost to get down to the finished product.

What is the Jena Blue tourmaline like in person? It’s huge. I don’t say this to downplay it at all, but when you compare it to a typical gemstone, it’s cartoonish. If you were of a mind to make it into jewelry, it would be comical. And it’s very clear. To me, it’s a little more clear than colorful in person.

What is it like to hold the Jena Blue tourmaline? [Laughs] It’s scary, because you don’t want to drop it or hurt it. It’s kind of like holding a baby.

How well does it fit in the palm of your hand? I’m six-foot-five and 275 pounds. If your hand was 20 percent smaller than mine, and if you cupped your hand so it’s concave as opposed to flat, it would cover the palm of your hand. It’s gonna nestle in there just fine. But people tend to want to handle it with two hands, because they’re nervous about it.

Is the Jena Blue tourmaline heavy? No, it doesn’t feel that heavy. It’s probably a bit more than a golf ball, weight-wise. That being said, if you put it in a pendant around your neck, it’s not going to be everyday jewelry.

How did you set the estimate for the Jena Blue tourmaline? Are there any direct comparables on record? It’s a hard comp. We’ve got a precedent in that material like this can go for one million or north of that. But it’s so singular, it’s hard to know what the market is.

Is there a world auction record for a tourmaline? I’m guessing that stones such as this tend to sell on the private market, and not at auction… I don’t know the world auction record. I really couldn’t answer. Nobody sees stuff like this very often. It’s so singular, there’s not much to compare it to.

So when the Jena Blue tourmaline sells, it might automatically set a world auction record for any tourmaline? That’s very well possible. I think there probably are million-dollar-plus Paraíba-type examples out there, through gem dealers. You virtually never see 100-carat-plus tourmalines at auction, so there’s not much of a sales record.

Who would comprise the market for the Jena Blue tourmaline–natural history collectors, or people who might want to fashion the stone into jewelry? I think a natural history collector. If someone fashioned it into jewelry… it’s too big. It’s like Flava Flav’s clock. You can see it coming from a mile away. I want to believe the attributes that were important to the original collector will drive the day. There’s a lot of stones in the auction catalog that you could make into jewelry. The Jena Blue doesn’t strike me as that.

Why will the Jena Blue tourmaline stick in your memory? To me, it’s the singular nature of the stone. As a collector, I always enjoy anomalies. There aren’t other tourmalines like it out there. This is a one-time thing. It’s an incredible item. Personally, I’m more into dinosaurs than gemstones, but even I can’t deny it’s something.

How to bid: The large unheated tourmaline is lot #72111 in The Jena Blue Collection of Gemstones & Minerals Signature Auction, taking place October 5, 2020 at Heritage Auctions.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Craig Kissick has appeared on The Hot Bid twice, discussing a large specimen of crystallized gold as well as a matched set of bull mammoth tusks.

Heritage Auctions filmed a 360-degree video of the Jena Blue tourmaline and posted it on its YouTube channel.

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A William Wendt Painting Could Fetch $80,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

Flickering Light, a 1921 landscape painting by California plein-air master William Wendt, could fetch $80,000.

Update: The William Wendt painting sold for $137,575–more than double its low estimate.

What you see: Flickering Light, a 1921 William Wendt painting. Bonhams estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.

Who was William Wendt? He was a plein-air painter who was one of the leaders and foremost artists of California Impressionist painting. Because it never rains in Southern California, it’s easy to prop up an easel.

Was he self-taught? No, he wasn’t. Surprisingly, there’s little info on him–no journals, no scrapbooks, and no children. He was born in a small town in what is now Germany. He hated his father and hated his work as an apprentice in a furniture shop. He emigrated to America, got a job working in cabinetry, and he started painting. He did get art training, mostly in Chicago. He was known to paint up to 20 paintings a day, because it was fun and he was good at it. He was painting like a madman.

Chicago isn’t a great place for plein-air painting. Is that why Wendt moved? Back then, there was a huge influx of people to the West Coast because the railroads opened it up. It was advertised as a land of opportunity.

How prolific was Wendt? Is there a catalog raisonné for him? There’s no catalog raisonné, but there’s a coffee table book on his works that’s a catalog raisonné of sorts. It’s by John Alan Walker, and it covers 878 paintings by Wendt. He tried to document all of them.

Does that number–878 paintings–hold up as a good number for Wendt’s lifetime output? I’d say he painted well over 1,000, but the actual number, we don’t know. One thousand is a guess.

Where was William Wendt in his career in 1921, when he painted this work? 1921 was his heyday. He had a gallery in Los Angeles, the Stendahl Gallery, which handled all the big hitters in the market back then. He was making a pretty good living in Laguna Beach. His popularity ground to a halt when the Great Depression hit in 1929. It [his style of painting] was on a collision course with Modernism. This was his older, mature period. He did numerous paintings of sunlight coming through the trees.

So this William Wendt painting is a stand-alone, but the theme of sunlight coming through trees appears often in his work? Authors have suggested the sunlight represents a God-like, heavenly spiritual body coming through, bringing beauty and energy to the world. Wendt was a religious man. They [he and his compatriots] embraced a very Thoreau-esque way of looking at the world. They wanted to glorify the beauty of nature and look at God’s creation. They tried to do pleasant homages to nature, and that’s what Wendt became famous for doing.

Is this William Wendt painting a good example of his work? It’s got a lot of detail to the branches, and a lot of variety of light. It has an abstract quality to it.

Is the scene in this William Wendt painting a real place, or is it his own invention? If it’s real, do we know where he painted it? It probably was a real place, and we don’t know where it is.

This William Wendt painting jumped out at me because it looks like it could have been painted in New England in the autumn… That’s not how it strikes me. I just don’t interpret it that way.

So the painting looks clearly Californian to you? I think so.

What is the William Wendt painting like in person? The colors are bright, and they pop. There’s really nice, sharp detail.

How thickly is the paint layered on the surface of the canvas? I’d say moderately. Not thin and not thick. You can definitely see the brushstrokes. He definitely worked quickly. It’s not labored.

What’s the world auction record for a William Wendt painting? Was it set at Bonhams? It was set with us in 2015, and it sold for just over $1.5 million. The reason why it brought $1.5 million is it was on the cover of Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, by Ruth Westphal. It was the first of two books that became the bibles of California plein-air painting. From a notoriety point of view, I knew it would do well.

Why will this William Wendt painting stick in your memory? There are never any figures in his paintings. It has a quiet solitude about it. It looks like a very convincing scene, with that late light that comes when the sun starts to get a little low. It sort of gives you a happy feeling.

How to bid: The William Wendt painting is lot 57 in the California and Western Art auction taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on October 13, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Scot Levitt has appeared before on The Hot Bid, talking about a Gilbert Munger painting of El Capitanan early Sydney Laurence painting of the mountain now known as Denali, and a casting of Frederic Remington’s famous bronze, Broncho Buster.

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A Karl Benjamin Painting Could Fetch $50,000 (Updated October 19, 2020)

Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 painting by the late Karl Benjamin, could sell for $50,000 or more at LAMA.

Update: The Karl Benjamin painting sold for $37,500.

What you see: Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 work by the late Karl Benjamin. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA.

Who was Karl Benjamin, and how does he fit in with mid-century California artists? He was a key part of the hard-edge movement, a term coined by Jules Langsner. He put together The Abstract Classicists. Benjamin was in the show, and it was the birth of hard-edge painting.

How prolific was Benjamin? I know a catalog raisonné on him is underway. Do its authors have a notion of his productivity? I’m not sure about the number of works he produced in his lifetime, but I’m sure it’s a hefty number.

It seems that Benjamin took an unusual path to becoming an artist, in that it wasn’t his primary goal. Could you talk about how his career evolved? He had studied at Northwestern and joined the Navy in World War II. Then he moved to the west coast and started teaching at an elementary school. That led him to his interest in the fine arts. He went to Claremont Graduate School for art. It was a good move, because it had a thriving art scene in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. That’s probably why his career took off. He had his first solo show in 1954 though he had only been painting for four years at that point.

The Karl Benjamin painting you’re offering, Laguna Seascape II, dates to 1954. Was it in that solo show? It was! The Karl Benjamin estate has a copy of the original checklist, and the painting has a label from the show on the back. It’s great to have confirmation it was in the show.

So that 1954 exhibition was Karl Benjamin’s breakthrough? Yes, and he was obviously building up to it. 1954 to 1955 was when he started to really move into the style he became best-known for. You see his style start to crystalize. He does semi-representational pieces and starts moving into fully abstract pieces.

Are early Karl Benjamin paintings prized by collectors though they don’t match the fully abstract aesthetic of his later work? Benjamin is one of the rare cases where his early works are very desirable and sought after.

This is a small question, but I wanted to ask it. This Karl Benjamin painting is called Laguna Seascape II. Do we know where Laguna Seascape I is? I don’t know. We’ve offered a work by him called North of Santa Barbara Coast II, and the checklist for the 1954 show had both I and II, but it only had Laguna Seascape II. It’s possible that Laguna Seascape I is out there. I don’t know where.

Is the seascape in the Karl Benjamin painting a real, identifiable place in Laguna Beach, California, or is it his own invention? It’s interesting, because he never lived in Laguna Beach that I’m aware. His parents lived on the Santa Barbara coast. I don’t know what interest Laguna Beach had for him. I’m not sure what the significance was.

Are Karl Benjamin paintings of abstract landscapes relatively rare? They are relatively rare because he did move into pure abstraction pretty quickly. He only did landscapes for seven or eight years, and he was fully abstract for four decades.

Could you talk about the use of color in this Karl Benjamin painting? In his early works, the color is much more muted, which makes sense if he’s trying to do a seascape. He used bright Pop colors later in his career.

What is the Karl Benjamin painting like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t capture? There’s much more of a painterly quality to this piece, almost a pebbly texture to it, which you see in his earlier works. I don’t know how he got the texture on the pieces. His later style is more flat and perfect. A lot of hard-edge people put a lot of varnish on top [of their works] to give them a sheen and obscure the brushstrokes. That was the hard-edge look.

How has the Karl Benjamin painting market changed over time? The J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time initiative was a major boost to California artists. Karl Benjamin certainly benefitted from the increased exposure it provided. It was a city-wide initiative with various exhibits about artists who were active from 1945 to 1980. One of the main exhibits had a really beautiful piece by Karl Benjamin. That helped his career. Since then, his market has been pretty steady.

Does this sale mark the first time this Karl Benjamin painting has come to auction? Yes. Early in his career, before he was well-established, he did a lot of exchanges for artwork, or gave pieces to his friends. This person [who first owned it] was a colleague of Benjamin’s. The painting has been exhibited, but it’s never been offered.

What’s the world auction record for Benjamin? Was it set at LAMA? It was set with us. It was a piece from a similar period, a 1955 work offered in 2013. It was estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 and realized $71,875.

Was the record-setting Karl Benjamin painting an abstract landscape, like this one? It was untitled, and had a similar color pattern. I don’t think it’s a landscape, but it was more when he was moving into pure abstraction.

Could this Karl Benjamin painting set a new record for the artist? The 1955 untitled piece was a great piece, but so is this. It really depends.

Why will this Karl Benjamin painting stick in your memory? It is very evocative of the seaside, that sort of calm you find with the sea. There’s just something about it that’s therapeutic.

How to bid: The Karl Benjamin painting is a featured lot in the Modern Art & Design Auction taking place at LAMA on October 18, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

Clo Pazera appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about an iconic Julius Shulman image of the Stahl house, aka Case Study House #22, and an untitled Ed Moses abstract

Karl Benjamin’s estate has a website.

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Diane Arbus Photographs Owned by Albino Sword Swallower Sandra Reed Could Together Command $80,000 (Updated September 29, 2020)

A Diane Arbus double portrait photograph of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, could sell for $20,000 or more at Potter & Potter.

Update: Lots 233 and 234 sold for $6,000 each. The circa 1965 group photo, lot 231, fetched $12,000.

What you see: A gelatin silver print of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken in 1970 by Diane Arbus. It and three other images from the same session come directly from the estate of Sandra Reed. Potter and Potter estimates each at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

Do we know the story behind how Diane Arbus and Sandra Reed met? Did Reed know who Arbus was? I don’t know the story behind that, but I’m sure it’s chronicled. Obviously, Arbus had a fascination with sideshows, circuses, and unusual people. It’s a hallmark of her work. Joe, who works for me, could relate it better. Johnny Fox (a sideshow performer whose collection Potter & Potter sold in November 2018) had Arbus photos that Sandra Reed had given him. When Joe was doing the research on the photos, he found Reed’s phone number and called her. She had a vague recollection of the photo session, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, by the way, I’m the sword-swallower in the pictures by Diane Arbus”. Again, I’m speaking for Joe, but [I get the sense that it was] “Oh, I remember a lady came to the fairground and took pictures”.

Is it possible that Reed never realized the significance of having posed for Diane Arbus? The photographs in this auction were Reed’s property. She’s deceased. She died last year. The family consigned them.

Do we know how the Arbus photos came to Sandra Reed? Would Arbus have sent them to her? That’s speculation. Her kids are so far removed [from Reed’s time as a sword-swallower], they have no memory of it.

A closeup shot of Doreen and Sandra Reed, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970 on the grounds of the sideshow where Sandra performed as a sword-swallower. Both women happen to be albinos.

So we know these photos belonged to Sandra Reed because they come directly from her family? They’re not stamped by her, but they’re clearly from the session and they’re clearly from Reed’s collection. We also have Reed’s scrapbooks from her time on the shows [they comprise lots 236 and 237], and her traveling trunk, with her name on it. I really wanted the swords in the Arbus photos, but I can’t locate them.

Do we know how the photo session for the Arbus sword-swallower photos came about? Was it planned, or spontaneous? I don’t know, but her work is well-documented. I know that the large prints of Sandra Reed are some of her most iconic works. She took many different shots.

Many of the Arbus sword-swallower photos you’re offering include Sandra Reed’s sister, Doreen. Do we know why Doreen happened to be there? To me, that says they were both on the show. I think they were both albino.

Even though Doreen is not wearing a costume, and Sandra is? Right.

Also included in the sale is a circa 1965 group shot Diane Arbus took of the performers at Huber's Museum. It carries the same $10,000 to $20,000 estimate as the photos featuring Sandra Reed.

The auction includes a fifth Arbus photo, a group shot taken in 1965 at Huber’s Museum. What does it say about Arbus that she returned to these subjects so regularly? It’s clearly a big part of her life’s work. Obviously, she was interested in chronicling people who you did not see on the subway. Or if you do, you stare at them. There’s one guy in the Huber’s Museum photo who’s still alive, and performs as an Elvis impersonator and an escape artist. Mario Manzini. He’s up front, with dark hair, crouching, and in chains. If you ever need an Elvis who can escape from handcuffs, he’s your guy.

The two Arbus sword-swallower photos that you offered as one lot in the 2018 Johnny Fox sale sold for $28,800, and a record for a sideshow item at auction. Did that sale lead to the consignment of the four photos you’re offering now? One thousand percent, absolutely. It’s how Reed’s family found us.

What was your reaction to the 2018 sale? You had estimated those Arbus sword-swallower photos at $1,000 to $1,500, so I imagine it was a surprise. I thought they could get there, but the condition of the photos were less than great, and they were small. I estimated them conservatively. They had all the hallmarks of the potential to do very well–never before at auction, and the auction had a lot of buzz around it, because everybody knew Johnny.

A long shot of Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970.

How do these four Arbus sword-swallower photos compare to the two that set a record in 2018? These are much larger, and they have fewer condition issues. I put a higher estimate on them, but there’s no reserve. If you have $5,000, you can have a Diane Arbus photo, assuming no one else bids against them. And you can see three different versions of kind of the same photo–a distant shot, a close-up, and a medium-length shot. I can see someone wanting to buy all three for that reason.

None of the four Arbus sword-swallower photos show Sandra Reed with her sword. One of the two that sold for a record in 2018 did. Do you think that will matter? I don’t think so. Some of Arbus’s great photos of her have nothing to do with swords.

Diane Arbus also photographed the Reed sisters with two unidentified women, at least one of whom appears to be a performer in the sideshow.

What are the Arbus sword-swallower photos like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come across on camera? You’ll never have the same feeling as holding them in person. They’re the real thing.

But these are gelatin silver prints. I’m under the impression that those types of photographs have a silkiness to them– There’s that, but it’s not about the texture, it’s about the history. It’s a physical object, touched by a great photographer and touched by and owned by the subject of the photograph. Those are the things that speak to me. They’re imposing because of the story they tell and the people who interacted with them. They don’t carry physical weight, but they carry historical weight.

How much of the $10,000 to $20,000 estimate for each Arbus sword-swallower photo comes from the fact that Sandra Reed, the person shown in all four, owned them? It might not be half, but it’s certainly 25 percent of it. If you’re a photo collector, I’m not sure if you give a shit, but I certainly would. For me, that’s fantastic. Boy, is that a selling point.

Did the 2018 Arbus sword-swallower photos go to a sideshow memorabilia collector or a collector of Diane Arbus photographs? Neither. I don’t know them to be an Arbus collector, but I know them to be an art collector.

Why will these four Arbus sword-swallower photos stick in your memory? The serendipitous nature of it, whatever word you want to use that describes happenstance–the nature of getting the consignment like this. It’s like a giant puzzle that gets unassembled and reassembled, and we end up putting it together in surprising and potentially profitable patterns.

How to bid: The four Diane Arbus photographs from Sandra Reed are lots 232 to 235 in the Potter and Potter auction; the 1965 Arbus group portrait is lot 231. All appear in the Circus, Sideshow & Oddities sale taking place on September 26, 2020.

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Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a vintage Harry Houdini postcard from the magician’s personal collectionan oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200, a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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An Andy Warhol Portrait of Keith Haring and His Lover Could Command $250,000 (Updated Oct 2, 2020)

A circa 1983 Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose, could command $250,000 at Sotheby's.

Update: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose sold for $504,000–more than double its high estimate. Hooray!

What you see: An untitled Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose. Sotheby’s estimates it at $200,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Harrison Tenzer, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online Sales in New York.

How did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring become friends? In 1989, Haring told Rolling Stone: “Before I knew [Warhol], he had been an image to me. He was totally unapproachable. I met him finally through Christopher Makos, who brought me to the Factory. At first Andy was very distant. It was difficult for him to be comfortable with people if he didn’t know them. Then he came to another exhibition at the Fun Gallery, which was soon after the show at Shafrazi. He was more friendly. We started talking, going out. We traded a lot of works at that time.”

When would these meetings have happened? I don’t know, but it was probably the early 1980s.

The release for the auction says Haring was “greatly influenced by Andy Warhol”. How did that influence show up in Haring’s work? Warhol was really an elder statesman of the art world for Haring’s generation. All the artists who came up in the 1980s really looked up to him. Haring was influenced by his pop iconography and the idea of art as a business. Haring was interested in making his art available to the largest number of people–he drew his work in the subway, and printed it on hats and t-shirts. At the Pop Shop [Haring’s boutique in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan] you could buy things for very little. It was all directly influenced by Warhol. Haring even invented a character, Andy Mouse, which was a mash-up of Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse. Both Warhol and Haring were obsessed with Walt Disney and saw Mickey Mouse as a symbol of American culture. Warhol, in his own way, was an American legend like Mickey Mouse.

Did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring ever collaborate? I’ve done some research and the only true collaboration I can find–and I can’t confirm it’s the only one–is a poster they did for the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival. This is speculation, but Warhol did a number of collaborations with Basquiat that were not well received by the art community. It caused a rift between Warhol and Basquiat. After that experience, I think Warhol was pretty spooked by collaborating with young artists.

I’ve seen some of the Warhol-Basquiat things. I didn’t realize they were flops at the time. They weren’t seen as great examples of either of their work. Now, there’s a lot more appreciation for them, but they were not as successful as Warhol or Basquiat wanted.

So Haring and Warhol rarely worked together to make art, but it was strong enough to have meaningful effects? There are so many photographs of Haring and Warhol at parties. It’s clear from documentary archives that they spent a lot of time together. It’s interesting, because the two men were very different. Warhol was shy and withdrawn, and Haring was out dancing every night. They’re very different artists.

Do we know how this particular Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring came about? We don’t know the specifics of how it came to be, but this was a time in Warhol’s career when he was doing a lot of commissioned portraits of celebrities and friends in his network. He’d start with Polaroids and made silkscreens from selected images.

When was the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring made? 1983.

So everyone was happy and producing art when this silkscreen was made. AIDS was just starting to bubble up, but Haring was still healthy.

Is this the only portrait Andy Warhol made featuring Keith Haring? The catalog raisonné that covers this Warhol period hasn’t been created. It’s hard to know for certain. We sold another double portrait in 2018. It’s the same dimensions and the same image, but in different colors. If we have had one come up and sold it, I imagine there are others.

So there’s more than one variation on the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring. It’s a unique painting, not an editioned work. Warhol would have done the same silkscreen of Haring, but painting it with different color ways. They’re unique paintings, not prints.

Do we know how this particular one, with the orange background, ended up with Haring? Did Warhol give it to Haring, or did Haring choose it? That, we’re not sure. In 1983, Haring had just blown up and just become a sensation. I’m not sure Haring would have been in a place to ask Warhol [for the variation he liked best]. He would accept any gift he gave him.

Is this the only known portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose, regardless of who made it? Or are there others? I don’t know. There might be photographs. I haven’t researched it.

The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring has no title. Do we know why? Is that deliberate? We’re still doing research on it. But it was a gift to Haring, and it was a fully finished piece of artwork. I want to make it clear that it wasn’t a drawing or a a provisional castoff. It’s a unique, well-painted 1980s Warhol portrait, given to his friend.

Haring lived with this Warhol portrait. Sotheby’s sent along a photo that shows it hanging in Haring’s apartment. What does that say about how Haring regarded the work? He lived in many different apartments. I can’t confirm it was always on display. But it moved with him, and we have images of the work in different contexts.

Was it in Haring’s final apartment? Yes.

…But when you’re an artist, wall space in your own home is always scarce, no matter how big your home is. What does it say that Haring usually or always found room for this Warhol portrait of him and his lover? This particular work was pretty major. Juan DuBose was in Haring’s life for pretty much the decade of his major success. They had a contentious relationship at the time. Haring would have regarded the painting with mixed emotions. But he was from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and in his twenties, he was painted by the most famous artist alive. He was also out as a gay man. To be painted by Warhol with his African-American male lover… that’s a pretty major departure from five to six years earlier, when he was playing it straight in Pennsylvania.

So it wasn’t just a portrait to Haring. It captured milestones in his life. He claimed his identity as an artist, as a gay man, and as an important man in the community. And it ticks the box of celebrity, because Warhol painted him.

What is the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come over on camera? It pops so much in person. It’s in great condition, and very vibrant. It appears much flatter in the photo. When you experience it in person, it’s a very well-executed, crisp screen.

With regard to the sale itself–how much of Haring’s personal art collection does it include? This represents all of it, to my knowledge.

Haring died in 1990. Why sell his personal art collection now? Why not earlier? For some time, the Haring foundation wanted to do a sale. Now is a perfect time because the market for many of the artists in the auction has matured. Street artists and graffiti artists, at the time of Haring’s death, were not valuable. The interest in a more inclusive market just wasn’t there in the early 1990s.

Why will this Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover stick in your memory? It’s a subject that burns like fire. It’s in-your-face and bold. There’s so much joy and eroticism and heat in the portrait, and we know what’s going to happen to each of these three men. Unlike Warhol, who was active for four decades in a major way, Haring only had one decade. But he burned so bright, like a candle lit at both ends.

How to bid: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose will appear in Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring, a Sotheby’s online sale taking place from September 24 through October 1, 2020.

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RECORD! A Wedgwood First Day’s Vase Sold at Christie’s for More Than $600,000

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

What you see: A Wedgwood “First Day’s Vase”, dating to 1769. Estimated at £120,000 to £180,000 ($151,000 to $226,000), it sold for £482,500 ($607,000) at Christie’s in 2016, setting a record for any piece of Wedgwood.

The expert: Jody Wilkie, international specialist head of European ceramics at Christie’s, as well as a senior vice president and co-chairman of decorative arts.

Who was Josiah Wedgwood? He’s known for several different things. He’s a master potter, a master businessman, and arguably, the first person to do modern marketing for his works. He had a whole coterie of friends–artists and intellectuals–who traded ideas off each other. In the late 18th century, all things scientific were just having their birth, and potting was arguably a science. When Josiah Wedgwood made these [ceramics, he noted] the chemistry of how the clays reacted. He developed whole new materials that didn’t exist. And he would have been considered a cutting-edge contemporary artist.

So Josiah Wedgwood is the sort of person we could pluck from the 18th century and drop in the 21st, and he’d hit the ground running? Except he had a bad leg. [Josiah Wedgwood’s right leg was amputated below the knee due to complications from smallpox.]

He’d be all over Instagram today. Without question. There’s a story told about him and how he realized that marketing was the key to unlocking financial success in his business. In 18th century England, there was a huge industry in pottery, and particularly creamware, which was pale ivory-colored in imitation of porcelain. The middle classes couldn’t afford porcelain, so they had creamware. In 1759, Wedgwood had a showroom [in London], and Queen Charlotte came and bought a creamware tea service. Wedgwood decided his creamware could be called Queen’s ware. Everyone wanted to buy it because it was Queen’s ware.

Josiah Wedgwood understood the power of celebrity influencers. He recognized something like that could be helpful to him, so he did it. You could say he was the father of modern marketing.

Where was Josiah Wedgwood in his career in 1769, when he made this First Day’s Vase? He was ten years into his business and starting a new factory in England called Etruria, outside of Stoke-on-Trent, where the Wedgwood Museum is today. That whole area of England used to be one pottery after another. He decided to start a bigger enterprise, a modern factory.

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

Why did he call it a First Day’s Vase? The reason for the name is it was one of the first pots to come out of the brand new kiln. It’s known that he potted them, and his business partner, Thomas Bentley, turned the wheel.

Was it unusual for Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley to physically create the ceramics themselves in 1769? I think so. They did it because the First Day’s Vases were what they were. I don’t think Wedgwood was necessarily potting every day at the factory, but he was very much a hands-on owner. When doing tests to come up with new material, he would have been involved, for sure.

I understand that six First Day’s Vases went into the kiln, and four emerged. Are they all decorated identically, or do they differ? They’re basically identical. They definitely all have the same inscription on the back. The inscription is in Latin, and it translates as, “The arts of Etruria are reborn”.

Josiah Wedgwood was not aiming low. He definitely had a high opinion of himself. That’s why he got where he was.

Why did Josiah Wedgwood choose to decorate the First Day’s Vase in the manner that we see here? The whole point of the exercise was to copy Greek vases. At that point in the 18th century, Neoclassical art was in vogue. One of the great antiquities collectors was William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples. The shape of this vase was based on a piece in the William Hamilton collection, as is the decoration.

This Wedgwood First Day’s Vase and similar-looking Wedgwood pieces would have connected with the sorts of people who went on the Grand Tour? The 18th century was the height of the Grand Tour. They’d see the original, then go to a Wedgwood showroom and buy one just like it.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Wedgwood First Day’s Vase might have been to make? We know it posed challenges–six went into the kiln, and only four came out… Making any pottery, any vase, was a highly tricky enterprise because all the kilns were wood-fired. All kinds of physical problems could exist. Things would explode, things would crack. The reason they put six in was they were praying one or two would come out in a usable form. The fact that four came out–that’s a really good yield.

The Wedgwood First Day’s Vase measures 10 inches high. I know that the bigger a pot gets, the harder it is to see the design through to completion. Was Josiah Wedgwood pushing his luck by rendering the vase at this size? Ten inches, to my mind, is a doable size. It’s big enough to make a statement. The perfection of the First Day’s Vase is in its proportions and its shape. If it slumped to one side [in the kiln] or the curve of a shoulder wasn’t perfect, you’ve lost it.

Do we know where the other Wedgwood First Day’s Vases are? Yes. Two are at the Wedgwood Museum, and one is still in a private collection.

What is the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase like in person? My colleagues in London were the ones who really dealt with it and cataloged it. I came over for the sale. When I came over, I was surprised at how small it was. In my mind, it was such a big deal. In the photographs, it had presence. One of the beauties of black basalt [the type of Wedgwood ceramic used for the vase] is it has a wonderful silken surface, very smooth, and it has a light weight. Because of its shape, it fits in your hand very well. That’s the whole point of ceramics–they’re very tactile.

I’ve been told by people who have handled the full range of Wedgwood–pieces dating to the 18th century up to now–that the 18th century pieces feel different. Do you agree? I definitely agree. I’d say it’s lighter, and that silken surface… it draws you. If you touch it with your fingers, you can feel the difference. It’s the craftsmanship. There are techniques that were done in the 18th century that you can’t do now.

What, because of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-type rules coming in? There are an awful lot of techniques that are highly caustic and couldn’t be used today. But at a certain point in the 18th century, labor was dead cheap. The artist could take the time to develop his technique and make these things perfect. Later, labor became more expensive, and the objects have a more manufactured quality.

What condition was the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase in prior to the auction? A-maze-ing. It had two little tiny surface chips to the underside of the foot rim, and a tiny little nick at the mouth that could have been there when it was made. That’s it. No cracks, no wear, nothing. The finial was in one piece, but it had come off the surface of the cover and been stuck back on. In the general scheme of things, that’s nothing.

The provenance reflected in the lot notes show that the First Day’s Vase descended in the Wedgwood family for centuries. How might that have made it more interesting to collectors? It’s not that Wedgwood owned it and it hadn’t changed hands. That didn’t matter as much as it having stayed in one piece and having been taken care of. But it was the Wedgwood family that had it.

Was this the first of the Wedgwood First Day’s Vases to go to auction? It’s the only one to go to auction. The two in the Wedgwood Museum I don’t think ever left the factory, so, by default, they went into the museum. This one was owned by the Wedgwood family. The other, I understand, is with the family. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a buyer. It was very exciting. We went into it knowing it was sold. We didn’t know at what level it would sell.

Did you think it would set a new record for any piece of Wedgwood? No, no, I didn’t go into it thinking it would make a record price. Personally, I don’t care about records. [Laughs.] For me, it’s the object that speaks.

Well, isn’t it good and right that a First Day’s Vase, of all of Wedgwood’s many pieces, holds the world auction record? If anything is going to set the record for the manufacturer, the first piece made [at Etruria] should be it. As a footnote, on the last day of operations, Wedgwood did a modern version of the vase and called it the Last Day’s Vase. For collectors, having a Last Day’s vase is a big deal. It’s a landmark.

Do you remember how many bidders there were at the start of the battle for the First Day’s Vase, and how long it took to drop to two? As I recall, the whole thing, from start to finish, was six or seven minutes. It went back and forth a lot. Getting any bidding started on any major lot is a game of chicken. No one wants to be the first to open their mouth. It started slowly, which was no surprise.

Were you surprised by the final price? I was. I thought it would sell for around £250,000.

Were you shocked to see it get £482,500? It was a lot of money for the period, and a lot of money for English ceramics. It proves that when you’ve got something unique, an object out of the ordinary, of exquisite quality and an icon of the time in which it was made, it’s going to perform like that. That’s why we put it in an Exceptional Sale rather than a ceramics sale.

I had noticed that and was wondering about that. That particular object is a standout that would appeal to audiences beyond the field of Wedgwood ceramics. Museums and private collectors bid on it because it was what it was. When it was on view, it was in a single standing case, surrounded by silver and all kinds of grand objects. People who walked into the gallery were drawn to it.

How long do you think this world auction record for Wedgwood will stand? What could beat it? Would the other First Day’s Vase in private hands have to come to market? I think this record is going to stand for a while. It would take one of the other ones [being consigned], but I don’t know if it would make the same money. I think the odds of it being denied an export permit because the British want to keep it [in their country] is great. If it can’t leave the country, why bid on it?

Why will the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase stick in your memory? Because of the whole story behind the vase, and also because the man who bought it is a longtime client. He’s an extraordinary gentleman, and it’s all tied in. Being on the phone [representing the buyer] made it more personal than standing there, taking down prices.

Could you clarify what happened after the collector won the bidding? The original buyer of the First Day’s Vase was American. The museum that has it now was not the direct underbidder. Because of the system of [issuing] export papers in Britain, they were able to make a case and raise the money [to keep it in the country]. They felt it was taken away from its home and it needed to come back home. I advocated for my client to have it for his lifetime, and put in his will that it would go back to the museum, but that’s not the way it works. It was ultimately put back in the same case it had been in since 1979.

The winning bidder had a place for it in his house? He absolutely knew where it was going. I’m extremely disappointed that the collector never got to see it in person. He was 94 when he bought it. He never got to have it in his hands.

Is he still alive? He is still alive, and he’s that much older. If the piece came up now, in 2020, I don’t know if he would be bidding on it. I can’t say [for sure], obviously, but I do think there comes a tipping point.

But the First Day’s Vase remains the Holy Grail of Wedgwood collectors? It is the Holy Grail, as it were.

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RECORD! A Natee Utarit Painting Set a World Auction Record for the Artist at Phillips Hong Kong in November 2019

King, a monumental 2011 painting by Natee Utarit. It holds the world auction record for any work by the Southeast Asian artist.

What you see: King, a 2011 oil on linen by Natee Utarit. It set the world auction record for any work by the artist when Phillips Hong Kong sold it in November 2019 for HK $2.7 million (about $353,000) against an estimate of HK $1 million to $1.5 million ($128,000 to $192,000).

The expert: Sandy Ma, international specialist at Phillips.

Who is Natee Utarit? He’s a Thai artist who works in Bangkok. He’s been deemed one of the most significant and important artists in Southeast Asia right now. He’s known for his distinct style of painting and famously has a track record of works being exhibited in museums and institutions.

How prolific has Natee Utarit been? He’s been painting all through his life. He was born in 1970, and had his first show as early as 1990. As for a total [on output to date], I’m not sure, but on average, for the last year or two, he’s been doing as many as five to ten shows a year. He’s not only a painter. He sculpts and works in mixed media.

How often does Natee Utarit paint in the style we see in King? He’s primarily known for his figurative works. What really draws people in is not just the richness of the canvas and how beautiful it looks, but the complexity in the images as well. He puts in a lot of effort and thought in his works to talk about important socio-political issues.

Has he talked about what drew him to this style of still life painting, and why it suits his approach to creating art? Primarily, he uses his painterly style and traditional framing because he wants to lull the viewer into a false sense of familiarity. The subjects are painted from arrangements of figurines and found objects in his studio. He’s able to infuse a lot of messages into his work by using this language [the visual language of the still life]. I think it really does play to his idea of blurring reality and artifices in his work.

How does he do that? With scale and the juxtaposition of the objects he finds. One object is bigger than the other, making you think that the object is distorted.

He might show an object bigger than it would be in real life? Yes.

Does he make preparatory sketches? Usually there is a sketch. I’m sure he reworks and reworks the composition until it’s exactly how he wants.

King is an allegorical still life that references the life and legacy of the 19th century Thai King Rama IV.

King is big. It measures 78 and 3/4 inches by 125 and 7/8 inches. Does Natee Utarit normally work at this scale? He doesn’t always work this big. King is considered one of his very major works. It’s from the Illustration of the Crisis series, and this is already one of the largest paintings in the series. It’s from a trio of works called God, King, and Country.

Wait, so God, King, and Country are in turn part of a larger series by Natee Utarit, called the Illustration of the Crisis? It’s a series within a series? Yes. It’s a series of his major series. He started painting it around 2010 or 2011. People really love this particular series of works. It captures the turmoil in Thailand’s political landscape in the mid-2000s.

How does King compare to God and Country, the other two works in the trio? In terms of composition, this one has a lot more stage presence and a figurative approach where the other two are more abstract. God and Country are in private hands.

King Rama IV of Thailand shapes the narrative of King. Is this the only Natee Utarit work that explores his reign and its effect on the country? I’m not sure if it’s the only one, but it’s the only one I know of that addresses the story and the legacy of King Rama IV in such a prominent way. [The King ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868.]

Now I’m going to ask you to walk me through the composition of King. How has Natee Utarit loaded it with messages and meaning? The golden stature of the deity represents King Rama IV himself. The statue looks through a telescope at a scientific model of a dissected cow. Utarit’s talking about the legacy of King Rama IV, who was known as the father of science and technology–he’s immortalzing that part here. The model of the cow perches on top of scales, which supports the idea of King Rama IV’s reign as a proponent of knowledge and the rule of law. The fallen crown [a white object at the lower left, which overlaps the wheel] is a Western-type of crown. It alludes to the fact that Thailand was never colonized, which is a source of pride for Thai people. Utarit himself doesn’t go deep into the meanings of each part of his work. Part of the charm is he wants us to discover meanings on our own, ourselves.

Is that a golf club bag at the left? The deity is not facing the golf club bag. It almost looks like a cannon. The story of King Rama IV is he’s a proponent of knowledge, science, and technology rather than using cannons and military might to rule over the kingdom.

What does the white classical-looking statue represent? It’s a statue of the French enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire.

What does Voltaire represent here? He’s gesturing toward a book he wrote in his lifetime arguing for freedom of thought, civil liberty, religious tolerance, and a constitutional monarchy. It [the painting lets Utarit] talk about the story of Thailand through the lens of King Rama IV versus Western civilization, and he’s really in favor of the rule of law, constitutional monarchy, and freedom of thought.

When did the secondary market for Natee Utarit works begin? It started as early as the 1990s. It really has been over that many decades, and it’s been growing steadily. My recollection is that the previous auction record for Utarit was in 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong with a work from the Illustration of the Crisis series. Another record was set in 2015 at Christie’s Hong Kong.

Does the price fetched by King represent a large advance on the earlier records, or was the rise more steady? There’s a very steady progression of prices for Natee Utarit [represented by the records for his work], from $180,000 to $220,000 to $350,000.

What is King like in person? Are there any aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think the camera doesn’t get the scale of the work. It’s stunning in real life. The massive scale of the work is really prominent when you stand in front of it. It not only shows you how well Natee Utarit can paint–the surface is so bright and smooth–but it’s filled with the luminosity of the oil paint itself.

Are there any other things about King that a digital reproduction wouldn’t show? About the scale–there’s an interesting point. The painting is so heavy that we had to reinforce the wall it was hanging on. The frame is very heavy, and the whole is very heavy. It had to have eight art handlers to lift it at one time.

What was your role in the sale of King? I was in the room for the auction. I believe I was bidding on behalf of a client. The room was packed. Even before the auction, we knew King was going to be a huge success, because of how many people registered to bid on the work. I think there were around ten bidders on the work itself. Bidding went on for a while before the record was set. When it was, there was a huge sense of achievement and happiness that the work was being appreciated by so many people.

When did you know you had set a new world auction record for Natee Utarit? When the work came in for sale, we were quite sure it was going to be a record for Utarit. It was reinforced by the fact that before the sale, it toured to Singapore and Hong Kong for preview exhibitions, and there was a lot of interest in the work.

How long do you think the Natee Utarit record will last? My guess is… it would be possible [to set a new record] whenever a work from the Altarpiece series appears at auction, but that’s quite unlikely. They’re said to be in institutions.

Would it have to be King coming back to auction? The Illustration of the Crisis series is his most sought-after series. I think this is the best work of the three [from the God, King, and Country group]. It’s hard to say how long it will stand. It’s unlikely it’ll be toppled anytime soon, but you never know.

Why will this Natee Utarit painting stick in your memory? The first time I looked at this work in person, I knew it was going to be a huge hit at auction. It’s really one of the most major pieces to come to auction by the artist, and so many symbolisms and hidden meanings are within the work. We knew what a rare chance it was to represent the work and we knew going into the sale it would be a major success.

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RECORD! Stack’s Bowers Sells a 1794 Silver Dollar for $10 Million

The front of a 1794 "flowing hair" sliver dollar, so called because of the luxuriant locks on Liberty's head. The coin sold for just over $10 million in 2013, setting a world auction record for any coin.

What you see: A 1794 “Flowing Hair” silver dollar, described as a “unique superb gem specimen”. Stack’s Bowers auctioned it in January 2013 for just over $10 million and a world auction record for any coin. [Since writing this story, news broke that the coin would go to auction as part of the Bruce Morelan collection in Las Vegas in October 2020.]

The expert: Vicken Yegparian, vice president of numismatics at Stack’s Bowers.

What is the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar, and why is it considered one of the rarest and most valuable American coins? It’s America’s first silver dollar. It’s important for that one simple reason. It predates everything our currency stands for today.

How many 1794 flowing hair silver dollars are known to exist? Estimates range between 135 and 150. Undocumented ones still come out of the woodwork on occasion, but that’s the best guess on how many survive.

And how many 1794 flowing hair silver dollars are believed to have been produced? Records say 1,758 pieces were made.

How were they lost? Were they melted down? Actually, that’s a pretty good survival rate for coins from that era. People recognized what they were back then, and saved them.

And I take it it’s called the “flowing hair” silver dollar because the woman shown in profile on the coin has flowing hair? Exactly. If you look at designs for coins from the mid-1790s period, they show the personification of Liberty. They’re all patterned after the Libertas Americana medal in Paris at the Paris Mint. She has the same flowing locks, but with a liberty cap behind her.

Why was the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar created? What need did it meet? It was a necessary coin for the economy, and for the needs of civic coinage. It’s the product of money as a sovereign right. America was starting to flex its muscles, and what does a sovereign state do? Make its own money.

So issuing the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar was just as much about announcing America’s arrival as a country as creating money for its citizens to use? It was a tool for building our reputation? It’s all of that–making our mark in international waters, so to speak. Establishing a mint was one element of nation-building. When they [the U.S. Mint] started, they decided to start with the silver dollar, because the silver dollar was obviously bigger. It’s weightier and more impressive in the hand.

What would $1 in 1794 be worth in 2020 dollars? How much spending power did this coin represent when it was new? It was a very good amount of money. Talking in terms of inflation, it’s worth $25 today.

How much silver is in the 1794 silver dollar? Just over three-quarters of a troy ounce of silver, or .4735 ounces troy of silver, net.

And that’s important, because the government promised there’d be a specific minimum amount of silver in its silver dollars, yes? Exactly. The weight of coppers was stipulated within a certain range, but silver was much more stringent. The Mint was a fledgling, low-budget operation when it launched. It didn’t have the scientific standards we have today. Back then, if it made an underweight silver dollar, it’d scrap it. If it was over, it’d be filed down to the right weight. This coin had very few adjustment lines, but they’re common on all 1794 silver dollars and 1790s coinage.

The back side of the 1794 silver dollar features a spread-winged eagle. This particular example of the coveted coin sold for slightly more than $10 million in 2013, setting a world auction record for any coin.

How many 1794 silver dollars has Stack’s Bowers handled? Many of them. We’ve been in business since the 1930s. There’s a book documenting all known 1794 silver dollars. At least 75 in that book have passed through our doors–two-thirds of the known pieces traded through Stack’s Bowers or its predecessor.

This example is believed to be the first silver dollar ever struck in the United States. What evidence supports that claim? Before you strike a production run of coins, you test the example in a softer metal. The Smithsonian has a copper version. It’s in the same die state as this piece.

We should pause and explain how coins are physically produced… Stamps that make money are called dies. They’re heavy pieces of iron, with the design at one end. There’s one die on the top, and one on the bottom, with the metal between them. You activate the press and stamp the coin.

The lot notes say the coin shows “prooflike reflectivity in the fields”. What does that mean, and why is that important? Does it support the idea that it could be the first silver dollar ever struck in the United States? The overall surface quality has a prooflike appearance. That describes the reflectivity of the surfaces. It’s mirrorlike. That’s a quality of the die and its ability to impart that surface. That quality diminishes with each strike of the coin. This coin is very well-struck, very well-impressed. All the detail is fine and very visible.

So a coin with prooflike reflectivity is kind of like a print from an early state? That’s a good comparison, but coins are a little bit different. They go from a very reflective finish to a frosty and lustrous surface. Frosty and lustrous is not undesirable, just different.

What other clues support the notion that this 1794 silver dollar might have been the first to be struck? This coin was specially made from specially prepared dies. It didn’t go into a bag with other pieces. They [whoever struck the coin] might have wanted to present special coins to somebody. We don’t know who made it or who saved it, but someone put it aside, and someone saved it for it to have been in such perfect condition.

So we can say this 1794 silver dollar was among the earliest struck, for sure, but we can’t definitively prove it was the first? Today, each die has a serial number and we record the number of strikes. None of that existed in 1794. They had to jury-rig a press to make a coin this big. But we can say beyond a reasonable doubt it was among the first strikes, and among the first prepared. They polished the die to a glossy state so it would create a glass-smooth surface in the metal and impart a glass-smooth surface to it.

Do any other 1794 silver dollars come close to this one? Nothing. Nothing.

The 1794 silver dollar is described as being “Specimen-66”, as graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). What does that mean, and why is that important? That’s a very high grade for a U.S. coin. Anything remotely near it in silver dollars is huge. The scale is from one to 70. A grade of 67 is super-high. For this coin to be a 66 is a big deal. And it’s a big coin. It’s much easier to hurt a larger coin. If you drop a silver dollar on the ground, you can get a big dent in the edge. To have a 1794 silver dollar that’s so well-preserved and flaw-free relative to its peers… it’s a big deal.

The lot notes also describe it as a “unique superb gem specimen”. Could you break that phrase down and explain it? “Unique” means it’s the only specimen or specially struck 1794 silver dollar that we know of. “Superb” is an old term used in numismatics for over 100 years, from before numeric grading of coins. “Gem” is the best one on the tray. Calling it a “superb gem specimen” is gilding the lily.

What had to happen between 1794 and now for the coin to survive in such good condition? Someone had to forget about it and let it sit in a family collection for 200 years, or be really cautious in its handling. It’s a miracle that it’s survived this well. It’s indicative that it was specially made and specially saved.

Why didn’t Stack’s Bowers sell this 1794 silver dollar as a single lot in a stand-alone auction? It was part of a collection, so we kept it as such.

Have you seen this 1794 silver dollar or any other 1794 silver dollars out of their plastic capsules? By the time I saw it, it had been encapsulated for a while. I have held other 1794s, before they were certified. Getting a chance to hold it in its raw state is almost impossible. But even one that’s beat up and well-worn is very cool.

What estimate did Stack’s Bowers put on this 1794 silver dollar? We don’t provide printed estimates for most of our auctions, and we didn’t publish an estimate on the coin. Bidding started at $2.2 million and rose from there.

What was the previous world auction record for any coin prior to the 1794 silver dollar? It was $7.5 million, for a 1933 double eagle sold by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s in 2002.

What was your role in the auction of the 1794 silver dollar? I was on the phone with a client.

Was the winning bidder in the room? A representative of the winner was in the room, doing the actual bidding–Laura Sperber, on behalf of her client, Bruce Morelan. It’s still in his collection today. [Since taking this interview with Yegparian, PGCS announced that Morelan will auction his collection, including the record-setting 1794 silver dollar, in October 2020 in Las Vegas.]

The 1794 silver dollar sold for just over $10 million. Were you surprised? I was super surprised. There were no previous comparables [similar lots offered previously at auction] that would say the coin would bring $10 million that day. The closest was the 1933 gold piece.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? The minute the hammer fell. I think everyone was gobsmacked when the number was presented. We all knew the record for the 1933 double eagle. To get to $10 million–that’s faraway an obvious record. No one thought it would happen. I think the bidders kept their cards close to their chests. I don’t think a new record was a glimmer in anyone’s eye.

This coin was the first to cross the $10 million threshold at auction. Could you talk about what that meant to the world of coin-collecting? It seems that coins are like books, in that sales records go back fairly far. I recall reading that a coin crossed the $1,000 auction threshold in the 19th century… It was huge. I don’t know when the $10,000 sale happened, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that one hit $100,000. It took another 20 years to pass $1 million. Twenty years after that, one hit $10 million. I don’t think we’ll cross $100 million any time soon. The next realistic threshold will be $20 million. Many “greats” can be attributed to this coin. This one could break its own record.

How long do you think this record will stand? I don’t think it will fall tomorrow, but I hope it doesn’t take 30 years. I hope the record will break in the near term.

Why would it be better for this coin or one like it to come to auction relatively soon? Sometimes, you need a coin to trade to get it into peoples’ consciousness. If it goes away for 50 years, people might forget about it or think they aren’t able to own it. This coin last sold in 1984, and it brought $250,000, or thereabouts. In 30 years, it’s gone from $250,000 to $10 million.

To what do you credit the rise in price? Is demand higher? There are more well-heeled collectors in numismatics. Liquidity in the market plays into the desire to own those things. With the stay-at-home orders [the shelter-in-place recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic], collectors might have extra time to put into hobbies.

What else could meet or beat it? Is it pretty much this coin or an 1804 silver dollar? Exactly. This coin, or an 1804 silver dollar. That’s where story and value meet. Another coin we talked about [that could do it] is the pattern coin for the $20 gold piece.

What’s a pattern coin? An artist or a sculptor might put out a design for a coin. The iterations don’t always survive in any form, never mind the coin. For 1907 [the year in which Augustus Saint-Gaudens died, after creating but not finalizing designs for an eagle and a double eagle coin] there’s one iteration of an individual head design that was used on the $10 coin [the single eagle]. It definitely hasn’t traded in recent decades at auction. A coin like that would have all the factors that would produce a price above $10 million.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? If it were a common coin from that era, of this quality, it’d be memorable. It’s a special coin in many regards, and it was a crowning moment in my career. It’s just superior.

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RECORD! A Beatles Shea Stadium Poster Sets the World Auction Record for Any Original Concert Poster

A 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster--one of a handful of surviving originals--set a world auction record for any concert poster at Heritage Auctions in April 2020.

What you see: An original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster. It sold at Heritage Auctions in April 2020 for $137,500 and a new world auction record for an original concert poster.

The expert: Pete Howard, consignment director at Heritage Auctions for entertainment and music.

How often do you find original 1960s posters for Beatles concerts of any kind, not just the Shea Stadium one? It’s very unusual. There’s not a lot out there. I’m not going to say [genuine originals] are nonexistent, but when somebody calls me and tells me they have an old Beatles poster, I get bored pretty quick. It’s always some bootleg.

Do Beatles concert posters survive in larger numbers than concert posters that feature their contemporaries? Were concert-goers more likely to peel one off the wall and bring it home because it showed the Beatles? Surprisingly, and almost shockingly, that’s not the case. Beatles and Elvis posters are as rare as posters for Paul Revere and the Raiders. No one got the coolness of original Beatles posters then. No collectibles market was established at all.

So concert-goers were rarely moved to spontaneously grab a poster during or after the show? Yes. In the case of the Winter Dance Party poster, a person walking by saw it and took it down. Most of the time, they’d walk by. The show was over. Nobody said, “Gee, this will be worth money to somebody.” Nobody. Zero.

I have to say, the Beatles poster itself is not very interesting-looking. The band photo looks like it was shot in 1962–But that’s totally how the Beatles looked in 1966. Their current publicity photos from 1962 to 1966 would look the same. 1967 is when the sideburns happen. When they were touring, it was mop tops and suits and ties.

Still, it looks like whoever did it put five minutes of work into designing this thing. I can’t rubber stamp the five-minutes comment. They put a little work into it. They were following a template: Promoter, name of band, photo, venue, date, when tickets were available. It was boilerplate. The only creative thing in the format is the letters of the word “Beatles” are tilted a little bit to make it look more fun.

And I understand that some time after the show, the promoter started selling reprints of this Beatles concert poster? Sid Bernstein promoted the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966. In 1965, he didn’t make a collectible or worthwhile poster. The concert sold out instantly, so there was no need. In 1966, the Beatles didn’t sell out, so he made this poster. I can’t date when Bernstein did reproductions, but he did not pass them off as real. Plenty did some without his permission. Bootlegs are out there by the millions.

Before we spoke, I received a flyer from Heritage Auctions in the mail that showed this record-setting Beatles concert poster and a Grateful Dead “Skeleton & Roses” poster from 1966, which sold for $118,750. No disrespect to the Beatles poster, but the Grateful Dead poster… some designer lavished some time on it. They’re very different. Both are from the same year, and both were created for one reason only–to sell tickets. But the Grateful Dead design is a completely different concept and ethos, and there are different reasons to collect each poster. The Beatles poster is a rarity. The Grateful Dead poster was condition grade 9.8, which made it expensive. There are hundreds of first printings of the Grateful Dead poster out there. For the Beatles poster, there’s four. There are probably as many 9.8 grade Grateful Dead posters as there are Beatles [Shea Stadium] posters in any condition. That’s why they soared past $100,000.

As you just said, few copies of the original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster survive. Is it possible to know how many were printed? A couple hundred is a good guess.

What’s the provenance of this Beatles concert poster? We don’t know whether the consigner went to the 1966 show together with his sister or if he went alone, but he saw the Beatles in Shea Stadium in the 1960s. Whether she went or not, she took down the poster. Fifty years went by. The sister passed away. He went through her stuff and found the poster. It wasn’t a new revelation. She’d hung it on her wall at home.

In November 2019, Heritage Auctions sold a different example of this poster for $125,000. Six months later, the record broke again. Could you discuss whether and how the two events were related? I get the impression the April poster might not have come out if the November poster hadn’t done so well. It’s not a coincidence at all. It shows you how strong and coveted the poster is.

The Beatles concert poster had a rating of Very Good Plus. What does that mean in this context? The image area is undamaged, and the poster is whole. There are minor folds or tack holes, but no major tears.

The Beatles concert poster advertises a show at Shea Stadium. Does the venue matter, or is it just gravy? It’s more than gravy. Shea Stadium is an iconic venue and it’s a huge part of Beatles history. It was considered the biggest rock concert in history at the time. If the poster said “Forest Hills Stadium, New York,” I’d expect it to go for a lot less.

What other Beatles concert posters are made more interesting to collectors because of the venue name? In America, nothing touches Shea Stadium. It’s the iconic venue, and it’s New York City. A German Beatles concert poster could hit six figures at auction. The right Cavern Club poster–where they honed their skills–could reach this [record sum].

Do any genuine Beatles Cavern Club posters survive? It’s iffy. There’s a “June 11, Beatles” poster in marquee style, which doesn’t have a band picture. There might be two or three that survive. But the rarity’s there, and the venue is there. It could challenge a Shea Stadium poster. A German one that would blow right by it is the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg. The Beatles played there for a couple of months. There are only three handpainted Beatles signs, but they’re still posters.

What is the 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster like in person? It’s on cardboard, but it shows its age. One has to be careful in how they handle it.

What was your role in the April 2020 auction? Were you the auctioneer? No. Usually, I’m at the front of the podium, but it was the first coronavirus sale. I had to watch it from my computer, like everyone else did.

Did that make the auction of the Beatles concert poster less dramatic? I don’t think so. It was quite exciting to see it go up and up. I was completely on the edge of my seat, just dying.

When did you know you had a new world auction record for a Beatles concert poster? As soon as the hammer hit.

Were you surprised that the Beatles concert poster sold for $137,500? No, because it’s a great poster and it [the record sum] was very close to the last one we sold. We did have the 2004 result to measure things against. November 2019 was just short of that, and April 2020 was just beyond that.

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat the Beatles concert poster? I’d venture to say between 10 or 20 different posters could set a new world auction record. In the psychedelic poster world, a super-iconic Jimi Hendrix flying eyeball, if it came up in a high grade–9.8, 9.9, or 10.0–it wouldn’t surprise me if it beat the record. A large Elvis Presley from the 1950s with a picture on it–that wouldn’t surprise me. A Grateful Dead Skeleton and Roses poster, the next 9.8 grade could blow by a Beatles Shea Stadium and set a new world auction record.

Why will this Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster stick in your memory? Anything that sets a world auction record is going to completely stick in my memory. It’s bragging rights for the company, and it’s wonderful for the hobby. And it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is another reason it’s memorable.

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RECORD! Pelé’s 1970 World Cup Winner’s Medal Commanded More Than $400,000

The front of the World Cup winner's medal awarded to Pelé in 1970. It sold for more than $400,000 in 2016, setting records for any Pelé item and any football or soccer medal.

What you see: The 1970 World Cup winner’s medal awarded to Pelé. Estimated at £70,000 to £140,000 ($86,400 to $172,800), it sold for £346,000 ($427,100) at a Julien’s Auctions sale in London in 2016. It’s the most expensive Pelé item sold at auction, as well as the most expensive football (aka soccer) medal ever auctioned.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

Who is Pelé, and why is he important? He’s regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time. He won three World Cups. He’s from Brazil, and he’s a humanitarian–he’s done a fantastic amount of work for charity. In 1999, he was named the athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee, and FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) named him Player of the Century. (Pelé shared the honor with Diego Maradona.)

Ah. So he’s kind of a big deal. A huge deal. When it comes to stars, he’s an absolute superstar.

Pelé’s birth name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how you get “Pelé” from that. How did he get that name? And what does it mean? He was born into poor circumstances in Brazil to a family of Portuguese origin. He was named after Thomas Edison, but it was misspelled as Edson. When he went to school, his favorite player was someone by the name of Bilé, but he mispronounced it as Pelé. The more he protested, the more it stuck. He became known as Pelé, and we know him as Pelé. In Portuguese, there’s no translation for “Pelé”.

Now, this 1970 World Cup winner’s medal–everyone on the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team received it, yes? It’s not the equivalent of a most valuable player award? Absolutely. Everyone who won got the medal.

Pelé won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970. Julien’s offered all three over the course of a three-day auction of Pelé’s personal collection in 2016, and this medal sold for the largest sum. Why? What makes the 1970 medal more valuable than the other two? Winning three World Cups is unusual and rare. No one else has done it to this day. It’s such a massive achievement.

Could you talk about what an absolute physical feat it is to win three World Cups? I see that Pelé was not quite 18 at the start of the tournament in 1958, and 22 in 1962, and 30 in 1970, which had to help, but still… when I watch a top-level soccer match, I’m always struck by how much running the players do. There’s a lot of running, and the game is played all with the feet, no hands. It’s the running, and the skill with moving the ball and passing the ball and moving the ball into the net–it’s a huge physical demand, and the World Cup is typically played in hot weather. Think about the huge demands on your body and your fitness level. And the speed you need to have is exceptional. Playing for 12 years at the international level is a phenomenal achievement. To win in 1958 and 1962 and still play in 1970–it speaks to the magnitude of Pelé as a person and an athlete.

While other players have won two World Cups, Pelé stands alone as the only three-time winner 50 years after he accomplished that feat. What does that say about how the game of football has changed over time? Is it pretty much impossible for a player to win three World Cups now? I think it’s changed and become more technical than the free-flowing play during his era. I won’t say it’s impossible, but football has become more technical than skillful.

When you say “technical,” do you mean it’s become more about knowing the rules over playing the game? Exactly. And there’s the technology available to us today, the competitors’ knowledge of how you play the game before you’re on the field.

You mean the ability to review tapes of previous games and study how rival teams play? Yes. That wasn’t applicable to Pelé.

Do you think Pelé will always stand alone as the sole three-time winner of the World Cup? To win it three times is so phenomenal for a player… there’s nothing to say no one can ever do it again, but so many things have to line up. There has to be luck involved as well as stamina and skill. It would be phenomenal to see it happen, but I think Pelé’s title is safe for another few years.

The reverse side of the World Cup winner's medal that was awarded to Pelé in 1970. It represents his third World Cup win, and 50 years later, he's still the only player, male or female, to propel the winning team to victory three times.

You had three Pelé World Cup winner’s medals to offer in the 2016 sale. What strategy did you use when scheduling them? Did you offer one on each day of the three-day auction, with the 1970 medal going up last? There was a lot of debate about that within our group at Julien’s. It was a three-day auction, six auction sessions, two each day. We worked closely with Pelé. He put his heart and soul into the project. He was inclined to sell the medals in one lot. I think he hoped to keep them together. In the end, we decided it was fairest to do one each day, in chronological order. That’s how it ended up. The three medals went to three different buyers.

Does the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal have inherent value? I see that it’s gold-colored, but I don’t see any information about a carat weight. Intrinsically, not really, but we didn’t focus on the intrinsic value of the medal itself. It represents a fantastic achievement by Pelé. That’s where the value was and is. It was his third World Cup win, and he scored the opening goal in the 18th minute of the game. That’s the story, that’s the history, that’s the value. That’s what we were selling.

What is the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t capture? If you looked at it, you’d be underwhelmed by it. You’d walk past it and it wouldn’t get your attention. But if you put a picture of Pelé with it, it’s game over. It’s so incredibly light and thin, and yet it represents so many years of hard work, grit, perseverance, and stamina. For me, personally, holding it gave me chills.

I see that the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal has a ring at the top, so it could be worn on a ribbon or a chain. Did Pelé ever wear this medal after he won it? He probably wore it on special occasions, but he was the most humble, non-egotistical gentleman I’ve ever worked with. I’m a fan of Pelé. I work with celebrities all the time. To see someone who’s achieved so much be so down-to-earth and normal and take an interest in how you were as a person… working with him was an honor.

He didn’t flaunt it. Exactly. Of course he was proud of his achievements for his country, but on a personal level, it was not something he would flaunt.

How did people react in the lead-up to the Pelé auction? It was phenomenal. Even people who weren’t bidding in the auction were curious and came to the exhibit. Pelé was so unselfish with his time. We had two parties, one for VIPs and one for the public. He attended both. Everybody who wanted a photo with him, he took a photo with them.

Pelé has seven kids, so it makes sense for him to consign his collection to auction rather than try to decide who should get what. I imagine it wasn’t easy for him to sell, though. How did he react to the auction? Sad as it was, it was cathartic, it was liberating. He had been caring for and insuring the items. Now they’re all over the world, safe, and being enjoyed, appreciated, and celebrated. Pelé loves the auction catalog, and that’s a historical book–his collection is all documented now. He can look to the catalog to see what he achieved, and know the items are loved and will be appreciated for many years to come, and there will be no family fights.

Was the group of bidders that participated in the Pelé auction more international than that of other Julien’s auctions? Yes, definitely. South Americans were hugely involved, Europe was involved. The Middle East was buying, and North America, of course–a tremendously international auction.

What do you recall of the Pelé auction? We made it a fun event. On the first day, the Julien’s Auctions team all wore black shirts. On the second, we wore green shirts, and on the third, yellow shirts. [The shirt colors reflected the colors of each of the three volumes of the auction catalog.] For me, it was one of my all-time favorite auctions we’ve ever done.

What was your role in the Pelé auction? I was on the phone with a client who was bidding in the auction. We had two different auctioneers who would rotate. My days were busy. We brought a lot of staff from Los Angeles. It was such a big project, we needed all hands on deck. And my family are such big fans of Pelé, it became like a family event as well.

What do you remember about the sale of this particular lot–the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal? There was a lot of tension beforehand. You could feel it as we got closer to the lot. It was all building up to a crescendo, a frenzy. The two who got the other two medals bid, but it ultimately went to an individual in the U.K.

The Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal ultimately sold for more than $427,000. Did that surprise you? Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. It was estimated at £70,000 to £140,000–that’s a big-ticket item. I hoped we could meet that amount. To have it sell for more than three times the estimate was exciting. It’s almost half a million for something you can almost fit in your hand. If you close your fist around it, you can’t see it. It adds to the story of Pelé and brings it to life.

Was Pelé in the room during the auction? There’s a certain amount of emotion involved in letting a collection go. We encouraged him to watch it online.

What was Pelé’s reaction to the news of how his 1970 World Cup winner’s medal did? He was very pleasantly surprised. I recall at the time that we thought all three medals would sell for half a million. This, alone, sold for almost half a million. He was so happy with the result.

The Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal set a world auction record for a Pelé item and a record for any football or soccer medal. How long do you think those records will stand? Would this medal have to come back to auction? Or maybe something from the 1966 World Cup could beat it? Some of those medals could. A U.K. player sold one of his [1966 World Cup] medals, but it was nothing close to this piece. If the Pelé medal came back again, it would set a new record, yes. In 2016, we were close to an election about Brexit, and unsure about spending money. There were 1,600 items in the auction. For one person, that’s a lot. Now there’s so little Pelé material out there. If it came back, the focus would be on this medal, and it would set a new record.