RECORD! President Kennedy’s Air Force One Bomber Jacket Sells in 2013 at John McInnis Auctioneers

An Air Force One brown leather bomber jacket worn by President John F. Kennedy, shown in full.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A brown Air Force One bomber jacket, size 44, which President John F. Kennedy gave to Dave Powers circa 1962. Estimated at $20,000 to $40,000, it sold at John McInnis Auctioneers in February 2013 for $655,500, a record for a presidential Air Force One bomber jacket.

The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.

Who was David Powers, and what was his connection to John F. Kennedy? It started in 1946, when Kennedy was running for Congress. He needed to be a real player in the Charlestown area near Boston, and he was told by people in the know he had to befriend Dave Powers. He was the one who could really affect the local community. Kennedy knocked on his door, and brought him to a Gold Star Mother event. It was a really emotional meeting. Powers was blown away by his words, his actions, and how the audience took to him. He worked in the West Wing as a special assistant, and he remained a friend and confidant until the end. When things were tense in the White House, if people saw the president with Powers, they knew things were going to be OK.

How did John McInnis Auctioneers win the opportunity to auction Powers’s personal collection? We got a call from a person in Massachusetts who had things related to President Kennedy, and would we like to take a look? It was Powers’s son, who was in contact with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, all the big players. Someone recommended he contact us. We gave our presentation after we looked over the things. They chose us because of our desire, our ability, and our personal touch. They wanted to keep it [the sale] in Massachusetts, and the others only wanted to pick and choose. We had 750 lots, with literally thousands of objects [overall]. We were able to give [the collection] the honor it deserved.

How did President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket come to Powers? Did the president give it to him? The president had, I forget how many. It was an odd number of bomber jackets he had. Some he never wore, and gave to people. We believe he gave him this jacket in 1962. That’s how Dave got it. That’s how Dave got everything. He was the first creator of the JFK Library, and he gave thousands and thousands of objects to it. These [the collection McInnis sold] were the personal things he kept–things Dave had in drawers and files, a whole treasure trove. They [the family] didn’t understand what they had.

Did Powers wear it? I think he wore it on occasion. There’s a family story that when Powers passed away, his son hung it in the closet. He knew it was a special jacket, but he didn’t think of it in terms of dollars. It had been hanging there maybe a year or so, or two years. Then one of his [the son’s] kids was going away on an overseas trip, and was told, “You need a jacket to keep you warm at night.” The dad saw the jacket sticking out of the kid’s duffel bag and said, “Whoa, whoa, that’s JFK’s jacket.” If he hadn’t noticed that, it could have ended up lost and gone overseas. The kid just thought, “Oh, this will work, it’s leather.” He didn’t think about it, he didn’t understand. $655,000 later… [laughs] It was a good find for dad to see it sticking out of the bag.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $40,000? If you look at the estimates in the catalog, we tried to make things attainable. It was an unreserved sale across the board. It [the estimate] made people understand this is real, it’s going to be sold, and it’s going to sell for what it sells for. If we put the highest price on it, people would lose interest right away. If it felt attainable, they might get hooked, and maybe it would continue to go higher. That happened. I can tell you the person that won didn’t know what they would pay for it.

What condition was President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket in? It was in worn condition, but very good. There was a tiny hole in the stretchy material at the bottom of the jacket, but it wasn’t abused or anything like that. Dave didn’t wear it as an everyday jacket.

Do we know where the other JFK-era Air Force One bomber jackets are? JFK gave one to Peter Lawford, which sold for $14,000. I don’t know where that one is. There’s one at the JFK library. Bobby Kennedy had one, but Ethel Kennedy didn’t know where [it ended up].

Did you try it on? [Laughs] Yes. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that.

What is President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket like in person? I think the most amazing thing for me about the jacket–I don’t want to say I was jaded. I saw all the personal things [Powers kept from his relationship with JFK] and got a sense of what it was all about, but during the previews [for the auction], we had two television camera crews come from Russia. JFK was so well-known to them because of Castro and Cuba. They were dying for the jacket. It brought him to life.

This jacket is actually connected to two presidents. Ronald Reagan asked to borrow it from Powers, and he agreed. How might that have affected its value? That was kind of an unknown. Ronald Reagan wrote Dave Powers a nice letter. He wanted it for his museum. Powers was kind enough to let it out. He only loaned it to President Reagan. [Reagan’s thank-you note to Powers was part of the lot.] When you can see another president enamored of the jacket, it’s just incredible, just incredible.

What was your role in the auction? I’m the gallery director here. I do behind-the-scenes stuff. John McInnis is the auctioneer. We believe the Powers auction broke the record for a continuous live auction of antiques. We began at 11 am on Sunday, February 17, 2013, President’s Day weekend, and it went around the clock, ending with lot 732 at 5:31 in the morning [on Monday, February 18, 2013]. We stood right there without a break. It took forever to sell stuff. All the major television stations came. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people wanted to participate.

When did the jacket come up? After 8 pm.

And bidding lasted 17 minutes? It was 17 or 17 1/2 minutes. It’s a huge amount of time. It’s an eternity. There were people online, people in the audience, and at least eight phone lines, if not ten, for the jacket alone.

Physically, how were you all doing at that point, having auctioned for eight straight hours and gotten to lot 327 of 723? I worked until 3 am before the auction. I was back here by six. I got a half-hour of sleep, but I couldn’t sleep anyway. It was unbelievable. I was handling all facets of the press, all the questions from bidders, and I was trying to keep the place looking good. At the time, I was drinking Rock Stars and Monsters [energy drinks] to keep me going. I was a zombie afterward. The auction ended at 5:30 am and I didn’t get home until 8:30. I had to bring the jacket home with me [laughs], because I had insurance. Physically, I was… so much adrenalin was going through me. It was kind of a high, I guess. It was so exciting–no lulls. People would come and go, watch it online, and come back again. I knew when something big was coming up because the hall would fill up again.

Did you physically bring out the jacket, or did you show a photo behind John McInnis as bidding started? We had it in a glass case behind the podium. Just prior to the sale, three or four lots ahead, we took it out so people could take pictures of it. We laid it on Dave Powers’s desk from the West Wing.

An Air Force One brown leather bomber jacket worn by President John F. Kennedy, shown in full.

What do you remember of the sale of President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket? The hall started to fill back up again. Don’t forget, there was a snowstorm, and it was getting late. I realized it was coming up. We didn’t know we were going to sell it for that kind of money. Personally, I thought it would sell for $75,000. I never thought it would go over half a million.

So you were surprised at the final figure? I was surprised, but I wasn’t. It had so much activity on it, [I realized] it could do $150,000 or $200,000. The beauty of the auction is the public determines the value of the object that day. On that particular day, that was what the public decided.

Did the snowstorm have any effect on the bidding? It had an effect on the crowd. [The sale room could hold about 450 attendees.] A lot of people couldn’t get here. I tried not to think about it. I had enough to worry about. But it didn’t have an effect on prices. It had an effect on the crowd being there in person, rather than online. That [the Internet option] made it much easier for them to bid without the stress of worrying about getting into an accident.

Did any members of the Powers family attend the sale? We don’t recommend [consigners] come to the auction. We had a private preview for the family, so they had their own time to shed their emotions. One of Powers’s grandchildren was having her Broadway debut in New York City that night. After 8:15 or 8:30, I got off the podium, went over, and left a message [with a family member]: “I wanted you to know what it just sold for.” Within two minutes, my phone was beeping. “I want to make sure I’ve got this right–WHAT did you say it sold for?” Prices were extremely strong across the board–10 times, 20 times, 30 times the estimates. It was incredible.

Did you have any notion that the auction would last as long as it did? No! No! Another auctioneer we’ve known forever texted me probably one hour in, “Do you realize, at the pace you’re going, it’s not going to end until 4 am?” [I texted back,] “I don’t care what it takes, so be it.” When you see the other end of it–the prices rise and rise and rise–it’s very exciting. It doesn’t happen often. It was a lot of fun. We run auctions of 700 or 800 lots in a day. We can usually do 60 to 75 lots an hour. We thought we’d be done by eight or nine at night. We could never have anticipated going for 30-something hours. [We thought,] “Eh, we can do it all in a day. We’ve done it a million times.” We never anticipated going through the night. We felt in full confidence we’d get through and be done by 9 pm.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It was the most valuable thing to sell at the auction, by far, and the only item in the sale that brought over $100,000. But honestly, a few other things in the sale had a bigger impact on me. There’s the book Jackie Kennedy signed to Powers [after the assassination, saying] “You and I will miss him most.” There’s the typewritten schedule for November 21 and 22, 1963. Dave had annotated the whole, entire schedule. When the murder happened, Powers was the guy who brought him to the hospital. He was in a Secret Service car behind the president. He was there through the whole thing. He was his most loyal person. It was a true bromance. He never had a better friend.

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John McInnis Auctioneers is on Twitter.

Film of the 2013 auction does not appear to be online, but you can hear Meader discuss the sale in an episode of the Antique Auction Forum podcast that is up on YouTube. A photo of Meader with the jacket appears at the 1:15 mark.

Meader is at work on a Columbus Day 2019 auction of presidential material at John McInnis Auctioneers. Check the website or follow the house on Twitter for more information as the fall approaches.

Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.

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RECORD! An Isamu Noguchi Dining Table Sold for $1.6 Million

A unique pink marble dining room table designed by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. and Mrs. Milton Greene.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A unique dining room table designed circa 1948 or 1949 by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. and Mrs. Milton Greene. Wright sold it in June 2018 for $1.6 million against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million, a record for a Noguchi dining table.

The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house.

How often did Noguchi accept commissions? He did do commissioned works. He did a relatively small amount of commissioned furniture. Definitely less than ten.

How unusual is it to have a commissioned Noguchi piece as well-documented as this one? [Milton Greene, who commissioned it, recorded the design and creation of the table and two other furnishings in a series of photos that are shown within the lot listing.] It’s pretty exceptional [laughs]. It’s not unusual to have documentation, but it’s unusual that it’s so prolific. Because it was commissioned by a photographer, we were able to find wonderful photo documentation. We have photos of Noguchi planning the installation, and on the installation day, reshaping the leg of a sofa.

Greene also commissioned what came to be called the Cloud sofa and Cloud ottoman from Noguchi. Were the three meant as a suite of furniture, or did they happen to be commissioned around the same time? The sofa and the ottoman were conceived together. Those elements directly relate. The dining table is unrelated, but aesthetically, it’s his work. They’re sympathetic to each other, but they’re not really designed for each other. [The sofa and ottoman went to auction at some point, but their whereabouts are unknown.]

The lot notes say, ‘in a letter, Noguchi wrote that Greene gave him a Leica camera in exchange for the designing of some furniture for him.’ Was that camera the extent of the payment that Noguchi accepted for the creation of the Cloud pieces and this table? It appears to be. That’s the only documentation we have. Financial records are not available. I don’t know if he gave him cash for the production. Leica cameras are not inexpensive, but they certainly haven’t appreciated in the same way [laughs].

How often did Noguchi use pink Georgia marble? He did a very famous sculpture that’s in the Met in the same stone. It’s in his vocabulary, especially at this time. There was something he liked about the expression of the marble–the color spoke to him. It was not widely used, but he used it before on a major sculpture.

What characteristics mark this as a Noguchi? First of all, the overall form of it–the three legs, the ovoid shape of the top, the sunken planter–but it’s really the overall shape and form of the table that identifies it as a Noguchi.

Is this table the first time he uses a hole or a depression in a piece of furniture? It’s a little hard to know for sure. His formal sculptures have voids. They became present in his sculpture before they were in his designed works. At the same time [as he was creating this table], he was developing a coffee table for Herman Miller that looks a bit like the dining table shrunk down. The bowl [the aluminum bowl in the center] is clever. You rotate it to lock it into place. You do it from under the table–seamless integration into the void. It was designed for flower arrangements in the Japanese tradition. It adds a tension point and a visual focus to the table.

The table’s legs do not match. Is that unusual for a Noguchi furnishing? It’s pretty unusual that all three are different–it may be the only time. It’s like he was thinking out the design as he was making it. If it was in production, he may not have articulated the legs individually.

How do the legs add to the appearance of the Isamu Noguchi dining table? It makes it visually light. It’s not a light table, but it adds visual dynamism and visual lightness that comes from having three legs versus four.

And how does the asymmetry of the top and the asymmetry in the placement of the legs of the Isamu Noguchi dining table add to its appeal? The subtle shape of the top versus the legs versus the void placement creates a composition I find dynamic and pleasing. That’s the artistry of it.

The Isamu Noguchi dining table stands 26 inches high, which is lower than most people would expect. Does that make it hard to use? It does. It requires you to use chairs that have a low seat. Standard height chairs make the table feel low. A standard height table is 29 inches. The consigner lived with this his whole life. He wasn’t six foot four, he was an average height. He never had an issue, never thought twice about the height of it. If the table was closer to a standard height, it might have had broader appeal, but it did just fine as it was.

A 1954 photograph included with the lot shows the table set and with three chairs around it. Did it come with chairs? They are Eames chairs, and that particular Eames design has a pretty low seat. Whether they were designed for the table or paired up with it, I don’t know.

How many people can the table seat? Comfortably, six. When we looked at it in the original house, five sat around it and had coffee and we could have had one more.

Has it been restored? No. It’s really in completely original condition, which is fantastic.

Is it heavy? Yup, it’s heavy. I don’t know its actual weight, but it’s probably 500 pounds. Not insignificant. It [the tabletop] is a serious piece of marble, and a single piece of marble.

Does it show signs of wear? Sure. It had a very nice patina. It’s hard to how polished the stone had been originally. There are small chips around the edge, and no significant stains. The surface had become very matte. The legs had nicks, vacuum cleaner marks. But it had been carefully used for 50 years. The presence of the patina, the feel of it is very organic, very honest.

What is the Isamu Noguchi dining table like in person? It has a real presence. It feels bigger in person. It has some qualities about it that are very hard to translate photographically, but I think [the lot photos] did a pretty good job.

What was your role in the auction? What do you remember of the sale? I was the auctioneer. We had multiple bidders. For us, it was a lot of money. As an auctioneer, it’s not often that I say “One million.” I had to practice my increments before, it was such a big dollar amount.

When did you know you had a record for an Isamu Noguchi dining table? I had a pretty good sense by the time we got over the lower estimate [$1 million]. By selling it, we set a record. It was pretty nerve-wracking. It would have been fine to sell it for $1 million but it was better to sell it for $1.4 million. It better reflected the importance and worth of the table. We worked very hard to present it and tell its full story. To sell it well is gratifying. A lot of thought and care went into this. It’s fun when it all works out.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s just going to always be one of the most special pieces I’ll ever handle. There are very few pieces that you come across and say, “Wow, that’s really special.” This checks all the boxes.

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Wright is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Wright.

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A Magician Automaton from Sleuth Could Sell for $60,000

A circa 1925-1930 magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It stands 56 1/2 inches tall and performs eight movements.

What you see: A circa 1925-1930 magician automaton built in Paris that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It stands 56 1/2 inches tall and performs seven movements. Potter & Potter estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

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

I wanted to start by asking why so many automata have a magic theme. How much overlap is there between magic trick designers and designers of automata? Why do automata fit well within the realm of performative magic? I guess I’d say because by nature, they’re magical objects, so they lend themselves to performing magic tricks. How they work, why they work–it’s all a wonder-making proposition. Magic and automata have kind of gone hand in hand for centuries.

What, if anything, do we know about why this automaton was made? Also, who might have purchased or commissioned this piece—what sort of person was likeliest to buy something like this when it was new? I don’t have the name in front of me, but he [the person who ordered it] had a number of commissions from JAF [the Parisian company believed to have built this automaton]. He wanted something special. It’s larger than many others out there. I think he was interested in automata. I don’t think he was a magician at all.

Is it reasonable to assume that this automaton was a custom commission, given its size and the number of movements it performs? Or are automata generally created as one-offs? There are catalogs of automata going back over a century. In the sale, we have a peacock that walks around, spreads its feathers, and keeps walking. In the Roullet & Decamps catalog, it was offered in three different sizes. That doesn’t mean there was a storage room that had 500 of each [size] sitting on the shelves. [The catalog said], ‘Here’s what we can do for you.’ They’d build them as they got orders, or they’d build six and when they ran out, they’d build six more.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown in full and in profile.

But would this magician automaton have been custom made, judging by its size and the number of movements it performs? I don’t think the movements point to that, but the size and the finish point to it being a custom commission. There are automata that are similarly complex or a lot more complex. It’s large and finely finished. I’m sure it was built to the specifications of the customer.

Why might someone have commissioned a large automaton such as this one? I believe this was for a private collector, but many were meant to be in shop windows, something to attract attention. It was a business expense, but it was an employee who required no salary. Hopefully people in the pre-television era would stop and be fascinated by what they saw.

How do we know this was built in Paris between 1925 and 1930? I was given the information by the consigner. Between his research and the [expertise of the] person who was working on his automata, I believe that’s how they pieced it together.

Does its large size–it stands almost five feet tall–hint at how it might have been used? And would its size have been harder to make than most automata? It’s perfect for use in a film, of course, because it’s a background player. I don’t think its size made it harder to build. I think it made it easier to build. There’s just more room [to hide the works].

The lot notes for the automaton from Sleuth say it has eight movements. Is that a lot for an automaton? And what are the movements? It’s on the higher end. I don’t mean to put it down–it’s certainly a complex mechanism. What I mean to say is it’s not playing checkers with anyone. It’s not elaborate. [Fajuri later corrects the total to seven movements, which include: moving its head up and down; moving its head back and forth; moving its lips; moving its eyes; an arm moving a wand; an arm moving a cone; and items changing under the table. If you wanted to count this last as a separate movement for every object the magician automaton produces, it would add several to the total. You can see the automaton performing in this video.]

But the more movements there are, the more chances that something will break or go wrong… Absolutely, the more complex it is, the more complex it is. But in Paris at the time, certainly [the first owner] had a choice of people in a three-mile radius to fix it. They were in spitting distance of each other.

A closeup of the magician automaton from Sleuth shows the figure lifting a cap to reveal a white rabbit sitting on the tabletop.

Does the magician automaton from Sleuth still perform all its movements? Yes.

Does it perform the movements in a set order, or can you choose which ones it does? It’s a set order, as is the case with most automata.

What can we tell by looking about how difficult it was to make? By watching it from the outside, you can’t tell anything, which is the point.

How original is this magician automaton from Sleuth? And how unusual is it for a nearly hundred-year-old automaton to retain its fabric elements–its original costume and turban? Earlier examples in the [August 24 auction] catalog are more remarkable for retaining their clothes. It had things that needed tending to when [the consigner] bought it. It got a tune-up and a polishing as opposed to an entirely new “chassis”. But we’ve sold automata that have been missing 50 percent of their works.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown lifting a wizard's cap.

Do any of the symbols on the front and the top of the table mean anything? Are they just gibberish? I believe they’re gibberish. They’re not recognizable to me.

What, if anything, do we know about how this automaton was chosen to appear in the film Sleuth? We don’t really have additional information.

Do we know if the filmmakers tweaked the automaton for the movie, or built a backup model? Not that we’re aware of.

What’s it like in person? It’s scary. He’s not smiling. He has a furrowed brow, and a stern, serious look. It’s the kind of thing where if you walk into the gallery before you turn on the lights and [you] feel someone standing there. It’s kind of scary.

Does it make noise? It’s not all that noticeable, but you do hear the mechanics working. It’s not distracting.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown head-on, about to lift a wizard's cap from a table carved with mysterious symbols.

What’s your favorite detail of the magician automaton from Sleuth? You mentioned it already. It’s the carving in the table. It shows an extra level of care that the builder went to to make it special. It adds an extra level of quality and craft to what could be a plain, wooden table, or could have had a cloth thrown over it. It adds to the charm, and adds a mysterious element to it.

Is it heavy? Yeah. It’s not 500 pounds or anything, but it requires a few people to move it.

How did you arrive at the $40,000 to $60,000 estimate? It was difficult. It was at Skinner in 2008 and sold for $40,000, which was a help. Like a lot of things we sell, there’s not a huge track record to compare it to. We seem to be the place that writes the books on a lot of things we sell. The Skinner auction record was the only one we could find.

How do other magician automata you’ve handled compare to this magician automaton from Sleuth? It’s the largest, and on the auction day, it may be the most expensive we’ve ever sold. Sleuth was nominated for four Academy Awards. It was a pretty serious film with well-known actors. Laurence Olivier was no slouch. It’s fair to say more people saw it in the film than ever saw it in a store window.

So it’s in the upper ranks? I’d say so, yeah. The way it does its tricks is amazing in its own right. Other automata in the auction do similar tricks, but when you combine that with its history, its size, and its aesthetics, it’s certainly right up there. It’s got a lot going for it.

How to bid: The automaton from Sleuth is lot 45 in Automata: Life and Other Illusions, taking place August 24, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

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In case you missed it above, here’s film of the magician automaton in action.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about 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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RECORD! A Marcel Wanders Bon Bon Gold Chair Sells at Phillips for $81,250

A Marcel Wanders gold limited edition "Bon Bon" chair, fashioned from hand-crocheted rope impregnated with epoxy. It is light and ethereal-looking.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A “Bon Bon” gold limited edition chair by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, dating to 2010. It sold at Phillips New York in June 2019 for $81,250, a record for the designer.

The expert: Kimberly Sørensen, specialist at Phillips.

Is this the first example of this limited edition Bon Bon gold chair to go to auction? It’s not. We sold one in 2016 in our Time for Design benefit auction in London. Another was offered through Christie’s in 2012, but it didn’t sell.

Do we know how many entries there are in the Personal Editions series? Is it still ongoing? My understanding is the Personal Editions series represents an exclusive collection of his editioned work, beginning in 1996. It’s a broader category for certain types of work he’s doing. The Bon Bon gold chair falls under that series, but the series is ongoing.

How big is the Bon Bon gold limited edition? There are 20 examples plus two artist’s proofs.

Are there other versions of the chair? There’s a version in white that I think is a separate edition.

How is the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair made? It is crocheted by hand. Parts are stitched and impregnated with epoxy and secured. It’s a continuation of his knotted chair, which is made with similar technology.

Did he and his team use actual gold to make the Bon Bon gold chair? Whether it’s 14-karat or 18-karat, I’m not positive, but my understanding is it’s real gold in some percentage.

A Marcel Wanders gold limited edition "Bon Bon" chair, pictured on exhibit at Phillips with a small black side table and framed photographs on the wall behind it.

Did Wanders create the technique used to make this chair? He developed it for his knotted chair in 1996. Back then, he collaborated with Delft Technical University. The technique is closely associated with him.

When did the secondary market for works by Wanders begin? A total of 47 works by Wanders were offered at Artcurial in 2006. Later, in December 2006, we offered a knotted chair. The market’s been there for some time. We’ve sold 13 works by him.

What is the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair like in person? It’s striking. It has a sense of lightness because of the crocheting technique, and it casts a really interesting shadow because of the openwork. And it’s gold and glistening. It’s really a very beautiful object.

Is it fragile? It reminds me of a soap bubble. It really feels like that–light and ephemeral. Wanders worked to develop something that felt light, but is sturdy and works as a chair. It’s strong, and it’s meant to be used.

Have you sat in it? I have not. Much of the contemporary design we offer is used more for display, and comes to us in pristine condition. I tend not to try them out, as opposed to more traditional antiques.

Are there aspects of the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair that the camera does not pick up? Though it does look very beautiful and light in the photograph, that sense of lightness and glistening gold is even more strong in person. Jaime [Israni, a Phillips public relations person] were discussing yesterday that during the [pre-sale] exhibit, everyone was drawn to it.

What was your role during the auction? I was phone-bidding [working with a phone bidder] during the auction, but not for this particular lot.

What do you recall of the sale of the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair? Two phone bidders fought for it. It took a bit longer than most lots typically do.

What I find weird about this is the Bon Bon gold chair is still available in Marc Wanders’s online boutique for 40,000 Euros or so. That’s an interesting observation. I can’t speak to why this happened for this particular example. It is on the [Wanders] site, and it does affect desirability when the numbers [in a limited edition] dwindle. It does appear to be a case of auction magic.

What was the previous auction record for Wanders? It was a white limited edition crochet chair sold at Phillips London in 2010 for £43,250 [$66,000].

How long do you think this record will stand? What else is out there that could beat it? It depends how many versions of the edition are still available. As it becomes less available, it becomes more desirable. This was a really high, unexpected outcome. I do expect it to stand for some time.

Are there other Wanders pieces that could challenge it? Maybe his knotted chair? The knotted chair is pretty ubiquitous. I don’t think it will rival it, but I don’t have the answer at my fingertips.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? A couple of reasons. One, the phenomenal result we achieved for it. Two, it did look so beautiful and glistening in the exhibition. And another thing that’s interesting about the chair is it’s so conceptual, in that it was made with a crocheting technique, which has homespun connotations. And the actual form is an interpretation of Eero Aarnio’s Pastil chair, a 1960s glossy, fiberglass finished chair. He’s being witty by reinterpreting a candy-colored Pop form in an ephemeral, light way.

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RECORD! A Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese Robot Toy Sold at Morphy Auctions for $86,100

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A tin lithographic Machine Man Japanese robot toy, circa 1960. Morphy Auctions sold it in March 2019 for $86,100–a record for this toy and for any “Gang of Five” Japanese robot toy.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

What is the “Gang of Five,” and what Japanese mid-century toy robots belong to the Gang of Five? They were all made between the late 1950s and early 1960s, by the same company, Masudaya. They’re kind of all uniform. They’re called “large skirt” robots because it looks like they’re wearing skirts. They’re all the same body type.

Is it the latest of the Gang of Five robots? Probably. It had to be ordered specifically. You could not buy it from a catalog. The other four, you could. It was fairly expensive for the time. It was probably over $10.

Do we have any notion why Masudaya made the Machine Man robot toy? Why would they make something oversize–it’s 15 inches tall–and not even put it in their catalog? Probably because the first four they made did sell well here. Maybe they figured this one would too. It would make logical sense. As for the catalog, maybe it was a test thing, to see how many people would want to get it.

How did the consigner receive the Machine Man robot toy? How old was he? He got it in 1960 on Christmas morning. He was nine. He doesn’t remember getting it with the box, which would be worth $40,000.

How did the consigner display the.. restraint needed to keep the toy in this good a condition? He didn’t play with it much. He took good care of it. He put it in a closet. And he was an American guy, too. They had to order it special for him. I don’t know how they did it in 1960, but they did. You had to be in the know.

Was his father a toy retailer or something? How did the adults in the consigner’s life know enough to get this for him? I talked to his dad, but I didn’t ask that question. Maybe he knew somebody who had a toy store 60 years ago.

Is this the only robot toy the consigner got? It was. He’s lucky he got the best one. It’s crazy. He kept it all these years. He’s probably 67 or 68 and decided to sell it now.

Do we have any notion how many Machine Man robot toys Masudaya made, and how many survive? I don’t know that, but as far as what’s out there, there are about one dozen, including two boxed ones. For the other four [in the Gang of Five] there are many, many more than that.

How did this example of the Machine Man robot toy come to you? A friend of mine who also deals in robots knew he was going to sell and talked him into selling at auction. I don’t know the guy personally, but he did.

So, how often does a Machine Man robot toy come up at auction? Every five to seven years? In 16 years, this is the second one we’ve had.

Is the Machine Man robot toy always red, or are there variations? They’re all red. You never see variations. With any Gang of Five robot, they’re all the same.

The lot notes described the toy as a “stunning example” and “Near Mint – Mint.” Could you elaborate? It’s one of the best ones known, and the best ones I’ve ever seen. It’s just about mint.

Does it work? It works. When you turn it on, it moves in a pattern. There’s a metal circle on the bottom with wheels and spins around in a little pattern.

Does it light up or make noise? It just moves.

Do its arms move independently? They do, but they kind of swing. They don’t move up and down.

Is it heavy? It’s not heavy. It’s all tin litho. It’s very well made for what it is. It’s actually quite beautiful. It’s almost like the weight of a baby. Most robots are half this size. Most are six to 12 inches.

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

What is it like in person? It’s beautiful. It’s very red, very colorful, very vibrant colors. I can imagine being a kid, getting it, would be incredible.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with the winner. I’ve been friendly with them for ten years. They asked my advice. I said, “When are you going to get another one this nice?”

The Machine Man robot toy sold for $86,100. Did that surprise you? No, it didn’t surprise me at all. Personally, I thought it would bring $80,000. If it had had its box, it would have sold for $125,000. The box is incredibly important.

How long will this record stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? A few other really rare robots from the 1950s and 1960s I’ve never had at all might push the $100,000 barrier.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? We get a lot of stuff, but we don’t get a lot of things that are quite so special. If you approach $100,000, that’s a lot for a toy. The person who bought it is very, very happy, I can tell you that.

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RECORD! A Karl Lagerfeld Fashion Drawing Sold at Palm Beach Modern Auctions for $6,500

An early Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawing, done in the 1960s for the House of Tiziani. It shows a woman in an evening gown posing with her hands on her hips and looking to the left.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawing, done in the 1960s while he was working for the House of Tiziani. Palm Beach Modern Auctions sold it in April 2019 for $6,500, a record for a Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawing.

The expert: Rico Baca, auctioneer for Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

How rare are Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawings? We can start by talking about how rare fashion drawings are, period. Anytime you talk about fashion houses, you have people on staff producing [the drawings]. None are able to retain them for themselves. They belong to the house. It’s even more rare when you find someone signed their name to it. The drawings [Lagerfeld did for] Tiziani weren’t his. Because he worked for Tiziani, they were property of the house.

Are you aware of any other Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawings that he did for other houses? That I don’t know. I don’t have access to that information. But Lagerfeld was quoted as saying he saved none of his sketches. When they [the fashion house] started production, he’d throw them away. He’s been quoted saying that.

How did these Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawings for Tiziani emerge and survive? The consigner inherited them from his partner. The partner had been in a relationship with Tiziani. When it passed to the consigner, I went to the apartment Tiziani owned. He had saved several boxes of sketches. There were sketches Lagerfeld signed and he hadn’t signed.

How could you tell which unsigned drawings were by Lagerfeld? The style. Karl Lagerfeld would finish [them]. He’d put a face on [the model] with makeup and hair. He would finish the hands sometimes, and he might finish a foot with a shoe. Some had fabric attached to the sketches. It was easy to see which was his.

What’s the difference between the Lagerfeld drawings you sold in 2014 and the ones you sold in 2019? I think there were more sketches in the first group. There was more of a variety of finished product, and some had signatures. The second sale had no [drawings with] signatures. And Lagerfeld knew when we had the first auction. He would tweet as his cat, Choupette, and his cat tweeted, “If you want some of Daddy’s early drawings, they’re at Palm Beach Modern Auctions on Saturday.” If there were any questions about the authenticity of the drawings, Lagerfeld would have done it [spoken up] then.

When did the House of Tiziani close? I know the designer worked until the 1980s. These designers never stop. [Laughs]

Is it possible to know how many of the Lagerfeld drawings for Tiziani went to auction with you? Was it everything? You never know. They haven’t been under lock and key since the 1960s.

Do the two sales represent a good chunk of those drawings? It’s hard to know how many sketches are still out there. If you research fashion houses, you get a sense of the volume they do. Today they do even more than they did then, when they had two lines, one for each season. Now they put out lines every three weeks. It’s incomprehensible what they have to produce to maintain the houses.

What was Lagerfeld’s role at Tiziani? Was he the right-hand man? I don’t know, but he had to be high in the food chain. He helped Tiziani design for Elizabeth Taylor, and he helped him when he was working on movies for Elizabeth Taylor. He certainly wasn’t the person who brought in the tassels. He was there.

An early Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawing, done in the 1960s for the House of Tiziani. It shows a woman in an evening gown posing with her hands on her hips and looking to the left. A swatch of brown, semi-opaque fabric is attached to the right side of the drawing.

What do these drawings tell us about Lagerfeld’s skills? These were more than just sketches. They were works of art. And you really get that feeling when you look at the dresses. The reason they became sought-after sketches–look at that dress. It’s a beautiful dress. It’s timeless. This stuff is good. There’s nothing not to like about it. The quality is there.

A detail of an early Karl Lagerfeld fashion drawing, done in the 1960s for the House of Tiziani. It shows the upper part of the dress, which has a plunging neckline bordered by ruffles.

Do the sketches hint at the career that Lagerfeld had ahead of him? What you see in his sketches is his attention to detail is painstaking. I can’t imagine seeing that attention to detail in other sketches [by other people]. He took his time and gave thought to it. He’s doing a whole look when he’s doing these sketches.

If these drawings couldn’t be attributed to Lagerfeld, would they still be valuable? I wouldn’t go that far. Since then [the first auction], we’ve had James Galanos, who is a greater designer than Lagerfeld. We had eight folders of his sketches, and they only hammered for $2,000. [“Hammered” is the raw final price, without any premiums.] Not everyone reached Lagerfeld’s pinnacle. No one stays relevant to their death. They peak, they wane, they retire. What makes Lagerfeld unique is he was famous and relevant until he died.

What can you tell me about the sketch from the April 2019 sale pictured in lot 101? Do we know why it was commissioned, and for who, and who the model might have been? No. [Laughs] I wish I could give you a story that makes it more interesting. If you look at the sketch, it’s classic, and the colors are right. It’s a great dress.

What is the sketch like in person? It doesn’t really stand out to me from any of the other sketches. It’s just a beautiful dress.

Why did this particular sketch do well enough to set the world auction record for a Lagerfeld fashion sketch? That’s the mystery of an auction. All you need are two people who want the same thing. Who knows? Maybe it was two brides who thought that was the perfect dress. Part of what happened is we knew Lagerfeld had died. [He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in February 2019.] That was our only indication there might be more interest, but you don’t know how much until it happens.

So, before the sale, you would not have singled this one out as a likely record-setter. I wouldn’t have put my money on it. I did speak to a lot of people who bought them as gifts. Mothers bought them for daughters, daughters bought them for mothers, friends bought them for friends. Many bought two or three.

A fabric swatch was attached to this drawing. To what extent, if at all, did its presence drive the bidding? I think it did. Very few of them had cloth swatches.

You were the auctioneer at the sale. What do you recall of the experience? I generally do 60 lots an hour. I thought I’d be at the podium two hours max. Max. I had bronchitis and a cold. I got an inhaler and cough drops and thought, “I can do this.” It ended up going five hours. I opened the bidding up and it kept going and going. The last hour, I kept using the inhaler to get through it. It [the sale results] was good news, but it was a real surprise.

How long did it take you to recover? Quite a few days.

What do you remember of the experience of the sale? It was a pleasant one even though I was ill. [Laughs].

Were you hanging on to the podium for dear life? A little bit, but when the numbers are happening, it’s easy to walk through. It’s showtime. Run up to the podium and do your thing.

How long do you think this record will stand? Do you expect a drawing sold at one of your two auctions to come back eventually and meet or beat the $6,500 sum? The original sale had a number of sketches done on larger media. They were really finished pieces and they had signatures. At the same time, maybe Lagerfeld’s relevance will dim. I’m always amazed today about famous peoples’ relevance, and how it really does wane in today’s world. We move on so quickly.

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RECORD! A Schlüsselgerät 41, Successor to the Enigma Machine, Commands More Than $137,000 at Hermann Historica

The Schlüsselgerät 41 cryptographic machine, shown in full. It looks kind of like a typewriter, and it has a handle crank on its right side.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A Schlüsselgerät 41 (SG 41) encryption machine, dating from World War II. Hermann Historica sold it for €122,500, or about $137,000, a world auction record for this rare machine.

The expert: Bernhard Pacher, executive managing director of Hermann Historica.

What does “Schlüsselgerät” mean in English? It’s a very simple technical term. Schlüssel means key, or cipher. Gerät is a piece of hardware. It literally means “cypher machine” or “encryption machine”.

How did it improve on the Enigma encryption machine that the German military relied on in World War II? If you look at the layout, the standard Enigma machine used by all but the German navy used three wheels. Three wheels gives you a certain number of combinations. The navy had Enigmas with four wheels. The Schlüsselgerät 41, from the beginning, had five wheels, and the top wheel, a sixth wheel, performed “not” operations. If it expected a certain operation [a particular pattern of encryption] based on the five wheels, the sixth wheel could say, “not going to do that.” The sixth wheel added extreme irregularity, making decryption very hard. Also, the Enigma, when it encoded an “A”, it could never be [it could never stand for] an “A”. On the SG 41, an “A” could be an “A.” It could be anything.

Were the Germans aware that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code when it started work on the Schlüsselgerät 41 in 1941? No. Their own encryption guys analyzed the Enigma for flaws in its design. When it was designed, it had way more options [for encryption] than the final, simplified one. [They saw the] inherent problem that an “A” can never be an “A”. [They realized] if you really analyzed that thing, you could come up with a chance to decipher it, and they needed something new. The Germans thought, even with the flaws, it would take the Allies three or four weeks to decipher the messages, and by then, who cares? They could not imagine the British could come up with a machine that goes through all the permutations in 30 minutes. They still somehow convinced themselves that the Enigma would be enough. Somehow the Schlüsselgerät 41 wasn’t given the priority it should have had.

Did the Schlüsselgerät 41 really weigh 13 kilos (28.6 pounds)? Yes, it did, and that’s the problem. This one doesn’t have a cover. Without it, it’s 11 kilos [24.2 pounds]. For that, it was considered too heavy for front-line use. It’s a bit crazy, because the Enigma was almost the same weight.

I understand the Schlüsselgerät 41 was made of steel. Was that an issue that might have delayed its production? Steel was one of the few materials that was not really in short supply [during World War II]. It came from all over the Reich. What should have made it lighter–aluminum, magnesium–was in short supply, and that was needed for the aircraft industry.

What did the crank on the right-hand side of the SG 41 do? That crank did what the motor did in the Enigma. You pushed a key, turned the crank, and got a result. It was a one by one by one operation. There was no battery needed, no electrics, but it slowed things down a bit. If the Schlüsselgerät 41 had an electric motor and a battery, taking over the job of the crank, that would add, easily, three kilos to the machine, and it really would have gotten out of hand. And it’s a delicate machine. You can’t push the crank full speed. You have to go fairly slowly.

The Enigma was more sturdy? Yes. It was all-electric. It was much quicker and much easier.

The lot notes say about 500 SG 41 units were built. Do we know how many survive? In April and May 1945, the order to destroy them went out. A total of 10 survived the war in operable condition.

How did this one survive? We can only trace it back to 1955, when the previous owner purchased it from a private collector. The speculation is the guy was supposed to destroy it [but] took it back home. For 30 years, it was given to a Swiss military museum as a loan. It was there until last year, when it was retrieved.

And this is the first one to go to auction? Yes. There was one on eBay 10 years ago at a fairly high price, which didn’t sell. It was in way worse condition than the one we had.

How did you set the estimate of €75,000 [$84,300]? Did you look at Enigma auction results? That was the minimum the consigner said they’d expect to receive. I personally would have given it a six-digit estimate. I was very, very disappointed it didn’t make €100,000 as the hammer price. We’ve sold Enigmas for €150,000, €160,000. A Schlüsselgerät 41 in perfect working condition should get at least what an Enigma gets.

It was in perfect condition? There were a few little pieces missing. That’s it. It’s not tampered with. There are no nicks, no dings, no scratches. The only thing missing is the cover.

A closer shot of the Schlüsselgerät 41, with its keyboard visible. The bottom door is open, showing a spool of white paper.

How did you describe its condition? I actually said it was almost “as new” with very few traces of wear and tear. It was built at the end of 1944. It didn’t see much operation. It probably sat in an office for five months. Then the guy got his hands on it in 1945, and we’re pretty sure that guy hid the machine. By 1955, he was probably happy to get rid of it.

Why not give an estimate range? We never give a range. How do you give a range for an object that’s absolutely unique? It’s another reason the result is damaging. If another Schlüsselgerät 41 pops up, [people will think] “Ah, that’s what it’s worth.” Wrong! That’s not what it’s worth. It’s what the top bidder was willing to pay, and no one was willing to bid higher than that. It should have been a bit higher than Enigmas we’ve sold, not just because of the rarity, but its complexity. It’s on a different level than the Enigma ever was. And to achieve that with moving parts is astonishing. It took until the 1960s to have a similar encryption in software. That thing was really good.

What does it sound like? It has a really nice mechanical sound. [You can hear some of its native audio around the 1:09 mark in this video that Hermann Historica made about the Schlüsselgerät 41.]

Were you in the sale room when the SG 41 came to the auction block? Emotionally, I was so tied to it, I needed to auction it myself. It didn’t quite work as I planned.

What do you recall of the actual sale? There were two people on the phone, bidding against each other, and I had a written bid. I had to disclose the highest written bid. The man on the phone went one step higher, and it was his. I tried to stimulate the Internet–there were so many bidders logged in, I was sure someone would bid. I was very disappointed it didn’t get past an Enigma machine. It didn’t come close.

Did the Schlüsselgerät 41 have any effect on World War II, at all? It would have changed the war if it was available in 1941. By then, the blitzkrieg strategy was working. By the time the units were delivered, the Manhattan Project was underway. We should be happy they weren’t deployed in larger numbers. It would have cost many more lives by not doing any good. It wouldn’t be a game-changer. It would be a war-extender. It would make the war last long enough to drop Fat Man and Little Boy on Berlin.

Why will the Schlüsselgerät 41 stick in your memory? Technical fascination. I have a background of 15 years in the computer business. Seeing binary code when no one was yet thinking in binary code–a living piece of mechanical software–is fascinating. That’s why I like it. It’s fascinating not just for its accuracy, it allows [for] translating binary thinking into mechanical action.

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Image is courtesy of Hermann Historica.

In case you missed it above, here’s the video that Hermann Historica created about the Schlüsselgerät 41.

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WOW! A Lobby Card from Tod Browning’s “Freaks” Sold at Heritage Auctions for (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The 1932 lobby card from Freaks sold for $15,600.

What you see: An 11-inch-by-14-inch lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions.

How much 1932 promotional material from Freaks—lobby cards, posters, or otherwise—survives? Is it scarcer than promotional material made for other movies of its era? That period of the early 1930s is really a tough era to find significant posters from. Why is anyone’s guess. Freaks is as scarce as other horror films of the era. It had a very truncated release. The studio came under such criticism that it was pulled. Not a lot of paper [lobby cards, posters, etc.] got into the distribution chain. American paper, like this card, is scarce.

Did the studio deliberately destroy the posters and other materials it made to promote Freaks? That is unknown. I suspect, and this is purely a suggestion, when they pulled it, they trashed the paper.

But was it a “kill it with fire” trashing or more of a “don’t wanna pay rent on a warehouse to store leftover posters from this loser of a film” thing? It was probably a little bit of everything. My guess is when the film came under such scrutiny, perhaps they destroyed a lot of it. [Maybe the studio thought] “We can’t do anything with this property, let’s shelve it and move on.” The film sat on a shelf for 20 years. The other horror titles were so immensely popular, they used the paper up. It just got obliterated [from wear.] With Freaks, it was a different issue. They must have decided to destroy a lot of it. Why would they want 5,000 Freaks one-sheets sitting on shelves? They realized they’d had a lapse of better taste, and they had to shelve the movie pretty quickly. It’s really quite amazing to me that [the promotional material] did survive and get out to the public.

Could we talk a bit about how Freaks came about, how it was received, and how it became a cult classic? MGM decided it wanted to get on the gravy train that Universal was riding with Frankenstein and Dracula–‘Let’s produce our own horror films.’ Everybody suffered during the Depression, but what kept the doors open [at Universal] through the mid-1930s were horror films. Irving Thalberg went to Tod Browning, who was instrumental in getting Freaks made.

So MGM releases it, and what happens? I think people were really shocked to see human abnormalities on the screen. They titled it Freaks, but did people really expect to see people like that? I’m not sure they did.

Maybe it was the shift of frame? Until then, the public was used to seeing people billed as freaks in sideshows, inside tents. Maybe seeing them up on the silver screen, where they would normally see stars like Carole Lombard and Rudolph Valentino, was too much? The film did depict them in a sympathetic light, but also showed them as objects of ridicule. A number of people were offended. I suggest people thought, ‘Good heavens, in all decency, why depict [them] on screen?’ That’s why I believe it gained a cult following. It came out of the vault in the late 1940s and it was heavily screened and reviewed. There’s a huge fan base for it.

I haven’t seen the whole thing, but I’ve seen scenes, and read synopses of it, and I’m under the impression that Freaks is not a good movie–it had to include many different performers, and tried to string a bunch of vignettes into a plot… A lot of early sound films are sort of stage-bound–you don’t get really fluid camera movements. And I think the ending was tacked on. But you’re probably right. The characters are the story, essentially, and you’ve got a few bad people taking advantage of them. That’s the plot. People who saw it back in the day may have been shocked but thought, ‘What was that all about?’

Have people collected material from the original release of Freaks since the late 1940s, or did it start even earlier than that? Poster-collecting is rather a new hobby. If you were collecting paper in the 1950s, you were way ahead of the game. There was a lot of seeking-out of original posters for this film prior to the 1960s.

Is there a hierarchy of performers in Freaks–actors whose images collectors want more than the others? I think so, yes. The lobby cards [for Freaks] were an eight-card set. Two of them show groups of freaks. The title card, which is rare, depicts all the freaks. Those are the premium cards in the set. The card we have here, which shows a midget, is very desirable. It’s not what someone would call a “dead card.” A dead card in this set would be one without any freaks on it. It’s like having a Frankenstein lobby card without the monster on it. But it’s so scarce to find any cards from this title, it’s almost inconsequential.

A lobby card from the 1932 MGM film Freaks that depicts actress Olga Baclanova and little person Harry Earles.

This lobby card depicts Olga Baclanova and Harry Earles. What’s going on here? What scene is this? I haven’t watched the movie since I received this lobby card, and I don’t know where the scene falls in the film, but he’s wooing her and she’s reciprocating in a disingenuous manner. He’s just crazy about her. One of the lines on the poster is, “Can a Full Grown Woman Truly Love a Midget?

One thing that jumps out at me as I look at the image of the lobby card is it’s… not that freaky. This could be a kid having a fancy dress-up afternoon with his aunt rather than a little person having cocktails with a beautiful woman. Are the other images created to market Freaks equally tame? I don’t think so. There are other cards in the set that are more graphic.

Maybe the MGM marketing department included this to let theater owners gage their audience, and show tamer images if they felt that would better sell the movie? Maybe so. I will say these cards, other than the title card, are not as salacious as they could be. They probably didn’t want to have an image of the pinheads front and center. The late 1940s [re-release promotional material] is much more freak-related and more of an exploitation thing. MGM was the classy studio. There was nothing Poverty Row about it. I see it [material for Freaks, and ask myself] ‘What were they thinking?’ It’s so against the grain, so out of their wheelhouse. But MGM was powerful enough, and had enough money, that it could produce a number of different films. They could produce something off-the-wall and see if it stuck.

How many other copies of this Freaks lobby card exist? Do we know? There’s probably at least one or two other copies, maybe three.

I realize this is the first time this Freaks lobby card has appeared at Heritage Auctions, but is this the first time one has ever gone to auction? It looks like a copy of the card did sell in 2001 [at another auction house] for $4,250.

The lot notes describe the card as “very fine.” What does that mean? It means it’s really in quite nice shape. It essentially means there’s almost no tears, no nicks, no dings, no pinholes. The colors are bright. It’s a very strong grade.

Do we have any idea how the lobby card survived so well? I don’t. Stuff still comes to light. The Dracula title card and scare card [offered in this sale] came from a collector I didn’t know existed. He contacted me out of the blue. You just never know.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $10,000 to $20,000? Did you base it on results for other Freaks lobby cards? The thing is, we haven’t sold any lobby cards from Freaks for a while. It’s what it should be bringing. Have I overshot? Have I undershot? Who knows? Often, it’s really an educated guess. I cannot see the future.

As of July 10, the lobby card had received a bid of $5,000. Does that mean anything? No, it means absolutely nothing. The activity doesn’t begin until it goes to the block.

What’s the world auction record for a piece from Freaks? We sold an insert in March 2009 for $107,550. It does picture the freaks, and it shows Baclanova and Earles embracing. Above that is written out, “Freaks”. You can tell they’re freaks, but its not really so, so obvious. You don’t see the legless man or any of that. They’re done in caricature. [MGM] was pulling its punches to some degree.

What is the lobby card like in person? It’s really pretty. The photos are a true and accurate representation. It’s got a beautiful, soft, Technicolor look. It’s really quite gorgeous. That’s why I’ve always been in love with lobby cards. They’re really just beautiful.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Anything from this title will stick in my memory. Anytime I get items that are scarce or rare sticks in my memory. I’m impressed they survived. And it’s fun to see things we’ve never sold before.

How to bid: The Freaks lobby card is lot #86165 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction that Heritage Auctions is holding on July 27 and 28, 2019.

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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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun.

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

Auctions, from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series (THB: Shelf Life)

The cover of Auctions, a book from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series. It has a black background and three hands holding bidding paddles.

What you see: Auctions, *$15.95. from The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.

Does it fit in my purse? Yes, with ease.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes, but casual readers might find it tough going in places.

Auctions paid for itself in the preface, where it mentioned in passing that the Roman Empire had been sold at auction.

Wait, what?

Auctions doesn’t dwell on this momentous sale, mentioning it for the second and final time on page 2 where it notes the Roman Empire was sold in AD 193, following the overthrow of the emperor. But a spin around the web shows it’s true.

A detour for context: The Praetorian Guard killed Emperor Pertinax and proceeded to sell the throne to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus claimed it by pledging 25,000 sesterces to every soldier, or about 200 million sesterces total.

He bought himself a place in the historical record, but his failure to make good on his winning bid ensured his tenure would be short and troubled.

Didius Julianus ruled Rome from March 28 to June 1, when he was assassinated by a soldier. He was the second to steer the city in what became known as the Year of the Five Emperors.

Anyway. Not being a student of the classics or Ancient Rome, I was unaware of this fact before it jumped out of Auctions and bit me on the nose. If I hadn’t bought this book, I might never have learned of it.

The rest of the book is strong, albeit a bit dry. The authors steer clear of examining the emotions that drive people to bid while detailing the strategies people can use in various contexts.

Auctions is a textbook example of a book that does what it says on the box–it gives a succinct but comprehensive overview of the topic, chronicling the many types of auctions and their uses.

While it glides along admirably well, most people would not regard Auctions as beach reading. (Spoiler alert: I am not most people, and I did consider this fun-time reading.) The book contains tables and figures, and I needed to reread certain passages more than once before I was sure I understood them.

That said, Auctions is enlightening and it deserves a place on the shelf of anyone who cares about auctions and the ways in which they can play out. It explains why the auction format endures in the marketplace–it’s an effective tool for equating demand and supply. It talks about how bidders can collude, and how sellers can thwart that behavior. It pulls in game theory, and the prisoner’s dilemma. It poses theoreticals that illustrate bidding strategies.

It also weaves in entertaining takes on the form, such as the Truth or Consequences auction held annually at the Vetro Glassblowing Studio and Gallery. The auctioneers uphold the reserve price–the minimum bid an artist will accept for a glass artwork–in dramatic fashion. If no one bids high enough, a so-called “glass guillotine” smashes it.

Even if you’re long-marinated in the auction world, you will learn something new from Auctions. You’ll also find it a handy reference work.

Worth buying new, at full price.

How to buy Auctions: Please purchase it from an independent bookstore near you. You can also order it online from the MIT Press.

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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Image is courtesy of the MIT Press.

* I spotted Auctions in the wild, while wandering the MIT COOP at Kendall Square, and bought it on sight.

Auctions was originally published in January 2016.

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

RECORD! An Original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday Strip Sold at Heritage Auctions in 2012 for $203,150

Original Sunday comic strip art for Calvin & Hobbes, drawn by Bill Watterson. It depicts Calvin and Hobbes leaping into a pile of raked leaves.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: Original hand-colored art for a Sunday strip for Calvin & Hobbes, inscribed by artist-writer Bill Watterson. Heritage Auctions sold it in 2012 for $203,150, a record for an original Calvin & Hobbes strip.

The expert: Todd Hignite, vice president of comics and comic art at Heritage Auctions.

How often does original artwork for Calvin & Hobbes come to auction? They’re very rare. I think within the last 17 or 18 years, there have been about 15 to come to public auction, and we’ve sold all of those. There were possibly one or two in Europe before that, but they’re extremely rare. In terms of comic art in general and in terms of scarcity, it’s the first.

Even more so than original artwork for The Far Side? Yeah. Yeah. The reason for the scarcity of Calvin & Hobbes–Bill Watterson never sold the art. He donated–I don’t know the exact terms, maybe it’s a long-term loan–his originals to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.

The date on this original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip is 10-19-1986, which is early in its run. Do collectors have a clear preference for earlier or later Calvin & Hobbes art, or does that not apply here? With Calvin & Hobbes, it doesn’t matter. The strip ran for a relatively short period.  It came out of the gate fully formed, and it did not decline. It was great from beginning to end. There are no periods that are less desirable.

Is this the only original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip to come to auction? It is. It’s the only Sunday strip that has a public auction record. The majority that have come up have been black-and-white dailys. The only ones that ever come out–He’d occasionally trade artwork for other artwork, or would give artwork to people associated with the syndicate or the production of the strip. The vast majority of originals have been dedicated to someone specific, someone he had some relationship with.

How did Watterson meet and know Brian Basset? Do we know when he gave the strip to him? I think it falls in the category we just talked about–it was a professional association.  We don’t know the date when he gave him it, but it was definitely during the run of the strip.

How good an example is it of an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip? Does it have everything a collector would want? Or does it not matter, because collectors can’t afford to be picky? I think it’s both. If you’re paying hundreds of thousands for it, you want Calvin and Hobbes on it. The bonus is that Watterson hand-colored it. When he handed it to the syndicate, it was black and white. It’s pretty special by any measure, a very strong example.

So he didn’t typically color the Sunday strips himself? Correct. Sundays were like dailys–99 percent were not colored. He only would have done this because he was giving it to somebody. They were all black and white unless he chose to color it for a specific reason.

Does the inscription on the original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip add value? I would say it did not add any monetary value, but it’s also not irrelevant. It’s part of its history and collectors love that. They love to know the situation, especially with Watterson. How did it come out? He gave it to this person.

And it went from Watterson to Basset to you? Exactly right. Basically every example that has come to market has been in that situation.

Original Sunday comic strip art for Calvin & Hobbes, drawn by Bill Watterson. It depicts Calvin and Hobbes leaping into a pile of raked leaves.

What condition was it in? It was in great condition. There were no condition issues. What you may see in comic art is a condition problem–the paper has toned to yellow, it’s sunstruck because it was in a frame, the watercolors have faded–this had none of that. It’s as nice as you could hope for.

What was its estimate? In our comic and comic art auctions, we don’t have public estimates, but we do put internal estimates on things. The estimate on this was $100,000 to $150,000.

What was it like in person? It’s considered larger than what was printed, but Watterson didn’t draw that much larger than the printed dimensions. It was definitely larger, but not twice as large. There was not that big a discrepancy.

What was your role in the 2012 auction? Were you on the phone with a bidder? Yeah, I’m always on the phone, helping bidders in some way. I don’t recall if I was on the phone with the winning bidder.

And this was not just an instant record for an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip, it was a record for any original Calvin & Hobbes strip? Yes, it was a world auction record for any Watterson art. The number under that is a Calvin & Hobbes watercolor for a calendar cover that we sold earlier that year for $107,000. The calendar art was definitely a benchmark for the Sunday strip.

What do you think it would sell for if it was consigned to you today? It’s hard. I definitely think it would be more than the person paid for it, but it was a huge price. It sold for a really, really strong price then. I think it would sell for a really, really strong price now, but I don’t know how much.

How long do you think this record will stand? What could beat it? If another Sunday strip came out. It would have to be another really good one, like this one. We do a lot of business in Europe and Asia. The market is a lot bigger now than it was then. If another came out, it would beat it. I don’t think this one will be back to market. He [the winning bidder] was very happy to get it.

Not coming back to market? Not even when the current owner dies? Probably, but he’s a young guy. [Laughs]

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Watterson, in my mind, was the most important comic strip artist after Schulz. It was a thrill to sell this. It was kind of a perfect storm with his art–someone at the very top of his art form, and his art basically doesn’t exist on the market. It was special for us to be able to handle it.

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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Never heard of Calvin & Hobbes? You have the biggest treat of your life ahead of you. Place your order and start reading.

Also, if it’s not at this link, it’s almost certainly not legitimate Calvin & Hobbes merchandise. Please don’t buy it, whatever it is.

And in case you missed it above, check out the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. Also, here are links to a daily Calvin & Hobbes strip and a truly legendary Sunday strip. You can follow the museum on Twitter and you can donate funds to it as well.

Image is courtesy of Heritage 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.

Wow! Apollo 11 Moon Walk Videotapes from NASA Sold at Sotheby’s for (Scroll Down to See)

A trio of original, first-generation NASA videotapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20, 2019.

Update: The trio of original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million.

What you see: Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimates the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million.

The expert: Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

How do we know these are the only surviving first-generation recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk? Let me add a word in there: only surviving first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk. That’s important. The way these tapes were created was the images were sent from the moon and captured in California and Australia, and those images were recorded onto slow-scan tapes that took up 45 reels. The information on the 45 reels were scanned onto two-inch AMPEX reels, of which there are only three. What was seen at Houston and NASA mission control is what is on those tapes. NASA was the first place to receive the images [from ground stations in Australia and California], and they were then sent to various television stations around the world. With each subsequent bounce from station to station, [the images] degraded each time. What you saw live on TV was a lower quality than what was on these tapes.

So it–the TV images of the moon walk–were like a photocopy of a photocopy? Kind of, yeah. How we know these are the only surviving original first-generation NASA tapes is they were sold at a government surplus auction in 1976. The selling body was NASA. Many years later, when NASA searched for the slow-scan tapes, the 45 reels couldn’t be found. Then they discovered, unfortunately, that they had been erased and recorded over. The slow-scan tapes were the best tapes until the moment they were recorded over. Then the ones we’re selling became the best-surviving tapes because they’re the only NASA recording left.

Do we know when the 45 reels of slow-scan tapes were erased and recorded over? Nobody knows, but it’s safe to assume NASA had not discovered that, or had not erased the tapes when they sold [this set of three tapes] in a government auction. My guess is they would not have sold them if they realized [the slow-scan tapes] were erased or would be erased.

So it was safe for NASA to sell the trio of tapes in 1976 because they had, or reasonably believed they had, the slow-scan tapes? Yes. It was not a negative for NASA to sell them, because they had a superior copy.

When did NASA discover that the slow-scan tapes had been erased? In 2008 or 2009, around the time of the 40th moon walk anniversary.

That must have been a gut punch, to realize the slow-scan tapes of the first moon walk were gone. I’m sure it was because of budget cuts. Around the period of the [1970s] energy crisis, federal buildings were required to turn the air-conditioning off if there were no employees there on the weekend. The tapes in one building in Texas were found covered in mold [as a result of the energy conservation directive]. I’m sure it spurred the sale of the tapes. They couldn’t store them properly, so sell them and get some money out of them or throw them in the trash.

The press release also describes the tapes as “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered.” Does that mean that other period tapes of the moon walk have suffered that fate? Yes. When NASA discovered the slow-scan tapes had been erased, they decided to use other footage for the 40th anniversary. That footage was made sharper, crisper, more viewable. But once you restore something, you change it. It’s no longer in its original condition, and that has an impact from an artifactual and a value standpoint. Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.

One of the three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, shown with its red and black storage case.

Ok, so we’ve established that NASA had no reason to believe they were giving away a gem when they consigned these tapes to auction, but this isn’t the first time that the government has unwittingly or accidentally sold a priceless artifact of the space race. Why does this keep happening? You’ve got to remember what NASA is and what its purpose is. They’re engineers. Not archivists. Not librarians. If you want archivists, there’s a specific degree and training you need. They have done their best to archive material, but after all, it’s a government agency, and it’s not funded as much as it could be. They’re not a museum. They’re a space agency. If they hired someone to oversee all their artifacts before they go into a GSA auction, that’d be great.

But they’d need more than one person to do that… They’d have to have an army. People make a living out of paying attention to these sales. It’s impossible to go over every item to make sure it’s not super-valuable. The amount of research we did on this…

How long did it take you to research this lot? Days? I couldn’t even quantify it in days.

Because you’re picking it up and putting it down… And discussing, and reading books and articles, and watching videos, and talking to colleagues, and scratching my head. It does take quite a lot of time. We put quite a lot of thought into it. It’s very much a team effort.

So Gary George bought the lot, which contained over 1,000 videotapes, for $217.77 in 1976, and he could have sold any one of those tapes for $200 at the time. That was exactly what he was doing. He was an intern at NASA, and a lot of interns, for fun, would go to government surplus auctions. George said he bought himself a sports car with the money he made. They were guys in their twenties, being entrepreneurial. He hit the jackpot, but he didn’t realize it at first.

When did George find the trio of tapes within the larger group? He filled three U-Haul trucks [with tapes] and stored them in his parents’ garage. He sold them as quickly as he could. It was his dad who said, “Those tapes say ‘Apollo 11 EVA July 20 1969’ on them. Maybe you should keep them.” His dad really saved those tapes. George was a young guy. He was going to resell them.

A stack of three AMPEX tape boxes containing original, first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk.

I guess George thought NASA couldn’t have done something so silly as to sell tapes that record the first moon walk? Yeah. At that point, he held onto them, close to when he bought them. It was not until 2006 or 2007, when NASA was hunting for the slow-scan tapes, that he saw them and thought, “Gee, maybe I have something that’s important.”

When did you and your colleagues at Sotheby’s learn about the tapes? George reached out to us recently, in 2018.

I’ve heard tell of badly stored nitrate films from the silent era bursting into flame. Do these tapes pose a similar risk? Luckily, that’s not an issue here. I think post-1965, most were recorded using safety film. It will eventually degrade, but it is in remarkable condition. [When I brought it to an engineer who owned a device that could play it,] I didn’t tell them what it was. They spontaneously said, “Wow.” They kept remarking on the quality and how sharp the image was. Just by looking, they were able to tell me the tape was an original–I didn’t tell them it was an original. I was just a weird lady who came into the office with tapes she wanted to play.

Will the winning bidder need to hunt down a period AMPEX videotape device to watch these reels? No. They’ve been digitized in a super-high-resolution manner and saved onto a one-terabyte hard drive and a thumb drive. You can watch the hard drive or the thumb drive and keep the reels as artifacts. It’s kind of like having the manuscript, a first edition, and a paperback of the same book. You read the paperback, and the manuscript and the first edition stay on the shelf. I always bring it back to books…

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did NASA shoot these videos in black and white? Not that that makes much difference on the lunar surface, which is pretty close to black-and-white as it is. They’re in both. In the opening footage, you see engineers in mission control, and that’s in color. On the lunar surface, it’s black and white. [It might have been] because they didn’t have the capability to broadcast color from the moon, and because most people had black and white televisions [in 1969].

And to clarify–these are NOT three reels from the missing 45. These are separate and different yes? They are not three from the 45, but they represent what’s on the 45 reels. This is the complete EVA [extra-vehicular activity]. I can only imagine what the quality would have been if they’d taken up the 45 reels. Maybe there was a little extra, but who knows? The 45 reels have been erased. But the content should be the same.

Again, apologies for what might be a silly question, but I feel I should clarify–the winner gets the physical things in the lot, and does not receive copyright or control over the images shown on the three reels, yes? We’re just selling the tapes themselves as artifacts. The content is in the public domain. There is no copyright. If you want to make and sell t-shirts [with these images], you’ve got to ask permission [from NASA].

Is there anything about these tapes that doesn’t come across in the photos? For example, how heavy are they? They are very heavy. Each reel weighs about 15 pounds. They were too heavy for one person to carry all three on the airline.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you had to fly the tapes to New York. How did that work? It was complicated to get them on the plane. At security, they could have been demagnetized, because they’re magnetic tapes. We had to flag them for special screening, so they weren’t brought anywhere near magnetic machines. I viewed them on the East coast to be sure they didn’t get erased between the West coast and getting here.

It must have been a relief to watch the tapes and realize they’d arrived safely. It was a tense moment, watching the engineer spool it up on the machine. It was nerve-wracking. But I realized what a nerd I really am–it started, and I narrated it. I really know this mission!

The three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk, each shown on top of their red and black boxes.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.

How to bid: The trio of Apollo 11 videotape recordings is lot 104 in the Space Exploration sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on July 20, 2019 (of course).

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize and an Apollo 13 flight plan.

In a NASA story about the search for the slow-scan tapes that mentions this trio of videotapes, the agency states, “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

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RECORD! Mavis Pusey’s Painting, “Nuvae”, Sold for $42,500 at Rago

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: Nuvae, a 1968 oil on burlap canvas by the late Jamaican-born artist Mavis Pusey. Rago Arts and Auctions sold it in May 2019 for $42,500, a world auction record for the artist.

The expert: Meredith Hilferty, fine art director at Rago Arts and Auctions.

Could we start by talking about Mavis… how do you pronounce her last name? Poo-SAY.

Can we talk about who she was, and her contributions to art? She was a Jamaican-born artist who came to New York at the age of 18. She decided to enroll with the Art Students League and fell into painting. She was firmly an abstract expressionist artist, which was unusual for a woman and for a black artist. She decided she was an abstract expressionist and she did not waver, though it wasn’t highly accepted. It was important that she did not waver. She didn’t let someone push her in a direction that she didn’t want to go.

Was she prolific? She was prolific, but not insanely prolific. This is the first work of hers we’ve ever handled, and I’ve been at Rago for 13 years. She painted a lot, but her work doesn’t come out on the market very often. I wouldn’t be surprised if more paintings come to market because of the recent sale.

Do collectors just love her work and hang onto it for decades? I think so. I think that’s one factor. Another is while she’s always had significant four- and five-figure prices, people weren’t faced with the decision, “Do I want to cash in on this?” A lot of times they love them as works of art, but there’s a personal connection there–they got it directly from the artist. Selling it was not necessarily on their minds.

Do we know why she named this painting Nuvae? We don’t know what it means. We certainly tried to figure it out, but we hit a dead end. She did title her work. We found other works with similar titles–one word, and they’re not words anyone would recognize. She also used titles that were very descriptive. She was inspired by urban landscapes, and some titles reflect that and are descriptive of that. This title doesn’t lead you in any particular direction. I kind of like that. [Laughs] It’s an abstract expressionist work of art in every sense of the word.

Is Nuvae part of a series, or is it a stand-alone work? I’d say it stands alone, but she did works in a similar style in the late 1960s. All stand-alone major paintings from that period relate to each other, but they’re not a series in that there’s no direct connection to each other.

She painted this on burlap. Is that typical for her? She did do quite a few paintings on burlap in this period, but she also painted on canvas. We don’t know why she used burlap. There’s not enough information to know the answer. It could have been that she’d run out of canvas, or it could have been that she wanted to try something else. It was purposeful. I think she was successful with it, and she used burlap for a good period of time.

Nuvae measures 30 inches by 40 inches. Is that a standard size for her? No, she actually would work bigger than this, oftentimes. It’s a big painting, but in the same period, she did 40 by 50, 50 by 60. The scale is significant, for sure.

Is Nuvae typical or atypical of her work? It’s very typical of her work from the late 1960s. A good part of her work is simply abstract and not representative. Others seem to reference urban landscapes, or the figures are much more direct. This has a more curving form that reminds the viewer of a figure..

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

Is that central blue passage meant to be a figure? It kind of looks like it has a leg and an arm… I don’t know. There’s certainly a suggestion of a figure there, but I think it’s very loose. I think she was more highly focused on shape and color. She’s not making a direct enough connection for us to say it’s a reclining figure.

Pusey included Nuvae in her application for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award, and she won it. Does that sort of thing affect a painting’s appeal to collectors? I think it does, absolutely. It’s a great honor for an artist to receive the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. The appeal to collectors is the artist thought enough of the painting to include it in her application, and she won the award based on that application. It’s hard to say how much it affects the value of the piece, but it appeals to buyers.

What condition is the painting in? For a painting from the late 1960s, it’s in good condition. The things it needs are easily fixed by a good conservator. It’s a little loose on its stretcher.

Would that have anything to do with the burlap canvas? It could be. I’m not a conservator, but burlap is a heavier fabric, and it would certainly put more tension on the stretchers. It’s not really a major issue, but if it’s going to be hung in a museum exhibit or a collector’s home, you’d want it to be at its best, and part of that is having the burlap brought back to a taut configuration.

What is the painting like in person? It goes back to scale. When you stand in front of it, the canvas pulls you in and takes up your vision. The shapes play off each other and almost vibrate. You get the impression of a subtle palette, and it keeps your eye moving around the composition.

What was the previous world auction record for a Mavis Pusey painting? It was the same painting, when it sold at Swann in October 2013 for $33,750. You can see very directly how her market has changed in five and a half years. Before that, her record was set a year before, also at Swann, by Recarte, a larger 1968 painting that sold for $31,200. Not only is her work more and more desirable, but her late 1960s work has held records. That’s what people want.

Mavis Pusey died on April 20, 2019, and the Rago auction took place on May 4, 2019. What role, if any, did the timing of her death play in the new world record? I couldn’t say that it didn’t play a role. Certainly there was a little bit more buzz. But there was serious interest before her death was announced. The catalog came out before that, it was in our advertising and press releases and marketing before that. People were interested in the painting. If [her death] pushed it over…I’m not really convinced it was a major factor. I think this [interest in Pusey] has been building up, and she’s been getting more attention. I don’t think there’s a direct connection there. I don’t think it broke the record because she had just died.

What was your role in the auction? Generally, I put these sales together. Typically, during the day of sale, I’m in my office, talking to buyers about bids. This particular lot had a lot of action. I was called out to the phone table [the table where the auction house manages phone bidders]. I got to watch from the floor and see it break the record. I was glad I was pulled from the office to come out. It was really exciting.

How long do you think this world auction record for Mavis Pusey will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? I think other paintings from the 1960s of the same quality [could do it]. She did also paint larger paintings, so, potentially, you could say they could sell for more, but they haven’t been on the market. We really have to wait and see. We find that when a record is set or an artist dies, more works come on the market. I think it really hinges on that.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I always like to see an artist who hasn’t gotten the recognition they deserve get recognition. I’ve handled works that have set records for many women artists. It’s a satisfying part of the job.

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A Lobby Card from Tod Browning’s Freaks Could Fetch $20,000 at Heritage Auctions

A lobby card from the 1932 MGM film Freaks that depicts actress Olga Baclanova and little person Harry Earles.

What you see: An 11-inch-by-14-inch lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions.

How much 1932 promotional material from Freaks—lobby cards, posters, or otherwise—survives? Is it scarcer than promotional material made for other movies of its era? That period of the early 1930s is really a tough era to find significant posters from. Why is anyone’s guess. Freaks is as scarce as other horror films of the era. It had a very truncated release. The studio came under such criticism that it was pulled. Not a lot of paper [lobby cards, posters, etc.] got into the distribution chain. American paper, like this card, is scarce.

Did the studio deliberately destroy the posters and other materials it made to promote Freaks? That is unknown. I suspect, and this is purely a suggestion, when they pulled it, they trashed the paper.

But was it a “kill it with fire” trashing or more of a “don’t wanna pay rent on a warehouse to store leftover posters from this loser of a film” thing? It was probably a little bit of everything. My guess is when the film came under such scrutiny, perhaps they destroyed a lot of it. [Maybe the studio thought] “We can’t do anything with this property, let’s shelve it and move on.” The film sat on a shelf for 20 years. The other horror titles were so immensely popular, they used the paper up. It just got obliterated [from wear.] With Freaks, it was a different issue. They must have decided to destroy a lot of it. Why would they want 5,000 Freaks one-sheets sitting on shelves? They realized they’d had a lapse of better taste, and they had to shelve the movie pretty quickly. It’s really quite amazing to me that [the promotional material] did survive and get out to the public.

Could we talk a bit about how Freaks came about, how it was received, and how it became a cult classic? MGM decided it wanted to get on the gravy train that Universal was riding with Frankenstein and Dracula–‘Let’s produce our own horror films.’ Everybody suffered during the Depression, but what kept the doors open [at Universal] through the mid-1930s were horror films. Irving Thalberg went to Tod Browning, who was instrumental in getting Freaks made.

So MGM releases it, and what happens? I think people were really shocked to see human abnormalities on the screen. They titled it Freaks, but did people really expect to see people like that? I’m not sure they did.

Maybe it was the shift of frame? Until then, the public was used to seeing people billed as freaks in sideshows, inside tents. Maybe seeing them up on the silver screen, where they would normally see stars like Carole Lombard and Rudolph Valentino, was too much? The film did depict them in a sympathetic light, but also showed them as objects of ridicule. A number of people were offended. I suggest people thought, ‘Good heavens, in all decency, why depict [them] on screen?’ That’s why I believe it gained a cult following. It came out of the vault in the late 1940s and it was heavily screened and reviewed. There’s a huge fan base for it.

I haven’t seen the whole thing, but I’ve seen scenes, and read synopses of it, and I’m under the impression that Freaks is not a good movie–it had to include many different performers, and tried to string a bunch of vignettes into a plot… A lot of early sound films are sort of stage-bound–you don’t get really fluid camera movements. And I think the ending was tacked on. But you’re probably right. The characters are the story, essentially, and you’ve got a few bad people taking advantage of them. That’s the plot. People who saw it back in the day may have been shocked but thought, ‘What was that all about?’

Have people collected material from the original release of Freaks since the late 1940s, or did it start even earlier than that? Poster-collecting is rather a new hobby. If you were collecting paper in the 1950s, you were way ahead of the game. There was a lot of seeking-out of original posters for this film prior to the 1960s.

Is there a hierarchy of performers in Freaks–actors whose images collectors want more than the others? I think so, yes. The lobby cards [for Freaks] were an eight-card set. Two of them show groups of freaks. The title card, which is rare, depicts all the freaks. Those are the premium cards in the set. The card we have here, which shows a midget, is very desirable. It’s not what someone would call a “dead card.” A dead card in this set would be one without any freaks on it. It’s like having a Frankenstein lobby card without the monster on it. But it’s so scarce to find any cards from this title, it’s almost inconsequential.

A lobby card from the 1932 MGM film Freaks that depicts actress Olga Baclanova and little person Harry Earles.

This lobby card depicts Olga Baclanova and Harry Earles. What’s going on here? What scene is this? I haven’t watched the movie since I received this lobby card, and I don’t know where the scene falls in the film, but he’s wooing her and she’s reciprocating in a disingenuous manner. He’s just crazy about her. One of the lines on the poster is, “Can a Full Grown Woman Truly Love a Midget?

One thing that jumps out at me as I look at the image of the lobby card is it’s… not that freaky. This could be a kid having a fancy dress-up afternoon with his aunt rather than a little person having cocktails with a beautiful woman. Are the other images created to market Freaks equally tame? I don’t think so. There are other cards in the set that are more graphic.

Maybe the MGM marketing department included this to let theater owners gage their audience, and show tamer images if they felt that would better sell the movie? Maybe so. I will say these cards, other than the title card, are not as salacious as they could be. They probably didn’t want to have an image of the pinheads front and center. The late 1940s [re-release promotional material] is much more freak-related and more of an exploitation thing. MGM was the classy studio. There was nothing Poverty Row about it. I see it [material for Freaks, and ask myself] ‘What were they thinking?’ It’s so against the grain, so out of their wheelhouse. But MGM was powerful enough, and had enough money, that it could produce a number of different films. They could produce something off-the-wall and see if it stuck.

How many other copies of this Freaks lobby card exist? Do we know? There’s probably at least one or two other copies, maybe three.

I realize this is the first time this Freaks lobby card has appeared at Heritage Auctions, but is this the first time one has ever gone to auction? It looks like a copy of the card did sell in 2001 [at another auction house] for $4,250.

The lot notes describe the card as “very fine.” What does that mean? It means it’s really in quite nice shape. It essentially means there’s almost no tears, no nicks, no dings, no pinholes. The colors are bright. It’s a very strong grade.

Do we have any idea how the lobby card survived so well? I don’t. Stuff still comes to light. The Dracula title card and scare card [offered in this sale] came from a collector I didn’t know existed. He contacted me out of the blue. You just never know.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $10,000 to $20,000? Did you base it on results for other Freaks lobby cards? The thing is, we haven’t sold any lobby cards from Freaks for a while. It’s what it should be bringing. Have I overshot? Have I undershot? Who knows? Often, it’s really an educated guess. I cannot see the future.

As of July 10, the lobby card had received a bid of $5,000. Does that mean anything? No, it means absolutely nothing. The activity doesn’t begin until it goes to the block.

What’s the world auction record for a piece from Freaks? We sold an insert in March 2009 for $107,550. It does picture the freaks, and it shows Baclanova and Earles embracing. Above that is written out, “Freaks”. You can tell they’re freaks, but its not really so, so obvious. You don’t see the legless man or any of that. They’re done in caricature. [MGM] was pulling its punches to some degree.

What is the lobby card like in person? It’s really pretty. The photos are a true and accurate representation. It’s got a beautiful, soft, Technicolor look. It’s really quite gorgeous. That’s why I’ve always been in love with lobby cards. They’re really just beautiful.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Anything from this title will stick in my memory. Anytime I get items that are scarce or rare sticks in my memory. I’m impressed they survived. And it’s fun to see things we’ve never sold before.

How to bid: The Freaks lobby card is lot #86165 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction that Heritage Auctions is holding on July 27 and 28, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun.

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NEW RECORD! The 1935 Negro League Baseball Broadside That Featured 15 Hall of Famers Sold at Hake’s For (Scroll Down to See)

This page from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside shows the Homestead Grays.

Update: The 1935 Negro League baseball broadside sold for $8,850, which represents a new auction record for this collectible item.

What you see: A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant.

How rare is Negro League Baseball (NLB) material in general? I suspect less of it was made, and less of it was saved. Is that correct? Exactly. Before Major League Baseball (MLB) became integrated in 1947, it was very unusual to find any surviving examples of NLB material, whether it was game-used pieces, cards, postcards, scorecards, or broadsides. There was never a single NLB baseball card issued in the United States, as opposed to millions released for MLB up until 1947.

Who was the audience for this cardboard broadside? It was not for sale. It was not produced for public collectibility. The audience was local townspeople, and it tried to draw them to a game. If you’re in inner city Pittsburgh, walking down Main Street, and you pass a hardware store, it might have this in the window. Some were displayed outdoors, posted on trees. I guarantee this one was in a store, because it survived in such nice condition.

Josh Gibson's image from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Josh Gibson

The lot notes call this “what we believe to be the finest surviving example of Negro League Baseball advertising ever produced.” Could you elaborate? What makes it so fine? Going back to 2014, I researched NLB collectibles in general for over a year. I looked for anything with picture images on it–scorecards, broadsides… I didn’t have a whole lot of luck with photographs being pictured for the most part, until 1940. Then the images start getting clearer. Complete images of players in 1935 is unprecedented.

The lot notes also say player images were rarely featured before 1935. Is that true of just NLB, or all forms of professional baseball in the U.S. then? The NLB. It didn’t have quite so much in the way of broadsides. Expense and cost probably played a part in it. In the NLB, money was always tight.

The first page of the 1935 Negro National League broadside shows group shots of six of the eight teams.

Six of the eight 1935 NLB teams are shown on this broadside. Is it possible to know why the Newark Dodgers and the Philly Stars are not pictured here? It seems extra-weird that the Stars appear in name only, considering they were the defending champions. My guess is they [the leaders of the NLB] planned to do something similar for all teams in the league, but for some reason, production stopped too quickly. To raise the money to print, they probably went to each team and said “Look, we’re going to promote all the teams, and the cost is $100 per team,” and six said “OK” and paid it. The other two, maybe, didn’t have the money or didn’t think it was worthwhile. So they’re represented, but there are no pictures.

And this having “Nashville Elite Giants” on the front implies this was probably meant for display somewhere in Nashville, Tennessee? Probably. Whether they made them for other teams, I don’t know.

The Chicago American Giants team from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.

What accounts for the way the pages of player photos are composed? My guess is they extracted the players’ images from the team photo. It’s possible that the Philly Stars and the Newark Dodgers didn’t have a team photo.

So, it looks great, but what else makes the broadside extraordinary? A total of 15 of the players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, not counting the two teams who are not pictured. It has over 100 players [shown] on it. If any new [NLB] players get in the Hall of Fame, it will drive up the value further. The more superstars, the higher the value. Not only is the broadside worth a lot now, it has good investment potential for the future.

How many other copies of this broadside are known? My research shows three others have come up for auction. They are three different copies. You can see when they come up that the condition is different.

What’s the world auction record for this piece? The highest price I found was in 2010 at Heritage Auctions, which sold a copy for $6,572.50.

Cool Papa Bell's portrait from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Cool Papa Bell

How did this particular copy manage to survive in such good condition? It was probably indoors instead of outdoors, and when the store owner was finished displaying it, he took it down and put it away, and it stayed in the building for who knows how long. Or, it went back to a team executive who took it back, and it stayed in a team archive for a while. Or, it went to a player. Executives’ and players’ estates are often the way this material comes to auction. That’s how a lot of it gets to the public.

Is there anything else out there among NLB collectibles that comes close to this broadside? There’s a 1924 Negro League World Series panoramic photo that shows 41 or 42 individual players and eight Hall of Famers. That’s the best I could find outside of this one.

The legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords, as shown in the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.

This broadside pictures the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, which the lot notes say might be the “finest baseball club of all time. black or white”. Could you talk a bit more about that? What makes the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords legendary? In early baseball, the pitcher and the catcher tend to be the most important from a fan viewpoint. The Crawfords put Satchel Paige on as a pitcher, and Josh Gibson as a catcher. Paige was the best, and Gibson was the best. Getting both made for a tremendously successful team. Then they had Oscar Charleston, who was one of the top two all-around NLB players ever. With Oscar, they had a dynasty. Add Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson, and you have five Hall of Famers on one team, all at the peak of their careers, except Charleston, who was on a slide.

What is the broadside like in person? It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. The outer boundary edges and the corners are intact. There are no pieces missing, no chips. Toning [a brown discoloration] is minimal compared to other copies. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.

Satchel Paige's photograph from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Satchel Paige

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I was at the 2010 auction at Heritage and saw that one in person, but this is the first I’ve handled. I was always a big fan of this piece. Besides its appeal to the NLB collector base, a lot of people collect Baseball Hall of Fame material. This will strongly appeal to them because there’s 15 Hall of Famers on it. And a few NLB guys appear in virtually no other photographs. If you’re looking for those guys, this might be your only chance, ever, to fill the hole in your collection.

How to bid: The 1935 NLB broadside is item 519 in Auction #227 at Hake’s Auctions. Bidding on this particular item ends on July 10, 2019.

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You can purchase Philip Garry III’s Negro Leagues Baseball collectibles guide on eBay.

Images are courtesy of Hake’s.

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RECORD! An Earnest-Gregory Dovetailed Goose Commands $810,000 and Several Auction Records at Copley

A full profile view of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose, a decoy that dates to circa 1870 and bears the name of two of its past owners as its creator is unknown. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2018 for $810,000, setting a record for a goose decoy and a record for a decoy by an anonymous maker.

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Ok, I’m starting with what might be an impudent question. The decoy depicts a Canada goose. In the 21st century, I know these birds as pests. Why did hunters in the late 19th century go after them? Were they pests then, too? Did they eat them? Was it both? Geese are good table fare. There’s a lot of meat on each bird. They’re great sporting game and they’re fun to hunt. The modern frustrations with the geese are just that–trouble with residential geese. Historically, geese were held in high regard and decoy-makers held them in high regard. Top goose-makers had fun with the head positions. You get a tremendous amount of variation from top goose makers. Geese are still celebrated by sportsmen and hunters today.

The goose decoy is named in part for Adele Earnest, the collector who sourced it and its two sibling decoys in 1954. Did she leave any notes about how she discovered the trio? She mentioned that she got them in Columbia, Pennsylvania. If there were details, they weren’t particularly telling on who made them and what the circumstances were. The fact that she remembered the town and the year is above the standard then in terms of collecting. And in collecting communities, there’s a lot of confidentiality about where something is sourced. A lot of times, collectors don’t divulge all the details of their finds.

Have any other decoys by this anonymous maker turned up? There are three geese known by this maker. Adding to that are a number of shorebirds that have the dovetail construction. Some of them were found in Massachusetts, and some believe the geese are from Massachusetts because of the shorebird find. Not until they were X-rayed could we be sure they were made by the same maker. The intricate techniques and specific materials used in construction identify them as being by the same maker.

No one else uses dovetail construction on their decoys? The dovetail construction is virtually unseen in any other decoy.

The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy, with its head removed from the neck slot to show the unusual dovetail construction.

And the trail on the trio of decoys is completely cold? They were made as tools, and as such, were not signed as works of art. As tools, their value sunk to almost zero when plastic decoys entered the field. Only when they were recontextualized as found art did they have value again. When they were tools without a job, no one kept notes. It’s not uncommon for decoys to lose their entire history. At this point, the trail is cold unless the history is contained within the objects themselves.

Collector Stewart Gregory bought two of the three decoys from Earnest. Where is the third? Number three is in the Jerry Lauren collection. He has the other one.

Why did Gregory buy only two of the three? We don’t know the specifics, but it is unusual for collectors to acquire duplicates, of geese especially. Gregory was actually breaking with collecting norms by acquiring two geese with the same head position. It’s a testimony to his incredible excitement. With duck decoys, you have hens and drakes. Sexual dimorphism encourages collecting them in pairs. Shorebirds are small enough to keep two or three together. The exception is to have two geese in identical form.

Adele Earnest said the trio of goose decoys prompted her “subsequent devotion to the decoy as an art.” Donal C. O’Brien Jr., who had dozens of elite decoys, considered this one “the finest bird in his collection,” and “the best of the two” Gregory geese. What makes this decoy so great? This decoy strikes me as a complete object, purely from a visual sense. It will satisfy you from 100 yards away and when you have it in your hand. As a complete work of art in craftsmanship, it leaves virtually no room for improvement. I would add that as a decoy, it has impeccable provenance, and what I consider a perfect amount of gunning wear.

Gunning wear means it was “shot over”? Hunters fired their guns over the decoy in pursuit of live birds? Yes. As a tool for attracting birds, it was used in the water. It was used and abused as any decoy would be over [hunting] seasons.

What can we infer about the maker of this decoy by looking at it? When I see a piece like this, I see an incredibly talented craftsman who has a few audiences. Number one is the birds he’s trying to attract. Number two is the customer. Number three is their own standards and the ideas they may have about creating objects that live up to the talents they’re endowed with and should share. Some of these makers had a work ethic that was tied to their religion. They felt they had a duty to make the best object they could with their hands. They see themselves as having god-given talents they’re obliged to use to the fullest. That’s the idea. It’s evidenced when you look at the parts that are not seen by the bird or the hunter.

Detail of the carved tail of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

You mean details that only show up on X-rays–a technology that did not exist when we think this decoy was made? I’ve looked at a thousand decoy X-rays. There’s a strong connection between the level of craftsmanship on the outside of the bird and the level of craftsmanship on the inside. There’s an almost perfect correlation, makers holding their own personal standards.

What other things can you tell about the maker? Looking at its surface alone, I can identify half a dozen different painting techniques, which is unusual for decoys. You’re looking at a competent, well-trained artisan who paints well. He doesn’t labor over it. And that’s just the paint. The hollow body is meticulously hollowed, and the decoy has one of the most sophisticated head-to-neck transitions of any decoy. It has a nice finish, which is more challenging, but also can be more rewarding to the viewer and [can] show the most competent craftsmen at work. You can sand out a lot of mistakes. This person left it clean and crisp because he got it right the first time. The competence of the carving has led people to believe or wonder if it was made by a professional carousel carver, but nobody has lined up a carousel carving with this particular bird.

And we can be confident that the anonymous 19th-century maker is male? It’s far outside of precedent to be a woman. There are no documented female carvers [from that era, but you have to] consider that it possibly could have been a female painter. There’s a lot of collaborative effort in decoys.

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? My favorite thing about the bird is its totality. There’s no other decoy as satisfying from so many perspectives as this one, to me. But it’s probably the way the bird is hollowed out very intricately by hand to create the most stable, lightweight, and durable decoy possible. He’s doing work that no one is going to see.

It’s only going to show up on an X-ray? Only you at Copley will see it? [Laughs] Yes. The only people who’ll see it are the people at Copley, the clients, and the people who come to my X-ray talks.

Does the dovetail base on this goose decoy offer the hunter an advantage? The dovetail joint from the neck into the body offers a great advantage to a hunter. It allows the hunter to take the bird apart and transport it much more easily, with less chance of breakage. It’s understood, from a collecting standpoint, that goose heads [on decoys] crack or break off entirely. This bird is of durable construction, with a removable head. That’s no small part of why it’s in the condition it’s in, and why it has an unbroken neck today.

Detail shot of the Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy to show the head in place, but slightly slid out of the dovetail join.

Were you surprised it sold for $810,000? It was not a surprise that it went at that level. It was worth every penny. In terms of records, this is the third-highest price for any decoy at auction. It’s also a record for any goose decoy at auction, and an auction record for any unknown [decoy] maker.

How long might this record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? There are several goose decoys that could break this number. The first to come to mind are by Elmer Crowell, one of which used to hold the world record for any decoy. Others sit very close to the top of the list. I see the high-end decoy market continuing to expand and grow. I expect a significant amount of turnover in price at the very top.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This specific decoy, before I ever saw it, was my favorite in the entire field of American waterfowl. The more time I spent with it, the better it got. I was so fortunate to be part of offering it for sale.

What was it like to hold it in your hands? It was a little scary. Let me rephrase that–it made you very aware you were holding a tremendously valuable object. It was also very satisfying. It’s a commanding and engaging object. It could dominate any space you put it in. Those are traits that only the greatest objects I’ve handled have.

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Images are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its Sporting Sale 2019 on July 25 at Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Top lots include the Harmon “Dust Jacket” Plover trio, a group of shorebirds carved by Elmer Crowell, estimated at $730,000 to $1.1 million.

Colin McNair spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about a preening black duck by Elmer Crowell from the same auction that ultimately sold for $600,000.

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

Yes, I filed this story under “Quack” even though the decoy depicts a goose. #SorryNotSorry

SOLD! A First-edition Copernicus at Christie’s London Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Detail shot of Copernicus's 1543 book, showing the sun at the center of the universe.

Update: The first-edition Copernicus sold for £587,250, or $734,569.

What you see: A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Christie’s London estimates it at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200.

The expert: Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s.

Do we know how many copies of this book were printed in 1543, and how many survive? By conjecture, we can get to between 400 and 500 copies printed of the first edition. 277 have been described, but we have lost some of those. There are about 250 we know of.

Who would have been the audience for this book in 1543? Universities? Yes, but universities would have been more fluid entities than we know now. The purchaser would have been an astronomer or a lecturer. The book would have traveled with the scholar. The audience would have been a specialized community of scientists devoted to astronomy, and astronomy was not what we intend it now to be. It was a lot to do with calendar-setting and what we’d now say are horoscope predictions. It wasn’t just observing celestial phenomena.

Can we tell, simply by looking at the finished book, how challenging it might have been to make? The book has 142 woodcut illustrations in it. You appreciate that the scientist had to draw these illustrations and the woodcutter had to reproduce them. A lot of precision was needed. Copernicus, at the time, was living in the very north of Poland, and his publisher was in Nuremberg, Germany, about 1,000 miles away. He didn’t have the chance to personally oversee [the book’s] production. He had to delegate production to a pupil, Georg Joachim Rheticus. Then Rheticus got another job at a university that was miles away, and Andreas Osiander was asked by the publisher to oversee the last bit.

Detail shot of Copernicus's landmark 1543 book, open to show one of its woodcut illustrations.

What challenges did Copernicus face in publishing this book? How did those challenges shape how he presented his information? It was the publisher’s skin at stake as much, if not more, than Copernicus. That has to get into the picture. Copernicus wrote a very diplomatic introduction that makes Osiander’s preface irrelevant. Another challenge, for example, was the patronage challenge.

Copernicus and the publisher sought funding from patrons? No. The aim was to get protection, not money, not advancement.

So, patronage in this case meant asking influential people not to aim their guns at this book? I think so. Copernicus was very clever [to say in his introduction] “It’s all for astronomers. It doesn’t question the prime mover or the God side of things, really. It’s going to be used by professionals so we can have a better calendar, and better predictions of the future, so you should be happy.” That probably means he was conscious that the content might raise eyebrows.

How real were the risks that Copernicus and his publisher faced? What consequences could have, or would have, followed if they hadn’t proceeded in the way that they did? Copernicus was a Catholic canon [a type of administrator within his local church], so he could have lost his position in the hierarchy. Dissemination of the book could have been impaired [by church censorship]. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had been mooted by others. The risks to his nice, quiet life as a Catholic canon were there, but it wasn’t the risk of prison that Galileo faced later.

What might be the title page of Copernicus's 1543 masterwork that place the sun at the center of the heavens.

Yeah, about that. How did Copernicus present his information in a way that spared him the persecution that Galileo suffered later? How much of it is down to Copernicus’s introduction, in which he lays out the historical underpinnings of his findings? I think it’s in the nature of the book. Galileo produced evidence, actual observed evidence, that this is how physical, material things work. Copernicus was projecting a mathematical model, and said in a letter that it didn’t necessarily have bearing on reality. Observing something physical is almost like piercing a tire–the whole thing didn’t hold up anymore. An observation can be repeated, and shown to be the case. Galileo said it was the only possibility. Copernicus said, “Ok, we’ve gone through a lot of hypotheses, and I believe this is a better and more useful model for making predictions, and you’re going to find, I think, that people will demonstrate this to be the case.” When Copernicus was censored, [the church’s prohibition meant] people must not read the book until it had been corrected. There were only ten corrections. If people possessed the book, they were invited to insert the corrections, and with the corrections, it was accepted by the Catholic Church. One correction was brutal–an entire chapter taken off. But of those extant, only one copy [reflects] carried-out corrections. Most don’t have any expurgations at all.

I imagine some reluctance to carry out the corrections was rooted in the cost of the book. Books were more expensive then… This book cost about one florin. An academic salary was about 100 to 120 florins per year. Considering that the academics had to buy and ship their books, plus cover their own food and maintenance, 1/100th of a yearly salary is not little.

As for Osiander and his preface–I’m guessing the publisher pressured him to write it, to double-cover everyones’ backsides, just in case. I think so, and it’s not just me, but these are conjectures. I quote mainly Owen Gingerich [Harvard professor emeritus, who wrote, in essence, a biography of this Copernicus book] that Rheticus, the pupil who oversaw the publication, crosses Osiander’s bit out in his own copy. Copernicus’s pupil, the one he trusted most, got quite cross with it and crossed it out. I believe if Rheticus had seen to the completion of the work, it [Osiander’s preface] probably would not have happened. Again, how much is conjecture, I don’t know. It’s just a really good story.

How physically involved was Copernicus in the production of the book? He gave the manuscript to Rheticus, who brought it to Nuremberg and started work on it. The printer printed quires, groups of leaves, and sent them to Copernicus for corrections. The last batch of leaves was never corrected, or Copernicus’s corrections were never sent back to the printer. Copernicus did remain involved and engaged with the production of the book, even at a distance, up until the last part.

Do we know how long a gap there was between Copernicus receiving a finished copy and Copernicus’s death? The lot notes say a copy “reached him on the eve of his death,” but is that literally true? They finished printing the whole book on April 20, 1543. We know because Rheticus dedicated a letter to a friend that said, “look at what [we] finished.” Nuremberg was 1,000 miles from Copernicus, so it took two weeks, possibly more, to ship it. Rheticus’s account says Copernicus received it the day before he died, and there’s no reason to doubt that.

The 1543 first edition Copernicus, shown closed and standing upright, with the spine visible.

Do we know if Copernicus was lucid enough to recognize and savor the achievement represented by the finished book? We don’t know. There’s no account of his reaction, but he had seen the proofs of most of the book, and he worked on it for 15 years. He was a perfectionist. There were no telescopes then–all observations were done with the naked eye. Copernicus had to be pushed to produce the book. Seeing the physical quires would have given him a sense of it actually happening.

How was it received in 1543? Did people recognize it for what it was? Absolutely. There was no sense of it being kept under the radar. A second edition was printed in 1566, in the same amount of copies, and it was an exact reprint of the first edition–no corrections. The fact that demand [was strong enough for a reprint] only 20 years later means the reaction was very positive and people picked it up.

What condition is this copy in? I’d say it’s comparable with other copies sold in the past. It’s an OK copy, it’s good. Most copies have blemishes. It’s important to bear in mind that the record $2.2 million price set at Christie’s New York in 2008 by the Richard Green copy is a total outlier. That copy was exceptional. No copy is as good, [whether it is held] privately or in an institution.

How often does a copy of this first edition come to auction? In the last 20 years, five copies have come up at auction. It’s always been a prized book, a milestone in the history of thought. I’d say half a million and upward is a consistent result.

What is the provenance of this copy? It comes from a Japanese university that’s not looking to continue its mission. Its library is going to be discontinued. It’s been in Japan for 40 years. The copy went through Italy and possibly France and eventually Japan via the book trade. It didn’t belong to any scientist or head of state that we know of. People have done very naughty things to these books–stealing pages and cutting out pages with stamps [library identification stamps] on them. This book has not been stolen from a library. You can be confident that’s the case.

What is the book like in person? What’s it like to handle it? The binding is later, but you don’t want to over-open it. Other than that precaution, it’s actually a very natural, very good, very wholesome experience to hold a book of that age. You feel confident that you can leaf through it, back and forth. To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.

The 1543 Copernicus, open to the page showing the woodcut illustration that places the sun at the center of everything, rather than the earth.

Why will this book stick in your memory? For me, the excitement does not necessarily come from a specific copy, but its [being part of] a momentous edition. The whole story is exciting. The passing of geocentrism, putting the sun at the center of the universe, turns a page of history. It’s a fantastic testament to humanity, to people’s ability to reason.

How to bid: The first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V is lot 599 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London on July 10, 2019.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Christie’s also produced a story with Barbara Scalvini discussing the Copernicus and other landmark books that established that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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Apollo 11 Moon Walk Videotape from NASA Could Command $2 Million at Sotheby’s

A trio of original, first-generation NASA videotapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20, 2019.

What you see: Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimates the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million.

The expert: Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

How do we know these are the only surviving first-generation recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk? Let me add a word in there: only surviving first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk. That’s important. The way these tapes were created was the images were sent from the moon and captured in California and Australia, and those images were recorded onto slow-scan tapes that took up 45 reels. The information on the 45 reels were scanned onto two-inch AMPEX reels, of which there are only three. What was seen at Houston and NASA mission control is what is on those tapes. NASA was the first place to receive the images [from ground stations in Australia and California], and they were then sent to various television stations around the world. With each subsequent bounce from station to station, [the images] degraded each time. What you saw live on TV was a lower quality than what was on these tapes.

So it–the TV images of the moon walk–were like a photocopy of a photocopy? Kind of, yeah. How we know these are the only surviving original first-generation NASA tapes is they were sold at a government surplus auction in 1976. The selling body was NASA. Many years later, when NASA searched for the slow-scan tapes, the 45 reels couldn’t be found. Then they discovered, unfortunately, that they had been erased and recorded over. The slow-scan tapes were the best tapes until the moment they were recorded over. Then the ones we’re selling became the best-surviving tapes because they’re the only NASA recording left.

Do we know when the 45 reels of slow-scan tapes were erased and recorded over? Nobody knows, but it’s safe to assume NASA had not discovered that, or had not erased the tapes when they sold [this set of three tapes] in a government auction. My guess is they would not have sold them if they realized [the slow-scan tapes] were erased or would be erased.

So it was safe for NASA to sell the trio of tapes in 1976 because they had, or reasonably believed they had, the slow-scan tapes? Yes. It was not a negative for NASA to sell them, because they had a superior copy.

When did NASA discover that the slow-scan tapes had been erased? In 2008 or 2009, around the time of the 40th moon walk anniversary.

That must have been a gut punch, to realize the slow-scan tapes of the first moon walk were gone. I’m sure it was because of budget cuts. Around the period of the [1970s] energy crisis, federal buildings were required to turn the air-conditioning off if there were no employees there on the weekend. The tapes in one building in Texas were found covered in mold [as a result of the energy conservation directive]. I’m sure it spurred the sale of the tapes. They couldn’t store them properly, so sell them and get some money out of them or throw them in the trash.

The press release also describes the tapes as “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered.” Does that mean that other period tapes of the moon walk have suffered that fate? Yes. When NASA discovered the slow-scan tapes had been erased, they decided to use other footage for the 40th anniversary. That footage was made sharper, crisper, more viewable. But once you restore something, you change it. It’s no longer in its original condition, and that has an impact from an artifactual and a value standpoint. Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.

One of the three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, shown with its red and black storage case.

Ok, so we’ve established that NASA had no reason to believe they were giving away a gem when they consigned these tapes to auction, but this isn’t the first time that the government has unwittingly or accidentally sold a priceless artifact of the space race. Why does this keep happening? You’ve got to remember what NASA is and what its purpose is. They’re engineers. Not archivists. Not librarians. If you want archivists, there’s a specific degree and training you need. They have done their best to archive material, but after all, it’s a government agency, and it’s not funded as much as it could be. They’re not a museum. They’re a space agency. If they hired someone to oversee all their artifacts before they go into a GSA auction, that’d be great.

But they’d need more than one person to do that… They’d have to have an army. People make a living out of paying attention to these sales. It’s impossible to go over every item to make sure it’s not super-valuable. The amount of research we did on this…

How long did it take you to research this lot? Days? I couldn’t even quantify it in days.

Because you’re picking it up and putting it down… And discussing, and reading books and articles, and watching videos, and talking to colleagues, and scratching my head. It does take quite a lot of time. We put quite a lot of thought into it. It’s very much a team effort.

So Gary George bought the lot, which contained over 1,000 videotapes, for $217.77 in 1976, and he could have sold any one of those tapes for $200 at the time. That was exactly what he was doing. He was an intern at NASA, and a lot of interns, for fun, would go to government surplus auctions. George said he bought himself a sports car with the money he made. They were guys in their twenties, being entrepreneurial. He hit the jackpot, but he didn’t realize it at first.

When did George find the trio of tapes within the larger group? He filled three U-Haul trucks [with tapes] and stored them in his parents’ garage. He sold them as quickly as he could. It was his dad who said, “Those tapes say ‘Apollo 11 EVA July 20 1969’ on them. Maybe you should keep them.” His dad really saved those tapes. George was a young guy. He was going to resell them.

A stack of three AMPEX tape boxes containing original, first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk.

I guess George thought NASA couldn’t have done something so silly as to sell tapes that record the first moon walk? Yeah. At that point, he held onto them, close to when he bought them. It was not until 2006 or 2007, when NASA was hunting for the slow-scan tapes, that he saw them and thought, “Gee, maybe I have something that’s important.”

When did you and your colleagues at Sotheby’s learn about the tapes? George reached out to us recently, in 2018.

I’ve heard tell of badly stored nitrate films from the silent era bursting into flame. Do these tapes pose a similar risk? Luckily, that’s not an issue here. I think post-1965, most were recorded using safety film. It will eventually degrade, but it is in remarkable condition. [When I brought it to an engineer who owned a device that could play it,] I didn’t tell them what it was. They spontaneously said, “Wow.” They kept remarking on the quality and how sharp the image was. Just by looking, they were able to tell me the tape was an original–I didn’t tell them it was an original. I was just a weird lady who came into the office with tapes she wanted to play.

Will the winning bidder need to hunt down a period AMPEX videotape device to watch these reels? No. They’ve been digitized in a super-high-resolution manner and saved onto a one-terabyte hard drive and a thumb drive. You can watch the hard drive or the thumb drive and keep the reels as artifacts. It’s kind of like having the manuscript, a first edition, and a paperback of the same book. You read the paperback, and the manuscript and the first edition stay on the shelf. I always bring it back to books…

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did NASA shoot these videos in black and white? Not that that makes much difference on the lunar surface, which is pretty close to black-and-white as it is. They’re in both. In the opening footage, you see engineers in mission control, and that’s in color. On the lunar surface, it’s black and white. [It might have been] because they didn’t have the capability to broadcast color from the moon, and because most people had black and white televisions [in 1969].

And to clarify–these are NOT three reels from the missing 45. These are separate and different yes? They are not three from the 45, but they represent what’s on the 45 reels. This is the complete EVA [extra-vehicular activity]. I can only imagine what the quality would have been if they’d taken up the 45 reels. Maybe there was a little extra, but who knows? The 45 reels have been erased. But the content should be the same.

Again, apologies for what might be a silly question, but I feel I should clarify–the winner gets the physical things in the lot, and does not receive copyright or control over the images shown on the three reels, yes? We’re just selling the tapes themselves as artifacts. The content is in the public domain. There is no copyright. If you want to make and sell t-shirts [with these images], you’ve got to ask permission [from NASA].

Is there anything about these tapes that doesn’t come across in the photos? For example, how heavy are they? They are very heavy. Each reel weighs about 15 pounds. They were too heavy for one person to carry all three on the airline.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you had to fly the tapes to New York. How did that work? It was complicated to get them on the plane. At security, they could have been demagnetized, because they’re magnetic tapes. We had to flag them for special screening, so they weren’t brought anywhere near magnetic machines. I viewed them on the East coast to be sure they didn’t get erased between the West coast and getting here.

It must have been a relief to watch the tapes and realize they’d arrived safely. It was a tense moment, watching the engineer spool it up on the machine. It was nerve-wracking. But I realized what a nerd I really am–it started, and I narrated it. I really know this mission!

The three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk, each shown on top of their red and black boxes.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.

How to bid: The trio of Apollo 11 videotape recordings is lot 104 in the Space Exploration sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on July 20, 2019 (of course).

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.

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize and an Apollo 13 flight plan.

In a NASA story about the search for the slow-scan tapes that mentions this trio of videotapes, the agency states, “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

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RECORD! The Bulova Chronograph that Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott Wore on the Moon Sold for $1.6 Million at RR Auction in 2015

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. RR Auction sold it in October 2015 for $1.6 million against an estimate of $750,000. It set a then-record for an Apollo item, a record for an item owned and directly consigned by an astronaut, a record for a timepiece used on the lunar surface, a record for any Bulova watch, and a RR Auction house record for the most expensive lot that it has handled.

The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

The Apollo astronauts relied on government-issued Omega Speedmaster chronographs. How did Scott convince NASA to let him use the Bulova instead? He didn’t. Scott and the others are engineers, responsible for the lives of their crews. They brought backups. Bulova gave him the watch and a stopwatch, which we also sold. The company was U.S.-owned at the time. They tried very hard to get the chronograph contract from NASA. Bulova’s then-boss, Omar Bradley, had said, “How can we put boys on the moon wearing foreign-made watches?” During the second EVA [A NASA acronym that stands for “extravehicular activity,” which describes anything an astronaut does outside a spacecraft that has left the Earth], he noticed that the crystal on his Omega Speedmaster was gone. We don’t know why [it went missing] but the heat emanating from the sun may have heated to a temperature that had it pop off. Scott took the Omega off the strap and replaced it with the Bulova. It was a prototype watch. He brought it as a backup, with no promises to the Bulova company that he would use it.

The Bulova was a prototype? It was the prototype they made to pitch to NASA on the contract that Omega got. They developed it to go to the moon, but it was never put into production. Only Dave, the [spacecraft] commander, had a Bulova backup. I don’t think the others [his two crewmates] were approached by the Bulova company.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

Could you talk for a bit about why the astronauts needed these watches, and how they relied on them? They all needed wristwatches. Dave basically used it to keep track of the elapsed time on the consumables used. We included a quote from Scott in the catalog: “Time is of the essence during human lunar expeditions–and exploration time on the surface is limited by the oxygen and water (for cooling) we can carry in our backpacks… knowledge of precise time remaining was essential.”

How long did Scott wear the Bulova on the lunar surface? The third EVA was four hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds. [Livingston relayed these numbers from memory, with complete fluency.] What was really cool about the watch was he drove the lunar rover while wearing it. He was the first to drive on the moon, and the watch stood up to that, obviously. It was very much exposed to lunar material. You can see the scratches on the bezel.

Closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. Moon dust is visible on the face of the wristwatch.

Was Scott wearing the watch when he repeated Galileo’s experiment on the lunar surface, dropping the hammer and the feather and proving they’d hit the ground at the same time? Yes, but he didn’t actually use the watch. Each arm was holding out an item, and he didn’t need the timer to see them hit the surface. They hit at the same time. It was apparent. [Laughs] But he wore the watch when he did it. The significance of this particular watch on his arm when he did it was profound to us.

Did the watch and the strap have lunar dust on it? It certainly had remnants of lunar material when I saw it, and obvious damage to the crystal from the lunar surface.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full, with the fuzzy side of the velcro strap visible.

The strap as well? Yes, it was apparent that lunar material was on it when I got it. There are shots of Dave wearing the watch during splashdown [the term for when a spacecraft makes its return landing in the ocean; the astronauts disembark into a dinghy], so it may have been in the ocean. [RR Auction created a dedicated catalog for Scott’s Bulova. You can see a period photo of a post-splashdown Scott, his watch clearly visible on his wrist, on pages 14-15.] There is a bit of rust on the watch. I saw lunar dust on it. It wasn’t covered. There wasn’t tons of it. But it certainly had it.

What did Scott do with the watch after the Apollo 15 mission? He put it into a baggie and kept it in storage for 40 years until he sent it to us.

Does the watch have inherent value? Would it be worth something even if it hadn’t gone to the moon on Scott’s wrist? It sounds like it might, given that it was a prototype designed to win a NASA contract. Even if it never went to the moon, it has collectible value. Interestingly, when I approached Bulova and said I had Dave’s Bulova, which he wore on the moon, they didn’t believe me.

How did you convince Bulova of your claim? Dave had retained documents from Bulova. I had source material that didn’t exist in their archives of Omar Bradley talking about the watch and getting the contract. Then they believed me. [Laughs]

You set an estimate of $750,000. How did you come up with that number? We based it on other artifacts that we had sold for Dave Scott. We sold his rotational hand controller for a similar price, $610,000, and we sold his cuff checklist for $364,000. We felt it was the most important thing that he had in his collection. We recognized that it was the only watch that’s been on the lunar surface that you could own. The government still retains all of the Omega watches. Anything that’s been on the lunar surface has immense value because it’s critical to the mission. This certainly was.

I imagine there was cross-competition for this between watch collectors and space memorabilia collectors. That was exactly what happened. As it got higher, we had dueling collectors of Apollo [material] and watches. They understood the significance of the item. Not only was it on the surface, it was a watch. It crossed over, certainly.

 Did you try it on? I did not. The lunar strap had to fit on the space suit, so it was quite long. I used gloves to handle it. I do own a Bulova chronograph replica because it is my favorite thing.

Closeup of part of the velcro strap on the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

Do you wear the Bulova replica every day? Yeah! [laughs]

How did you convince Scott to consign the watch? We knew it existed. It was rumored in the collecting community that he wore it on the EVA. Once he became a client, it did take some effort for him to consign it, but he’s glad he did. It wasn’t the first thing out of storage. We built a relationship with him, and then he said, “I have this watch…”

Does the watch still work? From the time I got it to the time I sold it, it had a little life in it. Somehow, it showed us it still worked. [Between Scott taking the scouting photos of the watch and Livingston receiving the watch, the hands advanced, but it’s not clear when they briefly winked to life.] I wouldn’t wind it. Usually with a watch, you clean it. This watch, you don’t want to clean it. It’s just too important.

A closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

What was the auction like? We sold it live at our gallery in Boston. All of us worked really hard on the auction. It was a really intense moment, adrenalin pumping. When we exceeded our client’s expectations, it was unbelievable. If I recall correctly, there were five initial bidders. The lot took eight or nine minutes.

Was Scott there in the sale room? No, but he was listening through a computer. We got his reaction at the time. He was very generous and kind to everyone who worked on the auction. He made it about our staff and the auction. I think he understood the importance of getting the object in the hands of a collector who will take care of it. I think that’s what he cares about.

Were you surprised that it sold for $1.6 million? You know, our expectations were $750,000. It was thrilling for it to get to a $1 million bid and keep going [laughs loudly]. That was unbelievable. It was an achievement for us. We don’t sell fine art. We don’t have Banksy shredding his work on our walls. [laughs]

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It crosses so many lines. It’s history. It was important to the mission. It’s a great story. There’s incredible photographic provenance [evidence]. It comes right from him. It tells so many stories of the mission. It has an emotional resonance with me on so many levels. And it went to the moon! [laughs] And came back!

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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 RR Auction.

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to the digital version of the dedicated catalog that RR Auctions produced for the Bulova chronograph.

And in case you missed it above, here’s video of Dave Scott performing Galileo’s gravity experiment on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

And here’s a short video segment on the sale of the watch.

Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid previously about Dave Scott’s Apollo 17-flown Robbins medal and spoke in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

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 First-edition Copernicus Could Sell for Almost $900,000 at Christie’s London

Detail shot of Copernicus's 1543 book, showing the sun at the center of the universe.

What you see: A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Christie’s London estimates it at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200.

The expert: Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s.

Do we know how many copies of this book were printed in 1543, and how many survive? By conjecture, we can get to between 400 and 500 copies printed of the first edition. 277 have been described, but we have lost some of those. There are about 250 we know of.

Who would have been the audience for this book in 1543? Universities? Yes, but universities would have been more fluid entities than we know now. The purchaser would have been an astronomer or a lecturer. The book would have traveled with the scholar. The audience would have been a specialized community of scientists devoted to astronomy, and astronomy was not what we intend it now to be. It was a lot to do with calendar-setting and what we’d now say are horoscope predictions. It wasn’t just observing celestial phenomena.

Can we tell, simply by looking at the finished book, how challenging it might have been to make? The book has 142 woodcut illustrations in it. You appreciate that the scientist had to draw these illustrations and the woodcutter had to reproduce them. A lot of precision was needed. Copernicus, at the time, was living in the very north of Poland, and his publisher was in Nuremberg, Germany, about 1,000 miles away. He didn’t have the chance to personally oversee [the book’s] production. He had to delegate production to a pupil, Georg Joachim Rheticus. Then Rheticus got another job at a university that was miles away, and Andreas Osiander was asked by the publisher to oversee the last bit.

Detail shot of Copernicus's landmark 1543 book, open to show one of its woodcut illustrations.

What challenges did Copernicus face in publishing this book? How did those challenges shape how he presented his information? It was the publisher’s skin at stake as much, if not more, than Copernicus. That has to get into the picture. Copernicus wrote a very diplomatic introduction that makes Osiander’s preface irrelevant. Another challenge, for example, was the patronage challenge.

Copernicus and the publisher sought funding from patrons? No. The aim was to get protection, not money, not advancement.

So, patronage in this case meant asking influential people not to aim their guns at this book? I think so. Copernicus was very clever [to say in his introduction] “It’s all for astronomers. It doesn’t question the prime mover or the God side of things, really. It’s going to be used by professionals so we can have a better calendar, and better predictions of the future, so you should be happy.” That probably means he was conscious that the content might raise eyebrows.

How real were the risks that Copernicus and his publisher faced? What consequences could have, or would have, followed if they hadn’t proceeded in the way that they did? Copernicus was a Catholic canon [a type of administrator within his local church], so he could have lost his position in the hierarchy. Dissemination of the book could have been impaired [by church censorship]. The idea that the earth was not the center of the universe had been mooted by others. The risks to his nice, quiet life as a Catholic canon were there, but it wasn’t the risk of prison that Galileo faced later.

What might be the title page of Copernicus's 1543 masterwork that place the sun at the center of the heavens.

Yeah, about that. How did Copernicus present his information in a way that spared him the persecution that Galileo suffered later? How much of it is down to Copernicus’s introduction, in which he lays out the historical underpinnings of his findings? I think it’s in the nature of the book. Galileo produced evidence, actual observed evidence, that this is how physical, material things work. Copernicus was projecting a mathematical model, and said in a letter that it didn’t necessarily have bearing on reality. Observing something physical is almost like piercing a tire–the whole thing didn’t hold up anymore. An observation can be repeated, and shown to be the case. Galileo said it was the only possibility. Copernicus said, “Ok, we’ve gone through a lot of hypotheses, and I believe this is a better and more useful model for making predictions, and you’re going to find, I think, that people will demonstrate this to be the case.” When Copernicus was censored, [the church’s prohibition meant] people must not read the book until it had been corrected. There were only ten corrections. If people possessed the book, they were invited to insert the corrections, and with the corrections, it was accepted by the Catholic Church. One correction was brutal–an entire chapter taken off. But of those extant, only one copy [reflects] carried-out corrections. Most don’t have any expurgations at all.

I imagine some reluctance to carry out the corrections was rooted in the cost of the book. Books were more expensive then… This book cost about one florin. An academic salary was about 100 to 120 florins per year. Considering that the academics had to buy and ship their books, plus cover their own food and maintenance, 1/100th of a yearly salary is not little.

As for Osiander and his preface–I’m guessing the publisher pressured him to write it, to double-cover everyones’ backsides, just in case. I think so, and it’s not just me, but these are conjectures. I quote mainly Owen Gingerich [Harvard professor emeritus, who wrote, in essence, a biography of this Copernicus book] that Rheticus, the pupil who oversaw the publication, crosses Osiander’s bit out in his own copy. Copernicus’s pupil, the one he trusted most, got quite cross with it and crossed it out. I believe if Rheticus had seen to the completion of the work, it [Osiander’s preface] probably would not have happened. Again, how much is conjecture, I don’t know. It’s just a really good story.

How physically involved was Copernicus in the production of the book? He gave the manuscript to Rheticus, who brought it to Nuremberg and started work on it. The printer printed quires, groups of leaves, and sent them to Copernicus for corrections. The last batch of leaves was never corrected, or Copernicus’s corrections were never sent back to the printer. Copernicus did remain involved and engaged with the production of the book, even at a distance, up until the last part.

Do we know how long a gap there was between Copernicus receiving a finished copy and Copernicus’s death? The lot notes say a copy “reached him on the eve of his death,” but is that literally true? They finished printing the whole book on April 20, 1543. We know because Rheticus dedicated a letter to a friend that said, “look at what [we] finished.” Nuremberg was 1,000 miles from Copernicus, so it took two weeks, possibly more, to ship it. Rheticus’s account says Copernicus received it the day before he died, and there’s no reason to doubt that.

The 1543 first edition Copernicus, shown closed and standing upright, with the spine visible.

Do we know if Copernicus was lucid enough to recognize and savor the achievement represented by the finished book? We don’t know. There’s no account of his reaction, but he had seen the proofs of most of the book, and he worked on it for 15 years. He was a perfectionist. There were no telescopes then–all observations were done with the naked eye. Copernicus had to be pushed to produce the book. Seeing the physical quires would have given him a sense of it actually happening.

How was it received in 1543? Did people recognize it for what it was? Absolutely. There was no sense of it being kept under the radar. A second edition was printed in 1566, in the same amount of copies, and it was an exact reprint of the first edition–no corrections. The fact that demand [was strong enough for a reprint] only 20 years later means the reaction was very positive and people picked it up.

What condition is this copy in? I’d say it’s comparable with other copies sold in the past. It’s an OK copy, it’s good. Most copies have blemishes. It’s important to bear in mind that the record $2.2 million price set at Christie’s New York in 2008 by the Richard Green copy is a total outlier. That copy was exceptional. No copy is as good, [whether it is held] privately or in an institution.

How often does a copy of this first edition come to auction? In the last 20 years, five copies have come up at auction. It’s always been a prized book, a milestone in the history of thought. I’d say half a million and upward is a consistent result.

What is the provenance of this copy? It comes from a Japanese university that’s not looking to continue its mission. Its library is going to be discontinued. It’s been in Japan for 40 years. The copy went through Italy and possibly France and eventually Japan via the book trade. It didn’t belong to any scientist or head of state that we know of. People have done very naughty things to these books–stealing pages and cutting out pages with stamps [library identification stamps] on them. This book has not been stolen from a library. You can be confident that’s the case.

What is the book like in person? What’s it like to handle it? The binding is later, but you don’t want to over-open it. Other than that precaution, it’s actually a very natural, very good, very wholesome experience to hold a book of that age. You feel confident that you can leaf through it, back and forth. To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.


The 1543 Copernicus, open to the page showing the woodcut illustration that places the sun at the center of everything, rather than the earth.

Why will this book stick in your memory? For me, the excitement does not necessarily come from a specific copy, but its [being part of] a momentous edition. The whole story is exciting. The passing of geocentrism, putting the sun at the center of the universe, turns a page of history. It’s a fantastic testament to humanity, to people’s ability to reason.

How to bid: The first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V is lot 599 in the Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London on July 10, 2019.

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Christie’s also produced a story with Barbara Scalvini discussing the Copernicus and other landmark books that established that the Earth was not at the center of the universe.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! The First Lady Jackie Kennedy-Oleg Cassini Archive Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Fashion drawing done for First Lady Jackie Kennedy by a member of the House of Cassini.

Update: The Oleg Cassini-First Lady Jackie Kennedy archive sold for $3,125.

What you see: An image from an archive of more than 40 original drawings, letters, clippings, and other materials from the early 1960s that show how designer Oleg Cassini and his team developed fashions for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Doyle estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

How rare is it for something like this archive to survive? Is there anything similar between the First Lady and another fashion designer that dates to the White House years? It’s hard for me to say. It is a special archive. It’s Oleg Cassini’s workroom archive, and it shows a working relationship. It was ephemeral then, and it’s ephemeral now. The clothes were the final goal. This was how they did it in the analog age, by drawing everything out. They sat with Mrs. Kennedy and homed in on what she needed for her appearances and her events. Cassini made over 300 pieces for Mrs. Kennedy.

Wow, so he was really her go-to guy. Yes.

How did this archive survive? The archives usually remain with the fashion houses if they’re not discarded. This is a rare opportunity because material like this is seldom on the market.

What does this archive reveal about the working relationship between the First Lady and Cassini’s team? Mrs. Kennedy was highly involved in the process. She provided ideas and made her own drawings. She went through fashion magazines and newspapers and noted what she liked and didn’t like, and they would react to it. She would draw [fashion sketches] and write little comments on fabrics she liked and didn’t like. And she would comment on accessories–this needs a bag or a coat to match. The lot includes contact sheets–Cassini had models that wore Mrs. Kennedy’s size. She would annotate the pictures of the models. She’s very honest in her comments to him and very forthcoming. She felt very comfortable in the relationship and felt it went very well.

Fashion drawings done in blue ink the early 1960s by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, showing six figures in long dresses.
Fashion drawings by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, from lot 22 in the Doyle auction.

Are you aware of any other archive that’s come to auction that contains fashion drawings in Mrs. Kennedy’s own hand? We sold a similar fashion archive a few years ago. [It sold in November 2017 for $11,875.] It’s related to the same workshop, from the same period, and was retained by one of the workshop employees at the time. This is similar.

And Cassini stored it all this time? It comes directly from his estate. It was in his home in Oyster Bay, New York.

What was Jacqueline Kennedy’s relationship with Oleg Cassini like? It was extremely intimate. He was the one putting clothes on her back when she was the most-photographed woman on the planet. It has to be considered a collaboration with a wonderful public figure who embraced and acknowledged her role. I think that’s what we see with Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy.

And we know this archive stops in 1962 because… that’s the latest-dated item in it? I have something equally of note in the sale, but selling separately: Lot 14, a detailed workroom ledger of the Kennedy White House years. I know the record book starts in 1961. Page 14 is dated March 1963. The last entry before the assassination is November 13, 1963. There’s something somewhat ominous [mentioned in the ledger]–a pink costume dress and jacket. I think it’s poignant that the last entry before the assassination ends with a pink item.

What condition is the archive in? I think it’s in very good condition from the time of use until now. In the time it was used, it was handled, folded, mailed, and written on. There are some handling creases and torn corners, but it’s very well-preserved overall. The handling is original with its use.

Fashion drawing, with handwritten notes, done by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s. It shows three headless figures.
Another fashion drawing by the First Lady, with handwritten annotations.

What is it like to handle this material? It puts you in the moment with them. You feel like you’re in the room–that’s been my experience. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re in a workroom with Oleg Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy as they produced clothing that became iconic. The designs really became emblematic of the beginning of the 1960s–the Jet Set era, the Jackie look.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? Because it’s highly primary material. It’s a rare opportunity to engage with high-quality First Lady material, let alone the White House years known as Camelot, which doesn’t seem to recede from memory at all. It’s remarkable to view these items. That’s why they’ll stick with me.

How to bid: The Cassini-Kennedy archive is lot 22 in The Estate of Oleg Cassini, a sale taking place at Doyle on June 27, 2019.

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Images are courtesy of Doyle.

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

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(UPDATE) RECORD: A Game-Worn 1920 Babe Ruth Jersey Hit a Grand Slam at SCP Auctions in 2012

A circa 1920 gray flannel road jersey with the words New York across the front in blue, worn by Babe Ruth. It sold for $4.4 million in 2012.

Update: On June 15, 2019, Hunt Auctions sold a game-worn Babe Ruth jersey with the word “YANKEES” sewn across the chest for $5.64 million, setting a new record for any item of sports memorabilia.

What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more game-worn Babe Ruth uniforms saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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RECORD! A Studio Job Dressoir Sold for Almost $190,000 at Bonhams

A unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series, shown in full.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: A unique “dressoir” made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series. Bonhams sold the dressoir in June 2019 for $187,575, a record for a Studio Job piece.

The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.

Could we talk about Studio Job–what it is, what it’s known for? They’re designers from the Netherlands, a man and a woman, Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel. They do furniture and lighting that blurs the line between contemporary art and design, and they’re very successful, very highly regarded. They’re proudly Dutch, and they’re still there now. They had a retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2016.

Was this piece in that show? It wasn’t, but it had pieces from the Perished series. When Perished came out in 2004 or 2005, a debate was going on about how global warming affected species, and the effect of man on nature. It was in the ether at the time. People were talking about the environment. This is a very clever statement in a piece of design.

Is this piece typical or atypical for Studio Job? One reason why it did so well [at auction] is it features the Perished design. The series was like this cabinet–dark wood inlaid with lighter wood. The pattern was animal skeletons. I very clearly remember when it came out. It was very shocking, very bold. No one has done anything like it. This combines two Studio Job patterns, Perished and Industry. It was commissioned by a friend of the designers.

What makes the piece so shocking and bold? Marquetry, obviously, goes back to the 1500s or 1600s. It’s a well-known historical medium that no one had used for a modern graphic. It’s a symmetric pattern of skeletons, objects, missiles. It’s like contemporary art, but using an old furniture technique. That’s why the series is so popular–it takes a traditional furniture-making technique and turns it on its head. That’s what great design does. There’s great skill in a designer making you look at something old-fashioned or tired and making it relevant again.

A detail of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series. It is tightly crowded with bird's eye maple images of skeletons, bombs, butterflies, and gas masks on a Macassar ebony background.

What do we know about how it was made? I don’t know the process, but I imagine it involves computer-assisted design. It’s a combination of modern and traditional in how it’s made. It’s a key piece of design from this period.

What is a “dressoir”? Is it a word that Studio Job coined, or is it an established term? They’re Dutch. “Dressoir” is Dutch for dresser. It’s like a sideboard.

Does the Perished series typically pair macassar ebony and bird’s eye maple? It either used rosewood or macassar ebony and paired it with bird’s eye maple. They all have the same aesthetic, dark to light. I like it because a lot of contemporary design doesn’t use natural materials. It’s nice to see natural materials being used in a modern way.

Did Studio Job invent any new motifs for this commissioned piece? No, it’s a combination of the two. They didn’t come up with anything new.

Detail shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006, showing two primate skeletons with twined tails above the first names of the family members for whom it was commissioned.

One of the photos Bonhams sent shows a pair of primate skeletons with entwined tails, and four names underneath. What is the significance of the names? The names are the family that commissioned it. It’s a dedication.

Did the family use it? They did.

How? For storing clothes.

And the commissioner consigned it, correct? Yes. Because Studio Job are contemporary designers, it [accepting commissions] happens quite often. It’s not unusual.

Studio Job wouldn’t do something like this on spec? Generally, an important piece like this would tend to be commissioned. You can’t go into a store and pick it off a shelf.

Another detail shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job, featuring bird's eye maple images of hand grenades, helicopters, fish, and submarines on a Macassar ebony background.

Studio Job launched in 1998. When did the secondary market for its works begin? I would say probably 2004, 2005, 2006 their works started appearing on the auction market. Studio Job are young designers. To do that well on the secondary market speaks to their skills. Few contemporary designers have that success on the secondary market. And they’re still very active. It’s going to be amazing to see what else they design over their career.

So their career has legs? In thirty or forty years’ time, they’ll be a name like Gio Ponti and Jacques Ruhlmann are names? I think so. They’re definitely not a flash in the pan. In 2004, 2005, 2006, there was an appetite for their work back then at auction. The fact that they’ve kept a level of attention, if not increased it, is pretty significant for a designer. They’ve kept consistently relevant, which is hard to do in art or design.

What’s your favorite detail of this piece? I like the sloth skeleton in the central panel, which is hanging upside down, positioned how a sloth would be. And I like that the skeleton is quite smiley. They’re friendly skeletons. It’s a joyful piece. It speaks to Studio Job’s talents. The way things are arranged in the pattern is quite captivating. I’ve been staring at this thing for a month now, and it’s impossible to get bored with it. There’s so much to look at. I’ve only just realized the sea creatures are on the bottom and the planes and dragonflies and birds are all at the top.

A full shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job, with the doors open to reveal details of bird's eye maple bone images inlaid on the edges of the shelves.

What is it like in person? The combination of those two woods has a great warmth to it. You can see the striations in the dark wood, and the bird’s-eye maple has a dappled effect. The dark striped wood with pale spotted wood has a great 3-D feel to it. In a way, it looks too clinical in the photos. It burns out all those details. You don’t see them unless it’s in natural light.

The dressoir measures 37 1/2 inches tall, 78 3/4 inches wide, and 13 3/4 inches deep. But how big does it seem to be in person? It’s hard to get a sense of its proportions [from the photo]. When you see it, it’s quite a small size. That’s not a negative. It’s quite accessible and usable, a very easy piece to have in a home. It’s elegant in its size and scale.

What was the estimate? $40,000 to $60,000.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone.

With the winner? No, with one of the underbidders. There was a huge amount of interest in it. It came down to two bidders who were absolutely passionate about it. It was a career highlight for me, and I’m personally very pleased for Studio Job as well. They deserve this kind of success in the secondary market. Their work is superb. Very few living contemporary designers command those prices.

How long do you think this record for a Studio Job piece will stand? What else could challenge it? I think it will stand for a long time. I was unaware of this because it was a private commission. It combines the two most popular Studio Job patterns. I don’t think it’s going to be topped for the next two or three years.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’ve spent a lot of time with it over the course of four, five, six months. Because I’m a design specialist, I see so many things all the time. It takes something special to hold my attention. This one holds my attention consistently. It’s like a piece of good art you never tire of. I look at it and see new things all the time. And in the design world, it checks so many boxes–it’s a beautiful object, it’s functional, it’s a good piece of design, it references historical techniques in furniture-making, and it makes intellectual references to the environmental issues we’re facing globally. It’s quite, quite major.

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Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Bonhams.

Studio Job has a website.

Dan Tolson appeared previously on The Hot Bid talking about a unique Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce ceiling light, created for the 1964 World’s Fair, which sold for $32,500.

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

SOLD! The Steinlen Cat Poster with Two Progressive Prints Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

The completed version of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It features a calico cat and a black cat, both seated.

Update: The 1894 Steinlen cat poster, offered with two progressive prints, sold for $5,000.

What you see: An 1894 poster by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, advertising a show of his work at the Bodiniére gallery. It also includes two progressive prints of the lithographic poster (scroll down to see them). Rennert’s Gallery estimates the group at $14,000 to $17,000.

The expert: Jack Rennert of Rennert’s Gallery.

I realize to some extent that all posters are advertisements for an artist’s skills, but how unusual is it to see a poster as literal as this one, which advertises Steinlen’s first gallery show in Paris? He did this for an exhibition at Bodiniére. It’s not a reproduction of a poster or a painting [in the show]. It’s an actual design, integrated with text, and he designed the text. It’s completely his poster.

What does it say about him that when choosing the image for this poster–which is intended to lure people to the gallery to buy his artworks–he chose to depict cats? Cats are one of his most iconic and popular images. He loved cats, and had a house full of them. People say you could tell where he lived within five blocks of his house.

The lot notes describe the pair shown on the poster as “his cats.” Might we know which of his cats modeled for this? Did they have names? Or were these imaginary cats? He had dozens of stray cats that he brought into his home in Paris. He didn’t need to imagine them. He had his models right there in his home. Lot 450, the following lot, is maybe his most famous poster of all, and it has his daughter, Colette, and three cats. It was for sterilized milk. She’s testing it before she gives it to them. Of the three cats, the two at the front could be the same two in the Bodiniére exhibit poster. He did them two years apart.

Are the cats in the Bodiniére exhibition poster shown at around life size? The poster is 32 inches wide by 23 inches high, so yeah, pretty much life size. They take up half the entire image of the poster.

The poster is horizontal. Is that unusual for this era? Yes. Ninety percent of the posters of the 1890s were vertical posters, meant to go on vertical spaces, like hoardings. It could have been that this Bodiniére exhibit poster was never meant to be an outdoor advertisement. It could have been in store windows.

Do I sense Japanese influence here? It kind of reminds me of Japanese woodcuts. Japanese art was very popular and influential with many artists in the 1890s, especially in Paris. You can see some of that in the treatment here, especially in the coloring of the cats. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. This is Steinlen and his way of drawing.

Do we have any notion of how many of these posters were printed, and how many survive? We don’t know, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find out. I would guess that since it was a one-time exhibit, for one month, in one place and one city, I don’t think he would have had more than 200 or 300 copies made. There was no need for more.

This example of the poster comes with two progressive prints of the design, which show lithographic color passes. How do the prints give insight into how the poster was made? It’s stone lithography, so first, they’d do just the gray area, then overprint it with black in a few areas, giving it a solid, deep black look. The third color plate is red, which gives a nice color to the cat and the lettering. It’s unusual to show the final product and how it was arrived at.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the gray areas of the image.

Do we have any idea how this example of the poster survived with two related progressive prints? I’d say it’s more likely that it came from the archive of Charles Verneau, his favorite printer. There’s no reason for someone outside of a printing plant to have them. Every now and then you do see progressive prints for a poster, and inevitably, they come from printers’ storage. They’re rare.

How many times have you handled the Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster? Over the last 50 years, I’ve handled it ten to 12 times.

And how rare is it to see any poster with progressive prints, never mind a poster as iconic as this Steinlen? It’s extremely rare. Only real passionate poster collectors care enough to even want it. There’s nothing pretty about them. They’re incomplete works. But they appreciate seeing what went into the final [lithographic] stone.

In your 50 years in the business, how often have you seen a poster with progressive prints come up? I’ve probably had a couple dozen instances of that. Once every two or three years, I get a series.

So the Steinlen plus progressive prints will be of more interest to a museum or an institution? Absolutely. I expect museums, galleries, and foundations to have a special interest in them.

How did the presence of the progressive prints affect the estimate? It obviously increases it, but not by a hell of a lot. The poster often sells for $10,000. I estimated this in the $14,000 to $17,000 range because of the prints.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the black areas of the image.

What’s the world auction record for this Steinlen poster? Was it set with you? The highest at our auctions was $9,200 in 2006. [This seems to be the world record, not just a house record.]

What makes this a successful poster? Why does it still sell for thousands of dollars more than a century after it was printed? It’s very appealing. It catches your attention. Cat people have an additional reason to be enamored of it. It’s one of the favorite posters by one of the most famous poster artists of the period. It was an important exhibition for him. It established him in the artistic community.

So the 1894 show did well? It was a successful show for him. He sold all his works. I won’t say it was because of the poster, but maybe it takes some of the credit.

How to bid: The 1894 Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster is lot 449 in the PAI-LXXVIII: Rare Posters auction taking place at Rennert’s Gallery on June 23, 2019.

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An Amazing 1935 Negro League Baseball Broadside, Featuring Over 100 Players and 15 Hall of Famers, Could Command $20,000 at Hake’s

This page from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside shows the Homestead Grays.

What you see: A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant.

How rare is Negro League Baseball (NLB) material in general? I suspect less of it was made, and less of it was saved. Is that correct? Exactly. Before Major League Baseball (MLB) became integrated in 1947, it was very unusual to find any surviving examples of NLB material, whether it was game-used pieces, cards, postcards, scorecards, or broadsides. There was never a single NLB baseball card issued in the United States, as opposed to millions released for MLB up until 1947.

Who was the audience for this cardboard broadside? It was not for sale. It was not produced for public collectibility. The audience was local townspeople, and it tried to draw them to a game. If you’re in inner city Pittsburgh, walking down Main Street, and you pass a hardware store, it might have this in the window. Some were displayed outdoors, posted on trees. I guarantee this one was in a store, because it survived in such nice condition.

Josh Gibson's image from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Josh Gibson

The lot notes call this “what we believe to be the finest surviving example of Negro League Baseball advertising ever produced.” Could you elaborate? What makes it so fine? Going back to 2014, I researched NLB collectibles in general for over a year. I looked for anything with picture images on it–scorecards, broadsides… I didn’t have a whole lot of luck with photographs being pictured for the most part, until 1940. Then the images start getting clearer. Complete images of players in 1935 is unprecedented.

The lot notes also say player images were rarely featured before 1935. Is that true of just NLB, or all forms of professional baseball in the U.S. then? The NLB. It didn’t have quite so much in the way of broadsides. Expense and cost probably played a part in it. In the NLB, money was always tight.

The first page of the 1935 Negro National League broadside shows group shots of six of the eight teams.

Six of the eight 1935 NLB teams are shown on this broadside. Is it possible to know why the Newark Dodgers and the Philly Stars are not pictured here? It seems extra-weird that the Stars appear in name only, considering they were the defending champions. My guess is they [the leaders of the NLB] planned to do something similar for all teams in the league, but for some reason, production stopped too quickly. To raise the money to print, they probably went to each team and said “Look, we’re going to promote all the teams, and the cost is $100 per team,” and six said “OK” and paid it. The other two, maybe, didn’t have the money or didn’t think it was worthwhile. So they’re represented, but there are no pictures.

And this having “Nashville Elite Giants” on the front implies this was probably meant for display somewhere in Nashville, Tennessee? Probably. Whether they made them for other teams, I don’t know.

The Chicago American Giants team from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.

What accounts for the way the pages of player photos are composed? My guess is they extracted the players’ images from the team photo. It’s possible that the Philly Stars and the Newark Dodgers didn’t have a team photo.

So, it looks great, but what else makes the broadside extraordinary? A total of 15 of the players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, not counting the two teams who are not pictured. It has over 100 players [shown] on it. If any new [NLB] players get in the Hall of Fame, it will drive up the value further. The more superstars, the higher the value. Not only is the broadside worth a lot now, it has good investment potential for the future.

How many other copies of this broadside are known? My research shows three others have come up for auction. They are three different copies. You can see when they come up that the condition is different.

What’s the world auction record for this piece? The highest price I found was in 2010 at Heritage Auctions, which sold a copy for $6,572.50.

Cool Papa Bell's portrait from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Cool Papa Bell

How did this particular copy manage to survive in such good condition? It was probably indoors instead of outdoors, and when the store owner was finished displaying it, he took it down and put it away, and it stayed in the building for who knows how long. Or, it went back to a team executive who took it back, and it stayed in a team archive for a while. Or, it went to a player. Executives’ and players’ estates are often the way this material comes to auction. That’s how a lot of it gets to the public.

Is there anything else out there among NLB collectibles that comes close to this broadside? There’s a 1924 Negro League World Series panoramic photo that shows 41 or 42 individual players and eight Hall of Famers. That’s the best I could find outside of this one.

The legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords, as shown in the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.

This broadside pictures the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, which the lot notes say might be the “finest baseball club of all time. black or white”. Could you talk a bit more about that? What makes the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords legendary? In early baseball, the pitcher and the catcher tend to be the most important from a fan viewpoint. The Crawfords put Satchel Paige on as a pitcher, and Josh Gibson as a catcher. Paige was the best, and Gibson was the best. Getting both made for a tremendously successful team. Then they had Oscar Charleston, who was one of the top two all-around NLB players ever. With Oscar, they had a dynasty. Add Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson, and you have five Hall of Famers on one team, all at the peak of their careers, except Charleston, who was on a slide.

What is the broadside like in person? It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. The outer boundary edges and the corners are intact. There are no pieces missing, no chips. Toning [a brown discoloration] is minimal compared to other copies. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.

Satchel Paige's photograph from the 1935 Negro League Baseball broadside.
Satchel Paige

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I was at the 2010 auction at Heritage and saw that one in person, but this is the first I’ve handled. I was always a big fan of this piece. Besides its appeal to the NLB collector base, a lot of people collect Baseball Hall of Fame material. This will strongly appeal to them because there’s 15 Hall of Famers on it. And a few NLB guys appear in virtually no other photographs. If you’re looking for those guys, this might be your only chance, ever, to fill the hole in your collection.

How to bid: The 1935 NLB broadside is item 519 in Auction #227 at Hake’s Auctions. Bidding on this particular item ends on July 10, 2019.

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You can purchase Philip Garry III’s Negro Leagues Baseball collectibles guide on eBay.

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WOW! An Abraham Lincoln Parade Lantern Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

This rare circa 1860s parade lantern features an image of Abraham Lincoln on one panel and a spread-winged eagle sitting on a shield with the word "union" on it.

Update: Heritage Auctions sold the Abraham Lincoln parade lantern for $22,500.

What you see: A glass and tin Abraham Lincoln parade lantern, dating to the 1860s. While Heritage Auctions has not given it an official estimate, bidding opened at $7,500.

The expert: Tom Slater, director of Americana auctions for Heritage Auctions.

How popular were political torchlight parades in the 19th century? In the 19th century, obviously, they didn’t have the communications media we have today. It was important to promote candidates, and torchlight parades were a popular way to do that. They were big events, and integral to politics from 1830 to about 1880 or 1890.

And they fade away after electricity begins to spread? Sure. It’s not coincidental that you see them until the 1890s.

How rare are these lanterns, period, never mind those that depict Abraham Lincoln? I’ve only seen one, two, or three examples of each type. It’s hard to say how many of them there were.

How many people in a parade would have had a lantern as fancy as this one? Multiple people carried torches on the ends of poles. Something like this, there would have been fewer to begin with. They’re really, really rare. We don’t really have evidence if [paraders carried] multiples of this exact type. They heyday of tin and glass lamps is from 1850 to 1872.

So, one person might have had the privilege of carrying this lantern, and the rest might have had more mundane lanterns? It could very well be. It would have been like with a candle. There’s a fitting in the bottom for one.

Is the pole original? It’s the original tin pole. It would have extended a couple of inches beyond what you see in the pictures to fit into a wooden pole.

What’s that thing on the top that looks like an upside-down cupcake wrapper? It’s a vent. Heat would vent from the candle.

Are the printed paper Lincoln and eagle-with-shield images sandwiched between clear glass? The glass is outside, protecting the paper, which adheres to the reverse of the glass. There’s deterioration around the perimeter, which is not that surprising.

Yes, what kind of condition is the lantern in? And what does it mean to talk about condition when maybe three examples survive? You could use the term “excellent” if you wanted to. It’s all there–all four glass panels, and the image is strong. It’s all there. There’s as much as you could ask for from a lantern.

So it has the ideal amount of wear? If it looked like it was made yesterday, it wouldn’t be interesting to me. This has the perfect look. You can see immediately that it’s old. You can relate it to something that happened 150 years ago.

The rare circa 1860s campaign parade lantern for Abraham Lincoln, showing the other two sides of the four-sided object. One is entirely blue, and the other is entirely red.

Why are two of the four panels colored red and blue? To make it colorful, and make a better, colorful display. There’s no symbolic significance. You see red and blue in a lot of political material.

Have you tried putting an LED light in it to get a notion of what it looked like all lit up? That would be ideal. There’s always a risk that a candle could fall over and set the paper on fire. Some have to be backlit [to get a notion of what they’re like] but in this case, as long as there’s daylight, you can see the image very clearly. You don’t need a light inside to make it present better.

Do we know what company might have made the lantern? We don’t.

But it wasn’t made by an enthusiastic individual? It’s definitely manufactured, with paper inserts sized to fit that particular lantern. It’s a complete manufactured unit. It was almost certainly made in New England.

Would Lincoln’s campaign have provided the lantern to paraders? We’re sure it didn’t come from a central source. Political parties were much more local in those days. There was probably a company you could order it from, but it was not provided from above.

How on earth did something this fragile survive so well for so long? The vast majority of lanterns did not survive. People didn’t think they were important to save. Generally, these were disposable, not made as souvenirs to be kept. They served a purpose. But there’s no specific information on how, when, and where [this one survived].

Have you seen the other two surviving Lincoln lanterns? How does this one compare to them? We’re just guessing there might be three. Personally, I’ve never seen another. I can guarantee there’s not five.

This lantern is shown on page 274 of Arthur Schlessinger Jr.’s book Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images 1789-1896. How, if at all, does that affect the lantern’s value? It definitely adds something. It’s considered one of the definitive reference books on political memorabilia. Being chosen to illustrate the book adds cachet. I’m not sure it adds dollar value, but it adds cachet.

What is it like in person? It’s arresting. It communicates the flavor of the times. It’s a very evocative piece, very pleasing to look at.

Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a particularly rare and desirable type of item. You don’t see it very often. And it’s Lincoln. Everybody loves Lincoln. Lincoln is magic because of his historic nature–a wartime president, maybe the greatest president, and he was assassinated at the end of the war. We get bids on Lincoln items from people who aren’t political collectors.

How to bid: The Lincoln lantern is lot #36163 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential and Political Americana, Part V, taking place at Heritage Auctions June 22 and June 23, 2019.

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SOLD! A George Sosnak Grantland Rice Baseball Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases the words "First World Series Aircaster Writer Grantland Rice."

Update: The baseball George Sosnak dedicated to Grantland Rice and the 1921 World Series sold for $2,396.

What you see: A baseball transformed by the late self-taught artist George Sosnak. SCP Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

How prolific was Sosnak? Has anyone done a count or a census of how many balls he decorated? I’ve read in the past that he completed roughly 800 to 1,000 baseballs, but he started roughly 3,000. And he was definitely prolific in the sense of his following and his admirers. His baseballs have been exhibited in many museums, including folk art museums.

He was born in 1922 and died in 1992. Do we know how long he was active as an artist? I definitely think he was most prolific in the 60s and the 70s. In fact he donated some of his work to Cooperstown [The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York] in the early 70s.

What do we know about his creative process? How did he choose his subjects, and how did he create these baseballs? He was definitely focused on notable figures and milestones. He was not confined to players, as you can see by the Grantland Rice baseball we have. He celebrated figures from all facets of the game. In most cases, he started with an autographed ball and built around that–stats, historic data, combined with colorful scenes.

Did Rice autograph it? That’s not the case with this ball, but many Sosnaks I’ve seen have autographs on them.

If a Sosnak has an autograph, how does that factor in to its value to collectors? I think most people collect Sosnak balls for the artistry. That’s where the value is. If the autograph was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, it might be more valuable, but it’s looked at for its artistic value more than anything else.

Do we have an idea of how long it would take Sosnak to complete a baseball, and how long it might have taken him to finish this one? We can only make an assumption by looking at the detail of his work, the thoroughness of it. If you look at the Grantland Rice ball, every centimeter of the ball’s surface is covered and well thought out and almost tells a story. I imagine it took many hours of work to produce the typical Sosnak ball.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle shows how Sosnak crammed a recap of the 1921 World Series within the borders of this seam of the ball.

Do we know what media he used to produce this–markers? Paint? From what I’ve read, the media was India ink.

Do we know why he chose Grantland Rice to showcase on this ball? Sosnak was an aficionado of baseball and all baseball facts. He himself was a minor league umpire. He had a lot of experience in the game, and a lot of passion for it. What inspired this ball is appreciation for the great historical figures of the game. Grantland Rice was as prolific as it gets in his field.

Did Grantland Rice commission this ball, or ever see it? We don’t know that, but Sosnak was known to give balls to subjects as gifts. We’ve done a lot of athletes’ estate sales, and we see Sosnak balls received as gifts.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases his portrait of Grantland Rice broadcasting the 1921 World Series over the telephone system.

How might the fact that Grantland Rice appears on this ball affect its value to collectors? Or does the … decorative intensity matter more? All the factors combine to contribute to the value–subject matter, graphic quality. This one in particular has a dual subject, a dual purpose. It acknowledges Grantland Rice and also memorializes the 1921 World Series.

Forgive me as I don’t know off the top of my head, but why was the 1921 World Series significant? The 1921 World Series might be acknowledged as the first broadcast World Series.

Is that why Sosnak uses the word “Aircaster”–a word I’ve never encountered before? I think it’s a primitive term for “broadcaster”. Grantland Rice telephoned the play-by-play. It was a very primitive broadcast via telephone over four New England radio stations. That ground-breaking aspect is being celebrated on this ball.

Is there a date on this ball? Do we know when Sosnak made this? There’s no date. The only thing we have to go by is a very faint Rawlings stamp on the baseball. It looks like it was probably late 1970s, based on the type of ball it’s on.

What details do Sosnak collectors want in a baseball, and does this one have them? First, I would say great imagery. One panel has a wonderful image of Grantland Rice broadcasting, and you have the Yankees logo and the Giants logo, the two World Series combatants. It has great titling, and a complete, complete play-by-play of the game. It’s just covered. The decorative quality and historical content is just fabulous.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases how tightly Sosnak crammed the ball's surface with information about how the 1921 World Series played out.

Where does this Sosnak ball rank on the scale of information-density? It’s on the higher end of the scale, I would say. But there are many like it.

And collectors prefer Sosnak balls that are thoroughly jammed with text? Absolutely. The greater sampling of his work, the better.

Do we know about the provenance of this ball? We really don’t. There’s no long chain of custody here prior to our consigner. He’s had it for many years and we can’t trace it beyond that.

What condition is it in? This one is in relatively high grade for a Sosnak ball. They are susceptible to wear and chipping. This one shows very little of that. He’d typically put a coat of shellac over the ball to protect the ink.

That has to be a problem with Sosnak balls–you want to pick them up and turn them over, to see everything on them. Yeah, there’s something to see on all sides. If you want to fully digest it, there’s a lot of reading to be done.

Another angle on the baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak, showing statistics and facts about the 1921 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants.

How many Sosnak balls have you handled? How often do they tend to come up? We’ve had probably a dozen in our history. In various auctions, half a dozen to a dozen per year come up. They’re very collectible, and there’s not a lot of turnover. When collectors acquire them, they tend to hang onto them for a while.

Have you handled it? What’s it like in person? I have. It’s stunning, it’s gorgeous. The colors are very, very vibrant. They don’t seem to have faded or changed much since it was created. He used high-quality materials and on top of that, it’s very well-preserved.

What’s the world auction record for a Sosnak? The highest price I could find is $15,500, a Stan Musial, part of his personal collection, sold in 2013.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Sostak balls are all unique. Every time you see one, you have to be in awe. It will stick in my mind because I got a history lesson about Grantland Rice and the 1921 broadcast. I not only appreciate the artistry of the ball, I got an education as well.

How to bid: The George Sostak Grantland Rice baseball is lot 10 in SCP Auctions‘s current sale, which opened June 5 and closes on June 22.

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Oleg Cassini’s Archive of White House-era Jacqueline Kennedy Material Could Command $6,000 at Doyle

Fashion drawing done for First Lady Jackie Kennedy by a member of the House of Cassini.

What you see: An image from an archive of more than 40 original drawings, letters, clippings, and other materials from the early 1960s that show how designer Oleg Cassini and his team developed fashions for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Doyle estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

How rare is it for something like this archive to survive? Is there anything similar between the First Lady and another fashion designer that dates to the White House years? It’s hard for me to say. It is a special archive. It’s Oleg Cassini’s workroom archive, and it shows a working relationship. It was ephemeral then, and it’s ephemeral now. The clothes were the final goal. This was how they did it in the analog age, by drawing everything out. They sat with Mrs. Kennedy and homed in on what she needed for her appearances and her events. Cassini made over 300 pieces for Mrs. Kennedy.

Wow, so he was really her go-to guy. Yes.

How did this archive survive? The archives usually remain with the fashion houses if they’re not discarded. This is a rare opportunity because material like this is seldom on the market.

What does this archive reveal about the working relationship between the First Lady and Cassini’s team? Mrs. Kennedy was highly involved in the process. She provided ideas and made her own drawings. She went through fashion magazines and newspapers and noted what she liked and didn’t like, and they would react to it. She would draw [fashion sketches] and write little comments on fabrics she liked and didn’t like. And she would comment on accessories–this needs a bag or a coat to match. The lot includes contact sheets–Cassini had models that wore Mrs. Kennedy’s size. She would annotate the pictures of the models. She’s very honest in her comments to him and very forthcoming. She felt very comfortable in the relationship and felt it went very well.

Fashion drawings by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, from lot 22 in the Doyle auction.

Are you aware of any other archive that’s come to auction that contains fashion drawings in Mrs. Kennedy’s own hand? We sold a similar fashion archive a few years ago. [It sold in November 2017 for $11,875.] It’s related to the same workshop, from the same period, and was retained by one of the workshop employees at the time. This is similar.

And Cassini stored it all this time? It comes directly from his estate. It was in his home in Oyster Bay, New York.

What was Jacqueline Kennedy’s relationship with Oleg Cassini like? It was extremely intimate. He was the one putting clothes on her back when she was the most-photographed woman on the planet. It has to be considered a collaboration with a wonderful public figure who embraced and acknowledged her role. I think that’s what we see with Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy.

And we know this archive stops in 1962 because… that’s the latest-dated item in it? I have something equally of note in the sale, but selling separately: Lot 14, a detailed workroom ledger of the Kennedy White House years. I know the record book starts in 1961. Page 14 is dated March 1963. The last entry before the assassination is November 13, 1963. There’s something somewhat ominous [mentioned in the ledger]–a pink costume dress and jacket. I think it’s poignant that the last entry before the assassination ends with a pink item.

What condition is the archive in? I think it’s in very good condition from the time of use until now. In the time it was used, it was handled, folded, mailed, and written on. There are some handling creases and torn corners, but it’s very well-preserved overall. The handling is original with its use.

Fashion drawing, with handwritten notes, done by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s. It shows three headless figures.
Another fashion drawing by the First Lady, with handwritten annotations.

What is it like to handle this material? It puts you in the moment with them. You feel like you’re in the room–that’s been my experience. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re in a workroom with Oleg Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy as they produced clothing that became iconic. The designs really became emblematic of the beginning of the 1960s–the Jet Set era, the Jackie look.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? Because it’s highly primary material. It’s a rare opportunity to engage with high-quality First Lady material, let alone the White House years known as Camelot, which doesn’t seem to recede from memory at all. It’s remarkable to view these items. That’s why they’ll stick with me.

How to bid: The Cassini-Kennedy archive is lot 22 in The Estate of Oleg Cassini, a sale taking place at Doyle on June 27, 2019.

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SOLD! The Mirror of Paradise Golconda Diamond Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in full on a black background. Part of the ring setting is visible on either side of the stone.

Update: The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond sold for $6.5 million.

What you see: The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Christie’s estimates it at $7 million to $10 million.

The expert: Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas.

First, could you explain what Golconda is–is it a city? A region? A mine? It’s a district. You could say, in more general terms, it’s an area. It’s near Hyderabad, in south India. Of areas that produce diamonds, it is by far the most famous.

Has anyone done a survey or a census of known Golconda diamonds? I imagine that would be difficult, given that people cut and reshape diamonds… Mining began in 400 B.C.E., and went on for 2,000 years. It’s impossible to know the number of stones, and they can be cut and refashioned. There’s no way to track it.

When did Golconda stop yielding diamonds? About 1725.

What is it about Golconda diamonds that give them their famous limpid quality? Has anyone studied the geography or the chemistry? It’s because of the lack of nitrogen in them. It gives them a unique purity. Nitrogren impedes the transmission of light. Their lack of nitrogen allows them to transmit light in an unimpeded way.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in three-quarter view on a black background. It is in a ring setting.

What do we know about the provenance of the Mirror of Paradise? Do we know when it came out of the ground, and how big the rough stone was? No, but we can assume, given that it’s 52 carats, the rough was over 100 carats. But there’s no way for us to know.

The Mirror of Paradise has a rectangular cut. Is it possible to know if that is its original cut? Also, how does the rectangular cut enhance the stone? The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.

Do we know when and how it was placed in a ring, and do we know who designed the ring? We don’t know, unfortunately. It’s how it came to us from the client.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot from the side on a black background and angled to display its ring setting.

Christie’s New York sold the Mirror of Paradise two times previously, in 1988 and 2013. Was it in the ring setting for both sales? It was in the same mounting the last two times it was sold at Christie’s.

When was the last time a Golconda weighing 50-plus carats came to auction? We sold the 76.02-carat Archduke Joseph diamond in November 2012 in Geneva for CHF 20,355,000 [About $21.4 million. The sale also represents a world auction record for a colorless Golconda diamond.]

So, six years ago. Is it fair to say that Golcondas of 50 carats or more tend to pop up every six to ten years? You never know when they’re going to come up, but I would say that.

How does the market for Golconda diamonds compare to the market for white diamonds generally? This is a very specific subset of a larger market. It’s always highly sought-after by collectors and connoisseurs who are looking for unique and special stones. Certainly among clients there is a premium, and a general interest.

How did the Mirror of Paradise perform when it sold at Christie’s New York in 1988 and 2013, and what does that say about the market? In 1988, it sold for $7.48 million. In 2013, it sold for $10.9 million. The sales show a steady increase for Golcondas.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot on a black ground, head on, to showcase the rectangular cut of the stone.

Have you worn the ring? Yes.

What was that like? [Laughs] It was a bit breathtaking to try it on. It’s an exceptional stone. One of the perks, or requirements, of the job is actually trying jewelry on, because a lot of clients aren’t able to see it in person. Being able to handle and interact with the pieces gives a better sense of what they’re like. They’re not just objects–they’re worn.

How does the Mirror of Paradise compare to other Golcondas in the same sale? We don’t have anything else quite like this [in the auction]. It’s so incredible–the breadth of what’s offered in the collection spans 500 years. I think this stone certainly stands on its own.

What is it like in person? We have photographers that are trained only in jewelry photography, but seeing it in person is different. A camera never fully captures the essence of a stone–the size, the luster, the luminosity–you need to see it in person to fully grasp the presence of it.

How to bid: The Mirror of Paradise is lot 229 in the Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction at Christie’s New York on June 19, 2019.

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Will An Abraham Lincoln Lantern Burn Brightly at Heritage Auctions?

This rare circa 1860s parade lantern features an image of Abraham Lincoln on one panel and a spread-winged eagle sitting on a shield with the word "union" on it.

What you see: A glass and tin Abraham Lincoln parade lantern, dating to the 1860s. While Heritage Auctions has not given it an official estimate, bidding opened at $7,500.

The expert: Tom Slater, director of Americana auctions for Heritage Auctions.

How popular were political torchlight parades in the 19th century? In the 19th century, obviously, they didn’t have the communications media we have today. It was important to promote candidates, and torchlight parades were a popular way to do that. They were big events, and integral to politics from 1830 to about 1880 or 1890.

And they fade away after electricity begins to spread? Sure. It’s not coincidental that you see them until the 1890s.

How rare are these lanterns, period, never mind those that depict Abraham Lincoln? I’ve only seen one, two, or three examples of each type. It’s hard to say how many of them there were.

How many people in a parade would have had a lantern as fancy as this one? Multiple people carried torches on the ends of poles. Something like this, there would have been fewer to begin with. They’re really, really rare. We don’t really have evidence if [paraders carried] multiples of this exact type. They heyday of tin and glass lamps is from 1850 to 1872.

So, one person might have had the privilege of carrying this lantern, and the rest might have had more mundane lanterns? It could very well be. It would have been like with a candle. There’s a fitting in the bottom for one.

Is the pole original? It’s the original tin pole. It would have extended a couple of inches beyond what you see in the pictures to fit into a wooden pole.

What’s that thing on the top that looks like an upside-down cupcake wrapper? It’s a vent. Heat would vent from the candle.

Are the printed paper Lincoln and eagle-with-shield images sandwiched between clear glass? The glass is outside, protecting the paper, which adheres to the reverse of the glass. There’s deterioration around the perimeter, which is not that surprising.

Yes, what kind of condition is the lantern in? And what does it mean to talk about condition when maybe three examples survive? You could use the term “excellent” if you wanted to. It’s all there–all four glass panels, and the image is strong. It’s all there. There’s as much as you could ask for from a lantern.

So it has the ideal amount of wear? If it looked like it was made yesterday, it wouldn’t be interesting to me. This has the perfect look. You can see immediately that it’s old. You can relate it to something that happened 150 years ago.

The rare circa 1860s campaign parade lantern for Abraham Lincoln, showing the other two sides of the four-sided object. One is entirely blue, and the other is entirely red.

Why are two of the four panels colored red and blue? To make it colorful, and make a better, colorful display. There’s no symbolic significance. You see red and blue in a lot of political material.

Have you tried putting an LED light in it to get a notion of what it looked like all lit up? That would be ideal. There’s always a risk that a candle could fall over and set the paper on fire. Some have to be backlit [to get a notion of what they’re like] but in this case, as long as there’s daylight, you can see the image very clearly. You don’t need a light inside to make it present better.

Do we know what company might have made the lantern? We don’t.

But it wasn’t made by an enthusiastic individual? It’s definitely manufactured, with paper inserts sized to fit that particular lantern. It’s a complete manufactured unit. It was almost certainly made in New England.

Would Lincoln’s campaign have provided the lantern to paraders? We’re sure it didn’t come from a central source. Political parties were much more local in those days. There was probably a company you could order it from, but it was not provided from above.

How on earth did something this fragile survive so well for so long? The vast majority of lanterns did not survive. People didn’t think they were important to save. Generally, these were disposable, not made as souvenirs to be kept. They served a purpose. But there’s no specific information on how, when, and where [this one survived].

Have you seen the other two surviving Lincoln lanterns? How does this one compare to them? We’re just guessing there might be three. Personally, I’ve never seen another. I can guarantee there’s not five.

This lantern is shown on page 274 of Arthur Schlessinger Jr.’s book Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images 1789-1896. How, if at all, does that affect the lantern’s value? It definitely adds something. It’s considered one of the definitive reference books on political memorabilia. Being chosen to illustrate the book adds cachet. I’m not sure it adds dollar value, but it adds cachet.

What is it like in person? It’s arresting. It communicates the flavor of the times. It’s a very evocative piece, very pleasing to look at.

Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a particularly rare and desirable type of item. You don’t see it very often. And it’s Lincoln. Everybody loves Lincoln. Lincoln is magic because of his historic nature–a wartime president, maybe the greatest president, and he was assassinated at the end of the war. We get bids on Lincoln items from people who aren’t political collectors.

How to bid: The Lincoln lantern is lot #36163 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential and Political Americana, Part V, taking place at Heritage Auctions June 22 and June 23, 2019.

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WHOA! A Mickey Mouse Fantasia Sorcerer’s Apprentice Model Drawing Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A model drawing of Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer's Apprentice costume of red robes that tie at the waist and a blue wizard's hat. He is in the classic Sorcerer's apprentice pose, with an arc of yellow light springing from his left hand and hovering over his right index finger. The drawing is rendered in colored pencil.

Update: The circa 1940s Disney model drawing of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sold for $10,200.

What you see: A Disney “model drawing” of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia. It dates to the 1940s. Heritage Auctions expects it to sell for $2,500 to $3,500.

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

So, what makes this the “Holy Grail of Mickey Mouse art”? Mickey Mouse was changed in 1939 by Fred Moore to have pupils. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was originally going to be a short, but they needed box office power for the art film, so they put it into Fantasia. When you rank Mickey Mouse’s greatest hits, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is considered his number one all-time appearance. It’s the Fred Moore design, the first time Mickey Mouse has pupils, Fantasia, and Mickey Mouse’s signature role of all time.

Did Fred Moore make other notable changes to the design of Mickey Mouse? The ears changed a little bit, and the face is fuller. But the introduction of pupils was a big thing.

This is a model drawing. What are model drawings, and how did Disney use them? A model drawing is used for reference, for publicity, for books, and for posters. It didn’t go under the [animation] camera. It’s always perfect, and it’s used for reference on how something is to be drawn. It’s a high-quality piece of artwork.

This one is identified as MD-28. Does that imply that Disney did at least 27 other model drawings for Fantasia? No, it’s just an inventory number for the studio.

Are there other Mickey Mouse Fantasia model drawings? There’s never just one, but it’s the only one of the quintessential [Mickey Mouse Fantasia] pose seen everywhere that’s come to market. I’ve been doing this [animation art] for 40 years and I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen it on the covers of books and press kits. It’s a famous pose.

Is it at all possible to know who at Disney would have done this model drawing? No, it’s not known. You have to remember that the animators weren’t paid to be artists. They were making films. The artist was always Walt Disney Studios. At that time, the head of art for Disney Publicity was Hank Porter, but we can’t say it’s Hank Porter. There’s no way to know it’s him.

Was there someone, or some type of animator at Disney to whom the task of model drawing typically fell? The principal animator for Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was Fred Moore. He came up with the design used for Mickey, but there’s no way to know who did the drawing, because it’s so tight.

If the drawing was looser, we might be able to tell who drew it? If it was looser, we could tell by the animator’s style. But it’s not an animation drawing, it’s a model drawing. It’s final, and cleaned up.

How often do Disney model drawings come to auction? They’re not common. We do see them from time to time, but one of this quality is extremely rare.

This is faintly colored, not fully colored. Was that typical for model drawings at Disney in the 1940s? Pencil was used for the drawing, so they stayed with graphite and colored pencils. If it was a cell, it would be different, and if it was a painting, it would be different.

What estimate would you put on this? I think it’s going to go to $2,500 to $3,500. That’s what I see good Sorcerer’s Apprentice drawings going for.

What’s the provenance of this piece? It’s from the family of a former Disney employee.

The lot notes describe the model drawing as being in “very good condition.” What does that mean in this context, when we’re talking about a piece of functional art? It’s not folded. It’s not smudged. There are no tears, or holes in the paper.

What’s it like in person? I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s Mickey Mouse in his greatest role, and in an amazing pose. It’s kind of a trophy piece of Mickey Mouse art, and it’s done by hand.

What’s the record for a Disney model drawing? I wouldn’t do that for Disney model drawings, but I would do it for Disney Mickey Mouse drawings. The highest I know of for a Disney Mickey Mouse drawing is $14,400 for a Steamboat Willie drawing at Heritage Auctions in December 2018.

Ah, so this model drawing probably won’t get close to that. I think it will go for $2,500 to $3,500, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit $5,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? That image looks at me every day. I have a whole library of Disney books that I reference when I work on catalogs. I have one, The Art of Disney’s Fantasia, and that image is on the cover. It kind of threw me when I first saw the artwork–“Hey, wait a minute!” It pops up a lot. It’s a famous image. It’s pretty spectacular.

How to bid: The circa 1940s Disney model drawing of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is lot #96139 in the Animation Art auction taking place at Heritage Auctions on June 15 and 16, 2019.

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SOLD! A Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

Update: The Civil War flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the USCT sold for $196,800.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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George Sosnak Dedicated a Baseball to Grantland Rice and the 1921 World Series. It Could Achieve $7,000 at SCP Auctions

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases the words "First World Series Aircaster Writer Grantland Rice."

What you see: A baseball transformed by the late self-taught artist George Sosnak. SCP Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

How prolific was George Sosnak? Has anyone done a count or a census of how many balls he decorated? I’ve read in the past that he completed roughly 800 to 1,000 baseballs, but he started roughly 3,000. And he was definitely prolific in the sense of his following and his admirers. His baseballs have been exhibited in many museums, including folk art museums.

He was born in 1922 and died in 1992. Do we know how long he was active as an artist? I definitely think he was most prolific in the 60s and the 70s. In fact he donated some of his work to Cooperstown [The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York] in the early 70s.

What do we know about his creative process? How did he choose his subjects, and how did he create these baseballs? He was definitely focused on notable figures and milestones. He was not confined to players, as you can see by the Grantland Rice baseball we have. He celebrated figures from all facets of the game. In most cases, he started with an autographed ball and built around that–stats, historic data, combined with colorful scenes.

Did Grantland Rice autograph it? That’s not the case with this ball, but many Sosnaks I’ve seen have autographs on them.

If a George Sosnak baseball has an autograph, how does that factor in to its value to collectors? I think most people collect Sosnak balls for the artistry. That’s where the value is. If the autograph was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, it might be more valuable, but it’s looked at for its artistic value more than anything else.

Do we have an idea of how long it would take Sosnak to complete a baseball, and how long it might have taken him to finish this one? We can only make an assumption by looking at the detail of his work, the thoroughness of it. If you look at the Grantland Rice ball, every centimeter of the ball’s surface is covered and well thought out and almost tells a story. I imagine it took many hours of work to produce the typical Sosnak ball.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle shows how Sosnak crammed a recap of the 1921 World Series within the borders of this seam of the ball.

Do we know what media George Sosnak used to produce this–markers? Paint? From what I’ve read, the media was India ink.

Do we know why he chose Grantland Rice to showcase on this ball? Sosnak was an aficionado of baseball and all baseball facts. He himself was a minor league umpire. He had a lot of experience in the game, and a lot of passion for it. What inspired this ball is appreciation for the great historical figures of the game. Grantland Rice was as prolific as it gets in his field.

Did Grantland Rice commission this ball, or ever see it? We don’t know that, but Sosnak was known to give balls to subjects as gifts. We’ve done a lot of athletes’ estate sales, and we see Sosnak balls received as gifts.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases his portrait of Grantland Rice broadcasting the 1921 World Series over the telephone system.

How might the fact that Grantland Rice appears on this ball affect its value to collectors? Or does the … decorative intensity matter more? All the factors combine to contribute to the value–subject matter, graphic quality. This one in particular has a dual subject, a dual purpose. It acknowledges Grantland Rice and also memorializes the 1921 World Series.

Forgive me as I don’t know off the top of my head, but why was the 1921 World Series significant? The 1921 World Series might be acknowledged as the first broadcast World Series.

Is that why George Sosnak uses the word “Aircaster”–a word I’ve never encountered before? I think it’s a primitive term for “broadcaster”. Grantland Rice telephoned the play-by-play. It was a very primitive broadcast via telephone over four New England radio stations. That ground-breaking aspect is being celebrated on this ball.

Is there a date on this George Sosnak baseball? Do we know when Sosnak made this? There’s no date. The only thing we have to go by is a very faint Rawlings stamp on the baseball. It looks like it was probably late 1970s, based on the type of ball it’s on.

What details do Sosnak collectors want in a baseball, and does this one have them? First, I would say great imagery. One panel has a wonderful image of Grantland Rice broadcasting, and you have the Yankees logo and the Giants logo, the two World Series combatants. It has great titling, and a complete, complete play-by-play of the game. It’s just covered. The decorative quality and historical content is just fabulous.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases how tightly Sosnak crammed the ball's surface with information about how the 1921 World Series played out.

Where does this George Sosnak baseball rank on the scale of information-density? It’s on the higher end of the scale, I would say. But there are many like it.

And collectors prefer George Sosnak baseballs that are thoroughly jammed with text? Absolutely. The greater sampling of his work, the better.

Do we know about the provenance of this George Sosnak baseball? We really don’t. There’s no long chain of custody here prior to our consigner. He’s had it for many years and we can’t trace it beyond that.

What condition is it in? This one is in relatively high grade for a Sosnak ball. They are susceptible to wear and chipping. This one shows very little of that. He’d typically put a coat of shellac over the ball to protect the ink.

That has to be a problem with George Sosnak baseballs–you want to pick them up and turn them over, to see everything on them. Yeah, there’s something to see on all sides. If you want to fully digest it, there’s a lot of reading to be done.

Another angle on the baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak, showing statistics and facts about the 1921 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants.

How many George Sosnak baseballs have you handled? How often do they tend to come up? We’ve had probably a dozen in our history. In various auctions, half a dozen to a dozen per year come up. They’re very collectible, and there’s not a lot of turnover. When collectors acquire them, they tend to hang onto them for a while.

Have you handled it? What’s it like in person? I have. It’s stunning, it’s gorgeous. The colors are very, very vibrant. They don’t seem to have faded or changed much since it was created. He used high-quality materials and on top of that, it’s very well-preserved.

What’s the world auction record for a Sosnak? The highest price I could find is $15,500, a Stan Musial, part of his personal collection, sold in 2013.

Why will this George Sosnak baseball stick in your memory? Sostak balls are all unique. Every time you see one, you have to be in awe. It will stick in my mind because I got a history lesson about Grantland Rice and the 1921 broadcast. I not only appreciate the artistry of the ball, I got an education as well.

How to bid: The George Sostak Grantland Rice baseball is lot 10 in SCP Auctions‘s current sale, which opened June 5 and closes on June 22.

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WHOA! Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

Update: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch sold for $250,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

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Will the Mirror of Paradise Golconda Diamond Sell for $10 Million?

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in full on a black background. Part of the ring setting is visible on either side of the stone.

What you see: The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Christie’s estimates it at $7 million to $10 million.

The expert: Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas.

First, could you explain what Golconda is–is it a city? A region? A mine? It’s a district. You could say, in more general terms, it’s an area. It’s near Hyderabad, in south India. Of areas that produce diamonds, it is by far the most famous.

Has anyone done a survey or a census of known Golconda diamonds? I imagine that would be difficult, given that people cut and reshape diamonds… Mining began in 400 B.C.E., and went on for 2,000 years. It’s impossible to know the number of stones, and they can be cut and refashioned. There’s no way to track it.

When did Golconda stop yielding diamonds? About 1725.

What is it about Golconda diamonds that give them their famous limpid quality? Has anyone studied the geography or the chemistry? It’s because of the lack of nitrogen in them. It gives them a unique purity. Nitrogren impedes the transmission of light. Their lack of nitrogen allows them to transmit light in an unimpeded way.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in three-quarter view on a black background. It is in a ring setting.

What do we know about the provenance of the Mirror of Paradise? Do we know when it came out of the ground, and how big the rough stone was? No, but we can assume, given that it’s 52 carats, the rough was over 100 carats. But there’s no way for us to know.

The Mirror of Paradise has a rectangular cut. Is it possible to know if that is its original cut? Also, how does the rectangular cut enhance the stone? The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.

Do we know when and how it was placed in a ring, and do we know who designed the ring? We don’t know, unfortunately. It’s how it came to us from the client.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot from the side on a black background and angled to display its ring setting.

Christie’s New York sold the Mirror of Paradise two times previously, in 1988 and 2013. Was it in the ring setting for both sales? It was in the same mounting the last two times it was sold at Christie’s.

When was the last time a Golconda weighing 50-plus carats came to auction? We sold the 76.02-carat Archduke Joseph diamond in November 2012 in Geneva for CHF 20,355,000 [About $21.4 million. The sale also represents a world auction record for a colorless Golconda diamond.]

So, six years ago. Is it fair to say that Golcondas of 50 carats or more tend to pop up every six to ten years? You never know when they’re going to come up, but I would say that.

How does the market for Golconda diamonds compare to the market for white diamonds generally? This is a very specific subset of a larger market. It’s always highly sought-after by collectors and connoisseurs who are looking for unique and special stones. Certainly among clients there is a premium, and a general interest.

How did the Mirror of Paradise perform when it sold at Christie’s New York in 1988 and 2013, and what does that say about the market? In 1988, it sold for $7.48 million. In 2013, it sold for $10.9 million. The sales show a steady increase for Golcondas.


The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot on a black ground, head on, to showcase the rectangular cut of the stone.

Have you worn the ring? Yes.

What was that like? [Laughs] It was a bit breathtaking to try it on. It’s an exceptional stone. One of the perks, or requirements, of the job is actually trying jewelry on, because a lot of clients aren’t able to see it in person. Being able to handle and interact with the pieces gives a better sense of what they’re like. They’re not just objects–they’re worn.

How does the Mirror of Paradise compare to other Golcondas in the same sale? We don’t have anything else quite like this [in the auction]. It’s so incredible–the breadth of what’s offered in the collection spans 500 years. I think this stone certainly stands on its own.

What is it like in person? We have photographers that are trained only in jewelry photography, but seeing it in person is different. A camera never fully captures the essence of a stone–the size, the luster, the luminosity–you need to see it in person to fully grasp the presence of it.

How to bid: The Mirror of Paradise is lot 229 in the Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction at Christie’s New York on June 19, 2019.

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SOLD! Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens Flew Away With (Scroll Down to See)

Ben Austrian's "White Hen with Chickens" shows a mother hen at left, with 13 yellow chicks clustering near her on a bed of straw. One of the chicks perches on her back.

Update: Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens sold for $6,875.

What you see: White Hen with Chickens, painted in 1913 by American artist Ben Austrian. Freeman’s estimates it at $7,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Raphaël Chatroux, associate specialist in the fine art department at Freeman’s.

Who was Ben Austrian? What do we know about him and his work? He’s a local boy, born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had a lonely childhood, and he was sick very often. The air in Reading was quite polluted, so he had to spend his summers outside the city at a relative’s farm. He called it his vacation home. He went there for many years, from his early childhood until his mid-teens.

And he was self-taught, yes? Yes. Not by choice, but by necessity. Austrian’s family was very poor, and they didn’t have the means to send him to art school. At the age of five, his parents gave him a box of watercolors. During the summer, he was by himself and experimented with it. At an early age, he knew he wanted to become an artist. His mom was supportive, but his dad was wary. It was hard for a local artist to break through. He wanted him to work in the family business, which started as a dry-goods shop and evolved into a steam laundry. Austrian always painted on the side.

How did his career evolve? The first phase is from his early years until his father dies when Austrian is 27. He did have a few successes. He was very persistent in trying to show his art, though he wasn’t able to devote himself to it full time. His dad dying was a wake-up call to sell the family business and devote himself to art.

Did he paint hens and chicks exclusively? No, but it’s what he started painting in the very beginning–he painted what he knew. The first things he painted were chickens and landscapes. He painted other animals, such as ducks and horses, and at one point, his cat paintings were as popular as his chicken paintings. As he aged, he turned solely to landscapes.

And when he was a kid on the farm in the summer, he would feed the chickens? Exactly. He grew up surrounded by them. In a letter, he said, “I paint chickens because I love them.”

Was Austrian prolific? Do we have a count of how many works he made? There’s no catalogue raisonné. It’s hard to estimate the number of paintings he did, but he was prolific. It’s in the thousands. It’s difficult, too [to get a more precise count], because he wasn’t so good at keeping track of all of them, especially the early ones. A lot of the paintings are very similar, with similar names, like Mother Hen and Chicks. It’s tough to establish a chronology and an exhaustive summary of what he did. In the 1900s, he started putting dates on paintings.

Was he well-known in his time, or did his reputation grow later? He was well-known while he was alive. He was considered a Reading celebrity and he was smart about it–he was able to create a business out of it. When he worked for his dad, he knew to paint an original before meeting one of his dad’s clients. He was very strong-headed, and he did everything possible to break through. His partnership with the Bon Ami Company helped a lot. It assured his legacy, and it’s part of why he’s famous today. They made reproductions [of his works] that people could have on their fridge or in their wallet.

In reading about Austrian, I came across a claim that he taught his chickens to pose for him. Is that true? It seems crazy, but it’s true. You can find a lot of pictures of Austrian in his studio, surrounded by hens and chicks. He loved them. He talked to them every day, and he gave them names–some were elaborate. He raised them all on his own, so they only knew him. There was a special bond between the animals and Austrian. He had an incubator as well. [He did] whatever he needed to study their behavior and be as accurate as possible.

How did he teach chickens to pose for him? He always started by painting the hen first, and alone, because the chicks will always harass the mom. He’d put her in something like a nest, so she’d be quiet. With the chicks, the key to catching their attention was speaking to them–he could imitate their mom’s cackle. Or he’d use an object, like a piece of raw meat hanging from a stick. They’d gather round, infatuated with it, and that would give him a minute to catch the overall composition. Cigars would hypnotize them. They would freeze when they saw the light of a cigar. That would keep them quiet for a few moments.

In looking at the catalog for the sale, it’s clear that 100 years ago or so, there was a market for paintings of chicks and hens. I see several works by Austrian, and paintings of chicks by Mary Russell Smith and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. Who was the audience for these works when they were new? Who bought and collected them? I’ll start by saying Austrian was not the first one [to paint chicks and hens] and not the only one. He was late in the game. When Mary Russell Smith died, he was very much a kid. Because Austrian was self-taught, he didn’t copy from other artists, but it [scenes of chickens] was a popular genre of the time. There were lots of dealers who handled these paintings, and Austrian often chased private collectors himself. He sold a lot to department stores and jewelry stores, which saw art as a way to get people to feel comfortable and spend more money. Wanamaker’s [a Philadelphia department store] had a lot of Austrians, and John Wanamaker bought directly from him–he bought for himself and for his stores. It was a good source of income.

What detail of White Hen with Chickens do you like best, and how does it speak to Austrian’s mastery? It’s quite a good painting because you have a lot of chicks, which is what matters, and an imposing motherly figure that anchors it all. What I like is the composition itself. I like the contrast between the quiet mom and the undisciplined children. They’re running around, some are on her back, and some are about out of the picture frame, but mom doesn’t move. She’s self-composed. That’s what I like, the organized chaos in the painting.

Have Austrian’s paintings always been collected, or was there a fall-off after his death? I think he’s always been steadily collected. There was never really a fall-off.

How often do Austrians come to market? And is it unusual to have this many in a single sale? What’s unusual here is the collection provenance. They’re from the Bon Ami Company itself, which helped shape his legacy and his image. It’s never sold works by Austrian before. It’s an event for them to come up for sale. Bon Ami is a golden provenance for a Ben Austrian painting.

Why are they selling the paintings now? They’re reshaping their collection and taking a more curated approach. They’re not trying to get every painting linked to Ben Austrian. And it’s a good way to raise brand awareness of the company, through Ben Austrian.

So this is the first time the Bon Ami Corporation has sold any of its Austrians? They’re fresh to market.

And that’s why you’re comfortable selling several in the same auction–because of the Bon Ami provenance? Exactly. The Bon Ami name helps because it ties the collection together.

White Hen with Chickens measures 20 inches by 26 inches. Is that an unusual size for Austrian? I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it’s on a larger scale. It’s the largest devoted to chickens. At 20 inches by 26 inches, the birds are pretty much life size, which was something Austrian was well aware of. When hens are in the paintings, the paintings tend to be larger. When it’s just chicks, they tend to be smaller. It has to do with the emotions you’re supposed to feel. A small work with two chicks fighting over a bug is cute, and you can hold it in your hand. A hen is more serious. It has to be bigger, and it has to hang on the wall. He was very well aware of those visual tricks.

What’s the world auction record for a Ben Austrian painting? It’s a painting of a dog and a cat–no chickens–that sold at Pook & Pook in 2011 for $80,000. I dug a bit deeper and found the fourth-highest auction record is very similar to the White Hen with Chickens painting. It sold in 2004 for $40,000.

What is White Hen with Chickens like in person? What’s very nice about the painting is on one hand, you have a subject that’s very whimsical and cute–the children are agitated and the mom is quiet. It’s not a hen with chicks, it’s a mother and her children. That’s why you like it–he’s able to put humanity into the painting without being versed in sentimentalism. He’s very naturalistic in style, but he’s able to give some warmth to it, so it’s not kitsch. And if you look up close, the technique is perfect. The colors are not at all muddy or dark. They’re very pure, very bright, even though [the scene] takes place in a barn. For the chicks, he wanted something light and fuzzy, so he drew an outline and created a soft, sfumato-like blur, which gave that effect. You think it’s whimsical, but you can see the skills there. His technique is spot-on, and he learned it by himself.

How to bid: White Hen with Chickens is lot 48 in the American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists auction at Freeman’s on June 9, 2019.

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Original Disney Mickey Mouse Art Doesn’t Get Better Than This! Heritage Might Sell a Fantasia Sorcerer’s Apprentice Model Drawing for $3,500

A model drawing of Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer's Apprentice costume of red robes that tie at the waist and a blue wizard's hat. He is in the classic Sorcerer's apprentice pose, with an arc of yellow light springing from his left hand and hovering over his right index finger. The drawing is rendered in colored pencil.

What you see: A Disney “model drawing” of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia. It dates to the 1940s. Heritage Auctions expects it to sell for $2,500 to $3,500.

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

So, what makes this the “Holy Grail of Mickey Mouse art”? Mickey Mouse was changed in 1939 by Fred Moore to have pupils. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was originally going to be a short, but they needed box office power for the art film, so they put it into Fantasia. When you rank Mickey Mouse’s greatest hits, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is considered his number one all-time appearance. It’s the Fred Moore design, the first time Mickey Mouse has pupils, Fantasia, and Mickey Mouse’s signature role of all time.

Did Fred Moore make other notable changes to the design of Mickey Mouse? The ears changed a little bit, and the face is fuller. But the introduction of pupils was a big thing.

This is a model drawing. What are model drawings, and how did Disney use them? A model drawing is used for reference, for publicity, for books, and for posters. It didn’t go under the [animation] camera. It’s always perfect, and it’s used for reference on how something is to be drawn. It’s a high-quality piece of artwork.

This one is identified as MD-28. Does that imply that Disney did at least 27 other model drawings for Fantasia? No, it’s just an inventory number for the studio.

Are there other Mickey Mouse Fantasia model drawings? There’s never just one, but it’s the only one of the quintessential [Mickey Mouse Fantasia] pose seen everywhere that’s come to market. I’ve been doing this [animation art] for 40 years and I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen it on the covers of books and press kits. It’s a famous pose.

Is it at all possible to know who at Disney would have done this model drawing? No, it’s not known. You have to remember that the animators weren’t paid to be artists. They were making films. The artist was always Walt Disney Studios. At that time, the head of art for Disney Publicity was Hank Porter, but we can’t say it’s Hank Porter. There’s no way to know it’s him.

Was there someone, or some type of animator at Disney to whom the task of model drawing typically fell? The principal animator for Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was Fred Moore. He came up with the design used for Mickey, but there’s no way to know who did the drawing, because it’s so tight.

If the drawing was looser, we might be able to tell who drew it? If it was looser, we could tell by the animator’s style. But it’s not an animation drawing, it’s a model drawing. It’s final, and cleaned up.

How often do Disney model drawings come to auction? They’re not common. We do see them from time to time, but one of this quality is extremely rare.

This is faintly colored, not fully colored. Was that typical for model drawings at Disney in the 1940s? Pencil was used for the drawing, so they stayed with graphite and colored pencils. If it was a cell, it would be different, and if it was a painting, it would be different.

What estimate would you put on this? I think it’s going to go to $2,500 to $3,500. That’s what I see good Sorcerer’s Apprentice drawings going for.

What’s the provenance of this piece? It’s from the family of a former Disney employee.

The lot notes describe the model drawing as being in “very good condition.” What does that mean in this context, when we’re talking about a piece of functional art? It’s not folded. It’s not smudged. There are no tears, or holes in the paper.

What’s it like in person? I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s Mickey Mouse in his greatest role, and in an amazing pose. It’s kind of a trophy piece of Mickey Mouse art, and it’s done by hand.

What’s the record for a Disney model drawing? I wouldn’t do that for Disney model drawings, but I would do it for Disney Mickey Mouse drawings. The highest I know of for a Disney Mickey Mouse drawing is $14,400 for a Steamboat Willie drawing at Heritage Auctions in December 2018.

Ah, so this model drawing probably won’t get close to that. I think it will go for $2,500 to $3,500, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit $5,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? That image looks at me every day. I have a whole library of Disney books that I reference when I work on catalogs. I have one, The Art of Disney’s Fantasia, and that image is on the cover. It kind of threw me when I first saw the artwork–“Hey, wait a minute!” It pops up a lot. It’s a famous image. It’s pretty spectacular.

How to bid: The circa 1940s Disney model drawing of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is lot #96139 in the Animation Art auction taking place at Heritage Auctions on June 15 and 16, 2019.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch Could Sell for $120,000

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

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SOLD! Edward Gorey’s Cat Fancy Cover Illustration Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A New Yorker cover by the late Edward Gorey. It depicts two tuxedo cats looking at each other on an oversize bed, fitted with ruffles, shams, and pillows festooned with intricate yellow flowers.

Update: The Edward Gorey Cat Fancy cover illustration for The New Yorker sold for $16,250.

What you see: Cat Fancy, a cover illustration created for The New Yorker magazine by the late Edward Gorey. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Do we know why Gorey only did two covers for The New Yorker, and why the commissions came so late in his life? He seems like a good fit for a cover illustrator for that magazine. Was he considered too well-known to commission? Gorey’s relationship with The New Yorker was a long and curious one. His first real review and introduction to the wider public, and certainly the New York cultural elite, appeared in the magazine’s pages in its December 26, 1959 issue. The great literary critic, Edmund Wilson, an admirer of Gorey’s work, wrote an appreciation titled The Albums of Edward Gorey. His relative obscurity, he felt, was due to his working mainly to amuse himself. In 1950, around the time of his first commissions, when he was drawing for the Harvard Advocate and smaller humor magazines, Gorey actually submitted his work to The New Yorker. Then-Cartoon Editor Frank Modell rejected it, suggesting that “less eccentric drawings might draw a more enthusiastic audience.” It would take 43 years before the sensibilities and ironic humor of the magazine, under Tina Brown’s editorship, finally embraces his irreverent, camp-goth style.

How did the magazine use the artwork commissioned from Gorey under Tina Brown’s editorship? Lot 188 is among the three pieces he submitted in 1993. Instead of being used as a cover, it was used as a memorial postscript in The New Yorker when he died in 2000.

Why was this Gorey illustration, Cat Fancy, not used by The New Yorker until 2018? Art editor Françoise Mouly explained in her Cover Story that The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, asked if they had any unpublished work by Gorey in their archives to accompany an appreciation of him by Joan Acocella for their December 10th issue. Mouly was delighted to find a file of this original artwork and used it on the cover. The original artworks were sent back to Gorey’s agent, John Locke, after they had been digitized.

Do we know why The New Yorker didn’t use it back when they commissioned it, in the early 1990s? There’s no indications about why they didn’t use it, but in general, The New Yorker doesn’t like to use the same illustrator in a calendar year. They did one in December 1992, the first time Edward Gorey was on the cover, of a fantastic image of a denuded, stick-like Christmas tree with a family enthusiastically wrapping it with holiday-themed wallpaper. Maybe other covers came in, and it sunk to the bottom of the pile.

How often do Edward Gorey originals come up at auction? Pieces do come up a few times a year. We’ve handled upwards of 60 originals.

So, they’re out there, but at any given time, what’s out there might not be the Goreys you’d want most. That’s true, and Gorey appeals to people in different ways. Some like his Goth style. They want Dracula, and they want anything related to his Mystery! drawings for PBS. Those two works tend to set the highest prices.

You’ve got eight Goreys in the June 4 sale. Is that an unusually high number? We’ve had as many as 12 in a single sale. It varies. We’ve had sales with no Goreys, and sales with three to four. Three to four is more typical.

What’s the record for an original work by Gorey? In March 2017, we sold a piece I named Skeletons and Hiding Figures. We believed it’s an illustration for PBS’s Mystery! series, circa the 1980s. It’s not terribly large and it’s unsigned, but it’s clearly in Gorey’s hand and it contains all his types–obelisks, hiding figures, mustachioed men in a garden setting. It sold for $18,750.

Where are most of Gorey’s originals? Are they in a library or another institution? The majority of his pieces are owned by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. When Gorey died, anything in his possession became property of the trust. It has them at an off-site property and loans them to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.

Cat Fancy looks elaborate. Do we have any notion of how long it might have taken him to finish? His attention to detail is so strong, I imagine it took him several days. He drafted parts of it in pencil, then he went over it with ink, and then he colored it in with watercolors.

Could we talk about how this piece will appeal to Gorey collectors? What details does it have that Gorey collectors prize? First and foremost, its subject is cats. Gorey adopted several in his lifetime and thought of them as family, and as kindred spirits. They served as artistic inspiration, and sometimes he referred to them as people. His signature “Gorey Cat” pranced on the scene in 1972 with the publication of Amphigorey, his first anthology. Other works featuring cats include The Sopping Thursday, Category, Fletcher and Zenobia, T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and his famous ballet cats. Their style changed throughout the years, but they remain among his most popular. Cat Fancy also reflects his love of Victorian and Edwardian interiors—the overstuffed fussiness and detailed fabrics. It shows his skill and love of line work, much of which was influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, the Surrealists, and the ink work of English artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Ardizzone. His favorite colors were lemon yellow, olive green, and lavender, and this piece contains them in varying hues. In short, it hits on all cylinders.

Are there aspects of the illustration that the camera doesn’t quite capture? When you get up close to the artwork, you can see the flowers contain little insects. Not all of them–here and there throughout the quilt. Gorey loved insects. He often worked insects into his artwork.

Are there other aspects the camera doesn’t pick up? It draws you in. The composition, while incredibly complicated and busy, but part of its enchantment is that you find yourself, like the cats, getting lost in that big, soft bed.

Why will this illustration stick in your memory? I had an inkling where the two New Yorker pieces were, and I am thrilled to be able to be able to shepherd them from one appreciative owner into the hands of new, excited collectors. And I’m a Gorey groupie. I’m a book person, I adore cats, and lounging places, and it has my favorite color, so you’re making me want to bid on it! [Laughs]. It’s a terrific piece.

How to bid: Edward Gorey’s Cat Fancy is lot 187 in the Illustration Art auction taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on June 4, 2019.

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.

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Edward Gorey House has a website.

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 Steinlen Cat Poster with Two Progressive Prints Could Command $17,000

The completed version of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It features a calico cat and a black cat, both seated.

What you see: An 1894 poster by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, advertising a show of his work at the Bodiniére gallery. It also includes two progressive prints of the lithographic poster (scroll down to see them). Rennert’s Gallery estimates the group at $14,000 to $17,000.

The expert: Jack Rennert of Rennert’s Gallery.

I realize to some extent that all posters are advertisements for an artist’s skills, but how unusual is it to see a poster as literal as this one, which advertises Steinlen’s first gallery show in Paris? He did this for an exhibition at Bodiniére. It’s not a reproduction of a poster or a painting [in the show]. It’s an actual design, integrated with text, and he designed the text. It’s completely his poster.

What does it say about him that when choosing the image for this poster–which is intended to lure people to the gallery to buy his artworks–he chose to depict cats? Cats are one of his most iconic and popular images. He loved cats, and had a house full of them. People say you could tell where he lived within five blocks of his house.

The lot notes describe the pair shown on the poster as “his cats.” Might we know which of his cats modeled for this? Did they have names? Or were these imaginary cats? He had dozens of stray cats that he brought into his home in Paris. He didn’t need to imagine them. He had his models right there in his home. Lot 450, the following lot, is maybe his most famous poster of all, and it has his daughter, Colette, and three cats. It was for sterilized milk. She’s testing it before she gives it to them. Of the three cats, the two at the front could be the same two in the Bodiniére exhibit poster. He did them two years apart.

Are the cats in the Bodiniére exhibition poster shown at around life size? The poster is 32 inches wide by 23 inches high, so yeah, pretty much life size. They take up half the entire image of the poster.

The poster is horizontal. Is that unusual for this era? Yes. Ninety percent of the posters of the 1890s were vertical posters, meant to go on vertical spaces, like hoardings. It could have been that this Bodiniére exhibit poster was never meant to be an outdoor advertisement. It could have been in store windows.

Do I sense Japanese influence here? It kind of reminds me of Japanese woodcuts. Japanese art was very popular and influential with many artists in the 1890s, especially in Paris. You can see some of that in the treatment here, especially in the coloring of the cats. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. This is Steinlen and his way of drawing.

Do we have any notion of how many of these posters were printed, and how many survive? We don’t know, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find out. I would guess that since it was a one-time exhibit, for one month, in one place and one city, I don’t think he would have had more than 200 or 300 copies made. There was no need for more.

This example of the poster comes with two progressive prints of the design, which show lithographic color passes. How do the prints give insight into how the poster was made? It’s stone lithography, so first, they’d do just the gray area, then overprint it with black in a few areas, giving it a solid, deep black look. The third color plate is red, which gives a nice color to the cat and the lettering. It’s unusual to show the final product and how it was arrived at.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the gray areas of the image.

Do we have any idea how this example of the poster survived with two related progressive prints? I’d say it’s more likely that it came from the archive of Charles Verneau, his favorite printer. There’s no reason for someone outside of a printing plant to have them. Every now and then you do see progressive prints for a poster, and inevitably, they come from printers’ storage. They’re rare.

How many times have you handled the Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster? Over the last 50 years, I’ve handled it ten to 12 times.

And how rare is it to see any poster with progressive prints, never mind a poster as iconic as this Steinlen? It’s extremely rare. Only real passionate poster collectors care enough to even want it. There’s nothing pretty about them. They’re incomplete works. But they appreciate seeing what went into the final [lithographic] stone.

In your 50 years in the business, how often have you seen a poster with progressive prints come up? I’ve probably had a couple dozen instances of that. Once every two or three years, I get a series.

So the Steinlen plus progressive prints will be of more interest to a museum or an institution? Absolutely. I expect museums, galleries, and foundations to have a special interest in them.

How did the presence of the progressive prints affect the estimate? It obviously increases it, but not by a hell of a lot. The poster often sells for $10,000. I estimated this in the $14,000 to $17,000 range because of the prints.


A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the black areas of the image.

What’s the world auction record for this Steinlen poster? Was it set with you? The highest at our auctions was $9,200 in 2006. [This seems to be the world record, not just a house record.]

What makes this a successful poster? Why does it still sell for thousands of dollars more than a century after it was printed? It’s very appealing. It catches your attention. Cat people have an additional reason to be enamored of it. It’s one of the favorite posters by one of the most famous poster artists of the period. It was an important exhibition for him. It established him in the artistic community.

So the 1894 show did well? It was a successful show for him. He sold all his works. I won’t say it was because of the poster, but maybe it takes some of the credit.

How to bid: The 1894 Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster is lot 449 in the PAI-LXXVIII: Rare Posters auction taking place at Rennert’s Gallery on June 23, 2019.

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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Image is courtesy of Rennert’s Gallery.

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SOLD! A Louis Vuitton Brass Explorer Trunk Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

An 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front. It is gold in color and features impressive buckles and locks.

Update: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk sold for HKD $1.25 million, or about $159,200.

What you see: A rare Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, dating to 1888. Christie’s estimates it at HKD $1 million to $1.5 million, or $128,000 to $192,000.

The expert: Winsy Tsang, vice president and head of sale, handbags and accessories, Christie’s Asia Pacific.

This trunk is described as “rare.” What does that mean in this context? Do we know how many brass Explorer trunks of this size that Louis Vuitton made in the 19th century? We don’t know exactly how many were made. All we know is that we haven’t seen another one like this on the market, and only very few in other sizes and models. This is, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for buyers, which is why it warrants the “rare” classification.

Do we know how long Vuitton made the Explorer line? Do we know how many sizes of trunk were offered in brass? Our understanding is that this special line of trunks was only produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. The materials used were highly expensive and difficult to work with at that time–this was long before the technological advances of today that have made brass a common material. There were three or four different sizes and models in the Explorer line, as well as some custom pieces, but it’s difficult to know which were produced in brass, as the production of all versions was extremely low, and very few remain.

Was the brass finish the most popular of the four? It depends if you mean at the time or today. At the time, these pieces were highly utilitarian. The metals being used were designed for adventurers traveling to the most exotic locations who required light-weight and waterproofing–at any cost. Today, arguably, the brass version is the most popular as it is the most eye-catching because of its gold color.

Do we have a notion of how many brass-finish Explorer trunks survive? Also, how many have you handled at Christie’s Hong Kong? This is the first brass version at international auction, so very few still survive. A handful of others remain in private hands, but this is the first of this size and model that we have seen.

Is it fair to assume that when this trunk was originally purchased, it was part of a suite or group of matching Vuitton luggage? If so, how often do you find that suites of Vuitton luggage are broken up over time? It is unlikely that an adventurer would have only needed one trunk, so it is likely that it was originally part of a set. Over time, we often see these collections broken up due to their size–they are difficult to store. In addition, now that most travelers do not use hard-sided luggage. They may only need a handful for interior decoration, not a whole collection.

An 1888  brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front, with its lid open to show the Louis Vuitton label. Though the paneling is made from brass, it has acquired a golden color over the years.

What is your favorite detail on this trunk, and how does that detail speak to the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton? My favorite thing about this trunk is certainly the brass paneling–this is what makes the piece truly stand out. But, one detail on this trunk that I really love is the interior Louis Vuitton logo with the serial number written in beautiful script. The last number –“1”– is a bit smudged and makes you imagine the craftsman who oversaw the creation of this incredible piece.

What do we know about how this trunk would have been made? Also, was this off the rack, or was it custom? The trunk would have been too expensive to have been produced without a client. It almost certainly would have been ordered by one of the most prominent adventurers of the day. It would have been made entirely by hand.

What do we know about the provenance of this trunk? Do we know anything about where and when it might have traveled over its lifetime? The trunk has changed hands a few times in its long life. As is often the case, at some point the trunk was forgotten about and re-discovered by a discerning buyer. It is currently being sold by a private collector.

Could you talk a bit about how the buyer would have used it–what sorts of things they would have put in it, and where would they have taken it? These trunks were produced only for the top explorers of the day who had the ambition and the means to adventure to the furthest corners of the earth. At the time, and the reason Louis Vuitton became as well-known and respected as it did, was because of its many technological advancements–the flat-topped trunk for easy stacking, special clasps, etc. This particular model, because of its small size, would have likely held its owner’s valuables and personal items. The trunk would have likely stayed with or near its owner.

What condition is it in? How original is it? What issues do you tend to see with brass-finished Explorer trunks, and does this one show any signs of having those issues? This trunk underwent a full restoration in 2015, so it looks quite like it would have in the 1800s. Over time, brass trunks can darken and become tarnished and oxidized. There are only a handful of restorers in the world who know how to handle these trunks – these restorations are extensive and timely, sometimes taking 100+ hours.

Are there signs of wear that can enhance the value of a vintage Vuitton trunk? When buying a vintage trunk, buyers want them to be “travelled”–if they wanted a brand new one, they would get it at Louis Vuitton! We love to see dings, dents, and scrapes that show the piece was really used. This mystery lets us imagine to what exotic locations the trunk may have travelled and who the explorer was who owned it.

How much does it weigh? The trunk is nearly as light as the more-common canvas version. The metal is quite thin and designed to protect the wooden architecture of the trunk from moisture and insects of exotic and humid locations.

The lot notes say it dates to 1888. How do we know this for sure? We were able to narrow the production to just a few years based on the material and model, and Louis Vuitton confirmed that a brass trunk with this serial number was sold in 1888.

The lot notes say it has a key. Would it be the original key? If so, how rare is it for a Vuitton trunk of this type to survive with its original key? Most trunk owners know to keep their keys safe–but after 131 years, you can imagine they might get lost. 20th century trunks often have their original keys, but it is quite rare for one of this age. The key with this trunk is a replacement.

How have you seen the market for Louis Vuitton vintage luggage change over time? Was there ever a point when something like this would just have been an old trunk, or were these Vuitton pieces always kept, valued, and collected? The market for Louis Vuitton trunks has been steadily growing for the last 20 to 30 years. People began to use them for interiors and collect them due to their mysterious histories around that time, which is why the value began to increase. A large canvas steamer with interesting travel stickers and markings can be very valuable.

What is the world auction record for a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, and what is the record for a piece from the Vuitton Explorer line? The world record and the Explorer line record is the aluminum Explorer Trunk sold for £162,500 [about $205,000] in London last December. Although aluminum was equally rare to brass, the aesthetics of this one make it stand out–and a potential record-breaker. [Christie’s also did a 5 Minutes With… piece about the aluminum trunk ahead of its sale, which you can read here.]

How do modern collectors of vintage Vuitton luggage use their pieces? Or do they treat them as functional art? They are now most often used as interior decoration by collectors of rare art and sculptures, or by collectors of travel and trunks.

What is the trunk like in person? Are there aspects of it that don’t quite come through in the photographs? The brass itself is what makes this piece so precious and that is difficult to capture in an image. It is a bright, true gold color that is extremely eye-catching. The patina around the edges and the wooden trim give it an amazing vintage look and feel as well.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This trunk is unforgettable–none of us will see one like it again.

How to bid: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass explorer trunk is lot 3888 in the Handbags & Accessories auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 29, 2019.

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. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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

Edward Gorey’s Original Cat Fancy Cover Illustration Could Sell for $15,000 at Swann


A New Yorker cover by the late Edward Gorey. It depicts two tuxedo cats looking at each other on an oversize bed, fitted with ruffles, shams, and pillows festooned with intricate yellow flowers.

What you see: Cat Fancy, a cover illustration created for The New Yorker magazine by the late Edward Gorey. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Do we know why Gorey only did two covers for The New Yorker, and why the commissions came so late in his life? He seems like a good fit for a cover illustrator for that magazine. Was he considered too well-known to commission? Gorey’s relationship with The New Yorker was a long and curious one. His first real review and introduction to the wider public, and certainly the New York cultural elite, appeared in the magazine’s pages in its December 26, 1959 issue. The great literary critic, Edmund Wilson, an admirer of Gorey’s work, wrote an appreciation titled The Albums of Edward Gorey. His relative obscurity, he felt, was due to his working mainly to amuse himself. In 1950, around the time of his first commissions, when he was drawing for the Harvard Advocate and smaller humor magazines, Gorey actually submitted his work to The New Yorker. Then-Cartoon Editor Frank Modell rejected it, suggesting that “less eccentric drawings might draw a more enthusiastic audience.” It would take 43 years before the sensibilities and ironic humor of the magazine, under Tina Brown’s editorship, finally embraces his irreverent, camp-goth style.

How did the magazine use the artwork commissioned from Gorey under Tina Brown’s editorship? Lot 188 is among the three pieces he submitted in 1993. Instead of being used as a cover, it was used as a memorial postscript in The New Yorker when he died in 2000.

Why was this Gorey illustration, Cat Fancy, not used by The New Yorker until 2018? Art editor Françoise Mouly explained in her Cover Story that The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, asked if they had any unpublished work by Gorey in their archives to accompany an appreciation of him by Joan Acocella for their December 10th issue. Mouly was delighted to find a file of this original artwork and used it on the cover. The original artworks were sent back to Gorey’s agent, John Locke, after they had been digitized.

Do we know why The New Yorker didn’t use it back when they commissioned it, in the early 1990s? There’s no indications about why they didn’t use it, but in general, The New Yorker doesn’t like to use the same illustrator in a calendar year. They did one in December 1992, the first time Edward Gorey was on the cover, of a fantastic image of a denuded, stick-like Christmas tree with a family enthusiastically wrapping it with holiday-themed wallpaper. Maybe other covers came in, and it sunk to the bottom of the pile.

How often do Edward Gorey originals come up at auction? Pieces do come up a few times a year. We’ve handled upwards of 60 originals.

So, they’re out there, but at any given time, what’s out there might not be the Goreys you’d want most. That’s true, and Gorey appeals to people in different ways. Some like his Goth style. They want Dracula, and they want anything related to his Mystery! drawings for PBS. Those two works tend to set the highest prices.

You’ve got eight Goreys in the June 4 sale. Is that an unusually high number? We’ve had as many as 12 in a single sale. It varies. We’ve had sales with no Goreys, and sales with three to four. Three to four is more typical.

What’s the record for an original work by Gorey? In March 2017, we sold a piece I named Skeletons and Hiding Figures. We believed it’s an illustration for PBS’s Mystery! series, circa the 1980s. It’s not terribly large and it’s unsigned, but it’s clearly in Gorey’s hand and it contains all his types–obelisks, hiding figures, mustachioed men in a garden setting. It sold for $18,750.

Where are most of Gorey’s originals? Are they in a library or another institution? The majority of his pieces are owned by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. When Gorey died, anything in his possession became property of the trust. It has them at an off-site property and loans them to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.

Cat Fancy looks elaborate. Do we have any notion of how long it might have taken him to finish? His attention to detail is so strong, I imagine it took him several days. He drafted parts of it in pencil, then he went over it with ink, and then he colored it in with watercolors.

Could we talk about how this piece will appeal to Gorey collectors? What details does it have that Gorey collectors prize? First and foremost, its subject is cats. Gorey adopted several in his lifetime and thought of them as family, and as kindred spirits. They served as artistic inspiration, and sometimes he referred to them as people. His signature “Gorey Cat” pranced on the scene in 1972 with the publication of Amphigorey, his first anthology. Other works featuring cats include The Sopping Thursday, Category, Fletcher and Zenobia, T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and his famous ballet cats. Their style changed throughout the years, but they remain among his most popular. Cat Fancy also reflects his love of Victorian and Edwardian interiors—the overstuffed fussiness and detailed fabrics. It shows his skill and love of line work, much of which was influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, the Surrealists, and the ink work of English artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Ardizzone. His favorite colors were lemon yellow, olive green, and lavender, and this piece contains them in varying hues. In short, it hits on all cylinders.

Are there aspects of the illustration that the camera doesn’t quite capture? When you get up close to the artwork, you can see the flowers contain little insects. Not all of them–here and there throughout the quilt. Gorey loved insects. He often worked insects into his artwork.

Are there other aspects the camera doesn’t pick up? It draws you in. The composition, while incredibly complicated and busy, but part of its enchantment is that you find yourself, like the cats, getting lost in that big, soft bed.

Why will this illustration stick in your memory? I had an inkling where the two New Yorker pieces were, and I am thrilled to be able to be able to shepherd them from one appreciative owner into the hands of new, excited collectors. And I’m a Gorey groupie. I’m a book person, I adore cats, and lounging places, and it has my favorite color, so you’re making me want to bid on it! [Laughs]. It’s a terrific piece.

How to bid: Edward Gorey’s Cat Fancy is lot 187 in the Illustration Art auction taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on June 4, 2019.

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.

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Edward Gorey House has a website.

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

Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens, the Leader of a Flock of Paintings at Freeman’s, Could Achieve $10,000

Ben Austrian's "White Hen with Chickens" shows a mother hen at left, with 13 yellow chicks clustering near her on a bed of straw. One of the chicks perches on her back.

What you see: White Hen with Chickens, painted in 1913 by American artist Ben Austrian. Freeman’s estimates it at $7,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Raphaël Chatroux, associate specialist in the fine art department at Freeman’s.

Who was Ben Austrian? What do we know about him and his work? He’s a local boy, born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had a lonely childhood, and he was sick very often. The air in Reading was quite polluted, so he had to spend his summers outside the city at a relative’s farm. He called it his vacation home. He went there for many years, from his early childhood until his mid-teens.

And he was self-taught, yes? Yes. Not by choice, but by necessity. Austrian’s family was very poor, and they didn’t have the means to send him to art school. At the age of five, his parents gave him a box of watercolors. During the summer, he was by himself and experimented with it. At an early age, he knew he wanted to become an artist. His mom was supportive, but his dad was wary. It was hard for a local artist to break through. He wanted him to work in the family business, which started as a dry-goods shop and evolved into a steam laundry. Austrian always painted on the side.

How did his career evolve? The first phase is from his early years until his father dies when Austrian is 27. He did have a few successes. He was very persistent in trying to show his art, though he wasn’t able to devote himself to it full time. His dad dying was a wake-up call to sell the family business and devote himself to art.

Did he paint hens and chicks exclusively? No, but it’s what he started painting in the very beginning–he painted what he knew. The first things he painted were chickens and landscapes. He painted other animals, such as ducks and horses, and at one point, his cat paintings were as popular as his chicken paintings. As he aged, he turned solely to landscapes.

And when he was a kid on the farm in the summer, he would feed the chickens? Exactly. He grew up surrounded by them. In a letter, he said, “I paint chickens because I love them.”

Was Austrian prolific? Do we have a count of how many works he made? There’s no catalogue raisonné. It’s hard to estimate the number of paintings he did, but he was prolific. It’s in the thousands. It’s difficult, too [to get a more precise count], because he wasn’t so good at keeping track of all of them, especially the early ones. A lot of the paintings are very similar, with similar names, like Mother Hen and Chicks. It’s tough to establish a chronology and an exhaustive summary of what he did. In the 1900s, he started putting dates on paintings.

Was he well-known in his time, or did his reputation grow later? He was well-known while he was alive. He was considered a Reading celebrity and he was smart about it–he was able to create a business out of it. When he worked for his dad, he knew to paint an original before meeting one of his dad’s clients. He was very strong-headed, and he did everything possible to break through. His partnership with the Bon Ami Company helped a lot. It assured his legacy, and it’s part of why he’s famous today. They made reproductions [of his works] that people could have on their fridge or in their wallet.

In reading about Austrian, I came across a claim that he taught his chickens to pose for him. Is that true? It seems crazy, but it’s true. You can find a lot of pictures of Austrian in his studio, surrounded by hens and chicks. He loved them. He talked to them every day, and he gave them names–some were elaborate. He raised them all on his own, so they only knew him. There was a special bond between the animals and Austrian. He had an incubator as well. [He did] whatever he needed to study their behavior and be as accurate as possible.

How did he teach chickens to pose for him? He always started by painting the hen first, and alone, because the chicks will always harass the mom. He’d put her in something like a nest, so she’d be quiet. With the chicks, the key to catching their attention was speaking to them–he could imitate their mom’s cackle. Or he’d use an object, like a piece of raw meat hanging from a stick. They’d gather round, infatuated with it, and that would give him a minute to catch the overall composition. Cigars would hypnotize them. They would freeze when they saw the light of a cigar. That would keep them quiet for a few moments.

In looking at the catalog for the sale, it’s clear that 100 years ago or so, there was a market for paintings of chicks and hens. I see several works by Austrian, and paintings of chicks by Mary Russell Smith and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. Who was the audience for these works when they were new? Who bought and collected them? I’ll start by saying Austrian was not the first one [to paint chicks and hens] and not the only one. He was late in the game. When Mary Russell Smith died, he was very much a kid. Because Austrian was self-taught, he didn’t copy from other artists, but it [scenes of chickens] was a popular genre of the time. There were lots of dealers who handled these paintings, and Austrian often chased private collectors himself. He sold a lot to department stores and jewelry stores, which saw art as a way to get people to feel comfortable and spend more money. Wanamaker’s [a Philadelphia department store] had a lot of Austrians, and John Wanamaker bought directly from him–he bought for himself and for his stores. It was a good source of income.

What detail of White Hen with Chickens do you like best, and how does it speak to Austrian’s mastery? It’s quite a good painting because you have a lot of chicks, which is what matters, and an imposing motherly figure that anchors it all. What I like is the composition itself. I like the contrast between the quiet mom and the undisciplined children. They’re running around, some are on her back, and some are about out of the picture frame, but mom doesn’t move. She’s self-composed. That’s what I like, the organized chaos in the painting.

Have Austrian’s paintings always been collected, or was there a fall-off after his death? I think he’s always been steadily collected. There was never really a fall-off.

How often do Austrians come to market? And is it unusual to have this many in a single sale? What’s unusual here is the collection provenance. They’re from the Bon Ami Company itself, which helped shape his legacy and his image. It’s never sold works by Austrian before. It’s an event for them to come up for sale. Bon Ami is a golden provenance for a Ben Austrian painting.

Why are they selling the paintings now? They’re reshaping their collection and taking a more curated approach. They’re not trying to get every painting linked to Ben Austrian. And it’s a good way to raise brand awareness of the company, through Ben Austrian.

So this is the first time the Bon Ami Corporation has sold any of its Austrians? They’re fresh to market.

And that’s why you’re comfortable selling several in the same auction–because of the Bon Ami provenance? Exactly. The Bon Ami name helps because it ties the collection together.

White Hen with Chickens measures 20 inches by 26 inches. Is that an unusual size for Austrian? I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it’s on a larger scale. It’s the largest devoted to chickens. At 20 inches by 26 inches, the birds are pretty much life size, which was something Austrian was well aware of. When hens are in the paintings, the paintings tend to be larger. When it’s just chicks, they tend to be smaller. It has to do with the emotions you’re supposed to feel. A small work with two chicks fighting over a bug is cute, and you can hold it in your hand. A hen is more serious. It has to be bigger, and it has to hang on the wall. He was very well aware of those visual tricks.

What’s the world auction record for a Ben Austrian painting? It’s a painting of a dog and a cat–no chickens–that sold at Pook & Pook in 2011 for $80,000. I dug a bit deeper and found the fourth-highest auction record is very similar to the White Hen with Chickens painting. It sold in 2004 for $40,000.

What is White Hen with Chickens like in person? What’s very nice about the painting is on one hand, you have a subject that’s very whimsical and cute–the children are agitated and the mom is quiet. It’s not a hen with chicks, it’s a mother and her children. That’s why you like it–he’s able to put humanity into the painting without being versed in sentimentalism. He’s very naturalistic in style, but he’s able to give some warmth to it, so it’s not kitsch. And if you look up close, the technique is perfect. The colors are not at all muddy or dark. They’re very pure, very bright, even though [the scene] takes place in a barn. For the chicks, he wanted something light and fuzzy, so he drew an outline and created a soft, sfumato-like blur, which gave that effect. You think it’s whimsical, but you can see the skills there. His technique is spot-on, and he learned it by himself.

How to bid: White Hen with Chickens is lot 48 in the American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists auction at Freeman’s on June 9, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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SOLD! A Roberto Montenegro Painting from the 1920s Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Roberto Montenegro's "Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses)" features at least six Mexican women in regional dress that frames their faces in white rings of cloth. They carry colorful bouquets. Though they are dressed identically in white, each woman is individual and distinct. All are somber; none smile.

Update: Roberto Montenegro’s Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) sold for $81,250.

What you see: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses), painted in the 1920s by Roberto Montenegro. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $90,000.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

How prolific was Montenegro? He was very prolific. He worked for five decades. He continued to paint into his sixties. He died in 1968.

Why hasn’t he received the scholarly attention that some of his peers have gotten? He’s a very well-known artist, and he’s always included in surveys of Mexican art. The market likes him. What’s missing is a volume that captures the depth of his career and really studies his accomplishments.

How do we know that he painted this sometime in the 1920s? It’s not dated, but stylistically, it’s related to a Montenegro painting of Maya women that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) owns, and that dates to 1926.

When–on what occasions–do Tehuanas [women native to the Tehuantepec area of Mexico] don this distinctive ceremonial garb? Weddings and funerals? To me, in this particular painting, because they’re holding flowers and almost appear to be compressed in a tight space, almost stacked against each other, it appears to be a processsion. Their demeanor is serious. It’s more an expression of reverence. The faces are not laughing or smiling. Do you remember the Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller collection? That picture was Tehuanas too. That’s a feast, a very different atmosphere, celebrating. This seems to be a little more serious. A religious offering, maybe a funeral, but we can’t tell.

What is mexicanidad, and how is it reflected in this painting? It’s a term that refers to putting elements of Mexican culture in the forefront of a painting or an artistic expression. A lot of artists reflect mexicanidad in different ways. Frida Kahlo was a master of mexicanidad. Everything she did or said or wrote deeply embraced her Mexican identity. She took it to another level in dress and in how she expressed herself.

The lot notes say that Montenegro traveled in Europe almost continually from 1905 to 1920, looking at historic and contemporary European art. Do we know how soon he painted this after he returned to Mexico? I wish we could, but sadly, no. His sister [who owned the painting] has passed away. She would have known.

This looks really Cubist to me. Do we know if he looked at Cubist works during his travels? I think he had seen avant-garde art in Europe, like Diego Rivera had. Montenegro obviously knew the work of other artists like Rivera, who had a Cubist period.

Is this the first time he plays with the geometric potential of these Tehuana outfits? I think Diego did it too. What’s different about this treatment in this particular painting–it’s very graphic, very frontal. It seems to confront the viewer. That’s what’s attractive about the painting. And it’s very sculptural.

Sculptural? Is the paint piled up on the surface of the canvas? No, no, the painting is flat. When I say sculptural, the shapes almost appear to be 3-D in the way that Montenegro overlaps the headdresses with the faces in the back. There’s a sense of transparency, almost.

Are his other depictions of Tehuanas this geometric? No, they’re not. If you look at his murals, the Tejuanas are soft and others don’t have headdresses. I think this is one of the few that do.

Do we know anything about his working style? Did he pose models for this, or take reference photos, or did he imagine this scene? I think these women are archetypes.

From memory? Yeah, from memory.

Why is this painting so effective? I think it’s very striking. Part of that is you’re looking at this very frontally. It’s almost them looking at you rather than you looking at them.

Is this typical or atypical of his work? I think it’s an outlier. He used a lot of Mexican motifs, but it’s an outlier in the way the picture is constructed.

What is the painting like in person? What’s interesting about the painting is it’s very tight. It’s effective in that you feel this is a group of women in a small procession. They’re very strategically placed in the picture plane, but they have their own personalities.

How often do Montenegros appear at auction? Normally there’s one every season. They don’t circulate too much. He’s not an artist people are trading constantly. When collectors find a Montenegro, they tend to keep it for generations.

From the looks of the lot notes, this has never been to auction before–correct? No, never.

How rare is it to have a Montenegro that’s fresh to market? Every two years, there’s a surprise. This was a total surprise. We didn’t know about the picture until [the heirs] contacted us. It was owned by his sister. She lived in California. Montenegro gave it to her on one of his trips to visit, and it’s been in the family all these years. I don’t know if it’s been published. It’s really the first time it’s been seen. It’s really great. It’s one of my favorite things in the sale.

What condition is it in? Very good shape. We cleaned it superficially, but it’s in great shape.

What’s the auction record for a Montenegro? It was set at Christie’s. It was one of his self-portraits in a sphere, from 1955. It sold in 2017 for $187,500.

So this could set a new record for the artist, maybe. Let’s just say it’s conceivable.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It is a memorable painting. It’s very graphic. And it’s lovely in the flesh, really, really lovely. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a rediscovered artwork. This example has never been seen or published in color. Now the image is out there, and people can refer to it. We love to sell things, and we love to contribute to the understanding of an artist by presenting something that’s so good and special.

How to bid: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) is lot 13 in the Latin American Art sale taking place at Christie’s New York on May 22 and 23, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Virgilio Garza has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a record-setting Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller family and a Fernando Botero circus painting.

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A Louis Vuitton Brass Explorer Trunk from 1888 Could Sell for $192,000

An 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front. It is gold in color and features impressive buckles and locks.

What you see: A rare Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, dating to 1888. Christie’s estimates it at HKD $1 million to $1.5 million, or $128,000 to $192,000.

The expert: Winsy Tsang, vice president and head of sale, handbags and accessories, Christie’s Asia Pacific.

This trunk is described as “rare.” What does that mean in this context? Do we know how many brass Explorer trunks of this size that Louis Vuitton made in the 19th century? We don’t know exactly how many were made. All we know is that we haven’t seen another one like this on the market, and only very few in other sizes and models. This is, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for buyers, which is why it warrants the “rare” classification.

Do we know how long Vuitton made the Explorer line? Do we know how many sizes of trunk were offered in brass? Our understanding is that this special line of trunks was only produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. The materials used were highly expensive and difficult to work with at that time–this was long before the technological advances of today that have made brass a common material. There were three or four different sizes and models in the Explorer line, as well as some custom pieces, but it’s difficult to know which were produced in brass, as the production of all versions was extremely low, and very few remain.

Was the brass finish the most popular of the four? It depends if you mean at the time or today. At the time, these pieces were highly utilitarian. The metals being used were designed for adventurers traveling to the most exotic locations who required light-weight and waterproofing–at any cost. Today, arguably, the brass version is the most popular as it is the most eye-catching because of its gold color.

Do we have a notion of how many brass-finish Explorer trunks survive? Also, how many have you handled at Christie’s Hong Kong? This is the first brass version at international auction, so very few still survive. A handful of others remain in private hands, but this is the first of this size and model that we have seen.

Is it fair to assume that when this trunk was originally purchased, it was part of a suite or group of matching Vuitton luggage? If so, how often do you find that suites of Vuitton luggage are broken up over time? It is unlikely that an adventurer would have only needed one trunk, so it is likely that it was originally part of a set. Over time, we often see these collections broken up due to their size–they are difficult to store. In addition, now that most travelers do not use hard-sided luggage. They may only need a handful for interior decoration, not a whole collection.

An 1888 brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front, with its lid open to show the Louis Vuitton label. Though the paneling is made from brass, it has acquired a golden color over the years.

What is your favorite detail on this trunk, and how does that detail speak to the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton? My favorite thing about this trunk is certainly the brass paneling–this is what makes the piece truly stand out. But, one detail on this trunk that I really love is the interior Louis Vuitton logo with the serial number written in beautiful script. The last number –“1”– is a bit smudged and makes you imagine the craftsman who oversaw the creation of this incredible piece.

What do we know about how this trunk would have been made? Also, was this off the rack, or was it custom? The trunk would have been too expensive to have been produced without a client. It almost certainly would have been ordered by one of the most prominent adventurers of the day. It would have been made entirely by hand.

What do we know about the provenance of this trunk? Do we know anything about where and when it might have traveled over its lifetime? The trunk has changed hands a few times in its long life. As is often the case, at some point the trunk was forgotten about and re-discovered by a discerning buyer. It is currently being sold by a private collector.

Could you talk a bit about how the buyer would have used it–what sorts of things they would have put in it, and where would they have taken it? These trunks were produced only for the top explorers of the day who had the ambition and the means to adventure to the furthest corners of the earth. At the time, and the reason Louis Vuitton became as well-known and respected as it did, was because of its many technological advancements–the flat-topped trunk for easy stacking, special clasps, etc. This particular model, because of its small size, would have likely held its owner’s valuables and personal items. The trunk would have likely stayed with or near its owner.

What condition is it in? How original is it? What issues do you tend to see with brass-finished Explorer trunks, and does this one show any signs of having those issues? This trunk underwent a full restoration in 2015, so it looks quite like it would have in the 1800s. Over time, brass trunks can darken and become tarnished and oxidized. There are only a handful of restorers in the world who know how to handle these trunks – these restorations are extensive and timely, sometimes taking 100+ hours.

Are there signs of wear that can enhance the value of a vintage Vuitton trunk? When buying a vintage trunk, buyers want them to be “travelled”–if they wanted a brand new one, they would get it at Louis Vuitton! We love to see dings, dents, and scrapes that show the piece was really used. This mystery lets us imagine to what exotic locations the trunk may have travelled and who the explorer was who owned it.

How much does it weigh? The trunk is nearly as light as the more-common canvas version. The metal is quite thin and designed to protect the wooden architecture of the trunk from moisture and insects of exotic and humid locations.

The lot notes say it dates to 1888. How do we know this for sure? We were able to narrow the production to just a few years based on the material and model, and Louis Vuitton confirmed that a brass trunk with this serial number was sold in 1888.

The lot notes say it has a key. Would it be the original key? If so, how rare is it for a Vuitton trunk of this type to survive with its original key? Most trunk owners know to keep their keys safe–but after 131 years, you can imagine they might get lost. 20th century trunks often have their original keys, but it is quite rare for one of this age. The key with this trunk is a replacement.

How have you seen the market for Louis Vuitton vintage luggage change over time? Was there ever a point when something like this would just have been an old trunk, or were these Vuitton pieces always kept, valued, and collected? The market for Louis Vuitton trunks has been steadily growing for the last 20 to 30 years. People began to use them for interiors and collect them due to their mysterious histories around that time, which is why the value began to increase. A large canvas steamer with interesting travel stickers and markings can be very valuable.

What is the world auction record for a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, and what is the record for a piece from the Vuitton Explorer line? The world record and the Explorer line record is the aluminum Explorer Trunk sold for £162,500 [about $205,000] in London last December. Although aluminum was equally rare to brass, the aesthetics of this one make it stand out–and a potential record-breaker. [Christie’s also did a 5 Minutes With… piece about the aluminum trunk ahead of its sale, which you can read here.]

How do modern collectors of vintage Vuitton luggage use their pieces? Or do they treat them as functional art? They are now most often used as interior decoration by collectors of rare art and sculptures, or by collectors of travel and trunks.

What is the trunk like in person? Are there aspects of it that don’t quite come through in the photographs? The brass itself is what makes this piece so precious and that is difficult to capture in an image. It is a bright, true gold color that is extremely eye-catching. The patina around the edges and the wooden trim give it an amazing vintage look and feel as well.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This trunk is unforgettable–none of us will see one like it again.

How to bid: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass explorer trunk is lot 3888 in the Handbags & Accessories auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 29, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” An Example of the First Commercial Typewriter, Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in three-quarter view. Its semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

Update: The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball” sold for €100,000, or about $111,600.

What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in profile.

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

An angle on a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the undersides of several of its keys.

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

An overhead view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter. The semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

A side view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the keyboard pulled up and away from its curved typing surface.

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

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Auction Team Breker has a website.

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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SOLD! A Roy Lichtenstein Unique Ceramic Panel, Commissioned by Gunter Sachs for His St. Moritz Penthouse, Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

COMPOSITION, a unique ceramic panel by Roy Lichtenstein, is a long, horizontal work that features a yellow sun with streaming rays, a rainbow in primary colors, and green tendrils. It is curvy and geometric and is shown as it was displayed in Gunter Sachs's St. Moritz bathroom: upside down.

Update: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION sold for $1.28 million.

What you see: COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. Sotheby’s estimates it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down.]

The expert: Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s Day Auctions of Contemporary Art in New York.

How often did Lichtenstein make porcelain enamel panels? Is this it? There are a few nuances to unpack here. In 1964, Lichtenstein began creating enameled panels in limited editions of six or eight. He’d send schematic drawings to the fabricator, who would make the pieces. Unlike the other panels Lichtenstein did, this one is unique.

Did Gunter Sachs see one of those limited edition Lichtenstein panels and commission one from him for his St. Moritz residence? Essentially, yes. Lichtenstein met Sachs on the beach at Southampton in 1968. Sachs, by then, was well-known in the art world as a patron and a critic. I think he came to meet Lichtenstein through Andy Warhol. Once they met, they started a discussion about commissioned works. Sachs made this fabulous apartment in the penthouse [of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland] dedicated to displaying pop art in every form. It was a pop art haven, almost. It spoke to the type of person Gunter Sachs was, loving and living with his art.

What are the dimensions of the panel? 24 by 77 1/2 inches, a shape that was meant to fit a specific area in Sachs’s apartment.

Where in the bathroom was this panel installed? Sachs had a bedroom and bathroom en suite. This panel ran the width of the area below his double sink in the bathroom.

So it needed to be enamel. Exactly. Sachs and Lichtenstein exchanged letters about the subject, and they developed it together. There were two panels–the other has a Leda and the Swan theme, and it ran the width of his bathtub. The two panels are considered a conceptual pair, but two very different works. The other one has been in a private collection for seven to eight years now.

Is any of the correspondence between Sachs and Lichtenstein included with the panel? It’s not part of the lot. We don’t have it. We have asked the Lichtenstein Foundation for a copy of it. It’s a dialogue–not just one-sided by either party. Sachs wanted objects that were beautiful in his home, and Lichtenstein wanted to produce something current with what he was working on. He was starting to conceptualize other vehicles for his Pop vernacular–sunrises, hot dogs. In the late 1960s, it merges into his Modern painting series, a comment on modernity and Modernism. He was looking at Léger and Sonia Delaunay, and he put his own very colorful, Pop-y spin on it.

When was the panel removed from the penthouse apartment? Sotheby’s sold Sachs’s estate in May 2012. The panel was taken out ahead of the sale.

What condition is it in? It’s in exceptional condition. The enamel has stayed bright and fresh and reflective throughout its existence. It looks like it was made yesterday. It [this condition] is what you look for, especially if it’s used.

Is this one panel or two? It’s one single panel, a single piece of metal with enamel on top of it. The sun over the lake looks like it’s a dividing element, but it’s one single panel.

What’s it like in person? It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in. Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.

What’s the world auction record for a Lichtenstein porcelain enamel panel? It’s Crying Girl, from 1964, the fourth in an edition of five. It sold at Christie’s New York in November 2015 for $13.3 million.

How did you come up with the estimate? We looked up what it sold for last time–$800,000 to $850,000 in 2012 [converted from British pounds]. The market for Lichtenstein has changed significantly since then. Lichtenstein’s record is $95.3 million. We’ve seen $40 million and $50 million prices for the artist for canvases from the 1960s. We also looked at editioned enamel works. They’ve sold for four million to $12 million when they feature the iconic women Lichtenstein was known for in the 1960s. It’s an abstract work, and it’s an enticing estimate. And there’s truly nothing like it available.

How does the Gunter Sachs provenance add value? It’s a great name to attach to any work. The fact that he commissioned it, had a hand in what it looked like, and lived with it for 50 years really adds to it. Having a huge name associated with a work of art adds quality and rarity. That’s what collectors look for.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a fantastic summation of everything Lichtenstein was doing in the 1960s. You have the BEN-Day dots and the primary colors. It really stands out as a unique and exceptional work. Your eye wants to linger over it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Lichtenstein panel? It was displayed upside-down in Gunter Sachs’s apartment. The correct orientation is as we have it in the catalog, with the moon on top and the reflection at the bottom. But you can display it in your home however you like.

Why did Sachs display it upside-down? Was it an error? I wouldn’t say it’s an error. Owner’s artistic license, we’ll call it. He liked it that way, for whatever reason. We’ll never know the true reason.

How to bid: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION is lot 137 in the Contemporary Art Day Auction at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, 2019.

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A Unique Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Might Find Glory at Morphy Auctions

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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.

Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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A Roberto Montenegro Painting, Done in the 1920s and Newly Rediscovered, Could Sell for $90,000

Roberto Montenegro's "Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses)" features at least six Mexican women in regional dress that frames their faces in white rings of cloth. They carry colorful bouquets. Though they are dressed identically in white, each woman is individual and distinct. All are somber; none smile.

What you see: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses), painted in the 1920s by Roberto Montenegro. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $90,000.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

How prolific was Montenegro? He was very prolific. He worked for five decades. He continued to paint into his sixties. He died in 1968.

Why hasn’t he received the scholarly attention that some of his peers have gotten? He’s a very well-known artist, and he’s always included in surveys of Mexican art. The market likes him. What’s missing is a volume that captures the depth of his career and really studies his accomplishments.

How do we know that he painted this sometime in the 1920s? It’s not dated, but stylistically, it’s related to a Montenegro painting of Maya women that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) owns, and that dates to 1926.

When–on what occasions–do Tehuanas [women native to the Tehuantepec area of Mexico] don this distinctive ceremonial garb? Weddings and funerals? To me, in this particular painting, because they’re holding flowers and almost appear to be compressed in a tight space, almost stacked against each other, it appears to be a processsion. Their demeanor is serious. It’s more an expression of reverence. The faces are not laughing or smiling. Do you remember the Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller collection? That picture was Tehuanas too. That’s a feast, a very different atmosphere, celebrating. This seems to be a little more serious. A religious offering, maybe a funeral, but we can’t tell.

What is mexicanidad, and how is it reflected in this painting? It’s a term that refers to putting elements of Mexican culture in the forefront of a painting or an artistic expression. A lot of artists reflect mexicanidad in different ways. Frida Kahlo was a master of mexicanidad. Everything she did or said or wrote deeply embraced her Mexican identity. She took it to another level in dress and in how she expressed herself.

The lot notes say that Montenegro traveled in Europe almost continually from 1905 to 1920, looking at historic and contemporary European art. Do we know how soon he painted this after he returned to Mexico? I wish we could, but sadly, no. His sister [who owned the painting] has passed away. She would have known.

This looks really Cubist to me. Do we know if he looked at Cubist works during his travels? I think he had seen avant-garde art in Europe, like Diego Rivera had. Montenegro obviously knew the work of other artists like Rivera, who had a Cubist period.

Is this the first time he plays with the geometric potential of these Tehuana outfits? I think Diego did it too. What’s different about this treatment in this particular painting–it’s very graphic, very frontal. It seems to confront the viewer. That’s what’s attractive about the painting. And it’s very sculptural.

Sculptural? Is the paint piled up on the surface of the canvas? No, no, the painting is flat. When I say sculptural, the shapes almost appear to be 3-D in the way that Montenegro overlaps the headdresses with the faces in the back. There’s a sense of transparency, almost.

Are his other depictions of Tehuanas this geometric? No, they’re not. If you look at his murals, the Tejuanas are soft and others don’t have headdresses. I think this is one of the few that do.

Do we know anything about his working style? Did he pose models for this, or take reference photos, or did he imagine this scene? I think these women are archetypes.

From memory? Yeah, from memory.

Why is this painting so effective? I think it’s very striking. Part of that is you’re looking at this very frontally. It’s almost them looking at you rather than you looking at them.

Is this typical or atypical of his work? I think it’s an outlier. He used a lot of Mexican motifs, but it’s an outlier in the way the picture is constructed.

What is the painting like in person? What’s interesting about the painting is it’s very tight. It’s effective in that you feel this is a group of women in a small procession. They’re very strategically placed in the picture plane, but they have their own personalities.

How often do Montenegros appear at auction? Normally there’s one every season. They don’t circulate too much. He’s not an artist people are trading constantly. When collectors find a Montenegro, they tend to keep it for generations.

From the looks of the lot notes, this has never been to auction before–correct? No, never.

How rare is it to have a Montenegro that’s fresh to market? Every two years, there’s a surprise. This was a total surprise. We didn’t know about the picture until [the heirs] contacted us. It was owned by his sister. She lived in California. Montenegro gave it to her on one of his trips to visit, and it’s been in the family all these years. I don’t know if it’s been published. It’s really the first time it’s been seen. It’s really great. It’s one of my favorite things in the sale.

What condition is it in? Very good shape. We cleaned it superficially, but it’s in great shape.

What’s the auction record for a Montenegro? It was set at Christie’s. It was one of his self-portraits in a sphere, from 1955. It sold in 2017 for $187,500.

So this could set a new record for the artist, maybe. Let’s just say it’s conceivable.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It is a memorable painting. It’s very graphic. And it’s lovely in the flesh, really, really lovely. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a rediscovered artwork. This example has never been seen or published in color. Now the image is out there, and people can refer to it. We love to sell things, and we love to contribute to the understanding of an artist by presenting something that’s so good and special.

How to bid: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) is lot 13 in the Latin American Art sale taking place at Christie’s New York on May 22 and 23, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Virgilio Garza has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a record-setting Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller family and a Fernando Botero circus painting.

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A Seriously Steampunk Writing Ball, the First Commercially Produced Typewriter, Could Command $100,000 at Auction Team Breker

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in three-quarter view. Its semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in profile.

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

An angle on a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the undersides of several of its keys.

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

An overhead view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter. The semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

A side view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the keyboard pulled up and away from its curved typing surface.

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

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Auction Team Breker has a website.

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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SOLD! John Lennon’s Copy of the Beatles’ Infamous “Butcher” Cover Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

John Lennon drew a speech bubble for the inscription on his copy of the infamous Beatles "Butcher cover". The image shows McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr in white lab coats and draped with dismembered dolls and raw meat. McCartney signed it below Lennon's speech bubble. Starr signed the area over his right shoulder.

Update: John Lennon’s personal copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today with the infamous “Butcher” cover, which he inscribed, dated, and drew upon, and which was later autographed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, sold for $234,400–a record for a Beatles “Butcher” album.

What you see: A U.S first state Butcher album prototype, stereo example, of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, which was owned by John Lennon. He inscribed and dated it and drew a sketch on the back cover. Later, the recipient obtained signatures from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $160,000 to $180,000.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

So, let’s start with how this album cover came about. It was offensive in 1966, and many would find it offensive now. How did this image get chosen for the album cover? How did it advance as far as getting a press run of 750,000 before it was stopped and recalled? It was a time toward the end of the Beatles as a group, working together. They were jaded and tired and exhausted [with] another photo shoot, another album. Bob Whitaker shot the photo. Some say it was a message against the war in Vietnam. Another theory was that Beatles albums in the USA were not exactly the same as the format in the UK, and the four guys felt their albums were being butchered.

But it was not shot as an album cover. How did it end up on the cover? I think they got together and decided it would be amazing and send a message, whatever the message they thought they were sending. They were young lads. They had produced a new album every year. They had this experience [the photo shoot with Whitaker], this fun event, and decided it would be the cover of the album.

All four Beatles were in favor of putting it on the cover? Yeah, I think they were. Their lives were changing. They wanted something that was almost rebellious in a way, and they went along with it.

Do we know how many copies of the first state version of the Butcher cover–the ones that escaped into the market, and were not covered with the shot of the Beatles posing in and around the trunk–exist? Capitol Records sent it to retailers and radio stations and leaders in getting the message out about the upcoming album. Advance copies. Once it was out, [people] started to question it. Capitol Records recalled it. I expect at the time the sentiment of the people who didn’t like it returned it to Capitol Records and wanted a replacement one.

But do we have numbers on how many first state Butcher covers are out there? I’ve seen maybe five in the last 15 years. We also had the original album, the replacement, and additional photos related to the whole debacle. [Juliens’s sold the collection as a single lot in 2013 for $38,400 against an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.]

Do we know how many first state Butcher prototype covers are out there? We do not. But what we should really focus on is it was John Lennon’s first state Butcher prototype cover. We sold Ringo Starr’s copy of the White Album for $790,000. Before that, the highest [the record for the most expensive record sold at auction] was an Elvis Presley record that sold for $300,000. This was Lennon’s, and he had a quote saying the cover was a comment on the Vietnam War–“If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover.”

So Lennon was a proponent of the cover? Exactly. And the fact that this hung in Lennon’s apartment [in The Dakota in New York City], and it has John’s drawing on it–it’s an amazing part of this.

This is why I want to break it down, because there are a lot of moving parts here. Let’s subtract the Lennon provenance. A first state Butcher album cover prototype is pretty damn valuable on its own. It’s valuable. It’s really important. Collectors love to handle something like that and ideally it hasn’t been handled or opened or played. John Lennon did open and play it.

The John Lennon inscription is valuable on its own. Obviously, John Lennon is no longer with us. Anything signed by John Lennon has value in and of itself. Among the Beatles, he’s the most highly collectible.

Lennon did a sketch of a boy with a shovel and a dog on a blank area of his copy of the Beatles "Butcher" album cover.