Vivien Leigh’s Charm Bracelet Is Worth More Than $2,000. But How Much More?

Lot 315 Vivien's Charm Bracelet

What you see: A charm bracelet that belonged to actress Vivien Leigh. Sotheby’s estimates it at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,359 to $2,038).

Who was Vivien Leigh? She was a British actress who became a silver screen legend when she played Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind. She also played Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, both in the 1951 film and on stage in London. She married actor Laurence Olivier in 1940, and they stayed together for 20 years, often appearing alongside each other in plays. Leigh died of tuberculosis in 1967. She was 53.

When did Leigh get this charm bracelet? She seems to have acquired it sometime in the 1940s. We don’t know if she bought it for herself, or if Olivier or someone else gave it to her. David MacDonald, director and English and Continental senior specialist at Sotheby’s, cites a quote from a 1960 newspaper interview that showed why the bracelet was important to her: “I like good-luck charms and I am superstitious about some things.” The charms include a miniature book that says ‘Gone With the Wind’ on its cover and opens to reveal the words ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on its inner pages, as well as an oval locket that contains a George Romney portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson, and a photograph of Leigh in the same pose from her role in the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman.

What did each charm represent? “We know what the Gone With the Wind script means, but sometimes, they’re a complete mystery. There’s no hint about the other four,” says Macdonald, speaking of the two chalcedony drops, the jadeite pendant, and the charm that shows a boat against a sunset. “Each must have had some meaning. I know someone out there must have the missing little snippet of information that would explain why they’re there.”

Did she wear this bracelet every day? “We have a few pictures of her wearing it. You don’t see her wearing it at premieres,” he says. “She loved bracelets. This was something that was very personal. It was very much an intimate thing.”

Leigh died 50 years ago. Why is her family selling now? Leigh’s daughter, Suzanne Farrington, passed away last year. When Susan’s family dealt with her effects, they found themselves handling many things that she had inherited from her famous mother. The charm bracelet had been sitting in a bank in London since Leigh’s death, along with the rest of her jewelry, inside a crocodile skin Asprey case that she received on the opening night of the London theatrical run of A Streetcar Named Desire. That case is in the sale, along with the many treasures that it contained. “Susan was a deeply practical woman,” Macdonald says. “I suspect, with her, that her mother’s jewelry–she wasn’t going to sell it, but it wasn’t relevant to her life. It was special to her, but she kept it locked away.”

This bracelet isn’t dripping with gems. It’s valuable because it’s so personal to Vivien Leigh. How do you put an estimate on something like this? “It’s so hard,” he says. “The values we put on things are only a guide. It’s what it’s worth in real terms, without the provenance. What it will do at auction is impossible to say. It could make a lot of money, though, because it is so clearly hers. It has such a strong link to her.”

Why does this bracelet stand out from the rest of Leigh’s jewelry? “Its value lies in what it tells us about her as a person. It’s very biographical,” he says. “It’s not loaded with diamonds, but the imagery of Gone With the Wind and the portrait from That Hamilton Woman are almost worth their weight in diamonds. Other jewels are pretty, but this is absolutely hers, and it’s absolutely magical.”

How to bid: The charm bracelet is lot 315 in Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection, which takes place at Sotheby’s London on September 26, 2017.

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. Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram,

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

SOLD! M.C. Escher’s Masterful Day and Night Fetches $40,000 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The M. C. Escher print of Day and Night sold for $40,000.

What you see: M. C. Escher’s Day and Night, a 1935 print. Swann Galleries estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

Who was M.C. Escher? Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist and printmaker who gained fame for his complex, precise, mind-boggling, and delightful images. He captured the imaginations of sages such as Martin Gardner and Douglas Hofstader, author of the classic Gödel, Escher, Bach. In 1922, he took trips to Italy and Spain that forever shaped his visions. In particular, he fell under the spell of the tessellations that decorate Alhambra, the fourteenth-century Moorish palace in Granada, Spain. Surprisingly, Escher took no formal mathematical training. He died in 1972 at the age of 73.

Escher made Day and Night in 1935, at the end of an 11-year period when he produced many of his most iconic images. How does Day and Night build on what came before? “When Escher was traveling in Italy, he did tour-de-force topographical works of landscapes. This is more abstracted. It’s not a straightforward view,” says Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings. “In terms of his printmaking techniques and procedures, it’s classical. He’s academically trained. The linear aspects of his woodcuts are very clear.”

How does Escher achieve the exceptionally fine and subtle gradations that we see in Day and Night? “You have to imagine very, very fine cutting of the wood block by hand,” Weyman says. “He was a technical virtuoso.”

Did he work alone? “Yes,” he says. “He often signed and inscribed his prints with the word ‘eigendruk,’ which means ‘printed by myself.’ He’s saying he’s the printer. He oversaw everything at a time when it was not uncommon for an artist to work with a printer, who would handle the technical aspects.”

We should also stress that Escher did all this without the aid of a computer, which would not have been available to him anyway, and he had to carve the image into the wood block backwards to create the print that we see. “Yes. Everything is printed in reverse,” Weyman says. “You can see not just his artistry but his technical virtuosity in the medium.”

This Day and Night has no edition number. Do we know how many were made? And how often does it appear at auction? Unfortunately, we don’t know how many Day and Night prints Escher made, though other prints of his are editioned. This is the only version that he produced. Weyman says it has appeared at auction 40 times in the last 30 years, but some of those might represent the same print being consigned again. The record for an Escher at auction belongs to a 1940 print of Metamorphosis II that sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2008 for more than $246,000. The record for a print of Day and Night was set at Christie’s London in March 2013 when one sold for almost $57,000.

What else makes Day and Night special? “It has all the aspects of a great Escher that you would want,” Weyman says. “The yin and yang qualities, the way the landscape morphs into an aerial view, and the patches of landscape morph into birds, the parallel landscapes [under] day and night, the technical virtuosity, the imagination at play in this image–it’s all Escher.”

How to bid: M.C. Escher’s Day and Night is lot 618 in Swann Galleries’ 19th & 20th Century Prints and Drawings sale on September 19.

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.

You can follow Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram.

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

The First Published Account of a Successful Wright Brothers Flight Goes to Auction at Swann

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What you see: The cover of the January 1, 1905 issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture, from an early 20th-century group of 14 issues of the specialist magazine. Swann estimates the group at $1,500 to $2,500.

What is Gleanings in Bee Culture, and why is it important? It is a specialist magazine, founded in 1869 by Amos Ives Root, a god of the beekeeping world. It published the first eyewitness account of a successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers. Root died in 1923, but his magazine still publishes under the name Bee Culture.

Wait, back up. The first published account of a successful airplane flight was in a beekeeping journal? Yes. Yes, it was.

How did that happen? Root was a fan of technology, and the Wright brothers’ experiments in aviation represented the cutting edge of technology at the turn of the 20th century. Root befriended the brothers, who were fellow Ohioans, and he witnessed a successful flight in September, 1904 at Huffman Prairie in Ohio (he was not present for the first successful flight, which happened on December 17, 1903). Protective of their invention and stung by a badly garbled press account of a previous test, the brothers did not invite any reporters to watch them work. But they were comfortable with Root writing about the first flight for Our Homes, a column he included in Gleanings in Bee Culture. “They probably recognized Root as a kindred spirit, and felt he wouldn’t leak anything they didn’t want leaked,” says Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann.

How skilled an observer was Root? “He was an extremely curious and interested amateur. He did his best to understand the mechanism and asked a bunch of questions,” says Stattler, who adds that Root was 65 at the time of the September 1904 flight. “He understood about five percent of what they said. My impression is he probably understood it better than I’d have been able to.”

How many times did Root write about the flight that he saw? Twice. The first article ran more than three pages and had no illustrations. The second, which appeared two weeks later, was shorter and included a photograph of a Wright plane without its engine. “I suspect they didn’t want him publishing a picture of the full machine,” Stattler says. “I don’t get the impression that his account was instantly recognized as important around the world. Gleanings in Bee Culture had a very small, specialized readership. I get the impression that it was not taken especially seriously.”

How often do these issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture come up at auction? This offering at Swann is the first. Stattler reports that Sotheby’s offered a group of issues in 1968, but it did not include the columns that describe the flight.

Why offer 14 issues? Why not offer just the ones with the columns that talk about the flight? Stattler explains that the issues come from a home that had several years’ worth of Gleanings in Bee Culture squirreled away.  “I thought it would be interesting to have a few issues from before the columns and after, as context,” he says. Stattler describes the Our Homes column as being an Andy Rooney-style celebration of the quirks of the world, but Root definitely realized he’d seen something world-changing. “He strongly emphasized it. He realized he was privileged to witness an extremely important event, and he recognized that his platform was not the typical for disseminating that information.”

Do you have any favorite passages from the columns? Stattler cited this paragraph from the January 1, 1905 entry:  ‘Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminum. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you, friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.’

These issues have never come to auction before, so they’re guaranteed to set a record when they sell. What do you think will happen? “I’ve got interest from clients already,” he says. “It’s such a quirky publication. It will probably go beyond its estimate, but how far beyond, I don’t know.”

How to bid: The group of issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture is lot 42 in the Printed & Manuscript Americana sale at Swann Auction Galleries on September 23, 2017.

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.

You can follow Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram. Bee Culture is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Root Candles, another entity founded by Root that survives to this day, devotes a page on its website to Ames Root and the Wright Brothers. And you can read the full text of all of Root’s writings on the Wright brothers’ flight courtesy of the website for the PBS program NOVA.

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

 

NEW WORLD RECORD! Heritage Auctions Sells the British First Edition of the First Harry Potter Book for $81,250

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Update to the Update: Hooray! Heritage Auctions sold the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $81,250–well above the $56,249 fetched by a different copy at Bonhams in November 2016. Congratulations to James Gannon and all at Heritage!

Update: As of 8 am EST, the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone offered by Heritage Auctions carried a high bid of $50,000, with buyer’s premium. That’s about $7,000 shy of the current world record for the book. The auction closes today.

What you see: A British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published in 1997. Heritage Auctions doesn’t typically publish estimates, but its internal estimate is around $20,000, and it had an opening bid of $10,000.

Who is J.K. Rowling? Who is Harry Potter? C’mon, really? I have to explain this? Okay, in case some form of the Internet survives million and millions of years into the future, but these cultural references do not: J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series, which is about a maltreated orphan who discovers he is a wizard and gets to go to Hogwarts, a wizarding school in some vaguely British locale served by a shiny red train. Rowling’s publisher recommended she reduce her name to gender-ambiguous first and middle initials to better attract young male readers. (Her first name is Joanne; she doesn’t actually have a middle name, but chose ‘K’, for Katherine, to honor her paternal grandmother.) Harry Potter was a hit pretty much from day one and became an unimaginably huge global phenomenon. As of 2017, 20 years after the first Harry Potter book appeared, Rowling is the ninth-best-selling fiction author ever. She is 52.

How rare are first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Pretty rare. Bloomsbury printed 500, 300 of which went to British libraries, where they presumably lived hard lives before they were retired from circulation in favor of fresher, later-printed editions of the book.

Is the copy now at Heritage Auctions an ex-library copy? No. It’s one of the 200 that were not sent to British libraries. James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage, says this copy has had multiple owners. It is described as being in “nearly fine” condition, which Gannon says “has to mean it wasn’t handled very much.”

Even though only 500 copies of the British first edition of Harry Potter were printed, and we don’t know how many of them survive, I seem to see the book at auction fairly often. Why is that? In response, Gannon cites a favorite quote of his: “‘Nothing makes a book common like a high price.’ It’s true. They come out of the woodwork when people see an auction result and think, ‘I’d sell for that.'”

How valuable are ex-library copies of the British first edition? “Being an ex-library copy usually hurts the value a lot, but not in this case,” he says. He notes that while some British librarians probably realized the value of the book and pulled it and replaced it with a copy from a later press run, and it’s likely that some collectors approached British libraries and offered fat donations in exchange for their first editions, he has not handled any copies that have those backgrounds.

Are American first editions of the first Harry Potter book worth anything? Yes, but not nearly as much as the British first edition. “In my mind, it’s a $2,000 book,” Gannon says, adding that the American first edition press run was 35,000–significantly bigger than the British, and reflective of the hold the story already had on the imaginations of readers by the time of the initial American printing. “If you have a set of the seven American Harry Potters, and if one is the first edition in its jacket, that’s where most of the value is.”

As of August 30, which is about two weeks before the auction ends, the book had been bid up to $19,000. Does that mean anything? “Not to me. All that matters is the last number. It’ll make more than $20,000, that’s for sure,” Gannon says. “I do have clients who call me every few months and ask me when I’m getting a copy.” The auction record for a British first edition of the first Harry Potter book belongs to a copy sold at Bonhams in November 2016. It commanded £43,750 ($56,249), was described as being in “exceptionally fine” condition, and included a few interesting typos, such as spelling out the author’s name on the copyright page.

What else stands out about this book? “It’s interesting to me, from a pure market consideration, how this is a book everyone knows is very rare,” he says. “A lot of famous modern first editions, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they’re coveted, and they come up, but Harry Potter is rare. If I was a collector, I’m not sure I could get a copy I can afford in my lifetime. As time goes on, it’s only going to get more expensive.” He recalled an episode from his previous role at Heritage Rare Book Shop in Los Angeles (no connection with the auction house), when he paid $15,000 for a signed British first edition, priced it at $30,000, and stocked it next to a first edition of Walden that was listed at $10,000. “People got peeved at us, but it was an instance of supply and demand with the Harry Potter book. The supply is tiny, and the demand is huge.”

How to bid: The British first edition of the first Harry Potter book is lot #45111 in the Rare Books Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which ends on September 14.

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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram. Rowling is on Twitter, too, and she is fiercely awesome there on a regular basis.

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

A Jewel-Like Landscape by Irish Artist John Luke Could Sell for Almost $200,000 at Sotheby’s London

Lot 333 Luke, Northern Rhythm

What you see: Northern Rhythm, a 1946 tempera on board by John Luke. It’s from his celebrated Armagh series, painted between 1943 and 1948 at a farm in Northern Ireland that he moved to after World War II bombings that devastated Belfast. Sotheby’s estimates the painting at £100,000 to £150,000 ($129,000 to $194,000).

Who is John Luke? He was a 20th century Irish artist. He wasn’t as prolific as others due to his meticulous approach. He passed up ready-made paint in convenient tubes to grind his own oil and tempera pigments, and he worked slowly, pointing his full concentration at one painting and one painting alone for up to a year at a time. The Armagh series is regarded as among his best group of works, if not the best. He also painted murals for Belfast’s City Hall and other Irish venues. He died in 1975 at the age of 69.

How rare is it for a work from Luke’s Armagh series to come to market, never mind go to auction for the first time, as Northern Rhythm is? “It certainly is an event,” says Charlie Minter, deputy director and specialist in British and Irish art, post 1850, at Sotheby’s. “The last one that sold from the group was in 1997–Landscape with Figures–and that’s among his top ten at auction. They are pretty special occasions.” Minter adds that of the eleven Armagh paintings, five are in private hands, five are in institutions, and the location of the last one is unknown.

Where does Northern Rhythm rank among Luke’s paintings? “It’s certainly regarded as one of his best, if not his best,” Minter says, noting that Luke wrote in a 1949 letter to a friend, “No painting has so much or so deeply expressed my own particular type or state of mind & spirit as Northern Rhythm.”

I’m surprised Luke sold it. “At first, he didn’t let it go,” he says. “He sold it in the sixties, probably because of financial reasons. He did keep it close to him. He was reluctant to part with it.”

Three of Luke’s top ten most-expensive works at auction come from the Armagh series: Landscape with Figures, Pax, and The Dancer and the Bubble. Do you think that Northern Rhythm will set a new auction record for the artist? “As much as I’d love to say it will, no,” Minter says. “The auction record [The Bridge, a 1936 tempera on board, sold in 1999 for £441,500, or $711,752] is so high, it’s really hard to beat. There’s a chance it will get to the second most-expensive level [held by Landscape with Figures, a 1948 tempera on board that sold in 1997 for £194,000, or $319,446]. It’s really a fantastic work. I’d be delighted if it got the second-highest price. The top is out of the stratosphere, unfortunately. A group of focused collectors [of Irish art] bid the high prices, and we won’t see the same participation at this auction.”

What makes Northern Rhythm special? “It has a jewel-like quality. It’s immediately striking, and people want to talk about it,” Minter says, explaining that his colleagues at Sotheby’s who catch sight of it invariably stop and want to know more. “Luke painted it in tempera, and you feel this intensity to it. Tempera adds to the drama of it. Northern Rhythm has exquisite detail, fine brushwork–it’s really amazing, an extraordinary vision.”

How to bid: Northern Rhythm is lot 333 in the Irish Art sale at Sotheby’s London on September 27.

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.

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

SOLD! Julien’s Sells the Original Prop Bottle from I Dream of Jeannie for $34,375

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Update: The I Dream of Jeannie prop bottle sold for $34,375.

Update to the update: While I am on vacation, I am reposting favorite past entries on The Hot Bid. Enjoy! And please read to the very end.

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 the original prop bottle from I Dream of JeannieIt 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 it 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 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 bottle is lot 486 in the Property from the Estate of Patrick Swayze and Hollywood Legends 2017 auction on April 28 at Julien’s.

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.

Julien’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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