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.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Fool’s Gold: A 16th Century Portrait of Elisabet the Court Jester Could Fetch $767,000 at Sotheby’s

LOT 5 - Jan Sanders van Hemessen (£400,000 - 600,000)

What you see: A 16th century oil on oak panel portrait of Elisabet, court fool of Anne of Hungary, painted by Jan Sanders van Hemessen. Sotheby’s estimates it at £400,000 to £600,000 ($511,947 to $767,921).

Who was Jan Sanders van Hemessen? He was a Netherlandish painter who was born in Belgium and who traveled to Italy to study before his career fully took off. “He painted important people throughout his life,” says Andrew Fletcher, senior director and head of auction sales of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s. “He was one of the more sought-after painters of his time.”

This painting has been attributed to different artists over the centuries. How unusual is that? Not at all. “Early Netherlandish paintings are notoriously difficult to attribute,” he says. “The fact that the attribution swung [over time] is very typical of works of this type and this date.”

How odd is it to find a formal portrait of a court fool from the 16th century? “An actual commissioned portrait of a court fool or jester, where the court fool or jester sits for a portrait as a lady or a gentleman might, is exceptionally rare,” Fletcher says. “There’s a tiny number of paintings of court fools in fool guise.”

What’s with the rings around her neck? Fletcher and his colleagues consulted multiple art historians on several aspects of the painting. A second portrait of Elisabet, located in Vienna, depicts her with rings on her neck. That portrait further cements her importance, but it does not explain why she wore the rings in that manner. The current best guess is the rings might have something to do with magic tricks. “One of the traits of a court fool is to be a conjuror,” he says. “That’s the only trait we could think of that the rings would be relevant to. Someone could come up with another idea tomorrow. We can’t be more specific than that.”

Elisabet is shown holding a letter. Apparently, that might mean she was literate. Why would a 16th century female court jester need to know how to read? “Given that a large part of a jester’s role [could be] making wordplay with puns, they must have been literate people. The letter suggests she has a level of education you might not normally expect. Chances are she probably did, and she may have had responsibility toward the children,” Fletcher says, explaining that she might have served in a governess-like role to the children of Anne of Hungary, who was the wife of Ferdinand I, an Austrian archduke who became Holy Roman Emperor.

Someone–probably Anne of Hungary–paid to have this portrait done, and Elisabet sat for portraits more than once. What does that say about her, and about what she meant to those who knew her? “It’s a portrait of exceptionally high quality, but it’s of a court jester. Those two facts, combined, suggest she must have been held in incredibly high regard,” he says. “You get the impression that she played an important role in the court, and the court had an emotional attachment to her. You don’t go to the expense of commissioning a portrait of a court fool unless she means more to you than a court fool might mean.”

How to bid: The portrait of Elisabet is lot 5 in the Old Masters evening sale at Sotheby’s London on July 5.

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LAST CALL: Nothing But Net: Grant Zahajko Could Sell a 1936 Olympic Basketball Gold Medal for $150,000

HIghRes_Olym_golda

What you see: The Olympic gold medal awarded to John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons for his role in propelling the United States basketball team to victory in 1936. Gibbons was 28 at the time. The medal is double-sided and gold-plated and measures just over two inches in diameter. It comes with a letter of authenticity from his family and ephemera that he gathered on his Berlin adventure. Grant Zahajko estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

Who was John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons? He was a 6’1″ inch guard who played professional basketball years before the NBA arrived. He was on the team at Southwestern College, in Winfield, Kan., and moved on to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), playing for the McPherson Globe Oilers. He earned his nickname from the state where he was raised. He died in 1984 at the age of 76.

Why was the 1936 US Olympic basketball team important? “1936 was the first time basketball was an Olympic event,” Zahajko says, adding that more than 20 countries fielded teams and James Naismith, creator of the game, then 74, crowned the winning team with laurels.

What did the Americans have to do to win? “Hitler was not aware of basketball and didn’t give it much recognition. He built gyms, but he didn’t build one for basketball. They played on lawn tennis courts,” he says. “They played [the Olympic final] in a downpour. They couldn’t dribble. They could only pass.  It was a low-scoring game.” The U.S. squelched its way to the gold, defeating Canada 19-8.

Are Olympic medals from 1936 more valuable than those from other years? “1936 medals are very sought-after, even gold medals with no attribution,” he says, referring to those that come to market without related material that proves who earned them. “It’s because of the importance of that Olympics, and how tense and charged it was. Hitler promised not to push his [regime-glorifying] campaign, but he did not hold to that.”

How many other 1936 Olympic gold medals for basketball have you handled? “Only three from the 14-man team have ever surfaced, and I’ve had the privilege of touching all three,” he says, alluding to having appraised them. One went to auction at another venue in 2015. It commanded $67,000 despite suffering heavy wear that included having a hole drilled at the top so it could be worn as a necklace. The Gibbons medal is in far better condition. “It’s no longer in its original box, but it’s been well-cared for,” Zahajko says.

How to bid: The gold medal is lot 110a in the Sports Cards and Memorabilia, Autographs, Entertainment, Transportation & More! sale offered by Grant Zahajko Auctions on June 24 in Spokane, Wash.

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Image is courtesy of Grant Zahajko Auctions.

An Original Song of the South Animation Cel with Walt Disney’s Signature Could Command $5,000 at Heritage Auctions

Song of the South Br'er Rabbit Production Cel with Walt Disney Signature...

What you see: An original production cel from Song of the South, a Disney film released in 1946. It pictures Br’er Rabbit, the lead character of the stories depicted in the film. Walt Disney signed it on its cream-colored mat. Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions, says it could sell for as much as $5,000.

Are original production cels from Song of the South scarcer than original cels from other Disney movies? “There are fewer in that Song of the South wasn’t all animated. Some was live action,” Lentz says.

Are cels from Song of the South more sought-after than other Disney cels? “They’re considered highly desirable because they have an aura of the unknown,” he says. “Disney has not released the film in any format in the United States because of political incorrectness.” Set in the Reconstruction-era South, the film follows young Johnny’s visit to his grandfather’s plantation in Georgia, where he meets Uncle Remus, a plantation worker who tells the boy folk tales.

How rare is it to find an original Song of the South cel with a Walt Disney signature? “The thing about Walt Disney was he was a very, very busy man. A lot of Disney signatures were done by studio artists. Even secretaries did them. So when you get one done by Walt, that is rare,” Lentz says, noting that he has handled fewer than three Disney-signed original production cels from Song of the South.

How do we know that the Walt Disney signature is genuine? Lentz consulted another expert for verification. “I sent it to someone in the business who specializes,” he says.

According to the lot notes, this piece has an ‘original Courvoisier cel setup’ and is in its ‘original Courvoisier mat.’ What does that mean, and why is that good? In the 1930s and 1940s, Disney worked with Gustav Courvoisier to sell animation cels through the latter’s San Francisco gallery. “The studio thought it was a great way to promote the films,” Lentz says. Disney studio artists painted backgrounds for cels offered through Courvoisier. These cels usually have a cream-colored mat and notations in tiny script that identify which films they brought to life. Courvoisier died around the time Song of the South came out.

How does this cel stack up to other Song of the South cels you’ve handled? “It’s one of the few I’ve seen with a Walt Disney signature and a happy Br’er Rabbit, who is the star of the show,” he says. “It’s a great, great piece. This is as good as it gets.”

How to bid: The Disney-signed Song of the South cel is lot #95187 in the Animation Art sale Heritage Auctions will hold in Dallas on July 1-2.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Will Ernest Biéler’s Swiss Misses Set a New Record at Sotheby’s?

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

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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A 1967 Hockey Card Featuring Number 4, Bobby Orr, Could Fetch–Wait 4 It–$4,000 at Heritage

1967 Topps Bobby Orr #92 PSA Mint 9

What you see: A 1967 Topps Bobby Orr hockey card with a PSA Mint 9 grade. Only three other 1967 Topps Orr cards have a higher PSA grade. Heritage Auctions has (coincidentally) estimated it at $4,000 and up.

Who is Bobby Orr? Also known as “Number 4,” he is considered one of the best hockey players ever. Born in Canada, Orr spent his professional career as a defenseman for the Boston Bruins. An iconic shot of him leaping, full-bodied, into the air after scoring the sudden death overtime goal that won his team the 1970 Stanley Cup is immortalized in bronze at the TD Garden, where the Bruins play. Orr turned 69 in March.

Let’s back up a step. When did hockey cards become a thing? “They go back to the early 20th century, the 1909-1911 era, when baseball cards exploded,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon, explaining that Topps entered the hockey card market in 1954.

How popular are hockey cards? “They’re pretty popular. They’ve been popular in Canada for a long time and their popularity is growing in the states,” he says. “What really drives it is rookie cards of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.” He adds that the top four names in the hockey card realm are Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, and Gordie Howe.

Are 1960s hockey cards more rare than 1960s baseball cards? Yes. “No other sport matches baseball [for collectibility], but it’s very hard to find high-grade hockey cards,” he says. “The availability is not there, not to the same extent as baseball cards.”

This card is from 1967–Orr’s second year in the pros. Does that make it desirable? In addition to its high grade–PSA gave it a 9 on a scale that goes to 10–it represents a sweet bargain of sorts. “Rookie cards are like rookie Mickey Mantle cards–outside the budget of most collectors,” Calderon says. “This is really early in his career, but it’s a little more affordable to most people.” He notes that Heritage sold another 1967 Topps Orr card that had a PSA Gem Mint 10 grade for $9,560 in May 2014.

It’s a nice-looking card, too. “The production values are just as high and just as well-done as baseball cards,” he says.

But it’s only partially photographic–the background is illustrated and colored pink, presumably because it contrasts nicely with the black and gold of Orr’s uniform. Why would Topps design it that way? “To make it a more interesting card, I imagine,” he says. “The atmosphere you see hockey players in…the walls are white, the ice is white. There’s nothing exciting about that.”

How to bid: The 1967 Bobby Orr Topps card is lot #80694 in Heritage Auctions’ Premium Sportscard Catalog Auction on June 29 in Dallas.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.