RECORD! The Olympic Manifesto Sells at Sotheby’s for $8.8 Million

The Olympic manifesto, a circa 1889 document, handwritten in French by Pierre de Coubertin. Estimated at $700,000 to $1 million, Sotheby's sold it in December 2019 for $8.8 million, breaking the world auction record for any item of sports memorabilia and any post-Renaissance manuscript.

What you see: The original Olympic Games manifesto, handwritten by Pierre de Coubertin, which outlined a plan to revive the contests in modern times. Estimated at $700,000 to $1 million, it sold at Sotheby’s in December 2019 for $8.8 million, setting multiple world auction records, including a record for any item of sports memorabilia.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

Was the notion of reviving the Olympic games floating around before Pierre de Coubertin’s 1892 speech? Or was he the first to suggest reviving the games? He was the first to articulate the concept in a pragmatic way, and he was pragmatic enough to do it at a big jubilee meeting of all the societies for sports and athletics in France, rather than over drinks with friends. The idea of reviving the games was in the ether–that’s a good way to put it. When he made the speech, things started to happen.

What did Pierre de Coubertin know about the ancient Olympic games, and how realistic was his vision for reviving them and modernizing them? I think it was very realistic. He knew as much as many educated people of the time would have known. When you look at the sports that were included in the first Olympic games in 1896, with a few exceptions, they’re the core of the ancient games. He saw it as more than just athletics–spectators played a role. Not everyone can be an Olympic-class athlete, but by having spectators in attendance, as well as expanding [the games’ audience] beyond the athletic events, it was a way of uniting the world’s population.

Does this manuscript represent the first time that Pierre de Coubertin articulated his argument and his vision for a modern Olympic games? Absolutely. He was a great joiner and a founder of associations. He was involved with sporting associations and societies. He wrote a lot, and wrote a lot about physical education in particular. This is absolutely the first time he explicitly mentioned reviving the ancient games.

So we can draw a straight line from this 1889 Olympic manifesto to the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896? I think you can draw a direct line. The audience for the speech was the ideal one–people interested in athletics and efforts to unify the world. This call, and this meeting, lead directly to the founding of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and led to the first modern Olympic games in Athens.

How closely do today’s Olympic games reflect the vision that Pierre de Coubertin lays out in his Olympic manifesto? I think it reflects it very closely. It has expanded. Many more sports are played now. Female athletes are included, rather than just male, and many more countries compete. But his vision is very much what the Olympics are. It’s competition. That’s important, but it’s more than the victory–it’s the shared experiences of the athletes and the spectators as well, tens and even hundreds of millions who watch on TV. The Olympics are now a global event in the way he wished it would be.

What is the Olympic manifesto like in person? What does it tell us about Coubertin and his thought process as he prepared his speech? It shows he did give a lot of thought to this. Virtually every page has some changes. He wrote it entirely himself, based largely on his travels and experiences. It shows a thoughtful, careful craftsman aiming to get his point across.

I understand that Pierre de Coubertin crossed out bits of the Olympic manifesto and underscored others. What would be one or two of the most interesting passages that he marked up? The conclusion. It seems to be leading to a congratulatory wrap-up for the people there. That’s the biggest change–virtually half a page is crossed out in favor of a different summary. It probably came to him as a late inspiration. He realized a while before addressing the group that they could take action if they wanted to. He called them to join with him in an attempt to revive the ancient games.

Do you speak French? I had assistance from a couple of colleagues in France who made a very good translation. One colleague here [in New York] is fluent, and I had them check each other.

Could you discuss the provenance of this piece? I’m surprised that it’s not in a museum already. Do we have any notion as to why the Olympic manifesto remained in private hands for so long? It was written by a private person. He might have left it to the IOC, but he didn’t. It was with Pierre de Coubertin until his death in 1937. Then it was in a private collection in Switzerland. The father of the current consigner got it in the 1980s and passed it to his son. When you think of it in terms of generations, it’s not that old. It’s certainly worthy of being in a museum. The most recent owners have certainly publicized it so it is more widely known. I don’t know what the current owner plans for it, but they bought a great object, and great objects have a way of ending up in public institutions.

How did you set the $700,000 to $1 million estimate? What comparables did you look to? We went back and forth on that. It’s a really compelling manuscript, but we wondered if its being in French would be a hindrance. We certainly thought it was a seven-figure item. It happened that on the day of the sale, we had three bidders, [including] one online that dropped out around one million. I can say if the estimate was eight million, it probably wouldn’t have sold, because there was no precedent for that. Now there is precedent for that. With the next sports manuscript that comes up, I have to take that into account. The Olympics go beyond sport. They’re a global experience and a cultural phenomenon, as Pierre de Coubertin had hoped.

What did you think the Olympic manifesto would sell for? Did you think it had a shot at breaking the record for a sports-related manuscript, set at Sotheby’s in December 2010 by James Naismith’s founding rules of basketball? The Olympic manifesto seems to be a record for any post-Renaissance manuscript of any kind.

Did you think that would happen? I did not. I thought it was going to exceed the estimate and I would have thought it was a good result if it had hit two million. I’ve been here long enough to know if you try to predict prices, you end up looking foolish. If it had sold for one million, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

What do you recall of the auction? What surprised me the most was that it took 12 minutes. I did not have the sense it was taking that long. More and more people came into the room as word got out that something was happening. I looked up, and more and more people were at the back. The bidding contest was Olympian in its own right.

Wow, 12 minutes of bidding on a single lot is an epoch in auction time. Right. I forgot what the next lot was, having sold the Olympic manifesto for $8.8 million. The next lot opened at $1,000 to $1,200. It took some adjusting.

When did you know that the Olympic manifesto had set a record? When it hit five million. I thought that was the signal. It beat Naismith and most baseball memorabilia records. I didn’t have it in mind at that point that few post-Renaissance manuscripts beat that. It was only after the sale that a colleague in London mentioned it.

An isolated page from Pierre de Coubertin's Olympic manifesto, with handwritten corrections visible.

What’s covered under “post-Renaissance manuscripts”? What else did the Olympic manifesto beat? Most of what we sell as historic or literary manuscripts. No letter by Washington or Lincoln [sold for more]. No manuscript material from around the world from the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st centuries sold for more than these 14 pages.

So, were you surprised when the Olympic manifesto commanded so much more than its estimate–within sneezing distance of double-digit millions? I was surprised, yes, but not shocked. I don’t think it’s silly when you think of the magnitude of the Olympic games, and how they continue to be a global phenomenon, and how athletes in an obscure pursuit can be recognized around the world overnight. Given the importance of sport in society, it’s justifiable. To say it’s surprising is not to say it’s unwarranted.

It’s funny to think that the world auction record for any sports manuscript, and really, any piece of sports memorabilia, is 14 pages handwritten in French. But it makes sense when you realize it’s the Olympic manifesto. I think it is important. As much as we tried to promote the Naismith rules as having international importance, the bidders were all American, and basketball is considered an American sport. When we sold the early soccer/football rules through Sotheby’s London office, it was viewed as English. I think the fact that the manifesto was viewed as an Olympic document made it significant around the world. The concern that being in French would limit its appeal was not a problem, because it was an Olympic manuscript. We had three bidders representing three different nationalities. The fact that it was Olympic was a reason for the record-breaking price.

How long do you think the records set by the Olympic manifesto will stand? What could meet or beat it? I just don’t know. I’d like to think if you’re talking in terms of sport–and I don’t mean to denigrate the area–I’d hate to think that anyone’s uniform or bat or ball could achieve a higher price, even if Sotheby’s sold it.

And how about post-Renaissance manuscripts? What’s out there that might meet or beat the Olympic manifesto? If I find another copy of the Gettysburg Address, that would certainly beat it. Thomas Jefferson wrote four handwritten copies of the Declaration of Independence for friends. If one came up for sale, it would certainly exceed the record. It’s hard to think of a single letter that would beat it. Could there be a Lincoln letter out there? There could be, but I don’t know what it would be. A great scientific manuscript by Einstein or Newton could beat it. I think the record could stand for quite a while.

Why will the Olympic manifesto stick in your memory? Because the result was unexpected, and because it was such a satisfying result, after long negotiations with the consigner. It came through a colleague in Paris, but we agreed that New York was a better place to offer it, though it was written by a Frenchman, in French. The process probably took about a year from first contact. I was very happy for the consigner as well. He put himself in our hands and didn’t question the estimate or the marketing. It was an instance where everybody was happy except for the underbidder.

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Selby Kiffer appeared twice previously on The Hot Bid, discussing a double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and Frank Sinatra’s personal copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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The Hot Bid: On Hiatus

Update, July 20, 2021: Between now and early August, I am publishing the last few stories on auction records I had written and banked.

Once those go live, The Hot Bid will return to hiatus.

I am still thinking about how best to revive it and keep it going. I would like to do so. Thanks for your patience!

Original post below:

I have accepted an associate editor position at LiveAuctioneers. Hooray!

As of today, I’m placing The Hot Bid on hiatus with the intent of reviving it in some form at a later date.

This is not goodbye. This is not the end. This is a pause, that’s all. The Hot Bid will be back.

Sending a hearty and full-throated THANK YOU to everyone who subscribes, reads, and shares The Hot Bid. More will come in the future. Watch this space.

Jo Schirra’s Charm Bracelet–A String of Nine Space-flown Charms–Could Command $55,000 (Updated April 26, 2021)

Jo Schirra's charm bracelet, a string of nine space-flown charms that tell the story of the early years of America's space program, could command $55,000.

Update: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet sold for $55,000.

What you see: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet. She was the wife of Wally Schirra, who was an astronaut during the early days of the American space program. RR Auction estimates the charm bracelet at $45,000 to $55,000.

The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

How did this bracelet with space-flown charms come to exist? Wally Schirra, like most astronauts, would bring tokens and souvenirs into space for friends and family. Wally gave these charms to his wife, Jo, who created the charm bracelet.

Did all the spouses of the Mercury Seven astronauts receive or create bracelets with space-flown charms? No, not all of them assembled something like this. All the Gemini and Mercury astronauts were allowed to carry coins and other things on missions. The astronauts themselves had to buy them and distribute them as souvenirs.

What was astronaut Alan Shepard’s role in helping Jo Schirra create this bracelet with space-flown charms? He provided her with a piece of Freedom 7. He only went up briefly [15 minutes in all], so there were no souvenirs, but he brought her a piece of the cylinder assembly of the heat shield release mechanism from Freedom 7 and provided her a letter of authentication (LOA).

Jo Schirra's charm bracelet features a piece of Freedom 7, the craft in which Alan Shepard flew.
Alan Shepard wrote a letter of authentication for the fragment of Freedom 7 that graces Jo Schirra's charm bracelet.

Was the Freedom 7 charm the first that Jo Schirra added to her space-flown charm bracelet? I don’t know the chronology of when she received it, but that’s the first mission [represented], for sure. She certainly got the others in chronological order.

When would she have started assembling the bracelet? At the start of Project Mercury, in 1958? More like 1961. Kennedy was president.

Jo Schirra's charm bracelet shown in reverse. The jewelry features nine space-flown charms.

I’d like to talk about at least a few of the space-flown charms in more detail. I understand that one is made with a Liberty Bell 7 dime? Very famously, Gus Grissom brought Mercury dimes with him on his mission [Mercury-Redstone 4]. When he returned, he had to splash down, and the capsule almost sank. One of the things pulling him down was the two rolls of dimes. [Laughs]. These ones, he was able to keep in the pocket by his ankles.

Among the charms on Jo Schirra's charm bracelet is a Liberty 7 dime that Gus Grissom brought on his Mercury mission.

…and one of the space-flown charms is a tiny Robbins medal? I didn’t know they made them that small. This was for the first manned Apollo mission. It was the first created–serial number one. Even if it was not flown, the serial number one makes it the first Robbins medal. But it was flown, and flown by Wally Schirra.

Jo Schirra's charm bracelet features the first Robbins medal ever struck. The gold keepsake boasts the serial number of 1.

Wow. The astronauts had to buy these, and they were government workers, not making any money.

So the Robbins medals would have tried their budgets? I don’t know. I do know the gold ones were more expensive than the silver ones. Wally had to splurge on this to get it for his wife.

Not hugely expensive, but expensive enough to make them stop and think. Right. They couldn’t buy ’em all, and they couldn’t bring tons. There were not many made. There were 255 [space-flown] Apollo 7 Robbins medals in gold and silver.

There are nine space-flown charms on this bracelet: one for each of the six Mercury missions, one for Apollo 7, and one for Freedom 7. That makes eight. What does the ninth charm represent? It’s a flown 18k gold love medal by Lyonnais jeweler Alphonse Augis. It has a French phrase that translates to “More than yesterday, less than tomorrow.” Engraved on the back is “February 23”, which is the wedding anniversary of Wally and Jo. It’s a very, very personal love medal.

Eight of the pieces on Jo Schirra's charm bracelet reference space missions. The ninth represents her marriage to astronaut Wally Schirra.

Who designed these charms? Jo Schirra? It was Cecelia “CeCe” Bibby, a famous graphic designer who painted logos on the Mercury capsules. She was the only other one who had a charm bracelet like this, and she donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.

Do all of the charms have inherent value? Yes. They’ve all flown in space, so they all have inherent value. And they’re relics of one of the great achievements of mankind.

Is this the first time Jo Schirra’s bracelet of space-flown charms has gone to auction? Yes.

I imagine that with Jo Schirra having passed in 2015, and the bracelet debuting at auction as a whole, that will help guard against it being broken into individual pieces in the future. Because it’s been kept together… it tells the story of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7. They’re all there, together, all the flights on one chain. It’s a remarkable artifact. We see individual charms come up, but to have these in a bracelet, gifts from an astronaut, lovingly placed on her wrist, it shows the closeness of the married couple.

What is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet like in person? What eludes the camera? Like most charm bracelets, it’s not a gigantic piece to hold in your gloved hand. It’s cool to look at, but they’re small charms.

Do you have a favorite charm from the bracelet? We’ve worked with a lot of these guys. I knew them when they were alive. Design-wise, it’s the Sigma 7.

The space-flown charms include one that represents the Sigma 7 mission.

Did you try on Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? No! [Laughs] No, no, no. It would be inappropriate.

Can you give me a notion of how it might feel on the wrist? It looks substantial. It is a bit substantial and clunky, but I don’t think it was difficult to wear on the wrist. It’s not overwhelming. It’s beautiful, a conversation starter.

The bracelet of space-flown charms on the wrist of a mannequin. It's unclear if she wore it often or if she saved it for special occasions.

Do we have any idea how often Jo Schirra wore this charm bracelet? Was it a daily-wear item, or did she save it for special occasions? I don’t know. I know it was lovingly given to her daughter, Suzanna, when Jo passed away. Her daughter is the consigner. You know from seeing films and reading books about the astronaut program that the wives would gather to watch the launches together. You can imagine Jo Schirra wearing this and with each successive launch, adding a charm. It represents the success of her husband launching into space.

What condition is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet in? And does condition really matter when we’re talking about an item with such strong sentimental value? Typically, condition matters on coins and collectibles. This has an age patina, as you would expect. There’s a beauty about it in its natural state as a charm bracelet. As a historical piece, it stands on its own. It’s not for a coin collection. It would be a tragedy to take it apart and encapsulate it.

Have you ever had anything quite like Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? Is there anything out there that’s even close? I’ve never really had anything like this, which covers the entire space program. It’s very, very unique. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s such a personal item. The Robbins medal does elevate it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because of its uniqueness, and the way it was lovingly assembled. It tells the story of the Mercury program and Wally Schirra’s career. It’s all there on that bracelet.

How to bid: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet is lot 3007 in the Space Exploration and Aviation sale at RR Auction taking place on April 22, 2021.

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

Images are courtesy of RR Auction.

Bobby Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid previously about Dave Scott’s Apollo 17-flown Robbins medal, as well as the Bulova chronograph that Scott wore on the surface of the moon during Apollo 15. He also talked about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

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A Daum Glass Vase in the Rare Prairie Pattern Could Fetch $18,000 (Updated April 15, 2021)

A Daum glass vase created circa 1900 in a bulbous stick form and decorated with the Prairie pattern. Jaremos could sell it for $18,000.

Update: The Daum glass vase sold for $17,000, hammer price.

What you see: A circa 1900 Daum glass vase, painted in the Prairie pattern and rendered in a bulbous stick form. It stands a little over 12 inches tall. Jaremos estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Bruce Orr, founder of Jaremos, which is located in Flower Mound, Texas.

How is the word “Daum” pronounced? [Laughs] It depends on if you’re American or French. Here, it’s “dom”. In France, it’s more like “dome”.

Who, or what, was Daum? Is it still active? Two brothers, August and Antonin Daum, ran a cameo-decorating company at the turn of the century. It was in competition with Émile Gallé, and it was contemporary with Tiffany Studios in the United States. The company was strong until 1913, when World War I shut the factory down, and it ended up being used as a field hospital. After the war, the brothers were too old to continue. One of their sons took over. Daum has been a continuously producing glass house for 130 years.

Does it still make art glass? It still does some. In the 1980s, it did a series with Salvador Dali. Daum is to France what Steuben was to America, as far as stemware.

And the “Nancy” in the title of the lot listing–that is the town in France where Daum is based? Yes. Gallé was the primary glass-maker in Nancy. Daum came second. But in 1904, Gallé died, so it lost its leader a little early. Daum has more appeal to Americans than Europeans because it’s pretty. Americans buy pretty. Americans have always gone pretty. Europeans like technique.

Was there a golden age of Daum art glass? There’s an argument based on whether you’re a fan of Art Nouveau or Art Deco, but 1900 to 1913 is considered the high point.

Do we have any notion of how many pieces of art glass Daum produced during its golden age? I’m sure the records are out there somewhere, but any number I could give you would be a guess. Daum was a big operation. It had 100 artists at one point, decorating the glass.

The lot notes describe the vase as having “iconic Prairie décor”. Was “Prairie” a specific line of art glass that Daum produced? Yes. This is a guess on my part, but it was not popular in its day, compared to the Daum Winter scenes. I might see one Prairie piece for every 100 Winter pieces. Because of that, Prairie is desired by collectors.

This Daum glass vase features the Prairie pattern, which is rare now because it evidently wasn't popular when it was new.

Do we know how many Prairie pieces Daum made, and how many survive? No, but I can tell you that over the last 15 years, eight have sold publicly that I know of.

Would this be the only Daum glass vase you’ve seen that’s in the Prairie style and has a bulbous stick shape? It’s the only one I know of.

How many different shapes did Daum offer in the Prairie line? There could have been 30 to 40 different ones. Most of the time with Prairie, they’re small.

The lot headline calls this Daum glass vase “rare”. What makes it so? Is it purely the Prairie decoration, or does its unusual shape play a role? It really wouldn’t make a difference what shape it has. It could be an ashtray and it would still get attention. This is one of the better ones I’ve seen as far as the shape. That should help it, but it’s the decoration that makes it rare.

Does this bulbous stick form vase show up only in the Prairie line, or do other pieces of Daum take this form? Other Daum pieces have this shape.

The Daum glass vase takes a bulbous stick form that seemingly laughs at the idea of actually serving the function of a vase.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Daum glass vase was to make? As far as the enameling–and again, I don’t mean to downplay it–the decoration itself is not difficult to do. It wouldn’t have been that complicated. The difficulty is in getting the shape. When you consider that they were all hand-blown pieces, that’s saying something.

What challenges would the bulbous stick form pose to the glass-blower? Just the consistency. It’s difficult to do it consistently, but Daum, they were masters.

In looking at the shape of the Daum glass vase, it almost revels in its inability to function. Was it explicitly designed never to be used to hold flowers? Oh, come on! You could put one flower in it! [Laughs] I don’t think it was meant to be used. Tiffany, Gallé, and Daum were always made for the affluent of the day. It was always strictly a decorative piece.

What condition is the Daum glass vase in, and what condition issues do you tend to see with the bulbous stick form pieces? Anybody can crack or chip these. Once that happens, it takes 90 percent of the value out of the vase. The decoration can wear, and it’s usually worn by exposure to the sun. This one is very clean. On a one to ten scale, it’s about an 8.5. It has pretty strong decoration and not a lot of wear on it at all.

So the sun is the number one enemy of a piece like this? That, and if the owner is a klutz.

The Daum glass vase, tilted to better display the wildflower decorations.

What is the Daum glass vase like in person? The delicate flowers on the bottom–I took a shot of the vase laying down so you could see it–I don’t know how you paint this on a piece of glass. The trees have definitive branches and the wildflowers are very delicately done. It doesn’t take a super artist, you just have to have the time to do it.

As we speak on March 25, 2021, the Daum glass vase has been bid up to $5,500 with the auction almost three weeks away. Is that meaningful at all, this far out? Yeah. It tells you there’s interest. Normally, most [lots] come close to two or three times their presale estimates. In my last sale, I had a Tiffany red flower form that was at $5,500 with three weeks to go, and it ended up doing $19,200. [The link reflects the Tiffany piece’s hammer price, or the price before the premium and attendant fees are added.]

What is the world auction record for a piece of Daum art glass in the Prairie style, and what is the record for any Daum piece? The overall record was set in December 2006 at Christie’s by a glass gourd piece that sold for $156,000. The record for a Daum piece in the Prairie style belongs to this same piece, or an identical version of this piece. It was offered in the same 2006 Christie’s auction, and sold for $28,800.

Why will this Daum glass vase stick in your memory? It’s the only one I’ve ever had. You remember the pieces that are really, really rare. When you have pieces this special, it’s exciting.

How to bid: The Daum glass vase is lot 0206 in the Spring Art Glass 2021 auction scheduled at Jaremos on April 14, 2021.

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.

Images are courtesy of Jaremos.

See the website for Daum, which is still active and still making art glass.

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A Seventh Edition of the Bay Psalm Book, the First Book Printed in British North America, Could Fetch $500,000 (Updated April 15, 2021)

The first page of the Bay Psalms Book, from a seventh edition printed in 1693. This copy is the only known survivor from the edition. It could sell for $500,000.

Update: The seventh edition Bay Psalm Book sold for $239,400.

What you see: A 1693 copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the only known survivor of the seventh edition. Sotheby’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in British North America. Why was it, above all other books that could have been published, printed first? What made its creation so urgent? It filled a specific need. The Puritans left England because they disagreed with strictures of the church. They accepted the bible as the word of God, but the for the psalms, which are for singing, they wanted their own translation. They wanted something truer to the Hebrew original, not beautiful English poetry. They prized accuracy above everything else.

So the Bay Psalm Book was a tool to do a job. Absolutely. Both the first edition of 1640 and the seventh edition of 1693 were workhorse books. They were not like the Gutenberg Bible, a large, impressive bible for a church or a fine home. It was for congregational singing, which took place at least three times a week.

The book is also an artifact that reflects why the Puritans left England? Yes. And I don’t think it’s incorrect to say it’s the first book written in English in the New World. All the scholarship was done in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by people who lived there. It was also the first book printed in English anywhere in the New World.

What is this seventh-edition copy of the Bay Psalms Book like in person? What eludes the camera? The great thing about books is they’re very tactile and made to be handled. Even when you have a book that’s beautifully bound, you want to open it up and turn the leaves. That’s what’s exciting to me. It survived all those centuries, and the experience [of reading it] is very similar to the experience of the worshippers who handled it in 1693. You get a sense of historical continuity.

What is your favorite detail of this copy of the Bay Psalms Book? I think it’s that it is so workmanlike. What’s most pleasing is it did its job so well. It’s the only one of this edition that survives. The others were used to pieces. It had a job to do, and it did it. Another thing is the provenance. Early owners signed it, which somehow makes the people more real. One was a judge during the Salem witch trials. Here, we have evidence that he owned books and went to church with his wife. She signed the book as well–it’s early evidence of book ownership by women in British North America, which is interesting in its own right.

The seventh edition copy of the Bay Psalm Book is signed by past owners including Jonathan Corwin, who presided over the Salem witch trials as a judge. His wife, Elizabeth, signed the book also, providing early proof of book ownership by women in British North America.

What condition is this copy of the Bay Psalms Book in, and how are those assessments adjusted for the fact that it was a book that was designed for constant use? It’s funny. Someone who didn’t know books might not find it attractive at all. There’s no gold decorations and no title on the spine. But it did what it was supposed to do–it kept the pages together and got you from song to song. It’s a small book, shorter than four inches. It could be easily carried in a pocket from home to a worship service… it’s just very pleasing.

Is the Bay Psalm Book the sort of rare book on which you want to see some wear? As long as the book is complete–and it is–some sign of wear is good. A bit of wear, in my mind, is not a detraction.

So, signs of wear makes this type of book more interesting? I think it does, and it shows the book had a common interest. Religion played such a huge role in the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and that form of Puritanism [as represented by the Bay Psalms Book] touched all levels of society. The book would have provided a common touchstone, whatever their [the owners’] religious beliefs were.

The seventh edition copy of the Bay Psalm Book, shown in full.

I imagine its longevity shows how esteemed it was in British North America. It was a very successful translation. The book was constantly reprinted for more than a century after the first edition. Though it was made particularly for a British North American audience, it was reprinted in Scotland and England as well. Some would have been replaced as new editions came out. This one found an owner who did eventually tuck it away.

You were at Sotheby’s in 2013 when a first edition of the Bay Psalms Book sold for $14.1 million and a world auction record for any book. What was that experience like? It was certainly one of the great highlights of my career. It was a book everyone was aware of. It’s an icon of printing, book history, and American history. It deserved to become the most expensive book sold at auction, but it’s hard not to see it as a sort of celebrity. This is easier to see as a book. It reflects the history of the first edition, 53 years later. You can look at the two editions and look at how Boston and British North America grew. In 1640, it was a wilderness. In 1693, Boston was printing more books than Cambridge or Oxford, and was second to London–a distant second, but nonetheless a remarkable achievement. That’s the kind of growth and expansion illustrated by the two editions of the Bay Psalm Book.

The seventh edition Bay Psalm Book, shown with its protective case.

How does this seventh-edition copy of the Bay Psalm Book compare to other antique copies of the book you have handled? I haven’t handled more than two Bay Psalm Books. I handled almost all the first editions when I did a census for a catalog, but I haven’t handled more than two commercially. Comparatively, it’s in very good condition because it retains its original binding. Most first editions of the Bay Psalm Book have been rebound. What’s sad about that is it wasn’t out of necessity. In the 19th century, it was thought that important books ought to look important, and they were bound in red or green leather with a lot of gold on it. This seventh edition is in really very desirable condition because it’s close to what it would have been when it was first published.

It’s more true. Exactly. And taste has shifted. You don’t want a book in a fancy binding unless it had a fancy binding when it was first published.

Why will this rare book stick in your memory? For people who are unfamiliar with books, the phrase that’s most familiar is “first edition”. The idea that a seventh edition book can be exciting and historically significant and shed light on the history of books in America–that’s what’s most interesting about it.

How to bid: The seventh-edition copy of the Bay Psalm Book is lot 390 in The Passion of American Collectors: Property of Barbara and Ira Lipman | Highly Important Printed and Manuscript Americana, scheduled at Sotheby’s New York for April 13, 2021.

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Selby Kiffer has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, discussing Frank Sinatra’s copy of the 1961 Inaugural program for John F. Kennedy as well as a double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.

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A Print of the First Melvin Sokolsky Bubble Photograph, Over New York, Could Command $20,000 (Updated April 9, 2021)

'Over New York', the first Melvin Sokolsky Bubble photograph, tested a concept that he would soon make famous. A print from a large limited edition of the color image could sell for $20,000.

Update: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph sold for $20,160.

What you see: Over New York, a limited edition 1963 photograph by Melvin Sokolsky that measures 39 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches. Phillips estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Sarah Krueger, head of the photographs department at Phillips.

Who is Melvin Sokolsky? He’s a pioneer when it comes to 1960s fashion photography. He was bringing [then-new] Pop Art into his images, and it coincides with the [rise of] Harper’s Bazaar co-art directors Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler. They were very young, very passionate about photography, and interested in bringing a fresh, creative element into the magazine.

Did one or both women bring Sokolsky in? He started with Harper’s Bazaar around 1954.  The Bubble pictures–including what we have on offer–are his most iconic fashion story and were completed under the tenure of Ansel and Feitler as co-art directors.

I understand that Sokolsky is now 87 years old. Is he still active as a photographer? He’s active with his galleries and with his studio, and has had work included in museum retrospectives around the world. He lives in Los Angeles.

How many series of Bubble photographs had Sokolsky shot when he created Over New York? This is the first. He conceived the idea when he was on assignment to shoot the Paris collection for the March 1963 issue. He was inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. He tested the concept on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, which is what we see here. It’s proof-of-concept before going to Paris to shoot the Paris collection. A variant of this image appeared on the cover.

And if it hadn’t worked, then, no Bubble photos? If it hadn’t worked, no bubbles over Paris, or he puts additional thought into how to make it a reality.

And the model really is inside a plastic sphere, yes? That’s the wonderful thing about the image. You must think of the image-making of the time in the early 1960s. Sokolsky set up a crane with a thin steel cable and a model inside a plexiglass bubble. The only alterations done was the cable was retouched out of the final photo.

And he can’t just pick any fashion model. She has to wear the clothes well, and not be claustrophobic or afraid of heights… The model is Simone D’Aillencourt. She had worked with Sokolsky before, and was a very notable model of the time.

I imagine at least some of her peers would have told Sokolsky, “What? Are you nuts? No! What if you drop me?” Over New York speaks to the creativity of the time. Successful, iconic, and memorable fashion images are direct collaborations between the model, the photographer, and the team putting it together. D’Aillencourt realized Sokolsky’s vision. She’s the model who had the nerve to do this with him.

How did Sokolsky get D’Aillencourt’s dress to floof out like that? That’s Simone. She fanned out the dress. The designer of the dress is unknown to me, but it’s a Grecian-inspired pleated dress. It’s her posing inside the bubble for Melvin to have options and to capture this one remarkable and memorable shot. 

How high off the ground was D’Aillencourt when taking this Sokolsky Bubble photograph? I’m not aware of the height, but she was high enough to not have anything in the foreground. Whether it was one foot or 10, it’s pretty remarkable.

What, if anything, do we know about the physical logistics of shooting the Sokolsky Bubble photographs? I would love to hear those stories. I don’t know them myself. You’ve got to look at them with a little bit of a sense of awe that it all came together–to be inspired by a Bosch painting, then to see it through, and have the picture resonate so much today.

What is this Sokolsky Bubble photograph like in person? What eludes the camera? The rich sense of color, the vibrant ochre-hued dress against the setting sun in the background. The colors really come through in person. And it’s really large in scale–30 by 40 inches. It has a mural-size component to it that doesn’t necessarily come across on screen.

What’s your favorite detail of the Sokolsky Bubble photograph? If I have to choose one, I have to choose the bubble, but the whole thing is wonderful–it’s hard to pick one detail. It’s a model, in a bubble over the Hudson River. It’s fanciful in how she’s playing and posing for the camera. It’s really spectacular.

I realize this Sokolsky Bubble photograph dates to 1963. Is that when the limited edition of 25 was made? I don’t know exactly when the edition was produced. I think it’s more recent than that, because of its scale.

Are there other limited editions of this Sokolsky Bubble photograph, maybe in different sizes? We’ve offered the limited edition of 25 at 30 inches by 40 inches before. And we have offered it at 40 inches by 60 inches, but it’s a much smaller edition.

What’s the world auction record for Over New York, and for any Marvin Sokolsky photograph? Were they set with you? We do hold the auction records for Sokolsky’s work. The record belongs to a portfolio he printed of his Bubble pictures of the Paris collection. It sold for $92.500 in April 2012 at Phillips New York. The world auction record for Over New York was set at Phillips London in 2019. It sold for £21,250, which is about $27,000.

I think it’s worth pointing out here that the known limited editions were printed much, much larger than the size of the cover of a magazine. How does printing it at a larger size than the public would have seen it change the impact of the Sokolsky Bubble image? The larger it is, the more magnificent it is. The conceptual nature of the artwork really comes across. The larger size creates wonder.

Why will this Sokolsky Bubble photograph stick in your memory? It speaks to a wonderful, creative time when we see Pop Art come into fashion and editorial. And it’s on the cusp of space-age fashion, which we see in the middle of the decade, and it’s still very 1960s. It seems like a precursor to space-age fashion, which is why it seems so strong.

I like how it captures the essence of fashion photography–a heck of a lot of work goes into making something that looks ethereal and effortless. A lot of work and a lot of thinking went into the image’s creation, and the vision Sokolsky was imagining for Harper’s at the time.

How to bid: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph Over New York is lot 199 in the Photographs auction scheduled at Phillips New York on April 8, 2021.

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A Pair of Ted Williams Cleats, Worn During His Final At Bat, Could Sell for $63,000 or More (Update, April 4, 2021: They Did!)

A pair of Ted Williams cleats, worn during his final at-bat as a major leaguer. As of March 19, they've already reached $63,000 and could well go higher.

Update: The Ted Williams cleats sold for $70,745. Hooray!

What you see: The cleats Ted Williams wore during his final at bat of his Major League Baseball (MLB) career on September 28, 1960, at Fenway Park. SCP Auctions estimates them at $50,000-plus.

The expert: Mike Keys, chief operating officer of SCP Auctions.

Who was Ted Williams? He was a Red Sox great and one of the best hitters in MLB history. He played 19 seasons with the Red Sox, primarily in left field. He had a tremendous career and was a Hall of Fame player.

Lots of baseball players enter their final career at bat without knowing it. How well-telegraphed was this event? Had Ted Williams announced he would retire at the end of the 1960 season? He had announced his retirement on three different occasions–in 1951, again in 1954, and in 1960. He had had injuries in the early 1950s, but 1960, that was it. People knew it would be his last at bat. He came up in the eighth inning. It was not likely he’d get another at bat, and it was his last game.

So it’s September 1960. No internet, no smart phones. Is Fenway Park full? In 1960, the Red Sox were not the best team. There were 10,454 fans in the stands.

Was that its capacity? I don’t believe so. [Keys is correct. Baseball Almanac says Fenway’s capacity was 33,368 at the time.]

What happened during Ted Williams’s final at bat? How did it go? The first pitch, he took for a ball. A lot of sluggers watched the first pitch anyway then. The second pitch was a high fastball. Ted Williams swung really hard at it. There was no doubt he was swinging for the fences. The third pitch he hit for a 440-foot home run.

That is a long home run, like you only see in the Home Run Derby contest in the All-Star Break. Or Mike Trout. But yeah, he nailed it.

So the crowd goes nuts. Then what happens? He runs the bases very humbly, very business-like, with his head down. He shook the catcher’s hand and got into the dugout quickly.

The Ted Williams cleats, in full. Note the number 9 written on the tongue of the left shoe.

How do we know these are Ted Williams game-worn cleats, and how do we know he wore them during his last major league at bat? It ties in to Jim Carroll. He and Ted Williams were friends going back to at least five years prior to the home run. Carroll would cruise around town in Ted’s Cadillac and shepherd him around. After the game, Carroll was there to take Williams to the airport. The provenance is Jim Carroll. [Carroll wrote a letter of authenticity for the cleats in 2007 that reads in part: “After the game, Ted started to take off his cleats and uniform to take a shower. Ted cantankerously threw his cleats in a barrel nearby. I sheepishly went to grab them and figured what a great collectible these would make. The equipment manager Jonny Orlando for the Red Sox turned and said “Hey, what are you doing”, Ted then turned around and stated, “No, that’s okay, let the Bush (my nickname to Ted) have ’em.”] They were originally sold in 2007, in a joint auction with SCP and Sotheby’s, and Carroll wrote the letter at that time. Other attributes of the cleats check out–the Spot Bilt tagging, the number 9 inside the tongue.

What did the Ted Williams cleats sell for in 2007, when SCP and Sotheby’s joined forces on that auction? $51,000.

I’ve seen any number of game-worn baseball jerseys that predate 1970, and a few pairs of pants. This is the first pair of cleats I can remember. How rare are vintage game-worn baseball cleats, generally? They don’t come around that often. In 2019, a pair of Babe Ruth cleats sold for $72,000, and had provenance from the Ruth family. Other than that, none have come up for sale. There are more jerseys out there than cleats. Unless they’re from a player like Ruth or Williams, or from a significant game, you don’t see cleats pop up. And game-worn jerseys are easier to authenticate. There aren’t too many cleats authenticators out there. That’s not really a thing that’s done.

Let’s talk about the condition of the Ted Williams cleats and how condition works when we’re talking about game-worn clothing. How do you assess a piece for which you want to see some wear, but not so much that it looks like it’s been dragged behind a bus? You do want a lot of wear on some game-worn items. You don’t want them to look like they were run through a wringer. You want dirt and creasing and evidence he was running around in them. With these ones, in particular, you can see dust and dirt speckling off, still. You can assume it comes from Fenway. It’s still there. They’re well-made leather cleats. They’re by Spot Bilt, a manufacturer of cleats back then. The tagging inside is vintage, everything about the cleats is vintage.

The Ted Williams cleats were manufactured by Spot Bilt.

Did I hear you say the Ted Williams cleats have Fenway dirt in them? There’s some dirt in the nooks and crannies of the seams. Not big chunks–dust. We can assume it’s from Fenway.

The Ted Williams cleats, shown from the front. Clearly game-worn, the cleats show a good amount of wear, not too much.

What are the Ted Williams cleats like in person? What eludes the camera? They’re just special in person. You can see the little grains of dirt and dust, and looking at the cleats part is interesting. They have six spikes coming out of the soles, and they look welded on. It’s really cool to have them in front of me on my desk. You can feel the difference. There’s an aura about these items when they come around.

What is your favorite detail of the Ted Williams cleats? I love the spikes. You can also see the stitching at the bottom of the shoe. These things were just made differently.

The Ted Williams cleats, tilted to show the spikes installed on their soles.
The Ted Williams cleats, tilted to show the spikes installed on their soles.

What size are the Ted Williams cleats? Size 9 to 9 1/2. That’s Ted’s size.

That’s convenient, seeing as that was also Ted Williams’s number. [Laughs]

Have you tried them on? They don’t fit my feet, but we wouldn’t put them on, the same way we wouldn’t swing a Babe Ruth game-used bat. We’ve put on jerseys before, but we haven’t tried on the cleats.

Well, they’re leather. That’s an organic material. Who knows when and whether they’ll crack? And they’re an old artifact. Since 2007, they have had shoe horns inside that have kept their shape.

So when you were figuring out a presale estimate for the Ted Williams cleats, you looked to the results from when they sold in 2007? It’s based on itself because there’s really no comparables out there. They’re one of a kind. There are no other Ted Williams last home run cleats out there. $51,000 was a big price at the time, and it has already reached that price.

Whoa, you’re right. We’re speaking on March 19, 2021, I’ve just refreshed the lot page, and they’re at $53,594. With the premium, they’re over $63,000.

How meaningful is that–it’s more than two weeks before the auction ends, and they’ve already exceeded the price they fetched the last time they were auctioned? We’re excited about it, of course, and we hope it keeps going, but it’s really a crapshoot. Sometimes, at auction, you see something reach a number and sit there and never move from that bid. Sometimes things go absolutely crazy toward the last day. But we’re glad the cleats are where they are now.

What’s the world auction record for a pair of game-worn baseball cleats? It’s a pair that Michael Jordan wore while playing in minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons. They sold for $93,000 in May 2020. To my knowledge, his are the highest priced game worn baseball cleats. Michael Jordan kind of owns the shoe world.

Do you think these Ted Williams cleats could set a new record? If they beat $93,000, we’ll be ecstatic. They’re already halfway there. They could certainly get there.

Why will these Ted Williams cleats stick in your memory? Because I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. They probably won’t come up for sale again [in my career]. I hope whoever wins really cherishes them and takes good care of them.

How to bid: The Ted Williams cleats are lot 43 in the Winter Premier Auction 2021 at SCP Auctions. It opened on March 17, 2021 and closes on April 3, 2021.


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See Ted Williams’s final at-bat in full at the YouTube channel of David Marlin, who filmed it and later donated his camera to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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A Set of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger Paintings on the Five Senses Could Fetch $140,000 (Updated March 31, 2021–New World Auction Record!)

Sight, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

Update: The Henri Guillaume Schlesinger set of paintings, The Five Senses, sold for £200,250, or about $275,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Sight, one of five paintings from Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses, a series he painted in 1865. Each canvas measures 45 1/2 inches by 35 1/4 inches. Bonhams estimates it at £70,000 to £100,000, or $97,000 to $140,000.

The expert: Martina Fusari, specialist in the 19th century paintings department at Bonhams.

Who was Henri Guillaume Schlesinger? Where was he in his career in 1865. when he submitted this group of works to the Salon? He was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1814 and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before moving to France. In Paris, he exhibited regularly at the Salon between 1840 and 1889.

Wait, he got into the Salon regularly over a 50-year span? Whoa. The Salon helped him secure good visibility and important commissions. He won a bronze medal [at the show] in 1840 and a silver medal in 1847.

It sounds like Henri Guillaume Schlesinger was not just a skilled artist. He was equally good at figuring out what subjects would earn a place in the Salon lineup year after year. He was known for his lively and sensitive depictions of young women. There’s no way we can prove it [that he explicitly acknowledged a strategy for winning a place in the Salon]. We couldn’t find any letters or diaries in which he wrote, “Yes, of course.” There’s still a lot to be discovered about the artist.

Painting a set of five interrelated works is a huge commitment, especially when you’re doing it on spec, as an entry for an upcoming Salon. Why do you think Henri Guillaume Schlesinger thought that his bet would pay off? It’s a very commercial and eye-catching subject, and he conveyed it in a way that was light and easy for the public to understand. It immediately captured a lot of attention, and it’s impressive because of its size. He illustrated the five senses over five large canvases and put them on display in frames. I’ve never seen something like it before–I’ve never seen such intricate, architectural frames on five paintings like that. And I think he wanted to be criticized [he wanted to cause controversy] because it was a way to be noted. The Five Senses was probably the turning point of his career. Emperor Napoleon III bought it for 25,000 francs. That was more than what the French state paid other established French artists.

In painting the set of five canvases, Henry Guillaume Schlesinger was betting that the Salon would find enough wall space to display them. Most artists were lucky to land one painting in the show, never mind five. Was that a risky move on his part, even though by 1865, he had a decades-long track record of winning a place at the Salon? That’s true, but consider that the size of the paintings at the Salon was pretty large. Artists were pushed to work on very large canvases, and the Salon was the place to do that. It could showcase your abilities, and let you show off and be recognized by the public and by critics.

Martina Fusari located this 1865 image of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger's The Five Senses on display in that year's Paris Salon.
In researching the lot, Martina Fusari located a period photograph of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses on display at the 1865 Paris Salon.

There’s a phrase we like to say in America: Go big or go home. Was the ethos of the Salon kind of like that? In most cases, yes. They [the show’s planners] wanted to make sure that artists were able to work well on a large scale. It’s not easy. You’ve got to master the skills to do so. That’s why the canvases the artists submitted had to be large.

Still, five canvases is a lot, even if they’re a themed set. They’re five large canvases, but they’re not massive canvases. When you put them together, all in their frames, it’s quite something.

The five senses is a theme that shows up in Western art as far back as the Middle Ages. Rubens and Brueghel the Elder teamed up on a group of five. Rembrandt did his own set, too, and I’m not even bothering to name the artists who depicted all five senses within a single work. What does Schlesinger bring to the topic that lets him make it his own? As I mentioned earlier, I think he tried to make the personifications more accessible to a wider public. There are no complicated references to mysterious symbols. There’s no need for a deep understanding of mythology to read these canvases. Anyone can stand in front of them and discuss what they’re seeing and what the artist wants to do. It’s a really new and modern interpretation of a topic that’s been reworked for centuries.

Sound, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

I don’t pretend to be a scholar of images of the five senses, but I’m thinking Henri Guillaume Schlesinger marks his version out by focusing on two young women… They’re very nice, attractive models. One magazine from the time described them as being ladies from Spain and Germany who moved to Paris for work. He used two models to keep the narrative moving, and it let him show off a bit more. He had to build up scenes, and think about how to make them interact to create each of the senses. It makes it more playful as well. It’s a lot of fun to look at. It’s colorful, and nice to the eye.

Did he rely on the same two models for all five paintings? I think they are the same two. It makes more sense for him to keep both for a series of paintings.

Taste, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

Can we talk a bit about how Henri Guillaume Schlesinger dresses the models and stages the actions and the backdrops? It seems to me that he’s trying to reflect the world of his audience, who either lived like the women in the paintings, or hoped to live that way. For example, he depicts taste by showing the two enjoying a bowl of ice cream. Mass refrigeration was several decades away in 1865, so I’m guessing ice cream was a treat reserved for the rich and elite. I completely agree. Ice cream probably was not cheap at all or easy to find. I think you’re right when you say he wanted the actions to give pleasure to the eyes of the people who looked at them. In a way, he was all about giving pleasure. His rich, lavishly painted fabrics resonated with viewers. They would have been captivated immediately by the colors and the details.

It strikes me, as we speak, that this series is as far away from a religious or history-themed work as possible. It literally shows two beautiful, well-dressed young women indulging in sensory pleasures. Did the paintings draw any criticism for that? At the time, a lot of the [Salon] paintings that won medals were of religious or mythological subjects. In this case, it’s pure genre. In a way, it talks about the tastes of the time. 1865 was five years before the start of the Franco-Prussian War. It’s a specific moment in taste and collecting that goes back to a more frivolous type of genre painting. It’s something easier to live with. It wouldn’t have been popular only ten years before.

Every painting in the Henri Guillaume Schlesinger series features beautiful young women. I’ve heard tell of pendants–portraits painted in pairs–in which the dour old husband and his lovely young bride are divorced by dealers who are only interested in the more salable painting. How impressive is it that The Five Senses is still together as a group of five canvases more than 150 years after they were painted? It is impressive, because I’m sure at some point there would have been pressure to sell them separately. It’s fantastic for us that that wasn’t the case. The artist created the idea and all five are still together with the same narrative, telling the story.

What are the Henri Guillaume Schlesinger paintings like in person? What eludes the camera? When you see them all together, it’s quite impressive. You’re impressed by the quality of the paintings, the brush strokes, the rendering of the fabrics. You’d miss it if you weren’t standing in front of the works.

Smell, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What is your favorite painting among The Five Senses? Definitely Smell, the lady smoking a cigar. I was amazed–is she really smoking a cigar?–and she is. At the time, smoking was definitely not something for a lady or a young girl, and definitely not a cigar. I’ve never seen such a depiction before of a woman smoking a cigar in the 19th century. It caught my eye and intrigued me.

And she’s looking directly at the viewer, almost as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” I find it very striking and modern for a painting from 1865. It shows how Henry Guillaume Schlesinger is trying to literally create a bit of controversy. He wanted to be controversial, and wanted people to talk about him.

How did the public react to Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses? Comparing popular magazines against art history magazines and papers, [it’s clear that] people were in love with these canvases.

So, he gambled and won. He succeeded, which is great.

Touch, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What’s the world auction record for a work by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger? It’s £85,000, for a portrait of Sultan Mahmud II in Constantinople, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2009.

What are the odds that The Five Senses will do better? I think it’s going to be the new world auction record for the artist, given its provenance, its historical importance, its quality, the subject matter–yeah, I think there’s a very good possibility it well sell well above the current record.

Why will this set of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger paintings stick in your memory? I’ve never seen a set of five works. Researching these canvases was something very exciting, and it was exciting to find the photo of them in the Salon in 1865. It was quite a big project, definitely worth the time.

How to bid: Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses is lot 43 in the 19th Century and British Impressionist Art auction taking place at Bonhams London on March 31, 2021.

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A 1932 Marx Brothers Movie Poster Could Sell for $50,000 (Updated March 28, 2021)

Update: The Marx Brothers movie poster sold for $40,800.

What you see: A Marx Brothers movie poster for their 1932 film Horse Feathers. It’s a three-sheet poster, which measures 41 inches by 80 inches. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

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

Who were the Marx Brothers, and where were they in their career in 1932, when Horse Feathers was released? They were really known for their stage work prior to the early 1930s. They were recruited in New York by Paramount to do an adaption of a play they were in called The Cocoanuts. The Marx Brothers weren’t primarily physical comedians–it was all verbal banter, puns, and plays-on-words that attracted the audience. They did this movie and Duck Soup and then MGM picked them up. Most Marx Brothers fans love the Paramount films because they were more loose, less…

Well, they were pre-code–made before the Hays Code. Right. The Paramount films were more loosely concocted stories, all over the place. MGM buttoned them up and gave them a more direct narrative. When they made Horse Feathers, they were at the peak of their popularity in the early part of their career.

The poster touts “The 4 Marx Brothers”. Who’s the other guy off by himself? That’s Zeppo, in the lower right. The fifth Marx Brother, Gummo, never appeared in the films. Zeppo was the straight man to the other three brothers. He didn’t continue to the MGM years.

Do we know who did the portraits on the Marx Brothers movie poster? We do. The man who did them was Sam Berman, an artist working for Paramount. He did a number of images of the Marx Brothers for the poster campaign.

It’s funny how the design layout of the poster plays right into how most people remember them–“Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and… that other guy, what’s his name…” Exactly right. In marketing this movie, they played up the three crazy ones, but they needed to show the other brother. I don’t want to say he’s an afterthought, but there he is.

How rare are vintage Marx Brothers movie posters? Original Marx Brothers material is really pretty scarce. There was quite a demand for many years. I suggest that it was college students who found them in the 1950s and 1960s, who found the fun of those films. They really became popular in those years and the posters were probably sought after and they scooped up whatever they could find.

And that’s how this Marx Brothers movie poster might have survived? College students who ran campus film clubs would ask the distributor to send along any old posters they had kicking around, so they could advertise it? I can only believe that is the case. Local television stations needed product to fill their airwaves and were showing older films constantly. The Marx Brothers were part of that. Their verbal banter, their appearances, and their movements were really fascinating. Young adults discovered them, and it probably led to a run on their films. It’s a guess, but it’s a fair one to make–their posters are desirable.

The appearance of each Marx Brother seems to have been codified by 1932, judging by the Horse Feathers poster. How did the brothers’ recognizability help sell the movie? By this time, their fourth movie with Paramount, their images were pretty iconic. They were really well-known in their screen personas, and they immediately translated to the poster in exaggerated cartoon form. Everyone knew by looking [at this poster that Horse Feathers] was not a serious romantic drama. They could see what it was.

The lot notes describe this Marx Brothers movie poster as “exceptionally rare”. What makes it so? We sold another copy of this one last year for $66,000. The only difference is this copy is in a little bit better condition than the copy that was previously sold, and that other copy was autographed by Groucho. He wrote his name next to his head.

And that’s it? Those are the only two copies of this version of this Marx Brothers movie poster? They’re the only two copies I’m aware of. It’s a coincidence that this one appeared so soon after [the first one sold in March 2020].

Ok, let’s pretend I’m walking to the movie theater to see Horse Feathers. Where would I see this long, skinny Marx Brothers movie poster? Is it in a case outside the theater, or is it displayed inside? Both. It could be outside the theater, in a case, and they put them inside the theater. The most common movie poster is the one-sheet. Three-sheets [which this poster is] and six-sheets are more rare. They’d get used and abused more than a one-sheet. They [the people who ran movie theaters] would take three-sheets and six-sheets and cut out the Marx Brothers’ heads for a display of their own making. This paper was very inexpensive and totally expendable.

What is this Marx Brothers movie poster like in person? What eludes the camera? When people come here to view a poster, they say, “Wow, it’s so much brighter in person,” and it usually is. The photographs are good, but it’s not like seeing it in person. It’s just much more vibrant.

What’s your favorite detail of the poster? The caricatures are wonderful, especially Harpo, whose eyes are wide open.

Sam Berman seems to have given Harpo Marx red hair, though. I wonder why? We don’t know. Bear in mind that none of these films are in color. The studio provided the artists a number of stills from the film, and they used them to create images for the poster.

The Marx Brothers movie poster is described as being in “Very Fine, minus” condition. What does that mean? It’s just saying the poster is very presentable. Very Fine minus means there’s very little, if any, paper loss, and very minor wear to the paper.

As we speak on March 9, 2021, the Marx Brothers movie poster has been bid up to $12,500. Is that meaningful, given how far away in time the auction is? Not really. I don’t think so. I tell people all the time that people don’t get involved in bidding until the week before, and really [get involved] when it comes down to the auction block. I have seen posters come to the block with a $10,000 bid and when it’s all over, they sell for $355,000. That’s not unusual. Now that auctions are so immediate and many have access to bidding in real time, people will wait and keep their cards close to their chest until the auction goes live.

Comedy is ephemeral. Horse Feathers is close to being a century old. The Marx Brothers have been dead for decades. Why do they persist? Why are we still talking about them today? The only way to explain it is to go watch a few of their films. They had a unique and really quick banter. It’s sort of like asking what people find enchanting about Charlie Chaplin–City Lights is one of the best films created. It’s incredible.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I see a lot of good material come through our auction house. I see posters as tangible pieces of cinema history. This poster is a very, very significant piece of cinema history. Fifty years from now, people will look at the auction catalog and think, “Wow, you could buy that for that price.” I think demand will continue to be significant. Museums and institutions will want them.

How to bid: The Marx Brothers movie poster is lot #86138 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction held at Heritage Auctions on March 27 and 28, 2021.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid many times, talking about a 1929 Russian movie poster for Battleship Potemkina 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 Leonora Carrington Bronze Could Command $97,000

What you see: The Ship of Cranes, a 2010 Leonora Carrington bronze, produced in a limited edition of six plus four more marked as P/A. Bonhams estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000, or about $69,000 to $97,000.

The expert: Ruth Woodbridge, specialist at Bonhams.

Who was Leonora Carrington? She was a British-born artist who ended up in Mexico and split her life between there and New York City. She met Max Ernst in 1937 and moved with him to Paris and met all the Surrealist artists. When World War II broke out, Ernst left her, and she had to try to get back to England by herself. The journey through Spain led to a breakdown, and she was in an asylum for a bit. She was released into the care of a minder, from whom she escaped. She made a marriage of convenience with Renato Leduc, an ambassador to Mexico, and that’s how she ended up there.

What influences shape Carrington’s work? From a very young age, she was interested in the stories told by her mother, who was Irish–she liked the folklore. When she moved to Mexico, she absorbed its folklore as well. She embroidered new worlds, based on different sources.

How prolific was Leonora Carrington? Is there a catalog raisonné of her work? It’s in preparation at the moment, not yet published, but it’s just her oils. Her sculptures are much more rare.

Yeah, it seems like she’s better known as a painter. She only started to sculpt later in life. She took it up in the 1990s, making the last sculptures between 2008 and 2011. She created around 40.

Do we know anything about how The Ship of Cranes came to be? Did she leave behind any letters or documents that explain it? I notice that the Museo Leonora Carrington in Mexico has a monumental sculpture on display on the grounds that looks similar to The Ship of Cranes... I haven’t seen any writings, but there’s a similar Carrington sculpture in Mexico City, Cocodrillo, which she donated to the city in 2000. It’s five crocodiles riding in a boat, and the sixth has an oar. It’s a monumental bronze, huge in scale.

In what ways is this Leonora Carrington bronze typical of her work, and in what ways is it atypical? It’s apart from her work in terms of it being a bronze. I can find only 30 bronzes by her at auction. The white patina is unusual, too. We don’t see it on any other bronzes of hers at auction. What’s typical is the air to it–it creates a whole new world. The figure steering the boat has a human hand gripping the oar–he has metamorphosized.

She made and cast this bronze in 2010, the year before she died. Given her interest in folklore and fairy tales, is there any chance she was playing with the image of a ferryman sailing the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the next world? We had a discussion about this in the department yesterday. The standing figure is very noble. He does feel like a guide. The others in the boat seem smaller and younger by comparison. There’s also an idea in Asian myths that cranes represent longevity, and that they live for a thousand years. This could be her facing her mortality, or, equally, facing the idea of everlasting life.

But this Leonora Carrington bronze–it’s not as if she left behind any notes or quotes that hint at what she was thinking when she made it? It’s hard to ascribe meaning to her work. It was a mystery to herself. She wanted viewers to find their own meaning in it, reading it for themselves.

How involved was she in the casting of the limited edition bronze? Did she design it and hand it off, or was she more hands-on than that? We know she was hands-on. She was very much there and present. Alejandro Velasco, the operator of the foundry, worked with her. I have a photo of her at the foundry, casting the work.

Do we know why this Leonora Carrington bronze has a bone white patina? We don’t, actually, but it gives it a silvery air that creates a shimmering effect. It’s lovely.

Does this sale represent the first time a bronze from this limited edition of The Ship of Cranes has gone to auction? It is the first we’re able to find in our research.

What is this Leonora Carrington bronze like in person? What aspects elude the camera? It’s surprisingly delicate. The oar is delicately wrought. And there are incised patterns around the eyes of all the figures, but particularly the standing figure. You’ve got to really zoom in to see them.

Is it solid or hollow? I think the standing figure and the head at the front of the boat are hollow. It is heavy.

What’s your favorite detail of the Leonora Carrington bronze? The standing figure at the back. He has a real air of nobility, and he looks like the figure in one of her other works, The Palmist.

What’s the world auction record for any Leonora Carrington bronze, and for any work by the artist? The bronze record is not that much. It was set by a leopard figure in 2012 that was 750,000 in Mexican pesos, or about £35,000. The artist’s world auction record is The Temptation of St. Anthony, an oil that sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $2.6 million.

Both of those numbers are surprisingly low. That’s the thing. Carrington works were offered quite a lot in Latin American art sales. Now her work is becoming recognized for what it is. Offering it in a Surrealist setting is exactly the thing to do.

To what do you attribute the shift? The growing interest in the work of female artists? I think so. We’re finding there’s a lot of interest in the female Surrealists. In this sale, we have Carrington, Leonor Fini, Alice Rahon–there’s definitely new interest.

Why will this Leonora Carrington bronze stick in your memory? This is the first time I’ve seen in person a three-dimensional work by the artist. To be able to move around it, and to link to the fantastical worlds she created–it brings it to life, I think.

How to bid: The Leonora Carrington bronze is lot 22 in The Mind’s Eye/Surrealist Sale scheduled for March 25, 2021 at Bonhams London.

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A Pair of Albert Paley Doors Could Command $50,000 (Updated March 23, 2021)

Update: The Albert Paley doors sold for $18,750.

What you see: A pair of entrance doors fashioned in 2004 by Albert Paley, with glass elements by Martin Blank. Hindman estimates them at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Hudson Berry, director and senior specialist for the Modern design department at Hindman.

Who is Albert Paley? He’s one of the nation’s leading and most influential blacksmiths. He was instrumental in the revitalization of the craft, which had declined with the closures in the American automobile industry in the 70s and 80s. Paley’s sculptures can be seen all over the world, and he has made architectural contributions to numerous institutions across America. Through his work as an educator at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he has continued to inspire and foster the careers of the next generation of international blacksmiths.   

Where was Albert Paley in his career in 2004, when he made these doors? And is he still active? The Springborn doors were conceived during his apex. He would have been 59 or 60 years old at the time of fabrication. He’s still fully active as an artist and designer.

How often has Paley worked with Martin Blank? How often have the two worked together on sets of doors or gates? The two artists have a multi-decade history of collaboration. Most take the form of sculpture, but it’s unlikely that they’ve worked on many doors together. Glass incorporated in functional kinetic design on an architectural scale poses obvious challenges, and requires an instrumental key ingredient: an imaginative and open-minded client!  

How do these doors show how Paley has evolved since creating the Renwick Portal Gates in 1974? What do the two sets of doors have in common, aside from their fundamental purpose, and how do they differ? While there are obvious threads that connect the Portal Gates and the Springborn Doors, such as nods to the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts masters, the Springborn examples showcase Paley’s evolution as a designer. There is an incredible sense of rhythm and motion to the Portal Gates, but they also feel relatively restrained when considered alongside his later works. In the Springborn doors, we see much harder angles in dialogue with almost fabric-like elements placed atop jagged edges, while also incorporating a true sense of depth. All of which, in conjunction with Blank’s glass elements, creates harmonious tension more like that seen in Paley’s public works, with the overall design of the doors transcending the materials themselves.

Detail of Albert Paley doors, showing colorful glass elements by Martin Blank.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult these doors would have been to make? I’d say even in the hands of a master blacksmith such as Paley… extremely difficult. While we don’t know how long it took from commission to completion of the doors, Paley is said to have spent 3,800 hours over the course of seven months to complete the Renwick Portal Gates commission. Of course, the Springborn commission came 30 years later in Paley’s career, but it’s still an incredible display of virtuosity and material intelligence. Paley has a reputation for raising the bar with each project, and the Springborn doors are no exception.

How much input did the Springborns have in the design and appearance of the doors? I can’t speak to the level of collaboration or involvement the Springborns had with the overall look or specific details of the project, but we know from researching their relationships with other artists in the collection that their standard practice was to let them have total creative freedom.

The Albert Paley doors come with the original design sketch, which Paley signed.

The lot includes the original proposal drawing from Paley. How rare is that? Do most Paley works that come to auction lack their design drawings? The majority of Paley’s works that include proposal drawings are commissioned by larger institutions. In this instance, we are thrilled to have access to the original proposal, which would only come to market under a very specific set of circumstances.
 

What are the Albert Paley doors like in person? What aspects elude the camera? Depth and scale, for sure. While we have an incredible photography department here at Hindman, an image on a smartphone just can’t replicate the presence of two seven-foot sculptural steel doors. And the tactile experience can’t be understated. The textures of the various materials are incredible, and an integral part of the experience. The steel presents as warm brown, with a rust-like appearance, but is actually quite smooth to the touch, similar to Blank’s glass elements. The internal glass isn’t simply frosted, it’s got an incredible pebbled texture intersected with inset vertical soft waves that seem to mimic rain on a window. If these were backlit, the effect would be almost cinematic. You could only imagine coming home to these on a daily basis, an interaction that would likely never get old. 

The Albert Paley doors shown from the rear, or as the occupants of the home would have seen them as they approached the doors to let guests in.

What is your favorite detail of the Albert Paley doors? To me, the doors are a holistic experience. Having assembled them and spent some quality time with them, I still think of them as chamber music or an ensemble cast–the interchange of the two mediums is so intertwined that choosing a single favorite detail starts to dismantle them. 

Is the door design meant to be purely abstract, or are there colors, details, or other features woven in that have special meaning to the Springborns? Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the Springborns’ correspondence with the artist on this particular project.

Detail of Albert Paley doors from the reverse side, showing a cobalt-blue glass element by Martin Blank.

Could you talk about how well the Albert Paley doors work as a functional, integrated piece? Sadly, due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was unable to experience the doors in situ. But their construction is extremely robust, with every detail exquisitely crafted and tooled. Even the doorknob is a small sculpture unto itself! The doors also include all of the necessary hardware to facilitate full functionality once they arrive at their new home. I can only assume they are truly gratifying to open and close. 

I see that the doors are not mirror images of each other, but they share some shapes in common… I find the dialogue of symmetry juxtaposed with asymmetry to be the most compelling element of the design, and it changes depending on how close you are to the doors. That dialogue can also be seen as a recurring theme in Paley’s work. For me, this is Paley alluding to his adoration for artists such as Hector Guimard, Louis Majorelle, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Louis Sullivan.

Detail of Albert Paley doors, showing colorful glass elements by Martin Blank.

What did Paley and Blank do to ensure that the glass elements would be robust enough to serve as part of a functional set of front doors? They’re extremely well-engineered. The glass elements are held in place with a series of rubber gaskets and adjustable hard rubber setscrews to ensure that the glass isn’t compromised with regular use. And while the glass is hollow, it’s also quite thick-walled, and it’s less nimble than it appears. 

How often do pieces by Albert Paley come to auction? Using LiveAuctioneers for metrics, and with the inclusion of the pieces in the Springborn Collection–as of March 2021, we are currently at 429 works, going as far back as 2003.

What is the world auction record for a work by Albert Paley? It’s a sculpture from 2013, titled Harlequin, which sold for $55,000 at Rago in 2018 as part of The Albert Paley Archives Part 1 auction. Of course, we hope the Paley works from the Springborn Collection will sit in the top percentile of achieved prices, if not setting new auction records themselves.

With these Albert Paley doors estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, a new world auction record for the artist could be set. What’s your opinion—could it happen? Could this lot do it? Yes. Given the importance of the client and how rarely Paley’s architectural private commissions come to market, the potential is certainly there for these to break and exceed any previous auction results. 

Why will these Albert Paley doors stick in your memory? Glenn Adamson wrote in his catalog essay for this lot: “Art-curious visitors to the home of Robert and Carolyn Springborn didn’t have long to wait. They were greeted right at the entrance by one of the collection’s most spectacular works”. That sums up the gravity of the Springborns as collectors and patrons. These doors truly served as the grand overture to the collection as a whole, setting the stage for surprises to come after you entered the home.

How to bid: The Albert Paley doors are lot 37 in The Springborn Collection of Contemporary Craft, a sale taking place at Hindman on March 23, 2021.

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The Luboshez Gong, an Archaic Chinese Bronze Vessel, Could Fetch $6 Million (Updated March 19, 2021)

A late Shang dynasty gong that joins the figures of a tiger and an owl in one archaic Chinese bronze vessel could command $6 million at Christie's.

Update: The Luboshez gong sold for $8.6 million.

What you see: The Luboshez Gong, an archaic Chinese bronze vessel dating to the late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 13th to 12th century before common era (BCE). Christie’s estimates it at $4 million to $6 million.

The expert: Margaret Gristina, specialist for Chinese works of art at Christie’s.

This piece is described as a “gong”. What is a gong? How rare is the gong form of ritual bronze vessel in the late Shang dynasty, and among archaic Chinese bronzes in general? It’s amongst the rarest forms from the Shang dynasty. It was probably made for the most elite people. It first appeared in the Shang dynasty and was made for a brief period of time from the 13th to the 11th centuries, when the Shang fell to the Zhou dynasty. Zhou rulers claimed that the Shang taste for wine was decadent and not in keeping with sacred rituals. They thought the ancestors were more interested in sober offerings like rice and grain.

How do we know that this archaic Chinese bronze vessel was used for serving wine? From the inherent shape of it. It’s a pouring vessel, and it’s too small for pouring water. It was used in rituals that offered food and wine to the ancestors. There’s a lot of speculation going on, but we infer from the pieces that they [the gong vessels] were made and used for wine.

The Luboshez gong is described as a “ritual” wine vessel. What sorts of rituals might it have been used in? Because there was no written language [during the late Shang dynasty], very little is known about the actual rituals. We know they made offers of meat and grain, and we know they made wine from millet, which was more like a modern-day ale.

What makes the archaic Chinese bronze vessel “exceptionally and highly important”? Gongs themselves are among the rarest shapes from the Shang dynasty. The figural shapes on this particular model, with the tiger and the owl, make it even more rare. Only five others are known.

What do we know, if anything, about how archaic Chinese bronze vessels such as this one were made? The Shang were a really sophisticated and developed society. They used a piece-mold technique, not the lost wax method. The piece-mold technique was a complicated process developed in China, and it could produce thin-walled vessels that allowed for a lot of surface decoration. The Shang were very wealthy and were able to get the copper, tin, and lead needed for the piece-mold process.

Why might the people who made this vessel have wanted to combine two animals in the same form? And why might they have chosen a tiger and an owl in this instance? We don’t know. We don’t know the significance of the tiger or the owl to the Shang, but the Chinese were an agrarian society, very perceptive about the animals around them, as opposed to Rome and Egypt, which focused on human forms [in their art].

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this archaic Chinese bronze vessel might have been to make? We can assume that the sculptural elements were more difficult to make. They would have required multiple pieces in the piece-mold process.

The surface of the Luboshez gong is incised with spiral decorations. Do they have any particular meaning, or are they just there to look good? They don’t mean anything. They completely cover the surface, with no blank spaces. They enliven the gong and add a bit of texture to it as well.

Is it possible to know if a vessel such as this one was the work of one person, or if it must have been produced by a team? We assume it was not one person. One would have designed it, another would have done the ceramic mold, a third would do the casting. It had to be produced by a team.

What constitutes the cover of the archaic Chinese bronze vessel? Is it the tiger’s face and the upper part of its neck? The cover kind of ends at the base of the chin of the tiger. It goes all the way down to the owl, and the head comes off.

And do I see a handle at the back? Yes, it’s a handle. It has a figural top in the shape of a mythical beast. It’s an example of the mythical animals you get during the Shang dynasty.

I also see a detail shot of an inscription on the Luboshez gong. Apparently it means “wei”, and it’s surrounded by footprints. Do we know what “wei” means here, and why we see footprints? We’re not sure exactly. It could be a clan sign. The feet have been interpreted by some scholars as guardians of the object. The modern Chinese word that descends from “wei” means “to guard or protect”.

And the wei inscription–it is inside the vessel, on its floor, where it would be covered up by wine when it was in use? Exactly. We have an overhead shot of the cover off, so you can look at the interior.

Have archaic Chinese bronze vessels always been known, or was there a time when they were lost or forgotten? We have various records that acknowledge the tradition of passing down bronze vessels in China. There was a short gap in the historical record between 200 B.C.E and A.D., but by the Song dynasty in 970 A.D., scholars and the educated classes were acquainted with archaic bronzes. It’s not like they’re a new, modern discovery. They were known in China, and valued.

What is the Luboshez gong like in person? What eludes the camera? Definitely, you feel like you’re with a piece of history. It has a commanding presence as a work of art. When you spend time looking at it, there are so many details: the tiger, with its forearms and springing legs, the owl with its claws. You can spend a lot of time studying it and you can look at it as an amazing art object.

What is it like to handle the vessel? Would it have been awkward to lift and carry when it was full of wine? It’s not too heavy. Again, it’s thin-walled. If you fill it with wine, you have to balance it beneath the spout. We know they [the Shang dynasty elite] served their wine warm. Maybe the vessel was conceived so steam would come out of the tiger’s mouth during serving, but that’s speculation. The cover is not fixed, so you’d need to keep a hand on it when pouring.

Is it common for archaic Chinese bronze vessels to lose their covers? Sometimes. It’s certainly nice to have this with its original cover. These bronzes have been collected for a long time. The cover of this one might have been more likely to stay because of the vessel’s size and because of the integral part it plays in the piece.

What is your favorite detail of the Luboshez gong? I really love the tiger head, and in particular, its eyes. An amazing artist 3,000 years ago created a sense of animation in them. It seems like he’s looking right at you.

What condition is this archaic Chinese bronze vessel in, and how do condition issues apply to something that’s so impossibly ancient? The figural cover is in amazingly good condition. The top of the crest on the tiger head has a tiny bit of restoration, but other than that, the cover is great. It’s completely intact. That’s unusual for a large, elaborate vessel. The body of the vessel itself has some repaired breaks. With something this old, you expect some kind of condition issue.

This archaic Chinese bronze vessel has a rich green patina. How much does that matter in the greater scheme of things? Patina is important to collectors. The gong would have started its life looking golden. Over the years, as it had contact with moisture, crystals adhered to the body and created the malachite and azurite–green and blue–hues you see. It’s important for the patina to look attractive to the eye. You don’t want it to be thick or crusty. This has a really beautiful blue-green patina.

Did it get that patina purely through handling and exposure, or was it ever buried at some point? The patina can be a combination of exposure to air and being buried in the ground, different reactions to air and to life.

How does having Captain Ferris Luboshez in its provenance–an owner so notable that the piece is known as the Luboshez gong–affect its value? A great work of art that’s known and documented always attracts the attention of collectors at auction. The gong has been documented from 1949, when Luboshez returned to the United States. A recognized provenance definitely adds a premium to the value.

How did you arrive at the $4 million to $6 million estimate for the Luboshez gong? It’s a very rare piece, and nothing has come up to compare with it exactly. It checks all the boxes. It has great beauty, great provenance, a great shape, and rarity.

What’s the world auction record for an archaic Chinese bronze vessel from the Shang dynasty, and the record for any archaic Chinese bronze vessel? In 2017 we had a sale from Japan’s Fujita Museum, and a late Shang dynasty fangzun vessel sold for $37.2 million, which I believe is still the record. In the same sale, we had a completely figural late Shang dynasty gong in the form of a ram. It sold for $27.1 million.

I see that both those pieces had estimates of $6 million to $8 million, which isn’t far off the estimate given to the Luboshez gong. Do you think it might set a new world auction record? I can’t speculate on that. I just know it’s going to be very well sought-after by collectors. I can’t overestimate the rarity of the provenance in this situation.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because of the shape itself and the animation in the depictions of the tiger and the owl. It’s a very memorable piece, and I had a lot of time to spend with it. It’s really wonderful.

How to bid: The Luboshez Gong is lot 505 in Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection, scheduled for March 18, 2021 at Christie’s New York.

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Margaret Gristina appears in a Christie’s story about the Luboshez gong.

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An Apothecary Trade Sign Could Fetch $2,000 (Updated March 11, 2021–Nice!)

An American apothecary trade sign decorated with 195 colorful pieces of glass could command $2,000.

Update: The apothecary trade sign sold for $6,500, more than triple its high estimate. Nice!

What you see: A lighted apothecary trade sign, covered with colored pieces of glass and dating to the 1920s. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $1,000 to $2,000.

The expert: Ben Fisher, director of Americana for Hindman. [Hindman and Cowan’s merged in 2019.]

What, if anything, do we know about who might have commissioned this apothecary trade sign? I would say maybe it was commissioned from a specific shop. I believe it’s late 19th century in inception. There are ads from the late 19th century from Travis, McLewee & Ferry in New York, and this sign looks almost identical to the trade signs made by that company, which specialized in artistic gas fixtures.

The front of a late 19th century business card for Travis, McLewee & Ferry, a New York company that offered a sign very much like the one at auction.
The reverse of the late 19th century business card touted the merits of the "jeweled mortar", available with gas or oil fittings. The admonition to "beware of imitations" implies that other gas fixture companies might have offered their own spin on the design.

Where does the circa 1920s date for this apothecary trade sign come from? It’s based on an invoice provided by the consigner.

Does the appearance of the sign point to a 1920s date? Admittedly, the electrification of the sign is confusing. I’m 99 percent certain it was fitted for gas [originally].

I see that the apothecary trade sign is meant to look like a mortar and pestle, but what is that cone-shaped metal thing full of holes sticking out of the top? What does that do? It’s almost an exhaust or a chimney, a manner of expelling the smoke that the gas flame would have emitted. It’s really built into the cover. It’d be difficult to remove without replacing or altering the cover.

The apothecary trade sign, unlit. The cone-like thing sticking out of the top is probably a vent from its gas-burning days.

It started out as a gas fixture and at some point, the sign was converted to electricity? I’m not sure what the original gas element looked like. I think it would have been easy to convert it to electricity in the 20th century and in any period since then. My assumption is [the conversion took place in] the last quarter of the 20th century.

So it morphed over time. It was updated so it could continue to be used for its purpose. How many people do you know who have a gas line running through their kitchen? The sign had to be changed in order to be used. It’s a cool thing. Not a lot of these illuminated apothecary signs exist.

I think of antique trade signs as being two-dimensional, or flat. Setting aside cigar store figures, is it unusual to come across a sign like this, which is three-dimensional? I don’t believe so, no. I do see a lot of two-dimensional signs, but there are loads of three-dimensional signs. Carved barber poles are 3-D objects. Shoemakers’ signs, hat-makers’ signs, they all have three-dimensionality to them. This is remarkable in its rarity and condition. It’s not remarkable for being a 3-D trade sign from the 19th century.

How does the apothecary trade sign work? Do all the lights go on at once, and off at once, or do they light up as individual, graduated bands? It has a single lighting element, one bulb. You turn it on and all the beads [the glass elements] light up. Some light up more than others, but you turn it on, and every bead is illuminated.

How many glass pieces, or beads, are there on this apothecary trade sign? It has 195. They are glass, but they’re all secure. Some have tiny chips on the edges of their interiors, but there are very few of them.

Is the sign solid? It’s hollow.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how hard the apothecary trade sign would have been to make? I’d say the most difficult part of the process was creating the glass inserts. They either molded these beads out of glass, or made the shape of the bead and hand-cut it to facet it. As for the metal, I don’t think it was very hard for a competent metalworker to fashion.

Does it have a patina or pattern of wear that hints that it spent some or all of its life outside, or was it displayed indoors? It probably lived part of its life outside. When Paul [Paul Bentley, the consigner] acquired it, it had certainly been restored and cleaned up, but there’s oxidation that suggests exposure to the elements. I’m fairly certain that at some point, it lived outside, but definitely not all its life.

I think I see glass beads in white, blue, amber yellow, and red. Did I get all the colors, or did I miss any? You got them all. The late 19th century business card indicated that the gas fixtures company was able to make glass of ruby, crystal [white], and emerald color.

Ah, this apothecary trade sign doesn’t have any emerald beads. That’s disappointing to me, in that I think emerald is a more interesting color. But red, white, yellow, and blue aren’t bad either.

A total of 195 "beads", or pieces of cut, colored glass, decorate the apothecary trade sign. Once illuminated by gas, it now draws its light from a single, common household bulb.

The provenance information on the lot page says “American Garage, Los Angeles, California”. What does that mean? American Garage is an antiques shop in Los Angeles. It’s temporarily closed [due to COVID-19 restrictions]. The consigner bought the sign there in 2010.

Has the apothecary trade sign been rewired for LEDs (light-emitting diodes)? It just has one central lighting element in the center. You can use any household light bulb to attach to it. It has a very simple solution.

What is the apothecary trade sign like in person? What aspects elude the camera? The scale of this is really something to be desired. It’s 29 inches tall–a large and very charming thing. I don’t know if you get that if you don’t see it in person.

Is 29 inches kind of petite for a trade sign meant for outdoor display? Other examples of these signs can be as small as 20 inches.

How many other examples are you aware of? More than a dozen? There are very few others. Certainly less than 20.

What’s your favorite detail of the apothecary trade sign? The thing I like most about it is the colored dots of light it leaves on the wall when it’s illuminated. There’s something very whimsical about it. Put it on a shelf in the corner and multiple walls will show polka dots on them.

Like a disco ball? Sort of. It’s funny–if you put it on a rotating platform, there would be a disco light aspect to it. I would love to see it lit with a flame to see how light reacts to it. Imagine being on a street and passing under it as colored lights dance on the ground.

Did the makers of the apothecary trade sign know it would cast little dots of multi-colored light when it was illuminated, or was the effect a happy accident? I would love to think they had the forethought, but it might be how it turned out.

The apothecary trade sign displayed indoors, and lit.

What condition is the apothecary trade sign in? It’s in good condition. It operates, it functions. Given the changes to how it functions, some might be concerned, but electricity might be the only way to preserve what its purpose is. Also, it’s been cleaned. There’s no verdigris and the very little oxidation that exists suggests that it’s been outside.

Would the sign be worthless if it didn’t light up? It’s certainly a sculptural, wonderful thing to look at. If it didn’t function, fewer people would bid on it. Even if it was sold unelectrified, someone who is capable could convert it to electricity.

About that–as of February 25, 2021, the day we’re speaking, the apothecary trade sign has 62 watchers and has drawn four bids, the largest of which is $850. Is that meaningful at all? I tend to follow the numbers on LiveAuctioneers, and how many watchers and bids there are before a sale. Usually, it’s a good indicator of how it will perform.

Have any identical or similar apothecary trade signs come to auction? There was one that came up 20 years ago at Morphy’s. It sold for $2.000. I think this one is comparable.

What’s the world auction record for a trade sign? Putting aside traditional Samuel Robb [cigar store Indian] figures, it was an elephant-shaped boots and shoes sign for John M. Dyckman, which sold in October 2019 at Sotheby’s for $56,250.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This is probably the only one I’ll ever get to handle. I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and I think it’s the only one I’ve seen in my career.

How to bid: The apothecary trade sign is lot 0015 in the American Folk & Decorative Arts auction at Cowan’s Auctions on March 9, 2021.

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Images are courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions. Images of the late 19th century advertisement are courtesy of Ben Fisher.

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A Vintage Jumbo NFL Bobblehead Could Fetch $25,000 (Updated March 12, 2021)

A vintage jumbo NFL bobblehead styled as a San Francisco 49ers player could sell for $25,000.

Update: The jumbo NFL bobblehead sold for $19,600.

What you see: A jumbo NFL bobblehead, made in the early 1960s and styled as a player for the San Francisco 49ers. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.

The lot notes say the jumbo NFL bobblehead was distributed by the Otagiri Mercantile Company. What do we know about the company? Is it still in business? As far as I can tell with our research, it is not. It’s a company out of Japan in the 1950s, when these bobbleheads were mostly made. Then it kind of went away. I didn’t find out what else they might have made.

So it pretty much disappears by the 1970s? I believe so, or the dolls weren’t being produced by then.

Why might the Otagiri Mercantile Company have wanted to make jumbo NFL bobbleheads for the 14 American football teams that existed in the early 1960s? At that time, the NFL wasn’t anywhere near as dominant as it is now, and the first Super Bowl was years away. What convinced the company that it could turn a profit off these toys? I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and have sold several of the jumbo NFL bobbleheads. The story among hobbyists is these were promo dolls sold at airports in the United States, probably in the 14 cities that were home to the teams. They [the airport stores] would put the big bobblehead up, and little bobbleheads around it, and you could buy the little ones.

So the jumbo versions were display-only? Yes, I believe the big ones were not designed to be sold. I think they were designed to be eye-catchers for the little guys.

These jumbo NFL bobbleheads stand about 15 inches tall. Is that what qualifies them as “jumbo”–being 12 inches tall or taller? Yes. The regular ones were about five to six inches tall.

Do we have any notion about how many of these jumbo NFL bobbleheads were made, and how many survive? The lot notes say the company might have produced as many as five jumbos per team. Five is a guess. Very few were produced, and very few survive. I’m in the Baltimore area. We’ve sold half a dozen of the Colts ones, but that’s the area we’re in. They were very, very regional. I think this is the first San Francisco 49ers one we’ve ever handled.

A detail shot of the left foot of the jumbo NFL bobblehead, which clearly shows the NFL logo. Because a Japanese company made the toy in the early 1960s, well before the first Super Bowl, the league probably wasn't approached for permission.

I see an NFL logo on the bobblehead’s left foot. Did the Otagiri Mercantile Company get the league’s permission to use it, or not? I think they just stuck the logo on. Today, if you were to reproduce a logo owned by a team without permission, you’d get sued real quick. Nobody cared back then. Probably, the league was happy that somebody was promoting the sport.

The jumbo NFL bobblehead has the words FORTY NINERS written on its chest. Did the team not have a logo then? I’m not really sure, but the red and silver coloring of the uniform is consistent with the 49ers colors.

The back of the jumbo NFL bobblehead in full. It's likely that all versions, regardless of team, carried the double zero number on their backs.

Do the jumbo NFL bobbleheads look basically the same–same face, same pose, but different colors of uniform and helmet? Yes, and I believe the numbers on the backs of the players are always double zeroes.

How might these jumbo NFL bobbleheads have been made? They probably poured ceramic material into a mold of some sort. It hardened, and then it was painted.

Painted by human beings? I would think somebody painted them individually. When you get the smalls, they’re a little bit different in the painting. You can tell they’re not rolled out on a factory assembly line.

And the jumbo NFL bobbleheads are 100 percent ceramic? Yes. Today, bobbleheads are made out of hard plastic. You can throw them against the wall and they won’t break. These, they’re very fragile. You drop ’em, you have a pile of dust.

How did these toys manage to survive at all, given that they were made in such small numbers, from a highly breakable material, and were never meant to be sold? I don’t know. When the promotion ran out, whoever ran the gift shop or the hobby store might have given them to someone, or taken them home. [The world auction record for any bobblehead belongs to an early 1960s jumbo Yankees bobblehead from the same Japanese company. It sold for $90,000 at Heritage Auctions in October 2019.]

Side view of the jumbo NFL bobblehead, which stands 15 inches tall. The same company made a six-inch version and an even smaller version with a magnet in the base, meant to decorate a car interior.

What is the jumbo NFL bobblehead like in person? What aspects elude the camera? The crudeness of how it was made. If you held it in your hand, you could tell it’s very fragile.

Detail shot of the jumbo NFL bobblehead to show its interior spring.

What condition is the jumbo NFL bobblehead in, and what sorts of condition issues do you tend to see with these oversize vintage toys? We’ve found indentations on the shoulders and flaws at the backs of the heads, where there are hairline cracks from people pushing the head down to make it bob. This one is described as being in “near mint” condition. That’s very rare to find, based on what they’re made out of.

Why will this toy stick in your memory? For the size of it. It’s so unique, compared to thousands and thousands and thousands of other bobbleheads that we sell all the time. We see so few of the big ones. It’s rare to find a jumbo at any time.

How to bid: The jumbo NFL bobblehead is lot 937 in the Winter Auction held at Huggins & Scott. It opened on February 26, 2021 and continues until March 11, 2021.

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Images are courtesy of Huggins and Scott.

Bill Huggins appeared on The Hot Bid previously to discuss a 1903 World Series program printed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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A Circa 1905 Double Ferris Wheel Toy Could Sell for $15,000 (Updated March 8, 2021–WOW!)

A double Ferris Wheel toy made around 1905 by Mohr & Krauss, a German company, could sell for $15,000.

Update: The Mohr & Krauss double Ferris Wheel toy sold for $115,000–more than seven times its high estimate. Wow!

What you see: A Mohr & Krauss double Ferris Wheel toy, dating to circa 1905. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

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

Who were, or what was Mohr & Krauss? Mohr & Krauss was a German manufacturer out of Nuremberg. There’s not a ton of info about the company itself. This is actually a steam-powered toy. Steam engines were the focus of the company, and it made steam accessories, such as this.

How does the double Ferris Wheel toy work? The entire structure rotates at the top, and the inner wheels rotate as well. At the bottom rear of the toy is a double flywheel that spins a pulley run by a steam engine. You have to have a live steam engine to run it. It’s a steam engine accessory.

The double Ferris Wheel toy, shown from the rear, where the steam-driven toy would connect to a separate alcohol-powered steam engine.

Does the toy come with a steam engine? It does not.

If you wanted to operate the double Ferris Wheel toy, how would you do it? You can hand-crank it, or have an auxiliary engine of some sort.

What, like a two-stroke engine, or a lawnmower engine? Probably a battery-powered engine. All you need is a circular spinning engine or a pulley connected with a rope or a wire.

You said that Mohr & Krauss made steam engines and steam accessories, and this toy is considered a steam accessory. What else falls under the heading of “steam accessory”? An example would be a water fountain that uses a steam-driven flywheel to spritz water into the air. Windmills were popular. Any carousel or amusement-type wheel could be a steam accessory.

Is this double Ferris Wheel toy unique? This is the only one I’ve personally seen. Reportedly, two other examples are known. One is in the United States, and I don’t know where the other is. Sotheby’s had one of the others in the 1980s, I don’t know which.

Are the other two identical to this one, or do some of the details and colors vary? The only illustration I’ve seen is in black and white, but they very well could be different.

Another angle on the double Ferris Wheel toy. Only two other examples are known.

Why would Mohr & Krauss make a huge, delicate toy such as this? What convinced them they could turn a profit on it? That’s the big question mark here. Unless it was a special order or made as a commemorative… I can’t imagine the time, the labor, the materials it took to make it. It’s very large, and very ornate and intricate. To solder and assemble it had to take hours. It would have been a very expensive toy.

How expensive would it have been? Probably five to ten dollars in 1905, equivalent to the annual wage of the factory worker who would make the toy.

How big is this toy? About two feet from the base to the top of the tower. When it rotates, it spans about 36 inches.

Who was the audience for this double Ferris Wheel toy? Was it children, or was it really for a deep-pocketed adult? I think the audience was the parents as much as the children. We are talking about a toy powered by a live steam engine that burns alcohol. Obviously, you had to have a parent involved to play with it for the child.

The steam engine that powered the toy was driven by alcohol? That’s how the steam engine was fueled, by alcohol.

Might this have been a kind of show-off piece, maybe made for display at a World’s Fair or in the front window of a fancy toy store? It could have been, absolutely. You mention shop windows–Aaron and Abby Schroeder [the husband and wife who built the collection that comprises the auction] unearthed this in a small Pennsylvania town. There was a barber shop with large bay windows, and in one of them was this toy. They stopped and stayed overnight. Aaron got a haircut, and Abby carried out the double Ferris Wheel.

But we don’t know where the barber got the toy? We don’t.

Are the figures and the Ferris Wheel seats cast as one piece, or are the figures loose? They are removable. It’s impressive that they’re still intact and original to the toy.

A detail shot of the rider figures on the double Ferris Wheel. All are detachable from their gondolas, and all have survived intact.

And it has everything it ought to have–everything it would have left the factory with in the early 20th century? I believe so. The whole toy is quite delicate. Normally, bits and pieces that hang off a toy are the first to break off, such as the flags, or the even more delicate pair of lamp posts at the front. But they’re still intact and preserved.

About those flags at the top–it looks like one is a French flag and I can’t tell what the other country is supposed to be… I assume they’re decorative. There are times when a toymaker uses country flags for a specific market. I wouldn’t wager that to be the case here. They may have been [colored with what was] leftover from what they used to paint the gondolas.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult this double Ferris Wheel toy would have been to make? The hardest part was probably keeping it all level and visually balanced. It was made by hand and soldered and pieced together. To make it uniform and parallel is tricky and impressive. And it has to be level for it to function and move.

How does something this large and fragile survive so well for 120-odd years? It’s a testament as to why so few are known. It’s miraculous for it to have survived in such good condition. The missing paint is a product of the age of the toy. When Abby bought it, it had 100 percent of its paint. Temperature and humidity changes caused the paint to start to lift and flake off. That’s very common in antiques [antique toys].

What is the double Ferris Wheel toy like in person? It has a very commanding presence. A lot of that has to do with the size of it. Artistically, it has an elegant beauty. You want to look at it at a slight angle. Not only is it tall and wide, it’s deep. As you look at it from different angles, your attraction grows.

When shown at an angle, the double Ferris Wheel toy reveals how completely and enthusiastically three-dimensional it is.

What is your favorite detail of the double Ferris Wheel toy? The negative space. The fact that it’s so ornately assembled, but with so much open air space, gives it a very attractive look. The framework of the wheels and the tower are not flat pieces of metal. They criss-cross. The Eiffel Tower is a good comparison–if you look at it dead on, it’s a triangle, but if you look at it at an angle, you see how deep the structure is, and how much intricacy there is in the assembly of it.

As we speak on February 23, 2021, the double Ferris Wheel toy has 41 watchers online and has drawn a single bid of $5,000. Is that at all meaningful? Not as of yet. When the toy is an example of this caliber, collectors hold their cards close to their chests and demonstrate their willingness and their desire in the heat of the moment at auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? A toy of this size is often crudely assembled or manufactured. This toy is put together artfully, not thrown together the way many toys of the time were. This had something more along the line of the Rolls-Royce treatment. It was constructed in refined style.

How to bid: The Mohr & Krauss double Ferris Wheel toy is lot 0364 in the Schroeder Collection I sale scheduled at Bertoia Auctions on March 6, 2021.

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Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

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Michael Bertoia has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about a Jackie Robinson doll with its box and accoutrements, and a vintage Tremendous Mike robot toy with box that went on to sell for $11,000.

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A Thomas Hart Benton Lithograph Could Sell for $15,000 (Updated March 5, 2021)

A 1942 Thomas Hart Benton lithograph dubbed "The Race", based on an original Benton oil painting known as "Homeward Bound". The print could sell for $15,000.

Update: The Thomas Hart Benton lithograph sold for $18,750.

What you see: The Race, a 1942 Thomas Hart Benton lithograph based on his oil painting titled Homeward Bound. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings.

Who was Thomas Hart Benton, and where was he in his career in 1942? He was an American painter, and with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, was a leader in the American Regionalist movement, which focused on scenes of everyday life in America. In 1942, Benton was at the top of his career. He became well-known for murals he painted in 1933 for the Century of Progress exhibition in Chicago and another set in 1932, the Arts of Life in America murals, which were for the Whitney Museum in New York. They’re now at the New Britain Museum of American Art. And in 1934, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine on one of its earliest color covers. That got him mass recognition.

How prolific was he as a printmaker? He made 93 documented lithographs between 1929 and 1974.

This Thomas Hart Benton lithograph is based on an oil painting by Benton titled Homeward Bound. Do we know anything about how he came up with the idea for the image? There’s a quote by him which is not an explanation for why he painted it, but it’s about a study for the painting, in which he says, “Common enough scene in the days of the steam engine. Why did horses so often run with the steam trains while they now pay no attention to the diesels?” The quote gives insight into why he did it–a glimpse of a bygone era. I thought it was about horse versus machine, but the quote shows how we romanticize the past and this view of the American West, which was vanishing.

Did Benton’s approach to printmaking differ when he was translating a painting into a print, and when he was creating an image that would debut as a print? No, it doesn’t differ. It’s standard in that aspect. The majority are derived from his paintings and drawings. When you look at his lithographs from 1929 through 1974, they’re technically and stylistically similar, though they were produced over a 45-year span. There’s virtually no alterations to the style or the technique. After he appeared on the cover of Time in 1934, Benton was approached by a fine art publishing company in New York, Associated American Artists (AAA), which had the idea of democratizing art collecting. It was a mail order publishing outfit. You’d pay a dollar or two dollars and pick a lithograph.

So Associated American Artists was kind of like Columbia House, which promised a bunch of records for a penny, that sort of thing? Yes. The general idea was to make art affordable for the masses. Associated American Artists approached well-known artists like Benton to give oomph to their venture. Benton was associated with AAA for most of his lithographs. They weren’t really original things. The art was made previously to pulling and submitting it to AAA for a lithograph. Because he was better-known, AAA lithographs by Benton might be $2, and those by lesser-known artists might be $1.

How hands-on was Benton in the creation of his lithographs? Did he hand off the artwork and stay away until it was time to correct the proofs, or did he do more than that? He was fairly well-involved. He worked with the lithographer to create the image. He drew the lithograph on the lithographic stones, and sometimes on a zinc plate.

The print run for this Thomas Hart Benton lithograph was 250. Is that a pretty typical edition size for Benton? That is typical, because Benton worked so frequently with the AAA. 250 is the edition size for most of the editions issued by AAA.

How well does the image exploit the advantages that lithography has to offer? I’d say it makes very full use of lithography. The main two points are the fluidity of the drawing and the tonal nuances–they are the touchstones of lithography. You don’t see Benton produce prints in etchings. Lithography suits his work. Another point is his painting style is colorful, and he never worked in color lithography. It would have been available, but not with AAA. Benton never sought it out, and he never hand-colored lithographs, which other artists sought to do.

So Benton was really more interested in painting. I think that’s it, and that color lithography is more work. For Benton, his work went into painting, not printmaking.

Can you talk a bit about how the darks and lights come across here–the tonal nuances? In Benton paintings, as in his lithographs, there’s strong chiaroscuro, the play of light and dark. He used it to create a mood that’s present in his oils. It harkens back to the modern art movements that he would have seen while studying in Paris between 1909 and 1912: Fauvism, Synchromism. It comes out in his paintings.

How much did George Miller, the printmaker who translated Benton’s images into lithographs, add to the quality and the impact of the lithographs? Tons. George Miller was a genius printer. Benton could not have been lined up with a better lithographer.

What is the Thomas Hart Benton lithograph like in person? What I take away from it is how rich the ink is and how it stands out on the sheet. It’s not terribly thick–it’s more of a sheen against the whiteness of the paper. When you photograph it, it becomes matte and flat. It loses something.

What’s your favorite detail of the lithograph? The shadow of the horse in the pond in the foreground, just how the light catches the horse and creates the shadow in the water. I think that’s cool. I also love the clouds in Benton’s work. Jackson Pollock was a student of Benton’s. If you block out the ground and look at the clouds in the upper half of the lithograph, you get the start of abstract expressionism.

We know how many lithographs of The Race were printed. Do we know how many survive? Based on what we see, it’s likely that most of the edition of 250 is around. Benton was a famous artist. This print would have been carefully preserved.

How often do you see this Thomas Hart Benton lithograph come up at auction? I see at least one a year. It’s not such a scarce image.

What condition is the lithograph in? It’s in excellent condition. It has full margins. A side note on AAA prints in particular–AAA sold them matted and framed as well. It was standard practice to paper-tape the back of the lithograph to the front of the matte. When people removed the prints from the frames, they’d cut it from the matte and remove half an inch off the margins. With AAA prints, collectors ask, “Does it have full margins or not?” Frequently, they do not. When an AAA print has full margins like this one does, it’s definitely a boost.

There are five other Thomas Hart Benton lithographs in the auction. How does The Race compare to them? This is less of a static image. It has more of the feel of a frame from a motion picture reel. That’s probably part of why collectors are drawn to this image. It puts it over other lithographs that feel more posed.

Was Benton a movie-goer? Might he have been thinking cinematically when he executed this image? Not only would he have had it in mind, he did promotional lithographs for the 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath, commissioned by 20th Century Fox.

The Grapes of Wrath set by Benton–those were purely lithographs? Not paintings first? Yes.

What’s the world auction record for The Race, and for any Thomas Hart Benton lithograph? For The Race, we do have the world auction record, set in November 2015. It was $37,500. We had the overall world auction record for a Benton lithograph until two years ago. The current record of $45,000 was set in January 2019 at Kamelot Auctions by a lithograph from 1936 called Jesse James.

Why will this image stick in your memory? The image itself is a rendering of a bygone era, this nostalgia for the American old West, with the combination of the galloping horse and the steam engine. It’s gripping, and there’s something iconic about it.

How to bid: The Thomas Hart Benton lithograph of The Race is lot 161 in the 19th & 20th Century Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on March 4, 2021.

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Todd Weyman has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about a 1977 Mixografía Rufino Tamayo printa Howard Cook print that depicts the Chrysler Building and a print of M.C. Escher’s Night and Day.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

A Girl Skipping Rope Mechanical Bank Could Sell for $90,000 (Updated March 1, 2021)

A mechanical bank in the form of a girl skipping rope could command $90,000 at Morphy Auctions.

Update: The girl skipping rope mechanical bank sold for $73,800.

What you see: An antique mechanical bank in the form of a girl skipping rope. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $60,000 to $90,000.

The expert: Collector Bob Brady, consigner of the girl skipping rope mechanical bank.

This mechanical bank was made by the J. & E. Stevens Company. Did it have a good reputation as a maker of mechanical banks? Also, when did it go out of business? J. & E. Stevens was the largest mechanical bank manufacturer. It was probably responsible for 50 or so of the mechanical banks that are out there. They made some of the best action mechanical banks and they made banks that were extremely colorful. Before World War II, they were out of the business of making mechanical banks. I believe what happened is the cost of manufacturing became prohibitive.

The lot notes for the girl skipping rope mechanical bank don’t give a date. Do we know when the bank was in production, and when this example might have been made? The patent was approved in the late 1890s. It was probably manufactured until the 1920s, maybe a little into the 1930s. There were variations in production styles on the girl skipping rope. There’s color variations on the girl’s dress–blue, brown, and yellow dresses are out there–but the main part of the bank stayed the same. The rope was originally cast iron, but because they had problems with the rope, they ended up casting it in brass. On this one, the rope is cast iron.

When activated, the girl's head looks left and right and her feet kick as the rope rotates over and under her.

Did J. & E. Stevens invent the girl skipping rope form of mechanical bank, or did they see it elsewhere, put their own spin on it, and popularize it? This was their design and their manufacturing. No one else tried to replicate the girl skipping rope.

Do we have any idea how many girl skipping rope mechanical banks were made? Did J. & E. Stevens keep production records? I don’t know anybody who had ever had those kinds of records for J. & E. Stevens.

How many examples of the girl skipping rope mechanical bank survive? There might be, oh, possibly less than 100 in varying conditions. Maybe 15 to 20 are original, without repairs. This example is the second-best I know.

While there's no circa date on this bank, its production run spanned the 1890s to the 1920s. Early examples, such as this one, are all-cast iron. Later examples have skipping ropes made from brass.

What makes this one the second-best example you’ve seen? Basically, the number of chips on the bank. I’m comparing all-original banks. It’s just the wear. Other factors that come into play is there’s a lot of red on the bank. If it came into contact with daylight, the red would turn to a light, faded pinkish color, or it goes back to the base, prime color, which is white. That’s pretty much only on red. The other colors survive well.

While I haven’t seen a ton of mechanical banks, most of the ones I’ve seen feature animals, or groups of men, or people with animals, or a boy–not an individual girl. Is it unusual for a bank to showcase a girl, as this one does? There are a few other girl-type banks, but their actions aren’t nearly as drastic as on the girl skipping rope.

The girl skipping rope mechanical bank, shown with its key.

How does she work? The coin gets put in the bank in the green area just below the squirrel. It sits there until the motion starts, then it falls to the bottom of the bank, where it’s stored. There’s a lever at the level of the girl’s feet if she’s standing up straight. [In the above photo, it looks like a doorknob, and it’s at the level of her knees.] That starts the girl swinging. As it makes a 360-degree rotation, the girl’s head looks left and right, and her feet move forward. She jumps the rope three or four times, but in examples I’ve operated, I’ve seen as high as 20.

I see that the girl skipping rope mechanical bank comes with a key. What did it do? The bank had a difficult mechanism in it. It had to have a strong enough spring to rotate a flywheel that was six inches in diameter. It had a bit of weight to it. You had to turn it 270 degrees, three-quarters of a turn, to lock it into position and activate it. Even an adult could have trouble turning the key. And if the key slipped off, the spring-loaded mechanism could break internally.

And that’d be the end of the bank. Pretty much. People like myself try to stay away from repaired banks. I strive for the best condition imaginable.

The bank is made entirely of cast iron. How much does it weigh? Probably about four pounds. A young girl who had one was probably an exception.

A rear view of the girl skipping rope mechanical bank.

Who were mechanical banks made for? Who was the target audience? Were they made for children, to encourage them to save money, or were they actually enjoyed by adults? I’ll tell you what appealed to me when I saw them. I grew up poor. These banks imply thrift. And you’ve got the action associated with it, and this has the best action of any of the banks. It’s a pretty intricate working bank. I think the reason why J. & E. Stevens had a girl on it was it was aiming at a female market. But I think girls and boys would find it equally desirable.

What makes the girl skipping rope mechanical bank so beloved among collectors? And how much of it has to do with its action–how it moves? It’s such an appealing bank and a desirable bank. Everybody strives to have a girl skipping rope. Its popularity and its availability is such that it’s an expensive bank to own. I’d say it has the most elaborate movement, and there’s the symbolism–the girl skipping rope is the logo of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America. They thought enough of that bank to pick it as their logo.

So the girl skipping rope is literally the symbol for mechanical banks? [Laughs] It’s kind of the tip of the spear for mechanical banks. If someone has a girl skipping rope, they’ve had 50 or 100 banks before getting to that level. Unless you’re an heir to Nike, you’re not going to buy one of these early in the collecting cycle.

A close-up of the figure on the girl skipping rope mechanical bank. It's one of the few to feature an individual female figure.

The figure on the girl skipping rope mechanical bank is wearing a dress that’s a lot more dull in color than the rest of the bank. Why? Is a beige-colored dress closer to what little girls actually would have worn when the bank was new? Generally, I would say yeah. I wasn’t around in 1890, but it was an acceptable style of the time.

Coins are placed in the green area below the squirrel. Why depict a squirrel? It's unclear.

The mechanical bank has a squirrel on it. Do we know why? Was it the mascot of J. & E. Stevens or something? [Laughs] I’m purely speculating, but they were probably looking for some animal a girl would be familiar with. It probably could just have easily been a rabbit.

What coins does the bank accept? Pennies on up to quarters? Yeah. I’ve never tried a quarter. Generally, I never put a coin in. I just operate it.

How do you operate it without putting a coin in it? You can release the spring by pushing the lever down [the gold doorknob-like thing sticking out of the colorfully-painted structure that lines up with the girl’s feet or knees, depending]. That operates the bank. I can also move it manually by putting my fingers on the rope and rotating it.

Coins were removed by using a screwdriver or similar tool to open the Swiss lock on the bottom of the bank.

How do you get the coins out? Do you turn it upside down and take off the bottom plate? You can use a screwdriver on the little Swiss lock on the bottom of the bank. There’s nothing sophisticated about it.

The mechanical bank is described as being in “near mint” condition. What does that mean? It means it’s all-original, no repairs, no repaints, nothing done to it. It’s the way it looked 125 years ago. That’s what people strive for.

The impressive-looking cast-iron key, which is original to the bank.

This example of the girl skipping rope mechanical bank comes with its original cast iron key. How rare is that? It’s very rare to have its original key. They do make reproductions, but they’re not nearly as good.

When did you get this mechanical bank? I bought it in 2007, at the Stephen and Marilyn Steckbeck sale at Morphy’s. At the time, it was the biggest mechanical bank collection to come to auction.

Would the sum you paid in 2007 represent a world auction record for a girl skipping rope mechanical bank? To the best of my knowledge, that was the record.

A side view of the girl skipping rope mechanical bank. Its movements are so pleasing and iconic that the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America chose this design for its logo.

How does your mechanical bank collection make you happy? Also, why sell it now? Mechanical banks are true American antiques. Only so many were made. What’s left are the survivors. I enjoy seeing the shapes of the banks and knowing what their actions are. They represent savings and my undergraduate degree, which was in mechanical engineering. I look at my mechanical banks every day. I’ve got them showcased throughout the house. I’m only selling them now because I’m 78 and my kids never took an interest in them and my wife has terminal cancer. And they hold special memories for me. I’ve met people from all over the world through collecting, types of associations I’d never have if not through collecting mechanical banks. Some of my best friends are actively involved in bank-collecting.

Why not delay the sale until COVID-19 is no longer a concern, so you can enjoy seeing your friends gather to bid on your collection? I did my will, which is pretty important with my wife’s condition. Also, Morphy’s has an option–it has a theater auction room. Morphy’s can seat 75 people in that room with face masks and the required spacing needed in Pennsylvania. And they’ve gotten to the point now where you can do so much online. We have the best of both worlds.

Have you decided yet if you’ll be there in person for the sale? [Laughs] I’m not sure. It’s going to be hard. It’s a big part of me. I have decided if I do go, I’m going to sit up front, to be away from any of the interactions.

How to bid: The girl skipping rope mechanical bank is lot 1070 in The Bob and Judy Brady Mechanical Bank Auction, scheduled at Morphy Auctions on February 27, 2021.

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A Cyrus Edwin Dallin Bronze Could Command $70,000 (Updated February 26, 2021)

A 22-inch bronze of Cyrus Edwin Dallin's masterwork, Appeal to the Great Spirit, could command $70,000.

Update: The 22-inch high Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze, Appeal to the Great Spirit, sold for $100,312.

What you see: A 22-inch-high version of Appeal to the Great Spirit, a Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze. Bonhams estimates it at $50,000 to $70,000.

The expert: Katherine Halligan, Western art specialist at Bonhams.

Who was Cyrus Edwin Dallin? He was a late 19th century and early 20th century artist born in Springville, Utah Territory. That’s important because he’s one of the first American artists to recognize the rights of Native Americans. He didn’t just focus on Native American subjects. It constitutes some of his most iconic work.

Where did he train? His earliest training–he had friendly relations with the Ute Indians, and as a child, he made rudimentary animal models from the clay at their clay beds. Later, he went to Boston to study with Truman Howe Bartlett, and in Paris with Henri Chapu.

What drew him to Native American subjects? Where did that come from? Certainly, from his childhood. He grew up in a Latter-day Saints (LDS) settlement in a very small town and was exposed culturally to the local Indians. It informed his decision to depict Native American subjects and fight for the rights of Native Americans. Because of his firsthand experiences, he had a sense of ownership in protecting Native American cultures and depicting them as best he could in his work.

Cyrus Edwin Dallin was progressive for his time, but would his views on Native Americans be considered progressive by contemporary standards? That’s a tough thing to answer, because he was of his time. I think his values and his political activism was very forward-thinking in many ways, so forward-thinking that it could meet the standards of social justice today. [The website for the Cyrus Edwin Dallin museum includes many statements and initiatives that support social justice.] He was politically active and formed a group that [after merging with similar groups] became the Association on American Indian Affairs.

Cyrus Edwin Dallin's signature on the 22-inch bronze of Appeal to the Great Spirit. The 1913 date refers only to the year in which the reduced-size version was sculpted, not its casting date.

How did he conceive the idea behind Appeal to the Great Spirit? I don’t know of any first-hand writings that explain his ideas. It was the fourth sculpture in his The Epic of the Indian cycle, a series of monumental-size works on equestrian subjects. It’s a very bold presentation that reflects his own growing confidence as an artist.

Did he come up with the idea in Paris? He was studying in Paris in 1889, and Buffalo Bill came to the city–

Oh, I’m guessing Buffalo Bill’s show didn’t sit well with Cyrus Edwin Dallin. Interestingly, no–you’ve got to keep it in the context of the time. Dallin went multiple times during its run and befriended the Native American actors and sketched them. The sketches became the basis for the models in The Epic of the Indian.

Did he rely on photographs at all? I haven’t read that he used photographs, but it was a very typical practice of his contemporaries.

Frontal view of the mounted figure of the Sioux chief, imploring the Great Spirit.

What makes Appeal to the Great Spirit such an effective sculpture? From an artistic perspective, it’s very powerful. It’s the last story in The Epic of the Indian cycle. What it represents is the recognition–he’s realizing his way of life has been lost due to the imposition of white culture. We relate to the vulnerability of the figure, with his hands out and his head thrown back. It’s universal. Its supercharged emotions make it different from the other three in the cycle.

In looking at the backing material for Appeal to the Great Spirit, I don’t see any information that identifies the tribal community to which the male figure belongs. Did I miss it, or did Cyrus Edwin Dallin deliberately make it vague? I think this figure is a Sioux chief. I think the identity is in the [style of] headdress. Some artists were intentionally or unintentionally inaccurate with the details of Native American clothing. Dallin’s intention was to be accurate. He had a tremendous amount of respect for the different communities.

He’s not the sort of guy who would switch in the headdress of a different tribal community because to him, it looked better than a Sioux chief’s headdress. His approach was much more respectful, with the intent of authenticity.

This Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze is a reduced-size version of Appeal to the Great Spirit. What challenges did he face in sizing the work down to 22 inches? The main consideration would be to get the fine details right. The Gorham foundries were very skilled in the lost wax process. This has exceptionally fine detail.

I understand there are 107 examples of this Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze. Do we know how long–over what span of years–it was produced? I don’t know the answer to this, and I don’t know how many survive. I do know the number that have been at auction is hardly 107.

A detail of the 22-inch bronze Appeal to the Great Spirit, showing the signature of the foundry.

Was the Gorham bronze foundry connected to the Gorham silver company? Yes, it is. Gorham was really one of the top American foundries of that period. The most significant American sculptors used them.

Elsewhere in the auction you offer an 8 3/4 inch version of Appeal to the Great Spirit. How many different sizes were offered? The 22-inch version is the middle size. There’s a third, larger size as well. It was a one-foot, two-foot, three-foot kind of thing. I believe the largest size was a significantly smaller edition. There are up to 280 of the smallest edition.

Also in the sale is a 14 1/2 inch high Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze of The Signal of Peace. Taking all three lots together, I see a jumble of sizes. Is it possible to collect a group of four reduced-size bronzes of the works in The Epic of the Indian that match in size? I don’t know for sure, but I believe you should be able to, with the smallest size. The measurement on The Signal of Peace includes the figure’s spear, which adds four or five inches.

Is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze solid or hollow? It’s more solid than hollow. It’s hefty.

Were all 107 of the 22-inch Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronzes cast during his lifetime, or were some posthumous? I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine they’re all lifetime casts.

This example is number 12 in the edition of 107. Does that matter? Is it more desirable to collectors because of its lower number? Savvier collectors like the lower numbers because the details are crisper.

Rear view of the reduced-size Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze, Appeal to the Great Spirit.

What is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze like in person? What aspects elude the camera? Certainly I would say the detail–the face and hands, the horse’s face, the headdress are incredibly crisp and detailed. In the smaller version and in later versions, the fingers tend to be less crisp, but these are beautifully rendered. And the presence–it’s been cleaned and re-waxed and it absolutely glows. It’s got a rich golden brown color.

Do all 107 have that same general patina of a rich golden brown, or are there variants? I’ve never seen something else. They’re all in a medium brown.

What condition is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze in? It’s really in amazing condition. The reins were recreated and replaced, but it was in the same family for four generations, and they left it alone.

I take it that it’s common to have the reins replaced on a reduced-size Appeal to the Great Spirit? Yes it is. They’re removable, and frequently, they’re kinked or bent. The reins are an add-on, and they usually don’t last. There are small holes in the sculpture where the reins attach.

How often does the 22-inch Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze appear at auction? There have been five at auction since 2015. They’re not always identified by edition number, but I assume none were the same ones reappearing at auction over the last six years. Speaking about the edition, it’s rare to have an example with such a low number.

What’s the world auction record for a 22-inch bronze of Appeal to the Great Spirit? It sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $120,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This particular bronze is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with. And it has good auction karma. It’s been in a nice family, and they’ve been wonderful to work with. This is my first Bonhams sale, and it will be an unforgettable one.

How to bid: The Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze is lot 11 in the Western Art sale scheduled at Bonhams Los Angeles on February 26, 2021.

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Cyrus Edwin Dallin has a namesake museum in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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A Barbotan Meteorite Could Sell for Triple Its Weight in Gold (Updated February 23, 2021)

This tiny Barbotan meteorite, estimated at $2,000 to $3,000, could sell for triple its weight in gold at Christie's.

Update: The Barbotan meteorite sold for $2,750.

What you see: A Barbotan meteorite, which fell over rural France in July 1790. Christie’s estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

The expert: Darryl Pitt, curator of the Macovich collection of meteorites and consigner of this and other meteorites in the sale.

Let’s start with the story of the Barbotan meteorite fall. When did it happen? What do we know about it? It was the evening of Saturday, July 24, 1790, the sort of summer night when one might go out for a stroll. And those who were out—it’s been estimated there were more than 1,000 witnesses—saw a fireball blazing through the night sky with attendant sonic booms, pressure waves, and thunderous rumbling, culminating in a shower of stones raining down. The event was documented in newspapers and journals. 

The Barbotan meteorite fall took place over Gers, France in 1790. What do we know about Gers and what it would have been like then? Was it a rural village? Gers is a département in the southwest corner of France—like what we would call a county. Gers was one of the original counties of France and was created during the French Revolution, just four months before the Barbotan event. Barbotan lies within Gers and is a small, rural spa town about 80 kilometers [roughly 50 miles] from both Toulouse and Bordeaux.   

If the fall hadn’t happened around 10:30 pm on a cloudless night in late July, might it have gone unnoticed? Or was it so loud and spectacular that it would have woken the townsfolk no matter what season it was or what time of day it happened? The event would not have gone unnoticed, but seeing a fireball would have been less likely. It’s hard not to notice rocks falling around you, but it’s something more easily perceived in the light of day. 

Who investigated the Barbotan fall first, soon after it happened? Fortunately, a noted physicist, Professor Baudin, was among the folks who were out that night. The Annals of Physics published an extensive account of his experience. Montpellier’s Journal of Science published a similar account.  

How did the Barbotan meteorite fall come to be dismissed as a “collective delusion”? The two accounts I just mentioned were dismissed by civic leaders and scientists as being wholly absurd. When the Montpellier account was published, a scientist demanded official testimony. When a mayor provided a notarized document indicating that 300 people had seen what would later be known as the Barbotan meteorite shower, the scientist then wrote something to the effect of how pathetic it was for a municipality to certify an “impossible phenomenon.”  If one insists on wearing blinders, one simply cannot see. Rocks falling out of the sky was a notion that did not fit with the preconceived order of things in 1790s France, and so there was a collective interest in maintaining the delusion that meteorites didn’t exist.  

How did it come to light that a Barbotan meteorite had struck and possibly killed a herdsman? Was he asleep on a bed that would have been in the path of the meteorite that punched a hole in his roof? Did it leave marks on his body, or is the evidence circumstantial? For those who experienced the meteorite shower and then checked on a missing friend and found his body, a rock, and a hole in the roof, it seems intuitive to make the connection, right? Occam’s razor—look for the simplest explanation. Unfortunately, documentation is scant because of a conundrum: How could a meteorite impact cause a death at a time when meteorites were not believed to exist? This conundrum also would explain why there are so few Barbotan meteorites today—nobody believed rocks could just fall from the sky, so no one kept them. I don’t know that we know anything about the herdsman, but I know there is a great research paper waiting to be done. 

I recall being told that no meteorite, to date, is known to have killed a human being. Is the Barbotan incident considered not to count as a human death, for lack of evidence? Exactly right. Until that research paper is written, the herdsman’s death indeed does not count due to a lack of evidence. There has only been one documented death due to a meteorite impact: it was a cow in Venezuela

How much material was recovered from the Barbotan fall? According to the standard source of such matters, only 6.4 kilograms [14 pounds] are known to exist, and about half of that is in museums. This is despite the fact that Barbotan was a massive meteorite shower including rocks ranging in size from modest pebbles to stones weighing up to 45 kilograms [99 pounds]. I believe the scarcity of material is due to the prevailing notion that the rocks were not worth keeping.

How often do Barbotan meteorites appear at auction? Almost never. Whether in an auction environment or not, Barbotan meteorites are largely unavailable and specimens are coveted. It’s one of the great historic meteorite falls that dates from a time when Western civilization was wrestling with the notion of rocks being able to fall out of the sky.

What is this particular Barbotan meteorite like in person? What is it like to hold it? The first feeling is the humbling sensation that comes from touching any meteorite: here is something that originates with an asteroid shattered during the early history of the solar system, which was then deflected from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter into an Earth-crossing orbit. Whoa. As for this specimen, well, any Barbotan specimen is just so special. It does feel somewhat heavier than one might expect as a result of the amount of iron-nickel in the matrix, and it becomes heavier still when considering its history. Per unit weight, meteorites inspire more awe for me than just about anything, except vaccines.

At two inches by two inches, this example is relatively small in size. Are most Barbotan meteorites small? Most of the specimens that become available to collectors are smaller. There are bigger fragments—this partial slice was removed from one such fragment—but most of the larger material is in major research collections and museums and is pretty much untouchable. 

Do we know who gathered this Barbotan meteorite? We don’t, and I wish we did, as it would add to the provenance and the value of this specimen.  

This Barbotan meteorite looks much more like a standard rock than others I’ve covered on The Hot Bid. Could you talk a bit about that issue–how it can be hard to distinguish a meteorite from a mundane rock when in the field? Most often, distinguishing terrestrial from extraterrestrial rocks is not so hard. With time and familiarity, all rocks will not look alike. What’s more challenging —and this depends on whether the rock fell in an arid environment or a moist environment—is being able to identify an anomalous stone meteorite that’s been sitting on the surface of the Earth for a while. What’s even more difficult to do in the field is make an accurate assessment of precisely what type of meteorite it is. More and more meteorite hunters are taking handheld XRF [x-ray fluorescence] analyzers into the field to provide quick insight into elemental ratios, which does help, to a degree. A typical fresh stony meteorite will possess, just as the Barbotan meteorite does, a fusion crust from its fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere, as well as spherules of silica minerals called chondrules and a profusion of tiny flakes of iron-nickel suspended throughout the stone’s matrix. If you spend time enlarging catalog photos of the Christie’s sale, you’ll get a sense of the attributes of different types of meteorites. 

What do we know about the provenance of this Barbotan meteorite? The earliest history of this meteorite is lost. We’d love to know who picked it up in France in 1790, and their relationship with the rock. More recently, it came from the collection of Alain Carion, one of the most respected mineral dealers in Europe.

This sample is described as having “fusion crust”. What does that mean? When a meteoroid— think “small asteroid”—plunges through the atmosphere, frictional heating begins. When the meteoroid achieves terminal velocity and begins to cool off as it falls to Earth, the liquified material solidifies into a kind of rind or crust, which envelops what will be called a meteorite upon its impact. Fusion crust is a sought-after aerodynamic artifact. Its presence commands a premium, and at times, the crust itself can be really beautiful. 

The Barbotan meteorite also displays “metal flake”. What metal might it be? Iron? Nickel? Both. Primarily iron, with some nickel and a lot of trace elements.  

What is the world auction record for a Barbotan meteorite? It will be established on February 23 in this auction. The only Barbotan specimen previously offered that I know of did not sell as it had an appropriately hefty reserve. The specimen in this sale has no reserve. I assure you it will sell for at least double or triple its weight in gold. 

Why might this piece stick in your memory? For me, it’s a meteorite of special interest, not only because of its story, but it fell on July 24th, which, centuries later, became my birthday.

How to bid: The Barbotan meteorite is lot 19 in the Christie’s online sale Deep Impact: Martian, Lunar, and Other Rare Meteorites, taking place between February 9, 2021 and February 23, 2021.

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A 1651 Copy of The Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot Could Fetch $12,000 (Updated March 1, 2021)

A 1651 second edition copy of Reginald Scot's The Discovery of Witchcraft could sell for $12,000.

Update: The 1651 copy of Reginald Scot’s The Discovery of Witchcraft sold for $9,000.

What you see: A 1651 second edition, second issue of The Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot. Potter & Potter estimates it at $7,000 to $12,000.

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

Who was Reginald Scot? He was an English gentleman of some station in that era, a landowning gentleman near Ashford in Kent. I believe he was a member of Parliament.

Do we know why he published The Discovery of Witchcraft in 1584? The story people have latched onto is he was a freethinker, and able to see the big picture. He held the Calvinist idea that it was all the work of God, not witches or spells or magical forces–that the things people were witnessing were accomplished by natural means.

Though it is believed to be the first English-language book that describes in detail how to perform magic tricks, only two chapters of sixteen cover the subject.

So it was a debunking book? That’s a way to put it. The thing that the magic community latched onto for a century or longer was he said, “This is not sorcery, this is magic.” But it’s not all magic tricks. I believe one, maybe two chapters are about magic tricks. Magic is a focus, but it’s not the bulk of the work.

We should also stop briefly and point out that Reginald Scot uses the term “juggling” in the book, but “juggling” would have been another word for “magic” back then. Exactly.

First published in 1584, Scot endeavored to explain that seemingly supernatural phenomena were in fact entirely natural.

Who was Reginald Scot’s audience in 1584? Who did he write The Discovery of Witchcraft for? I suppose it was his peer group. Not only were books a luxury item in 1584, but how many people could read? Books were not commodities the way they are today. I imagine he wrote it for people with a similar or adjacent educational background. Only an educated, moneyed group of people was able to buy the book and read what it was describing.

I notice that the lot notes describe the Discovery of Witchcraft as “perhaps the most influential work in the English language on the history of conjuring” and does not call it the first book of its kind in English, as I’ve read elsewhere. Is it in fact not the first English-language book that details how to perform specific magic tricks? Recent scholarship would say it gets too much credit for being that. I say it deserves credit for recording tricks that are truly classic. The tricks are elementally the same, centuries later, as they were when Scot described them. He talks about picking up a rope, cutting it in half through the middle, and restoring it. I have a friend who performs the rope trick in a Las Vegas show every day. You could perform the tricks described in the book and make a good living.

The magic trick described here is still performed today, pretty much as Scot detailed it.

So, Reginald Scot describes the tricks well enough in The Discovery of Witchcraft that a modern reader could learn to do them by relying on the book alone? If you can get past the “s”s rendered as “f”s, yeah, you can do the tricks based on the descriptions.

The magicians’ community frowns on those who share the secrets behind the performance of a magic trick. Might that attitude have prevented magicians from writing down and printing detailed descriptions of tricks before Reginald Scot published The Discovery of Witchcraft in 1584? Mentorship has always been a tool for teaching magicians how to perform. It was probably common at that time, and there’s a better chance magicians learned that way as opposed to reading. With Scot, probably no one told him not to write the tricks down, because it had never been done that way–they hadn’t been published in a book.

Do we know where Reginald Scot got his source information? I don’t know, and I wish I did. It’d be wonderful to say he watched an itinerant conjurer, sat him down with a glass of beer, and got the info. Some version of that story is likely.

But we don’t have any evidence that Scot performed any magic tricks himself? Not that I’m aware of.

But he was able to describe the magic tricks in a way that others could read what he wrote, learn how the tricks work, and perform them accurately, which is a skill unto itself. Absolutely. He must have been a smart dude.

What magic tricks appear in The Discovery of Witchcraft? Tricks with cards, tricks with coins, tricks with rope, even tricks with living humans. The image that people have latched on to is the decapitation of a man, where the body and the head are separated from each other, and the head’s on a plate and talking and interacting with someone. It’s a fairly diverse assortment of tricks, and they’re good tricks.

I understand there’s a discussion of gimmicked knives. Does that have to do with the decapitation trick? There’s one here that goes through your arm–“to thrust a knife through your arm and to cut half your nose asunder”. Another is about “to thrust a bodkin into your head and through your tongue”–a bodkin is like an ice pick. You can buy these tricks today.

Gimmicked knives that appear to cut deep into an arm or a hand were detailed in Scot's seminal book.

I’m under the impression that if you’re building a first-rate library of books on magic, you need an antique copy of The Discovery of Witchcraft. Correct? Yes. That’s been true for at least a century, probably longer.

How was The Discovery of Witchcraft received on its first publication in 1584? I’m not a scholar of the reception, but I know that King James was not enamored of exposing these things and ordered the books burned. I haven’t done the research to verify that story, but the books are scarce. The first edition is not the rarest of books, but in all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve sold three.

Is the 1651 second edition just as scarce? Some say the edition in the auction is the scarcest of the editions. Someone who called me said there were four. I’m hesitant to say there’s four of anything, but this second edition, second state is more difficult to locate than the first edition.

How many copies of the second edition have you handled? Only two, so about the same number as the first edition.

Did the contents of The Discovery of Witchcraft change in any significant way between 1584 and 1651? Not that I’m aware of, but I’m not a scholar of the editions. I know the type was reset, and it’s a different printer.

Has anyone done a census of antique copies of The Discovery of Witchcraft? I have a running count in my head of where the copies are, but there’s no formal census.

Do you know how many copies of the first edition exist, and how many of the second? I don’t. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the third edition is still scarce but more readily available.

What’s the world auction record for a copy of The Discovery of Witchcraft? We had it for three weeks in 2015 when a first edition sold for $45,000 and change. Then Christie’s sold one for $68,750.

What condition is the book in? The binding is attractive and the pages are generally clean and bright and easy to read. It’s not like it’s missing words.

It has all its pages? Yes, it’s been collated. I believe the binding is later. It’s a classic full leather binding, and it’s not overdone, either. Some turn books into trophies. In 1651, they wouldn’t have done it that way.

What is the book like in person? It fits in your hand nicely. It’s not compact, but it’s easy to hold. It’s unassuming, in a way. It’s well-kept, and showing signs of its age.

Do you have a favorite plate or illustration? Probably the decapitation. I guess I’m a sucker for magic tricks.

How to bid: The 1651 copy of The Discovery of Witchcraft is lot 118 in Select Secrets: Rare & Important Magicana, an auction taking place at Potter & Potter on February 27, 2021.

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

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A Pair of Jess Heisler Duck Decoys Could Fetch $30,000 (Updated February 22, 2021)

A pair of Jess Heisler duck decoys, carved in the form of sleeping mallards around 1920, could fetch $30,000.

Update: The Jess Heisler pair of sleeping duck decoys sold for $28,800.

What you see: A pair of sleeping mallard duck decoys by Delaware River region carver Jess Heisler around 1920. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates the pair at $20,000 to $30,000.

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

Who was Jess Heisler? Where was he in his career around 1920, when he made this pair of decoys? Jess Heisler is remembered as one of most competent early decoy makers from the Delaware River region, where he was perhaps the most talented disciple of the early master John English. He lived and worked just south of Trenton, New Jersey. During his life, he was highly regarded not only for decoys but also for exceptional boats, perhaps the region’s finest. I’ve heard he was also skilled with vintage furniture restoration.  

How prolific was he? Estimates of his output are between 1,000 and 2,000 decoys. That said, most years only see a small handful of his carvings cross the auction block, really just a few in original condition. 

Did Jess Heisler both carve and paint his decoys, or did he only carve? Did he have assistants? Jess was a one-man operation, carving and painting all of his own decoys. This one-man operation is very typical for the Delaware River carvers.

The lot notes describe the Jess Heisler duck decoy pair as “exceedingly rare”. Why? First, they are mallards, which are far less common than his black ducks and other species. Secondly, the sleeping pose. It only seems to appear two or three times in a decade. Third, they are a pair–most of his rigs have been broken down to singles. Capping it off, they are from his golden period, and they survive in virtually ideal condition. 

The Jeff Heisler duck decoys are rare because they are mallards, a rare species for him to carve; they survive as a pair; and they are "sleepers"--depicted as nodding off.

Did Jess Heisler sign his work? If not, how do we know the pair is by him? Like most makers, Heisler did not sign his work. That said, his craftsmanship and nuance of style practically act as a big John Hancock for anyone familiar with the decoys of the mid-Atlantic region. Paired with that, his presence was very much alive when the decoy collecting community began taking notes in the 1950s and 1960s.  

Do we know anything about how this pair of Jess Heisler duck decoys came to be—why he might have made it? While we do not know the history of this specific pair, we can make some deductions. I would bet they were made for a wealthy sportsman. This is because they were barely used, they are in a special pose, and they are of an uncommon species.

The Jess Heisler duck decoy pair dates to circa 1920. Do decoys start to become more decorative and less functional around that time? Or would these work perfectly well in the wild? It’s more complex than that. Heisler pretty clearly seems to be going far beyond what was needed in order to impress more than just the ducks. He was trying to impress a wealthy client with those long thin tails, sharp raised wing tips, and that fine featherwork on the hen. So, they were 100 percent honest working decoys that also had the hunter in mind. 

Unlike other vintage rigs of duck decoys, this Jess Heisler drake-and-hen pair have avoided divorce.

Why carve duck decoys that appear to be sleeping? This topic has been the subject of intrigue for as long as decoys have been in play. While we don’t know Heisler’s logic, we do believe that he was the originator of this sleeping pattern. One theory is that resting birds help make the rig [the string of decoys placed on the water] look at ease and invite passing birds. Who knows if that works, but as a hunter, I can assure you it is harder to break a head off of one of these sleeping decoys than a regular decoy. 

Do we know how many sleeping duck decoy pairs Jess Heisler did, either of mallards or of any other species of duck? I looked back over a quarter-century of auction reports and this pair represents one half of all known Heissler sleepers. And they are the two finest. 

You say Jess Heisler is believed to have invented the sleeping duck decoy form. This pair dates to circa 1920. Does that make it an early Heisler take on the sleeper? If so, does that make the pair more interesting to collectors? Or does the timing not matter? To clarify this point, Heisler did not invent the sleeper in general. Albert Laing is the earliest known maker of sleepers, and his date back to the antebellum period. Heisler appears to have originated this variation of the sleeper. I’d place these in the early to middle golden period of his carving arc, so timing is a factor, and these benefit from that.           

Is it rare to see an intact pair of male-female duck decoys, or do pairs tend to stay together through the decades? This Winter Sale catalog has hundreds of single decoys that began their lives in rigs ranging from six to 200-plus birds. Today rig mate pair numbers appear to have just bounced off an all-time low, and the pendulum is swinging back towards the rejoining of pairs and sometimes larger rig groupings, especially with shorebird decoys. I love it. Decoys were intended to be seen en masse

Does the provenance tell us if this pair has stayed together since they were made? Or were they ever divorced and reunited? The provenance suggests they’ve always been together, which is highly probable in this instance.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult the pair of duck decoys would have been to make? For example, how difficult is it to get the two to look nearly identical, aside from sex-based markings? This is actually a fairly elaborate duo. Having handled and X-rayed these, I can tell you the bodies are made from three joined pieces of wood with watertight body seams. The inside of the body is hollow, which adds layers of work and complexity to the construction. The heads are fitted to the body with a scribe-line inlay around an edge of the bills. From the photos anyone can make out the elaborate and stylish wing tip and tail carvings with some carved feather detail… and then again that hen’s painted feathering! I could go on, but Heisler seems to have casually created a highly complex and functional pair that work perfectly together. 

What is the pair of duck decoys like in person? What aspects elude the camera? Their hollow bodies make them super light. Their undersides have chamfered lead pad weights, which allow them to almost hover above a surface. In the hand they have a lovely dry surface. And while one hand embraces a round and compact head and breast the other is literally on edge with the tactile contrast of the wing tips and tail. Our photographer did a great job, but they only get better in person, I assure you. 

When the duck decoy pair is shown from the rear, the charm of the feather pattern Jess Heisler painted on the hen stands out.

What is your favorite detail of the pair of Jess Heisler duck decoys? Like any successful sculpture, they only succeed as complete form. With that established… I… I do love Heisler’s exaggerated take on John English’s raised wing-tips and protruding tail. 

What condition is the pair in? Do they show signs of having been used by a hunter? They were definitely used, but not too much, and only in freshwater. They have what I consider to be a Goldilocks level of light gunning wear, just enough to build character and tell a story and not so much as to distract. 

The hollow-bodied Jess Heisler duck decoy pair have chamfered lead pad weights on their undersides, which allow them to almost hover above a surface.

What is the world auction record for a Jess Heisler duck decoy? According to the Decoy Magazine Year in Review for 2020, the Heisler record is $36,800. That was for a pintail in 2007. This sleeping pair could break that on a good day. We’ll know soon enough. Copley smashed the record for the entire Delaware River region a couple years ago, hammering down a John English decoy at a quarter million, so that helped make some room. 

Why will this pair of Jess Heisler duck decoys stick in your memory? Well, for me, decoy memories can be made where excellence meets rarity. To illustrate the rarity–while cataloging, I flipped through every single page of the leading book on the Delaware River region decoys and found exactly zero sleepers like these.

How to bid: The pair of Jess Heisler duck decoys is lot 0121 in The Winter Sale 2021, offered by Copley Fine Art Auctions on February 19 and 20, 2021.

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Images are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Colin McNair has appeared on The Hot Bid to talk about an Elmer Crowell preening black duck decoy, an Ira Hudson flying black duck, and an Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

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A Discovery Expedition Medal, Awarded in Antarctica, Could Sell for $16,000 (Updated February 10, 2021)

The obverse, or front, of a silver sporting medal given out during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904. It could sell for as much as $16,000.

Update: The Discovery expedition medal sold for $14,112.

What you see: A silver sporting medal awarded to First Lieutenant Charles W.R. Royds during the British National Antarctic Expedition, better known as the Discovery Expedition, between 1901 and 1904. Bonhams estimates it at $11,000 to $16,000.

The expert: Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

What was the Discovery Expedition? It was the first official British expedition to the Antarctic region in more than 60 years. Both Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton were on the expedition, and it was a launch pad for both of them in terms of Antarctic exploration.

What were the Discovery Expedition’s notable accomplishments, and how successful was it, compared to other British expeditions to the Antarctic and other countries’ expeditions? They reached a new further south, they got a little further to the South Pole. It was pretty successful in as much as others proved particularly fatal. It laid the trail for expeditions that followed.

Who was Charles Royds, and why would he have been selected for the Discovery Expedition? He was in the British Navy already, and had built himself a career in the navy. What’s interesting is the Discovery Expedition was driven and instigated by naval officer Clements Markham. It had a very naval core to it. Royds served as a first lieutenant in the British expedition, and there’s a cape in Antarctica named after him.

Do we know how many of these Discovery Expedition medals were struck, and how many survive? No, sadly, to either question. Bonhams has handled two–this one and another. I’ve found traces of records of other ones, but they’re pretty rare. I’d say there’s a dozen or fewer, but that’s a pure guess.

The Discovery Expedition medal is silver. Does silver mean “second place” in this context, or were all the sporting medals given out on the expedition made of silver? All the ones we’ve seen are silver. I think that’s just what they were. Other 19th century medals that aren’t sporting medals–medals for valor and achievement–tend to be silver as well. I think this continues the theme.

Do we know if the Discovery Expedition medal is 100 percent silver, or sterling silver, or a silver alloy? I don’t think I could say without having it in my hands, but it looks like it’s solid silver.

I see what looks like a penguin on the front of the Discovery Expedition medal, but I can’t identify which species of penguin it is. Is it a penguin? The neck of the bird seems too long to be a penguin. It was probably designed to be a penguin, and probably designed to be a King penguin, based on the dimensions. I agree that the neck seems too long to be a penguin. I think it’s like Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros–trying to depict an animal without having seen it in real life.

Do we know what Charles Royds won the silver sporting medal for, and when? We know that on King Edward VII’s birthday on November 8, 1902, they declared a holiday and decorated the ship with flags and organized a sports day. That’s the day we believe the medal was won.

But we don’t know what Royds won it for? We don’t know for what, but it’s confusing. On the day of the event, Royds was on a sledging expedition, and probably did not participate in the sports day. The hypothesis is maybe there was another sporting event after he got back one to two weeks later, or he was awarded the prize even though he wasn’t there.

I see a hoop on top of the Discovery Expedition medal, and I’m guessing it’s for stringing a ribbon. It strikes me, though, that it makes no sense to wear a metal disc around your neck in Antarctic temperatures. How did the winners wear their silver sporting medals? I think rather than wearing a ribbon around their necks, they wore it like they wear medals in the military–hanging from a bar pinned to their chests. The idea of pinning it to their chests would have seemed more natural than hanging it around their necks.

What does it say about the people who planned the Discovery Expedition that they were far-sighted enough to strike silver medals to give out in Antarctica as awards for sports and games to be held on the ice? I find it pretty extraordinary, honestly. They had to arrange for food, tools, sledges, protective clothing–I find it remarkable they went to that level of detail.

It occurs to me that sports and games–they engaged in sledge-pulling, skiing, and rifle shooting–that all costs calories. The planners of the Discovery Expedition felt it was important to include enough food so the men could spend calories on having fun while they explored Antarctica. Yes. I always find it remarkable. They had a relief ship that went on runs to New Zealand, but they had no sense of what they would be consuming. When they actually made sledging expeditions to the South Pole, they were constantly thinking about rationing. When I go to the store for groceries, it’s hard for me to think a week ahead.

I’ve marinated in Monty Python and British culture, and it strikes me that holding sports days on the Antarctic ice is a very public school, very Boy’s Own thing to do… Totally. What’s key to the British public school system, which is actually the private school system, is it was keen on sport. Sport was a huge part of British upper class culture, and these guys were in the British Navy as well–there were sports competitions between forces in the military. It makes sense as a pastime. But there were intellectual pursuits as well. Shackleton was responsible for The South Polar Times, and others on the Discovery Expedition contributed to it. Another lot in the same sale features a watercolor from The South Polar Times.

The back of the Discovery Expedition medal has Charles Royds’s name engraved on it. I had assumed Royds had it done in Britain, after returning home, but I should ask if it was done in Antarctica, to be sure. The explorers were capable of doing a lot of surprising things in Antarctica, such as publishing booksMy guess is he did it back in England. I say that because the other Antarctic medal we sold was blank on the back, and that came through Royds–he gave it as a gift to a woman he was courting.

The reverse, or back, of the silver sporting medal given out during the 1901-1904 Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic. Apparently its recipient, Charles Royds, had his name engraved on the medal after he returned to Britain.

Did Charles Royds leave a memoir or a diary? If he did, did he talk about the sporting day at all? He kept a diary, and it was published in 2001 in Australia. I have not seen it. It may shed light on things and it may not. Very often, they [the explorers] were more interested in the wider picture: “We landed here and sledged to here,” not the smaller stuff that we’d be more interested in.

Very much in the style of a Captain’s log? No emotions, just facts? Exactly, yeah. Very occasionally, they introduce medical issues. Often, these are slightly whitewashed for the public.

...Because they’re British and Edwardian and they didn’t talk about emotional stuff, even in their own diaries? Yes. [laughs]

The Discovery Expedition medals are so weird in that they seem utterly frivolous and on second thought, they seem absolutely necessary to buck up morale among a group of people who had no radio and virtually no mail. It’s completely bizarre, and I think also absolutely brilliant. You forget the extent of time they had there when they were not achieving heroic deeds. A lot of it was very dull and ordinary. And they were stuck with the same group of people for years. Tempers flared. It was tough.

What is the Discovery Expedition medal like in person? It’s pretty unremarkable, really. It’s pleasantly tarnished with age. It looks like something that’s 120 years old. It’s not particularly large, an ordinary size of medal. Nothing striking about it except the actual context.

What is it like to hold the medal? It’s quite a satisfying object. It’s bigger than a coin, and thicker. It begs to be held, and it’s connected with the Antarctica of the period.

What’s your favorite detail of the medal? The fact that they actually chose to put a penguin on it. They could have picked so many other things–the ship, someone skiing… there are no human figures, and that’s odd. Usually, there’s a member of the royal family or the leader of the expedition, but here, they put a penguin on it. And is it even really a penguin?

Why will this piece stick in your memory? You mentioned Monty Python earlier. There’s an element of the surreal nature of Olympics on ice. There’s also the optimism that it symbolizes, the optimism of keeping spirits up in adversity. If you want to be topical, there’s an element of similarity with the COVID-19 lockdowns. We’re confined with the same people all the time. The explorers’ solution was to get involved in sport.

How to bid: The silver Discovery Expedition medal is lot 176 in the Travel & Exploration sale taking place at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge, on February 10. 2021.

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Matthew Haley has appeared once before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a pair of mittens worn by Apsley Cherry-Garrard during the Terra Nova expedition.

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An Edward Millman Fresco Detail of a WPA Post Office Mural Could Sell for $5,000 (Updated February 5, 2021)

A detail of a large mural panel Edward Millman painted for the WPA on the walls of the St. Louis Post Office could sell for $5,000.

Update: The Edward Millman fresco detail sold for $2,860.

What you see: A fresco detail by Edward Millman of a mural panel he painted on the walls of the St. Louis post office for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $3,000 to $4,000.

The expert: Harold Porcher [pronounced Por-SHAY], director of modern and post-war art at Swann Auction Galleries.

Who was Edward Millman, and what made him a good choice for the St. Louis post office mural project? He was a lifelong teacher, skilled in all media–tempera, oil, fresco. His skills with fresco made him one of the leaders to get the mural project for the WPA.

Had Edward Millman done WPA projects prior to this one, and had he worked with artist Mitchell Siporin before? He had worked with Siporin in 1938 on a post office in Decatur, Illinois, and had done other murals himself for the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933.

I understand that Edward Millman went to Mexico and trained under Diego Rivera. How, if at all, does Rivera’s influence show up in this fresco detail and in the finished mural panel? With this panel and the fresco detail, his style is more closely aligned with [Mexican muralist] José Clemente Orozco. What Millman took from Rivera was learning the difficult technique of fresco painting and the high-contrast, limited-detail forms that translate well to fresco. Rivera limited his visual language so it could be read from afar and directly. Millman took that in his education.

What do we know about how the St. Louis post office mural project came to be? That post office was constructed under the New Deal and completed in 1937. Artists submitted images to compete for the job. Edward Millman and Mitchell Siporin were competitive because they had experience in fresco, and this job called for fresco work. Both had gone to Mexico to study mural-painting with José Clemente Orozco.

I looked at the website The Living New Deal, and I think I see the panel from which the fresco detail came–I think it’s from the far right of panel seven. Is that correct? Yes. Three large mural panels were done by Edward Millman and three by Mitchell Siporin. There were also two small mural panels, one by each artist.

What’s going on in the Edward Millman fresco detail? What do we see here? I believe it represents the early Missouri pioneers, and the struggle to go into new territories.

Are the figures settlers who are trying to build a house? They’re moving materials. It almost seems allegorical, but it feels more literal than allegorical. I think he’s trying to be more straightforward and show pioneers. One is carrying wood on his back, and it almost comes across as Christ on the cross.

How did Edward Millman and Mitchell Siporin physically do the mural work? Did they paint the frescoes during business hours, as people did their errands below their scaffolding, or did they paint when the building was closed? Thematically, the artists worked together by agreeing to tie the composition together with a ribbon of blue in the background, which represents the river. I would speculate that they worked like any other government employee, putting in daily shifts during working hours, if not nine-to-five. I found a black-and-white photo of them on the scaffolding during work hours.

This WPA post office mural is notable for depicting Native Americans and Black people as part of the story of the creation of Missouri. Do we know how the mural was received when it was unveiled? Was it controversial? I could find no articles on the public reaction at the time, which leads me to believe there wasn’t outrage or pushback from the people of St. Louis. And it has survived. It hasn’t been painted over or covered with other panels. I don’t think there was a huge positive or negative reaction. That’s my sense.

How is this Edward Millman fresco detail typical of his work, and how is it atypical? Subject-wise, I find his work veers toward the hardships and tribulations of working-class Americans. This is one of his more Cubist works in general. He moved away from Orozco-type images as he progressed. His style became more figurative later.

What can we say about the color palette Edward Millman chose for the fresco detail, and for that particular section of the mural? I believe he was, again, following the color palette of work by Orozco. In general, the panel has a wider range of colors, with blues and greens. This detail has darker tones–dark reds, burnt oranges.

Edward Millman painted this fresco detail in tempera on Masonite in 1942, possibly after the mural panel was finished. Why might he have done this? Maybe he painted it for a class, as a teaching tool? I have two thoughts. The inscription at the bottom right of the fresco detail [was maybe] added as a historical document to say the year in which the mural was completed. The second possibility is it was done earlier in 1942 and the mural was completed after. Maybe he was working out that portion of the composition.

I don’t claim to have comprehensive knowledge, but I’m trying to think of any other time I’ve seen an artist make a detail of a fresco in a different medium, and I’m coming up empty… I agree. These [multi-year fresco mural] projects had to be well mapped-out. Why do a detailed rendering of a mural section in another medium? It’s puzzling. My theory is he was working out the details of a mural section. He might have used it as a reference to do the rest. Thematically, all the panels follow the same concept–three groups of figures, with one group at the left, one at the right, and one in the center. He may have needed to work out the colors and the forms, and only chose this one section to do that.

Did Edward Millman render any other fresco details from the St. Louis post office mural in tempera? Have any of those come to auction? I’ve found no other examples of studies having been sold for this particular project for either artist. Maybe scholars will dig deeper and bring attention to other examples.

What’s the provenance of the Edward Millman fresco detail? Does it come directly from his family? He retained it until his death in 1964. It was bought from the family by a collector in Boston.

What condition is the Edward Millman fresco detail in? The paint and the panel are in great shape. There are hairline scratches in the pigment that expose the white underpainting.

What is the Edward Millman fresco detail like in person? It translates very well in the photo. It uses heavy contrasts and lots of shadow and light. There aren’t a lot of subtleties that are lost.

What is your favorite detail of the Edward Millman piece? Often, when you see studies from a larger composition, it doesn’t feel complete. This holds up as a composition on its own. It’s complete, though it’s a detail of something larger.

What’s the world auction record for a work by Edward Millman? It was a 1941 oil on canvas, titled Flophouse and showing two men, one reclining and one seated. It sold in June 2015 for $24,000. Stylistically, it’s different from the work we have, but compositionally, it’s similar.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? In Edward Millman, you see an artist who’s mastered several techniques. I attribute that to his being a teacher. Not all artists are great technicians. Millman was always learning by creating examples for his students. In that sense, I believe teachers are better technicians than most artists.

How to bid: The Edward Millman fresco detail of the WPA mural is lot 184 in The Artists of the WPA, a sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on February 4, 2021.

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A Complete Edward Penfield Golf Calendar from 1900 Could Fetch $12,000 (Updated January 28, 2021)

The June/July 1900 page from a golf-themed calendar illustrated by Edward Penfield. It could fetch $12,000.

Update: The Edward Penfield golf calendar from the year 1900 sold for $5,250.

What you see: The June/July page from an Edward Penfield golf calendar for the year 1900. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $8,000 to $12.000.

The expert: Laura Polucha, a cataloger in Swann’s illustration department.

Who was Edward Penfield, and why would he have been chosen to illustrate this golf-themed calendar? He was probably among the most famous and prolific illustration artists of all time. He’s credited with bringing the phenomenon known as the “poster craze” to America. In 1899 and 1900, he was working as the art editor for Harper’s, which was one of the largest magazine groups in New York, and he was actively taking freelance projects. That’s how the calendar came to be. His association with [publisher] R.H. Russell started in 1896.

Do we know if Penfield played golf? It’s certainly conceivable. It was a very popular activity of the time. But Penfield’s health was known not to be strong, even in his youth. It’s possible he played golf vicariously through these images. He produced his first golf calendar for Russell in 1899, and it was so popular that Russell asked for another one in 1900. That’s the version we have in our auction.

The only illustration of a group appears on the cover of the Penfield golf calendar--no all-male groups appear, and neither do foursomes.

How different are the illustrations in the two Penfield golf calendars? They’re nearly identical except for the cover and the illustration for February.

Why might R.H. Russell have wanted to print and market a golf-themed calendar in 1899 and 1900? What convinced the publisher that it would sell? Golf really started to emerge as a popular pastime in the 1890s, which was a period of profound change in the country. There was more leisure time and more recreational opportunities for the middle class. The calendar would have appealed to players and to the general public.

Do we have any idea how many copies of the golf-themed calendar were printed, and do we know how many survived? I can’t speak to how many were printed in either year, but the 1899 and 1900 calendars are very rare, especially in complete form. This is the only 1900 calendar we could find that appeared at auction in the last 20 years.

So the Penfield golf calendars were subject to being broken up? A lot of dealers would break them up because the illustrations have stand-alone appeal as single sheets.

What details in these illustrations mark them as the work of Edward Penfield? His style is characterized by the use of large, flat shapes, and large, flat areas of color, and simplified figures with bold outlines. The style translates well to the posters he was producing.

Would Edward Penfield have hand-colored the illustrations, or provided a color guide, or would someone at R.H. Russell have chosen the color palette for the calendar? Edward Penfield was heavily involved in the printing process. He really liked rich, multi-color effects. His process began with him sketching the subject and the layout and then making a master drawing in ink, using a pen and a brush to add watercolors. Once he had the master drawing, he laid down tracing paper on top, using a different piece of tracing paper for each color. That would be his maquette [original artwork]. It was not uncommon for him to stay with the pressman until the desired effect was achieved.

What sorts of effects would Penfield attempt? There was the splatter effect, where one plate would cover up some area of another to produce a new hue where they overlap. In the September illustration, you can see in the area at the lower right how the green of the grass lays on top of the yellow and orange of the sand to create a darker green color.

The September 1900 page from the Penfield golf calendar shows him using a "splatter" effect that combines two colors to make a third.

What is the Penfield golf calendar like in person? What doesn’t come over on camera? When examining it with a close eye, you can see the impressions are very deep in the thick stock of the paper. It’s well-colored.

What is your favorite illustration from the Penfield golf calendar, and why? I’m drawn to the November/December page, primarily because of the couple’s fashion. My favorite detail is the hosiery throughout the illustrations, which is fantastic. I’m a fashion historian and a fashion fanatic, and it attracted me. In the early 1900s, there were advances in high-speed knitting technology that lead to a wider availability of hosiery in brighter colors and patterns. Penfield had an eye for patterns. Here, I love the gentleman smoking a pipe and wearing socks with orange interlocking circles at the top. Hers have a bold diamond print. If you look closely, you’ll see her socks don’t quite match. I find that so charming and fashion-forward for the time. She wouldn’t get away with that off the golf course.

Check out the socks on the couple in the November/December 1900 page from the Penfield golf calendar.

Do we know if slightly mismatched socks like hers were actually available for purchase in 1900, or if Penfield had the illustration colored and printed that way simply because he liked it? It’s hard to say for sure. I haven’t heard about a trend for mismatched socks [in 1900]. I have a hunch it was Penfield’s decision.

The thing that jumped out at me in looking through the illustrations is the depictions of the players. There are a few solo men, and a few solo women. The couples are always one man and one woman. The cover shows a mixed group, but we never see a foursome, and we never see an all-male group–not once. Why might Penfield have done this? Was the sport of golf this co-ed in America in 1899 and 1900, or is Penfield just drawing the figures he wants to draw, reality be damned? This is a fascinating observation. What’s really interesting is the February illustration for 1899 showed two men playing together. It was replaced the following year by a man and a woman playing together. It’s interesting that that was swapped out. Women gradually participated in more sports in the 1870s, and by 1900, women commonly played sports like golf and tennis. Though they were barred from entry at many golf courses in the U.S., some did allow women. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Long Island allowed women in 1891 and was so popular, it installed a nine-hole golf course for women two years later. They couldn’t participate in tournaments, as far as I know. It was a genteel pastime, like croquet.

What condition is the Penfield golf calendar in? Overall I’d say it has really good, strong impressions, and the colors are bright and vibrant. It has punch holes at the top, which were placed by the publisher. It has the typical age wear you see in things like this.

Do we know anything about how this particular copy of the Penfield golf calendar managed to survive so well? I’m guessing that calendars are even more vulnerable than posters to being thrown out, because they’re literally date-stamped… Some are so visually appealing, they make you want to keep them around. I have a few calendars I haven’t parted with. It speaks to the enduring appeal of the images.

This question might be a little odd, and please call me out if I’m wrong. But it looks like the man in the January illustration and the woman in the March/April illustration appear together, as a couple, in the November/December illustration… do you see what I see? I agree that the April golfer is the same woman in the November/December illustration, but January… I’m bouncing between them, and his hair looks slightly different from the November/December man. It’s a sweet thought, but I can’t confidently get behind it. The man looks different.

Do prints, paintings, illustrations and other artworks that depict golf have an automatic, built-in audience? I’m guessing this calendar might not draw as much interested if its theme was, say, curling. In general, it’s been my experience that golfers have a fervent love of the sport and gravitate to artwork with a golf theme. What makes the calendar special is you don’t need to be a golfer to appreciate the artwork. It’s designed to have mass appeal.

What’s the world auction record for a Penfield golf calendar, and for any work by Penfield? A complete 1899 Penfield golf calendar–nine sheets, plus the cover–sold in February 2020 at a different auction house for $21,600. It appears to be the most expensive Penfield sold at auction also.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a cataloger for illustration art. I typically handle original art. This sale, overall, has been really unique for me. I’ll remember the calendar as one of the stars of a robust and respected collection. [The auction showcases the Dick McDonough collection of golf illustration.] I’m eager to see how it does.

How to bid: The Penfield golf calendar from 1900 is lot 272 in the Illustration Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on January 28, 2021.

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A 1968 Hot Wheels Store Display Could Fetch $50,000 (Updated January 31, 2021)

A 1968 Hot Wheels store display, created to launch the toy line with the biggest possible bang. This example, which is unusually complete, could fetch $50,000.

Update: The 1968 Hot Wheels store display sold for $36,300.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and unusually complete 1968 Hot Wheels store display. Van Eaton Galleries estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Joel Magee, consigner. He is also known as The Toy Scout, and has appeared on the TV show Pawn Stars.

How did this 1968 Hot Wheels store display come to be? Why did Mattel make it? This was the very beginning of Hot Wheels. Matchbox had dominated the industry for literally decades. When Mattel made Hot Wheels, they took it to the next level. Everything they wanted, they put into the cars. They made these gorgeous store displays which were unheard of at the time. They looked like a dealer showroom. When the kids saw that, they went crazy. No marketer had made something so elaborate for a toy.

A close-up on the Hot Wheels store display, which was designed to look like a dealer showroom.

Mattel realized they had to go big or go home if they were going to compete with Matchbox, and this is what they did? They literally created a piece of art to sell these toys. Nothing had really been done before at that level.

So, this Hot Wheels store display is pretty much how the world was introduced to Hot Wheels? Exactly. There were a lot of commercials on TV, but from a point-of-sale situation, it was everything. You were not able to not notice the display. Mattel just made it look so cool, you couldn’t resist.

Did every toy store get a Hot Wheels display of this level of quality, or was it reserved for FAO Schwarz and other high-end venues? The stores had to put in a big pre-order to get the display, but pretty much everybody got it.

What makes this 1968 Hot Wheels store display extremely rare? Mattel sent one display per store. Most were thrown away. Some displays were cut open so they could take the cars and throw the rest away. A few people saved the displays and took them home. This one is even rarer because it has a fold-out flap that advertises Hot Wheels accessories. Only three examples still have the flap.

This overhead shot of the 1968 Hot Wheels store display gives the best angle on the all-important advertising flap, which most examples lack.
This 1968 Hot Wheels store display is rare in and of itself, and it’s one of only three surviving examples to retain a flap that advertises Hot Wheels accessories.

And someone at Mattel would have had to personally assemble each display before shipping it to a toy store? They put them together like a puzzle. It’s lithograph on card, and it took a lot to put this together. Each car had to be hand-tied down, two straps per car. Mattel spared no expense in making these displays.

What else adds to the Hot Wheels store display’s rarity? It has toys in colors that were not used in the main product line. The watermelon pink Mustang only came in store displays. That adds excitement and allure to the set. It highlighted 16 cars, but not every display had exactly the same cars. Some had a chocolate brown Camaro. This display doesn’t have one.

One car in the 1968 Hot Wheels store display is unusually rare--the watermelon pink Mustang. Other versions of the display contained an equally rare chocolate brown Camaro.

Do we know why this Hot Wheels store display doesn’t have a chocolate brown Camaro? I don’t think it was intended at the time. I think they [Mattel] pretty much said, “We’ve got a bunch of cars over here, OK, take these,” and later, they made a different decision during production. The two specific [rarities unique to variants of the 1968 Hot Wheels store display] are the chocolate brown Camaro and the watermelon pink Mustang.

Does this 1968 Hot Wheels store display have all 16 toy cars that it came with originally, or have some been replaced over the years? All 16 in the display are original to the set.

The toy cars in the display are called “Redline” cars. Why? There are red lines on the tires. They’re like whitewalls, only they’re red. They’re considered the premium Hot Wheels cars, and they were made between 1968 and 1976. Then Mattel shifted to black-wall tire cars. That’s where old-school collectors stop.

Do we know how this particular Hot Wheels store display survived? It was acquired from a local hobby store in Cleveland, Ohio in 1968. A father had pestered the store owner because he wanted it for his son. One day he came in and the display was gone. He asked where it was and the owner said “I put it behind the counter. I didn’t forget you.” The father got it for the price of the 16 cars, so, he paid 59 cents times 16. [That would have been $9.44 in 1968 money, which translates to roughly $71.34 in modern dollars.]

Does the Hot Wheels store display come directly from the family? I bought it from them myself. They enjoyed it for many years, then they put it away in a closet. Fast forward 50 years, and they realized, “Oh my God, this is a life-changing moment here.”

What condition is the 1968 Hot Wheels store display in? Everything is in its original place. The plastic cover, which is an acetate-type material, tends to shrink over time, but amazingly enough, I knew a Mattel employee who had a few covers. So this has a new cover, but it’s 50 years old.

What is the Hot Wheels store display like in person? Mattel painted the cars with what they called Spectraflame paint. The best way to explain it is it glows. It’s like they take on a new life. It’s one of the things that makes people crazy for them–they’re mesmerized by how beautiful they are. [Magee later explained that Mattel stopped using Spectraflame paint on Hot Wheels cars around 1973 or 1974.]

How large is the Hot Wheels store display? It’s about two feet long by about one foot deep. It has a commanding presence. Mattel really went out of its way to make it look like the ultimate showroom. They spared no expense. The buildings and scenery in the back added to the mix.

What’s your favorite detail of the display? In my opinion, it’s the three-dimensional look to it. Mattel designed it so it doesn’t look like it was printed on a flat background. They gave it depth. They could have just stuck a few cars on bases, but instead, they put them on round platforms that do move–they’re on a rivet, they can swivel.

How many of these 1968 Hot Wheels store displays have you handled? I’ve been doing this for 35 years. I’ve handled four.

How does this example compare to the other three? This one has the flap. The flap is the big deal. The others had their flaps torn off.

Why does that front flap on the Hot Wheels store display tend not to survive? The cardboard probably got weak, and tore off, or someone tore it off intentionally. I just know that only a few have the flap.

The 1968 Hot Wheels store display carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. What percentage of its value belongs with the display itself, and how much belongs to the toy cars? Between 90 and 95 percent of the value is in the display. The cars, you can get, except for the brown Camaro and the pink Mustang. The display, you can’t.

It seems like sales of Hot Wheels cars mostly happen in private, not at auction. How does that affect the estimate for this display? Very rarely does one of these come up for sale. I figure it will settle around $50,000 to $70,000 this time. Again, it’s all about quality, rarity, and desirability, and this has all of that. It’s the Holy Grail of Hot Wheels.

What’s the likelihood that this 1968 Hot Wheels store display will set a new world auction record for Hot Wheels toys? In my opinion, it will absolutely set a new record. I can’t imagine it won’t set a new record, just based on all the other stuff that’s going on. COVID-19 has changed the situation. Everyone is at home and researching different hobbies, and they want something fun that’s an investment. Hot Wheels are just skyrocketing. There are Hot Wheels that sold for $2,000 or $3,000 that are going for $5,000 or $6,000 now.

How to bid: The 1968 Hot Wheels store display is lot 0633 in A Celebration of Pop Culture–Day 2, taking place at Van Eaton Galleries on January 31, 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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