A Sculpture by Ab the Flag Man Fetches $1,200

An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a "Medium Size American Flag."

Update: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man sold for $1,200.

What you see: An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a “Medium Size American Flag.” Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $600 to $900, plus $75 for shipping.

Who is Ab the Flag Man? “He has a real name, but no one ever calls him by it,” says Steve Slotin, of Slotin Folk Art Auction, an auctioneer in Buford, Ga., that specializes in self-taught, outsider, and folk art. Ab the Flag Man was born with the name Roger Lee Ivens in Tennessee in 1964. He picked up the nickname “Abstract” during his school days, after asking his teacher about abstract art. It got shortened to “Ab” by co-workers on construction sites. He traces his interest in flags to the age of seven, when he witnessed the military funeral of his father. The sight of his casket covered with a flag never left him.

How long has Ab the Flag Man been an artist? He quit carpentry in 1995 to make art full-time, but it’s unclear precisely when he began–it could have been the late 1980s or early 1990s. He was discovered in a parking lot in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, where he had set up alongside another folk artist to sell his works. “Specific dates in folk art are hard to come by. It’s not like he came out of art school and we tracked his progress,” says Slotin. “With Ab, people liked his stuff, and it was immediately popular.”

How prolific is he? “We’ve been doing auctions for 25 years, and since we began, we’ve had a few in each auction,” says Slotin. “There’s got to be a thousand pieces out there.”

Does Ab the Flag Man work alone, or does he have assistants? “That’s the thing with folk artists. There’s no team behind them, and no staff that prepares [materials],” Slotin says. “Typically, it’s all them.”

Wait, are there chair legs in there? “You see furniture legs in a lot of his stuff,” Slotin says. “Furniture legs, blocks, parts of house moldings, discards, it varies. It’s all scraps.”

What are the dimensions of this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man? It’s 35 inches long, 21 inches high, and four inches deep. “It really pops out at you,” Slotin says. “It has a lot of movement to it, like it’s waving at you. Most of his pieces have movement, like they’re waving in the wind.”

What else makes this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man special? “The great thing about almost all of our artists is they’re untrained and unschooled. They don’t have art school or European influences,” Slotin says. “A kid out of art school, who’s trained on what is and isn’t art, makes art that’s pretty homogenized. With Ab, his background is in construction, and his dad passed away–you see his experience in his work. And no one saw it [Ab’s style of flag-themed art] till he started doing it. That’s what I like. What he’s doing is original.”

How to bid: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man is Lot 322 in Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Masterpiece sale, taking place April 29 and 30, 2017 in Buford.

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Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

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A Unique Model Airplane by Ernest Burke Soared to $11,070

A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine.

Update: The unique 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane fetched $11,070.

What you see: A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine. Skinner estimates the unique model plane at $6,000 to $8,000.

Who was Ernest Burke? Born in New York City in 1921, he’s best known as a Western artist, having made more than 2,500 paintings and 80 sculptures with frontier themes. His works are in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum of the American Indian, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, among others. Burke’s parents recognized his artistic talent early, and supported his pursuits. Model-making was a boyhood hobby. He would scavenge wood from fruit crates from markets around the city. Burke died in 2010.

Have you ever seen anything like this? “No, we haven’t!” says Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner. “Nothing like this–the scale, the detail, nothing like this in other auctions. We haven’t.”

What challenges did Ernest Burke face when making this model P-47 plane? “He had to do some serious legwork on trying to find the scale, and drop the scale down,” says Dowling, explaining that Burke wrote to the Republic Aviation Company to obtain blueprints of the World War II-era fighter plane. “He was almost an engineer at heart. He took his time to do research before he even attempted to create this.”

Just how faithful is this 1/12 scale model to the original? “The accuracy is incomprehensible, down to the detail of the cockpit,” Dowling says, noting that Burke worked alone over the course of nine years to complete it. His efforts paid off with a first place prize at a model plane enthusiasts’ meeting in Chicago in 1964. He retired his masterpiece after that, and never flew it again.

Does the unique model airplane still fly? “We have not tested it, but I would not see why it wouldn’t,” says Dowling, while pointing out that the U-control, which is a forerunner to the remote control, is not included in the lot (Burke’s heirs couldn’t find it).

What else makes the unique model airplane special? “I have never seen anything this accurate, this well-preserved, and this off-the-wall odd,” says Dowling. “I saw the pictures, and it didn’t do it for me. When it came through the door, it sparked my interest. They [the heirs] brought it to the lobby and we were all amazed.”

How to bid: Ernest Berke’s Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane is lot 414 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments auction at Skinner on April 28, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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A Franklin Fire Company Hat Commands $18,750

A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter.

Update: The Franklin Fire Company hat sold for $18,750.

What you see: A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter. Freeman’s estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

What was the Franklin Fire Company? It was one of several volunteer fire-fighting companies in pre-Civil War America. “It was kind of a club, but you didn’t just get together as a fraternity–you did something. You saved property, you saved lives. You were heroes,” says Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s. “Fires were an everyday terror in 18th and 19th century America. Heating, cooking, and lighting were all hazardous. Volunteer fire-fighters had a hugely important role to play. The company was a great melting pot. You could have laborers, lawyers, and doctors. You were selected by ballot, and not everybody got in.”

Why did someone in the Franklin Fire Company need a parade hat? “This was for special occasions, such as celebrations and competitive events. The hats emphasized their group, their fraternity,” Cain says. “It shows your affiliation. It advertised your fire department, and your membership in it.”

Who in the Franklin Fire Company would have worn this hat? Everyone would have worn matching red parade hats with Franklin’s face on the front. “These guys would have proudly gathered and marched in their groups,” she says, noting that the initials ‘W.G.’ are lettered on the crown of the hat in black and gilded paint. “They had capes, too, but fewer of those survive.”

Who painted the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the same artisan who made the hat. “It’s beautifully done,” Cain says, adding that it’s the first hat of its type with a Benjamin Franklin image to come to auction. “This particular hat has Franklin, but others had Washington, or Lafayette, or eagles, or classical figures, or scantily clad ladies in the 19th century sense.”

How rare are fire company parade hats? “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had five,” she says. “I love this hat. It’s been cleaned, but it’s in very fine shape. And Philadelphia and Franklin are a perfect pair.”

How to bid: The Franklin Fire Company hat is lot 148 in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on April 26, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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A Thousand-Year-Old Astrolabe Fetched More Than $781,000

A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection.

Update: The thousand-year-old astrolabe sold for more than $781,000.

What you see: A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $372,900 to $621,000.

What is an astrolabe? “Basically, it’s an ancient astronomical computer,” says Benedict Carter, head of auction sales of Middle East and Indian art at Sotheby’s. “It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional celestial sphere. Typical uses were for finding the time during the day or night, and figuring out the times of sunrise or sunset.”

What makes this astrolabe special? “It’s a thousand-year-old astrolabe, and it’s very rare as it’s signed and dated,” he says. “This period [between the ninth and fourteenth centuries] has an awful lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from collectors from the Middle East. Buyers and collectors globally want to buy into the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.”

Who would have used this astrolabe? “It was probably a princely commission. A lot of time went into making it,” Carter says, noting that it is the first of three signed astrolabes produced by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar over the course of 10 years. “It was a very niche, courtly thing. Not just any old person would have one. That’s why there’s not so many out there, and most are in museums.”

Is the thousand-year-old astrolabe entirely original? No. The pierced face of the astrolabe, which is known as a rete, was replaced in Turkey sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. “It is a functional replacement,” Carter says. “Five hundred years after it was made, it was a valuable tool, still being used. That tells us a lot.”

How soon did you know that you had something special with this? “The moment I saw this, I knew it was pretty exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was signed or dated, but I immediately realized it looked early and important. You always hope something like this will show up, and one day, it does.”

How to bid: The thousand-year-old astrolabe is lot 170 in Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World auction, which takes place in London on April 26, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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Milk Drop Coronet, by Harold Edgerton, Commanded $4,250

Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil.

Update: Milk Drop Coronet sold for $4,250.

What you see: Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Harold Edgerton? Harold “Doc” Edgerton was an electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He used his knowhow to create an electric flash that could fire extremely briefly–10 microseconds, or 1/100,000th of a second–allowing his camera to capture events that happen too fast for the eye to see. His mastery earned him the nickname “Papa Flash.” He died in 1990 at the age of 86.

Where was Harold Edgerton in his career in 1957? “He was still at MIT, but by 1957 he had achieved recognition for his inventions and his visionary approach to making images,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Galleries. “But the photography market didn’t happen until the first galleries opened their doors in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

Is that why Milk Drop Coronet was shot in 1957 and printed in the 1970s? Yes. “Edgerton did not identify himself as an artist, which isn’t surprising,” Kaplan says, “At the start of the market for photography, dealers realized that a picture of this elegance could be a full-fledged artistic image. Edgerton was a very brilliant man. He acknowledged that his work had taken on a new audience, a new form.”

How does the dye transfer process improve the image? “It’s probably the most stable and vivid technique in relation to reproducing color,” she says, noting that dye transfer is no longer used. “It was the blue-chip technique. The reds [of Milk Drop Coronet] are vivid and saturated–they pop.”

Does Milk Drop Coronet belong to a limited edition? “Multiple prints were made during this period, but it was not a common practice to edition prints. The market was still articulating itself,” Kaplan says. Later, she stated that she had handled versions of the photograph in eight Swann Galleries auctions over the last 10 years: Three dye transfers, two chromogenic (color) prints, and three that were black and white.

M34957-2 001

What makes Milk Drop Coronet special? “This is one of the top Edgerton images, and I have to say, one of the most popular images of the 20th century,” she says. Speaking of Edgerton’s 20th century stop-motion achievements, she adds, “It’s startling in its prescience. Time is accelerating, people are moving at faster and faster paces. He looked at it from an academic and a scientific perspective, but he was able to articulate in his images what people were beginning to feel.”

How to bid: Milk Drop Coronet is lot 214 in Swann Auction Galleries’s Images & Objects: Photographs & Photobooks auction on April 20.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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An Alex Katz Red Coat Print Sells for $32,500

Red Coat, a 1983 limited edition screenprint co-published by artist Alex Katz and Simca Print Artists. It is number 70 of 73, and there were 12 artist's proofs.

Update: The Alex Katz Red Coat print sold for $32,500.

What you see: Red Coat, a 1983 limited edition screenprint co-published by artist Alex Katz and Simca Print Artists. It is number 70 of 73, and there were 12 artist’s proofs. Phillips estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

Who is Alex Katz? He is an American figurative artist who launched his art career in the 1950s. He is known for his large portraits and bold colors. His wife, Ada, who he married in 1958, might be his favorite model. She has featured in more than 250 of his portraits, including the original 1982 Red Coat canvas, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Katz began making prints in 1965 and has produced more than 400 editions to date. He will turn 90 in July; Ada is about a year younger than him.

What makes Red Coat a strong image, and a strong print? “Not to be vulgar, but red is always a good seller,” says Cary Leibowitz, worldwide co-head of editions at Phillips. “The scale of this is always quite nice–almost five feet tall. The directness of how Ada looks at the viewer, the proportions–everything that could be right is right about it. It’s become an icon.”

How rare is this Alex Katz Red Coat print? Leibowitz says a print from the edition comes up about once a year on average. “It’s an icon, and traditionally, it sells well,” he says. The record auction price for a print from the 1983 edition is $50,000, set at Wright 20 in 2013. Phillips sold another Red Coat print last year for $47,500.

Does its size–58 inches by 29 inches–pose an obstacle to collectors? “Katz has prints in every scale. Some are larger than this,” Leibowitz says. “He approaches each print almost like a painting. The scale works well for this image.”

What else makes the Alex Katz Red Coat print special? “It has an unexplainable force that just works,” says Leibowitz. “It’s larger than life and it feels that way, in a good way.”

How to bid: The Alex Katz Red Coat print is lot 13 in Phillips New York’s Editions and Works on Paper Including Works from the Piero Crommelynck Collection auction on April 18.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips/Phillips.com

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An I Dream of Jeannie Original Prop Bottle Will Sell at Julien’s

The original prop bottle from the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It's hand-painted and stands 14 inches tall.

What you see: The original prop bottle from the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It’s hand-painted and stands 14 inches tall. Julien’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

How do we know this is an I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle? It comes directly to Julien’s from the estate of Gene Nelson, who directed six episodes of the show’s first season, including the pilot, titled The Lady in the Bottle. At some point, Nelson obtained a letter of authenticity from Barbara Eden, who played the title character, Jeannie. Nelson died in 1996. Eden will turn 86 in August.

Did Nelson create the I Dream of Jeannie bottle? Nelson has the strongest claim on its origin story. He was hunting for something that didn’t look like Aladdin’s lamp, spotted a Jim Beam decanter in a liquor store window, snapped it up, and handed it over to the folks in the prop department, who peeled the labels off the glass and decorated it with paint. “There’s something unique in the fact that he saw this,” says Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien’s Auctions. “He was scouting around, found the bottle, and had the vision to paint it. He was a good visionary.”

Was the I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle used on the set? Almost certainly, but coming up with a precise photo match is tough, given that the prop bottles were painted to look identical. But according to Julien, the animators would have referenced photos of this bottle when creating the opening credit sequence, and it’s safe to say it was shown in the early episodes that Nelson directed. He left I Dream of Jeannie after repeated clashes with Larry Hagman, who played astronaut Tony Nelson on the show.

How rare is the I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle? “It’s very rare. We have not handled one before. Not many survive, and nobody back then would have saved anything like that,” says Julien, adding, “It’s the Holy Grail of the series to have. It’s what the show is about. Provenance is king, and it has such a solid history. It’s an iconic piece that’s going to sell for a lot more than our estimate.”

So, does it come with Barbara Eden? No, but it does include the letter of authentication that she wrote for Nelson. The bottle’s interior is also unfurnished and long since emptied of its whiskey. And neither Julien’s nor The Hot Bid is responsible for the I Dream of Jeannie theme song getting stuck in your head.

Damn you! #SorryNotSorry

How to bid: The I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle is lot 486 in the Property from the Estate of Patrick Swayze and Hollywood Legends 2017 auction on April 28 at Julien’s.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadadada. BadadaDA!

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A Thousand-Year-Old Brass Astrolabe Could Sell For More Than $600,000

A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection.

What you see: A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $372,900 to $621,000.

What is an astrolabe? “Basically, it’s an ancient astronomical computer,” says Benedict Carter, head of auction sales of Middle East and Indian art at Sotheby’s. “It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional celestial sphere. Typical uses were for finding the time during the day or night, and figuring out the times of sunrise or sunset.”

What makes this brass astrolabe special? “It’s a thousand-year-old astrolabe, and it’s very rare as it’s signed and dated,” he says. “This period [between the ninth and fourteenth centuries] has an awful lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from collectors from the Middle East. Buyers and collectors globally want to buy into the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.”

Who would have used this brass astrolabe? “It was probably a princely commission. A lot of time went into making it,” Carter says, noting that it is the first of three signed astrolabes produced by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar over the course of 10 years. “It was a very niche, courtly thing. Not just any old person would have one. That’s why there’s not so many out there, and most are in museums.”

Is the brass astrolabe entirely original? No. The pierced face of the astrolabe, which is known as a rete, was replaced in Turkey sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. “It is a functional replacement,” Carter says. “Five hundred years after it was made, it was a valuable tool, still being used. That tells us a lot.”

How soon did you know that you had something special with this? “The moment I saw this, I knew it was pretty exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was signed or dated, but I immediately realized it looked early and important. You always hope something like this will show up, and one day, it does.”

How to bid: The brass astrolabe is lot 170 in Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World auction, which takes place in London on April 26, 2017.

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

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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

A Gilbert Munger El Capitan Canvas Could Sell for $60,000

El Capitan in a Gathering Storm, by Gilbert Munger, painted in 1876.

What you see: El Capitan in a Gathering Storm, by Gilbert Munger, painted in 1876. Bonhams estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

Who was Gilbert Munger? He was an American 19th century artist who taught himself to paint. While he wasn’t the first to immortalize El Capitan and other landscape landmarks of what is now Yosemite National Park, he was among the wave of artists who followed in the wake of photographer Carleton Watkins and his stereoscopic camera. In 1869, Munger served as a guest artist on a survey expedition, capturing the West’s natural splendor without giving short shrift to accuracy. Munger continued to travel the West periodically until 1875, and he helped increase Yosemite’s legend by showing his breathtaking Western images in Europe. Munger died in 1903.

What makes El Capitan in a Gathering Storm special? Munger canvases don’t come to auction all that often–archives note just 45 sales of his works between 1988 and now. The auction record for a Munger belongs to another El Capitan scene painted in the same year. In 2006, Bonhams sold A Small Encampment, El Capitan, in Yosemite Valley for $172,500.

What else makes the Munger oil on canvas stand out? “The quality is that outstanding,” says Scot Levitt, vice president of Bonhams and director of fine arts. “It catches your attention when you see it. It’s rare. And it’s exciting to see something that’s not your average scene.”

How to bid: El Capitan in a Gathering Storm is lot 6 in Bonhams’s California and Western Paintings and Sculpture auction on April 11, 2017 in Los Angeles.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A 19th Century Fire Company Parade Hat Could Sell For $12,000

A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter.

What you see: A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter. Freeman’s estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

What was the Franklin Fire Company? It was one of several volunteer fire-fighting companies in pre-Civil War America. “It was kind of a club, but you didn’t just get together as a fraternity–you did something. You saved property, you saved lives. You were heroes,” says Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s. “Fires were an everyday terror in 18th and 19th century America. Heating, cooking, and lighting were all hazardous. Volunteer fire-fighters had a hugely important role to play. The company was a great melting pot. You could have laborers, lawyers, and doctors. You were selected by ballot, and not everybody got in.”

Why did someone in the Franklin Fire Company need a parade hat? “This was for special occasions, such as celebrations and competitive events. The hats emphasized their group, their fraternity,” Cain says. “It shows your affiliation. It advertised your fire department, and your membership in it.”

Who in the Franklin Fire Company would have worn this fire company parade hat? Everyone would have worn matching red parade hats with Franklin’s face on the front. “These guys would have proudly gathered and marched in their groups,” she says, noting that the initials ‘W.G.’ are lettered on the crown of the hat in black and gilded paint. “They had capes, too, but fewer of those survive.”

Who painted the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front of the fire company parade hat? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the same artisan who made the hat. “It’s beautifully done,” Cain says, adding that it’s the first hat of its type with a Benjamin Franklin image to come to auction. “This particular hat has Franklin, but others had Washington, or Lafayette, or eagles, or classical figures, or scantily clad ladies in the 19th century sense.”

How rare are fire company parade hats? “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had five,” she says. “I love this hat. It’s been cleaned, but it’s in very fine shape. And Philadelphia and Franklin are a perfect pair.”

How to bid: The fire company parade hat is lot 148 in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on April 26, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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Untitled (Negro Mother) by Sargent Johnson Sells for $100,000

Sargent Johnson's Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

Update: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother) sold for $100,000–a record for the artist at auction.

What you see: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

Who is Sargent Johnson? He was a 20th century African-American artist who spent most of his career in San Francisco, and worked in a wide range of artistic media. He earned a national profile with his compelling, sensitive images of African-American subjects. “He worked to convey a more positive view of African-American femininity and womanhood in a time when the images were racist stereotypes,” says Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American fine art department at Swann Galleries. Johnson died in 1967.

What makes Untitled (Negro Mother) so intriguing? It’s one of perhaps ten copper repoussé masks that Johnson made, and most of those are in museum collections. Untitled (Negro Mother) is only the second Johnson mask to come to auction. Swann Galleries sold the first, a 1933 work simply called Mask, for $67,200 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 in 2010. The consigner owned it for 50-odd years, having bought it as an unattributed mask and learning later who created it: “Somebody just sold it as a mask, and the owner discovered the signature on the back and discovered who Sargent Johnson was,” says Freeman.

M35509-1 009

What else makes Untitled (Negro Mother) a powerful work of art? “It has the character, stature, and dignity that all Johnson’s figures have,” says Freeman. “It’s beautifully proportioned, and you get a sense of the artist being very careful to have everything perfectly balanced. At the same time, you have a strong human presence. That’s what makes his work stand out.”

How to bid: Untitled (Negro Mother) is lot 13 in Swann Auction Galleries’s African-American Fine Art auction on April 6, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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An Albert Paley Coffee Table Commands $8,125

A coffee table created in 1991 by American sculptor Albert Paley.

Update: The Albert Paley coffee table sold for $8,125.

What you see: A coffee table created in 1991 by American sculptor Albert Paley. It is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who is Albert Paley? He is one of the world’s foremost metal sculptors. He might be best known for the Portal Gates that he created for the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He’s made about 50 coffee tables to date.

What makes this coffee table a powerful example of Paley’s work? “What people find appealing about Paley is he takes metal and makes it feel like flowing drapery,” says Tim Andreadis, department head for 20th century design at Freeman’s. “He bends and manipulates it like fabric, or pulled taffy. It’s inviting, and yet sort of curious. A lot goes into controlling the metal and getting it to look the way he wants.”

What else makes the Albert Paley coffee table stand out? “If you took the glass top off it, you’d think it was a really beautiful sculpture, and you wouldn’t question it,” says Andreadis. “That’s what’s so great about Paley–the combination of art, craft, technique, and design, all melded together to create pieces that are unique. It could look amazing in a Silicon Valley tech executive’s home, with edgy contemporary pieces, or something a bit more traditional.”

Who is Jeffrey Kaplan? Did he commission the table directly from Paley? Kaplan, a retired lawyer, placed the coffee table in the living room of his Washington, D.C. apartment. He bought it from a gallery in the city and kept the receipts. (The winning bidder will receive copies of the paperwork.)

How to bid: The Albert Paley coffee table is lot 450 in 1,000 Years of Collecting: The Jeffrey M. Kaplan Collection on April 6, 2017 at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia.

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Image courtesy of Freeman’s.

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A Gerald Scarfe Drawing of the Teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall Sells for More Than $28,000

The Teacher, a signed, undated pen, ink, and watercolor drawing by Gerald Scarfe.

UPDATE: The Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher sold for £22,500, or just over $28,000, more than double its high estimate.

What you see: The Teacher, a signed, undated pen, ink, and watercolor drawing by Gerald Scarfe. Sotheby’s estimates it at £7,000 to £9,000, or about $8,700 to $11,200.

Who is Gerald Scarfe? He’s a British illustrator and political cartoonist, but he’s probably best known for his work with the band Pink Floyd on The Wall, a rock opera that became an album, a film, and a stage show. “You can’t think of Pink Floyd without thinking of Gerald Scarfe, and you can’t think of Gerald Scarfe without thinking of Pink Floyd,” says Philip Errington, director of Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department.

Who is the Teacher? The Teacher is a villain from The Wall who bullies and terrorizes Pink, the lead character, during his school days. He embodies the figure who the children’s choir scold in Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, when they sing, “Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!” In Scarfe’s hands, the Teacher becomes a stalking, slouching, pitiless fish-faced creature who wields a cane. “Every movement is crackling with energy,” Errington says of the Scarfe drawing. “It’s immediate and raw.”

When did Scarfe make this drawing, and why? Errington says Scarfe drew it sometime within the last four years for a Roger Waters tour. It’s the original artwork for a keepsake print that was given to Waters’s team. Errington notes that the combination of elements–the famous wall backdrop, the words “Pink Floyd The Wall” above the Teacher’s head, and Scarfe’s signature at the lower right–makes this piece extra-desirable: “The combination of all three is quite spectacular. Other Teacher images in the sale do not have the lettering and the wall.”

What else makes this Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher special? It comes directly from Scarfe to Sotheby’s, and it’s generously sized, at 31.2 inches by 23.3 inches. “There’s a delight to handling the originals,” Errington says. “Reproductions in books never do them justice.  And they’re big! That makes them arresting in their own right.”

How to bid: The Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher is lot 40 in the Scarfe at Sotheby’s auction, scheduled for April 5, 2017 in London.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A Willi Ruge Photo of a Parachutist Over Berlin Sells for $65,000–More Than Double Its High Estimate

Berlin Fallschirmspringer, which translates as Berlin Parachute Jumper, from Willi Ruge's 1931 series, I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump.

Update: Phillips sold the 1931 Willi Ruge photo Berlin Parachute Jumper for $65,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: Berlin Fallschirmspringer, which translates as Berlin Parachute Jumper, from Willi Ruge’s 1931 series, I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump. Phillips estimates the gelatin silver print at $20,000 to $30,000.

Who was Willi Ruge? He was a press photographer in the early 20th century who worked with the German counterparts of magazines such as Life and Look. “He distinguished himself by putting himself in the center of the action,” says Christopher Mahoney, a consultant at Phillips’s photography department. “He was a photojournalist, but he was a bit of a daredevil, too.” Ruge (pronounced Roo-guh) was also a pilot and a certified parachutist. He died in 1961.

How hard was it for Willi Ruge to get this shot? After laughing heartily, Mahoney says, “Pretty darn hard. First, you have to have the guts to jump out of a plane with a parachute. Getting up the gumption to do that is a considerable feat in itself. And I can’t imagine it’s easy, hurtling toward the earth with a parachute over you, to concentrate on the complex act of taking a photo, but he did that. And it was all manual. He figured out the focus and the exposure on the fly, and he would have been winding by hand.”

Did Ruge manipulate the photograph in the dark room at all? “It was standard procedure for photographers to fix blemishes in the negative. There may have been a little bit of that.  But there’s no major kind of retouching,” Mahoney says. “This really is what he was seeing as he parachuted down.”

Why did Willi Ruge take this photograph? It was part of a photo story for a German magazine. A friend in a nearby plane photographed Ruge as he jumped, and a second photographer on the ground captured the faces of witnesses who watched him land. The final product enjoyed the 1930s version of going viral–photo magazines in Britain and America ran it. “To me, it’s lost none of its impact,” Mahoney says. “It still induces a sense of vertigo. And it’s confounding–those shoes dangling over Berlin. It still packs a wallop, many decades later.”

What else makes this Willi Ruge photograph special? It’s rare, as are all Ruge images (his archive was bombed in 1943), and it does not appear to have gone to auction before. And there’s not much else like it out there. “This is an image that couldn’t exist in other media,” Mahoney says. “It is photography doing what photography does best–documenting the moment so other people can see it. This is a very dramatic moment Willi Ruge has documented.”

How to bid: Berlin Fallschirmspringer is lot 6 in The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from  Joy of Giving Foundation, taking place April 3 and April 4, 2017 at Phillips New York.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips/Phillips.com

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