SOLD! An Exceptional Circa 1921 Print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic Fetched $81,250 at Swann Auction Galleries

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Update: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House sold for $81,250.

What you see: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, a photograph printed circa 1921. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

Who was Lewis Hine? He was an American photographer who used his camera to document society in hopes of changing it for the better. He captured images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island; child laborers in Southern cotton mills; and the workers who constructed the Empire State Building. Hine died in 1940 at the age of 66.

Where does Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House rank among Hine’s most iconic images? “It’s probably one of his most important, if not his most important. It’s a significant photo,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

Why is it such a strong image? “The visual appeal of the photo is rather direct and stunning,” she says. “It has harmony, it has visual balance, and at the same time, he positions the worker in a way that he’s controlling the machine. It reflects a new visual vocabulary that addresses the machine age, but it privileges the person with the machine.”

To what extent did Hine shape the appearance of this image? “The idea of the photographer arranging the subject is to some extent, to me, a specious issue,” she says. “Hine used a Graflex camera, a handheld camera that predated the 35 mm camera. It had technical aspects that may elude the 21st century viewer. The images are not easy to make. The Graflex is not a cell phone camera. It’s not on a tripod. It’s made of wood. It’s heavy. In all likelihood, flash powder was required for illumination. The image appeared in ground glass, upside down. It takes a bit of mental acuity just to frame the photograph. There were very different handling issues. Capturing an image in an informal manner was extremely difficult with a Graflex camera.”

Hine made several attempts at photographing a laborer using a wrench on a machine. Why did this particular one succeed so well? “The elements of the machine are writ large in this image, and the physicality of the laborer is very beautifully defined. And it shows how prescient Hine was,” she says, noting that he shot the image around 1921, when the phrase “machine age” was yet to be coined. “He was essentially visualizing a cultural idea, and was at the forefront of articulating it in a pictorial fashion. He understood and saw the trend before it was verified or confirmed.”

This print was made circa 1921–exceptionally early. Just how rare is it? “This is a very rare, very rare print, a stunning image,” she says, noting that it’s the first she’s handled a Mechanic photograph of this vintage. “In the body of work he produced during this time, it’s uncommon to find a stamp by Lewis Hine [the stamp mark reads ‘Hine’s Interpretive Photography, Hastings-on-Hudson’]. It’s extremely uncommon and rare and it has all the beauty of the finest photographs.”

There was no collectors’ market for photographs in 1921, and there wouldn’t be one for at least 50 years. Why might Hine have had this print made then? “Photographers are always making prints from their negatives,” she says. “Sometimes they give them to their family members or colleagues. He was important in the social welfare community, the progressive community. Undeniably, he would have been proud of this image. This picture is a real winner.”

Are there other prints of this image made at later dates? “I’ve seen others, but nothing as beautiful as this,” she says.

What makes this print so beautiful? “The detail, the clarity, the ability to coax out the middle tones of the black and white–I think this print really sings. It stands alone,” she says. “It’s in excellent condition. It’s a stunning representation of the image, and the print itself is gorgeous.”

Why else will this Hine photograph stick in your memory? “It’s such a privilege to handle a photograph like this. In some ways, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kaplan says. “I’ve published two books about Lewis Hine. It’s an extraordinary privilege.”

Is it the finest Lewis Hine photograph you’ve ever handled? “When you work in an auction house, everything you handle is your baby,” she says, laughing. “Let’s say I recognize the integrity and the value of this image.”

How to bid: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House is lot 60 in Swann’s Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks sale on February 15, 2018.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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SOLD! The Canyon Diablo Meteorite Commanded $237,500 at Christie’s

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Update: The Canyon Diablo meteorite sold for $237,500.

What you see: A meteorite from the Canyon Diablo fall, which occurred about 50,000 years ago in what is now the American state of Arizona. Christie’s estimates the meteorite at $150,000 to $250,000.

What is a meteorite? “A meteorite has managed to make its way all the way down to the earth,” says James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history. “A meteor is what you see flashing across the sky. It has to be a certain size to avoid the destructive forces of entering the earth’s atmosphere.”

It’s described as a “matchless” meteorite. Why? “It’s unlike and better than any Canyon Diablo meteorite I’ve seen,” he says. “And the holes on it are astonishing. They really add to the sculptural aesthetic collectors look for. For every 200 Canyon Diablo meteorites I see, maybe five are pretty or aesthetic, and probably one has a hole. To have as many holes as this–I can’t think of a meteorite at that size with that many holes. It looks like a Barbara Hepworth or a Henry Moore sculpture. It’s a class above other meteorites from that event.”

Why does the meteorite look this way? “As the meteor falls to earth, the fricative forces in the atmosphere heat it up and will blow it up eventually. The fragments plow into the earth,” he says. “Then they undergo terrestrialization–they weather. If within a parent body there’s a natural weakness in the rock, it will slowly carve away and form a hole. For this particular fragment, tumbling toward the earth created the conditions that allowed it to form holes. ”

The meteorite is also described as having an “uncommon smooth metallic surface.” What does that mean? “Most Canyon Diablo meteorites you come across have a jagged surface,” he says. “This looks like the stereotyped ideal of how we want meteorites to look.”

What is the meteorite made of? “Iron and nickel, with several other trace metals,” he says.

The meteorite measures thirteen and a half inches by eight inches by seven and a quarter inches. Is that unusually large? “For something as pretty as that, yes,” he says. “You do get bigger than that. The most famous is the Willamette in New York.”

What does it feel like to hold it in your hands? “It weighs 70 pounds. It’s heavy. If you dropped it on your toes, you could cause real mischief,” he says. “But when you have one of these iron meteorites in your hand, you do have a moment when you step back and think about it. These objects are four and a half billion years old. In our day to day experience, we struggle to understand millions and billions. These objects are one-third as old as time itself. I find it an amazing philosophical puzzle to unravel. The meteorite has a presence that really drives the question home.”

How often do Canyon Diablo meteorites come up at auction? “We have about one every six months at Christie’s, but in ten years, I’ve never seen one that looked like this,” he says. “It’s one of the most extraordinarily beautiful meteorites we’ve had. It has a sculpture-like quality to it. Great art and great objects hold their own next to masterpieces. I’d love to have this with a Franz Kline on the wall and a Barbara Hepworth on the table. It would have a wonderful presence.”

Why else will the meteorite stick in your memory? “I’d go back to its sculpture-like quality. It just screams ‘Barbara Hepworth’ to me,” Hyslop says. “A lot of found objects have that aesthetic. And it looks like the stereotype of a meteorite. It’s perfect.”

How to bid: The Canyon Diablo meteorite is lot 41 in Deep Impact: Martian, Lunar, and Other Rare Meteorites, a Christie’s online sale taking place from February 7 to February 14, 2018.

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

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This Vibrantly Colored William McKinley Campaign Poster from 1900 Could Command $15,000 at Heritage Auctions

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What you see: A circa 1900 28-inch-by-42-inch near-mint condition campaign poster for President William McKinley, who was running for a second term. Heritage Auctions believes that the poster could sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was William McKinley? He was the 25th president of the United States. He was a Republican and a Civil War veteran who defended the gold standard and led the country through the Spanish-American War, in which America gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines (this last eventually became independent). He also annexed Hawaii. His vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, went on to become president in his own right. An assassin shot McKinley in September 1901 and he succumbed to his wounds about a week later. He was 58.

Do we know how this campaign poster came to be? And did the campaign know they had a winner on their hands with this image? No, and probably not. “The two times he ran for president, McKinley stayed home in Canton, Ohio, and delegations came to visit him,” says Don Ackerman, consignment director for historical Americana and political material at Heritage Auctions. “Millionaire Mark Hanna financed the entire campaign. Most campaign materials were purchased and used by local Republican clubs and organizations. They didn’t have to be authorized by the national Republican clubs. Posters like this may have been custom-ordered, or may have been produced for Republican clubs.”

What details in this circa 1900 poster might be lost on 21st century viewers? “The word ‘Civilization’ is an unusual usage. It ties in with the expansionism of 1898 and the war with Spain. Republicans supported imperialism and justified that by saying they were bringing civilization to backward peoples,” he says, laughing. “Part of that is you see factories belching smoke. That was considered a higher level of civilization over people who fished and farmed. The large gold coin says ‘Sound Money’ on it, and refers to the gold standard. It was a big issue in 1896 and 1900. McKinley’s opponent, William Jennings Bryan, advocated greater use of silver. Republicans said that would devalue the currency and cause inflation, and if we stuck to the gold standard, it would maintain its value.”

What other details stand out? “The glowing sunrise in the background. Sort of like ‘Morning in America.’ Everything is bright,” he says. “And you have shipping on the left hand side and factories on the right–business is booming, we’re selling overseas, factories are at capacity. McKinley is shown with the flag, in an appeal to patriotism and showing America as a dominant world power. He’s supported by a group of men from all aspects of society. The man in the blue suit is a sailor. One on the left is a soldier, there to appeal to people who served in the armed forces and the Civil War–McKinley served in the Civil War. The man with the silk top hat is a banker or an industrialist. The guy in the center might be a waiter–they usually don’t wear hats. The man in the pale green shirt is a workman. McKinley is appealing to all segments of the voting population.”

I can’t help but notice that everyone shown in the poster is a white man. Is that deliberate? “Except for Wyoming and Colorado, women couldn’t vote [in 1900],” he says. “This [poster] is not necessarily a snub of minority voters. There were ‘Colored Republican Clubs’. The Democrats were associated with the south, and with slaveholders. Blacks were loyal Republican voters from the time of Ulysses S. Grant to FDR or later. I think the Republican Party figured that black voters who were permitted to vote were going to vote for them anyway.”

Where were these posters displayed in 1900? “They were in local Republican headquarters or in store windows,” he said. “The owners weren’t afraid to offend their customers. If they liked the Republican candidate, they’d put the Republican poster in the window.”

Maybe ten of these posters exist. How might this one have managed to survive? “If somebody liked it and thought it was nice, they would fold it and put it away,” he says, noting that this example has folding creases in it. “That’s how they got saved. If it’s properly stored and the paper is good, the colors will still be bright. This has a minor chip, but nothing that affects the image.”

The colors on this poster really pop, particularly the red and blue of the flag, and the yellow of the coin. How close are they to the colors that the poster would have had when it was fresh off the stone lithographic press? “Pretty close. They’re not faded or anything,” he says. “The ink they used doesn’t fade naturally. As long as it’s not exposed to sunlight, the colors are going to be as vibrant as in 1900.”

How often does this poster appear at auction? “We’ve sold three of them in the past, for prices ranging from $10,000 to $17,000,” he says. “The one that sold for $17,925 probably is the record for this poster, but I can’t say definitively.”

Why will this poster stick in your memory? “It’s a masterpiece of graphic political Americana, and probably the best McKinley poster, for sure,” Ackerman says. “It’s head and shoulders above most of the stuff we see from the period. This really grabs you. Political posters of this quality were only issued between 1900 and 1904, and of the different designs known, this is the most appealing. It’s got all the great elements you want to see on a poster. It tells a story, it refers to policies that were prominent then, and it reflects the exuberance that people felt for the political process. It was a new century, a new age, and people really felt good about themselves.”

How to bid: The circa 1900 William McKinley campaign poster is lot #43382 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Political & Presidential Americana, Part 2, taking place at Heritage Auctions on February 24, 2018.

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

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Three-In-One! This Trio of 1928 Mont Blanc Posters Could Command $12,000 at Swann

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What you see: Vers le Mont – Blanc, a group of three posters dating from 1928 and designed by Georges Dorival. Swann Auction Galleries is offering them as a single lot, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who was Georges Dorival? Justin Marie Georges Dorival was born in Paris in 1879 and died in Louveciennes in 1968 and… that’s about all we know about him. “He was a very prolific artist who wasn’t remembered by history,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “The poster world is littered with artists who don’t amount to much outside their world.”

Were the Vers le Mont – Blanc posters his crowning achievement? “This is his most famous image,” he says. “If you type Dorival’s name into the search engine on the Swann web site, you’ll see his others are beautiful, but not remarkable in any way. These three are remarkable. What’s special and unique about this is it’s done as a tryptic.”

Do we know why Dorival did Vers le Mont – Blanc as a tryptic? “I just think it was an inspired idea,” he says. “The three separate posters can work individually, or as a tryptic.”

Do I see the mountain depicted in daylight, dusk, and night? “Yes. It’s like a time-lapse, graphic photo,” he says. “One clearly has stars in the sky. Day, dusk, night. Everything below the black V of the mountain is identical. The top third changes.”

How often were these posters displayed together, as a tryptic? “There’s no record of that. I’ve never seen any actual photo documentation of these three up,” he says. “I assume if they could put all three up together, they would, just because it makes a powerful statement.”

Do they tend to come to auction as a tryptic as well? Generally, yes. Six sets have appeared at auction as a single lot since 2008; this will be the seventh. Sometimes, however, they appear in the same sale as three individual lots. Swann set the auction record for a set of three in November 2010 that sold as one lot for $18,000 against an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

What makes the poster image so strong? “There’s a conceptual reason and an actual reason,” he says. “The actual reason is the way he lays out the art. It’s almost as if someone is unzipping the scene. Your eye is quite literally drawn to the center of the poster. It’s simple and it’s genius. And the concept of the same poster at different times of day–it’s astonishingly simple and had never been done before. In a way, it’s like watching the sun set over the mountains. Each of these is like a color still.”

These posters come from the estate of Gail Chisholm, a Manhattan poster dealer who died in 2017. Was she a friend? “I’ve known her since 1996. She had a gallery seven blocks away from Swann,” he says. “She was an early adopter in the world of posters, and she had a very European attitude. I knew I had to visit her between noon and three, when she’d be having her three-hour lunch. She became a friend and colleague. It’s a small community. We all know each other. … She was very creative. She knew how to market posters. I think I picked that up from her, too. She lived her life according to her own rules. She unabashedly did what she wanted.”

About 130 posters are in the Chisholm sale, and the proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood of New York. What’s the total presale estimate? Between $166,000 and $241,000, so as much as a quarter-million dollars could go to Chisholm’s favorite charity thanks to this auction.

What else makes this trio of Dorival posters stand out? “In the world of posters, which are, by definition, a visual medium, these stand out for their unique cinematic quality,” he says. “They’re strong individually and stronger as a tryptic. These are really outliers, so different from the rest of his work.”

How to bid: Dorival’s Vers le Mont – Blanc is lot 29 in the Vintage Posters sale that Swann Auction Galleries will hold on March 1.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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SOLD! An 18k Gold Freedom Box Awarded to Commodore Stephen Decatur in 1812 Fetches $70,000 at James Julia

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Update: The 18-karat gold Commodore Stephen Decatur freedom box sold for $70,000.

What you see: A 18-karat gold freedom box awarded to Commodore Stephen Decatur by the City of New York in 1812. The James D. Julia auction house estimates it at $125,000 to $175,000.

Who was Stephen Decatur? Born to a seagoing American family, Decatur became the young country’s first great naval hero by fighting the Barbary states–Mediterranean countries whose pirates had a nasty habit of capturing American vessels and ransoming their crews. (Do you remember the line from the U.S. Marines hymn, ‘From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli’? Tripoli is a reference to the Barbary Wars.) Decatur also distinguished himself in the War of 1812. He died in 1820 from a gunshot wound suffered in a duel with Commodore James Barron. Decatur was 41.

How did the custom of giving heroic people a gold freedom box get started? “The way it originated was the gold or silver box held the key to the city,” says John Sexton, senior consultant and sales representative in James D. Julia’s firearms division. “The ‘freedom box’ terminology comes from giving them ‘the freedom of the city.’ By this time [1812], they were just giving them the boxes.”

Why did the City of New York give Decatur this gold freedom box? During an October 1812 battle, he captured the HMS Macedonian, a 38-gun British frigate, saved it from sinking, and towed it to New York to be refitted and made part of America’s naval fleet. “It was the most important naval battle ever fought to that point,” he says. “Decatur was a household name in 1812. He was such a hero.”

How often do gold freedom boxes come up at auction? “The last one I could find was one awarded to John Jay and sold at Sotheby’s in 1991,” he says. “They’re beautiful boxes, exceptionally ornate. There’s another one in the sale from the Civil War that’s just as elaborate. They quit using the term ‘freedom box’ in the mid-19th century.”

Were the boxes meant to be used to hold anything, such as snuff? Or were they just meant to be beautiful boxes? “It was just the box, but they were snuff box-size,” he says.

The Decatur gold freedom box also has its red leather presentation case. Is that unusual? “It’s probably unique,” he says.

And the box is entirely made of gold? “It’s all gold, including the hinge,” he says. “There’s not a part that’s not.”

How does it feel to hold the box in your hand? “It’s quite heavy! It weighs 100 grams. It’s a nice, heavy little box,” he says. “Whoever did the engraving had a lot of skill. The engraving style is fantastic, beautiful–a lost art.”

How did you put an estimate on the Decatur box? “We made a conservative estimate,” he says. “We expect it to bring several hundred thousand dollars. Compared to John Jay, Stephen Decatur is probably more of a household name. But I don’t know what it will bring at auction.”

Decatur’s descendants have passed the box from generation to generation. Why are they consigning it now? “There are about 80 lots from the same family,” Sexton says, noting that the lots include the carnelian and gold signet ring that the Bey of Tunis surrendered to Decatur in 1805. It appears the current owner within the family thought it wiser to consign the material rather than try to split it among seven or eight heirs. “Decatur was a very important person in his day. The treasures he had were phenomenal,” he says. “It’s amazing that the family retained them.”

Why will this gold freedom box stick in your memory? “There are so few objects associated with someone as important as Stephen Decatur. There are 25 states that have cities named after him,” he says. “This is a piece of history. You just know it’s a gem. It’s something so unique and wonderful.”

How to bid: The Stephen Decatur gold freedom box is lot 2068 in James D. Julia’s Fine Art, Asian, & Antiques Winter 2018 sale, taking place February 8 and 9, 2018.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Photograph courtesy of James D. Julia Auctioneers, Fairfield, Maine, USA, www.jamesdjulia.com.

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SOLD! A Pair of Mittens Belonging to Antarctic Explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard Fetches a Cool $10,435 at Bonhams–Well Above The High Estimate

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Update: The lambskin mittens belonging to Apsley Cherry-Garrard sold for £7,500, or about $10,435–well above their high estimate.

What you see: A pair of lambskin inner mittens with cotton drawstrings, which belonged to British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Bonhams estimates them at £1,500 to £2,000 ($2,000 to $2,700).

Who was Apsley Cherry-Garrard? He was the second-youngest member of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910-1913) to Antarctica. He and two fellow explorers embarked on a five-week journey to collect Emperor penguin eggs in the dark depths of winter. (It had to be winter, because that’s when the penguins lay their eggs.) Cherry-Garrard chattered his teeth to bits in the punishingly cold weather. He was lucky; unlike Scott or his companions on the penguin egg quest, he lived to tell the tale in the aptly-named 1922 adventure travel classic, The Worst Journey in the World. Cherry-Garrard died in 1959 at the age of 63.

So, Cherry-Garrard wore at least two sets of mittens in Antarctica, yes? “I’m not a mitten specialist, but as far as I can tell, these are inner mittens,” says Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams. “If you see the pictures, they [the explorers] are usually wearing rabbit or fox fur [on their hands]. I think these are the liners.”

And did these lambskin inner mittens represent the apex of cold weather gear circa 1910? “They were about as technically advanced as it got,” he says.

The Terra Nova explorers had to choose between mittens or gloves, and they went with mittens. How did that affect the expedition? “They knew mittens were warmer, but it must have been difficult to manipulate the sledges and do scientific experiments,” he says. “It added to the misery of a nightmarish environment. Cherry-Garrard made a very long sledge trek in Antarctic winter, which is our summer. The temperatures fell below – 77 Fahrenheit, or – 60 Celsius.”

How well did these mittens work for him? Cherry-Garrard didn’t comment on the performance of his lambskin mittens, but the Bonhams lot notes quote a passage from page 238 of The Worst Journey in the World: “My clothing had frozen hard as I stood… For four hours I had to pull with my head stuck up, and from that time we all took care to bend down into a pulling position before being frozen in. By now we had realized that we must reverse the usual sledging routine and do everything slowly, wearing when possible the fur mitts which fitted over our woollen mitts, and always stopping whatever we were doing, directly we felt that any part of us was getting frozen, until the circulation was restored.”

Cherry-Garrard and his two companions bore five Emperor penguin eggs back to the base camp wrapped in their mittens. Do we know if he used these mittens to carry any eggs? “I don’t know whether we can say it was exactly this pair,” he says. “But he did have this pair with him, and he gathered Emperor penguin eggs, and he wrapped them in his mittens to stop them from freezing. He managed to get three back to London.”

How do we know these are Cherry-Garrard’s mittens from the Terra Nova expedition? “They were originally consigned by members of his family at a previous auction,” he says. “They were acquired by the current owner from there.”

Are these the only Cherry-Garrard expedition-used artifacts that might have come in direct contact with the penguins? “It’s difficult to say for definite, but [the penguin backstory] gives a bit more color to it,” he says, adding that Bonhams sold a pair of woolen mittens worn by Terra Nova expedition member George Levick in 2014 for £625 ($846).

How desirable are Cherry-Garrard artifacts among polar collectors? Who, other than Scott, would be more sought-after than him? “Probably any of the people who died in the tent,” says Haley, referring to Captain Lawrence Oates, Petty Officer Edgar Evans, Doctor Edward Wilson, and Lieutenant Henry Bowers. “It’s kind of grisly, but if you died on the expedition, you became more mythological than those who didn’t. In 2012, we sold a 1912 letter that was found on Scott’s body for £163,250 ($221,228). You don’t get much better than that.”

One of the mittens has a few “rust marks.” What are rust marks? He says they’re literally marks caused by rust. The mitten must have rested against a rusty bit of metal at some point.

Have you tried the mittens on? How big are they? “I haven’t, actually, because they’re framed,” he says. “They’re quite large, almost 12 inches long. They had to cover the wrists as well.”

What else makes these mittens special? “There’s something a little light and amusing about mittens,” he says. “You think of a toddler with them dangling from ribbons on their sleeves. It’s the combination of the sweet idea of the mittens in your head with the grim reality of what Cherry-Garrard had to deal with.”

How to bid: The Cherry-Garrard mittens are lot 136 in the Travel & Exploration sale at Bonhams London on February 7, 2018.

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

Purchase a copy of The Worst Journey in the World through the Strand Bookstore in New York City.

In 2012, the Natural History Museum, London, placed one of the Emperor penguin eggs retrieved by Cherry-Garrard on display and created a web page about its treasure.

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SOLD! A Print from Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities Series Fetched More Than $21,000 at Phillips

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Update: Untitled V, from Men in the Cities sold for £15,000, or about $21,000.

What you see: Untitled V, from Men in the Cities, a 1990 lithograph by Robert Longo. It’s number 35 of a run of 48. Phillips estimates it at £6,000 to £8,000 ($8,100 to $10,800).

Who is Robert Longo? He’s an American artist, born in Brooklyn. He came to prominence in the 1980s with his Men in the Cities series, which depict men and women in business attire in dynamic poses. To create the source photographs, Longo invited several friends to come to the roof of his apartment building and sometimes threw objects at them to get the results he sought. Longo initially released Men in the Cities as charcoal and graphite drawings and later released them as photographs, prints, and sculptures. He is 65.

This lithograph dates to 1990. Is it from the first series of prints from Men in the Cities? Nope. Robert Kennan, head of editions, Europe, for Phillips, found prints from the series that have eleven different dates, created between 1980 and 2002.

What does “Untitled V” mean? “It’s the fifth in the series,” Kennan says. “Sometimes there’s a name–Eric or Joanna or Meryl–but the ones printed in 1990 are all untitled.”

Longo has released many prints of Men in the Cities images. What do collectors tend to prefer? “It’s really the impact of the image and if it works well,” he says. “Collectors like a strong silhouette. They don’t necessarily prefer males or females. It’s more about the composition. The man in the suit may resonate [by evoking] a Bryan Ferry or David Bowie type of figure.”

Cindy Sherman and Larry Gagosian are among the friends who posed for Longo in the late 1970s for Men in the Cities. They went on to become art-world stars. Do we know who the Untitled V model is? “His name is Eric Barsness. He was a dancer,” he says. “Seeing the face is important, if the model is known. You can identify them. But so many Men in the Cities images are heads thrown back at unusual angles. It can be tough to distinguish them.”

The top three most-expensive Men in the Cities prints at auction sold at Phillips. Do you make a point of specializing in them? “We’re always keen to include them in the sales and we do well with them, whether it’s Men in the Cities or more recent prints. The more recent prints have tailed off slightly. The 1980s prints are holding their own more than the works from the 2000s.”

What makes Untitled V such a powerful image? “That male figure is very striking. It is immediate. Has he just been shot? Is he dancing? There’s something wonderfully ambiguous about them, the frozen pose. They’re eye-catching, intriguing images,” he says. “And I grew up in the 1980s. Men in the Cities is very redolent of the period. It captures something.”

How to bid: Untitled V, from Men in the Cities is lot 210 in the January 25 Evening & Day Editions sale at Phillips London.

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Robert Longo has his own website. He also riffed off his Men in the Cities imagery in the video he directed for New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle.

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

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