Glinda the Good Witch’s Wand, Created for the 1939 Classic The Wizard of Oz, Goes to Auction

A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

What you see: A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Bonhams declines to give a numerical figure for the hero prop, instructing bidders to “refer to department for estimate”.

The expert: Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams.

Why would MGM have felt the need to build a test wand for Glinda the Good Witch? Did they only do that for what we now call “hero” props, or would the MGM prop department have built test versions of pretty much everything visible on screen during The Wizard of Oz to make sure it would look good in Technicolor? They certainly did it with all the costumes. It’s probably more helpful to think of the wand as part of Glinda’s costume, rather than like the hourglass or one of the trees. There was a lot of testing and tweaking in preproduction on The Wizard of Oz. They went through several iterations for the pinafore Dorothy wears, and the same with her hair. The wand would have been tested as part of of Glinda’s overall look.

L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, specified that Dorothy’s slippers were silver. They were changed to ruby slippers for the movie because red looked better against the yellow brick road. Did Baum say anything about Glinda’s appearance that would have given guidance to the prop masters when making the test wand? I don’t know the answer to that, but in general, they tried to stay true to what they knew about what was there. By bringing in Gilbert Adrian, one of the visionary, edgier costume designers, they wanted to put their stamp on the story. Glinda’s wand was a subset of her costume, so it came under that umbrella, as did the ruby slippers.

What’s the difference between the Glinda test wand and the Glinda wand that was used on screen? The first version had clear rhinestones. Because they wanted even more glitz and sparkle on camera, they designed wands with clear and colored stones. Because they were shooting in Technicolor, the colored stones give that much more of a flash on screen. And the wand had to stand up to the rest of Glinda’s costume, which is also pretty spectacular.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the Glinda wand was to make? I suspect it wasn’t that hard. Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s a long staff, a fabricated piece of white metal with a finial on the bottom. The star is another finial that screws in [to the top of the staff]. I’m assuming the rhinestones were done by hand.

Two Glinda wands with colored rhinestones were made for on-screen use. Where are they now? They’re gone. The context for when all this stuff was released in the world is the MGM liquidation sale held in 1970. The two wands with colored stones were bought by people in North Carolina who opened a theme park, The Land of Oz, which had a museum portion. They bought a ton of stuff. They had Munchkin costumes and a Dorothy dress. It was active from the early 1970s to 1980. Then a fire broke out and all the property was destroyed. So this is it. This is the only one. [Editor’s note: The Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina has been revived on a smaller scale and offers events during the summer and early fall.]

No test photos survive that show Billie Burke, who played Glinda, holding the wand, but she had an MGM photographer take a shot of herself in costume, with this particular wand. How did that image come about? I don’t think it was rogue or off the book. It was a promotional shot for the film, and it would have been shot anyway, but Burke had some control over who shot it and how it looked. She liked it so much, she ordered copies of the photo, and she incorporated a sketch of it into her holiday card.

A period publicity shot of Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch, holding the test wand that is now up for auction.

Why would Burke and the photographer have wanted the test version of the Glinda wand for this image? It’s more flattering for black and white. The colored stones wouldn’t have looked as good. They would have looked grey, which is not what you want.

The Glinda wand measures 56.50 inches. That’s long–almost five feet long. Why did the movie producers want it to be this length? Did it help Billie Burke move in a more restrained and regal way? That’s a good question. Maybe Billie Burke is taller than we think. It doesn’t dwarf her when she carries it. Maybe it’s that long because that’s how Glinda does her magic–she does it with a wand, and they wanted it to have substance. Its length does make it harder for the actress to move on screen, but it looks more powerful.

I guess the Glinda wand also has to compete to be seen against the backdrop of the pink poufty Good Witch dress, and the colors of Munchkinland… I didn’t realize it was this size. I never thought about how long it was until it came to us. It’s possible they wanted it to be noticeable. It is thicker than a smaller wand would be. Maybe it’s that long to show up against the bling of the Glinda dress. Or maybe for it to be proportional, it had to be that long.

Speaking of which, what is the Glinda wand like in person? Sometimes, when you see props from famous movies, you notice things about them that you never notice on the screen. But what you really take away from it is the magic it creates on screen. With a touch of the wand, Glinda can send you to Kansas. It is magical what they do with a prosaic piece of metal.

When you get right down to it, it’s just a stick. [Laughs] And the shoes are just shoes.

Have you held the Glinda wand? I have not held it. My colleague and the photographer have held it. I’ve tried to minimize contact with it because I don’t want people knocking the rhinestones off. But it’s sturdy. I guess it’s probably two or three pounds altogether. You don’t need two hands–you can hold it with one.

How many hero props from The Wizard of Oz has Bonhams handled? In 2014, we sold the Cowardly Lion costume for just over $3 million. I think that was the most expensive Oz costume. The next year, we had a Dorothy dress that sold for $1.5 million.

Did you look to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress as comparable lots to consider when setting the estimate for the Glinda wand? We’re not publishing the estimate at the client’s request, but I can tell you it’s in the low six figures. But those were comparables.

How does the Glinda wand compare to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress? They’re very different, but one of the things that’s nice about the wand is it’s portable and easy to display. I can tell you it was on exhibit at the Smithsonian recently, next to the ruby slippers, for a fairly long period of time. The Smithsonian could fit it fairly easily into their exhibition space. It’s not as fragile as a dress [or other textiles].

What condition is the Glinda wand in? There’s some paint loss and there’s a patina to it. I think it’s missing a few rhinestones. Otherwise, I think it’s pretty good, considering it’s 80 years old.

The sale that includes the Glinda wand is called TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year. Did you receive this piece on consignment and view it as a tentpole for a 1939-themed sale, or did you come up with the 1939 idea and then go out looking for 1939 material? It did sort of start almost a year ago with the wand. The consigner approached us with this pretty early. Then I realized that 2019 was the 80th anniversary of 1939, and reached out to get 1939 material.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This is the first thing I’ve ever sold that was once on exhibit at the Smithsonian, which is pretty great. And it’s not the central plot device of the film, but it’s the second most important one. A lot of things depend on Glinda waving her wand. It moves the ruby slippers to Dorothy’s feet, and it’s behind her head in the resolution of the film. For one prop to do those two things is amazing.

How to bid: The Glinda wand is lot 1089 in TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year, a sale taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on December 10, 2019.

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Dr. Catherine Williamson has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about the record-setting auction of Robby the Robot and discussing the original poster artwork for the Italian release of Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

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SOLD! The Silver Pomander from 17th Century England Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

An Elizabeth I-era silver pomander, early 17th century, featuring six engraved royal portraits. The woman in the center was initially identified as Queen Elizabeth I. Scholars now think she is either Anne of Denmark (wife of James I, who is shown on the right) or a queen of Bohemia. The bearded man on the left is believed to be King Charles I depicted as the Prince of Wales.

Update: The Elizabeth I silver pomander fetched £22,500, or slightly more than $29,000.

What you see: An Elizabeth I silver pomander, engraved with portraits of royals and dating to the early 17th century. Christie’s estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $25,900 to $38,850.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, International Head of Silver at Christie’s.

Was the pomander a common household object in 17th century England, or was it purely used by nobles and wealthy merchants? I think it was really people of wealth–rich merchants and aristocratic ladies would have had them. They tend to be in silver and rarely in gold.

A fair number of people like to think that previous ages were smellier or stinkier than our own. Is that accurate, and is the silver pomander evidence that bad odors were a common hazard in 17th century England? Yes, very much so. There was no plumbing, and there were open ditches in the street where people threw the contents of their chamber pots. And there was the miasmic theory of disease, the belief that odor itself could give you a disease. The pomander was a way to banish evil smells and evil humors and keep yourself healthy.

Why would a woman have been the likely original owner of this silver pomander? In contemporary portraits [of the period] you see ladies wearing them.

A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.
A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.

If 17th century Englishmen didn’t carry pomanders, what did they carry instead that served the same purpose? People had scented gloves and scented handkerchiefs. The pomander developed as a form of adornment for women, and it had practical use.

And pomanders usually take the shape of an orb, or sphere? They tend to. Early pomanders were a ball of a scented substance–wax with scents impregnated in them. The form it usually takes is a circular foot with a central stem that has a number of hinged segments. It opens like the petals of a flower.

How would the silver pomander’s owner have used it–to perfume herself, to shield her nose from unpleasant smells, or both? She would hold it up to her nose, like a nosegay or a viniagrette, which is a box that had a sponge with smelling salts or scented waters.

So it’s kind of like us putting Vicks VapoRub under our nostrils today? Exactly.

Would she have worn the silver pomander every day, or did she only wear it on fancy occasions, or at court? It could be everyday. She didn’t necessarily wear it around the house, but it denotes status. It’s a costly object. Certainly, if she went out around town in her finest dress, she’d wear it.

What sorts of nice-smelling things might she have put in the silver pomander? And would she put the same thing in each of its six compartments, or would she put different, complementary things in the compartments? I think it’s each to their own. She might want rosemary for this, or lavender for that. Each scent had certain properties and beliefs about what they would help with. She could put the same thing [in every compartment] or a cocktail. There’s no difference to aromatherapy today–if you’re stressed, try lavender, if you need invigoration, try lemon verbena.

This side of the silver pomander shows a man wearing a ruff and hat. It's believed to be a portrait of King James I. The man on the right with orb and scepter could be King Henry VIII, and the woman on the right is now believed to be Anne of Denmark, James's wife, or possibly a queen of Bohemia.

The silver pomander features several portraits of people who are believed to be royals: King James I, King Charles I (as Prince of Wales), King Henry VII, King Henry VIII, and a woman who could be Anne of Denmark (James I’s wife) or Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. How do we know these are the people depicted? They’re really [after] engravings by the de Passe family, a Dutch family that specializes in head-and-shoulder portraits. They’re not exact matches, but similar ones match up. They’re known engravings of members of the Tudor and Stuart royal family. Anne of Denmark was originally attributed as Elizabeth I.

Would the silver pomander have advertised the political leanings of the wearer? Would she have taken a risk if she went out in public with this hanging from her chatelaine? All the royals [depicted on the pomander] are Protestant monarchs. You’ll find by this time (early 17th century), Britain was established as a Protestant nation. Under the reign of Queen Mary I, the owner wouldn’t have wanted to wear the pomander, but it postdates that. At the time, the monarch was Protestant and the country was 90 percent Protestant.

The silver pomander, shown open to display all six of its segments. Its user would have placed pleasant-smelling items such as rosemary or lavender in the compartments through the rectangular-shaped holes.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the silver pomander was to make? You’ve got six little segments. It’s difficult to make sure they’re all the same size and have the same curve so they come together to form an orb. It’s got a carefully milled thread, so you can screw the top down [and hold the six segments closed and in place]. And it’s been heavily engraved with shield shapes ornamenting the tops of the segments, the medallion portraits, and so on.

What is the silver pomander like in person? Is it heavy? It’s about two inches high. It fits in the palm of the hand. If you make an “OK” sign with your middle finger and your thumb, it’s that sort of size. It feels heavy in the hand.

What condition is it in? When you see it open, [you can see that] the not-quite-rectangular openings in each segment have been squeezed over the years. But really, it’s survived in surprisingly good condition.

I understand that little early English silver survives because various groups sought it to melt it and turn it into money. I realize we don’t know exactly how this silver pomander survived, but what are some plausible theories? In Civil War England, Royalist and Parlimentarian forces were desperate to pay their armies. Silver was the coinage of the day. If you melted a cup and struck coins, you got money. Two silver plates from the Armada service are in the sale. The service was buried in a barn and not rediscovered until 1827. It was almost certainly hidden to avoid being seized by Parlimentarian forces. But this pomander is a small object [which would yield] an ounce and a half of silver, not a huge amount. And it’s easily hidden away. You could stick it in the back of a drawer and if you weren’t really searching for it, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. A silver cup is less easily hidden.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think number one, it being English. It’s unmarked [it lacks hallmarks that would identify the silversmith], but it would be very strange for it to be anything else than English, and to have portraits on it is rare. Pomanders are more likely to have scrolling foliage on them, that sort of thing. And it’s a gem of an object in an amazing collection of objects that survived all the intervening years. It’s a lovely personal object, beautifully decorated in great detail, and it [represents an] extraordinary survival.

How to bid: The Elizabeth I silver pomander is lot 101 in The David Little Collection of Early English Silver, taking place at Christie’s London on December 3, 2019.

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Harry Williams-Bulkeley features in a piece on the Christie’s website in which he talks about the David Little collection, and the forces that make early English silver so rare.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Charles Addams Cartoon About Edgar Allan Poe for The New Yorker Could Sell for $12,000

Original artwork for Nevermore, a Charles Addams cartoon about Edgar Allan Poe, which was published in The New Yorker in 1973.

What you see: Original artwork for Nevermore, a cartoon drawn by Charles Addams and published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1973. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Let’s start by discussing who Charles Addams was, and why we’re still talking about his work today. First, I think we can all agree that Addams’s style was like no other. No one else married gloom, death, and danger with humor, often tempered with tenderness and charm, like he did. He could break down humanity to its basest nature. The New Yorker writer and critic Wolcott Gibbs once described his work as “essentially a denial of all spiritual and physical evolution in the human race.” Ask any cartoonist who their main influence was, and they’ll surely name him. 

How prolific was he? His output was astounding. He submitted his first work to The New Yorker when he was 21 and continued until his death [in 1988, at the age of 76]. He worked for over 60 years and produced thousands of cartoons and 15 anthologies, which have been translated into numerous languages.

Where is most of Addams’s original artwork now? A large portion resides at the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation in Sagaponack, New York. Tee [Addams’s widow] gave a large portion to the New York Public Library. For many years, they had a dedicated rotating gallery for those works.

Where was Addams in his career in 1973, when this was published? He was 61, and still working for The New Yorker.

How did this Addams Poe cartoon come about? I understand the joke was not Charles Addams’s idea—someone else came up with it, and he was asked to illustrate it? Nevermore was, in fact, the first idea that cartoonist Jack Ziegler sold to The New Yorker. At that time, The New Yorker had mostly phased out the editorial practice of having staff cartoonists illustrate caption and concept submissions by other contributors, but it still occurred sometimes. Cartoon editor James Geraghty brilliantly tasked Addams with this one. It was only later that year, when Lee Lorenz joined The New Yorker and invited Ziegler to contribute his own work, that he became a regular cartoonist.

Could we deconstruct this Addams Poe cartoon? It strikes me that it’s much more intelligible and straightforward than other cartoons from The New Yorker I hesitate to answer this because I feel like the more you analyze a cartoon, the less funny it becomes, but I’ll take the bait. [Laughs.] Ziegler and Addams knew that Poe’s The Raven is one of the most famous poems ever written. Its tagline is seared in everyone’s brain, and Poe’s likeness is well known. Therefore, it would have immediate recognition and wide appeal, especially to a cultured readership like The New Yorker‘s. We imagine famous authors to be confident in their work, and, in fact, Poe wrote about the creation of The Raven a year later in his essay, The Philosophy of Composition, explaining that he went about it very methodically and logically. So we can’t possibly imagine that Poe had a moment of doubt or ever considered any creature other than the now-iconic foreboding black harbinger of his spiraling descent into madness. Marry that with Addams’s inimitable skill at depicting anxiety and torment, and there’s the core of the genius. Then you look at the hilariously unsuitable choices Addams showed the exhausted poet contemplating–a basic farmyard pig, a giant, ungainly moose, and a morbid, gormless looking turtle–and it becomes the most hysterically funny thing.

How does the Addams Poe cartoon testify to Addams’s skills as an illustrator, and his skills as an illustrator of gothic images? He was a genius with the details. I love the crumpled up piece of paper on the spare table and floor–what animal choices they contained, we can only imagine. His fingers barely grasping the quill pen from his limp arm resting on his thigh, and the totally dejected look on Poe’s face, are priceless. I also like how something as simple as his excluding the exclamation point after “nevermore” drives home the failure of its delivery. Addams also loved combining animals with gothic themes. He married his last wife, Marilyn, who was known as “Tee”, in a pet cemetery at their home and that is where their ashes are both interred, along with those of all their pets. And Addams was known to be an impeccable draftsman. His editors all remarked that he often handed in his cartoons in a perfect, finished state, with no edits needed. He nailed it nearly every time.

Is this the only instance in which Addams depicted Edgar Allan Poe in a cartoon for The New Yorker, or any cartoon? No. While this is the best known of them, he created three more iterations of The Raven titled Occasionally, Once Again, and the last, in 1983, a lengthier riff on the bird’s refrain, Carnivore, either-or, blood & gore…etc. He likely considered Poe a kindred spirit of the macabre.

I have to admit, when I saw this Addams Poe cartoon in the catalog, I stopped dead, my jaw dropped, and I think I even pointed at the screen. Was that your reaction when you first learned of its existence? I’m so glad you jumped on this, like you jumped on the Gorey cat. It’s a famous Addams piece, so my first thought, which happens with similar iconic Addams cartoon submissions, is that it may be one in a series of reproductions that were printed on watercolor paper with Epson Ultrachrome ink. If someone sends a low-resolution JPEG [of a piece of Addams cartoon art] and does not give dimensions, they can fool you on first glance. I had the same reaction when a consigner approached us with the famous Movie Scream cartoon that we sold in 2017, which brought $31,200.

What condition is the Addams Poe cartoon in, knowing it was created as a piece of functional art, and not to hang on a wall? Quite excellent, really. It was lovingly cared for, framed early on to protect it, and was never exposed to direct light, so the ink is strong. The back has some abraded paper and its The New Yorker stamp is a bit yellowed and frayed, but that adds to its charm, I think.    

What is the provenance of the Addams Poe cartoon? It belonged to Dona Guimaraes, who was a New York Times Magazine home section editor, an executive editor of Mademoiselle magazine, and a friend of Addams, who bequeathed it to current owner, a close friend of hers. It has never been on the market.

What is the Addams Poe cartoon art like in person? Are there details or aspects that the camera doesn’t quite catch? The size of it is impressive– 20 inches by 13 inches, which is on the larger side of some of his work. You can also see the brush work on the board, and the care he took with the areas of shading through ink and wash. When you face a work like that in person, head on, it comes at you with even more force. I’m always encouraging people to collect original cartoons because even though the caption and image are digested at first sight, seeing the medium on the surface and picturing the illustrator creating it adds a special element that connects a person to the artwork. That experience isn’t unique to engaging with fine art. 

How often do original Charles Addams cartoons for The New Yorker come to auction? I’d say about a dozen, on average. These generally consist of cartoons, doodled autographs, and covers for The New Yorker.

Does original Charles Addams cartoon art done for The New Yorker carry a premium? Yes, absolutely.

Could you quantify it? I’d say 50 percent or more. To be specific about it, cartoons for other publications that contain characters that resemble the Addams family tend to bring more. Cartoons that don’t contain them don’t bring as much.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Addams Poe cartoon? What did you look to as comparables? I looked at the results for other large-scale cartoons for The New Yorker that were also among his most recognizable. I also considered the condition, the provenance, and the fact that it had never come up before. I am generally conservative in my estimates, believing that the auction process will allow works to find their level. I like to attract, not prohibit participation. I’d love to see this reach the level of Movie Scream, though I doubt it may reach the record price set by Sad Movie, a 1946 cartoon for The New Yorker that sold for $40,630 in 2012.

Why will this Addams Poe cartoon stick in your memory? Because it’s a perfect example of Addams’s genius. I had taken a bunch of close-up images of it for a condition report on it for a client. I was at my computer screen, looking at an enlarged, high resolution image of the pig’s face for about the 200th time, with the classic Addams deadpan dot eyes, and I started trembling with laughter, for the 200th time. And because books are fundamental to Swann’s founding and history, an Addams cartoon with a literary theme just gets me where I live. 

How to bid: The Charles Addams Poe cartoon is lot 244 in the Illustration Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on December 10, 2019.

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

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about original Edward Gorey New Yorker cover art featuring tuxedo catsa spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Tee & Charles Addams Foundation has a website.

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

SOLD! The Howard Terpning Painting Commanded… (Scroll Down to See)

Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 painting by contemporary Western artist Howard Terpning.

Update: The Howard Terpning painting sold for $425,075.

What you see: Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department.

Let’s start by talking about who Howard Terpning is, and what makes him interesting to collectors. I tried to think of another living artist who isn’t a mainstream contemporary artist, but whose works still sell for six or seven figures on the secondary market, and I couldn’t come up with one… Howard Terpning is a fascinating character, and a titan of contemporary Western art. Like many in this space, he has a background in illustration. He did it for a couple of decades before wandering over to this side of the fence. Pleasing an art director and working to a deadline carried over into his self-defined artistic practice. He’s one of if not the most decorated artists in this space. I don’t want to bore your readers, but it would take pages to list them all. He won the National Academy of Western Art’s Prix de West. It’s a big deal to win it once. He won it twice. He’s won the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for exceptional artistic merit [given at the annual Masters art exhibition and sale held at the Autry Museum of the American West] twelve times, including eleven straight between 2005 and 2016. He is immensely recognized in his field. Anyone in this space knows who he is.

What makes Howard Terpning paintings so exceptional? It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.

How prolific is he? I’m sure the family has it [a total count for his body of work] but it’s not public. Big finished works take him a couple of months. I don’t know how many he might work on simultaneously.

Is he still painting, or has he retired? As of two years ago, when he was 90, he was still painting. He’s going to die with a pencil in his hand. If he can’t paint oils, he’s going to draw. I can’t see him ever stopping.

Howard Terpning has been painting Western art since the late 1970s. Are there periods or phases within his work that collectors prefer, or has his work been scarce enough that they can’t be that choosy? It’s a somewhat complicated answer. What we see for the top ten [for him] on the auction market is in a fairly narrow period for production in the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Is that indicative of what the market thinks is most valuable? Some of that is those are the works that are available. Maybe there’s a great late 1990s work out there that will blow us away if it comes to auction. I think this work [which dates to 1988] is in the sweet spot, but I don’t know if the sweet spot is real.

Finding the Buffalo measures 36 inches by 32 inches. Is that a typical size for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s sort of middle of the pack as far as scale goes. He does paint larger, and he does paint smaller. But he’s stretching his own canvases. He makes them any size he wants. The finished drawing he does [in the lead-up to creating the painting] always informs the size and proportions of the canvas.

What do we know about how he works, and how he might have made Finding the Buffalo? His technique is pretty well-documented. He starts with a series of sketches leading to a finished drawing. The drawing informs the size of the canvas. It’s traced and essentially transferred to the canvas, which is not a blank canvas. There’s one tone brushed onto the whole canvas. The drawing is transferred on, then he begins. There are videos of him doing this. [Jump to the 4:20 mark to watch Terpning embark on the first step of creating a painting.] Lights and darks are applied over the midtone. He can quickly define the whole composition.

Then he finishes it? That’s where the real time is spent.

So the drawing, the scaling-up for the canvas, and the transfer of the drawing–that’s a kind of scaffolding for creating the finished painting? Yes. I think it’s a rigorous approach he gets from his background in illustration.

How might he have arrived at the content and composition of the image we see in Finding the Buffalo? He has a huge archive of reference images. The rocks in the background could be a combination of images of a few different rocks. And he has a huge archive of objects. He’d have a quiver as a historic reference, but he’ll modify it to make it historically accurate to [the quiver of] a Comanche scout.

How often do Howard Terpning paintings feature the Comanche people, as we see in Finding the Buffalo? He always has a specific tribe in mind. Comanche, I hesitate to give a percentage, but he’s painted them many times. I don’t know if they’re a favorite per se. It’s the Plains peoples who are his fascination.

And the Comanches are among the Plains peoples? Yes. Terpning has a deep connection with and fascination with the nomadic style of life these people led.

Detail shot of the horned lizard from Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

How rare is it for Terpning to place an animal front-and-center in his works, as he does here with the horned lizard? I don’t know another work like it. It’s very unusual. The lizard is front and center, but it’s not the center point. You look at the scouts, look at what they’re looking at, and–oh. Everything is centered on the lizard, but the lizard is more like one of the rocks, and he puts the focus on the Comanche. Terpning is ultimately a figure painter, and Finding the Buffalo is no different. I think it’s a really neat painting in that it’s a subtle painting. In another Terpning painting in the sale, My Medicine Is Strong, the medicine man is on a rock and he’s clearly having a religious moment. Here, it’s a little quieter compared to some of the narratives Terpning likes to convey.

What’s going on in Finding the Buffalo? What’s the story? This is from Terpning himself: Comanche scouts believe that if they ask the horned lizard where the buffalo are, whatever direction he runs in is where the buffalo are. If he breaks left, go left. They’re watching the lizard very intently, especially the scout in the back–his anxiety is piqued. And I love that even the horses are staring at the lizard. [Laughs]

What’s your favorite detail of this Howard Terpning painting? There’s a splash of blue beadwork right at the very center of the painting. There are a few other touches where he uses bright blue, but this is the only spot where you get that color, and he does it right in the center of the painting. I love it as contrast. I look at the painting and it feels hot and oppressive under the bright sun, washed out. The splash of blue yanks your eye to the middle of the painting. Then you look down, and there’s the lizard. It’s so restrained, and it speaks to how valuable the beads would have been.

Detail shot of the blue beadwork dangling down the side of a Comanche scout's horse in Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

What is the Howard Terpning painting like in person? It’s more subtle in person. When you have a painting with large patches in the same tonal family, your eye is better at appreciating the subtle tonal shift than the camera is. The lizard blends into the rocks even a little more. The background behind the scouts is very rich, and I don’t think you get that in the reproduction. And the camera doesn’t capture the thickness of the paint. Terpning is reliant on impasto [the buildup of paint on the surface of a canvas], and it casts shadows. Not a big shadow, but a tiny ridge of paint can cast a tiny shadow. The camera can’t capture the change in physical height–that texture–but the eye can perceive it. He uses it to give the rocks a real three-dimensionality.

The back side of Howard Terpning's painting Finding the Buffalo, which shows the artist's notations.

On the webpage devoted to the lot, you at Bonhams have included a photograph of the back of the painting. Could you talk about the information Terpning put on the back of the painting, and how him bothering to do that helps collectors, dealers, and specialists like yourself? I would say this is true almost universally among art buyers–there’s going to be interest in the back of a painting. In this case, we have information from Terpning. He signs it, puts the title on the back, and says how big it is in his own handwriting. He signs it in two different places and reminds you that he retains the reproduction rights [laughs]. And there’s a brief narrative [that explains the scene] affixed to the back of the painting. It’s a printed label, but it is his language, his words. And there’s a CAA (Cowboy Artists of America) label still on the back [from when the painting was first shown and sold in 1988] that says $60,000.

How many Howard Terpning paintings have you handled? In the last five years, we’ve sold six. There aren’t a ton that circulate. At all the auction houses put together, ten or 15 go up at auction every year.

Is it unusual to have three Howard Terpning paintings in the same auction, as you do here? It’s only happened to us once before. [Laughs]. But it’s not unheard of. We’ve just been very lucky recently.

What’s the world auction record for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s $1.9 million, set in 2012 at the Scottsdale Art Auction. Its name was The Captured Ponies, and it’s not an outlier. Nine Howard Terpning paintings have sold for more than $1 million since 2006. We had one in 2019 that sold for just shy of $1.4 million.

Why will this Howard Terpning painting stick in your memory? There’s a real subtlety to this one. I like how quiet it is. It’s a painting that rewards you for looking at it longer. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but as you look at it, there’s a lot going on. It’s a sophisticated picture in terms of how it was painted and the narrative it conveys.

How to bid: The Howard Terpning painting Finding the Buffalo is lot 41 in The Eddie Basha Collection: A Selection of Western American Art, a sale taking place November 25, 2019, at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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A Slav Epic Mucha Poster Could Sell for $10,000

A 1930 poster for the Slav Epic, a series of monumental canvases by Alphonse Mucha. He based the poster design on the 18th painting in the show.

What you see: A circa 1930 poster by Alphonse Mucha for the Slav Epic Exhibition. Soulis Auctions estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Dirk Soulis, founder, owner, and auctioneer at Soulis Auctions in Lone Jack, Missouri.

Who was Alphonse Mucha, and why is his work still important now, roughly a century after his heyday? He was an illustrator and artist of Czech/Slav origin. He’s still important because of the quality of his work. The work itself and the beauty of it makes it a classic, whether you know who the artist is or not.

What was the Slav Epic, and why was it important to Mucha? It was a series of 20 monumental paintings, allegories of the history of the Slavic peoples. In 1899, Mucha was commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian government to create murals for the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Researching the history and culture of those peoples inspired him to seek sponsorship and a platform for a similar project in his home country of Czechoslovakia. 

Did Mucha intend to finish the Slav Epic by the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of the Slavic Republic, or did he start work and seize on that milestone as a deadline later on? I suspect that [the latter] is the case. He started the Slav Epic in 1910 and I’m not sure he had that [10th anniversary] goal in mind.

The poster is dated circa 1930. Did the Slav Epic open to the public in 1930? No. This poster is a little more unusual for that reason. The Slav Epic opened in Prague in 1928, and the majority of the posters are from 1928. In 1930, it opened in Brno, the second-largest city in Czechoslovakia. The image is the same for both posters.

The Slav Epic is a series of canvases. Mucha made his reputation with poster designs. Why did he make a poster for the Slav Epic? Did he need to advertise it in this way, or did he feel that people knew him best as a poster artist, and he ought to make a poster for the show? I suspect it’s a little of both. The organizers, including him, felt like a poster was in order. It was a familiar way to promote things.

Is this the only Slav Epic Mucha poster design, or did he do others to promote the show? As far as I know, this is the only poster design for the exhibition.

Do we have any notion of how many posters were printed for the 1928 and 1930 Slav Epic exhibitions, and how many survive? I think this would be difficult to accurately state. A few of his posters that are near life-size are printed in two pieces, and this is printed in two pieces, and the sheets are joined. The image is the same, and the lower portion, with the location and the date, changes.

The lower half of the Slav Epic Mucha poster gives the dates and location of the show. It's printed on a second sheet that was attached to the image sheet.
The lower half of the Slav Epic Mucha poster gives the dates and location of the show. It’s printed on a second sheet that was attached to the image sheet.

Does this Slav Epic Mucha poster draw its imagery directly from a painting in the show, or is it a more abstract image that captures the show’s overall spirit? This is drawn from the 18th canvas. By drawn, I mean it’s based on the actual painting itself.

It’s a straight repetition? Yes.

Let’s talk about what’s going on in the Slav Epic Mucha poster. Who is the woman at the center? What instrument is she playing? Is that an incense burner at her feet, and does it have any special symbolic meaning here? She and the other figures in the original mural represented Slavic youth in the 1890s. Her garb is traditional and of that late 19th century period. She plays a semi-circle stringed lyre-like instrument with cockerel head surmount and, in the original mural, the face of a woman is at its base. I can’t comment on the metaphor of the censer and smoke.

Who is the figure in the back with more than one face? Is it a god? Yes, he is the three-faced Slavic pagan god Svantovit. He’s a figure of folklore, and he holds a cup representing plenty. Svantovit does not appear in the original mural.

Did Mucha use a live model for the young woman at the center of the poster? Yes, she’s his first born daughter, Jaroslava.

How often does this Slav Epic Mucha poster tend to come to auction? It’s not very common. It’s even more uncommon to find a nice example in good condition with good color. One or two come up every few years.

What is the world auction record for the poster? The highest price I know of is an example advertising the 1928 exhibition at $10,625. [It sold at Swann Auction Galleries in January 2017.]

As of November 19, 2019, the Slav Epic Mucha poster reflected a bid of $4,000. Is that at all meaningful with weeks to go before the sale? It’s always energizing and noteworthy, but in my experience, it’s not always meaningful. The real action doesn’t start until the live auction.

What’s the condition of this example of the Slav Epic Mucha poster? It’s in good to very fine condition. Again, the colors are very strong. It’s very clean, no visual issues or detractions. It’s properly mounted and has its margins. With this example, the text panel is framed separately. That’s how the collector displayed it in his home.

The Slav Epic Mucha poster is from the collection of the late Robert Allan Haas. Who was he, and how does his provenance make the poster more interesting to collectors? Haas was an artist and an illustrator, as Mucha was. He worked for Hallmark cards, and was based in Kansas City, Missouri. He studied at the Ringling College of Fine Art, and happened upon a Mucha illustration in a book and was taken with it. He credited it with teaching him about art and life.

And Haas became a Mucha expert? To some degree, based on his notes and the books we found. At times, he authenticated pieces for the Mucha family. They consulted with him, and he knew and corresponded with them.

To what extent can we credit Haas with the good condition of the Slav Epic Mucha poster? That’s kind of the luck of the draw. He was fortunate to find a fine example. He certainly did know and understand what must be done to conserve and display posters and works on paper.

How many Mucha works from Haas are in this auction? And does that number represent the entirety of his collection? About 60. There are another 50 lots, not counting his library. There will be a second session next year in 2020–we haven’t set the date yet–and that will be the whole collection.

What is the Slav Epic Mucha poster like in person? The colors are strong, with a lot of vibrant hues. The trailing plumes of gold-embossed smoke are really striking. It’s very intriguing in person.

Would the smoke be your favorite detail of the Slav Epic Mucha poster? That is it–the plume rising, the beauty of the flowing lines, and the way it sets up the composition.

How to bid: The Slav Epic Mucha poster is lot 0016 in the Winter Fine Art Auction at Soulis Auctions on December 7, 2019.

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SOLD! The Know Nothing Flag Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. It features an image of George Washington in the space where the canton would go.

Update: The Know Nothing flag sold for $25,000.

What you see: A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. Freeman’s estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s.

Let’s start by talking about who the Know Nothings were. They were founded in 1849, and were a nativist party–anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, largely due to Irish immigration. Ireland experienced a famine, and there were no jobs, so they moved to American cities. It was an anti-immigration movement, sadly not unlike today.

Funny how some things never seem to change. There’s an interesting letter from Abraham Lincoln about the Know Nothings. It’s from 1855, and it reads: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” The Know Nothings were a well-enough known party, though they kept it kind of secret. If anyone asked about their agenda, their members would say, “I know nothing.” [Hence the name.] They didn’t want new people, people who had different faiths. They didn’t want to change.

How would the Know Nothings have used this flag in the late 1850s? I don’t know for sure. I think maybe it was made for group meetings, secret meetings, or for someone’s personal use. But it’s small, a very small thing–only 19 inches by 23 1/4 inches. It looks like it was pinned up on something. It was not hung on a building. It was rather discreet. Nobody wants to stand up and say, “I hate people.”

The Know Nothing flag is small enough to tuck inside a coat? It’s small. It’s not something to be raised on a pole.

Detail shot of the Know Nothing flag, focused on the George Washington portrait that replaces the canton.

Here in the 21st century, we think of the design of the American flag as being fixed and inviolate. I get the impression that wasn’t the case in the 19th century, when this Know Nothing flag was made. The makers have clearly taken liberties with the basic American flag design–they’ve replaced the canton [the blue field that appears in the upper left] with an image of George Washington… This whole patch [with Washington on it] was cut out of a length of printed fabric and appliqued on the stripes. It functions as the canton, and it serves its purpose beautifully.

There are 13 embroidered stars above the eagle’s head on this Know Nothing flag. Is that meant to be a reference to the original 13 colonies? Yeah, I think they’re envisioning some sort of purer time that never was. Again, it’s comparable to the present–longing for some idyllic past that was not idyllic for everyone and not as idyllic as it seemed.

Redesigning the look of the American flag would not have been offensive in 1858? Not until 1912 was there a flag act that started to regulate things–48 stars and 13 stripes. This… I don’t think it’s a public piece. It’s private, or for a small group of like-thinking individuals.

The Know Nothing flag has 17 stripes. Does the number of stripes have any special significance to the group or its ideology? Or does it just happen to have 17 stripes for reasons known only to the person who stitched it? Very interesting. I don’t know why. I don’t know if that meant something to the Know Nothings.

The Know Nothings put a portrait of George Washington on the flag. Why did they hold Washington, of all the founders, in such high esteem? According to legendary flag collector Boleslaw Mastai, the Know Nothing Party “professed a veritable cult for George Washington”. They took partial quotes from a Washington letter of April 30, 1777, which he wrote in the wake of an assassination plot involving members of his own guard: “You will therefore send me none but Natives, & Men of some property, if you have them- I must insist that in that in making this Choice you give no intimation of my preference of Natives, as I do not want to create any invidious Distinction between them & Foreigner….”    

George Washington is shown with his hand on the hilt of a sword. Did that have particular meaning to the Know Nothings, or is that just how the company who printed the textile wanted Washington to look? You often get that, even in formal portraits. It’s not uncommon for portraits of the 18th century and the early 19th century to show [leaders] with swords to allude to their military past.

The Know Nothing flag, shown in full inside a frame.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how the Know Nothing flag was made? It’s all hand-sewn. They cut out a patch from a length of printed fabric, and appliquéd it onto the stripes.

The initials “JWL” are embroidered on the Know Nothing flag. Do we have any idea who JWL is? We don’t.

The flag also has a date on it–December 1858. Is it unusual to see a dated flag? Yes, it is unusual. We do have a couple of flags in the sale that were made by or presented to people and often, there are inscriptions on them. It’s a little different to embroider [the date], but it’s not unknown.

Does the December 1858 date have any special meaning to the Know Nothings? I don’t think so. I think it’s just when they made it [the flag].

I see what looks like scorch marks in places on the flag. What are they? There could be a number of things that cause that. Sometimes it happens if it’s folded for a long time. Something could have been spilled on it. Perhaps it was nailed to something metal and rust transferred onto the fabric.

How rare is this Know Nothing flag? I don’t know of any others. It comes from a very important flag collection, the Mastai Collection.

Have any others appeared at auction? The first Know Nothing flag at auction was this one, in 2002, when the Mastai collection sold at Sotheby’s. It was passed [it failed to sell at auction] and was sold later, within a year of the auction.

What is the Know Nothing flag like in person? It’s very colorful and bright. The reds are very vibrant. The Washington patch is a trifle faded, but not horribly. It makes an impact.

Why will the Know Nothing flag stick in your memory? Because I’ve never seen anything like it. Everybody heard about the Know Nothings in history class, but I’ve never seen a living, breathing artifact associated with the group. It’s a reminder that history repeats itself. Anti-immigration–we have that going on today.

How to bid: The Know Nothing flag is lot 39 in A Grand Old Flag: The Stars and Stripes Collection of Dr. Peter J. Keim, taking place November 24. 2019 at Freeman’s.

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SOLD! The Battleship Potemkin Poster Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

Update: The Battleship Potemkin poster sold for $108,000.

What you see: A 1929 Russian movie poster for the noted Russian film Battleship Potemkin. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $50,000 to $100,000.

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

First, could we talk about Battleship Potemkin–what it’s about, why it’s considered such an effective propaganda film, why film scholars still study it? What I know is it’s considered one of the greatest foreign films in history. It was about a mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, and it was made for the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the [Bolshevik] revolution. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a proponent of the montage theory in film–juxtaposition of images to create emotion. Every scene within the film took a different angle. It was very exploratory for the age. When it was released in Russia [in 1925], it didn’t do very well. Only on overseas distribution did people go, “Whoa, this is quite a propaganda piece.”

Why was Battleship Potemkin re-released in Russia in 1929 if it did so poorly in the country its original run? This is purely a guess but I think it had something to do with the advent of sound. I would almost bet that the 1929 re-release had a sound element. [The 1925 version was a silent film.] I do not know that, and I can’t find evidence of it, but 1929 was when the change was being made. Also, the film governing body, Goskino, wanted to push it out again domestically after the overseas response, to see if it would get a better response.

Do we have any notion of why the Stenberg brothers, Vladimir and Georgii, were chosen to design the 1929 re-release Battleship Potemkin poster? I don’t think we’ll ever know beyond [the fact that] they were so well-known in this period, the late 1920s. They were the premier Constructivist artists. They did 300 posters in total in their ten-year career.

What makes this Battleship Potemkin poster design successful? The feel of movement. It’s about expressionist movement in an image. As far as Battleship Potemkin is concerned, it shows the turrets crossing each other in a regimented, militaristic fashion, and the two people are almost in flight. It expressed Czarist oppression. That was the whole reason for the Bolshevik revolution.

What’s going on in the poster? Is this image abstract, or does it show characters from the movie? One sailor is on a turret and the other is an officer being thrown overboard. That’s what they [the mutinying sailors] did–threw them overboard. Throwing the officer overboard is the essence of it. It’s very evocative of the film. It’s a moment in the film, but not literally. They [the Stenberg brothers] used the element of the crossed turrets to create tension.

The first two gun turrets on the Battleship Potemkin poster give the name of the movie in Cyrillic. What does the third turret say? It says “Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Cameraman Eduard Tisse.”

I also see a logo in the lower right. What does it stand for? It’s the logo for the Soviet distributor, the state-run film production company [Mosfilm]. Russians put the print run on every poster. In the lower left of the poster, in Cyrillic, it says 10,000. You can imagine how many they discarded. Of the Constructivist posters, less than a handful [of each are] surviving.

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

This poster design is horizontal. Is that unusual for a Russian movie poster, as it would be in most other countries? It was fairly common, yeah. There’s a suggestion that the format styles [for Russian movie posters] were a good bit broader than in the U.S. There was a great lot of liberty given to those artists. Some of the images are really incredible. In this instance, [the design] totally lends itself to a horizontal image.

Would Russian movie posters have gone up in the same sorts of places movie posters went up in other countries–movie house lobbies, boards outside construction sites, and the like? I think they had the ability to post anywhere. The story was that U.S. films did much better in the post-Revolutionary era than Russian films. Russians wanted to see light-hearted comedies. Most Russian productions were propaganda pieces. Films with less political undertones were more popular and made a lot more money than Russian productions. It could be one of the reasons why Battleship Potemkin and Ten Days that Shook the World didn’t have that big of a demand.

How many Battleship Potemkin posters from the 1929 re-release survive? I know there are fewer than four copies.

Are Russian movie posters more rare than posters from other countries? They were very much put up, then taken down and thrown away. I’m pretty sure Russia had a paper shortage. I think in World War II, the decimation in that country–so much paper was burned to stay warm, or just destroyed. The Nazis were brutal, as you know.

Were Russian movie posters recycled as well? Local theaters would print things on the back, and local grocers would use them [the backs of posters] to advertise on.

A 1929 Battleship Potemkin poster went to auction at a different house in 2012 and sold for $164,725. Is this the same poster? What do we know about its provenance? I don’t know if this is the same one. It could be the same one, but I don’t know, and if I did, I would tell you. There’s no reason not to. It’s another thing that proves how scarce the item is. Both this and the Ten Days that Shook the World poster [another great Constructivist poster, but not by the Stenberg brothers] came from a private collection. I can’t say much about it beyond it’s in great shape.

What condition is the Battleship Potemkin poster in? Incredible condition, incredible. It was folded at one point, and there were tiny chips. But it’s really incredible. When I first got it, I put it on a light table and it was hard to see it was folded.

Do we have any idea when and how the Battleship Potemkin poster left Russia, and how it survived so well? Maybe it came out after the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe it was carried out by somebody visiting there. Who knows? I find it hard to believe that anyone in government, if someone picked it up and put it in their suitcase, would know what it was. It would not have been noted in the 1960s. If it was folded, that would explain it–with folding, there’s a greater chance of traveling without damage. This one is paper-backed. Once it was conserved on paper, it looked brilliant. Also, the Russians used better paper than France, certainly South America, and Mexico. Lower-quality paper gets what collectors call “fold burns”–browning at the folds. That’s not a problem with Soviet paper [of this vintage].

What is the Battleship Potemkin poster like in person? Striking. It’s striking. The colors are really brilliant. It’s really sort of 3-D when you stand and look at it. It’s incredible, it really is. It makes me excited and makes me want to sell more Constructivist posters. No book can give you a real feel for them.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? When you deal with things like this, you have no idea where it’s going to go. But you’ve got to get it out there at a reasonable price. It’s the only way to get people to participate. If you don’t have underbidders, you don’t have an auction. It’s important we try to price these things to move.

As we speak on November 14, the Battleship Potemkin poster has already drawn a bid of $25,000. Is that meaningful? That’s a good sign that it’s piqued other collectors’ interest. But I don’t think anything is meaningful per se a week before the auction or more.

Why will this Battleship Potemkin poster stick in your memory? It’s an often-used phrase, but it’s such an iconic piece. I’ve been truly fortunate through the years to get great posters. I remember unique posters well because it’s exciting for me. It’s so much fun to get rare pieces in.

How to bid: The Battleship Potemkin poster is lot #86286 in the Movie Posters Signature Internet Auction offered by Heritage Auctions on November 23 and November 24, 2019.


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Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid three other times, talking about a lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks,  a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun

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A Silver Pomander from 17th Century England Could Sell for More Than $38,000

An Elizabeth I-era silver pomander, early 17th century, featuring six engraved royal portraits. The woman in the center was initially identified as Queen Elizabeth I. Scholars now think she is either Anne of Denmark (wife of James I, who is shown on the right) or a queen of Bohemia. The bearded man on the left is believed to be King Charles I depicted as the Prince of Wales.

What you see: An Elizabeth I silver pomander, engraved with portraits of royals and dating to the early 17th century. Christie’s estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $25,900 to $38,850.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, International Head of Silver at Christie’s.

Was the pomander a common household object in 17th century England, or was it purely used by nobles and wealthy merchants? I think it was really people of wealth–rich merchants and aristocratic ladies would have had them. They tend to be in silver and rarely in gold.

A fair number of people like to think that previous ages were smellier or stinkier than our own. Is that accurate, and is the silver pomander evidence that bad odors were a common hazard in 17th century England? Yes, very much so. There was no plumbing, and there were open ditches in the street where people threw the contents of their chamber pots. And there was the miasmic theory of disease, the belief that odor itself could give you a disease. The pomander was a way to banish evil smells and evil humors and keep yourself healthy.

Why would a woman have been the likely original owner of this silver pomander? In contemporary portraits [of the period] you see ladies wearing them.

A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.
A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.

If 17th century Englishmen didn’t carry pomanders, what did they carry instead that served the same purpose? People had scented gloves and scented handkerchiefs. The pomander developed as a form of adornment for women, and it had practical use.

And pomanders usually take the shape of an orb, or sphere? They tend to. Early pomanders were a ball of a scented substance–wax with scents impregnated in them. The form it usually takes is a circular foot with a central stem that has a number of hinged segments. It opens like the petals of a flower.

How would the silver pomander’s owner have used it–to perfume herself, to shield her nose from unpleasant smells, or both? She would hold it up to her nose, like a nosegay or a viniagrette, which is a box that had a sponge with smelling salts or scented waters.

So it’s kind of like us putting Vicks VapoRub under our nostrils today? Exactly.

Would she have worn the silver pomander every day, or did she only wear it on fancy occasions, or at court? It could be everyday. She didn’t necessarily wear it around the house, but it denotes status. It’s a costly object. Certainly, if she went out around town in her finest dress, she’d wear it.

What sorts of nice-smelling things might she have put in the silver pomander? And would she put the same thing in each of its six compartments, or would she put different, complementary things in the compartments? I think it’s each to their own. She might want rosemary for this, or lavender for that. Each scent had certain properties and beliefs about what they would help with. She could put the same thing [in every compartment] or a cocktail. There’s no difference to aromatherapy today–if you’re stressed, try lavender, if you need invigoration, try lemon verbena.

This side of the silver pomander shows a man wearing a ruff and hat. It's believed to be a portrait of King James I. The man on the right with orb and scepter could be King Henry VIII, and the woman on the right is now believed to be Anne of Denmark, James's wife, or possibly a queen of Bohemia.

The silver pomander features several portraits of people who are believed to be royals: King James I, King Charles I (as Prince of Wales), King Henry VII, King Henry VIII, and a woman who could be Anne of Denmark (James I’s wife) or Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. How do we know these are the people depicted? They’re really [after] engravings by the de Passe family, a Dutch family that specializes in head-and-shoulder portraits. They’re not exact matches, but similar ones match up. They’re known engravings of members of the Tudor and Stuart royal family. Anne of Denmark was originally attributed as Elizabeth I.

Would the silver pomander have advertised the political leanings of the wearer? Would she have taken a risk if she went out in public with this hanging from her chatelaine? All the royals [depicted on the pomander] are Protestant monarchs. You’ll find by this time (early 17th century), Britain was established as a Protestant nation. Under the reign of Queen Mary I, the owner wouldn’t have wanted to wear the pomander, but it postdates that. At the time, the monarch was Protestant and the country was 90 percent Protestant.

The silver pomander, shown open to display all six of its segments. Its user would have placed pleasant-smelling items such as rosemary or lavender in the compartments through the rectangular-shaped holes.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the silver pomander was to make? You’ve got six little segments. It’s difficult to make sure they’re all the same size and have the same curve so they come together to form an orb. It’s got a carefully milled thread, so you can screw the top down [and hold the six segments closed and in place]. And it’s been heavily engraved with shield shapes ornamenting the tops of the segments, the medallion portraits, and so on.

What is the silver pomander like in person? Is it heavy? It’s about two inches high. It fits in the palm of the hand. If you make an “OK” sign with your middle finger and your thumb, it’s that sort of size. It feels heavy in the hand.

What condition is it in? When you see it open, [you can see that] the not-quite-rectangular openings in each segment have been squeezed over the years. But really, it’s survived in surprisingly good condition.

I understand that little early English silver survives because various groups sought it to melt it and turn it into money. I realize we don’t know exactly how this silver pomander survived, but what are some plausible theories? In Civil War England, Royalist and Parlimentarian forces were desperate to pay their armies. Silver was the coinage of the day. If you melted a cup and struck coins, you got money. Two silver plates from the Armada service are in the sale. The service was buried in a barn and not rediscovered until 1827. It was almost certainly hidden to avoid being seized by Parlimentarian forces. But this pomander is a small object [which would yield] an ounce and a half of silver, not a huge amount. And it’s easily hidden away. You could stick it in the back of a drawer and if you weren’t really searching for it, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. A silver cup is less easily hidden.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think number one, it being English. It’s unmarked [it lacks hallmarks that would identify the silversmith], but it would be very strange for it to be anything else than English, and to have portraits on it is rare. Pomanders are more likely to have scrolling foliage on them, that sort of thing. And it’s a gem of an object in an amazing collection of objects that survived all the intervening years. It’s a lovely personal object, beautifully decorated in great detail, and it [represents an] extraordinary survival.

How to bid: The Elizabeth I silver pomander is lot 101 in The David Little Collection of Early English Silver, taking place at Christie’s London on December 3, 2019.

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Harry Williams-Bulkeley features in a piece on the Christie’s website in which he talks about the David Little collection, and the forces that make early English silver so rare.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! The Daisy and Violet Hilton Poster Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1930s poster featuring Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who headlined the vaudeville circuit.

Update: The Daisy and Violet Hilton poster sold for $1,000.

What you see: A circa 1930s poster for the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

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

Could we start by talking about Daisy and Violet Hilton–who they were, and why they’re still interesting to us now? And how did they set themselves apart from other conjoined twins who appeared in public? They started out working for fairly well-established carnivals and graduated to theaters. From everything I’ve read, they were certainly talented performers and entertainers. They practiced assiduously to become talented musicians. They closed their act by dancing with two gentlemen in harmony, in concert. I think Bob Hope was one of the two men dancing at the end of the routine, before he became famous. By all accounts, it was a rousing performance. They commanded a huge salary–Houdini-level money. I can’t state that strongly enough. Literally thousands a week on the vaudeville circuit.

If they appeared in a sideshow, all they’d have to do is show up, but playing music and dancing let them rise in vaudeville? The carnival setting is literally a display of their deformity. They had something to offer above and beyond their unusual anatomy. They were entertainers. They were stars.

Other sets of conjoined twins didn’t go as far as the Hilton sisters in offering more than the fact of their uniqueness? Chang and Eng were very successful and retired wealthy. Some say the Hiltons tried to model themselves on their success that the Bunkers made. [Chang and Eng’s surname was Bunker.]

I see the poster is dated circa 1930s. I take it that it has to date before 1931, when the Hilton sisters won a lawsuit to emancipate themselves from their managers? I believe it’s pre-emancipation, yes.

How rare is this Daisy and Violet Hilton poster? How many have you handled? We’ve sold three, this being the third. I know of a couple others. They’re out there.

Was material featuring conjoined twins less likely to be saved for reasons of taste, or does it survive in roughly the same amounts as other forms of ephemera? I don’t think so. In some ways, it’s a benefit–“I can’t believe I saw it. Here’s a memento of what I saw.”

This Daisy and Violet Hilton poster has the highest estimate of any Hilton sisters material in the auction. Why? Its rarity and its aesthetic graces. [Material from] Chained for Life–I might even call it a C movie, but let’s call it a B movie–is much more readily available, and there’s much more sales history there. Probably the rarest Hilton sisters piece is the souvenir napkin. The collector who consigned it said in 30 years, they’d only seen two. But it’s less sexy than a one-sheet poster.

And that’s why it gets the highest estimate? It’s a striking image, it’s vivid, and we’re talking about people who, in a way, are cultural icons. I think a lot of people could see this item up on their wall, rather than a pinback [a button].

Is this circa 1930s poster scarcer than Chained for Life movie posters? I’m not sure I could quantify. If I remember right, the Hiltons kept working as entertainers only about five to seven years before they died, though work was scarce in their last few years. Toward the end they worked in burlesque houses, doing striptease, because they were desperate for work. In the last few years of their life, they were weighing produce in a grocery store. They had squandered their earnings, or it was spent by the family who took care of them and booked their shows.

Where do the Hiltons rank among the various sets of conjoined twins who appeared before the public? Is it Chang and Eng, and then the Hiltons? I’d say Chang and Eng, the Hiltons, and then the two-headed nightingale, Millie-Christine. The most recent biography was published about Chang and Eng, so perhaps they’re more popular. And they have that connection with P. T. Barnum, of course, which gives them a certain pedigree.

There’s a lot of material that features conjoined twins in this salenot just stuff that showcases Daisy and Violet Hilton. Is it a typical amount for your annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale, or is there more than you usually have? I think it’s about what we’ve had in previous sales. It’s on par with what we’ve had in the past.

When did Potter & Potter start doing annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities auctions? Not that long ago, actually. This will be our fourth annual auction. We’ve been fortunate to get nice things and become the go-to place for it. We’ve turned away twice as much for the auction as we have in it. Maybe we could do two next year.

And why not have this auction before Halloween? Why hold it in mid-November? We do a magic auction before Halloween. We’ve been doing that for 12 years.

Let me get back to the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster. What condition is it in? I’d give it a B-plus. Most condition issues are around the exterior.

How does it compare to the two other examples you’ve handled? It’s about on par with the others. It’s beautiful.

What is the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think when you see it in person, at full size–you’ve got to remember, this would have gone on the side of a building, or in a lobby–it’s quite large. [It measures 42 inches by 27 and three-quarter inches.] We had one guy who came in for the magic auction [which Potter & Potter held on October 26] who said, “I’m so used to seeing it on a screen. When you stand up in front of it, it’s a completely different experience.” He was talking about magic stuff, but you can take it to heart about anything.

How to bid: The Daisy and Violet Hilton poster is lot 0133 in the Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale at Potter & Potter on November 16, 2019.


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In 2012, Dean Jensen wrote a biography of the Hilton sisters, dubbed The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins. It’s out of print, but worth tracking down.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about 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 Know Nothing Flag Could Sell for $50,000

A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. It features an image of George Washington in the space where the canton would go.

What you see: A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. Freeman’s estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s.

Let’s start by talking about who the Know Nothings were. They were founded in 1849, and were a nativist party–anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, largely due to Irish immigration. Ireland experienced a famine, and there were no jobs, so they moved to American cities. It was an anti-immigration movement, sadly not unlike today.

Funny how some things never seem to change. There’s an interesting letter from Abraham Lincoln about the Know Nothings. It’s from 1855, and it reads: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” The Know Nothings were a well-enough known party, though they kept it kind of secret. If anyone asked about their agenda, their members would say, “I know nothing.” [Hence the name.] They didn’t want new people, people who had different faiths. They didn’t want to change.

How would the Know Nothings have used this flag in the late 1850s? I don’t know for sure. I think maybe it was made for group meetings, secret meetings, or for someone’s personal use. But it’s small, a very small thing–only 19 inches by 23 1/4 inches. It looks like it was pinned up on something. It was not hung on a building. It was rather discreet. Nobody wants to stand up and say, “I hate people.”

The Know Nothing flag is small enough to tuck inside a coat? It’s small. It’s not something to be raised on a pole.

Detail shot of the Know Nothing flag, focused on the George Washington portrait that replaces the canton.

Here in the 21st century, we think of the design of the American flag as being fixed and inviolate. I get the impression that wasn’t the case in the 19th century, when this Know Nothing flag was made. The makers have clearly taken liberties with the basic American flag design–they’ve replaced the canton [the blue field that appears in the upper left] with an image of George Washington… This whole patch [with Washington on it] was cut out of a length of printed fabric and appliqued on the stripes. It functions as the canton, and it serves its purpose beautifully.

There are 13 embroidered stars above the eagle’s head on this Know Nothing flag. Is that meant to be a reference to the original 13 colonies? Yeah, I think they’re envisioning some sort of purer time that never was. Again, it’s comparable to the present–longing for some idyllic past that was not idyllic for everyone and not as idyllic as it seemed.

Redesigning the look of the American flag would not have been offensive in 1858? Not until 1912 was there a flag act that started to regulate things–48 stars and 13 stripes. This… I don’t think it’s a public piece. It’s private, or for a small group of like-thinking individuals.

The Know Nothing flag has 17 stripes. Does the number of stripes have any special significance to the group or its ideology? Or does it just happen to have 17 stripes for reasons known only to the person who stitched it? Very interesting. I don’t know why. I don’t know if that meant something to the Know Nothings.

The Know Nothings put a portrait of George Washington on the flag. Why did they hold Washington, of all the founders, in such high esteem? According to legendary flag collector Boleslaw Mastai, the Know Nothing Party “professed a veritable cult for George Washington”. They took partial quotes from a Washington letter of April 30, 1777, which he wrote in the wake of an assassination plot involving members of his own guard: “You will therefore send me none but Natives, & Men of some property, if you have them- I must insist that in that in making this Choice you give no intimation of my preference of Natives, as I do not want to create any invidious Distinction between them & Foreigner….”    

George Washington is shown with his hand on the hilt of a sword. Did that have particular meaning to the Know Nothings, or is that just how the company who printed the textile wanted Washington to look? You often get that, even in formal portraits. It’s not uncommon for portraits of the 18th century and the early 19th century to show [leaders] with swords to allude to their military past.

The Know Nothing flag, shown in full inside a frame.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how the Know Nothing flag was made? It’s all hand-sewn. They cut out a patch from a length of printed fabric, and appliquéd it onto the stripes.

The initials “JWL” are embroidered on the Know Nothing flag. Do we have any idea who JWL is? We don’t.

The flag also has a date on it–December 1858. Is it unusual to see a dated flag? Yes, it is unusual. We do have a couple of flags in the sale that were made by or presented to people and often, there are inscriptions on them. It’s a little different to embroider [the date], but it’s not unknown.

Does the December 1858 date have any special meaning to the Know Nothings? I don’t think so. I think it’s just when they made it [the flag].

I see what looks like scorch marks in places on the flag. What are they? There could be a number of things that cause that. Sometimes it happens if it’s folded for a long time. Something could have been spilled on it. Perhaps it was nailed to something metal and rust transferred onto the fabric.

How rare is this Know Nothing flag? I don’t know of any others. It comes from a very important flag collection, the Mastai Collection.

Have any others appeared at auction? The first Know Nothing flag at auction was this one, in 2002, when the Mastai collection sold at Sotheby’s. It was passed [it failed to sell at auction] and was sold later, within a year of the auction.

What is the Know Nothing flag like in person? It’s very colorful and bright. The reds are very vibrant. The Washington patch is a trifle faded, but not horribly. It makes an impact.

Why will the Know Nothing flag stick in your memory? Because I’ve never seen anything like it. Everybody heard about the Know Nothings in history class, but I’ve never seen a living, breathing artifact associated with the group. It’s a reminder that history repeats itself. Anti-immigration–we have that going on today.

How to bid: The Know Nothing flag is lot 39 in A Grand Old Flag: The Stars and Stripes Collection of Dr. Peter J. Keim, taking place November 24. 2019 at Freeman’s.

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Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

Lynda Cain appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a jaunty 19th century hat from the Franklin Fire Company that later sold for $18,750.

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SOLD! The Jackie Robinson Doll with Box Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1950s Jackie Robinson doll in its original box. The Dodgers legend is pictured in the upper right corner.

Update: The Jackie Robinson doll with box sold for $1,100.

What you see: A circa 1950 Jackie Robinson doll, with its original box and accoutrements. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

Who made this doll? And is it possible to know how many of these Jackie Robinson dolls were made? I can tell you who made it: the Allied-Grand Doll Company in New York. I think the manufacturing was in Brooklyn, New York, but I’d want to double check. Based on the number of dolls I’ve seen, probably not many were made.

Apparently there were two versions of the Jackie Robinson doll, and this is the de luxe version. What does this have that the standard version lacks? This box is more elaborate, as opposed to the doll items. And it has a cardboard die cut of an actual baseball field on the front. I’ve never handled the other doll. Inside, there’s a Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game, with pinwheels and sliders that allow you to play a baseball game.

Closeup of the Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game that comes with the circa 1950s doll.

Yeah, I think I see the back sides of two wheels on the cover of the game in the full shot. There were three different gages for balls, strikes, and outs per inning. It runs up to 15 innings. It’s pretty complicated for what it is. It’s six inches by 8 inches and on cardstock. It’s pretty cool. All the dolls have a tag with a photo of Jackie Robinson, a ball with a mitt, and a wooden baseball bat that has Jackie Robinson’s signature on it.

Is the printed baseball diamond meant to be used with the pocket baseball game? The pocket baseball game, essentially, is the game. Outside of the visual, the baseball diamond has no significance. There are no figures to move around it.

And we think the Jackie Robinson doll appeared around 1950–well after his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers–and it probably remained available until he retired from the sport in 1956? That’s my assumption. There are no dates written, no way for me to know for sure. [In holding off until 1950 or so] they were probably testing the waters to see how well Robinson was received by the audience. Once he was a success story, they jumped on the bandwagon. There’s no way to know if they continued to make it after he departed from the league, but following his retirement as a player, they probably ceased production. The life of the toy was probably a five-year run or so.

Did the Allied-Grand Doll Company tweak the design of the Jackie Robinson doll or the extras or the packaging over that span of time? Are there subtle changes that help us date individual examples? Nothing I had noticed, but there are few examples of the doll around. It’s possible it started as a large boxed set and it proved to be too expensive to produce [so they made a stripped-down version instead], or the doll itself was not enough and they sweetened it with the go-alongs [the extras, such as the printed baseball diamond and the pocket baseball game] Those are possible reasons why there are two different sets.

A closeup on the black-and-white photo of Jackie Robinson on the packaging for the doll.

Did Jackie Robinson or Major League Baseball or both approve of this doll? I see Robinson’s picture on the box, and you said the toy bat has his signature, but I’m guessing that doesn’t imply official approval? I couldn’t find anything linking to Jackie Robinson or the league. There’s only a copyright next to the signature on the box and on the [toy] bat itself, and the tags for the doll. It does not appear on the pocket baseball game.

And is there any proof that Robinson shared in the royalties for the doll? No, not at all. Interestingly enough, and not to say that it’s true, but on the cover of the pocket baseball game, it says, “Designed by the National League’s most valuable player of 1949,” so it’s possible he had something to do with it.

Is this the only Jackie Robinson doll created and marketed during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s the only one I’ve been able to find in my digging around, and it’s the only one I’ve ever handled.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown alone, from the front, in full Dodgers uniform. Robinson's signature is visible on the toy bat.

The 1950s predate the rise of the “action figure,” a phrase that made dolls acceptable to boys and their parents. This Jackie Robinson doll really is a doll, with toddler-like proportions. Might its appearance have affected its sales, and explain why so few survive? I presume the doll was marketed to a boy audience while also played with by a girl audience as well. It was probably for boys interested in baseball, but it has the proportions of a baby doll. It could have hit both markets. Predating action figures, it was probably a harder sell. It could indicate why it’s as scarce as it is. It might have missed the mark on the audience. The company might have been ahead of its time.

Is this the only doll that the Allied-Grand Doll Company made and marketed for a target audience of boys? Yes. The rest are girl dolls.

How did the company change its marketing to attract boys? Looking at the box, I take it they leaned heavily on baseball imagery? Yes, it’s very baseball-heavy, exactly. The corner shows Jackie Robinson at bat, but it’s very baseball-heavy, even more than Jackie Robinson himself.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full, from the rear, with the baseball bat clearly attached to the right hand.

The Allied-Grand Doll Company was located in New York. Did they intend this Jackie Robinson doll to be a regional product, or did they market it nationally? There’s no way for me to tell. Allied-Grand did market nationally, and given that he was the first African-American to enter Major League Baseball, it’s very possible that the reach of the market for the doll went nationwide. I presume the majority of the demand for the doll to be close to home.

Is there any evidence that the company marketed the Jackie Robinson doll nationally? No, nothing like that.

How many examples of the Jackie Robinson doll have you handled? This is the first I’ve handled with a box, and the third I’ve seen in the last decade.

Another angle on the Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full from the left rear.

Does it come with everything it ought to have? I believe so. The tag, the bat, the baseball game, and the diamond complete the set. I’m shy to say it’s the most complete I’ve ever seen, but it’s the first I’ve seen with the pocket baseball game.

The lot notes describe the doll and its box as being in “Exc – Pristine Cond.” What does that mean here? It gives it an 85 to 90 percent condition grading, albeit with tears to the box. Given the rarity of the piece, this one grades to the 90th percentile of completeness and it’s 100 percent authentic, with no touch-ups.

I see some fading or bleaching to the doll’s baseball cap and its windbreaker. Would it have gotten that discoloration from being played with? Given the doll’s condition, it’s more age-related wear than play wear.

What is the Jackie Robinson doll like in person? It has an impressive size. It stands 13 inches tall or so–good scaling. The most important detail is the stitched uniform, albeit soiled and aged clothing. It’s cream-colored cloth with light blue stitching on it. And in my opinion, one of the neatest things is the pocket baseball game. It’s a handy little thing.

What is the provenance of the Jackie Robinson doll? It comes from a collector, a very advanced doll collector who’s had it for some years.

We’re speaking on November 4, and the Jackie Robinson doll has already been bid up to $850. Is that meaningful? It’s a soft indication of interest. We’ve had a few phone calls about the condition of the doll, but it’s a bit early to tell. I find that bidders hold their cards pretty tight until the auction is up and running.

Why will this Jackie Robinson doll stick in your memory? The rarity of it, and I think it’s going to draw very wide attention and interest. Sports-themed toys are well-received in the market. Doll collectors could easily go for it, baseball collectors–it hits all the bases.

How to bid: The Jackie Robinson doll is lot 1619, offered on day two of the Annual Fall Sale at Bertoia Auctions, scheduled for November 15, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Michael Bertoia appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a vintage Tremendous Mike robot toy with box that went on to sell for $11,000.

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SOLD! The Steiff Teddy Bear Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

Update: The Steiff PB28 rod bear sold for €7,500, or about $8,150.

What you see: A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €6,000 to €9,000, or roughly $6,600 to $9,900.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Could we start by discussing how the idea of the teddy bear came about, and how Steiff decided to produce teddy bears? Steiff had already been in existence for several years [when it made its first teddy bear]. In 1880, it made the first soft toy, an elephant. Bear toys existed for a long time before that–carved bears from the Black Forest region, and automaton bears, but they were not cuddly. Bear toys were not new [in the early 20th century] but jointed soft toy bears were new, and Steiff pioneered them.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904. When measured in a standing position, it tops out at 15 and 3/4 inches tall.

Was the story of President Theodore Roosevelt declining to shoot a bear cub while hunting in 1902 an inspiration for Steiff to create soft, jointed teddy bears? Yes, I know that story. How true it is, I’m not sure. Interestingly, the name “Teddy” attached to the bear after 1903. The earliest [Steiff bears] were not known as teddy bears.

So the creation of the Steiff teddy bears and the timing of the Roosevelt hunting trip was a coincidence? I think maybe it was a happy coincidence, you could say. The first Steiff bear was string-jointed, in 1902, and was called 55PB, with the “PB” standing for “Plush Bear”. [The Theodore Roosevelt Association discusses the origin story of the teddy bear on its website, and Steiff makes an appearance.}

And none of the string-jointed Steiff teddy bears are thought to survive, yes? I’m reluctant to say there are no survivors. It’s possible somewhere in America or Europe there’s a disjointed bear, or a bear that started life as a string bear.

Let’s also take a minute to talk about Germany’s reputation as a toy-making nation in the early 20th century. I’m under the impression that partly because it was home to Steiff and Marklin, Germany was tops in the world. There was always competition between France and Germany, but France was in decline in 1900 and Germany was in ascendance. German toymakers were very innovative during this period, making more childlike dolls and character dolls. A similar thing happened with bears. They made soft toys children wanted to hold, not expensive dolls that children had to be supervised [during play], as with French toys. Steiff and Marklin are still there and are very, very conscious of their history and identity as iconic German products. They have reproduced certain models in limited editions.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904, and shown in closeup. It seems to have been made before Steiff started sewing ID buttons in the ears of their teddy bears.

How do we know this Steiff teddy bear was made in 1903 or 1904? The rod bears were only produced for around two years, from 1903 to 1905. This one has no Steiff button in his ear. The buttons came in in 1903. It’s possible this bear had one early on and the button was removed, but there are no characteristic holes [that provide evidence there was once a button]. That’s our indication of the dating on this.

Is it possible to know how many rod bears Steiff produced from 1903 to 1905? It’s possible, if you go to Steiff, there are records, but sadly, we don’t have access to them. This is the only one Auction Team Breker has handled. I’ve personally handled and seen around 15 to 20, but I’m sure there are more than that.

But the Steiff PB28 rod bear isn’t common, correct? It is a rare item. It’s definitely not a common one. And it’s an iconic Steiff bear. String-jointed bears aren’t known to survive. If you want the first model of Steiff bear, it’s this one.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

The plush on this Steiff teddy bear is described as pale gold. Did the Steiff PB28 rod bear come in other colors? And is pale gold one of the more rare colors? There were other colors as well–dark golden mohair, blond mohair, apricot mohair. I think there is less of pale gold than light blonds. Pale gold does not turn up as much. Apricot is a rare color, and black is incredibly rare. Dark gold, light gold, blond, they do turn up.

What do we know about the provenance of this Steiff teddy bear? The anecdotal history from the family in France [who consigned it] is that it was left at the house during the occupation by a German soldier [in the 1940s, during World War II]. Like most stories from 80 years ago, you can’t verify them or contradict them. There’s no reason to contradict it, but you have to accept it with a pinch of salt.

So this Steiff teddy bear has never been to auction before? No. The Auction Team Breker sale is its first time at auction.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown standing and in profile.

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did the consigning family have a name for the Steiff teddy bear? Not that we know of.

I notice that as we speak, we don’t call the bear “it”, we call it “him”… Yes! It’s funny. With dolls and things, people do that.

What condition is the Steiff teddy bear in? He’s in great condition, but there are things that have been repaired or changed on him. The felt pads [on his paws] have been reinforced, and the original pads are underneath. Paw felt wears quickly. It’s probably one of the most common repairs. It’s lucky to have the originals under the replacements. It will be the decision of the future buyer to remove them and restore the originals or accept [the repairs] as part of his history. He’s also missing his original nose. He had a gutta-percha nose. It was one of the earliest forms of plastic. When it was new, it was a malleable material, but over time, it became brittle. The nose is now stitched, with wool or silk thread. It’s very, very hard to find one with a gutta-percha nose. I’ve seen one at auction.

The Steiff PB28 rod bear was made for children to play with. What forms of wear are visible on this bear, and what forms of wear are considered acceptable in a Steiff teddy bear of this vintage? I think teddy bear collectors are quite forgiving. These things were loved at the time and had a hard life. So often, you find bears that have been hugged so much that they’re bald in places. This bear was lucky. It has some thin patches, but most bears do.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown from the rear. Thin patches are visible on the back as well as the back of the head.

Thin patches? They normally turn up where a teddy bear has been hugged.

An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.
An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.

This is a rod bear, which means it has rods inside its limbs that make it posable. Do the rods still work smoothly and easily? The rods survive very well. He’s still moveable as originally intended. He’s clearly a poseable bear.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, proving it is just as poseable as it was when it left the factory.

What is this Steiff PB28 rod bear like in person? I think he definitely has character, and quite an appealing expression. He’s helped by the fact that his fur is quite bright and in good condition. He presents very well.

How does this Steiff PB28 rod bear compare to others that you’ve handled? I think he compares very well. He’s been looked after. He’s not pristine, but he’s definitely one of the better ones.

What is the world auction record for a Steiff teddy bear? It’s Teddy Girl, which sold in 1994 at Christie’s for £110,000, hammer price [the raw price, before adding the buyer’s premium. That sum roughly translates to $141,400 in contemporary dollars.]

Why will this Steiff teddy bear stick in your memory? Because it came to Auction Team Breker from a kind of odd way from France. It was a German bear, in France, which came back to Germany. It’s an interesting story. And it’s a rod bear, and if you meet him in person, he has a nice character. Rod bears have a really specific look. It has an almost triangular-shaped face and really long paws. If you see it in profile, you know it’s a rod bear. It makes up the special character of these bears.

How to bid: The Steiff rod bear is lot 0163 in the Mechanical Music, Science & Technology, Toys & Automata sale at Auction Team Breker in in Koeln, Germany on November 9, 2019.

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A Battleship Potemkin Russian Movie Poster Could Sell for $100,000

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

What you see: A 1929 Russian movie poster for the noted Russian film Battleship Potemkin. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $50,000 to $100,000.

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

First, could we talk about Battleship Potemkin–what it’s about, why it’s considered such an effective propaganda film, why film scholars still study it? What I know is it’s considered one of the greatest foreign films in history. It was about a mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, and it was made for the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the [Bolshevik] revolution. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a proponent of the montage theory in film–juxtaposition of images to create emotion. Every scene within the film took a different angle. It was very exploratory for the age. When it was released in Russia [in 1925], it didn’t do very well. Only on overseas distribution did people go, “Whoa, this is quite a propaganda piece.”

Why was Battleship Potemkin re-released in Russia in 1929 if it did so poorly in the country its original run? This is purely a guess but I think it had something to do with the advent of sound. I would almost bet that the 1929 re-release had a sound element. [The 1925 version was a silent film.] I do not know that, and I can’t find evidence of it, but 1929 was when the change was being made. Also, the film governing body, Goskino, wanted to push it out again domestically after the overseas response, to see if it would get a better response.

Do we have any notion of why the Stenberg brothers, Vladimir and Georgii, were chosen to design the 1929 re-release Battleship Potemkin poster? I don’t think we’ll ever know beyond [the fact that] they were so well-known in this period, the late 1920s. They were the premier Constructivist artists. They did 300 posters in total in their ten-year career.

What makes this Battleship Potemkin poster design successful? The feel of movement. It’s about expressionist movement in an image. As far as Battleship Potemkin is concerned, it shows the turrets crossing each other in a regimented, militaristic fashion, and the two people are almost in flight. It expressed Czarist oppression. That was the whole reason for the Bolshevik revolution.

What’s going on in the poster? Is this image abstract, or does it show characters from the movie? One sailor is on a turret and the other is an officer being thrown overboard. That’s what they [the mutinying sailors] did–threw them overboard. Throwing the officer overboard is the essence of it. It’s very evocative of the film. It’s a moment in the film, but not literally. They [the Stenberg brothers] used the element of the crossed turrets to create tension.

The first two gun turrets on the Battleship Potemkin poster give the name of the movie in Cyrillic. What does the third turret say? It says “Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Cameraman Eduard Tisse.”

I also see a logo in the lower right. What does it stand for? It’s the logo for the Soviet distributor, the state-run film production company [Mosfilm]. Russians put the print run on every poster. In the lower left of the poster, in Cyrillic, it says 10,000. You can imagine how many they discarded. Of the Constructivist posters, less than a handful [of each are] surviving.

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

This poster design is horizontal. Is that unusual for a Russian movie poster, as it would be in most other countries? It was fairly common, yeah. There’s a suggestion that the format styles [for Russian movie posters] were a good bit broader than in the U.S. There was a great lot of liberty given to those artists. Some of the images are really incredible. In this instance, [the design] totally lends itself to a horizontal image.

Would Russian movie posters have gone up in the same sorts of places movie posters went up in other countries–movie house lobbies, boards outside construction sites, and the like? I think they had the ability to post anywhere. The story was that U.S. films did much better in the post-Revolutionary era than Russian films. Russians wanted to see light-hearted comedies. Most Russian productions were propaganda pieces. Films with less political undertones were more popular and made a lot more money than Russian productions. It could be one of the reasons why Battleship Potemkin and Ten Days that Shook the World didn’t have that big of a demand.

How many Battleship Potemkin posters from the 1929 re-release survive? I know there are fewer than four copies.

Are Russian movie posters more rare than posters from other countries? They were very much put up, then taken down and thrown away. I’m pretty sure Russia had a paper shortage. I think in World War II, the decimation in that country–so much paper was burned to stay warm, or just destroyed. The Nazis were brutal, as you know.

Were Russian movie posters recycled as well? Local theaters would print things on the back, and local grocers would use them [the backs of posters] to advertise on.

A 1929 Battleship Potemkin poster went to auction at a different house in 2012 and sold for $164,725. Is this the same poster? What do we know about its provenance? I don’t know if this is the same one. It could be the same one, but I don’t know, and if I did, I would tell you. There’s no reason not to. It’s another thing that proves how scarce the item is. Both this and the Ten Days that Shook the World poster [another great Constructivist poster, but not by the Stenberg brothers] came from a private collection. I can’t say much about it beyond it’s in great shape.

What condition is the Battleship Potemkin poster in? Incredible condition, incredible. It was folded at one point, and there were tiny chips. But it’s really incredible. When I first got it, I put it on a light table and it was hard to see it was folded.

Do we have any idea when and how the Battleship Potemkin poster left Russia, and how it survived so well? Maybe it came out after the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe it was carried out by somebody visiting there. Who knows? I find it hard to believe that anyone in government, if someone picked it up and put it in their suitcase, would know what it was. It would not have been noted in the 1960s. If it was folded, that would explain it–with folding, there’s a greater chance of traveling without damage. This one is paper-backed. Once it was conserved on paper, it looked brilliant. Also, the Russians used better paper than France, certainly South America, and Mexico. Lower-quality paper gets what collectors call “fold burns”–browning at the folds. That’s not a problem with Soviet paper [of this vintage].

What is the Battleship Potemkin poster like in person? Striking. It’s striking. The colors are really brilliant. It’s really sort of 3-D when you stand and look at it. It’s incredible, it really is. It makes me excited and makes me want to sell more Constructivist posters. No book can give you a real feel for them.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? When you deal with things like this, you have no idea where it’s going to go. But you’ve got to get it out there at a reasonable price. It’s the only way to get people to participate. If you don’t have underbidders, you don’t have an auction. It’s important we try to price these things to move.

As we speak on November 14, the Battleship Potemkin poster has already drawn a bid of $25,000. Is that meaningful? That’s a good sign that it’s piqued other collectors’ interest. But I don’t think anything is meaningful per se a week before the auction or more.

Why will this Battleship Potemkin poster stick in your memory? It’s an often-used phrase, but it’s such an iconic piece. I’ve been truly fortunate through the years to get great posters. I remember unique posters well because it’s exciting for me. It’s so much fun to get rare pieces in.

How to bid: The Battleship Potemkin poster is lot #86286 in the Movie Posters Signature Internet Auction offered by Heritage Auctions on November 23 and November 24, 2019.


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Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid three other times, talking about a lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks,  a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun

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NEW RECORD! The Oscar Howe Painting Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

Update: Medicine Man, a casein painting by Oscar Howe, sold for $25,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

The expert: Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction.

Who was Oscar Howe? He was a Yanktonai Sioux from Dakota. He drew his first lines when he was three–he was always fascinated by lines. He was taken away from his parents in 1922, at age seven, and went to a federal boarding school at Pierre, South Dakota. He did two tours of duty in World War II, and did murals for the Works Progress Administration before he was called up. Throughout his career, he remained rooted in his Dakota ancestry. It was a motivation for his art. One or two academics suggested he was influenced by European Cubism and the avant-garde, but he emphatically rejected that. [The abstract elements of his art] tie into the symbology and the mythology of Sioux culture.

When did Oscar Howe’s art career gain momentum? When he went to the Santa Fe Indian School in 1938. Dorothy Dunn started the school for Indian painters and it was really focused on traditional Indian painting, which was supposed to be illustrative, and called the Studio style. The first part of his career, he was successful in the Studio style. He broke out in the 1950s–that’s why he’s important.

What happened to Oscar Howe in the 1950s? He became famous in 1958 when the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma held an exhibition of Indian painting. It started a project for Native American artists in 1946, and did juried exhibitions and provided a platform for exposure. The Studio style won prizes, and I guess it also unintentionally established a standard of style that prevented artists from developing their abilities. In 1958, the painting Howe sent to Philbrook was rejected. I think the term [they used to explain the rejection] was “not authentically Indian.” He was outraged, and he sent a very famous letter that said, “Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian has always been, put on reservations and treated like a child, and only the White Man knows what is best for him?  Now, even in Art, ‘You little child do what we think is best for you, nothing different.” Well, I am not going to stand for it. Indian Art can compete with any Art in the world, but not as a suppressed Art….” 

What inspired Oscar Howe to paint Medicine Man? It was an ancient story in Sioux culture. It’s from the tahokmu, which references a spider trap, or web [in his native language]. He used lines and planes in that painting in order to add dynamism to the figure. I think it [the lines and planes] looks like the spokes of a spider web–you look at it in a different way. Where Cubists break up the figure to flatten it, Howe uses lines to add energy to the image. You see a lot of movement. It’s not flat at all, though it’s broken into sharp geometric fields.

Ah, I was going to ask–I haven’t seen many works that straddle the line between figurative art and abstract art, but that is not what Oscar Howe is trying to do here, right? He’s combining a figure and abstraction as part of his Native American approach to art? That’s absolutely how he would argue it. It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. He rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.

Oscar Howe used casein paint, a milk-based paint, for Medicine Man. Was that his preferred type of paint? And did he mix it himself? We see casein very often from traditional Indian painters, but I don’t know how often Howe used it. But he would have mixed the paints, yes. He was a very traditional artist.

Would he have used a live model for Medicine Man? No, it would have been from a story, and from the heritage he carried inside him. His purpose in painting was to visually articulate his language and culture, specifically Dakota and Sioux.

As of November 2019, only four Oscar Howe works have ever appeared at auction. Why do you think that’s the case? Are people just reluctant to sell–they want to keep them? As you can imagine, there’s so much interest in this piece. Most don’t want to sell his work, and he’s almost an iconic figure. Him and Joe Herrera are literally referenced as the first modernist American Indian painters. You don’t need to send [Howe’s works] to auction.

This Oscar Howe painting belonged to Patricia Janis Broder. How does that provenance affect collectors’ interest in the work? Tremendously, based on the very successful auction of her collection [with Santa Fe Art Auction in April 2019]. She was important to American Indian art history. She wrote about the material before a lot of people were paying attention. She knew what she was buying, and she lavishly illustrated [the art she bought] in her books. She definitely makes a difference.

What makes Medicine Man such a strong example of Oscar Howe’s work? This is classic Howe. The use of the tahokmu device is brilliant in this particular painting. It’s just a classic instance of energizing–the figure is there and moving and powerful and you get the force of it. It’s an expression of what the medicine man does. It articulates the medicine man’s magic and his role in Sioux culture.

Was the painting inspired by Howe’s personal encounters with medicine men? No. He spent an important part of his early life with his blind grandmother, who came from a long verbal tradition of story-telling in the Sioux culture. Though she was blind, she drew pictures in the sand to illustrate her stories.

The Oscar Howe painting is undated, but are there clues lurking in the work itself that helps us figure out when he might have made it? We know it’s definitely that later period [his modern period rather than his Studio period]. I would think it’s 1960s or 1970s, but it’s hard to say.

What’s the world auction record for an Oscar Howe painting? It was set in 1998 at Sotheby’s New York. The medium was also casein. It was called Modern Sioux Dancer and it went for $15,500. It was one of his modern pieces.

So if Medicine Man sells for even its bottom estimate, it’s a new world record for Oscar Howe… I looked at other auction records [when setting the estimate for this work] and there are so few of them, and none are comparable to this one. This is better and more typical of the best of his work. It’s more characteristic of the aspects of his art for which he is most highly prized.

What is the Oscar Howe painting like in person? Oh! [Sighs] It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s vibrant and vivacious. It’s in beautiful condition. I know it was in storage for a long time. It looks unfaded. It looks, I think, the way he wanted us to see it.

Are there aspects of the Oscar Howe painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? There’s no surface to this painting that you’re missing. It’s not an oil. Casein is very flat. You don’t see the brushwork in it.

Why will this Oscar Howe painting stick in your memory? I’ve been in the art world for more than 20 years, and I’ve never had an Oscar Howe in my hands. This artwork is so pleasing to the eye. And I have huge admiration for his conviction as an artist. I have huge respect for the letter he sent to Philbrook saying, ‘How dare you tell me how to represent my culture.’ He was brave, and he was good.

How to bid: The Oscar Howe painting is lot 0185 in the 2019 Santa Fe Art Auction, taking place on November 9, 2019.

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A Howard Terpning Painting Could Command $500,000

Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 painting by contemporary Western artist Howard Terpning.

What you see: Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department.

Let’s start by talking about who Howard Terpning is, and what makes him interesting to collectors. I tried to think of another living artist who isn’t a mainstream contemporary artist, but whose works still sell for six or seven figures on the secondary market, and I couldn’t come up with one… Howard Terpning is a fascinating character, and a titan of contemporary Western art. Like many in this space, he has a background in illustration. He did it for a couple of decades before wandering over to this side of the fence. Pleasing an art director and working to a deadline carried over into his self-defined artistic practice. He’s one of if not the most decorated artists in this space. I don’t want to bore your readers, but it would take pages to list them all. He won the National Academy of Western Art’s Prix de West. It’s a big deal to win it once. He won it twice. He’s won the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for exceptional artistic merit [given at the annual Masters art exhibition and sale held at the Autry Museum of the American West] twelve times, including eleven straight between 2005 and 2016. He is immensely recognized in his field. Anyone in this space knows who he is.

What makes Howard Terpning paintings so exceptional? It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.

How prolific is he? I’m sure the family has it [a total count for his body of work] but it’s not public. Big finished works take him a couple of months. I don’t know how many he might work on simultaneously.

Is he still painting, or has he retired? As of two years ago, when he was 90, he was still painting. He’s going to die with a pencil in his hand. If he can’t paint oils, he’s going to draw. I can’t see him ever stopping.

Howard Terpning has been painting Western art since the late 1970s. Are there periods or phases within his work that collectors prefer, or has his work been scarce enough that they can’t be that choosy? It’s a somewhat complicated answer. What we see for the top ten [for him] on the auction market is in a fairly narrow period for production in the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Is that indicative of what the market thinks is most valuable? Some of that is those are the works that are available. Maybe there’s a great late 1990s work out there that will blow us away if it comes to auction. I think this work [which dates to 1988] is in the sweet spot, but I don’t know if the sweet spot is real.

Finding the Buffalo measures 36 inches by 32 inches. Is that a typical size for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s sort of middle of the pack as far as scale goes. He does paint larger, and he does paint smaller. But he’s stretching his own canvases. He makes them any size he wants. The finished drawing he does [in the lead-up to creating the painting] always informs the size and proportions of the canvas.

What do we know about how he works, and how he might have made Finding the Buffalo? His technique is pretty well-documented. He starts with a series of sketches leading to a finished drawing. The drawing informs the size of the canvas. It’s traced and essentially transferred to the canvas, which is not a blank canvas. There’s one tone brushed onto the whole canvas. The drawing is transferred on, then he begins. There are videos of him doing this. [Jump to the 4:20 mark to watch Terpning embark on the first step of creating a painting.] Lights and darks are applied over the midtone. He can quickly define the whole composition.

Then he finishes it? That’s where the real time is spent.

So the drawing, the scaling-up for the canvas, and the transfer of the drawing–that’s a kind of scaffolding for creating the finished painting? Yes. I think it’s a rigorous approach he gets from his background in illustration.

How might he have arrived at the content and composition of the image we see in Finding the Buffalo? He has a huge archive of reference images. The rocks in the background could be a combination of images of a few different rocks. And he has a huge archive of objects. He’d have a quiver as a historic reference, but he’ll modify it to make it historically accurate to [the quiver of] a Comanche scout.

How often do Howard Terpning paintings feature the Comanche people, as we see in Finding the Buffalo? He always has a specific tribe in mind. Comanche, I hesitate to give a percentage, but he’s painted them many times. I don’t know if they’re a favorite per se. It’s the Plains peoples who are his fascination.

And the Comanches are among the Plains peoples? Yes. Terpning has a deep connection with and fascination with the nomadic style of life these people led.

Detail shot of the horned lizard from Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

How rare is it for Terpning to place an animal front-and-center in his works, as he does here with the horned lizard? I don’t know another work like it. It’s very unusual. The lizard is front and center, but it’s not the center point. You look at the scouts, look at what they’re looking at, and–oh. Everything is centered on the lizard, but the lizard is more like one of the rocks, and he puts the focus on the Comanche. Terpning is ultimately a figure painter, and Finding the Buffalo is no different. I think it’s a really neat painting in that it’s a subtle painting. In another Terpning painting in the sale, My Medicine Is Strong, the medicine man is on a rock and he’s clearly having a religious moment. Here, it’s a little quieter compared to some of the narratives Terpning likes to convey.

What’s going on in Finding the Buffalo? What’s the story? This is from Terpning himself: Comanche scouts believe that if they ask the horned lizard where the buffalo are, whatever direction he runs in is where the buffalo are. If he breaks left, go left. They’re watching the lizard very intently, especially the scout in the back–his anxiety is piqued. And I love that even the horses are staring at the lizard. [Laughs]

What’s your favorite detail of this Howard Terpning painting? There’s a splash of blue beadwork right at the very center of the painting. There are a few other touches where he uses bright blue, but this is the only spot where you get that color, and he does it right in the center of the painting. I love it as contrast. I look at the painting and it feels hot and oppressive under the bright sun, washed out. The splash of blue yanks your eye to the middle of the painting. Then you look down, and there’s the lizard. It’s so restrained, and it speaks to how valuable the beads would have been.

Detail shot of the blue beadwork dangling down the side of a Comanche scout's horse in Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

What is the Howard Terpning painting like in person? It’s more subtle in person. When you have a painting with large patches in the same tonal family, your eye is better at appreciating the subtle tonal shift than the camera is. The lizard blends into the rocks even a little more. The background behind the scouts is very rich, and I don’t think you get that in the reproduction. And the camera doesn’t capture the thickness of the paint. Terpning is reliant on impasto [the buildup of paint on the surface of a canvas], and it casts shadows. Not a big shadow, but a tiny ridge of paint can cast a tiny shadow. The camera can’t capture the change in physical height–that texture–but the eye can perceive it. He uses it to give the rocks a real three-dimensionality.

The back side of Howard Terpning's painting Finding the Buffalo, which shows the artist's notations.

On the webpage devoted to the lot, you at Bonhams have included a photograph of the back of the painting. Could you talk about the information Terpning put on the back of the painting, and how him bothering to do that helps collectors, dealers, and specialists like yourself? I would say this is true almost universally among art buyers–there’s going to be interest in the back of a painting. In this case, we have information from Terpning. He signs it, puts the title on the back, and says how big it is in his own handwriting. He signs it in two different places and reminds you that he retains the reproduction rights [laughs]. And there’s a brief narrative [that explains the scene] affixed to the back of the painting. It’s a printed label, but it is his language, his words. And there’s a CAA (Cowboy Artists of America) label still on the back [from when the painting was first shown and sold in 1988] that says $60,000.

How many Howard Terpning paintings have you handled? In the last five years, we’ve sold six. There aren’t a ton that circulate. At all the auction houses put together, ten or 15 go up at auction every year.

Is it unusual to have three Howard Terpning paintings in the same auction, as you do here? It’s only happened to us once before. [Laughs]. But it’s not unheard of. We’ve just been very lucky recently.

What’s the world auction record for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s $1.9 million, set in 2012 at the Scottsdale Art Auction. Its name was The Captured Ponies, and it’s not an outlier. Nine Howard Terpning paintings have sold for more than $1 million since 2006. We had one in 2019 that sold for just shy of $1.4 million.

Why will this Howard Terpning painting stick in your memory? There’s a real subtlety to this one. I like how quiet it is. It’s a painting that rewards you for looking at it longer. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but as you look at it, there’s a lot going on. It’s a sophisticated picture in terms of how it was painted and the narrative it conveys.

How to bid: The Howard Terpning painting Finding the Buffalo is lot 41 in The Eddie Basha Collection: A Selection of Western American Art, a sale taking place November 25, 2019, at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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SOLD! The Howard Finster Painting Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a 1982 painting by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster.

Update: Howard Finster’s Vision of George on Planet Loraleon sold for $41,000.

What you see: Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster. Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000.

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

First, let’s discuss the story of Howard Finster–how he became an artist, and how his art career played out. He was a street preacher in the small town of Summerville, Georgia. He would stand on the hood of his car on Main Street and preach. He also had to make a living, so he’d put clock cases on the hood and sell them. One day, he was watching Billy Graham on TV. He watched the whole thing and couldn’t remember what he heard. Finster had a vision that he should put his sermons into art so they were always there to see, in the art. As a person of no means, he could not buy art supplies. He would say, “I take your garbage and turn it into art.” He would take refuse and any paint that was around. Early paintings were tractor enamel [paint] on board, scrap, whatever.

How was he discovered? People knew about his art but didn’t consider it art. But one day, the Talking Heads put his art on the cover [of their 1985 album Little Creatures] and R.E.M. put his art on the cover of [their 1984 album, Reckoning]. He was known and collected, but when the Talking Heads album went big, he became famous. People rushed to buy from him, and that’s when his career really soared.

Did the Talking Heads discover him? No. His work was known and in shows, but the masses–when the Talking Heads had that monster album and his art was on the cover, with David Byrne holding the world up–that’s when Howard Finster became a household name.

Not many outsider artists gain recognition while they are still alive and actively making art. How did Howard Finster react to his fame? He never changed. The only thing I think it did was let him by a nicer house for his wife. Otherwise he was the same street preacher who stayed up all night, eating coffee grounds and working on his art. It never went to his head.

How prolific was he? He started painting around 1976 and went into the 2000s. He had a good thirty-something years of painting. For the first ten years, no one really knew about him. He numbered every piece of his artwork. In his later years, his kids and grandkids helped him. I believe he got up to 40,000 pieces of art.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, featuring his signature and the painting's number.

He numbered every single piece of art he ever made? From the very first one forward? Yes. He was quite an unusual guy. He believed he was from another planet. He had visions, and conversations with people from the beyond.

And he was an insomniac? He worked all night and all day and hardly ever slept. He’d eat about a spoonful of Folger’s instant coffee. He had a very hard rural upbringing before he became a street preacher.

Where does Howard Finster rank among the titans of outsider and self-taught artists? He is by far the most recognized self-taught artist out there. Others may bring more at auction, but as far as making the field accessible and known to the masses, there’s no one like Howard Finster.

Really? Is he better-known than Grandma Moses? People know her stuff, but they knew it in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It’s been two or three generations since Grandma Moses connected. Howard Finster was popular in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and he still connects to the masses.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

What is the story of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon? Is it a stand-alone work or is it part of a dedicated series on a specific theme? That’s the thing. Howard is really not from this world. Where his thoughts take him are very strange and unique. He did a set of four-foot-by-four-foot paintings–I guess there are under 20 pieces. He probably made two or three of George Washington. I don’t know the story behind the planet Loraleon. It could truly be all going on in his mind.

Did Howard Finster think that he came from the planet Loraleon? I think he said he traveled to all these planets. He’s way out there in the universe on this stuff.

So he didn’t claim to be from planet Loraleon? No, but he was able to visit and travel in his own mind, his own visions.

Do we know why he did 20 paintings in four-by-four size? There just happen to be 20 at that size. One is called Superpower, and dealt with the Russian-American conflict. Some are George Washington. Some are Daniel Boone. Some are about getting to heaven. They vary in subject. A few years ago we sold one of Jesus’s mother–she was a central figure for that. It brought $51,600. That’s still a record for any Howard Finster piece.

Did he scavenge or receive a pile of four-by-four boards, and use those for paintings? After a certain time, he started to get better art supplies. He still used leftover tractor enamel. He could have ordered four-by-four boards. Normal plywood is four-by-eight. Maybe he had a bunch of these cut.

How often does George Washington appear in his work? Quite often. He would repeat a lot of icons, using them over and over. He did thousands of images of Elvis at three years old. He loved people in history, especially American history.

Does his George Washington always look like this–like the portrait we see on the dollar bill? That I can’t tell you. He comes up with portraits or images. It could be the dollar. It could be a cereal box. Who knows where this stuff comes from?

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, showing Washington's collar, which has people walking on it.

I’d like to talk about some of the details of the Howard Finster painting–particularly Washington’s collar, which looks like a sidewalk with people strolling on it. What meaning did this have for him? For a lot of his paintings, there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s going on. A lot of clouds have faces, because it’s easier for him to have faces on them. That’s what makes self-taught art America’s greatest art. Nothing else out there [is like this] and everything else after this will be a copy of this. He’s only influenced by himself and religion and what was around him.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows a handwritten message and part of a church.

I see a church in the background, and the handwritten religious messages, but this seems less religious than other Howard Finster paintings. This doesn’t seem really religious, but he’s trying to preach at the same time. He always has churches, he always talks about Jesus. There are proverbs and messages from the Bible. There’s always some kind of preaching going on, and he’s always trying to get the world right in his mind.

Am I right in thinking this Howard Finster painting has a less crowded composition than other works of his? It’s not as busy as most of his works, and it’s very bold. Even the details of his shirt–it’s charming.

This Howard Finster paintings measures four feet by four feet. Is this the largest size he worked in? These are the biggest paintings you can get. He did a painting as a full four-by-eight sheet, but he didn’t really paint it–the paintings are stuck on there. He was prolific in his paintings. Some are big. Some are small. Whatever he could get his hands on, it didn’t matter to him, he was just trying to get the word out. Wood, concrete, fabrics, rags, anything. We’ve seen stuff on mirrors, on glass, almost anything you can think of.

Picasso and Warhol were also prolific, and that has helped their secondary markets–the volume of stuff creates momentum that keeps their markets going. Is that true for Howard Finster’s market, too? Does the volume of his work create momentum for his market? It’s more true than with Warhol or Picasso. Finster signed and numbered his works, even his later works. It’s a lot easier [money-wise] to have a Howard Finster in your house than a Warhol or a Picasso. Howard Finster did original art, but he was able to mass-produce it because he just worked so hard at it.

This painting was featured in a show and a book named Passionate Visions, by Alice Rae Yellen. How might that fact affect the painting’s value to collectors? It’s very helpful, mainly because it shows provenance, it shows it’s been exhibited. Those little things always help a piece of art.

Several other works by Finster appear in the auction. How do they compare to this work? What makes this one especially interesting when compared to the other five? The size and the rarity and just the sheer–it’s an early, early classic piece with great size to it. Whoever gets this will always have a museum-quality piece. No one can debate that.

What condition is the Howard Finster painting in? Mint condition.

Which means what, in the context of a Howard Finster painting? It’s been maintained very well. No fading. No scratches. It’s as pristine as the day he made it.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows the decorations he burned into the frame he made for the work.

The Howard Finster painting has a frame made by him. How many Finsters have Finster-made frames? Is that common? In the early days, when he was a street preacher, he’d put clock cases and other wooden items to sell [on the hood of his car]. He made frames for his works. He would burn little designs onto the frame with power tools. If you’re lucky, you can get an early work with a frame.

Is this a pretty typical frame for him, or does it stand out in any particular way? I like this frame. It’s multi-layered, like, three or four layers of wood burned on top of each other. It’s very well built-up, and it’s a heavy frame for him. I’d say it’s one of his best frames.

We know he made 40,000 or so pieces of art. Do collectors prefer Howard Finster paintings that have certain numbers? Are they less interested in paintings with higher numbers? The period when he was going from a paintbrush message to a Sharpie message–between 5,000 and 6,000, we see permanent marker come in to write the preaching down. That’s where most collectors want to be, 5,000 and earlier. Those are his most important pieces.

I don’t see much in the lot notes about the provenance of the Howard Finster painting. Has it been to auction before? Right, it hasn’t been on the market. A dealer probably sold it [to the consignor] 20 or 30 years ago.

What is the Howard Finster painting like in person? It’s powerful. It’s big and it’s bold and it’s striking. I guarantee a lot of people will take selfies next to it during the auction.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Howard Finster painting? I imagine it was informed by the sale of the Virgin Mary painting of the same size? This would be the second-highest price paid for a Finster if it sells within the estimate. I’d be very happy if it exceeded the estimate, and my estimates are usually conservative anyhow. There’s no other chance to get a four-foot-by-four-foot Finster. To get one on the market is rare. The others are in private collections, and when I ask about them, [the owners] want over $100,000 for it. That’s nice, but a little high for the market right now.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

Why will this Howard Finster painting stick in your memory? When you look at an artist’s work–we’ve been in the auction business for self-taught art for 25 years, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of Finsters. Some you just gravitate to. Rarely do we have a piece like the Virgin Mary or the George Washington. Twenty-five years from now, it will be very difficult for anybody to pick up a masterpiece like this.

How to bid: The Howard Finster painting Vision of George on Planet Loraleon is lot 0186 in the Self-Taught, Outsider, & Folk Art auction at Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia on November 9, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is 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 $17,000; a work on paper by Minnie Evans that later sold for $8,000; and a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

Howard Finster has a website. So too does the Paradise Garden Foundation, which maintains the unique museum he created on four acres in Pennville, Georgia.

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

NEW RECORD, AGAIN! A Painted Boba Fett Rocket Launching Prototype Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A fully painted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype action figure, created in the late 1970s by Kenner, sold for $185,850 in November 2019.

Update: A fully painted rocket-launching Boba Fett prototype Star Wars action figure, dating to the late 1970s and pictured above, sold for $185,850 at Hake’s on November 7, 2019. The previous record, set by a different rocket-launching Boba Fett prototype, took place in July 2019, and marked the first time a Star Wars action figure crossed the six-figure threshold at auction.

The original text of this article for The Hot Bid, which showcased the action figure that set the July 2019 record and included discussion of the toy that just broke it, follows.

In the course of reporting this story, I learned about the next likely record-breaking Star Wars action figure–an even rarer Boba Fett prototype to be offered in a Hake’s auction that opens on October 15, 2019, and closes on November 6 and 7, 2019. That prototype could sell for as much as $200,000. You will see mentions of that toy, as well as pictures, woven into this article.

A circa 1979 Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype, which became the first Star Wars action figure to cross the $100k threshold at auction. It set the record in July 2019 only to see it broken in November 2019 by a different, fully painted, scarcer version of the prototype.

What you see: A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration. It comes with a letter from Collectible Investment Brokerage (CIB) assigning the encapsulated toy an 85 (NM+) grade. It sold at Hake’s in July 2019 for $112,926–a new record for any Star Wars toy, and the first time a Star Wars toy has crossed the six-figure threshold at auction.

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s.

How often do late-1970s Star Wars prototype toys come to auction? What others have appeared? Prototypes for action figures are much more layered than for other things. They go through various stages, various color treatments. That’s why there’s so many Boba Fett prototypes. Only a handful have been at auction. It’s still fairly uncommon for them to come up. We happen to have had the luxury of two back to back, and one coming up. [Scroll down for news on the Boba Fett prototype that’s coming up.]

When I hear “prototype” I assume there’s just one, but you’re telling me that action figures require more than one. What number of prototypes is more typical for an action figure? Three to five? I think so. There’s a few for every figure. Boba Fett went through stages of the rocket-firing figure because it had a spring-loaded mechanism. They had to get it right, so more prototypes had to be produced.

Do we know how many Boba Fett prototypes exist? It’s all very vague and speculative, but there’s a very good article that has an accurate lineage of the Boba Fett action figure. [The 2016 story suggests that maybe 100 Boba Fett prototypes exist: about 80 of the L-slot variety, and 19 of the later J-slot version. The letters describe the shape of the rocket-firing mechanism built into Boba Fett’s backpack.]

Could you talk a bit about this rocket-firing Boba Fett toy, and why it’s legendary? It’s taken on a life of its own. Kenner documented what it was supposed to be and put it all into motion before realizing it was not going to work. [As described in the previously given link, the rocket-firing Boba Fett toy was touted in a winter 1979 Kenner catalog as free with four proofs of purchase of other Star Wars toys. Kids gathered the material, sent it off to Kenner, and waited six to eight weeks for the prize to arrive, only to discover that the much-celebrated rocket was fixed in place.] I was eight when Star Wars came out. I saw the original run and sent away for the Boba Fett figure. I don’t remember being disappointed, but everyone got a fixed rocket. Other kids could have been disappointed.

A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration firing mechanism, shown with its certificate of authenticity from CIB.

This prototype is an example of the L-slot version of the toy. There was also a J-slot version. What is the significance of the slot configurations? The L-slot is the first version [of the rocket-firing mechanism]. It was very touchy–tap the figure, and it fired. The J-slot version made it a little more difficult to fire the rocket, but there was a problem. A piece of plastic could snap off that was very sharp, and could puncture [a kid’s] finger. Because they had already advertised it [as a rocket-firing toy], my guess is when they got to the deadline for when they were going to ship, they said, ‘Let’s just mount the rocket in place and get it out of here.’ [Another factor that might have led Kenner to fix the rocket in place] was a kid had choked to death on a rocket from a Battlestar Galactica toy. That could have been the reason for it. [A rocket-firing toy] sounds like a great concept, but it didn’t work. Kids got a stationary version in the mail.

This figure is unpainted. What’s the significance of that? Is it just further proof that it’s a prototype? This shows you the progression. With action figures, you go through so many stages until you get it right. Because they were still working out the firing mechanism, it was not painted. In the process, the concern is that the figure looks right, then making sure that the rocket works, and then they paint it in the final stages. It [the lack of paint] is a signpost.

Is this toy on a blank card? It’s encapsulated in plastic, in an acrylic case.

How did you set the estimate of $75,000 to $100,000? Was that the first time you’d given a Star Wars toy an estimate that includes a six-figure sum? It’s the second time. The first time was the Obi-Wan. It just got into that estimate. We based the estimate on what other Boba Fetts have sold for.

What’s the difference between this Boba Fett and the Obi-Wan Kenobi that set the record in November 2017? Is it down to one being a prototype and the other being a production toy? That’s really the big difference–one is a prototype and one is a production toy. Very few Obi-Wan have ever come to auction and sold. It’s probably a toss-up which one has fewer in existence.

The world auction record for a Star Wars toy broke three times from November 2017 to now [October 2019]–between the Obi-Wan and this Boba Fett prototype, you offered a different Boba Fett L-slot prototype in March 2018 that sold for more than $86,000. Why is there such strong movement in Star Wars toys now? Why has the record broken three times in less than two years? Five years ago, it [the Boba Fett prototype] was a $25,000 figure. Star Wars collectors are serious, and a lot are of the age where they have disposable income. It’s in the last five years or so that it’s been elevated to the level that it is.

The sale of this Boba Fett marks the first time any Star Wars toy has sold for more than $100,000. Could you discuss the significance of that? And did that milestone come when you expected it to come, or was it a little early, or a little late? The first comic book, the first baseball card, and the first original comic artwork breaking six figures was big news. This getting over $100,000 is a big deal, and a long time coming. A lot of that is [due to] third-party authentication. Other collectibles that have been encapsulated [sealed in plastic] have set the guideline for how the market is trending. That’s why we’re seeing what we see. As for the timing of the six figures, we had thought the Obi-Wan could do that. If it was one grade higher, it certainly would have. It’s trending upwards, as all Star Wars toys are. Collectors are there, and they’re ready and willing to pay what they have to.

What was your role in the auction? I tend to stay off the phones if I can. It’s all Internet bidding or phone bidding. I was monitoring things to make sure everything was running smoothly. I watched the whole auction unfold in front of me.

Did you have a dedicated screen for this Boba Fett lot? I have to watch the entire auction at once. It’s important that I watch everything unfurl.

That sounds tricky. I’ve been doing it for 34 years. But it’s hectic, for sure.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? We had a lot of activity for all three weeks online, to closing. On closing day, the Boba Fett prototype was around $85,000 with premium, which would have been $1,000 under the record. Even if we’d closed at that, we’d be happy, because it was right up to where the other sold. It came down to the wire. We got a bid at 9:19 pm, and that reopened the clock.

It reopened the clock? When you bid on an item, it resets the clock for 20 minutes.

So it extends the bidding life of the lot? Correct. When this was still going, much of the rest of the auction was over. It took to the very end until we eclipsed the record. It was a bit unnerving. A lot of people waited until the last minute, but that doesn’t work with us. We’re not eBay. There’s no sniping.

The Boba Fett sold for just under $113,000. Were you surprised by that? No. No. If it was twice its estimate, I would have been surprised, but it was just over the estimate. We were very pleased, but I wouldn’t say we were surprised.

And I understand Hake’s has another Boba Fett prototype coming up in November 2019 that could break the world auction record for any Star Wars toy again? This is the J-slot, the next version of the firing mechanism. It’s painted, and its grade is 85+. It’s the same grade [as the current record-holder], but it’s more desirable because it’s a J-slot, of which there are fewer. It looks like the one that was released.

Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which Hake's will offer in November 2019.
Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which broke the auction record for a Star Wars action figure in November 2019.

Do you have an estimate on that upcoming Boba Fett prototype? I haven’t committed to one yet. It literally showed up one day after the [July 2019] auction. It could be $100,000, it could be $200,000. It could beat the record substantially, based on what it is. It’s the more desirable of the two [styles] of rocket-firing mechanisms, it’s painted, and it appears in Star Wars collectibles reference books.

What did Kenner learn from the Boba Fett disaster, if anything? It changed the toy industry dramatically. After that, people were cautious and didn’t want to be sued [over a potential choking hazard]. [The toy industry] moved into a different era.

So it wasn’t just overpromising and underdelivering, it was eek, kids could die. Yep. They made sure every base was covered so nothing would come back on them. Now it’s obvious that a tiny piece of plastic that launches with great force was not the smartest [idea]. But it all led up to this legendary status for the rocket-fired Boba Fett.

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.

Hake’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Hake’s.

Alex Winter also spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

I also wrote a piece about record-setting Star Wars action figures for the Field Notes section of the October 2019 issue of Robb Report.

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 Jackie Robinson Doll With Its Original Box Could Sell for $2,500

A circa 1950s Jackie Robinson doll in its original box. The Dodgers legend is pictured in the upper right corner.

What you see: A circa 1950 Jackie Robinson doll, with its original box and accoutrements. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

Who made this doll? And is it possible to know how many of these Jackie Robinson dolls were made? I can tell you who made it: the Allied-Grand Doll Company in New York. I think the manufacturing was in Brooklyn, New York, but I’d want to double check. Based on the number of dolls I’ve seen, probably not many were made.

Apparently there were two versions of the Jackie Robinson doll, and this is the de luxe version. What does this have that the standard version lacks? This box is more elaborate, as opposed to the doll items. And it has a cardboard die cut of an actual baseball field on the front. I’ve never handled the other doll. Inside, there’s a Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game, with pinwheels and sliders that allow you to play a baseball game.

Closeup of the Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game that comes with the circa 1950s doll.

Yeah, I think I see the back sides of two wheels on the cover of the game in the full shot. There were three different gages for balls, strikes, and outs per inning. It runs up to 15 innings. It’s pretty complicated for what it is. It’s six inches by 8 inches and on cardstock. It’s pretty cool. All the dolls have a tag with a photo of Jackie Robinson, a ball with a mitt, and a wooden baseball bat that has Jackie Robinson’s signature on it.

Is the printed baseball diamond meant to be used with the pocket baseball game? The pocket baseball game, essentially, is the game. Outside of the visual, the baseball diamond has no significance. There are no figures to move around it.

And we think the Jackie Robinson doll appeared around 1950–well after his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers–and it probably remained available until he retired from the sport in 1956? That’s my assumption. There are no dates written, no way for me to know for sure. [In holding off until 1950 or so] they were probably testing the waters to see how well Robinson was received by the audience. Once he was a success story, they jumped on the bandwagon. There’s no way to know if they continued to make it after he departed from the league, but following his retirement as a player, they probably ceased production. The life of the toy was probably a five-year run or so.

Did the Allied-Grand Doll Company tweak the design of the Jackie Robinson doll or the extras or the packaging over that span of time? Are there subtle changes that help us date individual examples? Nothing I had noticed, but there are few examples of the doll around. It’s possible it started as a large boxed set and it proved to be too expensive to produce [so they made a stripped-down version instead], or the doll itself was not enough and they sweetened it with the go-alongs [the extras, such as the printed baseball diamond and the pocket baseball game] Those are possible reasons why there are two different sets.

A closeup on the black-and-white photo of Jackie Robinson on the packaging for the doll.

Did Jackie Robinson or Major League Baseball or both approve of this doll? I see Robinson’s picture on the box, and you said the toy bat has his signature, but I’m guessing that doesn’t imply official approval? I couldn’t find anything linking to Jackie Robinson or the league. There’s only a copyright next to the signature on the box and on the [toy] bat itself, and the tags for the doll. It does not appear on the pocket baseball game.

And is there any proof that Robinson shared in the royalties for the doll? No, not at all. Interestingly enough, and not to say that it’s true, but on the cover of the pocket baseball game, it says, “Designed by the National League’s most valuable player of 1949,” so it’s possible he had something to do with it.

Is this the only Jackie Robinson doll created and marketed during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s the only one I’ve been able to find in my digging around, and it’s the only one I’ve ever handled.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown alone, from the front, in full Dodgers uniform. Robinson's signature is visible on the toy bat.

The 1950s predate the rise of the “action figure,” a phrase that made dolls acceptable to boys and their parents. This Jackie Robinson doll really is a doll, with toddler-like proportions. Might its appearance have affected its sales, and explain why so few survive? I presume the doll was marketed to a boy audience while also played with by a girl audience as well. It was probably for boys interested in baseball, but it has the proportions of a baby doll. It could have hit both markets. Predating action figures, it was probably a harder sell. It could indicate why it’s as scarce as it is. It might have missed the mark on the audience. The company might have been ahead of its time.

Is this the only doll that the Allied-Grand Doll Company made and marketed for a target audience of boys? Yes. The rest are girl dolls.

How did the company change its marketing to attract boys? Looking at the box, I take it they leaned heavily on baseball imagery? Yes, it’s very baseball-heavy, exactly. The corner shows Jackie Robinson at bat, but it’s very baseball-heavy, even more than Jackie Robinson himself.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full, from the rear, with the baseball bat clearly attached to the right hand.

The Allied-Grand Doll Company was located in New York. Did they intend this Jackie Robinson doll to be a regional product, or did they market it nationally? There’s no way for me to tell. Allied-Grand did market nationally, and given that he was the first African-American to enter Major League Baseball, it’s very possible that the reach of the market for the doll went nationwide. I presume the majority of the demand for the doll to be close to home.

Is there any evidence that the company marketed the Jackie Robinson doll nationally? No, nothing like that.

How many examples of the Jackie Robinson doll have you handled? This is the first I’ve handled with a box, and the third I’ve seen in the last decade.

Another angle on the Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full from the left rear.

Does it come with everything it ought to have? I believe so. The tag, the bat, the baseball game, and the diamond complete the set. I’m shy to say it’s the most complete I’ve ever seen, but it’s the first I’ve seen with the pocket baseball game.

The lot notes describe the doll and its box as being in “Exc – Pristine Cond.” What does that mean here? It gives it an 85 to 90 percent condition grading, albeit with tears to the box. Given the rarity of the piece, this one grades to the 90th percentile of completeness and it’s 100 percent authentic, with no touch-ups.

I see some fading or bleaching to the doll’s baseball cap and its windbreaker. Would it have gotten that discoloration from being played with? Given the doll’s condition, it’s more age-related wear than play wear.

What is the Jackie Robinson doll like in person? It has an impressive size. It stands 13 inches tall or so–good scaling. The most important detail is the stitched uniform, albeit soiled and aged clothing. It’s cream-colored cloth with light blue stitching on it. And in my opinion, one of the neatest things is the pocket baseball game. It’s a handy little thing.

What is the provenance of the Jackie Robinson doll? It comes from a collector, a very advanced doll collector who’s had it for some years.

We’re speaking on November 4, and the Jackie Robinson doll has already been bid up to $850. Is that meaningful? It’s a soft indication of interest. We’ve had a few phone calls about the condition of the doll, but it’s a bit early to tell. I find that bidders hold their cards pretty tight until the auction is up and running.

Why will this Jackie Robinson doll stick in your memory? The rarity of it, and I think it’s going to draw very wide attention and interest. Sports-themed toys are well-received in the market. Doll collectors could easily go for it, baseball collectors–it hits all the bases.

How to bid: The Jackie Robinson doll is lot 1619, offered on day two of the Annual Fall Sale at Bertoia Auctions, scheduled for November 15, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Michael Bertoia appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a vintage Tremendous Mike robot toy with box that went on to sell for $11,000.

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An Oscar Howe Painting Could Command $35,000

What you see: Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

The expert: Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction.

Who was Oscar Howe? He was a Yanktonai Sioux from Dakota. He drew his first lines when he was three–he was always fascinated by lines. He was taken away from his parents in 1922, at age seven, and went to a federal boarding school at Pierre, South Dakota. He did two tours of duty in World War II, and did murals for the Works Progress Administration before he was called up. Throughout his career, he remained rooted in his Dakota ancestry. It was a motivation for his art. One or two academics suggested he was influenced by European Cubism and the avant-garde, but he emphatically rejected that. [The abstract elements of his art] tie into the symbology and the mythology of Sioux culture.

When did Oscar Howe’s art career gain momentum? When he went to the Santa Fe Indian School in 1938. Dorothy Dunn started the school for Indian painters and it was really focused on traditional Indian painting, which was supposed to be illustrative, and called the Studio style. The first part of his career, he was successful in the Studio style. He broke out in the 1950s–that’s why he’s important.

What happened to Oscar Howe in the 1950s? He became famous in 1958 when the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma held an exhibition of Indian painting. It started a project for Native American artists in 1946, and did juried exhibitions and provided a platform for exposure. The Studio style won prizes, and I guess it also unintentionally established a standard of style that prevented artists from developing their abilities. In 1958, the painting Howe sent to Philbrook was rejected. I think the term [they used to explain the rejection] was “not authentically Indian.” He was outraged, and he sent a very famous letter that said, “Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian has always been, put on reservations and treated like a child, and only the White Man knows what is best for him?  Now, even in Art, ‘You little child do what we think is best for you, nothing different.” Well, I am not going to stand for it. Indian Art can compete with any Art in the world, but not as a suppressed Art….” 

What inspired Oscar Howe to paint Medicine Man? It was an ancient story in Sioux culture. It’s from the tahokmu, which references a spider trap, or web [in his native language]. He used lines and planes in that painting in order to add dynamism to the figure. I think it [the lines and planes] looks like the spokes of a spider web–you look at it in a different way. Where Cubists break up the figure to flatten it, Howe uses lines to add energy to the image. You see a lot of movement. It’s not flat at all, though it’s broken into sharp geometric fields.

Ah, I was going to ask–I haven’t seen many works that straddle the line between figurative art and abstract art, but that is not what Oscar Howe is trying to do here, right? He’s combining a figure and abstraction as part of his Native American approach to art? That’s absolutely how he would argue it. It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. He rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.

Oscar Howe used casein paint, a milk-based paint, for Medicine Man. Was that his preferred type of paint? And did he mix it himself? We see casein very often from traditional Indian painters, but I don’t know how often Howe used it. But he would have mixed the paints, yes. He was a very traditional artist.

Would he have used a live model for Medicine Man? No, it would have been from a story, and from the heritage he carried inside him. His purpose in painting was to visually articulate his language and culture, specifically Dakota and Sioux.

As of November 2019, only four Oscar Howe works have ever appeared at auction. Why do you think that’s the case? Are people just reluctant to sell–they want to keep them? As you can imagine, there’s so much interest in this piece. Most don’t want to sell his work, and he’s almost an iconic figure. Him and Joe Herrera are literally referenced as the first modernist American Indian painters. You don’t need to send [Howe’s works] to auction.

This Oscar Howe painting belonged to Patricia Janis Broder. How does that provenance affect collectors’ interest in the work? Tremendously, based on the very successful auction of her collection [with Santa Fe Art Auction in April 2019]. She was important to American Indian art history. She wrote about the material before a lot of people were paying attention. She knew what she was buying, and she lavishly illustrated [the art she bought] in her books. She definitely makes a difference.

What makes Medicine Man such a strong example of Oscar Howe’s work? This is classic Howe. The use of the tahokmu device is brilliant in this particular painting. It’s just a classic instance of energizing–the figure is there and moving and powerful and you get the force of it. It’s an expression of what the medicine man does. It articulates the medicine man’s magic and his role in Sioux culture.

Was the painting inspired by Howe’s personal encounters with medicine men? No. He spent an important part of his early life with his blind grandmother, who came from a long verbal tradition of story-telling in the Sioux culture. Though she was blind, she drew pictures in the sand to illustrate her stories.

The Oscar Howe painting is undated, but are there clues lurking in the work itself that helps us figure out when he might have made it? We know it’s definitely that later period [his modern period rather than his Studio period]. I would think it’s 1960s or 1970s, but it’s hard to say.

What’s the world auction record for an Oscar Howe painting? It was set in 1998 at Sotheby’s New York. The medium was also casein. It was called Modern Sioux Dancer and it went for $15,500. It was one of his modern pieces.

So if Medicine Man sells for even its bottom estimate, it’s a new world record for Oscar Howe… I looked at other auction records [when setting the estimate for this work] and there are so few of them, and none are comparable to this one. This is better and more typical of the best of his work. It’s more characteristic of the aspects of his art for which he is most highly prized.

What is the Oscar Howe painting like in person? Oh! [Sighs] It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s vibrant and vivacious. It’s in beautiful condition. I know it was in storage for a long time. It looks unfaded. It looks, I think, the way he wanted us to see it.

Are there aspects of the Oscar Howe painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? There’s no surface to this painting that you’re missing. It’s not an oil. Casein is very flat. You don’t see the brushwork in it.

Why will this Oscar Howe painting stick in your memory? I’ve been in the art world for more than 20 years, and I’ve never had an Oscar Howe in my hands. This artwork is so pleasing to the eye. And I have huge admiration for his conviction as an artist. I have huge respect for the letter he sent to Philbrook saying, ‘How date you tell me how to represent my culture.’ He was brave, and he was good.

How to bid: The Oscar Howe painting is lot 0185 in the 2019 Santa Fe Art Auction, taking place on November 9, 2019.

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Images are courtesy of the Santa Fe Art Auction.

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Bonus: A La Vieille Russie’s Deceptively Modern Jewelry

A diamond and yellow sapphire ring by Cartier Paris, one of 72 pieces in the Deceptively Modern Jewelry selling exhibit at ALVR.
A winsome yellow sapphire and diamond ring by Cartier Paris, one of 72 mid-century pieces in A La Vieille Russie’s Deceptively Modern Jewelry selling exhibition.

A La Vieille Russie, a peerless gallery best known for showcasing the works of Carl Fabergé, opened a selling show in its Manhattan gallery last month.

Titled Deceptively Modern Jewelry: 1940s – 1980s, it features 72 stunning pieces by mid-century jewelers, including 10 signed pieces by Cartier.

An aquamarine and diamond necklace from the Deceptively Modern Jewelry show at ALVR.
An aquamarine and diamond necklace from the Deceptively Modern Jewelry show at ALVR.

I wrote about the show for Art & Object.

A circa 1940s "gas pipe" gold bracelet, featured in Deceptively Modern Jewelry at ALVR's Manhattan gallery.
A circa 1940s “gas pipe” gold bracelet, featured in Deceptively Modern Jewelry at ALVR’s Manhattan gallery.

Deceptively Modern Jewelry continues at ALVR until November 15. The gallery is located at 745 Fifth Avenue, fourth floor.

A Daisy and Violet Hilton Poster From The Conjoined Twins’ Vaudeville Days Could Command $900

A circa 1930s poster featuring Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who headlined the vaudeville circuit.

What you see: A circa 1930s poster for the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

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

Could we start by talking about Daisy and Violet Hilton–who they were, and why they’re still interesting to us now? And how did they set themselves apart from other conjoined twins who appeared in public? They started out working for fairly well-established carnivals and graduated to theaters. From everything I’ve read, they were certainly talented performers and entertainers. They practiced assiduously to become talented musicians. They closed their act by dancing with two gentlemen in harmony, in concert. I think Bob Hope was one of the two men dancing at the end of the routine, before he became famous. By all accounts, it was a rousing performance. They commanded a huge salary–Houdini-level money. I can’t state that strongly enough. Literally thousands a week on the vaudeville circuit.

If they appeared in a sideshow, all they’d have to do is show up, but playing music and dancing let them rise in vaudeville? The carnival setting is literally a display of their deformity. They had something to offer above and beyond their unusual anatomy. They were entertainers. They were stars.

Other sets of conjoined twins didn’t go as far as the Hilton sisters in offering more than the fact of their uniqueness? Chang and Eng were very successful and retired wealthy. Some say the Hiltons tried to model themselves on their success that the Bunkers made. [Chang and Eng’s surname was Bunker.]

I see the poster is dated circa 1930s. I take it that it has to date before 1931, when the Hilton sisters won a lawsuit to emancipate themselves from their managers? I believe it’s pre-emancipation, yes.

How rare is this Daisy and Violet Hilton poster? How many have you handled? We’ve sold three, this being the third. I know of a couple others. They’re out there.

Was material featuring conjoined twins less likely to be saved for reasons of taste, or does it survive in roughly the same amounts as other forms of ephemera? I don’t think so. In some ways, it’s a benefit–“I can’t believe I saw it. Here’s a memento of what I saw.”

This Daisy and Violet Hilton poster has the highest estimate of any Hilton sisters material in the auction. Why? Its rarity and its aesthetic graces. [Material from] Chained for Life–I might even call it a C movie, but let’s call it a B movie–is much more readily available, and there’s much more sales history there. Probably the rarest Hilton sisters piece is the souvenir napkin. The collector who consigned it said in 30 years, they’d only seen two. But it’s less sexy than a one-sheet poster.

And that’s why it gets the highest estimate? It’s a striking image, it’s vivid, and we’re talking about people who, in a way, are cultural icons. I think a lot of people could see this item up on their wall, rather than a pinback [a button].

Is this circa 1930s poster scarcer than Chained for Life movie posters? I’m not sure I could quantify. If I remember right, the Hiltons kept working as entertainers only about five to seven years before they died, though work was scarce in their last few years. Toward the end they worked in burlesque houses, doing striptease, because they were desperate for work. In the last few years of their life, they were weighing produce in a grocery store. They had squandered their earnings, or it was spent by the family who took care of them and booked their shows.

Where do the Hiltons rank among the various sets of conjoined twins who appeared before the public? Is it Chang and Eng, and then the Hiltons? I’d say Chang and Eng, the Hiltons, and then the two-headed nightingale, Millie-Christine. The most recent biography was published about Chang and Eng, so perhaps they’re more popular. And they have that connection with P. T. Barnum, of course, which gives them a certain pedigree.

There’s a lot of material that features conjoined twins in this salenot just stuff that showcases Daisy and Violet Hilton. Is it a typical amount for your annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale, or is there more than you usually have? I think it’s about what we’ve had in previous sales. It’s on par with what we’ve had in the past.

When did Potter & Potter start doing annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities auctions? Not that long ago, actually. This will be our fourth annual auction. We’ve been fortunate to get nice things and become the go-to place for it. We’ve turned away twice as much for the auction as we have in it. Maybe we could do two next year.

And why not have this auction before Halloween? Why hold it in mid-November? We do a magic auction before Halloween. We’ve been doing that for 12 years.

Let me get back to the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster. What condition is it in? I’d give it a B-plus. Most condition issues are around the exterior.

How does it compare to the two other examples you’ve handled? It’s about on par with the others. It’s beautiful.

What is the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think when you see it in person, at full size–you’ve got to remember, this would have gone on the side of a building, or in a lobby–it’s quite large. [It measures 42 inches by 27 and three-quarter inches.] We had one guy who came in for the magic auction [which Potter & Potter held on October 26] who said, “I’m so used to seeing it on a screen. When you stand up in front of it, it’s a completely different experience.” He was talking about magic stuff, but you can take it to heart about anything.

How to bid: The Daisy and Violet Hilton poster is lot 0133 in the Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale at Potter & Potter on November 16, 2019.


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In 2012, Dean Jensen wrote a biography of the Hilton sisters, dubbed The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins. It’s out of print, but worth tracking down.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about 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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NEW RECORD! The Miles Davis Trumpet Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A model T3460 "Committee" trumpet with a midnight blue epoxy body and gilt moon and stars decorations, commissioned by jazz legend Miles Davis in the early 1980s.

Update: The Miles Davis trumpet sold for $275,000–well above its estimate. It set a world auction record for any trumpet, and it seems to have set a world auction record for any jazz instrument, beating the $225,000 that a Charlie Parker saxophone garnered at a 2005 auction to benefit Lincoln Center.

What you see: A model T3460 “Committee” trumpet with a midnight blue epoxy body and gilt moon and stars decorations, commissioned by jazz legend Miles Davis in the early 1980s. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Becky MacGuire, director of the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s.

So this trumpet was made by a company called Martin. Is that the same company that makes guitars? It’s not, actually. It’s a brass instrument company. It’s gone though several permutations since its heyday. It’s a funny coincidence. [Its full name was the Martin Band Instrument Company, and it went defunct in 2007.]

This is called a “Committee” trumpet. What does “Committee” mean here? Is it a brand name? It’s a brand that became renowned. The trumpet was supposedly designed by a committee of musicians, and it became a coveted horn for jazz musicians. When Martin was sold in the 1960s, it stopped making the Committee model as a part of its line, but made them on a commission basis for Miles Davis. Dizzy Gillespie played a Martin Committee, and he was one of Miles Davis’s heroes. That may have influenced his choice of a Committee trumpet.

This is one of three trumpets Miles Davis commissioned from Martin that have different body colors and the same decorative scheme. Do we know if they were commissioned together, or one at a time? We don’t know exactly if they were finished together. They were designed by Miles Davis and made by the same team, which was led by Larry Ramirez. He was a jazz trumpeter himself, and had a real understanding of instruments and what could be done. Davis was a visual artist as well as a musician. It’s not surprising to people who knew him that he was involved with the design of these trumpets.

An overhead view of Miles Davis's custom Martin Committee trumpet.

How did his visual sense affect the appearance of this trumpet? First of all, the color is not what one usually finds when you think of a trumpet. It’s blue, which is a color associated with Miles. He loved to dress in blue, and it has obvious associations with his music. All three trumpets have the moon and stars [motif], which is a unique design.

Do we know why Miles Davis chose a moon and stars motif for these trumpets? Not exactly. There’s no record of what Miles was really thinking.

This trumpet’s siblings are red and black, respectively. Where are those other two trumpets now? The black one is buried with Miles Davis in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The red one remains with the family.

So this is the first to go to auction? Yes. The other two are not to be sold.

Do we know why Miles Davis commissioned one Committee trumpet each in black, blue, and red? Not really. He made comments about color, and he was sensitive to color. It was an aesthetic choice. They were colors he liked, and they moved him.

Do any records or letters survive that documents the trumpet commissions? If they do, I don’t know where they are. It’s unclear where the archives might be, if they were saved. Over the years, Larry Ramirez has given many interviews about it. His stories have been recorded.

What does Ramirez recall about the trumpet commission for Miles Davis? The most notable thing Ramirez talks about is his experience delivering the trumpet to Miles. He revered Miles Davis, and he had the opportunity to deliver the trumpet in person to him in a Denver hotel room. The way he told the story was Cicely Tyson [Davis’s then-wife] was asleep in the hotel room, and he put the trumpet against Ramirez’s belly to try it out without waking her. It was one of the great experiences of his life, Miles Davis trying out the trumpet by playing it against his stomach.

A head-on view of the bell of Miles Davis's blue custom-made Martin Committee trumpet.

Are there any fittings or details that Miles Davis asked for that wouldn’t necessarily appear on a more standard trumpet? The Committee trumpets, in terms of technical design, are all pretty much the same. There’s a tapered tuning slide, a cone-shaped, cornet-like bell, and some people call the water keys [aka the water valves, or spit valves] quirky. A writer I quote in the lot notes said, “Nobody has deciphered the magic formula for that unique tone… they don’t slot well, so it’s easy to slide into and out of notes a la Miles Davis.” It was a sound that Miles Davis was particularly identified with. On these horns, he was able to create the sound he was after, because of their design.

The lot notes date the Miles Davis trumpet to the early 1980s. Is it possible to date it to a specific year? It’s just circa 1980. The factual information is based on Larry Ramirez presenting the trumpet to Miles Davis. He didn’t remember the exact year. Davis resumed his career at about that time. In the second half of the 1970s, he was more or less underground. He wasn’t performing or recording.

Was Davis’s commissioning of the trumpets part of a plan to return to the limelight? There’s no reason to believe that. There’s no supporting evidence for that. But he was definitely getting back into things, and this was part of the effort.

Miles Davis, shown holding the black version of the Martin Committee Moon and Stars trumpet that he commissioned.

Among the materials Christie’s is using to promote the sale is a photo of Miles Davis holding the black trumpet, the one he would literally take to his grave. Are there any photos of Miles Davis holding the blue trumpet? We weren’t able to find one.

What do we know about the provenance of the blue trumpet? Do we know when and why Miles Davis gave it to George Benson? We don’t know exactly. Benson and Davis had a lot of mutual friends, a lot of overlap. Benson was a huge musician, a jazz guitarist and on the side he was an active collector of musical instruments. I imagine he had it for ten years when he auctioned it at Skinner in Boston in 2007.

What condition is the trumpet in? Does it show signs of wear? It’s in good condition, and it’s in working order. There’s a wonderful video of Keyon Harrold playing it.

Have you held the Miles Davis trumpet? I have.

What was that like? It’s really thrilling to be touching something that an incredible musician used to convey his music. What I think is most cool about it is sort of indefinable, in the same walk that looking at a great painting is indefinable. There’s an emotional content. It moves us somehow. It puts us in touch with things that are indefinable.

What’s your favorite detail on the Miles Davis trumpet? I think it’s the entire design–the color, the gilt moon and stars–it’s a beautiful thing anyway. It’s the overall conception, the idea that this great musician was highly sensitive to his environment and to design, that he would even think about adding color. No one would take a violin and add stripes or polka dots. He was highly attuned to the visual as well as to music.

Does it have a mute? No, it doesn’t.

Did it come with one and it was lost, or did it never have one? There’s a fitted leather case [for the trumpet] that doesn’t seem to have space for something missing. I don’t know.

I take it the 2007 Skinner sale informed the estimate? Yes. It’s always difficult to know what something associated with an iconic figure is worth. How much will the extra magic be valued by the market? Obviously, we’ve sold other musical instruments from famous musicians. We had David Gilmour in June, and we had Carole King’s piano last year. It’s a little bit apples and oranges.

Do you always look for a significant musical instrument for The Exceptional Sale? We don’t actively seek them, but we’re always open to iconic pieces of popular culture.

What’s the world auction record for a trumpet? Would it belong to one owned by Dizzy Gillespie? No idea. [Post-interview digging unearthed a reference to a Dizzy Gillespie bent bell trumpet selling at Christie’s New York in April 1995 for $63,000, which might well be the record. Unfortunately, records of that age are not online.]

Why will this Miles Davis trumpet stick in your memory? Miles Davis has to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. To be handling something that was his and reflects him so beautifully is really thrilling.

How to bid: The Miles Davis trumpet is lot 1011 in The Exceptional Sale, taking place at Christie’s New York on October 29, 2019.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

In case you missed it above, Christie’s filmed contemporary jazz musician Keyon Harrold playing the Miles Davis trumpet and talking about its importance.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Steiff Teddy Bear Could Sell for $9,000

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

What you see: A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €6,000 to €9,000, or roughly $6,600 to $9,900.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Could we start by discussing how the idea of the teddy bear came about, and how Steiff decided to produce teddy bears? Steiff had already been in existence for several years [when it made its first teddy bear]. In 1880, it made the first soft toy, an elephant. Bear toys existed for a long time before that–carved bears from the Black Forest region, and automaton bears, but they were not cuddly. Bear toys were not new [in the early 20th century] but jointed soft toy bears were new, and Steiff pioneered them.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904. When measured in a standing position, it tops out at 15 and 3/4 inches tall.

Was the story of President Theodore Roosevelt declining to shoot a bear cub while hunting in 1902 an inspiration for Steiff to create soft, jointed teddy bears? Yes, I know that story. How true it is, I’m not sure. Interestingly, the name “Teddy” attached to the bear after 1903. The earliest [Steiff bears] were not known as teddy bears.

So the creation of the Steiff teddy bears and the timing of the Roosevelt hunting trip was a coincidence? I think maybe it was a happy coincidence, you could say. The first Steiff bear was string-jointed, in 1902, and was called 55PB, with the “PB” standing for “Plush Bear”. [The Theodore Roosevelt Association discusses the origin story of the teddy bear on its website, and Steiff makes an appearance.}

And none of the string-jointed Steiff teddy bears are thought to survive, yes? I’m reluctant to say there are no survivors. It’s possible somewhere in America or Europe there’s a disjointed bear, or a bear that started life as a string bear.

Let’s also take a minute to talk about Germany’s reputation as a toy-making nation in the early 20th century. I’m under the impression that partly because it was home to Steiff and Marklin, Germany was tops in the world. There was always competition between France and Germany, but France was in decline in 1900 and Germany was in ascendance. German toymakers were very innovative during this period, making more childlike dolls and character dolls. A similar thing happened with bears. They made soft toys children wanted to hold, not expensive dolls that children had to be supervised [during play], as with French toys. Steiff and Marklin are still there and are very, very conscious of their history and identity as iconic German products. They have reproduced certain models in limited editions.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904, and shown in closeup. It seems to have been made before Steiff started sewing ID buttons in the ears of their teddy bears.

How do we know this Steiff teddy bear was made in 1903 or 1904? The rod bears were only produced for around two years, from 1903 to 1905. This one has no Steiff button in his ear. The buttons came in in 1903. It’s possible this bear had one early on and the button was removed, but there are no characteristic holes [that provide evidence there was once a button]. That’s our indication of the dating on this.

Is it possible to know how many rod bears Steiff produced from 1903 to 1905? It’s possible, if you go to Steiff, there are records, but sadly, we don’t have access to them. This is the only one Auction Team Breker has handled. I’ve personally handled and seen around 15 to 20, but I’m sure there are more than that.

But the Steiff PB28 rod bear isn’t common, correct? It is a rare item. It’s definitely not a common one. And it’s an iconic Steiff bear. String-jointed bears aren’t known to survive. If you want the first model of Steiff bear, it’s this one.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

The plush on this Steiff teddy bear is described as pale gold. Did the Steiff PB28 rod bear come in other colors? And is pale gold one of the more rare colors? There were other colors as well–dark golden mohair, blond mohair, apricot mohair. I think there is less of pale gold than light blonds. Pale gold does not turn up as much. Apricot is a rare color, and black is incredibly rare. Dark gold, light gold, blond, they do turn up.

What do we know about the provenance of this Steiff teddy bear? The anecdotal history from the family in France [who consigned it] is that it was left at the house during the occupation by a German soldier [in the 1940s, during World War II]. Like most stories from 80 years ago, you can’t verify them or contradict them. There’s no reason to contradict it, but you have to accept it with a pinch of salt.

So this Steiff teddy bear has never been to auction before? No. The Auction Team Breker sale is its first time at auction.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown standing and in profile.

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did the consigning family have a name for the Steiff teddy bear? Not that we know of.

I notice that as we speak, we don’t call the bear “it”, we call it “him”… Yes! It’s funny. With dolls and things, people do that.

What condition is the Steiff teddy bear in? He’s in great condition, but there are things that have been repaired or changed on him. The felt pads [on his paws] have been reinforced, and the original pads are underneath. Paw felt wears quickly. It’s probably one of the most common repairs. It’s lucky to have the originals under the replacements. It will be the decision of the future buyer to remove them and restore the originals or accept [the repairs] as part of his history. He’s also missing his original nose. He had a gutta-percha nose. It was one of the earliest forms of plastic. When it was new, it was a malleable material, but over time, it became brittle. The nose is now stitched, with wool or silk thread. It’s very, very hard to find one with a gutta-percha nose. I’ve seen one at auction.

The Steiff PB28 rod bear was made for children to play with. What forms of wear are visible on this bear, and what forms of wear are considered acceptable in a Steiff teddy bear of this vintage? I think teddy bear collectors are quite forgiving. These things were loved at the time and had a hard life. So often, you find bears that have been hugged so much that they’re bald in places. This bear was lucky. It has some thin patches, but most bears do.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown from the rear. Thin patches are visible on the back as well as the back of the head.

Thin patches? They normally turn up where a teddy bear has been hugged.

An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.
An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.

This is a rod bear, which means it has rods inside its limbs that make it posable. Do the rods still work smoothly and easily? The rods survive very well. He’s still moveable as originally intended. He’s clearly a poseable bear.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, proving it is just as poseable as it was when it left the factory.

What is this Steiff PB28 rod bear like in person? I think he definitely has character, and quite an appealing expression. He’s helped by the fact that his fur is quite bright and in good condition. He presents very well.

How does this Steiff PB28 rod bear compare to others that you’ve handled? I think he compares very well. He’s been looked after. He’s not pristine, but he’s definitely one of the better ones.

What is the world auction record for a Steiff teddy bear? It’s Teddy Girl, which sold in 1994 at Christie’s for £110,000, hammer price [the raw price, before adding the buyer’s premium. That sum roughly translates to $141,400 in contemporary dollars.]

Why will this Steiff teddy bear stick in your memory? Because it came to Auction Team Breker from a kind of odd way from France. It was a German bear, in France, which came back to Germany. It’s an interesting story. And it’s a rod bear, and if you meet him in person, he has a nice character. Rod bears have a really specific look. It has an almost triangular-shaped face and really long paws. If you see it in profile, you know it’s a rod bear. It makes up the special character of these bears.

How to bid: The Steiff rod bear is lot 0163 in the Mechanical Music, Science & Technology, Toys & Automata sale at Auction Team Breker in in Koeln, Germany on November 9, 2019.

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The folks at Auction Team Breker appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a gorgeous, steampunk-looking Malling-Hansen writing ball, an early typewriter. It went on to sell for the equivalent of $111,600.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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SOLD! The Rossetti Proserpine Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Proserpine, an 1878 watercolor rendition by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Jane Burden Morris modeled as the goddess.

Update: The 1878 Rossetti Proserpine sold for $3.49 million.

What you see: Proserpine, a watercolor painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1878. Christie’s estimates it at $3 million to $5 million.

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

First off–do we know why Rossetti calls the goddess Proserpine rather than Persephone? Not sure. He might be the same as me–it’s what he learned in school, and that’s what he stuck with.

A colleague of yours in London calls this “the most important and beautiful painting by a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to appear at auction in a decade.” What makes it so? There’s a couple of different factors that go into that. The iconic status of Proserpine in Dante’s oeuvre and 19th century painting in general, and Jane’s [Jane Morris] importance as a model, and the technical virtuosity on display by the artist.

Rossetti was particularly excellent in watercolor, yes? What shines through is he’s an extraordinarily innovative watercolor artist. When people think of watercolor, they think of thin washes of color. That’s not how he’s working. He captures a texture in watercolor that’s almost like oil paint. He’s able to capture an almost 3-D quality. It’s really exceptional.

Could we talk about why Rossetti painted Proserpine, and the meaning that the subject had to him? Proserpine is the first subject Rossetti takes up after his breakdown in 1872. It was a reinvigoration of his artistic energy and definitely a reflection of his longing for Jane. [In the context of the Proserpine myth] he saw himself in the role of Ceres, who fell into anguish over her lost daughter, who had to spend six months on Earth and six months in Hell [Hades] every year. It was summer when he was with her [Jane] and winter without her. He saw himself in that role of Ceres–probably not literally as Ceres, but more a feeling of loss tied into his relationship with her, their time together and apart. The duality is key.

Could we talk about how he chooses to portray Proserpine, and the details he surrounds her with? It seems like almost everything is charged with meaning… The ivy is symbolic of life after death, and memory. It’s also thought of as a symbol of faithfulness. It might reflect his faithfulness to her. The cramped composition space is very typical of the artist and gives you an overwhelming sense of the underworld as well as the real sense that she’s trapped there. The pomegranate is taken from the myth, and considered the fruit of Hades. Because she ate six seeds, she’s bound to the underworld for six months a year. It also represents the idea of life after death.

Why is the incense there in the lower left? It indicates the figure is a goddess.

How does Rossetti’s Proserpine show his mastery as an artist? Rossetti viewed Proserpine as — it’s described as his very favorite design. He said to a friend that he wanted to make it the best thing he could do. It seems to be a preoccupation, and he returns to the idea [throughout his life]. This is wonderful because it’s one of his favorite designs, done in a technique that he had largely abandoned at this point in his career.

Do we know why this Rossetti Proserpine is in watercolor, and only this Proserpine? Was it a commission? It was commissioned, but we don’t know if he was asked to do it in watercolor.

Rossetti seems to have chosen to paint Jane Morris as Proserpine because the goddess was trapped in a bad marriage, and he saw Jane as being trapped by marriage also. But do we know how Jane actually felt about her marriage to William Morris? Do Rossetti’s Proserpines accurately reflect her feelings as well as his own? There’s no sense of her own feelings, but he makes his very clear. It’s clear that it’s his point of view. A friend described William Morris as tempestuous and exacting company. He was definitely known to have a temper. It was pretty common knowledge he was not a great guy to live with. When Jane broke off the affair with Rossetti, it was of her own accord.

What do we know of the affair between Jane Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, beyond the fact that there was one? And did William Morris know about it? William Morris was fairly liberal. He didn’t view Jane as his property, as other men of the time did. He knew he was not making her happy. The manor [Kelmscott Manor, located in the Cotswolds] was leased dually by William Morris and Rossetti. There were two summers where William Morris went to Iceland and left Jane with Rossetti. Because he owned the house, it was perfectly acceptable for him to be there. They worked together to keep an air of propriety.

What other evidence of the affair survives? Victorian propriety means that any specifics were not preserved. Jane insisted to the end of her life it was not a physical relationship, but we know Rossetti definitely loved her. She did an interview at one point after his death saying she loved him at one point, and what drew her apart was his addiction. She wanted to get away from that for the sake of her daughters.

There are at least eight versions of Rossetti’s Proserpine in oils. Do we know how many times he depicted this subject? He began eight oils, but that doesn’t mean there are eight extant copies with clear and exact provenances. The catalog raisonné is not exactly clear. More than one was left unfinished, and one was turned into another composition altogether. There are three key oils: The 1874 version in the Tate; the Birmingham version, which was the last one he worked on, up to his death in 1882, and an 1877 oil in a private collection.

Is this Rossetti Proserpine in watercolor typically counted among the eight? I don’t know how closely we can cling to eight. There are versions in chalk and pastel. It makes giving an exact number a bit complicated.

Is it possible to know if Jane Morris posed for Proserpine just once, and Rossetti burned it into his memory, or if she modeled for him for Proserpine many times? It’s hard to know. She spent extended periods of time with him. She could have sat more than once.

This Rossetti Proserpine is in an original Rossetti-made frame. Is that unusual, or do most Rossetti paintings with Rossetti frames tend to survive with their frames intact? Generally, when there’s a Rossetti-made frame, they remain together.

Does the Rossetti-made frame add any value in this context, or is a Rossetti Proserpine so desirable on its own that it’s hard to say? It’s a bit of a tricky question, but they make a lively package together.

Does the fact that this Rossetti Proserpine is done in watercolor, and is the only Rossetti Proserpine done in watercolor, make it more interesting to collectors? I think it does, because he was such an innovative watercolorist. It’s great to have an iconic composition in watercolor, especially when he largely had stopped doing it [by 1878]. It makes it special.

What is this Rossetti Prosperine like in person? It is incredibly beautiful. The thing the camera doesn’t capture is the texture of the watercolor technique. It’s subtle, but it’s a wonderfully thick application. Look at the curl of her hair, the way it adds textural elements to the drapery. It makes it ever so slightly 3-D.

What is your favorite detail of the Rossetti Proserpine? The strength of the figure, and the power of her expression. The female figures at the center of Rossetti’s later works have thought behind their eyes, and they have an agency I find truly compelling.

You can see the gears of Prosperine’s mind turning. Exactly, but she’s not a victim. She’s thinking about her predicament, but she doesn’t feel trapped. There’s a power and an intelligence that’s wonderfully captured.

It’s hard to do. It’s not easy to get that intelligence in an expression. [Rossetti was able to] because he spent so much time with her.

When was the last time a Rossetti Proserpine came to auction? There was one in London in 2013, a version done in chalk, which sold for $3.2 million. Prior to that, a pastel version came up in 2007.

So it’s thinkable that this Rossetti Proserpine could beat it. I hope so. I think it deserves to.

Did the chalk Rossetti Proserpine set a world auction record for the artist? No, the world auction record is one that sold in London at Sotheby’s in 2013. It was called A Christmas Carol, and it sold for £4.5 million, or just over $7.4 million.

Why will this Rossetti Proserpine stick in your memory? Too often, the originality of Victorian paintings goes unrecognized. When you look at Proserpine, you’re bowled over by how strikingly modern it is–that expression, and the inherent power in her figure. He’s really sort of creating a new idea of beauty. Those who don’t know the Victorian era well may not associate Prosperine with that era. That’s what’s so modern about it.

How to bid: The Rossetti Proserpine is lot 208 in the European Art Part I sale at Christie’s New York on October 28, 2019.

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Laura Mathis appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a John Atkinson Grimshaw painting that ultimately sold for $362,500.

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Christie’s devoted a story to the 1878 watercolor Proserpine on its website.

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SOLD! The Talking Skull Automation Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.


Update: The Willmann talking skull automaton sold for $13,200.

What you see: A Willmann talking skull automaton, made circa 1930 in Germany by designer John Willmann. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

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

So, how far back does the talking skull routine go in magic? How old is it? It’s over 100 years old. There are catalogs from the 1870s showing talking skulls in them. There are many different ways the trick can be accomplished. This is one very elaborate method.

A willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

How do magicians tend to use a talking skull in their acts? It’s actually a conversation between the performer and the audience, carried on with a disembodied skull. The skull is introduced with whatever patter the magician chooses to use. Then the skull is put on display and the magician or the audience asks the skull a question–“What card did I choose?” Its jaw will click the answer out as if it were alive.

Was John Willmann known for creating top-of-the-line automata around 1930, when he made this talking skull automaton? Yes. John Willmann was probably the.. I’m not sure if “famous” is the right word, but he was the most prolific builder of illusions and stage effects of this period [in Europe]. He was kind of known as the master craftsman from pocket tricks to automata and everything in between.

The faux book component of the Willmann talking skull automaton, shown alone. It conceals the clockwork that makes the skull's jaw tap.

The lot notes describe the Willmann talking skull automaton as “perhaps the most elaborate talking skull ever constructed.” What makes it so? The fact that it uses a real human skull, and the way it artfully conceals [its clockwork] in the faux book. Without revealing too much, most have a very simple mechanism to animate the skull. This is so elaborate as to almost be ridiculous. We’ve sold many examples of the talking skull. We’ve never sold one as complicated or as fanciful as this. This is truly an automaton.

But isn’t it risky for a magician to depend on an elaborate device to make a trick work? I would agree with that. You better make sure you wound it up.

What advantage does the Willmann talking skull automaton give to a magician that a simpler version of the trick does not? It requires no secret assistants to operate, which many other methods do. And a magician does not need to touch it or be near it. He could sit in the front row and carry on a conversation. The McElroy talking skull sells very well and has literally no mechanism. It’s literally a skull made out of composite material. The Willmann thing is the antithesis of that. It’s a robot.

The lot notes describe the book as “a true masterpiece of Willmann’s mechanical abilities.” What makes it a masterpiece? It combines the aesthetics and mechanics into a shining example of what he was capable of. He literally had a small factory in Germany to make these things. It’s a combination of art and science. And you know it’s a real human skull.

The Willman talking skull automaton, incorporated a genuine human skull.

Do we know where Willmann would have gotten a genuine human skull? A medical school.

When I saw it was German and circa 1930s I freaked out a little and checked to make sure the timing didn’t overlap with the concentration camps. His career was over and done with by the time the war began. I believe the factory was bombed out. And the talking skull could date earlier than the date in the catalog. It’s hard to say.

How did the clockwork inside the book make the skull’s jaw tap? It activated a mechanism that popped out of the book clandestinely, and that’s what moves the jaw.

Clockwork mechanisms, hidden inside a faux book, made the jaw of the Willmann talking skull automaton move.

Is all the clockwork I see in the photographs actually needed to make the jaw tap, or is some of it for show? No. Nobody was supposed to ever see this. Nobody was supposed to know it’s in there. The book is supposed to look like a book. I’m not a mechanic. I don’t know that every last piece is required. But there’s no reason to put in anything that’s extraneous.

Does the clockwork make any noise? It’s pretty quiet. And you [the magician] are going to be talking, and the audience is going to be interacting. There are others [other clockwork-driven devices] in the catalog–an old joke is you need to play a Sousa march to cover it up.

So the magician’s patter and the ambient audience noise is enough to cloak the sounds the clockwork makes? If it’s even that loud. Magicians use silent clockwork mechanisms.

John Willmann went all-out when designing the deluxe version of his talking skull automata. He included several hand-lettered pages inside the fake book that hid the clockwork that moved the skull's jawbone.

I understand that the fake book contains several leaves, aka pages. Willmann didn’t have to bother with that, but he did. How does the time and effort he lavished on making the book pages show the high craftsmanship that he achieved? It gives you another layer of deception. If you try to “prove” it’s a real book, you can show the hand-lettered leaves. You can “prove,” if you so desire, it’s an ancient book of spells by leafing through it. The cheaper way [of making a talking skull illusion] is a fake book that you can’t open up. He went the extra mile.

Was this Willmann talking skull automaton a one-off, or did he offer it in a catalog? I’m sure he made them one at a time when he received orders. I’ve seen two. That doesn’t mean that others don’t exist.

Paperwork, written in German, that accompanies the Willmann talking skull automaton. It describes the workings of the trick and references a less deluxe version of the automaton.

Is the Willmann talking skull automaton shown in one of his catalogs? I’ve looked through John Willmann catalogs, but I wasn’t looking specifically for this item. It wouldn’t surprise me [if it was in there]. Paperwork that comes with it–it’s all in German–some of it describes the effect, and some of it references a slightly lower-grade version at a lower price.

How many other talking skull devices have you seen that include a genuine human skull? One.

Is that one a Willmann talking skull automaton? No, but I have it here. It was in the same collection. It’s quite different in the way it works, its composition and its method. We’ll offer it next year in the second part of the sale.

Is the automaton fully functional? Yeah. Did I have a conversation in German with it? No, but it is fully functional.

When it’s fully wound up, how long does it operate? I did not time it.

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

What is the Willmann talking skull automaton like in person? It’s creepy. It’s a real human skull, that talks to you.

Why will this Willmann talking skull automaton stick in your memory? It’s rarity, its aesthetics, its ingenuity. We’ve handled a lot of weird things. This ranks right up there.

How to bid: The Willmann talking skull automaton is lot 281 in The Magic Collection of Rüdiger Deutsch: Part I, taking place at Potter & Potter on October 26, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter. 

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a 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 Howard Finster Painting Could Command $40,000

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a 1982 painting by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster.

What you see: Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster. Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000.

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

First, let’s discuss the story of Howard Finster–how he became an artist, and how his art career played out. He was a street preacher in the small town of Summerville, Georgia. He would stand on the hood of his car on Main Street and preach. He also had to make a living, so he’d put clock cases on the hood and sell them. One day, he was watching Billy Graham on TV. He watched the whole thing and couldn’t remember what he heard. Finster had a vision that he should put his sermons into art so they were always there to see, in the art. As a person of no means, he could not buy art supplies. He would say, “I take your garbage and turn it into art.” He would take refuse and any paint that was around. Early paintings were tractor enamel [paint] on board, scrap, whatever.

How was he discovered? People knew about his art but didn’t consider it art. But one day, the Talking Heads put his art on the cover [of their 1985 album Little Creatures] and R.E.M. put his art on the cover of [their 1984 album, Reckoning]. He was known and collected, but when the Talking Heads album went big, he became famous. People rushed to buy from him, and that’s when his career really soared.

Did the Talking Heads discover him? No. His work was known and in shows, but the masses–when the Talking Heads had that monster album and his art was on the cover, with David Byrne holding the world up–that’s when Howard Finster became a household name.

Not many outsider artists gain recognition while they are still alive and actively making art. How did Howard Finster react to his fame? He never changed. The only thing I think it did was let him by a nicer house for his wife. Otherwise he was the same street preacher who stayed up all night, eating coffee grounds and working on his art. It never went to his head.

How prolific was he? He started painting around 1976 and went into the 2000s. He had a good thirty-something years of painting. For the first ten years, no one really knew about him. He numbered every piece of his artwork. In his later years, his kids and grandkids helped him. I believe he got up to 40,000 pieces of art.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, featuring his signature and the painting's number.

He numbered every single piece of art he ever made? From the very first one forward? Yes. He was quite an unusual guy. He believed he was from another planet. He had visions, and conversations with people from the beyond.

And he was an insomniac? He worked all night and all day and hardly ever slept. He’d eat about a spoonful of Folger’s instant coffee. He had a very hard rural upbringing before he became a street preacher.

Where does Howard Finster rank among the titans of outsider and self-taught artists? He is by far the most recognized self-taught artist out there. Others may bring more at auction, but as far as making the field accessible and known to the masses, there’s no one like Howard Finster.

Really? Is he better-known than Grandma Moses? People know her stuff, but they knew it in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It’s been two or three generations since Grandma Moses connected. Howard Finster was popular in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and he still connects to the masses.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

What is the story of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon? Is it a stand-alone work or is it part of a dedicated series on a specific theme? That’s the thing. Howard is really not from this world. Where his thoughts take him are very strange and unique. He did a set of four-foot-by-four-foot paintings–I guess there are under 20 pieces. He probably made two or three of George Washington. I don’t know the story behind the planet Loraleon. It could truly be all going on in his mind.

Did Howard Finster think that he came from the planet Loraleon? I think he said he traveled to all these planets. He’s way out there in the universe on this stuff.

So he didn’t claim to be from planet Loraleon? No, but he was able to visit and travel in his own mind, his own visions.

Do we know why he did 20 paintings in four-by-four size? There just happen to be 20 at that size. One is called Superpower, and dealt with the Russian-American conflict. Some are George Washington. Some are Daniel Boone. Some are about getting to heaven. They vary in subject. A few years ago we sold one of Jesus’s mother–she was a central figure for that. It brought $51,600. That’s still a record for any Howard Finster piece.

Did he scavenge or receive a pile of four-by-four boards, and use those for paintings? After a certain time, he started to get better art supplies. He still used leftover tractor enamel. He could have ordered four-by-four boards. Normal plywood is four-by-eight. Maybe he had a bunch of these cut.

How often does George Washington appear in his work? Quite often. He would repeat a lot of icons, using them over and over. He did thousands of images of Elvis at three years old. He loved people in history, especially American history.

Does his George Washington always look like this–like the portrait we see on the dollar bill? That I can’t tell you. He comes up with portraits or images. It could be the dollar. It could be a cereal box. Who knows where this stuff comes from?

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, showing Washington's collar, which has people walking on it.

I’d like to talk about some of the details of the Howard Finster painting–particularly Washington’s collar, which looks like a sidewalk with people strolling on it. What meaning did this have for him? For a lot of his paintings, there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s going on. A lot of clouds have faces, because it’s easier for him to have faces on them. That’s what makes self-taught art America’s greatest art. Nothing else out there [is like this] and everything else after this will be a copy of this. He’s only influenced by himself and religion and what was around him.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows a handwritten message and part of a church.

I see a church in the background, and the handwritten religious messages, but this seems less religious than other Howard Finster paintings. This doesn’t seem really religious, but he’s trying to preach at the same time. He always has churches, he always talks about Jesus. There are proverbs and messages from the Bible. There’s always some kind of preaching going on, and he’s always trying to get the world right in his mind.

Am I right in thinking this Howard Finster painting has a less crowded composition than other works of his? It’s not as busy as most of his works, and it’s very bold. Even the details of his shirt–it’s charming.

This Howard Finster paintings measures four feet by four feet. Is this the largest size he worked in? These are the biggest paintings you can get. He did a painting as a full four-by-eight sheet, but he didn’t really paint it–the paintings are stuck on there. He was prolific in his paintings. Some are big. Some are small. Whatever he could get his hands on, it didn’t matter to him, he was just trying to get the word out. Wood, concrete, fabrics, rags, anything. We’ve seen stuff on mirrors, on glass, almost anything you can think of.

Picasso and Warhol were also prolific, and that has helped their secondary markets–the volume of stuff creates momentum that keeps their markets going. Is that true for Howard Finster’s market, too? Does the volume of his work create momentum for his market? It’s more true than with Warhol or Picasso. Finster signed and numbered his works, even his later works. It’s a lot easier [money-wise] to have a Howard Finster in your house than a Warhol or a Picasso. Howard Finster did original art, but he was able to mass-produce it because he just worked so hard at it.

This painting was featured in a show and a book named Passionate Visions, by Alice Rae Yellen. How might that fact affect the painting’s value to collectors? It’s very helpful, mainly because it shows provenance, it shows it’s been exhibited. Those little things always help a piece of art.

Several other works by Finster appear in the auction. How do they compare to this work? What makes this one especially interesting when compared to the other five? The size and the rarity and just the sheer–it’s an early, early classic piece with great size to it. Whoever gets this will always have a museum-quality piece. No one can debate that.

What condition is the Howard Finster painting in? Mint condition.

Which means what, in the context of a Howard Finster painting? It’s been maintained very well. No fading. No scratches. It’s as pristine as the day he made it.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows the decorations he burned into the frame he made for the work.

The Howard Finster painting has a frame made by him. How many Finsters have Finster-made frames? Is that common? In the early days, when he was a street preacher, he’d put clock cases and other wooden items to sell [on the hood of his car]. He made frames for his works. He would burn little designs onto the frame with power tools. If you’re lucky, you can get an early work with a frame.

Is this a pretty typical frame for him, or does it stand out in any particular way? I like this frame. It’s multi-layered, like, three or four layers of wood burned on top of each other. It’s very well built-up, and it’s a heavy frame for him. I’d say it’s one of his best frames.

We know he made 40,000 or so pieces of art. Do collectors prefer Howard Finster paintings that have certain numbers? Are they less interested in paintings with higher numbers? The period when he was going from a paintbrush message to a Sharpie message–between 5,000 and 6,000, we see permanent marker come in to write the preaching down. That’s where most collectors want to be, 5,000 and earlier. Those are his most important pieces.

I don’t see much in the lot notes about the provenance of the Howard Finster painting. Has it been to auction before? Right, it hasn’t been on the market. A dealer probably sold it [to the consignor] 20 or 30 years ago.

What is the Howard Finster painting like in person? It’s powerful. It’s big and it’s bold and it’s striking. I guarantee a lot of people will take selfies next to it during the auction.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Howard Finster painting? I imagine it was informed by the sale of the Virgin Mary painting of the same size? This would be the second-highest price paid for a Finster if it sells within the estimate. I’d be very happy if it exceeded the estimate, and my estimates are usually conservative anyhow. There’s no other chance to get a four-foot-by-four-foot Finster. To get one on the market is rare. The others are in private collections, and when I ask about them, [the owners] want over $100,000 for it. That’s nice, but a little high for the market right now.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

Why will this Howard Finster painting stick in your memory? When you look at an artist’s work–we’ve been in the auction business for self-taught art for 25 years, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of Finsters. Some you just gravitate to. Rarely do we have a piece like the Virgin Mary or the George Washington. Twenty-five years from now, it will be very difficult for anybody to pick up a masterpiece like this.

How to bid: The Howard Finster painting Vision of George on Planet Loraleon is lot 0186 in the Self-Taught, Outsider, & Folk Art auction at Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia on November 9, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is 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 $17,000; a work on paper by Minnie Evans that later sold for $8,000; and a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

Howard Finster has a website. So too does the Paradise Garden Foundation, which maintains the unique museum he created on four acres in Pennville, Georgia.

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 Rossetti Proserpine–the Only Version Painted in Watercolor–Could Sell for $5 Million at Christie’s

Proserpine, an 1878 watercolor rendition by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Jane Burden Morris modeled as the goddess.

What you see: Proserpine, a watercolor painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1878. Christie’s estimates it at $3 million to $5 million.

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

First off–do we know why Rossetti calls the goddess Proserpine rather than Persephone? Not sure. He might be the same as me–it’s what he learned in school, and that’s what he stuck with.

A colleague of yours in London calls this “the most important and beautiful painting by a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to appear at auction in a decade.” What makes it so? There’s a couple of different factors that go into that. The iconic status of Proserpine in Dante’s oeuvre and 19th century painting in general, and Jane’s [Jane Morris] importance as a model, and the technical virtuosity on display by the artist.

Rossetti was particularly excellent in watercolor, yes? What shines through is he’s an extraordinarily innovative watercolor artist. When people think of watercolor, they think of thin washes of color. That’s not how he’s working. He captures a texture in watercolor that’s almost like oil paint. He’s able to capture an almost 3-D quality. It’s really exceptional.

Could we talk about why Rossetti painted Proserpine, and the meaning that the subject had to him? Proserpine is the first subject Rossetti takes up after his breakdown in 1872. It was a reinvigoration of his artistic energy and definitely a reflection of his longing for Jane. [In the context of the Proserpine myth] he saw himself in the role of Ceres, who fell into anguish over her lost daughter, who had to spend six months on Earth and six months in Hell [Hades] every year. It was summer when he was with her [Jane] and winter without her. He saw himself in that role of Ceres–probably not literally as Ceres, but more a feeling of loss tied into his relationship with her, their time together and apart. The duality is key.

Could we talk about how he chooses to portray Proserpine, and the details he surrounds her with? It seems like almost everything is charged with meaning… The ivy is symbolic of life after death, and memory. It’s also thought of as a symbol of faithfulness. It might reflect his faithfulness to her. The cramped composition space is very typical of the artist and gives you an overwhelming sense of the underworld as well as the real sense that she’s trapped there. The pomegranate is taken from the myth, and considered the fruit of Hades. Because she ate six seeds, she’s bound to the underworld for six months a year. It also represents the idea of life after death.

Why is the incense there in the lower left? It indicates the figure is a goddess.

How does Rossetti’s Proserpine show his mastery as an artist? Rossetti viewed Proserpine as — it’s described as his very favorite design. He said to a friend that he wanted to make it the best thing he could do. It seems to be a preoccupation, and he returns to the idea [throughout his life]. This is wonderful because it’s one of his favorite designs, done in a technique that he had largely abandoned at this point in his career.

Do we know why this Rossetti Proserpine is in watercolor, and only this Proserpine? Was it a commission? It was commissioned, but we don’t know if he was asked to do it in watercolor.

Rossetti seems to have chosen to paint Jane Morris as Proserpine because the goddess was trapped in a bad marriage, and he saw Jane as being trapped by marriage also. But do we know how Jane actually felt about her marriage to William Morris? Do Rossetti’s Proserpines accurately reflect her feelings as well as his own? There’s no sense of her own feelings, but he makes his very clear. It’s clear that it’s his point of view. A friend described William Morris as tempestuous and exacting company. He was definitely known to have a temper. It was pretty common knowledge he was not a great guy to live with. When Jane broke off the affair with Rossetti, it was of her own accord.

What do we know of the affair between Jane Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, beyond the fact that there was one? And did William Morris know about it? William Morris was fairly liberal. He didn’t view Jane as his property, as other men of the time did. He knew he was not making her happy. The manor [Kelmscott Manor, located in the Cotswolds] was leased dually by William Morris and Rossetti. There were two summers where William Morris went to Iceland and left Jane with Rossetti. Because he owned the house, it was perfectly acceptable for him to be there. They worked together to keep an air of propriety.

What other evidence of the affair survives? Victorian propriety means that any specifics were not preserved. Jane insisted to the end of her life it was not a physical relationship, but we know Rossetti definitely loved her. She did an interview at one point after his death saying she loved him at one point, and what drew her apart was his addiction. She wanted to get away from that for the sake of her daughters.

There are at least eight versions of Rossetti’s Proserpine in oils. Do we know how many times he depicted this subject? He began eight oils, but that doesn’t mean there are eight extant copies with clear and exact provenances. The catalog raisonné is not exactly clear. More than one was left unfinished, and one was turned into another composition altogether. There are three key oils: The 1874 version in the Tate; the Birmingham version, which was the last one he worked on, up to his death in 1882, and an 1877 oil in a private collection.

Is this Rossetti Proserpine in watercolor typically counted among the eight? I don’t know how closely we can cling to eight. There are versions in chalk and pastel. It makes giving an exact number a bit complicated.

Is it possible to know if Jane Morris posed for Proserpine just once, and Rossetti burned it into his memory, or if she modeled for him for Proserpine many times? It’s hard to know. She spent extended periods of time with him. She could have sat more than once.

This Rossetti Proserpine is in an original Rossetti-made frame. Is that unusual, or do most Rossetti paintings with Rossetti frames tend to survive with their frames intact? Generally, when there’s a Rossetti-made frame, they remain together.

Does the Rossetti-made frame add any value in this context, or is a Rossetti Proserpine so desirable on its own that it’s hard to say? It’s a bit of a tricky question, but they make a lively package together.

Does the fact that this Rossetti Proserpine is done in watercolor, and is the only Rossetti Proserpine done in watercolor, make it more interesting to collectors? I think it does, because he was such an innovative watercolorist. It’s great to have an iconic composition in watercolor, especially when he largely had stopped doing it [by 1878]. It makes it special.

What is this Rossetti Prosperine like in person? It is incredibly beautiful. The thing the camera doesn’t capture is the texture of the watercolor technique. It’s subtle, but it’s a wonderfully thick application. Look at the curl of her hair, the way it adds textural elements to the drapery. It makes it ever so slightly 3-D.

What is your favorite detail of the Rossetti Proserpine? The strength of the figure, and the power of her expression. The female figures at the center of Rossetti’s later works have thought behind their eyes, and they have an agency I find truly compelling.

You can see the gears of Prosperine’s mind turning. Exactly, but she’s not a victim. She’s thinking about her predicament, but she doesn’t feel trapped. There’s a power and an intelligence that’s wonderfully captured.

It’s hard to do. It’s not easy to get that intelligence in an expression. [Rossetti was able to] because he spent so much time with her.

When was the last time a Rossetti Proserpine came to auction? There was one in London in 2013, a version done in chalk, which sold for $3.2 million. Prior to that, a pastel version came up in 2007.

So it’s thinkable that this Rossetti Proserpine could beat it. I hope so. I think it deserves to.

Did the chalk Rossetti Proserpine set a world auction record for the artist? No, the world auction record is one that sold in London at Sotheby’s in 2013. It was called A Christmas Carol, and it sold for £4.5 million, or just over $7.4 million.

Why will this Rossetti Proserpine stick in your memory? Too often, the originality of Victorian paintings goes unrecognized. When you look at Proserpine, you’re bowled over by how strikingly modern it is–that expression, and the inherent power in her figure. He’s really sort of creating a new idea of beauty. Those who don’t know the Victorian era well may not associate Prosperine with that era. That’s what’s so modern about it.

How to bid: The Rossetti Proserpine is lot 208 in the European Art Part I sale at Christie’s New York on October 28, 2019.

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Laura Mathis appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a John Atkinson Grimshaw painting that ultimately sold for $362,500.

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Christie’s devoted a story to the 1878 watercolor Proserpine on its website.

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

A Talking Skull Automaton Could Command $9,000 at Potter & Potter

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.


What you see: A Willmann talking skull automaton, made circa 1930 in Germany by designer John Willmann. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

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

So, how far back does the talking skull routine go in magic? How old is it? It’s over 100 years old. There are catalogs from the 1870s showing talking skulls in them. There are many different ways the trick can be accomplished. This is one very elaborate method.

A willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

How do magicians tend to use a talking skull in their acts? It’s actually a conversation between the performer and the audience, carried on with a disembodied skull. The skull is introduced with whatever patter the magician chooses to use. Then the skull is put on display and the magician or the audience asks the skull a question–“What card did I choose?” Its jaw will click the answer out as if it were alive.

Was John Willmann known for creating top-of-the-line automata around 1930, when he made this talking skull automaton? Yes. John Willmann was probably the.. I’m not sure if “famous” is the right word, but he was the most prolific builder of illusions and stage effects of this period [in Europe]. He was kind of known as the master craftsman from pocket tricks to automata and everything in between.

The faux book component of the Willmann talking skull automaton, shown alone. It conceals the clockwork that makes the skull's jaw tap.

The lot notes describe the Willmann talking skull automaton as “perhaps the most elaborate talking skull ever constructed.” What makes it so? The fact that it uses a real human skull, and the way it artfully conceals [its clockwork] in the faux book. Without revealing too much, most have a very simple mechanism to animate the skull. This is so elaborate as to almost be ridiculous. We’ve sold many examples of the talking skull. We’ve never sold one as complicated or as fanciful as this. This is truly an automaton.

But isn’t it risky for a magician to depend on an elaborate device to make a trick work? I would agree with that. You better make sure you wound it up.

What advantage does the Willmann talking skull automaton give to a magician that a simpler version of the trick does not? It requires no secret assistants to operate, which many other methods do. And a magician does not need to touch it or be near it. He could sit in the front row and carry on a conversation. The McElroy talking skull sells very well and has literally no mechanism. It’s literally a skull made out of composite material. The Willmann thing is the antithesis of that. It’s a robot.

The lot notes describe the book as “a true masterpiece of Willmann’s mechanical abilities.” What makes it a masterpiece? It combines the aesthetics and mechanics into a shining example of what he was capable of. He literally had a small factory in Germany to make these things. It’s a combination of art and science. And you know it’s a real human skull.

The Willman talking skull automaton, incorporated a genuine human skull.

Do we know where Willmann would have gotten a genuine human skull? A medical school.

When I saw it was German and circa 1930s I freaked out a little and checked to make sure the timing didn’t overlap with the concentration camps. His career was over and done with by the time the war began. I believe the factory was bombed out. And the talking skull could date earlier than the date in the catalog. It’s hard to say.

How did the clockwork inside the book make the skull’s jaw tap? It activated a mechanism that popped out of the book clandestinely, and that’s what moves the jaw.

Clockwork mechanisms, hidden inside a faux book, made the jaw of the Willmann talking skull automaton move.

Is all the clockwork I see in the photographs actually needed to make the jaw tap, or is some of it for show? No. Nobody was supposed to ever see this. Nobody was supposed to know it’s in there. The book is supposed to look like a book. I’m not a mechanic. I don’t know that every last piece is required. But there’s no reason to put in anything that’s extraneous.

Does the clockwork make any noise? It’s pretty quiet. And you [the magician] are going to be talking, and the audience is going to be interacting. There are others [other clockwork-driven devices] in the catalog–an old joke is you need to play a Sousa march to cover it up.

So the magician’s patter and the ambient audience noise is enough to cloak the sounds the clockwork makes? If it’s even that loud. Magicians use silent clockwork mechanisms.

John Willmann went all-out when designing the deluxe version of his talking skull automata. He included several hand-lettered pages inside the fake book that hid the clockwork that moved the skull's jawbone.

I understand that the fake book contains several leaves, aka pages. Willmann didn’t have to bother with that, but he did. How does the time and effort he lavished on making the book pages show the high craftsmanship that he achieved? It gives you another layer of deception. If you try to “prove” it’s a real book, you can show the hand-lettered leaves. You can “prove,” if you so desire, it’s an ancient book of spells by leafing through it. The cheaper way [of making a talking skull illusion] is a fake book that you can’t open up. He went the extra mile.

Was this Willmann talking skull automaton a one-off, or did he offer it in a catalog? I’m sure he made them one at a time when he received orders. I’ve seen two. That doesn’t mean that others don’t exist.

Paperwork, written in German, that accompanies the Willmann talking skull automaton. It describes the workings of the trick and references a less deluxe version of the automaton.

Is the Willmann talking skull automaton shown in one of his catalogs? I’ve looked through John Willmann catalogs, but I wasn’t looking specifically for this item. It wouldn’t surprise me [if it was in there]. Paperwork that comes with it–it’s all in German–some of it describes the effect, and some of it references a slightly lower-grade version at a lower price.

How many other talking skull devices have you seen that include a genuine human skull? One.

Is that one a Willmann talking skull automaton? No, but I have it here. It was in the same collection. It’s quite different in the way it works, its composition and its method. We’ll offer it next year in the second part of the sale.

Is the automaton fully functional? Yeah. Did I have a conversation in German with it? No, but it is fully functional.

When it’s fully wound up, how long does it operate? I did not time it.

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

What is the Willmann talking skull automaton like in person? It’s creepy. It’s a real human skull, that talks to you.

Why will this Willmann talking skull automaton stick in your memory? It’s rarity, its aesthetics, its ingenuity. We’ve handled a lot of weird things. This ranks right up there.

How to bid: The Willmann talking skull automaton is lot 281 in The Magic Collection of Rüdiger Deutsch: Part I, taking place at Potter & Potter on October 26, 2019.

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