This Exquisite 19th Century American Quilt Has a Heartbreaking Backstory. Skinner Could Sell It for $60,000


What you see: A pieced and appliquéd cotton memorial quilt, created circa 1863 by Mary (aka Polly) Bell Shawvan. Skinner estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.


The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.


How do we know that Mary Shawvan made this quilt around 1863? The answer to both is family tradition. [The family] consigned it in 2003, and it was well-enough documented when it was made to know it was 1863, more or less. He [John, Mary’s husband] died later in 1863. The supposition is she finished it in 1863, then he died. We found no reason to argue. The family always thought that she finished it before he died.


And the family showed it in quilt competitions after John’s death? They showed it because Mary was proud of her work, and it was a symbol of lamentation in the family. It was meant to be a homecoming gift for John [who was fighting for the Union in the Civil War when he was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga]. It was put away after his death. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pure distillation of folk quiltwork. Mary Shawvan shows herself at her most artistic. She didn’t follow a pattern. This is a fully freehand design.


How often do you see 19th century quilts designed like this–as if the entire thing is a single canvas? Not often. Certainly not to this degree. Quilts with one overarching design throughout are not unprecedented, but they’re rare.


What challenges did she face in making this quilt? To distill an image across 84 by 81 1/2 inches is difficult. It would require a lot of planning and effort. It’s easier to lay out 36 blocks. That’s why you don’t see many done like this.


Would she have worked alone on this quilt, or might her children have helped? Traditionally, this kind of thing was done by one person. There’s no reason to believe she had help. Certainly, she would have worked it over the course of several months. She was essentially a single mother when he was at war, and they had six children. She probably put hundreds of hours into it unless she was really good and really fast.


I was going to ask if she was inspired to make the quilt after learning that he died at the Battle of Chickamauga, but it sounds like he died after or around the time she finished it. We term it a memorial quilt, but it’s a memorial quilt by circumstance. It was not intentional. It imbues the whole thing with a sense of melancholy, but it doesn’t diminish its beauty.


Is it unusual to see a 19th century quilt with a yellow background? That is a lot of yellow. It is. You probably can’t see it, but there’s a pattern to it. It’s printed. It’s a very subtle pattern in the color itself. It’s not sewn on. It gives the background color of the quilt a bit more life.


Are there other details that don’t quite show up on camera? Every single bird is done by what’s called stuffed work. It’s cotton batting that gives them a three-dimensionality. It’s very unusual in quilt-making. The kind of stuffed work you see on this quilt is especially difficult work, requiring an incredibly talented hand to do it.


Are the birds and the flowers there just because they look nice, or is there an iconography to the quilt? Do the birds represent John, Mary, and the kids, for example? As far as I can tell, the only real symbol is the eagle, which denotes patriotism. It [any iconographic significance] was possibly known to Mary, but it was not passed down in the family. What you’re looking at are choices of design and color. There’s no memorial imagery here.


The quilt measures 84 by 81 1/2 inches. Is that a typical size for a 19th century American quilt? It’s about the typical size. The smallest dimensions you see are six feet, or 72 inches, and maybe they go up to 100 inches. It’s no bigger or smaller than typical quilts of the period.


Do we know how the Shawvans used the quilt? All we know is what we were told from family lore. John was such a beloved husband and father that [the quilt] represented melancholy, and it was put away and not used. Because it was not used, it remained as vibrant as the day it was made when it was consigned to us 130 years later. That’s unusual for a quilt of any kind, never mind a folk art masterpiece like this one. Usually, the reds and pinks have a tendency to go light brown quicker than others, or lose their vitality. The fact that they’re as vibrant as they are speaks to it not seeing the light of day for a century and a half. In addition, I think the birds’ wings use silk, which has a tendency to shatter in place, and shred. “Shatter” is a word used to describe what happens to silk when it loses its integrity. It shatters like glass, but it doesn’t come out of where it is. The black silk [on the birds’ wings] is totally intact.


Skinner first sold the quilt in 2003. How did it perform then? We offered it at $50,000 to $75,000 at the time, and it sold for $149,000. It was purchased by a private collector in the Boston area who knew the story, and knew it was put away in melancholy circumstances. He put it away in the same plastic bag that the family consigned it in. This is undoubtedly the best quilt we’ve ever sold.


Really? What makes it the best quilt Skinner has ever sold? All the different ways a piece of folk art can be valuable, this is [valuable]. It has a great story, it has great artistry, it has a charming and whimsical approach to composition, and the condition is as good as any quilt can be.


How many different types of collectors will compete for this quilt? Certainly quilt and textile people. Also, folk art people, which can include quilt people. The person who bought it in 2003 was not a quilt collector, but a folk art collector. And lovers of history, and American history, specifically. John Shawvan was a color sergeant and a father of six. He enlisted when he didn’t have to, for a cause he believed in. There’s a huge group of collectors of American historical items who appreciate it when you can identify specific persons and families [connected to the item].


How do we know he believed in the Union cause? He enlisted in October of 1861 though he had substantial family obligations. That implies to me that he believed so strongly in the cause he was almost compelled to leave his family. What other reason could there be?


Were you at Skinner when the quilt sold the first time? No. I was here in 2003, but it predates my tenure by about seven months.


Why will this quilt stick in your memory? I will never forget it because it’s so rare to have this confluence of characteristics. It’s a fully realized folk masterpiece of a quilt, with a full family history, a compelling story, and impeccable condition.


How to bid: The Shawvan memorial quilt is lot 65 in the American Furniture & Decorative Arts sale scheduled at Skinner on March 2, 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.


You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.


Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid last year about a Jess Blackstone robin and in February 2017 about an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.


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SOLD! LAMA Sold Kenneth Nolan’s 1985 Canvas “Songs: Yesterdays” For (Scroll Down to See) Also! Happy Birthday to The Hot Bid

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Update: Kenneth Noland’s Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas, sold for $550,000 at LAMA–just over five times its low estimate.


And a special note: Today is the second anniversary of the debut of The Hot Bid. The first post featured LAMA’s Peter Loughrey talking about an Alma Thomas oil on canvas that went on to set an auction record for the artist.


What you see: Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas from the late Kenneth Noland. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.


The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.


How prolific was Noland? He was very prolific. He quickly became a prominent figure in the Color Field school. Of all the artists who emerged from that movement, he became one of the most celebrated, with the target series in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1963, he was fairly well-established.


How often do his works come up at auction? Fairly often. There’s a lot of material out there. It trades hands with good regularity.


Is Songs: Yesterdays a one-off, or part of a series? It’s part of a series from the 1980s, when he returned to the chevron shape. He started it in the 1960s and he revisited it. The [1980s] works were named after songs. I don’t think this one was named after the Beatles song. I think he named it after an older song called Yesterdays. He not only revisited the shape of the icon, but he goes back to his own history, the music of his youth.


Chevrons are a recurring theme in Noland’s work. Is there a ranked order to the popularity of specific themes in his work? Do collectors prefer his circles/targets to his chevrons, for example? If you asked the artist that, he would say “Absolutely not,” but the market has spoken. Circles/targets sell for the most. The chevrons are a very iconic part of his work. If you ranked [the themes] by their price in the market, the place of chevrons seems to be second.


I understand that Noland stained his canvases rather than brushing the color on with paints. Has he done that here? His earliest works, yes, were part of the stained canvases. Many artists were disengaging with the brush after [Jackson] Pollock. In this case, in the 1980s, Noland returned to the brush and palette knife.


How did he produce the texture on the chevrons? Did he use a palette knife? Definitely with a scraping device. A palette knife is typically how an artist would get this type of texture. If not a palette knife, a variation on the palette knife. A trowel, for example.


The pink area doesn’t show any evidence of brush strokes. Do we know what Noland did there? I looked for the technique in anticipation of your call. I didn’t find something that proved how he got it. The pink area is very flat. He’s playing with texture with paint. He contrasts an area where there’s no sign of the artist’s hand to an area with overt sign of the artist’s hand.


Songs: Yesterdays measures 88.5 inches by 69.1 inches. Is that a typical size for Noland? It’s a typical size from the 1980s. His 80s works tend to be fairly robust in scale.


Did Noland name the painting? He would have.


He painted this in 1985 and died in 2010. Is this considered a late work for him? It’s a late period work. I spoke to him in 2008 or 2009 on a very early abstract piece I was selling, and he was very quick to point out that he was busier now than ever. Past his mid-career, he still had a fairly long, strong output. He returned to the circles after the chevrons. It’s interesting that when he returned to the old icons, he returned to the chevrons first.


Has the market for Noland works changed over time? Are there things collectors want now that they didn’t want as much ten years ago? It comes down to supply and demand. Paintings from 1963 are just rarer. There are not many opportunities [to bid], so they tend to sell for much higher. Works from the 1980s are much more available. In the last two or three years large 1980s chevrons have come up on the market. On December 3 in France, one estimated at $70,000 to $90,000 sold for $272,000. It was a chevron that was an almost identical-looking picture, and it was the same size [as this one]. There’s definitely a trend where the prices tend to be going upward. I imagine this last one selling for $272,000 is going to trigger a lot of people to sell, if they’ve been paying attention to the market.


How often have you handled works by Noland? Not very often. This is probably the first major painting I’ve had. I’ve certainly sold a lot of his prints and graphics. I think most of his material has likely surfaced in New York and Washington, D.C. L.A. is not one of the obvious places where people collect his work.


What is it like in person? It’s vibrant. It’s really quite impressive. It’s in flawless condition, which is always nice. It almost vibrates right in front of your eyes. It’s not subtle like some of his chevrons. This is really bold, and pops out.


Are there any details that elude the camera? Not really. The subtlety of the pink area, which we discussed as being devoid of the sign of the artist’s hand, is definitely much more obvious in person. There’s a stark contrast between the purity of the color field and the texture of the stripes of the chevrons.


Why will this painting stick in your memory? I tend to like colorful, bright, optimistic works. It’s sort of who I am. If you look at the chevron work up for sale, it’s one of the brightest and most optimistic. In others, I think the colors tend to be more muted and a little darker.


How to bid: Songs: Yesterdays is lot 197 in the Modern Art & Design Auction at LAMA on February 17, 2019.


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.


Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.


Peter Loughrey has appeared on The Hot Bid since the beginning–literally. The blog’s first post was on an Alma Thomas painting that LAMA ultimately sold for a world auction record. He has also discussed works by Jonathan Borofsky and Wendell Castlean exceptional 1969 dune buggy, an Ed Ruscha print that set a world auction record at LAMA, and a hyperrealistic sculpture by Carole Feuerman that ultimately set an auction record for the artist.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.


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SOLD! The Ira Hudson Flying Black Duck Sold at Copley Fine Art Auctions For … (Scroll Down to See)


Update: The Ira Hudson flying black duck sold for $18,000.


What you see: A decorative carving of a flying black duck, made by Ira Hudson in 1947. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates it at $18,000 to $24,000.


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


The lot notes call Ira Hudson “the South’s greatest waterfowl folk artist of the era.” What makes him so? He appears to be self-taught, and he quickly imparted his own style into his work. He seemed to put a much higher emphasis on his style and sensibility over realism. That direction goes toward what I call whimsical. It’s more toward folk art than realism.


What do you mean when you say “whimsical”? He had a very pure and raw confidence that comes forth in his carvings. He was very efficient in every aspect of his methods. You get a high quality standard throughout his body of work, because he did it so much.


I understand that he did not rely on patterns when carving his decoys. How did that affect his work? A lot of decoy makers use patterns for the side profile and the top profile  [of a duck decoy]. It would make sense that he doesn’t use patterns. He would take a block with a rectangular cross section, turn it 45 degrees, and he’d carve from that. Patterns don’t apply to that approach to carving. In addition, we know he used wood he salvaged from the shore. When you use found material, patterns are a hindrance. And when you’re looking at someone with the confidence he had, you wouldn’t need a pattern. He could chop wood with a hatchet and make it look like a duck. You see the form influenced by the wood he had available.


Does Hudson’s avoidance of patterns make his work more interesting to collectors? Absolutely. His freestyle approach to carving created some incredibly lively, animated forms. You’ll notice with this form that the bird arches to one side. The structure of the bird is turned from tip to tail. It’s a crescent. It’s not realistic, but it’s pleasing and exciting to see, and it’s unique to his work. I don’t think anyone else has decoys with a crescent shape to them.


How often do black ducks appear in his work? He lived on Chincoteague, an island off the eastern shore of Virginia. It’s a prime black duck habitat, and black ducks are great birds to hunt. They’re respected for table fare and sport hunting. Hudson made a good number of black ducks to hunt over. That said, his full size carvings of flying black ducks are exceptionally rare. I’ve never seen another full size flying black duck.


Did Hudson introduce the concept of the flyer–a decoy depicted in the act of flying? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he originated the flyer. However, it doesn’t appear to take the idea from anyone else, and it was made around the time the first flyers were made in various regions. There’s no one around him we’d expect to be exposed to anything like this. He doesn’t get full credit, but he was a pioneer, especially for his region.


When did he start carving flyers? He started carving during the early 20th century, around 1910 or so. The first flyers started showing up in the 1930s and continued into the 1940s. It’s a natural progression considering that waterfowl laws were changing. A decorative flyer was something a sport hunter could afford and be interested in, whereas a market hunter [someone who hunts ducks to sell as food] would only be interested in the decoy.


How many flyers did Hudson make? For full size flyers in total, I’ve probably seen a few dozen.


The lot notes call this a “rare” flying black duck. What makes it rare? We look at his flyers and say, “Ok, there’s a few dozen flyers out there. Among those, you’re down to a couple of flying black ducks.” Others represented are mergansers and mallards. It’s one of the only black duck flyers.


This bird cannot be used as a duck decoy. You can’t hunt with it. It’s purely decorative. Was Hudson among the earliest creators to carve ducks that are purely decorative, or did the changing waterfowl laws nudge him in that direction? This bird is made purely as decorative rather than a decoy. His son [Delbert] painted it exactly how he would paint a decoy. Its purpose was to attract an affluent buyer to decorate a cabin with it. I would say Hudson is in sync with the top makers around the country in the era in starting to do more with decoratives. He was following market trends.


Did he carve this bird in a single piece, or is it assembled from multiple pieces? With this bird, the body is made from one piece of wood. The wings are attached, as are the head and neck. The feet are separate pieces which attach. There are six pieces in a typical flyer as opposed to two pieces in a standard decoy.


He carved the decoy from balsa wood. Is that why he needed to create six pieces? Using multiple pieces of wood for a complex form works for a couple of reasons. One, it minimizes waste. Two, you have to consider the strength of the wood, which comes from the direction of its grain. It’s projecting in different directions, so you have to have the grain aligned in the wood or you’ll have weak points that are going to break. The reason he used balsa is it’s a nice, soft, very easy material to carve. Balsa is not as good for decoys because they wear quickly. On decoratives, it’s far less important, because they’re not taking wear. Wall hangers are lighter weight to reduce the chance of it falling off the wall.


Is it possible to know why Hudson made this? Does the fact that this is one of two known flying black ducks imply this one might have been commissioned? Or might he have made it for his own pleasure? Almost certainly, he would have made it for sale, and to generate income to support his family. We can’t get too deep into the pure reasoning, but he would make anything that would sell. He made clothespins during the war, when there were rations on things. This was made during a time of demand for decorative waterfowl, and he was more than capable of the job.


His son, Delbert, painted this decoy. Do we know when his children started taking on significant roles in the production of decoys? Reportedly, all of his children were involved with production at one time or another. [Hudson had nine.] Delbert and Norman went on to be very competent carvers in their own right. You have to look at Hudson’s work as his workshop. Hudson decoys would have been a joint effort. We judge each bird on its merits.


This flyer dates to 1947, two years before Hudson died. Do collectors prefer any specific time of his career? I’d say this carving is a testament to the high level of quality he maintained over the course of decades. Because of that quality standard, there’s no preference for an era of carving. The date of a carving is less important than its individual qualities.


What’s its condition? Its paint is in ideal original condition. It has one small repair to a wingtip.


It’s made from balsa wood. Would that make it more vulnerable to condition issues? It is, but because it’s a decoy for decorative purposes, it would have had an easy life hanging on a wall.


Would it have been made as a one-off, or would it have been one of a flock of flying black ducks that would hang on a wall together? It would have been made as a single object.


Why will it stick in your memory? First of all, the rarity. A flying black duck stands out. And it has the quality I like to see in any Hudson carving, including a plump body, a fine head carving, a dynamic pose, and exceptional scratch feather paint.


How to bid: The Ira Hudson flying black duck is lot 171 in the 2019 Winter Sale at Copley Fine Art Auctions on February 16, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina.

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.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.


Colin McNair appeared on The Hot Bid last year, talking about an Elmer Crowell preening black duck decoy that ultimately sold for $600,000.




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Cowan’s Has an 1887 Patriotic Sand Art Bottle by Andrew Clemens That Could Command $45,000


What you see: A patriotic-themed sand bottle by Andrew Clemens, dated 1887. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $35,000 to $45,000.


The expert: Wes Cowan, founder, Cowan’s Auctions.


Did Clemens invent this form of sand art? We don’t know entirely, but near McGregor, Iowa, there’s what is now a state park, Pikes Peak State Park. There’s a sandstone formation where different colored sand is exposed in layers. At some point, some enterprising person in McGregor collected sand and put it into bottles. I don’t think Clemens was the guy who invented it, but he took it to a level others could only dream of. Once Clemens started to do it, others imitated him.


So the artistic sand bottles made before Clemens appeared were what, just stacked colors of sand? I think so. The McGregor Historical Society has examples of bottles made by other folks–stacked colors or very simple geometric designs. They don’t look anything like Andrew Clemens bottles.


How did Clemens make these artistic bottles of sand? I think a large part of Clemens’ genius was he spent a lot of time preparing the sand–sorting it, sifting it, and he may have ground it so it could be packed. The sand granules coming out of the deposit are not the same size. It’s an advantage to make it as uniform as you can to arrange it in the bottle.


What tools did he use to arrange the grains of sand? He’d use tiny scoops to add sand to the bottle where he wanted it to be. He’d manipulate the colors with what looked like little hooks. And he would pack the sand–imagine a wooden tamping tool inside the bottle to pack the sand.


Did he or anyone else document his methods in detail? There are contemporary accounts that describe the process, but they’re not detailed enough to provide information on it. The bottom line is he practiced and practiced and became expert at doing this. That’s the secret of his work.


What challenges did he face in creating these artistic bottles? It was not physically difficult to do at all. Obviously, it was mentally challenging. The fact that he was deaf [means he] had no outside distractions. [Clemens came down with encephalitis at the age of five, and lost the ability to speak as well.] That’s part of the genius of this guy. [His deafness] allowed for intense levels of focus or concentration. By the end of his career, he could make them with relative ease. An upside-down bottle took him two days to make. He came up with techniques to make bottles faster and more efficiently.


Did he sell the bottles? Apparently, he got so good, and was recognized as such, that he printed a price list. He said he could do any design inside a bottle. I’ve seen a piano, an angel, a horse’s head, and a house. This is a standard spread-wing eagle with an urn and flowers on the other side. There are trains and steamboats, but the eagle [motif] is most common.


The other side of the bottle is dated. Is that typical? I wouldn’t say it’s typical. I would say sometimes the side with the floral urn would have a presentation: “To Clara, 1873.” He’d do anything you wanted. Sometimes it’s block letters, sometimes it’s script. [The third photo in the series of images below the main lot shows the other side of the bottle.]


Did he work alone, or did he train others to help him? Newspaper accounts from the time suggest his brother helped by going to Pikes Peak to get sand. But he did it by himself. He didn’t train anyone else. There are no pictures of himself in his studio with his bottles, and there are no pictures of him working. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means no one has come up with any so far.


So when he died, the knowledge went with him? I don’t know that you could teach anybody [how to do what he did]. He was a self-taught genius. He mastered the technique and no one ever came close.


And he didn’t use any glue when making these bottles? Zero. It’s all hand-packed sand.


Where did he get the bottles? An apothecary supplier? I’m sure he ordered apothecary bottles eventually. He had a thriving business. McGregor is a town on the Mississippi River. There was no problem shipping to McGregor.


Because they were alive at the same time, I should ask–was Andrew Clemens related to the author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)? No, he was not related to Samuel Clemens.


How was Clemens’s work received in his day? He was incredibly well-regarded. He was recognized as a genius then and now. Anyone who holds a bottle in their hands is flabbergasted.


How did he choose his subject matter? His earliest bottles were strictly geometric, block shapes. I don’t know how he was inspired to create the spread-winged eagle, but it could have had to do with the centennial. But he wasn’t making these things up. He saw things in brochures and copied them. Eighty percent of them [the bottles] are eagles with flags and floral urns.


Do we have a notion of how many bottles he made? If he kept records, we don’t know where they are. He worked for 15, 16 years. Assuming he could make a bottle once every two days, or three to four a week, my guess is he made between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles. Maybe 150 are known to exist today, and they keep popping up. People curated these because they recognized the genius needed to make them, and how fragile they are. I’ve handled about 40, publicly and privately. I think I played a role in rediscovering the bottles when taping an episode of Antiques Roadshow in Hot Springs, Arkansas 17 years ago. It was the first seen outside of McGregor. People in Iowa knew who he was. No one had really done too much research on him.


What was that experience like, 17 years ago, when you saw that Clemens bottle? As an auctioneer, it’s rare to see something that you’ve absolutely never seen before. I think I was at the folk art table with representatives from Christie’s and Sotheby’s, thinking, “What? Where did this come from? How have we never heard of this?” It was pretty fun. I was able to Google his name and find a very primitive website where there were a few bottles and a bio. I thought, “Oh, he’s not unknown, he’s just unknown to us.” I think we [Cowan’s] were the first auction house to promote him nationally. The first bottle brought $11,000 or $12,000 and I think I estimated it at $3,500 to $4,500. It’s gone up and up since then.


How does this bottle compare to other bottles of his that you’ve handled? It’s an outstanding example of his late period work, but he didn’t make any crappy examples [laughs]. The only thing that happens is if they’re put out in the sun, the color might fade a bit. This one is very vibrant.


This bottle has an 1887 date. Clemens died in 1894. Do collectors prefer specific periods or eras of his work? No. The collectors I know are happy to get one.


What’s the world auction record for a Clemens sand bottle? And was it similar to this bottle? It was $132,000. It’s on the site. [The record was set at Cowan’s Auctions in October 2018]. It was a typical eagle. There just happened to be two people who really wanted it. That’s all that was.


What’s it like to hold the bottle in your hands? Is it substantial? It probably weighs about a pound, a pound and a half. The bigger they are, the more substantial they get. This is not by any means the biggest bottle he made. That’s in the State Historical Museum of Iowa. It took him two years to make, and he made it for his mom. It’s remarkable. [Scroll down a bit to see both sides of that bottle.]


And what’s it like to hold it in your hands and examine it? You hold one of these bottles and just marvel at the genius who made it. That’s the real reward. But the real story here is not necessarily the genius of the guy, It’s about a guy who had a disability in the 19th century [Clemens was a deaf-mute] who found a way to make a living.


How to bid: The Andrew Clemens 1887 sand bottle is lot 815 in the Fine and Decorative Art, Including Americana auction on February 23, 2019 at Cowan’s.


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.


Cowan’s is on Twitter and Instagram.


Speaking of Antiques RoadshowSeason 22 began in January 2019 and continues through late May. I’m one of several who live-tweet new episodes of the show with the #antiquesroadshow hash tag at 8 pm EST. See you there on Twitter?


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


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SOLD! Christie’s Sold the Seymchan Meteorite with Pallasites For… (Scroll Down to See)


Update: The slab Seymchan meteorite with pallasites sold for $27,500.


What you see: A slab of a meteorite recovered near Seymchan, Siberia, Russia, which features extraterrestrial gemstones. Christie’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.


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


Was the Seymchan meteorite fall witnessed? Or were the meteorites simply discovered at some point after they hit the Earth’s surface? I believe they were found by metal detector in the 1960s, and people went back to the area to find more.


How often do Seymchan meteorites come to auction? They’re probably disproportionately [represented] because they’re so beautiful. You get a skewed view of meteorites from sales. We really present the best of the best. Pick a meteorite at random, and it’s an ugly rock. For every one I offer, I reject nine. There are some Seymchans in most of my sales.


Is Seymchan a marquee name for meteorite collectors? Are they must-haves? Collectors want Seymchans. This is a great example, and it appeals to collectors who have never seen meteorites before. People who buy in the jewelry sales, the contemporary art sales, the antiquities sales, and the Old Masters sales buy in these sales.


The lot notes say less than 0.2 percent of all meteorites contain pallasites, the extraterrestrial peridots visible on the right side of the meteorite. How are pallasites created? What has to happen? Four and a half billion years ago, there were early bodies like Earth that had iron cores and stony mantles. When these proto-planets broke up, their outsides became stony meteorites, their insides became iron meteorites, and at the boundary between the two [the iron core and the stony mantle], there were pallasites.


Why do pallasites show up in meteorites? Why not emeralds, or diamonds, or other gemstones? It has to do with the geology of the proto-planetary body, but you do find nano-diamonds in meteorites. We had one in the last sale. By nano, I mean on the nano scale. They’re nothing you could put in an engagement ring.


I get that pallasites are gem-quality stones, and olivine isn’t, but can you point out which is which on the photo of the meteorite with the lot? The ones that sparkle, shine, and catch the light–those are pallasites. Olivine is the mineral. Those that look brown are more olivine than pallasite.


Do you typically have both in a meteorite, or can you have all-pallasite meteorites? You do get slices of pallasite meteorite that might miss any olivine. You get some slices that are nicely homogenous, with peridot in an iron matrix. You can get meteorites that are just iron, which are slightly further away from the boundary [between the proto-planetary stony mantle and iron core]. Then you’ve got some that are more transitional, with seas of olivine and pallasite and seas of metal.


Who cuts meteorites, and how does that person decide where and how much to cut? Seymchan is a good meteorite for cutting in that the meteorites on their own do not have much going for them, aesthetically. You don’t destroy much by cutting them open. The shape determines how to cut–slices, cubes, even spheres. An American football-sized meteorite is easy to cut into a sphere. One that has an arm shape is easier to cut into slices.


Who cuts the meteorite? A gem-cutter? No, there are specialized people who do that. It’s not easy. When you cut, you always want the smallest amount of wastage possible. You want to do it as carefully as possible, in lab-like conditions. The iron in pallasites are relatively soft, but for some, you need a diamond blade to cut through them.


This example was cut from a larger meteorite. Do we know how large it was? We don’t, but I would bet it’s under 50 kilos [110 pounds].


How rare is it to come across what we see here–a clear boundary between the iron and the pallasites? That will have informed how to cut it, to bring out the transition between the two. There may have been the temptation to cut the gems off and fashion it into a sphere. I’m glad they didn’t. I like the contrast between the two sides.


I’ve been lying in wait to write about a meteorite like lot 1–one entirely shot through with pallasites–but this jumped out at me because I’ve never seen one like it. Is it as unusual as it seems? This is the first I’ve had with this presentation. That’s why I’m so fond of it. I’ve had a slice where the pallasites looked like a river of metal was running through it. This is a more substantial piece. You don’t see much like this at all, even if you look at the best Seymchans out there.


This meteorite weighs 8.4 pounds–not small, and not huge. Does that matter? As with artworks and sculpture, there does come a point where the size becomes difficult for collectors. We have one in the sale that’s 88 kilos [187 pounds]–probably too big for a desk. 8.4 pounds is a nice size. Conversely, if you get something really heavy, it’s more valuable again. If you can sit it outside a museum and no one can run off with it, its weight becomes a virtue again.


Why does lot 1 have a lower estimate than this meteorite, given that it’s shot through with gemstones, and this is not? It’s smaller. That’s what it comes down to. In gems, they use the four Cs [color, cut, clarity, and carat]. I use the four Ss: size, shape, story, and science. Science–What’s interesting about meteorites is they provide data on the early solar system. Lunar or Martian meteorites have more scientific interest. Story–did it explode over Siberia in the 1950s? Did it take out the dinosaurs? Did it destroy a car? Size–bigger is better. Shape–that encompasses aesthetics. Some meteorites are intrinsically more beautiful than others, and more desirable, and fetch more money.


And how would you judge this meteorite by your four Ss? Size… if you had everything else equal but you cut it in half, it’s $10,000 to $15,000. If it was a bit larger, $40,000 to $60,000. I really like the aesthetics of this–the outer crust, the metal, the pallasite, and the  roughly triangular, pleasing shape. In terms of science, it’s rare, and it’s a pallasite. The story originates with a proto-planetary body. We don’t know when it fell to earth, but it was relatively recent. Seymchan was only discovered in the 1960s.


Have you held it? Yes, but not for a while.


What was that like? I still have this [feeling] every time I hold a meteorite–they are four and half billion years old, which is a number so large as to almost be meaningless. The philosophical quandary when you hold it in your hand is it’s an object that comes from space. That’s mind-blowing. And four and a half billion years makes it one-third as old as the universe.


Is it heavy? Actually, with this one, I fell in love with it before I held it. To see the contrast in the stone is stunning.


Why will this meteorite stick in your memory? Having those three different colors to it–the weathered surface, the polished pattern of the metal, and the pallasite crystals–it really stands out from the others. I’ll definitely remember it for a while. This is not really a word, but this is a very covetous object. When I see it, I want it. Some people get that when they see a native gold nugget. It transmits a desire to acquire it.


How to bid: The Seymchan meteorite is lot 22 in Deep Impact: Martian, Lunar and other Rare Meteorites, a sale Christie’s will hold online between February 6 through February 14, 2019.


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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. James Hyslop is on Twitter and Instagram as well.


Hyslop previously appeared on The Hot Bid, talking about a Canyon Diablo meteorite that ultimately sold for $237,500.


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


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A 1949 George Nelson Ball Wall Clock, an Atomic Age Design Legend, Could Sell for $450 at Rago


What you see: A George Nelson ball wall clock, designed for the Howard Miller company and dating to 1949. Rago Arts and Auctions estimates it at $250 to $450.


The expert: Michael Ingham, Rago’s COO and director of its Unreserved department.


The Howard Miller company produced the ball wall Clock from 1948 to 1969. Do we know how many it made? There are no records that I know of. They made them for 21 years. That shows you how much people liked them. They were very popular and remain so today.


So the clock was a hit from day one? From the day it arrived on the market. 1948 was right at the beginning of the atomic age. The Trinity test was July of 1945, and by August 1946, we dropped Little Boy at Hiroshima. Americans were feeling pretty powerful at that point.


Why was it such a hit right away? It was the end of the war and the beginning of a great boom in America. It was considered radically modern–it was the first clock not to have numbers on the face. That was a big departure. And it looked perfect on a kitchen wall.


Howard Miller offered the clock in six different versions. How popular is the multi-color example coming up for sale at Rago? I call it polychrome. They were, in my opinion, the most popular model, and the one we’ve seen the most of.  The runner up is the black ball version, which looks a bit sleeker. The polychrome version is the epitome of the design, and it’s what people look for. [Vitra creates reproductions of all six versions of the clock.]


George Nelson didn’t personally design everything that bears his name. Did he design this clock, or did someone else in his studio do it? Nelson was not the designer of this. Nelson felt it was important, as a branding thing, that he get the credit in the public arena. He would name the designers in technical journals. That’s how Nelson chose to run his firm. It was not a secret that others made the designs, it just wasn’t out for public consumption. Irving Harper designed this. He was a famous guy in his own right.


Officially, the name of this timepieces is “Clock 4755.” A quick glance makes clear why people call it “The Ball Clock,” but do we know when and how it got its popular name? The model number is the driest name possible. I don’t know how it got the name “The Ball Clock.” It was possibly a savvy marketer at Howard Miller. But in my 20 years here, no one has referred to it as anything but.


The original run of this clock was long, and while we don’t know exactly how many were made, we know there had to be a whole honking lot of them. What does it take for a mass-produced object to remain popular enough to command a three-figure auction estimate seventy years after it left the factory? Most of the 20th century design market was made for mass production, but good design is always good design. Fifty years ago, it was a good design, and now, it’s still a good design.


The ball clock is definitely of its era, and yet it manages not to look old. How does it pull off that neat little trick? It definitely references a specific period in history, and I think people like that. Speaking as an older guy, I can remember them hanging on the walls of parents’ houses as a kid. It’s a very clean, modern design. It is radically modern in its way. It’s so clean, you can project what you want onto it. And it’s small. It’s not a big commitment. It’s not like buying a giant sofa. It’s like buying a throw pillow, in the design world.


What condition is it in? And do collectors tend to be fussy about these clocks, given that there’s so many from the original run still out there? People can be very fussy. This one is not in the greatest of condition. The hands are a little bit loose. The enamel on the body of the clock got stained and chipped over time. The enameling on the balls is pretty good, and these are good colors. This particular one is electric, and is meant to plug into a wall.


What condition issues do you tend to see with the Ball wall clocks? The hands often are a bit bent because [the metal] is very thin and very soft. The balls can often be repainted. Most auction houses don’t sell them guaranteed to function. I’ve never plugged it in, so I don’t know if it functions.


How often do original-run George Nelson Ball wall clocks come up at auction? We’ve handled at least one for every year I’ve worked here. Probably closer to 25.


How did you arrive at the estimate? It’s a pretty standard item for us. This particular model, in this particular condition, should go in the $250 to $300 range. A really, really pristine one would get $600 to $800. The dirty little secret of auctions is that estimates should be a little bit enticing, they should be a tad lower. If I can get you to raise your hand once, I can get you to raise your hand again.


What’s the auction record for a George Nelson Ball wall clock? The early 2000s were the hottest moment for these things. The record was $1,527 at at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) in June 2004.


When I think of George Nelson, I think of his marshmallow sofa, and this clock. Why has it come to symbolize his work? It was right at the beginning of his career. It was considered radically modern at the time, and it summed up a period of time [in America]. A lot of what Nelson did was square, with clean lines. And Nelson designs are clever. Not that they’re funny, but they make you smile. This clock has that same sort of feeling to it.


How to bid: The George Nelson Ball Wall clock is lot 1530 in the Rago Unreserved auction at Rago on February 24, 2019.


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


Special thanks to Shannon Loughrey at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) for digging into auction records that aren’t online to confirm the record sale price for the ball clock.


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My Latest “Sold!” Column for Art & Object Showcases Gorgeous Tableware

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My February 2019 “Sold!” column for Art & Object magazine features gorgeous tableware: Meissen Swan service porcelain, an 1870 American silver ice bowl with a polar theme, a ridiculously complete mid-century Georg Jensen flatware set in a custom case; and a Gustav Stickley copper charger.