SOLD! The Closest Thing Bonnie & Clyde Had to a Wedding Ring Commands $25,000 at RR Auction


Update: The Bonnie and Clyde promise ring sold for $25,000.

What you see: A silver-toned three-headed snake ring with red and green gemstones, made by Clyde Barrow during a prison stay at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas and later given to Bonnie Parker. RR Auction estimates it at more than $40,000.

Who were Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker? Better known as Bonnie and Clyde, the couple were notorious Depression-era bank robbers who were romanticized in the press. They died in a police ambush in Louisiana in May 1934 in which officers fired 130 rounds at their car. Barrow was 25. Parker was 23.

How do we know that Parker wore this ring, and how do we know that Barrow made it for her? Barrow left a maker’s mark on the ring: A B-note with an arrow. “When I sat next to the jeweler and he deciphered the logo, it was like, ‘Eureka!’,” says Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction. “Things like that happen only a few times in a career. It was one of the most incredible finds I’ve ever had.” We don’t know when Barrow gave the ring to Parker, but we do know he made a belt with a snake motif during the same prison stay and mailed it to his sister.

How did Parker lose the ring? She left it behind when she and Barrow fled their stolen 1933 Ford Model B on November 22, 1933, near Sowers, Texas. Sheriff Smoot Schmid, who led the raid, recovered the ring from the bullet-strafed car, noting it in his inventory as “Bonnie Parker Ring (3 Silver Snakes with Tiny Jewels).” Schmid’s heirs consigned it to RR Auctions.

Why did Schmid keep the ring? “It was very common for Bonnie and Clyde to abandon property,” Livingston says. “The police didn’t get paid a lot. Bonnie and Clyde were infamous. They took these things as souvenirs, and were known to.”

What size is the ring? “I think it’s a size four. Bonnie was very small,” Livingston says. “I looked at it under a high-powered microscope. It’s worn, for sure, but you would not want to wear it. We expect it to sell for a lot of money, and expect it to be curated as an artifact and never worn again.”

Is the ring well-made? “It’s pretty nice. It’s not by an amateur,” Livingston says. “He was talented. It’s not crude at all.”

What else makes this ring special? “This is the closest thing Bonnie and Clyde had to a wedding ring,” he says, adding that Parker was wearing a wedding ring when she died (she married a fellow high school student at 16, but was estranged from her husband and had never sought a divorce). “It’s one of the few pieces made by Clyde and given to Bonnie, and she wore it. To me, the ring represents the deep love they had for each other.”

How to bid: Bonnie Parker’s promise ring is lot 2039 in the Gangsters, Outlaws, and Lawmen sale at RR Auction. Online pre-bidding takes place from June 16 through June 23; the live auction takes place June 24, 2017 in Boston.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of RR Auction.

SOLD! Ernest Biéler’s Swiss Misses Fetch $700,000 at Sotheby’s

Lot 41- Trois jeunes Filles de Granois- Bieler- Sotheby's Zurich June 2017

Update: Ernest Biéler’s Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois (Three Young Girls of Granois) sold for $699,000 (672,500 CHF).

What you see: Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois (Three Young Girls of Granois), a 1920 work on paper by Swiss artist Ernest Biéler. Sotheby’s estimates it at 500,000 to 700,000 in Swiss francs, which is pretty much the same amount in US dollars.

Who is Ernest Biéler? He was a Swiss artist who succeeded in virtually every media he tried, from painting to drawing to mosaics to stained glass windows. He cofounded the Ecole of Savièse, an artistic movement that celebrated rural Swiss peasant life. He died in 1948 at age 84.

What makes Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois an iconic Biéler work? “It’s really an important work, and it’s a good summary of what he attempted to do,” says Stéphanie Schleining Deschanel, director and co-head of Swiss art for Sotheby’s, explaining that the Ecole of Savièse artists “wanted to discover the purity and the traditions of the Swiss 19th century world.”

How often did Biéler portray small groups, as he does here? “He usually depicted individual figures. It’s very rare to have three people in the same composition,” she says. “In this case, the village of Savièse is very important. It’s the subject of the painting. The three girls have different dresses, but their faces are slightly the same. For him, it was more important to depict Swiss traditions rather than the people themselves.”

Why did he and his compatriots find inspiration in Savièse? “It was a space in the middle of nowhere. It was totally unknown by the world and by Switzerland,” she says. “Those costumes are really what they wore. They are well-depicted, and the hats are also very typical of Swiss tradition. It’s a good testimony to the fashion of the time.”

Did Biéler use live models? “They’re real people, from his direct environment, but he had no models. He found inspiration in observing people,” she says.

This work is currently the third most-expensive Biéler sold at auction. How do you think it will do this time around? “It’s very difficult to predict. It’s an iconic work, and it has potential,” she says, noting that she witnessed its previous sale in November 2007, when it commanded 601,000 Swiss francs ($543,616) against an estimate of 300,000 to 400,000 Swiss francs ($271,356 to $361,808). “It’s very powerful. Fantastic quality. It’s really a museum piece. I think the painting has the potential to achieve a higher price than it achieved 10 years ago.”

How to bid: Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois is lot 41 in the Swiss Art / Swiss Made auction at Sotheby’s Zurich on June 27.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Tick, Tick, Tick, Wow! A Monumental Replica of Venice’s Piazza San Marco Clock Tower Could Fetch $1 Million at Sotheby’s

Lot 26 torre Dell'Orologio_£600,000 - 800,000 (low)

What you see: A painted and gilt copper model of the clock tower in Piazza San Marco, Venice. It stands nine feet, eight inches tall. The movement appears to date to the 18th century, and the case to the early 19th century. Sotheby’s estimates the model clock tower at £600,000 to £800,000, which is between $776,000 and $1 million.

Ok, there’s not much we can definitively say about how this clock came to be, but what’s your best guess? “The best theory I can come up with is the movement [the clock works] was made first and probably made about the same time the movement of the original was revamped by Bartolomeo Ferracina,” says Jonathan Hills, senior specialist for clocks at Sotheby’s. “I’ve got a feeling, nothing more than that, that it was made by someone involved with work [on the Venetian original]. It copies it almost exactly. It’s complicated. There are four individual weight-driven trains of wheels, each at a 90 degree angle to the other. That’s virtually unheard of. Usually they’re in a line, or are one behind the other.”

Is it a pain in the neck to arrange the movement’s wheel trains at 90 degree angles to each other? “It is. You have to wind it in four different directions,” he says, adding that the clock probably needs to be wound every day. At the time of the interview, it wasn’t operating, but Hills confirmed that it does indeed run.

The lot notes and your earlier answer mention that Bartolomeo Ferracina revamped the movement of the Venetian original in the 1750s. Do we have any evidence that the replica movement was built by him or someone on his team? “It’s very tempting to tie the two together, but there’s no proof,” Hills says. “Attention was very much focused on [the original] during the 1750s. It seems like a logical time for the replica movement to be done. Whoever made it had to have access to the real thing and had to have clock-making skills.”

Refurbishing the clock tower in the Piazza San Marco is a big job. Is there any chance Ferracina had the replica movement built as a test or a proof-of-concept? “The original was in such poor condition, they were effectively redesigning it. It’s possible they made a working model, but that tends to be done on the drawing board. You can calculate a movement a lot more easily than you can make one,” he says. “This was probably done for someone’s amusement or self-interest rather than a technical exercise, but we’ll never know, unfortunately.”

If it wasn’t placed outdoors, where would someone have put this clock? It’s nearly 10 feet tall! “It would have to be a large house, but Italian homes are known for their tall ceilings,” Hills says. “I can see it gracing the piano nobile of a Venetian home, or somebody who had a large home elsewhere, but was of Venetian origin. What better reminder could there be of home?”

Again, we have no records from the people who made the movement, nor do we have records from the people who made the case. But give us a notion–how much work does this clock represent? “To make the clock movement, on its own, we’re talking about hundreds of hours of work,” he says. “The case–I can’t fully appreciate or understand the techniques involved in creating that case. It appears to be rolled and pressed sheet copper. Where you’d go to find someone who does that today . . . I don’t know how it could be done. This clock is a huge amount of work, hundreds of hours at different times by different groups of people.”

What else makes this clock special? “I first saw it assembled in the photo studio,  and it took my breath away. The scale is so impressive, and the proportions are so impressive–it all just works,” Hills says, adding that he’s been with Sotheby’s for 25 years and represents the sixth generation of a clock-making family. “I am a clock person. What I really appreciate is what’s going on inside, seeing the beautiful four-sided movement. It’s so multi-faceted. There’s so much to look at, and so much to appreciate. I’ve never handled anything like it before. To see this scale replica–it’s not something I’ll ever forget.”

How to bid: The Piazza San Marco model clock tower is lot 26 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 5, 2017.

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

SOLD! Baseball Legend Willie Stargell’s Golden Tickets (OK, Bronze Passes) Get $4,555 at SCP Auctions

Stargell Passes

What you see: The Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum lifetime passes that belonged to Willie Stargell. SCP Auctions estimates the group, which includes a personalized leather carrying case, at $3,000 to $5,000.

Who was Willie Stargell? Wilver Dornell “Willie” Stargell was a legendary left fielder and first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared on two World Series-winning Pirates teams, in 1971 and 1979. He holds the distinction of being the only baseball player to win the Major League Baseball  Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, the League Championship Series MVP award, and the World Series MVP award in the same year, and he did it at the age of 39. He was 25 home runs shy of the magical threshold of 500 when he retired from baseball in 1982. He died in 2001, at 61, two days before the Pirates unveiled a statue of him at PNC Park.

When did Stargell receive these passes? It’s not clear, but he might have received the MLB lifetime pass on or around his retirement, and he probably earned the Cooperstown pass in 1988, after he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Are those passes made of gold? Nope, they’re bronze. “They’re solid metal, but both are about as thick as a credit card,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

Did Stargell have the personalized leather case made to hold them both? “The case was issued with the Hall of Fame pass,” says Imler. “It does accommodate two passes. He obviously got them separately. They happen to fit perfectly in this particular case.”

Did Stargell actually carry the passes on his person and use them? “It’s interesting,” Imler says. “We know he got the case with the Hall of Fame pass. The pass itself shows less wear than the MLB pass. There’s minor general wear on the case itself. It definitely has the appearance of having used the passes, but it’s hard to know how frequently.”

How often do you see elite baseball passes kept together as a pair, as these have been? “I can’t recall ever receiving them together in a case,” Imler says. “They could be sold independently, but we feel like Willie Stargell viewed them as mates, and they were viewed as mates by the family. We want to keep the presentation as it was kept by him.”

How to bid: The Stargell passes are lot 145 in SCP Auctions’s Spring Premier Auction, which opens on May 24 and ends on June 10, 2017.

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

SOLD! Goya’s Lavishly-Bound Presentation Copy of Los Caprichos Gets $607,500 at Christie’s


Update: The presentation copy of the first edition of Goya’s Los Caprichos sold for $607,500.

What you see: A presentation copy of the first edition of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos, from 1799. Specifically, you see plate 43–what might be its most famous image–The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Christie’s estimates the set of prints at $500,000 to $700,000.

Who is Francisco Goya? He’s the most important and influential Spanish artist of the 18th and 19th centuries. He captured the high and the low in his paintings and prints, from portraits of kings to the sufferings of the mentally ill. He died in 1828, at the age of 82.

What is Los Caprichos? It is a group of 80 aquatints and etchings that explore what Goya deemed follies, or foolish notions then bedeviling Spanish society. When he published the set in 1799, it flopped, with only 30 copies selling over the course of four years. “Things that are visionary often do badly when they are first published,” says Sven Becker, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s. “It was far ahead of its time.”

Why is this copy worth $500,000 to $700,000? “This is the only known presentation copy in private hands,” says Becker. “It could actually deliver a surprising result, far beyond its estimate. There’s no reason it couldn’t hit $1 million.”

The set of prints is bound in red goatskin. What does that fact tell us? “Red goatskin was the finest material available to Goya,” Becker says. “He went to a lot of expense. It was for a person who was important to him. You would expect Goya to select the very best prints before putting them into a very expensive binding.”

So, who was the lucky recipient? “It’s inscribed to ‘Mr. X’, but the name of the actual recipient has been deleted,” Becker says. “He or she was clearly really important to Goya. It wouldn’t have been just anyone.”

But the lot notes for this copy of Los Caprichos says ‘…there is little doubt that she was María Josefa Pimental (1752-1834), Countess and Duchess of Benavente, wife of Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna.’ Why the hesitation? “I’d love to say categorically that it’s her,” he says. “I was not able to find enough evidence. If I’d been certain, I would have put it in the headline.”

How did María Josefa Pimental know Goya? “At the time, she was known to have been one of his main patrons. He actually produced a portrait of her not long before the printing of this book,” he says. “It’s mounted on the back of one of the blank leaves. It could have been mounted by her. It’s an unusual thing to do. It feels like it had to be her.”

What else makes this copy of Los Caprichos special? “This book was personally handled by the person who made it. He put pen to paper [to inscribe it],” Becker says. “It allows us to build a bridge between the present and Goya’s time, which is so rare.”

How to bid: The Los Caprichos is lot 432 in Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana and the Eric C. Caren Collection, a sale taking place at Christie’s New York on June 15, 2017.

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

WHOA! David Jagger’s Intense Self-Portrait Fetched More Than $281,000–and a New Record–at Bonhams

David Jagger R.O.I. (British, 1891-1958) Self Portrait 40.6 x 30.5 cm. (16 x 12 in.) (Painted in 1928)

NEW RECORD FOR THE ARTIST AT AUCTION: The David Jagger self-portrait sold for £221,000 ($281,570)–a new record for Jagger at auction, beating the previous record by more than £100,000.

What you see: A self-portrait by David Jagger, painted in 1928. Bonhams estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $26,000 to $39,000.

Who is David Jagger? He’s a 20th century British painter who specialized in portraits of aristocrats. Winston Churchill, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, and several members of the British royal family sat for him. It’s unclear if or how he might be related to Mick Jagger. He died in 1958, at the age of 66 or 67.

Do we know any more about Jagger? “There’s been very little written about David Jagger. Right now, there’s a catalogue raisonne being written, and will be published at the end of the year. That’s going to fill an art-historical gap in the appreciation of the artist,” says Matthew Bradbury, director of modern British and Irish art at Bonhams. “He came from an artistic family. He’s always been a respected artist, but for many years he’s been in the shadow of his brother, Charles, a very reputable and talented sculptor.”

What changed for Jagger? “Prior to 2008 or so, many of his works had been to auction and made unspectacular prices. We set the record for a David Jagger society portrait, Olga, in 2006, which sold for £46,800 ($60,158),” Bradbury says. “It was a far-and-away record for the artist, and it set the ball rolling, really. It flushed a few other paintings out that made even higher prices.”

But why did Jagger paintings take off all of a sudden? “Why in the last 10 years those prices started to develop is a little difficult to pinpoint,” Bradbury says. “It comes down to one or two collectors taking it upon themselves to collect the artist and having the deep pockets to do so.”

Is this self-portrait unique? “If you google David Jagger and look at Wikipedia, there’s a self portrait in black and white that I believe is a larger version of the same one. Where it is, I don’t know,” he says. “It’s almost identical in how the shoulders are eradicated so that it’s a suspended face on a black background. It’s very similar in style.”

What makes this self portrait so strong? “It has an incredibly modern feel about it,” Bradbury says. “It stands apart from his traditional society portraits. You can’t escape his gaze at all. It follows you. It’s absolutely intense, and very powerful when you stand in front of it, for sure. The two record portraits that sold previously had the same feel about them.”

How to bid: The Jagger self-portrait is lot 25 in Bonhams’s Modern British and Irish Art auction scheduled for June 14 at London, New Bond Street.

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

SOLD! Rockwell Kent’s Spellbinding 1930 Version of Moby Dick Commands $1,560 at Swann

M35763-7 002

What you see: One of the 280 pen-and-ink illustrations that Rockwell Kent did for a three-volume 1930 limited edition release of Moby Dick. This particular copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

Who was Rockwell Kent? He was one of the best-known American artists of the first half of the 20th century. He was noted for his landscapes and seascapes before making his name as an illustrator. People mixed him up with Norman Rockwell so often that it became a running joke between the two men. Kent died in 1971 at the age of 88.

How did the limited edition printing of Moby Dick come about? Publisher R.R. Donnelley approached Kent in 1926 to do a version of Two Years Before the Mast, and he suggested doing the Melville novel instead. “Kent loved the sea, and the water. He was a master of painting light, and was able to capture that, even in his woodcuts,” says Christine von der Linn, specialist at Swann. “Moby Dick was originally slated to be a one-volume book, and it grew to three.”

Kent’s illustrated Moby Dick came out in 1930, during the Great Depression. How well did it sell? “It was so popular, the limited edition of 1,000 sold out,” she says. “It launched Kent’s name, and caused a revival of interest in Moby Dick. It was so popular that a one-volume trade edition was put out.”

This copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Does that affect its value? Yes. It’d be worth one-third to one-half more if it came with the slipcase, von der Linn says, noting that the Kent limited edition was jokingly referred to as ‘Moby Dick in a can.’

That image of the whale diving deep into the ocean with the boat in its mouth looks cinematic. Was Kent influenced by the movies at all? “He was certainly aware of the current culture and would have seen movies, but he was not thinking in a cinematic way,” she says. “He loved black and white, and he tried to distill the most dramatic details out of a scene. He was always thinking about reaching the reader in the most visually direct way possible.”

But that drawing, tho. “That image is phenomenal. You can’t look at that and not get chills,” she says. “You understand everything about the novel. It’s incredible.”

What else makes Kent’s version of Moby Dick so spectacular? “It blows you away with the overall beauty of it,” she says. “As you flip through the pages, you feel it come to life through Kent’s illustrations. That’s the mark of a successful illustrated book–if you can make the words leap off the page and spring to life.”

How to bid: The limited edition Rockwell Kent-illustrated Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13, 2017.

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