My Latest “Sold!” Column at Art & Object Showcases Six High-flyers from Asia Week 2019

A COMMEMORATIVE GOLD BRACELET 1839-1841

What you see: A very rare gold commemorative 18k gold bracelet made between 1839 and 1841 and sold on March 18, 2019 at Bonhams New York for $187,575 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.

 

My latest Sold! column for Art & Object showcases six magnificent lots that commanded strong sums at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams during last month’s Asia Week auctions.

 

In addition to the absurdly intricate gold bracelet shown above, the column includes:

 

An important and extremely rare imperially inscribed greenish-white jade “twin fish” washer, sold at Christie’s New York for $2.89 million against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Chakrasamvara, made in Tibet in the 15th century and sold at Bonhams New York for $225,075 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

An extremely rare set of seven archaic bronze ritual Zhong bells, dating to the Western Zhou dynasty, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Amitayus, made in Tibet in the 15th or 16th century, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

A compressed Yixing teapot and cover, dubbed Flowing and made by Wang Yinxian and Zhang Shouzhi in 1988, and sold at Christie’s New York for $150,000 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000

 

Read the column and follow Art & Object on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

Potter & Potter Could Sell “The True History of Pepper’s Ghost”–a Rare Book on the Famous Special Effect–for $900

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What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

 

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

 

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

 

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

 

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

 

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

 

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

 

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

 

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

 

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

 

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

 

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

 

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

 

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

 

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

 

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

 

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 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.

 

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about 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.

 

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

SOLD! Rago Sold That Stunning Circa 1880 Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham sold for $16,250.

 

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

 

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

 

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

 

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

 

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

 

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

 

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

 

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

 

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

 

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

 

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

 

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

 

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

 

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

 

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

 

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

 

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

 

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

 

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

 

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

 

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SOLD! Morphy Auctions Sold That 1960s-era Coin-Op Recording Booth for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth sold for $44,000.

 

What you see: A 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Don Grimmer, vice president of Morphy Auctions Las Vegas.

 

So let’s imagine I’m wandering along a boardwalk, or in an amusement park or an arcade, and I see this and I want to use it. How do I do that? You open the door, go in, and close the door behind you to keep the outside noise from coming in. You inserted two quarters and began speaking or singing when the red light was on. It was recommended that you stand six to 12 inches from the microphone.

 

And the recording time lasted about four minutes? A few minutes per record, I don’t know how many. It stopped on its own. A machine behind the microphone created the record for you.

 

Do we know how many of these units were made? We don’t know, but they were popular in the UK also.

 

And this is the only version of the unit that the manufacturer produced? I think this is the only style. It’s very rare. It’s the only style I’ve seen.

 

Is this the first one you’ve handled? This is the first one we’ve had to auction. One sold privately recently, which is how we created the estimate.

 

Do we know when this particular unit was made? Mid- to late 60s. That’s what I’d say as a guy who’s been around coin-op [machines], judging by the look and feel of it.

 

Does it work? Everything is there. It appears to be complete. It hasn’t been tested, and you’d need to fill it with blank discs. The collector will be the one to get it wired and working. We don’t have the discs to put in it. It probably needs maintenance to get it in full working condition.

 

Have you heard any records that were made by a booth such as this one? How do they sound? It’s mostly a low-fi recording, despite the hi-fi ad on the exterior. It’s not a great quality record. It’s a cool novelty.

 

So you hear pop and hiss? Right. Sometimes you can find one somebody made. They pop up in old record stores and thrift stores.

 

The lot notes describe its condition as “very good.” What does that mean in this context? It’s structurally sound. The graphics are intact. The mechanism is intact, which is a major  plus. It’s not a hunk of crap. Perfect equals mint. Because the mechanism is there, that makes it very good. It’s very easy to see the wear markers, the scratches, the condition.

 

Have you sat in it? What is that like? There’s no seat present in it. You stand inside and it makes you want to put a coin in the slot and give it a try. It’s a good experience. It gets you excited that this will be a great thing to try.

 

How many people can comfortably fit inside the booth, really, knowing that you have to close the door to get a legible recording? It measures only about two and a half feet by two feet. You could possibly get two or three skinny people in there, or five kids, but honestly, it’s made for one.

 

What do we know about the provenance of this unit? It comes from the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey, and was used in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, New Jersey.

 

Is there anything we can say about the graphics decorating the machine? The good thing is that they’re intact. They’re legible and clear. There are wear issues. This thing was used! You climb in it and your friends climb in with you, having fun and being rowdy, especially when you start singing. It’s lucky to be in the condition it’s in.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate for this, knowing that none of these units have been to auction before? What are its comparables, beyond private sales? Very few exist, and very few survive. I’ve talked to two guys who know of these. The market will do what the market will do, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? When you get in it, it makes you want to use the machine. And it records you. Not many things out there actually records yourself. It makes you want to something silly, like stand in a booth and sing to yourself. And this is a rare, fresh to market piece, which makes it even more desirable.

 

How to bid: The Calibre Auto Recording Booth is lot 1179 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale at Morphy Auctions Las Vegas on April 13 and 14, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

 

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Slotin Folk Art Auction Could Sell a Spellbinding Circa 1960s Work on Paper by Minnie Evans for $8,000

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What you see: Beautiful Portrait Surrounded by Vivid Flora, a circa 1960s work on paper by self-taught African-American artist Minnie Evans. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

 

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

 

I’d like to start by talking about Evans herself, and how she became a self-taught artist, and how her story matches other people who became self-taught artists. She seemed compelled to make art. Is that true of many other self-taught artists? It’s very typical. We like to say our artists are untrained and unschooled in art, but something happens and they’re driven to create art. She was definitely driven to create art, and create garden-like drawings that came from her surroundings as a gatekeeper for a garden. [Evans worked as the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina from 1948 until she retired in 1974.]

 

She started making art at the age of 43. Is that unusually late for a self-taught artist to embark on a career? It’s hard to say what’s typical. Most artists don’t have the opportunity [to make art] until later in life. Evans created art as the gatekeeper because she had the time to do it.

 

Was she prolific? She was very prolific. She did a lot of drawings. Like a lot of these artists, she was somewhat obsessed with making art.

 

Has anyone come up with a conservative number of works that she made over her lifetime? I don’t know if there’s an actual number. She did a lot as the gatekeeper of the garden, selling them for 50 cents. There’s probably an untold number out there.

 

Was Evans discovered and recognized in her lifetime? She was. There was a folk art show at the Corcoran in the 1980s of self-taught African American artists [Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980]. The show kicked off outsider art mania. It woke people up to what incredible artists we have in this country who are not influenced by academic or European masters.

 

Is this piece typical of Evans’s work? It’s very typical and very desirable. It’s got a central face with flora around it, and the colors are beautiful and strong, with one color bleeding into the next. It’s a really good indication of what her work looks like.

 

Is this a self-portrait? I don’t think it’s a self-portrait. It doesn’t look like her. She had a rounder face. I think there’s one distinct facial type that she does, and like the colors, the faces range the gamut from Caucasian to Native American to African-American depending on the individual piece.

 

How is she producing the effect of colors bleeding into the next–by mixing crayon and colored pencil? Back in the day I’m sure no one thought this would be as important as it is. [She worked with] everything she could get her hands on. That’s how most folk artists worked. Because no one considered them artists, they didn’t have the means to buy the best materials. I don’t know how she did it [the effect], but she did the best with what she had.

 

This is undated, but it has a circa date of the 1960s. Is that the period of her career that collectors prefer? Her strongest periods were the 1950s and 1960s. The look of it is really powerful and detailed. People like this period because the colors are strong and vivid and just beautiful. This is what they want to live with. In the 1970s, she was older, and not as strong, and may have spent less time on [each work].

 

The lot notes describe the piece as being in excellent condition. What does that mean here? I’m looking at the condition of the paper and the work. There’s no tears, no holes, and if it had paint on it, it means there’s no cracking or crazing or flaking off. Overall it’s in great condition.

 

Is that unusual for an Evans, given that she sold them directly to visitors to the garden where she worked as a gatekeeper? Remarkably, her paintings did well over time. We typically find them in really good condition. It would have been easy just to discard it if it was bought as a fluke. People saved them. Even if you didn’t know what it was, it’s very likable. You’d enjoy having it in your house and looking at it.

 

What’s the provenance for this work? This is from a longtime collector who had a fabulous collection [they’re] selling most of in this auction.

 

What is the work like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The only thing you don’t see in the photo when you look at it in person is how the colors bleed into each other and how calming it is to be around the piece. It’s a wonderful piece.

 

How many Minnie Evans works have you handled at Slotin over the years? I’ve sold between 50 to 70 pieces, with her highest being over $30,000.

 

Would that be the auction record for Minnie Evans? That is the auction record. It was a larger piece, maybe two times the size of the one here. It was from the Rosenak collection, Chuck and Jan, who wrote the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. It had a lot of detail in it, faces and flowers and birds. I sold it 10 years ago. Maybe now it would go for $50,000 to $60,000. Prices have jumped so much on her work, if I had it back, it might have doubled by now.

 

How to bid: The Minnie Evans portrait is lot 0161 in the Spring Masterpiece Sale at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia on April 27 and 28, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

 

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200. He also discussed a painting by African-American artist Sam Doyle that later commanded $17,000.

 

Minnie Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95, but her memory lives on at Airlie Gardens through a sculpture garden that bears her name.

 

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SOLD! Christie’s Sold a Gelatin Silver Print of Horst P. Horst’s Iconic “Mainbocher Corset” for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The gelatin silver print of Mainbocher Corset sold for $7,000.

 

What you see: Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939, shot by Horst P. Horst for Vogue magazine.  Christie’s estimates the gelatin silver print at $7,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Anne Bracegirdle, specialist in Christie’s photographs department, and the head of the Face of a Century auction.

 

First, to clarify–when did he change his name to Horst P. Horst, and why? He was born in East Germany, and his name was Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann. By the early 1940s, he had emigrated to the States, and he was concerned that his name would be confused with that of a famous Nazi, Martin Bormann, so he legally changed it.

 

Horst shot Mainbocher Corset in 1939, and it showcases a piece of underclothing most women no longer wear routinely. Yet it remains the most iconic image Horst ever shot, and it’s one of the most iconic fashion photographs ever taken. What makes it so powerful? Keep in mind the timing of the image. Horst is one of the first fashion photographers to be celebrated. He influenced generations of photographers at Vogue. Only a handful of fashion photographers have been championed as great artists. [The strength of the image comes from] an ability to recognize the effects of strong lighting and strong angles. Horst was known to use many, many spotlights at one time. If Mainbocher Corset is considered as a series of lines and slopes, you can see a sense of balance in the composition, an effect which creates a “pleasing” photo, a sense of geometric balance. And it was revolutionary to do at the time.

 

What made this a revolutionary photo in the 1930s? The corset is half untied and partly off her body. The ribbons are hanging off the sides of the shelf. It’s clearly being removed. Erotic implications are unusual in 1930s publications. The corset was meant to be pulling further away from her body, on the left, but that was considered too risqué.

 

Do we know how much time Horst spent setting up this shot? We don’t, but he was known to take very great care. It was very well-planned, with multiple spotlights in the studio. Every image we know of his was staged very well in advance. It was taken the night before he left Paris, for fear of the Nazi threat. [Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and this image appeared in the September 1939 issue of Vogue.] He left his studio after this shot, at 4 am. He took the early train to Normandy and emigrated to the U.S. This is a very emotional image for him. It represents his career in Paris, and what he left behind.

 

How much of Mainbocher Corset‘s power as a fashion image comes from the fact that we can’t see the model’s face? Does that add to its power? I think so. And it was taken to sell the corset. This is a commercial image. It’s more about the composition, and less about her identity.

 

The lot notes say it was “printed later,” which I take to mean after it appeared in Vogue in 1939, and before Horst died in 1999. Is it possible to narrow the date of the limited edition down from that six-decade span? If we don’t know with certainty which decade it was printed in, we err on the side of “printed later.” This was the late 1970s, the early 1980s, or in the 1990s, before he died. The market didn’t fully develop until the 1970s. That’s when the commercial secondary market [for photography] was created, and when fashion photographers were looking back at their images and realizing that a market was being created. It was not fully known then that edition printing was needed to create a value structure. Many did not edition.

 

Do we know how many Mainbocher Corset prints Horst made? There are so many prints of this image, there’s no way to determine how many exist.

 

Do we know how many limited editions of Mainbocher Corset there are? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reality is that some images are so iconic, there are many different editions in different sizes.

 

Is this particular print regarded as a good size for Mainbocher Corset? Yes. This is the more standard size, which is more available frequently. [The sheet measures 13 7/8 inches by 10 7/8 inches; the image itself is 9 7/8 inches by 7 7/8 inches.]

 

Is this print more desirable for being part of a numbered limited edition of 50? The estimate you see is the same estimate we’d use for the same size print from a later, not-limited edition. The premium is really given to larger-format prints, and platinum prints, which are much more rare, and vintage prints [which were made around 1939].

 

This print is number four of 50. Does that matter? Do collectors prefer earlier or later numbers in a Horst limited edition? At auctions, at least in my department, there’s no value on earlier or later [numbers] in an edition. It’s not a factor for us, and it really shouldn’t be to the buyer either.

 

I guess Mainbocher Corset prints are similar to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia–there’s a lot floating around, but it holds its value or rises because the demand is there. Exactly. Ansel Adams is really prolific. There’s no way to know the number of iconic images that exist, but we can estimate them strongly because the demand exists. Any time an image rises to the level of an icon, it stands the test of time. Mainbocher Corset represents the height of fashion photography. It’s an icon of the medium. It’s important socially and politically, and in how modern it is. It really is a timeless icon. I would advise clients who are risk-averse and interested in focusing on images that we know will retain their value–this is one I’d recommend.

 

What’s the world auction record for a Horst photograph, and for a print of Mainbocher Corset? The highest prices for Horst and for fashion photography were in the early 2000s and the late 2000s. That was the boom time for this imagery. The three highest Horst results were achieved then, and all three were this image. The market became flooded with this image. What ended up happening is you’d see it up for auction every season, and there was less incentive to bid if it was going to come up next season. In the past two years, we started offering iconic Horst images less frequently, to let the market recover.

 

So the record for any Horst at auction and for Mainbocher Corset are one and the same… It was in 2007, in a specific Horst sale at Christie’s, a single-owner collection from Gert Elfering, who owned the Horst estate. It was a 23 1/4 by 17 inch platinum palladium print from a limited edition of five, and it sold for $288,000. The second-highest was a vintage version of this image, estimated at $120,000 to $180,000 and sold for $216,000.

 

How involved would Horst have been in the printing of this limited edition? Would he have done it himself, or would he have supervised someone else, or would he have handed off the work entirely? He always printed himself until he became elderly. Ricky Horst, his partner, who he eventually adopted as his son, oversaw Ricky [after Horst was too old to do the work from start to finish in the dark room].

 

Do collectors prefer prints made by Horst to those made by Ricky Horst under his supervision? No, there’s no market difference. What’s more important is the condition of the print.

 

What’s the condition of this particular print? There are no condition issues. With these later prints, which do come to market frequently, we have high standards for them.  When there are many prints available on the market, collectors demand [they be] in very good condition. If they’re not, there are more available.

 

What is the print like in person? One reason photographs are so special is their qualities as objects. One quality of a gelatin silver print [which this print is] is it’s printed on glossier paper, which creates a sheen that emphasizes the contrasts. It creates a depth to the darks and emphasizes the highlights. It’s a result of the paper and the print process. Platinum prints have a very matte surface and a texture almost like a charcoal drawing. For collectors, it’s almost a personal preference. Each print process brings out different qualities of the image. Gelatin silver prints have more vibrant grays, and are inherently cooler. Platinum prints are inherently warm. This can be overlooked when you’re consuming photographs digitally. They have a tactile quality.

 

How to bid: Mainbocher Corset is lot 163 in The Face of a Century: Photographs from a Private Collection, taking place on April 2, 2019 at Christie’s New York.

 

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If you think you’ve seen Mainbocher Corset before, you almost certainly have–it’s been a fashion inspiration since the day it was printed. Maybe the most famous reference to the image is Madonna’s “quote” at the end of her 1990 music video for Vogue.

 

Horst P. Horst has a website, and hey, guess what’s shown right there on the landing page? Yep.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

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Pouring It On: Rago Has a Stunning Circa 1880 Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern That Could Command $15,000

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What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

 

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

 

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

 

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

 

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

 

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

 

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

 

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

 

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

 

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

 

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

 

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

 

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

 

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

 

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

 

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

 

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

 

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

 

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

 

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

 

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