A Limoges Enamel Tazza, Dated 1542, Could Command $30,000

A Limoges enamel tazza, initialed by Pierre Reymond and dated 1542, could sell for $30,000.

What you see: A Limoges enamel tazza, signed with the initials of Pierre Reymond and dated 1542. Christie’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

The expert: William Russell, Jr., Christie’s specialist head of department, early European sculpture and works of art.

Limoges is known as a center for porcelain. What was the French city’s reputation for enamels in 1542, the date on this tazza? There were many workshops in the city. It was one of the most famous production centers in France. Enamels are some of the hardest to make of the kunstkammer objects. Some of the most sophisticated French collectors were buying them. To bring it to today, I’ve been working here since 2000. Enamels have always been popular. The very best make astronomical prices.

What techniques would have been used to make the Limoges enamel tazza? Nobody really knows. In Limoges, enamels were a family business, and the families were very competitive.

So Limoges enamel works were like the glassmaking families on the Italian island of Murano? Family pride and family secrets? Exactly.

The tazza depicts the mythical feast of Dido and Aeneas, which was a notoriously sumptuous affair.

Who was Pierre Reymond, and where was he in his career in 1542? His first pieces were in the 1530s, and I think he worked until the 1570s or 1580s. He had a long life, especially for that time, and he started young. In 1542, he was young. He was a semi-diplomat. Politics and money were very mixed in Limoges.

So he wasn’t just a dude who was good with a kiln. He was a superstar really young.

Do we know how prolific Pierre Reymond was? This piece bears his initials–is there a count of surviving Limoges enamels that he signed? I don’t know what his output was. Revival enamel pieces were popular in the late 19th century, and everybody put “PR” on them, and some tried to pass them off as Renaissance. Dating is hard, because the enamel techniques are basically the same.

Pierre Reymond signed and dated this Limoges enamel tazza. Is that unusual? I get the sense that looking at the scope of history, signing and dating works was seen as a privilege that few artisans were allowed before the modern era. It is rare. Most are not signed and dated. Maybe it’s part of the Renaissance tradition that centers the human, and sees the human as not just a cog in the wheel. And I’m sure the powers that be in Limoges regulated everything. They didn’t want a crummy thing sent to the court in Fontainebleu. Him being able to sign his work is part of that. He had to have reached a point in his career where he was a master.

What is a tazza? What is its function? You see them in ancient Greece and Rome. By the Renaissance, the tazza had become an element of the table. Basically, it was to show how rich you were.

So it’s not a serving piece? That’s hard to know. It might have been meant to hold a few fancy things at the end of the meal. In terms of use, a knife should scratch them. You’d only put soft food in them, like fruit. You’re not going to put a piece of beef in it. But it might not have been used at all. It was probably more ceremonial, to be passed around and appreciated by candlelight.

The Limoges enamel tazza is rendered in a cool palette that includes grisaille, or greys.

Why might Pierre Reymond or the person who commissioned this Limoges enamel tazza have wanted the feast of Dido and Aeneas depicted on it? It was a famously elaborate feast, with tons of gold and silver. The story referred to antiquity. [With the tazza,] you could show how sophisticated you were, and how learned you were. It’s fun to have, but you’d appreciate it more if you did know it [the story of the mythical feast]. And you have the grotesques around the base. You have to have a sense of humor to put those things on it.

Do we know anything at all about why the piece was made–who might have commissioned it from Reymond in 1542, and why? No. For us, it’s a little bit disappointing not to have more provenance. It was at a Danish auction house and then the trail goes cold.

Do we know if the Limoges enamel tazza was a one-off or part of a group of pieces? It could have been a one-off, it could have been part of a series, I don’t know. It would have looked great in a group. Many of these things were made in bigger groups, and were made for big tables.

This Limoges enamel tazza has a noticeably cool palette of blues and grisaille, or grey. Do we know why? Was there a fashion for cool palettes on enamels in 1542? There were lots of colorful enamels, but grisailles were the chicest. It was what people wanted. They were some of the most sophisticated things produced in France at the time. The sources were prints, widely circulated prints. The theory is the grisaille was done to imitate the prints. When this tazza was produced, grisaille was relatively new, the hot new thing. Everybody loved it because it was so weird and different and beautiful in a way.

Is it possible to know how involved Pierre Reymond would have been in the creation and production of this Limoges enamel tazza? Would he have drawn the design and handed it off to others to execute, or might he have shaped the form and painted it himself? We know so little about the workshop, so few of the names, even. I don’t know what his involvement was. But he was still really young. If you’re on the make, trying to establish yourself, you’re not going to outsource that. You don’t want to. I guess he was quite involved in making this, so early in his career.

What do we know about how hard this Limoges enamel tazza might have been to make? Does one color equal one pass through the kiln? I know it was fired many times. I’m sure the production secrets were carefully guarded from family to family. The gilding would have come afterwards [after the firing was finished].

So-called "grotesques" and other amusing figures decorate the stem of the Limoges enamel tazza.

What is the Limoges enamel tazza like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t capture? It’s surprisingly light. Copper is a pretty light material, and metal is expensive. They wouldn’t have wanted to waste it. That’s my first reaction. My second reaction is the high-gloss sheen of the surface is very seductive, very tactile. Everyone’s attracted to touching it because it’s so beautiful. There are unbelievably subtle shades of white and black. There’s a lot going on.

So these enamels are painted on a copper core? They look as bright and engaging as an oil-on-copper painting? Exactly. Oil-on-copper paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries look like enamel–they’re dazzling. Those paintings were meant to imitate enamel.

The Limoges enamel tazza might have been a serving piece, but it's just as likely it was meant to be passed around and admired.

What’s your favorite detail on the Limoges enamel tazza? I love some of the weird grotesques and decorative elements on the stem. I also like the huge putto [cherub] hanging over the frame. For me, it’s kind of weird and great, which I love. What’s he doing there? Are we looking at him? Is he looking at us? Who’s looking at who? It’s curious and it’s fun. Maybe it’s [the oversize putto] an obvious joke in 1542 that’s been lost to time.

The other thing that jumps out at me is it looks like it could have been made last week–it’s that fresh and vibrant. How is that possible? That’s part of its appeal. It doesn’t crack, dry out, or fade, or rot, or get eaten by insects. It still has jewel-like colors. It’s as vivid and as dazzling as the day it was made, which is amazing.

Why will this Limoges enamel tazza stick in your memory? It takes energy to look at. It forces you to slow down and look at the object like people used to have to do. You have to stop looking at your phone and make up your own mind.

How to bid: The Limoges enamel tazza is lot 22 in The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Gutfreund 834 Fifth Avenue, taking place at Christie’s on January 26, 2021.

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A Unique Scrimshaw Wall Pocket from Nantucket Could Fetch $3,500

A scrimshaw wall pocket, carved and assembled circa 1870 on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, could sell for $3,500.

What you see: A whalebone scrimshaw wall pocket, created circa 1870 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Sotheby’s estimates it at $2,500 to $3,500.

The expert: Erik Gronning, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of the Americana department.

When I think of scrimshaw, I think of the decoratively carved whale teeth and pie crimpers, not wall pockets. Is this form unique? To my knowledge, it is unique. I haven’t seen another.

The mid-19th century represented the peak of the American whaling industry. This scrimshaw wall pocket dates to circa 1870. Does the date plus its intricate nature point to this piece having been made on land rather than at sea? It’s hard to know. It could have been made on land or at sea.

But those facts are not proof it had to have been made on land? No. Very, very many delicate things were brought onto ships. We had a fabulous 18th century games table that had hand-forged hooks in the back to tether it to the floor so it wouldn’t move around.

So it wasn’t impossible to make something like this at sea, particularly if the ship was stuck in the doldrums. Right. Back then, you went by wind. If there was no wind or current to take you anywhere, you’d hang out for a couple of days.

Do we know anything about how this scrimshaw wall pocket came to be, and who might have made it? Since it’s a one-off, and because of the labor that went into it, they had to saw it. I can only imagine it was made for letters–to save precious letters from ports around the world. A lot of sailors’ art was made for loved ones. These guys were lonely at sea, and were thinking of loved ones back at home.

I wanted to clarify something. The lot notes call the scrimshaw wall pocket “one of the largest genuine single pieces of scrimshaw in existence”, but you mean one of the largest finished pieces in existence, yes? This is made from several pieces of whale bone, not a single one? Exactly.

How many pieces of whale bone went into it? There are seven main pieces and at least a dozen smaller pieces that are attached to it.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how hard the scrimshaw wall pocket was to make? It would have been hard because whale bone is brittle. Look at the stars. The stars come to a tiny point before they attach to the circles. When you’re cutting it, you’d have to be so careful not to crack the bone. People tend to forget the most difficult part is not the beginning, it’s the end. Imagine cooking a soufflé. If you pull it out at the wrong time, it collapses.

So we can assume that whoever made this had at least a few failed attempts at carving parts of the whole? Whoever made this… this was not their first time at the rodeo. They were skilled enough to make it, skilled enough to cut it and say, ‘This doesn’t look right, it’s the wrong scale’.

And one person would have made this scrimshaw wall pocket, working alone? Yes, we can assume one person did this.

Shown from the side, the scrimshaw wall pocket looks more solid and less delicate.

What condition is the scrimshaw wall pocket in? It’s in remarkably good condition. One of the protrusions on the front–a little button–has been replaced. There are no breaks in it.

Does it show signs of having been used? It hung off the central circle from a wall. I’m sure someplace along coastal Massachusetts or Connecticut, somebody was lucky enough to have it in their hallway and threw letters in it. Or they had it in their bedroom and threw love letters in it. Who knows?

What is the scrimshaw wall pocket like in person? What does the camera not quite capture? What’s hard to grasp is the actual scale of it. It is big, and impressive for its size. I think a copy of Vogue magazine could fit in it, though you wouldn’t necessarily want to put Vogue magazine in it. Copper pins secure the parts.

Have the copper pins oxidized? There’s slight verdigris around them from the salty air. It’s wonderful.

What’s your favorite detail of the scrimshaw wall pocket? I love the central panel with the five stars. There’s good balance between the positive and the negative spaces. The artist had a great sense of scale. It was well thought out. I’m sure they drew it out on a piece of paper.

Yes. Today, we’d use computers to design something like this. You can tell it was fabricated by hand. A computer could not think it up as well as this. Because it’s handmade, there are slight, subtle incongruities. If it was done on a computer, out of plastic, it wouldn’t look like this. It would have no life to it. This has life to it. It looks mechanical because of the squares, but if you examine it, you can see the craftsmanship.

It looks delicate. Is it delicate? It’s light, but it’s a lot less delicate than you might think. It’s sturdy. It’s a minimum of an eighth of an inch to three-sixteenths of an inch thick. If you dropped it on the ground, it would shatter, but it’s stronger than you’d think. If you took it off its board and put it on a wall in your house, it’d be fine. You’d just want to make sure your hook is strong. But I think most collectors today would leave it as is, and make sure it’s preserved.

The scrimshaw wall pocket appears in two books that were published in the 1970s: a Time-Life book called The Whalers, and American Folk Sculpture by Robert Bishop. How, if at all, does its appearance in these books make it more interesting to collectors? Whenever an object has a history of publication in well-known books, it helps. American Folk Sculpture is still the bible of three-dimensional American folk art. It’s fantastic to have a piece from it.

Why will this scrimshaw wall pocket stick in your memory? Because of its scale and the overall artistic composition of it. It has a timeless quality, and it can go with any decor. When you look at it, it always puts a smile on your face. I think that’s good art, when you have an emotional connection to it.

How to bid: The scrimshaw wall pocket is lot 362 in Vineyard Dreams: Property from a Martha’s Vineyard Collection, a Sotheby’s online sale that opened on January 8, 2021 and continues to January 22, 2021.

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Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa (THB: Shelf Life)

The cover of Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa features a 1951 color photograph of the artist, taken by Imogen Cunningham. It captures her story: Asawa has always been here, hiding in plain sight. Her brilliance persists whether we choose to see it or not.

What you see: Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa, by Marilyn Chase. $29.95 (Hardback). Chronicle Books.*

Does it fit in my purse? No. It’s a hardback and it’s just slightly too big to fit.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes, especially if you have no idea who Ruth Asawa was.

Ruth Asawa was traditional in many respects, but she was not conventional.

Moreover, she knew she was not conventional. She knew she didn’t really fit anywhere, she accepted that fact early and firmly, and she never let it trouble her.

That fundamental self-acceptance and lack of doubt seems to be key to Asawa’s success as an artist. At least, that’s what I get from Everything She Touched. Ruth Asawa was unique, spectacularly so. She got what she wanted because she knew what she wanted, and she stuck with it even if her wants didn’t match the 20th century white male artist’s definition of success.

What she wanted, even more than she wanted art-world renown, was a large family. Asawa was the middle child of seven, and she was determined to have six children of her own, even though she suffered from ghastly bouts of morning sickness. (Ever the pragmatist, she met her goal by birthing four children and adopting two.)

Asawa’s works–the wire sculptures and public fountains for which she is best known–didn’t take primacy in her mind, either. The book states that when her daughter Aiko asked her what she considered her most important legacy, she responded “the schools”, referencing her decades-long campaign to improve art education for K-12 students in San Francisco, California. (With reluctance, she allowed the art-centric alternative high school she established and championed to bear her name.)

The book, which is the first major biography of the artist, lays out the facts of her life crisply in chronological order. She and her parents and siblings suffered the injustice of internment in camps during World War II because of their Japanese ties, and the U.S. government arrested and held Asawa’s father, Umakichi, apart from them over concerns he might be involved with a Japanese ultranationalist group. (He wasn’t.)

The author, Marilyn Chase, manages the trick of relaying the positive aspects of Ruth Asawa’s camp years without implying the experience was a good thing. She also captures the bitterness Asawa felt upon learning, three years into her studies, that the teachers’ college she attended in Milwaukee, Wisconsin denied her a student-teacher position–which she needed to complete her degree–over fears for her safety as a person of Japanese ancestry.

Running headlong into that racist barrier ultimately led Asawa to North Carolina to attend Black Mountain College, an experience that changed her life, and her art, for the better. But, again, the author takes care to avoid suggesting that the college’s act of discrimination, veiled in paternalism, should be forgiven because things turned out fine in the end. Chase lets it stand alone and apart as an incident of rank bigotry, one of many Asawa faced as a Japanese-American woman in the 20th century.

In reading the many pages on Ruth Asawa’s experience at Black Mountain College, I grew annoyed that I didn’t really know her before picking up Everything She Touched. Her classmates included Robert Rauschenberg and Ray Johnson. Merce Cunningham taught her modern dance. She knew R. Buckminster Fuller as “Bucky”, and he designed her wedding ring. (It’s pictured on page 70, and, frankly, I’m jealous of it.)

Asawa also forged a deep, decades-long connection to Josef Albers, who taught at Black Mountain and saw her potential almost immediately.

Albers wasn’t the only one. In the 1950s, Asawa and her art received coverage in Time, Vogue, and other big-deal publications (though the language quoted from the stories shows that critics and editors didn’t know how to regard her; because she took family friend Imogen Cunningham’s advice to make art under her maiden name, the articles invariably describe her as “Miss Asawa”, a term that has the unfortunate effect of erasing the existence of the family that meant so much to her).

Asawa also earned the ripest of plums: representation by a New York City gallery. That relationship, with Peridot Gallery, ended when she literally outgrew the space. Its ceilings were only so high, forcing Asawa to size her hanging wire sculptures to fit its dimensions. Leaving the gallery meant dropping off the New York City radar. Others more desperate for fame and fortune would have reduced their artistic visions to fit inside the white-walled box. Not Asawa. The West Coast resident plowed ahead, raising children and making art on her own terms.

In performing the task of describing her life story, the book overlooks a thing or two. The Japanese concept of gaman, or endurance with dignity, appears early, as does Asawa’s long-held belief that “crying doesn’t help”. As a grown woman and a mother, she transmitted these values to her children, and she took this approach to her art; in the passage about her wedding ring, the book notes that Asawa’s fingers were often bound with masking tape because of cuts and scrapes inflicted by the wires she wove. But the potential downsides of this stoic philosophy–and come on, they had to exist–go unexplored. There’s brief, general discussion of how she made her wire works, but not much beyond that, and no details about the creation of any specific wire work.

Ruth Asawa’s story could have slipped away, but it did not. Long after his death, Josef Albers helped her one last time by indirectly bringing her to the attention of someone who could raise her profile. When Asawa’s family contacted Christie’s about selling a study in green from the Homage to the Square series that he gave her as a gift, Jonathan Laib took the call. He realized Asawa must have meant a great deal to Albers to favor her with such a standout piece.

Laib kept asking questions of the family, and saw the chance to bring Asawa her due. The Albers study sold for $116,500; with Laib’s help, Asawa’s works brought much more.

Laib directed a national spotlight at her starting in 2010, a time when the public was ready and eager to embrace tales of artists who are neither white nor male. Still, Asawa’s rediscovery was not inevitable. The cover of Everything She Touched sums up the conundrum she poses. It’s a color photograph, taken by Imogen Cunningham in 1951, posing Asawa behind, and partly obscured by, one of her hanging wire sculptures.

Ruth Asawa has always been here, hiding in plain sight. Her work and her brilliance persist whether we see her or not. Everything She Touched lets us see her in full.

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Every Chair on The Hot Bid

Fine furnishings often earn the spotlight on The Hot Bid. Have a seat and gaze at every chair featured

to date.

A magnificent chair by German-American designer George Hunzinger sold for $1,750 at Wright in June 2020.

A pair of Pedro Friedeberg Hand chairs–one in silver leaf, the other in unadorned mahogany–appeared in the same January 2020 Rago auction. Richard Wright of Wright (Rago and Wright merged last year) contrasted and compared the two.

A Frank Lloyd Wright casual armchair, designed for Price Tower, led a group of Price Tower-related lots at Heritage Auctions in October 2019. Proceeds benefitted the Price Tower Arts Center.

A Marcel Wanders gold Bon Bon chair set a new world record for the artist at Phillips New York in June 2019.

An Eileen Gray Transat armchair came up at Christie’s in June 2018 and sold for a record price.

A double rocking chair by the late furniture artist Sam Maloof came up at Bonhams Los Angeles in April 2018.

A stainless steel Wendell Castle Abilene rocking chair appeared at Los Angeles Modern Auctions in February 2018.

A French late 19th century sedan chair came up at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge in December 2017.

A pair of late 19th century Venetian lobster-form chairs appeared at Christie’s New York in April 2017.

A deck chair salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic came up at Henry Aldridge & Son in April 2015.

The images of the Eileen Gray Transat armchair and the Venetian lobster-form chairs are courtesy of Christie’s.

The image of the Marcel Wanders gold Bon Bon chair is courtesy of Phillips.

The image of the Titanic deck chair is courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son.

The image of the Wendell Castle Abilene rocking chair is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

The images of the French sedan chair and the Sam Maloof double rocking chair are courtesy of Bonhams.

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Every Antiques Roadshow Appraiser Who Has Appeared on The Hot Bid–Updated for the Debut of the 2021 Season

In October 2019, The Hot Bid published a round-up of every story that features an interview with an auction house expert who appeared on Antiques Roadshow.

With the beloved PBS show set to begin its 2021 season on January 4, 2021, I’ve updated the roundup to include stories published between then and now.

Click these words to see the updated roundup story.

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!

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The Ten Most Expensive Lots on The Hot Bid in 2020 (THB: Year in Review)

When selecting lots to feature on The Hot Bid, estimates aren’t as big a factor as you might think. Even still, it’s fun to look back over a year’s worth of stories and see what sold for the most.

10. An untitled early 1980s Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose. Featured in an online Sotheby’s sale of art from Haring’s personal collection, it commanded $504,000, more than double its high estimate. “It’s a subject that burns like fire. It’s in-your-face and bold,” says Harrison Tenzer, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art online sales in New York. “There’s so much joy and eroticism and heat in the portrait, and we know what’s going to happen to each of these three men. Unlike Warhol, who was active for four decades in a major way, Haring only had one decade. But he burned so bright, like a candle lit at both ends.”

9. A Stevens model 44 .25-20 single shot rifle, given to Annie Oakley in the late 19th century. Offered at Morphy Auctions for $200,000 to $400,000, it sold for $528,900. The Stevens company bestowed this rifle on Oakley, and its competitors routinely did the same, according to Morphy Auctions Firearms Expert Michael Salisbury: “Every firearms manufacturer in the U.S. gave Annie Oakley firearms. It was no different than Nike sending Michael Jordan shoes he could wear. She was a rock star. Everybody wanted to go to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. It was a huge event. And I don’t know if it was her intellect or her desire to shoot different weapons, but Annie Oakley never settled on one type of gun. She used a wide variety of firearms. She’d hear about, for example, a new type of Winchester rifle, and would write to the manufacturer saying she’d like to have one, and of course they’d send her one.”

8. Abstraction, a sculpture modeled in 1946 by Georgia O’Keeffe and cast in bronze between 1979 and 1980. Featured in a March 2020 Sotheby’s auction, it fetched $668,000, more than double its high estimate. O’Keeffe explored sculpture three times in her career: in 1916, in 1946, and 1982. Abstraction takes a form that the artist favored. “The spiral form appears throughout Georgia O’Keeffe’s body of work. She returns to the shape time and time again, depicting it in many media,” says Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s. “The curvilinear lines you see and the powerful simplified shape reflects her interpretation of the natural world.”

7. An exceptionally early print of Ansel Adams’s photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. Sotheby’s sold it in December 2020 for $685,500. Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s, recounted the story of how Adams captured the legendary image: “He happened to make it in the Southwest, on a day when he wasn’t shooting for that [Department of the Interior murals] project. He was accompanied by his son and a fellow photographer. They were passing through Hernandez, New Mexico when Adams was immediately struck by the quality of light in the town and its cemetery. He pulled the car over and they all got out. The time was ticking down, and no one could find the light meter. Adams made a quick calculation [based on what he knew about the luminosity of the moon]. Before he had a second chance to shoot an exposure, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the day was over. It was a one-shot wonder, a combination of pure luck, timing, and mastery behind the camera and in the darkroom.”



6. Angels Representing Seven Churches, a set of Tiffany windows created by the famed studio in 1902 for a Swedenborgian church in Ohio. The group sailed past its $150,000 to $250,000 estimate to command $705,000. In talking about how the windows reflect Tiffany Studios’s mastery of glass, Freeman’s head of 20th century design Tim Andreadis says, “First, there’s the overall design. The figures are beautifully rendered in the composition, in the style of dress, and in the way that each relates to one another. All the elements incorporated in the window are carefully designed to best illustrate that particular angel. Two, the glass reflects the firm’s penchant for richly saturated hues and a color palette that was arresting to the viewer. The feather glass not only suggests the texture of the wing, but the shading along the wing in deeply saturated striated reds and vibrant golden yellows makes each feather its own special element. Tiffany was able to paint in glass–to create all that rich texture and subtlety.”

5. Abraham Lincoln: The Man, aka Standing Lincoln, a reduced-size version of a sculpture commissioned from Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the late 19th century. It sold for $1.5 million against an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000. Sotheby’s specialist Charlotte Mitchell says, “It’s incredibly beautiful in person, with a rich brown patina that stands out and draws the eye in. You can see the details in Lincoln’s face and the emotion that Augustus Saint-Gaudens really captured. There are also details on the chair and the hands as well–the hands really read true-to-life.”

4. A gold Eid Mar coin, dating to 42 B.C.E. Estimated at $500,000, it sold at Roma Numismatics Limited in London for roughly $4.2 million and set a new world auction record for an ancient coin. David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), says the coin did more than reflect a set monetary value. “There were many who considered Caesar a tyrant and were glad to be rid of him. With this coin, Brutus doubled down on what got him to this stage to begin with,” he says, adding, “This is an attempt by Brutus–a very blatant attempt–to make the case that Caesar’s assassination was not only good for Rome, it was justifiable. It’s a peek into the mind of Brutus. The stakes were life and death. He went with the justice of his cause.”

3. A 1959 Martin D-18E guitar, played by Kurt Cobain for Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged episode. It sold for $6 million, blasting past its $1 million estimate. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, sees similarities between Cobain and another musician whose material is just as scarce and hard to find: “There’s a lot of crossover between Kurt Cobain and John Lennon. The Beatles transformed music and our attitude to music in the 1960s. Nirvana did it again in the 1990s.”

2. Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (Portrait of Marjorie Ferry) by Tamara de Lempicka. It commanded £16,280,000, or $21.1 million, and set a new world auction record for the artist. Keith Gill, head of the Impressionist and Modern art evening sale held at Christie’s London, speaks about the spellbinding power of the 1932 oil on canvas: “I like it because it has a very strong… almost insight into the strength of her [Ferry’s] personality. She looks directly at you, and she has grey eyes, which tie into the greys in her clothes and in the background. And I’m proud to be somebody who put a female artist on our [catalog] cover.”

  1. Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as STAN. Estimated at $6 million to $8 million, it sold for $31.8 million and a new world auction record for any dinosaur. James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history, detailed the tale told by STAN’s bones: “Many of his ribs cracked and healed during his lifetime. He has holes on his jaw that are not caused by disease–they are puncture wounds that are pretty much the size of a T. rex‘s tooth. And vertebrae in his neck fused together and healed, right behind the skull. STAN broke his neck, healed, and carried on being at the top of the food chain. That tells you how tough the T. rex was as an animal.”

Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Sotheby’s, for the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover; the Ansel Adams photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico; the O’Keeffe bronze; and the Standing Lincoln bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Morphy Auctions, for the Annie Oakley gun.

Freeman’s, for the Tiffany church windows.

Roma Numismatics Limited, for the gold Eid Mar coin.

Julien’s Auctions, for the Kurt Cobain guitar.

Christie’s, for the Tamara de Lempicka portrait of Marjorie Ferry and also STAN the T. rex.

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The Ten Most Popular Stories on The Hot Bid in 2020 (THB: Year in Review)

Which 2020 stories did readers of The Hot Bid like most? In order, they are…

10. A pair of Princess Doraldina fortune teller machines, both made in 1928, one restored, one unrestored. Both were offered in the same Morphy’s auction in June 2020; the restored model fetched $17,200, and the unrestored one, shown above, sold for $24,600. Tom Tolworthy, chief executive officer at Morphy Auctions, explains how the unrestored example managed to survive so well: “A lot of the time, the machines were placed on the boardwalk and brought in at night. This one sat inside a carousel in Seaside, New Jersey that had an inner enclosure. It [also] had to sit in a warehouse for a long time, and while it might not have been in climate-controlled conditions, it wasn’t in damp conditions. If it had sat in a damp place for a long period of time, the mechanism would have rusted. It still works the way it did almost 90 years ago. That’s what makes it a good survivor.”

9. A 1916 U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet, the earliest known example of the type. Don Creekmore, co-owner and founder of Nation’s Attic in Wichita, Kansas, says the century-old piece of equipment can be used today: “It would need new gaskets and glass, and it would need to be tested for leaks. Then it would be in dive-ready condition.”

8. D-Train, a monumental 1988 print by American photorealist artist Richard Estes. “When you get up close to it, the nature of how the ink sits on the board is almost painterly,” says Lindsay Griffith, specialist and head of sale for prints and multiples for Christie’s. “There’s an uncanny quality that makes Estes’s work interesting–I take the subway every day. It’s something I know and feel. Here, the perspective is flattened out, and there’s no people. It’s a very solitary scene.”

7. A Stevens model 44 .25-20 single shot rifle, given to the famous American sharp-shooter Annie Oakley. Consigned to Morphy’s Auctions, it sold for $528,900, above its estimate of $200,000 to $400,000. Michael Salisbury, firearms expert at Morphy Auctions, talked about details of the exceptional firearm that eluded the camera: “On most engraved guns, the engraving isn’t that deep. This is very deeply engraved and has an almost 3-D look to it. The finishes are so vivid, and the wood is incredibly well-figured–beautiful, beautiful wood. It’s very rare to find a gun of this age in near mint condition. It’s a work of art, and the canvas here is wood and steel.”

6. A circa 1900s Harry Houdini postcard depicting the legendary magician in chains, which was once part of his personal collection. Potter & Potter offered the postcard on Leap Year Day 2020 and sold it for $2,375. Speaking about the staying power of the image, Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, says, “To play an amateur Dr. Freud here–Houdini was a diminutive guy, an immigrant to these shores, and he found a way to beat whatever was thrown at him. That’s a pretty powerful metaphor. It’s a concept that resonates even in modern times.”

5. A circa 1915 poster touting Alexander, The Man Who Knows, measuring 108 inches by 80 1/2 inches. Like the Houdini postcard, it, too, was offered by Potter & Potter. It sold for $1,560, slightly over its high estimate. Alexander’s reputation hasn’t fared nearly as well as Houdini’s, but his posters have lost none of their allure. “I think it’s the striking simplicity of the design. His eyes follow you. It leaves open a lot of room for interpretation,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “It’s tantalizing as a stand-alone object. It grabs your attention. It’s still doing its job more than 100 years later.”

4. A 1959 Martin D-18E guitar, played by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged episode. Estimated at $1 million, it sold for $6 million, setting several world auction records along the way. The MTV acoustic showcase was well-regarded before Nirvana agreed to appear, but its episode became legendary. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, explains why: “Kurt Cobain ruled the roost with that production. He designed the stage, the candlelight, the chandelier–all his decision. There were 14 songs, including six covers from the Vaselines, David Bowie, Lead Belly, and the Meat Puppets. He had members of the Meat Puppets on stage during the performance. It was shot in one take, which is the first time that had happened for MTV Unplugged. Everything Kurt could give, every single ounce, he laid it out in that performance. Five months later, he was gone.”

3. Case Study House #22, a Julius Shulman photograph of the Stahl house, taken in 1960. Offered at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), it modestly overperformed its high estimate, selling for $4,063. Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA, talked about why the photo remains powerful decades after it was taken: “It’s a really dynamic image. There’s a lot of artistry to it, in the way the lines of the house jut out and match the grid of the city, and the way that Shulman saw that and solidified the architectural vision. It’s a really amazing contrast. There’s a lot to draw the eye. And it has an aspirational quality. When you look at it today, you think, ‘Oh, I wish I could be living that life!'”

2. A vase by contemporary Native American ceramic artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez, co-created in 2008. Mark Sublette, founder of an eponymous gallery and auction house in Tucson, Arizona, believes it is the sole collaboration by the two masters. “We can look at the pot and tell who did what,” he says. “Nancy would have done the ribs on the pot. Russell is known for sgraffito, the etchings on the pot. I don’t know who fired it, but they probably did it together, outdoors, over a fire. My guess is each polished the part they did, with Nancy doing the ribs and Russell doing the neck.”

  1. A set of cups and balls used by the late magician Johnny Thompson. Estimated at $2,000 to $4,000, the set, which was featured in the two-volume book The Magic of Johnny Thompson, commanded $14,400. Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, had a notion that they might perform spectacularly well at auction: “Before the COVID-19 crisis closed the office, we had a few magicians here who had a chance to look at the cups. Their response was visceral. It certainly got a rise out of them. They were definitely affected by them. They’re little talismans.”

Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Nation’s Attic, for the 1916 U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet.

Christie’s, for Richard Estes’s D-Train.

Morphy’s Auctions for the pair of Princess Doraldina fortune teller machines as well as the Annie Oakley gun.

Potter & Potter for the Houdini postcard, the Alexander poster, and the Johnny Thompson set of cups and balls.

Julien’s Auctions for the Kurt Cobain guitar.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) for the Julius Shulman photograph.

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction for the vase by Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez.





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Every Lot Featured on The Hot Bid in 2020 That Went On to Set a World Auction Record (THB: Year in Review)

An ancient gold Eid Mar, struck to memorialize the assassination of Julius Caesar, sold for $4.2 million in October 2020.

Editor’s Note: As of today, The Hot Bid shifts to holiday programming. Stories will appear on Tuesday from now until mid-January, after which the twice-weekly schedule resumes. I wish all readers of The Hot Bid happy holidays and a magnificent 2021.

It’s always delightful when a lot showcased on The Hot Bid goes on to sell for a world auction record. These spectacular items achieved that feat in 2020.

Mansion on Prairie Avenue by Irene Clark was among the treasures in a Swann Auction Galleries sale of African-American art from the collection of the Johnson Publishing Company. The oil on masonite board commanded $30,000, more than four times its high estimate, and set a new world auction record for the artist. “It’s definitely a significant work by her. It speaks to her work, and it’s something that meant a lot to her,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American Fine Art department. “It’s very similar to a work [by Clark] in the Art Institute of Chicago. If it’s good enough for an institution, I think it will be sought-after by many collectors. It’s a fascinating subject, and I think it will resonate with people.”

Tamara de Lempicka’s 1932 portrait of Marjorie Ferry was expected to do well, and it did, commanding $21.2 million and a new world auction record for the artist. The February 2020 sale marked the third time that the auction record for a de Lempicka broke within a 15 month span. Keith Gill, head of the Christie’s London Impressionist and Modern art evening sale that featured the painting, discusses his favorite detail: “It’s her hand with the ring and the nails, because it’s very much an intrinsic part of the story of the picture. And one of the hardest things for artists to do is to paint hands, and Tamara de Lempicka paints hands incredibly well. She’s drawing attention to her prowess. It’s very much in your face, ‘Look how good I am’. She wants to be compared to the Old Masters in terms of technical ability.”

A rare and possibly unique Nintendo PlayStation prototype, evidence of an early 1990s collaboration between Nintendo and Sony, was fated to set a world auction record regardless. It fetched the healthy sum of $360,000. “The controller really is my favorite part. It stands out the most,” says Valarie McLeckie, director of video games at Heritage Auctions. “It’s like you’re playing a Super Nintendo, but then you look down and you see the controller–it’s like an alternative universe where [the project] worked out. It works exactly the same [as an SNES controller] but it’s a weird feeling to see the controller in your hand.”

Galaxia, a 1977 print by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, sold for $15,000 and a world auction record for that particular print. Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann Auction Galleries and director of prints and drawings, speaks about how hard it is for cameras to convey the impact of the unusually large and long work, which was printed in thickly layered ink on handmade paper: “It’s difficult. The paper is wonderfully textured, and the colors are so vivid and deep. When you’re in front of it, it transports you. It’s not a characterless inked sheet of paper. There’s a mood about it, something about the colors and the view.”

The 1959 Martin D-18E guitar played by Kurt Cobain in the legendary 1993 Nirvana episode of MTV Unplugged was bound to sell. No one doubted that. But it ultimately commanded $6 million–five times its estimate–and set several world auction records, including the title of most expensive guitar. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, lauds the humble nature of the instrument, which is, after all, a tool to do a job: “Cobain definitely had an affinity with the guitar and a sense of reverence for it. It’s a musical instrument built to deliver sound–that’s what it was used for. It doesn’t seem right to have it tricked up with all the bells and whistles. It’s a beautiful guitar with nothing ostentatious about it.”

It’s a big deal when a substantially complete T. rex skeleton comes to market. When the fossil dubbed STAN was consigned to Christie’s New York, the auction house went all-out, placing it in its October 20th Century Evening Sale lineup rather than a natural history auction. STAN rose to the challenge, commanding $31.8 million and a world auction record for any dinosaur. James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history, explains why STAN deserved the upgrade: “STAN really is the best of the best. The 20th Century Evening Sale is a marquee sale at Christie’s, and STAN is a natural fit for that reason. He was 67 million years in the making, but the T. rex is an icon of the 20th century. The first T. rex was found in Cezanne’s lifetime and was first published in 1905. Within 13 years, the T. rex had made its first appearance in Hollywood, doing battle with King Kong on Skull Island. More recently, the T. Rex was almost the lead actor in Jurassic Park.”

Dating to 42 B.C.E. (before common era), the Eid Mar is arguably the most desirable ancient coin. Only two gold examples were known before a third emerged and was consigned to Roma Numismatics Limited in London. It sold for roughly $4.2 million and a world auction record for any ancient coin. David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), describes himself as a “fan” of Brutus, whose profile appears on the coin. “He was a very motivated individual. He had a sense of destiny and was very committed to his cause,” he says. “To plan a coup, he had to have very strong political convictions. It may be my imagination, but I see it in the portrait. I see the intensity and the laser-focus of his ambitions. This is not an idealized portrait. It’s extremely individual. I could stare at it for hours.”

Subway, an exuberant 1970 work by AfriCOBRA founding member Wadsworth Jarrell, set a new world auction record for the artist when it sold for $125,000 at Swann Auction Galleries in December. “There’s a wonderful variety of things in his paintings,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department. “There’s the ‘coolade colors’–artificial colors not necessarily found in nature, but were bright and vibrant and got peoples’ attention. The floating letters, the ‘B’s, are representative of black power, blackness, and beauty. They permeate his paintings. The text [in his work] is sometimes explicit. It could be from a speech from Malcolm X or more subtle floating Bs, but there’s a message in his work. Subway fits right into the AfriCOBRA ethos and it’s typical of Jarrell’s work at the time.”

A group of eight Peanuts character portraits, drawn by Charles Schulz in 1953 for a promotional brochure, sold for $288,000 and a new world auction record for original Peanuts art. With this sale, Heritage Auctions broke the previous record for original Peanuts art, set by the auction house less than a month ago, on November 20, 2020, with an early daily Peanuts strip. Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions, says of the portrait group, “You can tell the personalities of each in some small way, just by Schulz’s quaint depictions of each character: Charlie Brown with the baseball glove, Schroeder at the piano with the Beethoven head, Linus with building blocks.”


Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Swann Auction Galleries, for Irene Clark’s Mansion on Prairie Avenue, Rufino Tamayo’s Galaxia, and Wadsworth Jarrett’s Subway.

Christie’s, for Tamara de Lempicka’s Portrait of Marjorie Ferry as well as STAN the T. rex.

Heritage Auctions, for the Nintendo PlayStation prototype and the group of eight original Peanuts character portraits from 1953.

Julien’s Auctions, for the Kurt Cobain guitar.

Roma Numismatics Limited, for the gold Eid Mar coin.

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A Botticelli Painting of an Unknown Sitter Could Sell for $80 Million at Sotheby’s

The Botticelli painting Young Man Holding a Roundel, dating to the late 1470s or early 1480s, could sell for more than $80 million at Sotheby's in January 2021.

What you see: Young Man Holding a Roundel, a portrait painted in the late 1470s or early 1480s by Sandro Botticelli. Sotheby’s estimates the Botticelli painting in excess of $80 million. It carries the highest estimate the auction house has ever given to an Old Master painting.

The expert: Elisabeth Lobkowicz, a specialist in Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department.

The materials from Sotheby’s describe the Botticelli painting as “The Ultimate Renaissance Portrait”. What makes it “The Ultimate Renaissance Portrait” and not just the ultimate Botticelli portrait? Botticelli is one of the most admired, beloved, and important artists of the Renaissance. He is the creator of many of the most iconic images of that age, and he was a leading master in the realm of portraiture. This sitter is the ultimate Renaissance man–beautiful, confident, erudite–and so this should be considered the ultimate Renaissance portrait. 

The portrait is believed to have been painted in the late 1470s or early 1480s. Where was Botticelli in his career at that point? These years are generally considered the height of Botticelli’s career. It was during this period that he created many of his best works, including the Primavera and The Birth of Venus and his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.  

How prolific was Botticelli? How many of his paintings survive? About 150 works by Botticelli survive, but only about a dozen or so portraits.  His portraits are much rarer, but they represent an important part of his corpus and provide for a deeper understanding of his genius.

The Botticelli painting contains an insert, painted a century earlier by a different artist, depicting a saint. Like the sitter, the identity of the saint is unknown.

What, if anything, do we know about the sitter? What clues lurking within the painting itself suggest who it might be? Are there any other figures depicted in Botticelli’s paintings who look like this man? The sitter’s identity remains a mystery. He’s probably a member of the Medici family or someone in their close circle, because Botticelli was one of their favored artists, and many of the Medici turned to him to paint their portraits. Images from the period show that there were many fair-haired youths in the Medici entourage, but it’s hard to definitively link the sitter to any particular likeness. Attempts have been made in the past. Suggestions include Piero de’ Medici (1472–1503), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, but there’s no evidence to confirm these identifications.

The painting contains a roundel of a saint, painted in the previous century by a different artist. What, if anything, do we know about why the Botticelli painting took this form? Did Botticelli paint other portraits with inserted roundels, or is this a one-off? The roundel is a separate work of art altogether, painted by the Sienese artist Bartolommeo Bulgarini. He was active in Siena and Tuscany a century before Botticelli, and his works would have been known in Florence by Botticelli’s time. The roundel was not always circular–it was cut to this shape from a larger vertical panel, which may have once formed part of an altarpiece. There are no other known examples of Botticelli inserting a gold-ground painting into his works, but the closest comparable work is his Portrait of a Man Holding a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio in the Uffizi, in which Botticelli includes a round, carved, pastiglia medallion–a three-dimensional sculpture in low relief. What I’m trying to say is in this case, in the Uffizi portrait, the young man is not holding a medal of Cosimo il Vecchio. The object in his hand is actually a sculpted and gilded gesso–a pastiglia, carved in such an illusionistic manner that we read it as a real object. In the case of our Botticelli portrait, however, the roundel is a real object, set into the panel and set into the sitter’s hands.

Do we know which saint is depicted in the roundel in the Botticelli painting? If we do, what might the presence of the saint’s image tell us about the sitter, and why he might have wanted to be shown with this saint? Unfortunately, because the saint depicted in the roundel lacks any specific attributes, his identity also remains a mystery. What I can say is the roundel itself remains a point of lively debate among scholars. Some consider the roundel as original to Botticelli’s intention. Others consider it a later addition that replaced some other object–perhaps something similar to what we see in the Uffizi portrait

Would Botticelli have painted this portrait alone, or would he have had assistants handle some parts of the work, such as the background? Botticelli would have painted this entire painting himself. It wasn’t until later in his career–the second half of 1480s onwards–that we see the regular intervention of his workshop.  

How do we know this is a genuine Botticelli painting? What details or features testify to its legitimacy? No living Botticelli scholar is known to have any doubt about Botticelli’s authorship of the painting. The portrait’s technique, style, and design process is wholly characteristic of his output and his innovative mind.  

How does the painting reflect Botticelli’s mastery as an artist? It is pure perfection – showing the best of his skills at the height of his creative powers. It is reflective of his confident and consummate skills.  

What is the Botticelli painting like in person? What details or aspects don’t come across in the photo? It is a truly wonderful experience to see the painting up close. Such a close perspective allows the amazing detail with which he rendered the work to shine even brighter. The aspects that come across more clearly in person are the condition, the brilliant technique, and the crisp colors. You can even see the incised lines he used to plan out the architectural elements and the frame of the roundel – it’s like a little glimpse into his mind and working process.   

What is your favorite detail of the Botticelli painting? I love how the setting is so simple, yet we understand the space as wholly three-dimensional. No dramatic lines or perspective needed, just a lifelike sitter. This illusion is further enhanced by the fingers of his left hand, which ever so slightly cross over the pictorial boundary into the realm of the viewer.   

What condition is the Botticelli painting in? It’s in excellent condition, which is quite remarkable and rare for a painting of this age–over 500 years old.  

What do we know about the provenance of the work? How far back does it go? The earliest recorded provenance is the Newborough Family in northern Wales. According to family tradition, the painting was acquired by the first Lord Newborough while he was living in Florence towards the end of the 18th century. The painting then descended in the Newborough family until the mid-1930s, when it was acquired by a dealer. By 1941, the painting had entered the collection of Sir Thomas Ralph Merton, who had an amazing collection himself–36 paintings of the highest caliber, including a Holbein, a Cranach, and other later religious works by Botticelli. Interesting fact: In addition to being a collector, Sir Thomas Merton was a famed scientist, inventor, and spectrometrist. He had a keen eye for works of a very high quality, and he was particularly attracted to colors and pigments. It’s not surprising that this portrait caught his eye and was one of the centerpieces of his collection. The Merton estate sold the painting at Christie’s London in 1982, where it was acquired by the present owner for the equivalent of about $1.3 million at the time. There are some earlier inventory numbers on the reverse of the panel that suggest even older owners than the Newborough family, but we have yet to be able to link them up to old inventories.  

Does this sale mark the first time that a Botticelli painting—as opposed to a sketch or preparatory work by him—has gone to auction in modern times? Nothing even remotely similar in quality or importance has come to the market for several generations. There have been a number of late devotional works which Botticelli produced in large numbers with his workshop from the mid-1480s onwards, when his business became more of a commercial enterprise. But no major commission, be it a portrait or devotional work, has appeared on the market since the 1980s until the so-called “Last Botticelli”–Portrait of Michele Marullo–was offered at Frieze Masters in 2019 for around $30 million. The Rockefeller Madonna, Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist, offered at Christie’s New York in 2013, sold for $10.4 million.  

I understand this is one of three Botticellis remaining in private hands. If one or both of the remaining two go to auction, would they perform as well or better than we expect this portrait to perform? In other words, is this the best of the three? This portrait is considered by many to be one of Botticelli’s best portraits, comparable in inventiveness and quality to his Portrait of a young man with the medal of Cosimo de’ Medici and his Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici.

What is the world auction record for a Botticelli?  The Rockefeller Madonna, sold at Christie’s in 2013 for $10.4 million, is currently the world record for Botticelli.  

A telling detail: The Sotheby's porters have donned white gloves as well as face masks to handle this 15th century Botticelli masterpiece.

I understand the estimate placed on this work is the highest Sotheby’s has assigned to an Old Master painting. If it sells for at or above $80 million, what world auction records will it set or break? In addition to being one of the most significant portraits of any period to appear at auction, it could very well be the next to surpass the $100 million threshold. The last painting to achieve that level at auction was Claude Monet’s Meules at Sotheby’s New York in 2019. [It sold for $110.7 million.]

What comparables did you look to when setting the estimate? One notable Old Master comparable is the Rubens masterpiece Massacre of the Innocents, which sold at Sotheby’s London in July 2002 for around $76.5 million. We also considered iconic works by famed artists of other genres that have come to market, such as Monet’s Meules, and a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream that sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2012, and Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which sold at Christie’s New York in November 2006 for $87.9 million.

Why will this Botticelli painting stick in your memory? I’ve spent a lot of time with this young man over the past few months, and certainly, he has left an indelible impression on my mind. He’s rather handsome, no? His incredibly modern feel–one imparted by his condition, his simple setting, and his lifelike presence–is unforgettable. This portrait is the definition of a masterpiece. We have all been incredibly honored to work with this one-of-a-kind object over these past few months. I’ll surely miss him when he’s off to a new home.

How to bid: The Sandro Botticelli portrait Young Man Holding a Roundel will headline Master Paintings and Sculpture Part I, a sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on January 28, 2021.

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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Original Peanuts artwork by Charles Schultz–Eight Character Portraits Created for a 1953 Promotional Brochure–Could Command $100,000 (Updated December 11, 2020–NEW RECORD!)

A group of eight character portraits of the leads of Peanuts as of 1953, drawn by Charles Schulz for a promotional brochure. Offered as a collection of original Peanuts artwork, it could sell for $100,000 or more.

Update: The original Peanuts artwork by Charles Schulz sold for $288,000–a new world auction record for original Peanuts artwork, set less than a month after a different Heritage Auctions sale broke the previous record.

What you see: Original Peanuts artwork by Charles Schulz, created in 1953 for a promotional brochure. Heritage Auctions generally doesn’t assign estimates to its lots, but when asked, it gave a $50,000-$100,000 range to the group of character portraits.

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

How well-known was the Peanuts comic strip in 1953, when Schulz created these eight portrait panels of its main characters? The comic strip and its characters were in their infancy, having only come to market in 1950.

Why would Charles Schulz or his newspaper syndicate have wanted to make this promotional booklet in 1953? Who was the target audience? It was created to introduce these relatively new comic strip characters to new cities, and to get people to buy newspapers and follow the strip. Schulz didn’t do this. His newspaper syndicate [United Feature Syndicate] did.

Schulz created the original Peanuts artwork for a promotional brochure for the syndicate that distributed his strip to newspapers.
An example of the finished brochure, with each of the eight Peanuts character portraits occupying a page. (The brochure is not described as being part of the lot.)

But the syndicate would have gone to Schulz and asked for supporting artwork for the brochure, yes? It would have said, “We need artwork for a brochure to introduce Charlie Brown and the new Peanuts characters to the growing newspaper audience.” Charles Schulz would have worked hand-in-hand with the syndicate to provide artwork to promote the strip.

This quartet of Peanuts portraits shows a still-doglike Snoopy and a young Linus who has yet to acquire his iconic security blanket.

Do we know why Schulz chose these eight characters to showcase? Also, how do these depictions reveal where the strip was in its evolution in 1953? I see that Schroeder’s habit of playing the piano has been formalized, but Snoopy still looks very much like a dog, and Linus hasn’t yet acquired his blanket… These were the main Peanuts characters at the time, with several just being introduced. Not all the characters had been introduced by 1953. Pigpen arrived in 1954, and Woodstock in 1970.

The original Peanuts artwork captures Good ol' Charlie Brown, ready to pitch a baseball game, and shows that Schroeder, his team's catcher, had already acquired his penchant for playing the piano.

How was the original Peanuts artwork rediscovered? Do we know how it left the possession of Schulz? It would have been retained not by Schulz, but by the syndicate. It was most likely given out by someone as a gift. There is no definitive answer as to when, just how, possibly.

Had you been on the lookout for this group of Peanuts character portraits, or did its existence come as a surprise? One is always on the lookout for anything and everything drawn by the hand of Charles Schulz. This is one of the single biggest surprises of Schulz artwork I have seen, and it’s some of the earliest artwork of the characters seen outside of a published strip. A 1950 daily Strip just sold at Heritage for $192,000.

This original Peanuts artwork dates to 1953, which is early in the strip’s run. Why do Peanuts collectors tend to favor original artwork with the earliest possible dates, rather than later strips that feature the characters as we have come to know them? In the early days, few people knew of Charles Schulz and these characters. As the strip grew in popularity, and television specials and movies began, Schulz’s artwork was much more well-known and the audience became huge. Scarcity is the factor. Their was no guarantee this strip would take off to global proportions back then.

Are the drawings on eight individual pieces of paper, or four drawings on two sheets, or some other configuration? They’re individual drawings, all framed in one common frame.

What is the artwork like in person? Are there aspects or details that don’t come across in the images? It is spectacular. You can tell the personalities of each in some small way, just by Schulz’s quaint depictions of each character: Charlie Brown with the baseball glove, Schroeder at the piano with the Beethoven head, Linus with building blocks.

What is your favorite detail from this collection of original Peanuts artwork? The TV antenna on Snoopy’s dog house. I just like the mid-century Modern feel of an old TV antenna. It seems to disappear in future depictions of the dog house.

The collection of original Peanuts artwork is described as being in “very good” condition. What does that mean in this context? There are no folds, no tears, and the ink still vibrant.

While these character portraits are original Peanuts artwork by Schulz, they are atypical—they’re not daily or Sunday strip art. Have you seen anything else that’s comparable to this group? Peanuts calendar art, perhaps? The key is it’s “published” art, meaning it was used for something very specific, and not done for fans or for reference. It was for a very early promotional piece to introduce Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters to an emerging audience. Key also is the time, 1953 to 1954, when these characters were still being fleshed out.

As of November 30, 2020, the collection of original Peanuts artwork had been bid up to $25,000. Is that at all meaningful? What’s meaningful is where it ends up. It is one of the most viewed pieces in an auction of over 2,000 pieces as of November 30, but the auction is still almost two weeks away.

On November 20, 2020, Heritage Auctions reset the record for any piece of original art by Schulz with an exceptionally early daily strip featuring Shermy and Snoopy. What are the chances that this group of character portraits will meet or beat that sum? I never venture any auction guess. I just know it’s a special piece in Schulz and Charlie Brown and Peanuts history. 

If this lot breaks the record for original Peanuts artwork, Heritage Auctions will have broken that record twice in less than a month. How rarely does that happen? What would that say about the nature of the record-breaking Schulz art, and what would it say about the market for original Schulz art? Heritage has a long track record with setting record prices for Schulz artwork. It is all on HA.com in our archives. Every piece ever sold with prices realized is there. The significance is that we have a global audience to present this important art to.

You say the audience is global—has this always been true, or has the global aspect grown over time? It’s been true since the strip received global distribution and since the television specials and the animated movies went global. We just had A Peanuts Movie released in the last few years to rave reviews. It also was a global release.

Why do you think the appetite for original Peanuts artwork is so strong now, twenty years after the last strip ran? You know it’s the holidays when A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on television each year. You know its Halloween when It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown comes on. The strips, the books, the television specials are rarely dated, with timeless messages of hope and joy.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a piece that no one even knew existed. And each portrait showcases how Charles Schulz wanted to present his characters to the world.

How to bid: The collection of original Peanuts artwork from 1953, featuring character portraits of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and five others, is lot #98273 in the Animation Art Signature Auction taking place at Heritage Auctions from December 11 through December 13, 2020.

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

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Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Jim Lentz has appeared on The Hot Bid four other times, talking about a circa 1940s Disney “model drawing” of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia; a Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel signed by Bullwinkle voice actor Bill Scott to Rocky voice actor June Foray; a vintage Kem Weber-designed Walt Disney Studios animation desk that sold for $13,145; and a Walt Disney-signed original animation cel from Song of the South that fetched just under $9,000.

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A Protona Minifon Mi-51 Watch–Actually a Cold War-era Concealed Recording Device–Could Sell for About $300 (Updated December 9, 2020)

This Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch is not what it seems. The Cold War-era piece is not a watch, but a recording device.

Update: The Protona Minifon Mi-51 sold for £466.60, or about $600.

What you see: A Minifon Mi-51 concealed recording device by Protona, a now-defunct German company. The watch and its wire survives, but its recording device and carrying case do not. Fellows estimates it at £140 to £200, or $187.50 to $268.

The expert: Kes Crockett, a horologist and a cataloger in the watch department at Fellows.

What do we know about how the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch came to be? Why did Protona make it? Protona was a company that manufactured covert recording equipment. Originally, it was called Monske & Co., and it appeared after World War II, in 1951. It was based in Hamburg, Germany, and it closed its doors in 1967.

Was the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch made for sale to the general public, or was it aimed at a niche audience? I should stress–I’m a watch specialist rather than a surveillance specialist. But because of the way the watch was designed and the way the wire was hidden, I believe it was designed for intelligence agencies.

So the Protona spying device watch wasn’t a novelty item–this was serious, legitimate spying equipment? I looked back at the original advertisements and press releases for it, and it cost $289.50, which works out to $2,800 today.

That price would scare off the hobbyists, that’s for sure. It was a specialist piece of equipment. To us, it may not look impressive, but it was an important piece of technology. I don’t know if it’s the first or one of the first battery-driven devices, but it’s certainly very portable, compared to things that came before. It’s a serious piece of kit.

Was Protona alone in making a spying device that looks like a wristwatch, or did it have competitors? There were three to four other companies making specialist recording devices, but I wasn’t able to find any other making a watch-based one. It’s important to say Protona was not a watch manufacturer making a recording device, it was a recording device company that made a recording device hidden in the shell of a watch.

The materials I have date the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch to the 1950s, but is it possible to narrow it down to a specific year? It was difficult to find the answer to that. Because the company did not become Protona until 1952, we can say it’s after 1952.

Though its wire is comically obvious to us now, the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch appeared in the mid-1950s, well before the debut of the first James Bond movie.

Do we know anything about the production run for the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch, and do we know how many might have been shipped to America? I wasn’t able to find any production numbers, but I did find something that said an order for “120,000 machines”–whether it was for the specific Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch or the watch and other products isn’t clear–but 120,000 were ordered by an American company in the early 1950s. Certainly a lot were sent to America at that point in time.

I imagine, given the nature of which American entities might need 120,000 recording devices hidden inside wristwatches, the paperwork for the order doesn’t specify where it ultimately went. It doesn’t specify, but with that number, I have to imagine it was one of the agencies. Interesting bit of trivia: Jack Ruby, the assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald, apparently owned one.

How did the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch work when used as a concealed recording device? First, we only have the watch and the wire. The recording device is another part of the product. The microphone wire [that attached to the watch] would go up your shirt sleeve and into the recording device. There were no controls on the watch at all. They were all on the recording device.

Where did the wearer conceal the recording device? In the images I’ve seen, it’s in a carrying bag on the shoulder, or under the arm, between the arm and the chest, where it can be hidden under clothing.

If you failed to spot the fact that the watch's hands never move, the perforations on the back of the case would give it away. No real watch needs these--they exist to help the concealed microphone pick up sound.

How good was the quality of the sound picked up by the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch? It was good quality. The watch had holes around the back of the case that allowed sound to get to the microphone more effectively. I think it was designed to pick up conversations between you and someone else you were speaking with. The further away you were, the worse the sound would have been.

So this device was ideal for one-on-one work, like infiltrating the Mob. Exactly.

And the wire went from the watch, up the shirt sleeve, and into the recording device? Absolutely right. You wanted your cuffs in place or you’d be exposed.

The wearer would thread a microphone wire up a sleeve and connect it to a recording device hidden in a shoulder strap or under the arm.

But if you were paranoid enough to teach yourself to look for wires coming out of a watch in the early 1950s, you could bust a spy who wore this. The watch doesn’t function at all. There’s not only a wire coming out of the case, it’s stopped at 7:25. Any observant person would notice you were wearing a broken watch.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the first James Bond movie debuted in 1963. Spies and spying devices weren’t part of popular culture when the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch was new. Exactly. It looks obvious to us now, but at the time, people would not have noticed this sort of thing.

This particular example of the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch survives with its false watch and its wire. The recording device and the carrying case are lost.

What were the limits on the recording device? How much audio could it capture? Depending on the spool size, it was half an hour up to two hours of continuous conversation. You couldn’t sit there for 24 hours and hope to pick something up.

The button to start recording was on the device, not the watch, so you always lost a little time reaching under your clothes to turn it on, and you couldn’t rely on the watch to help you figure out how much time was left on the tape, because the watch didn’t work… You’d have to ask what time it was, or you had to have a good sense of time in your head. It’s quite nerve-wracking.

I realize the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch was used for spy work, and spies are… not forthcoming. But is there any proof this type of concealed recording device was used during any notable incidents? Protona was still trading as a company until 1967, and there was another company that repaired [Protona devices], so it must have been fairly useful. But I wasn’t able to find specific cases where people used it.

What is the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t pick up? At first glance, it looks like a watch, especially from six feet away. The case is the same proportion and size as a normal watch. But once you start looking more closely, you notice the winding crown doesn’t turn, and the dials are purely decorative.

Other details that might tip off the paranoid: The crown button is fixed in place and cannot wind the watch.

If the little dials on the watch face worked, what would they do? They’re chronograph dials. They’re for timing things like a stopwatch. The dial at 9 am would count the number of seconds, and the dial at 3 pm would have counted every minute up to 30 minutes. The large red hand in the middle of the face is the chronograph second hand. If it worked, you’d press the button at the top right of the case and it would start moving.

Have you worn the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch? I’ve tried it on, but I’m not able to test the eavesdropping function. That’s why I can’t be more helpful about that. As far as aesthetics, it looks like a standard watch if you don’t see the wire. If that didn’t give it away, the perimeter holes all the way around the back of the case would. If it was a real watch, it’d never have that. If you saw the holes, you’d know it’s not what it seemed.

Do we know how or when the watch and the wire parted ways with its recording device and storage case? We don’t have that part of the item, unfortunately, and we have very little information on it.

Is it possible to plug the wire into a different period recording device and enable it to work? I’m not sure. I’m not an electrical specialist. I’m not able to tell you if the jack at the end of the wire is able to fit into any [other devices]. I’m not able to test it, so I can’t say if it’s in working order. The buyer should assume it’s not in working order. If it is, it’s a pleasant surprise.

When plugged into its recording device, the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch could capture up to two hours of conversation.

What condition is the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch in? Good condition. There’s no moving parts, so it’s not going to wear the same way that a 1950s watch might. There’s some aging to the dial and the hands, and some scratches on the case, but there’s no big dents. It looks like it would have come with a green or brown zip-up satchel that fit everything. Inside was the recording device, in its own separate case. The satchel appears to have been made of artificial leather. Because of that, I don’t think many cases survive.

Is it fair to assume that Protona would have subcontracted the production of the watch parts of the device to a different company? It’s much easier for a spy equipment company to make a watch then it is for a watch company to make a recording device. Because the watch has no moving parts, it’s not hard to manufacture. Assuming the company was without any watchmaking expertise, it’s not going to make the dial or the case unless the project was so secret they couldn’t outsource them.

How often do Protona Minifon Mi-51 watches come up at auction? This is the first one we’ve seen at Fellows. One sold last year at another house, and I found a couple more sales in 2005 and 2011.

So they’re not common at auction, but not rare? Well, they aren’t watches, but they look like watches, so they can sell in a watch auction. But they may not find their way to watch auctions. They could appear in military auctions, or gentleman’s auctions. Certainly with one American company ordering 120,000 from Protona–that’s a very big number. If there were 120,000, you’d expect to see them more often than this. There are watches limited to 1,000 that we see more often than these.

As we speak on December 1, 2020, the Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch has been bid up to £135. Is that significant at all? There are seven days to go for this auction. The fact that it’s got interest is encouraging. I hope to see enthusiastic bidding as the end of the auction approaches.

What’s the world auction record for a Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch? The highest record I was able to find was from a 2005 Christie’s Geneva sale, when a complete set sold for 1,800 Swiss Francs [roughly $2,000 or so].

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It shows how far technology has advanced in seven decades. I think a smartwatch could do what it does with ease now, and would be able to tell the time as well. But at the point that this was made, it was seen as cutting-edge.

How to bid: The Protona Minifon Mi-51 watch is lot 433 in the Online Watches & Watch Accessories sale held by Fellows through December 8, 2020.

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Images are courtesy of Fellows.

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An Early Print of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”, a Legendary Ansel Adams Photograph, Could Command $1 Million (Updated December 14, 2020)

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

Update: The exceptionally early print of Ansel Adams’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico sold for $685,500.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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

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They Set Auction Records. See What Dethroned Them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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A Tiffany Pebble Lamp Could Sell for $150,000 (Updated December 11, 2020)

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

Update: The Tiffany “Pebble” table lamp sold for $537,500, well over three times its high estimate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 1970 Wadsworth Jarrell Painting Could Command $150,000 (Updated December 10, 2020: RECORD!)

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

Update: The Wadsworth Jarrell painting sold for $125,000, setting a new world auction record for the artist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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

The Cahoon Museum of American Art has a website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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

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

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

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

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

The expert: Megan Whippen, senior specialist at Wright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Images are courtesy of Rago/Wright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images are courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

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

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A Coelacanth Fossil Could Fetch Almost $65,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeman’s is on Instagram.

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

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

Images are courtesy of Freeman’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images are courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Skinner.

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

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

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

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

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

The auction was ultimately rescheduled for October 28, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

The expert: Amanda Everard of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is La Shabbla drivable? No, not currently.