YES! A Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy Sold for $11,000

A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box.

Update: Bertoia Auctions sold the Tremendous Mike robot toy with box for $11,000.

What you see: A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

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

Why was this robot toy called Tremendous Mike? Lots of Japanese toys used goofy names. There was Magnificent Mike, a few different Mikes, a few American names. Arguably, it was made for the American market–that’s why the language on the box is in English.

Do we know how many Tremendous Mike robot toys were made, and how many survive? We can’t even take a guess at how many were made. How many are around–that’s easier to take a stab at. I know of at least a dozen in circulation, and that doesn’t include those that are tied up in collections. It’s important to note that what makes the difference between being worth $2,000 or $3,000 versus being worth $10,000, what makes it swing, is its condition, if it has its box, and if the original antenna is still on the top of its head. This guy is fresh, in stellar condition. That’s why it’s so valuable. It might even be old store stock.

And the fact that the original box survives too–does that point to it possibly being old store stock? Exactly. What’s helpful on this box compared to other toy boxes are the graphics. Its a pretty, colorful box. The artwork is not just a sticker on the front of the box. It’s on the sides, too.

How rare is it to see a Tremendous Mike robot toy with its original box? In the last decade, I’ve only seen a few box examples. In general, a robot with its box is harder to come by than a loose example. I know of one Tremendous Mike with box offered through an auction. There was one on eBay a few years ago as well. Those are the only two aside from this one. That said, there’s a little more than a handful of these robot toys without their boxes that have surfaced in the last few years.

What’s the condition of the box? Does its condition matter, given how rare it is for a box to survive at all? In the high-dollar collectors’ market, every scratch matters. The condition of all the pieces and parts are relevant. This box is in really impressive condition. It has a little tear on a flap. The robot is in better shape than the box. The toy doesn’t look like it’s had much play.

How did the Tremendous Mike robot toy and its box survive in such good condition? I often joke that maybe a really bad child had it, because it wasn’t played with often. It’s possible that the robot had several homes throughout its life. It’s hard to believe it would survive years of children playing with it. Maybe the child had a lot of toys and didn’t play with this one much. Often when you see a toy this crisp, and the box is complete, not folded or crushed, that’s an assumption that can be made.

Tremendous Mike is a wind-up toy. What does he do when you turn his key? The wind-up mechanism is pretty cool. Tremendous Mike had action–he was not a simple forward-and-back moving toy. The red glass window in his chest sparkles as he rolls. The satellite dish on his head spins and changes direction after he rolls for a certain distance.

The Tremendous Mike robot toy came in two body colors–red-orange, and grey. Are they equally desirable, or do collectors like one color more than the other? They have the same red accents on both. Red pops a lot more strongly off the grey. It’s a better visual than the red-orange.

How many times has Bertoia handled a Tremendous Mike robot toy? This is the first time in a decade.

What’s the auction record for a Tremendous Mike robot toy with box? It belongs to a red-orange version of the toy sold by Morphy’s in May 2015 that commanded $13,200. (Scroll down to see it.)

Could this Tremendous Mike robot toy with box beat the auction record, do you think? It certainly could. It certainly deserves it. The underbidder [at the Morphy’s 2015 auction] would be satisfied to acquire this example. It’ll take two to make the numbers.

Why will this Tremendous Mike robot toy stick in your memory? Other than my appreciation of the fine name of Mike, it’s very seldom, given the quantity and volumes of toys we handle on a regular basis, that we have to look at one for a long time and research it. If it stumps us, it stands out, because it’s a challenge. I appreciate the challenge. I like to be stumped.

How to bid: The Tremendous Mike with original box is lot 0050 in Bertoia‘s Signature Sale on April 27 and 28, 2018.

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A George Owen Covered Vase Made in 1913 Could Sell for $21,000 at Bonhams

A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall.

What you see: A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $14,000 to $21,000.

Who was George Owen? He was a British artisan who spent his entire career with Royal Worcester, which was founded in 1751 and still produces porcelain and earthenware. Born in 1845, Owen began his career in 1859, while he was barely into his teens. He enjoyed watching his colleagues who handled piercing work–making porcelain decorated with artful holes–and thought he could do a better job. He was right. He invented his own tools and techniques and he jealously guarded his methods. Owen died in 1917.

The expert: John Sandon, international director of European ceramics and glass at Bonhams.

How rarely do George Owen pieces come up at auction? Individually, they are scarce. We [Bonhams] sell more than anyone else, about half a dozen a year. Over the last ten years, we’ve had 50 pieces. Maybe a dozen a year are on the market worldwide.

Has anyone done a count or survey of the number of pieces Owen made? Because he was always secretive, he didn’t keep records. But I imagine maybe there’s a thousand. Over 40 years he produced pieces, each taking several months stretched over a long period of time.

Is the shape he used for this reticulated vase unique, or did he return to this shape over and over again? The shapes are never unique. They’re the factory’s vases. The same vase could be painted with flowers or other decorations. Owen adapted them by cutting holes in them. He added the pearls around the top–they’re his own invention. I don’t know of another piece that’s precisely like this. He did a small number of each shape, but no two are ever the same.

And he came up with his own tools and techniques to create these pieces? He worked in the Royal Worcester factory’s ornamental casting department. The [pierced pieces] were molded and they cut holes out. He thought he could do better without the molded pattern. He was the only one who tried to cut out holes without any guide in the mold. He developed his own tools to cut the tiny holes. A great many in the pottery industry like to make their own tools–there’s a long tradition of that. He supposedly got the steel for his tools from the staves of corsets.

How did George Owen remove the tiny piece of wet clay waste from the body of the vase after he finished cutting a hole? He would dip the tool into something sticky [most likely oil or honey – Ed.] so with the last cut, it would stick to the tool. If it [the waste clay] did fall inside the piece, there was no way to get it out.

Punching thousands of tiny holes in a wet clay vessel makes it vulnerable to falling in on itself. How did Owen stop his works from collapsing before they reached the kiln? That’s a skill. If it was too wet, it would collapse. Potters learn over the years to get the right consistency. Owen’s difficulty was stopping the clay from getting too dry. To keep the shape, he had to handle it very carefully so it wouldn’t become distorted. Usually he managed to pick it up by the base or the top so it wouldn’t lose its shape. He must have been very careful with it. He had to cut each hole without putting pressure on it [the surface of the vessel].

George Owen used what he called ‘wet boxes’ to rehumidify a piece so he could continue to work on it. How many wet boxes might he have going at once? He must have had a room full of these being worked on. Owen could work a piece for half an hour or an hour before it became too dry to carry on. His work took many hours. A bigger, more elaborate piece might go back into the wet box ten, twenty, forty times. We just don’t know.

Moving a piece in and out of a wet box raises the risk that it won’t make it to the kiln. The losses must… Once it was out of the biscuit kiln, there must have been a great sigh of relief.

And George Owen didn’t let anyone at the factory watch him work? Not even his son, George Potter Owen? That’s always been claimed, but I don’t know how true that is. Craftsmen tend to be secretive to protect their livelihoods. If others learn to do it, they lose their work. They certainly don’t let apprentices learn too much. George Potter Owen may have had a go [at learning his father’s techniques] but he might not have been any good. That’s probably the case. It’s said that no one else, including his son, could do it. Different people at different times have tried to emulate George Owen. I tried too, and made a mess of it. It’s easy to cut big holes. Trying to cut smaller and smaller holes, keeping the holes even, and keeping them in even rows that are the same size–that was his great skill. No one has come close to what George Owen did, and they’ve certainly tried.

And while this might be an obvious point, let me hit it anyway–George Owen did this on his own, without the help of a computer, which wouldn’t have been available to him anyway. He worked out the geometry for himself. He measured the circumference of a piece and planned it by putting tiny dots [on the surface]. We’d use 3-D printers to do this nowadays. Other than the little dots that you see on the clay sometimes, that’s all he did. Each piece is unique in that sense. There’s no other guide than what he achieved himself.

Was this George Owen reticulated vase with cover a commission, or did he make it on spec? It wasn’t on spec, though he occasionally made special orders. He made the vases and the Royal Worcester factory bought them off him and sold them at a profit to a china shop or a department store. It would have cost two pounds when it was made in 1912, and it would have sold for three or four pounds. At the time, that would have been quite a lot for a single piece of china. Another in the factory would have done the gilding.

Bonhams has seven George Owen pieces in the May 2 sale. Is it unusual to have so many? It is. Most often there’s one or two. Sometimes there’s none. Sometimes there’s four. It’s a coincidence on this occasion that we attracted seven pieces. Lot 449 is one of two from the same consigner.

How have you seen the George Owen market change over time? George Owen works have always been expensive and costly. They were not appreciated in the 1960s, but in the late ’70s and early ’80s collectors realized they were something special and paid real money for them. I joined [the profession] in 1975, when a nice George Owen would sell for £700 to £1,000. At that time, that was a lot of money. It seems cheap now that they’re getting £15,000 to £20,000.

What condition is this George Owen reticulated vase with cover in? And how much does condition matter with a George Owen? It’s as it left the kiln. It’s perfect. No problems. But George Owen vases don’t bounce if they hit the floor. They can smash into dust if broken. Even tiny damage can make a difference. If a tiny little hole is nicked in a piercing, that can halve the value. I have to check carefully, row by row. If there’s a tiny nick, it’s no longer perfect, and a restorer can’t bring it back to life again. The fact that this vase is perfect is to its favor.

What is it like to hold this George Owen reticulated vase with cover? Every time you pick it up, it’s a pleasure. It’s light. It feels so fragile that the fact that it’s here at all gives you a bit of a buzz. It’s always exciting to have a piece like this. It calls you over to admire it–it’s one of those pieces.

How to bid: The George Owen reticulated vase with cover is lot 449 in the Fine Glass and British Ceramics auction at Bonhams on May 2, 2018.

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

Also see a 2014 Bonhams video in which John Sandon and his father, Henry, enthuse over the artistry of a different Royal Worcester George Owen vase. Estimated at £60,000 to £80,000, Bonhams sold it for £65,200, or $92,623.

And also see the Museum of Royal Worcester’s web pages on its peerless artisan, George Owen, which shows him “working” on a reticulated vase that’s actually finished.

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SOLD! A Craniometer, Maybe the Only Surviving Example of Its Type, Commands $12,300 at Skinner–More Than Double Its High Estimate

A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman.

Update: The late 19th century lacquered brass craniometer sold for $12,300–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman. Skinner estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.

What’s a craniometer, and how was it used? As it looks, it was to measure skulls. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was once believed that the shape and size of the skull indicated knowledge. The belief was called craniology. It was a pseudoscience along the lines of phrenology. The craniometer tried to measure each little undulation in a skull. That’s why there’s so many of those spikes. They measure a quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch.

Craniology imputed moral character to the size of the skull? That’s a good way of putting it. A bigger skull was considered a better skull.

This tool was made in Germany. Was craniology most popular in Germany? I would not say that. Braunschweig, Germany was a well-known area for producing medical instruments. This might be the only surviving example. Many think there was a very limited run because of the quality.

Are the parts of the craniometer labeled in German? No.

So we don’t know what qualities the craniometer was supposed to measure? It is a mystery. It all depends on where you chose to put the skull.

Why does the craniometer look like this? Why are the pins the length that they are? I think the pins are of this length to accommodate different sizes of skull. And you have to have a skull. You could not put a person in this.

Does the skull rotate or spin within the brass rings? The skull itself does not rotate. But the brass column can be turned manually, 360 degrees.

How were craniometer measurements taken? Around both spheres, there are numerical engravings. Let’s say you’re using the pin through number 17. You measure, you mark, you pull out the pin, and that gives you a measurement for where the pin falls on the skull for number 17. Number 17 is some sort of moral aspect.

Are you auctioning it with or without a skull? The skull is for display. It’s a real skull, a human skull. It is part of the lot.

How many pins are there? I think there are 40 pins. Down below the turned column, on the brass plate mounted in the ebony base, there are holes to hold the pins.

What are the tips of the pins made from? Bone. Turned bone.

Why? That’s not an obvious choice. I think it’s where the quality of the piece surpasses the average piece. The quality of it takes it to a different level.

Have you seen other craniometers? How do they measure up to this one? I haven’t seen others in person, but I have seen them in my research. They’re very crude. They’re less intricate, less detail-oriented. With this one, the tolerances are so tight where the pins go through the uprights–that’s a mark of quality. The castings of the rings are very well done also.

Can we tell if it was made for someone in private practice, or as a teaching model? We cannot tell. In my research, I was not able to find the purpose for this. I don’t know if it’s for a doctor or a teaching tool.

How did the craniometer come to you? This, along with several of the lots in the sale–a few phrenology heads, a medical teaching model–came from a private collector in Massachusetts.

Why will this craniometer stick in your memory? The sculptural quality. That’s how I look at it. As a craftsman myself, the quality of the instrument says something to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever handle another piece like this.

How to bid: The craniometer is lot 560 in the Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments sale at Skinner on April 20, 2018.

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

Jonathan Dowling spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

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RECORD! An Adam van Vianen Silver Ewer Sells for $5.3 Million at Christie’s

A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619.

Update: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer sold for $5.3 million–a world auction record for the artist, and for any piece of Dutch silver.

What you see: A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619. Christie’s gives the estimate as on request, but it could sell for seven figures.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, Christie’s European head of silver.

What is a ewer? Why might Adam van Vianen have chosen this form? A ewer is a jug. This ewer is not standard. Work by Adam van Vianen was only in the richest homes. One should think of this as a work of sculpture, though it’s of ewer form. It’s made from a single sheet of silver. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of how he was able to manipulate silver to create fluid forms.

Adam van Vianen signed and dated the silver ewer in addition to placing his maker’s mark on it. Why might he have done that? He wanted to be seen as a sculptor in precious metal rather than a producer of workaday objects. This is not meant to be used. It’s meant to be marveled at.

Was this ewer commissioned? Do we know? It’s possible it was commissioned for presentation. The choice of the Marcus Curtius narrative [A Roman tale of a soldier who sacrificed himself to save the city] suggests a display of bravery, sacrifice, and loyalty. It may have been presented to a military figure. It could have been Prince Maurice of Orange, who liberated Utrecht, which was van Vianen’s hometown. It’s conjecture, but it’s a possibility.

How rare is it for an Adam van Vianen piece to come to auction? Incredibly rare. Two years ago, Christie’s had a plaque by him with a scene on it. Prior to that, we had a small sweetmeat dish in 2001.

Do we know how many pieces Adam van Vianen made? A survey done by a Dutch academic notes 22 items either signed by him or bearing his maker’s mark. Of those, only two [in addition to the ewer] are in private collections. One is a beaker, and the other is a sweetmeat dish. Van Vianen’s brother and son worked in a similar style. If a piece is unmarked, it can be attributed to the family.

Did Adam van Vianen work alone, or did he have a team? There’s always that 19th century romantic image of silversmiths working alone. Van Vianen would have worked with shop assistants on manufacturing, but the ewer shows his individual skill at manipulating metal. And he signed and dated it, which is unusual.

He would have produced the decorative elements on the silver ewer through a technique called ‘chasing.’ What, exactly, would he have done? Here, he’s working with very pure silver, softer than sterling standard. If you hammer the silver, you give it tensile strength. If you heat it to pink-hot and quench it, it’s soft again, and you can work with it [you can fashion the decorative elements on the ewer]. It’s an incredibly long process to work it again and again–it’s so intricately chased.

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch him work, but is it possible to tell how long he would have worked on the silver ewer? Would it have been, say, two months or more? Yes. Something as important as this would have been a real focus for him.

What is it like to hold the silver ewer? It’s incredibly tactile. Once you pick it up, you want to keep on turning it. The eye just dances across it.

Is it heavy? No. Because it’s so beautifully made, it feels like it’s the right weight. Heaviness would imply that it was cast, which makes it a different object, created with a different skill.

Do you have a favorite detail? That face peeking out from under the foot [of the ewer], because it’s so unexpected. It’s the last place you’d expect to see a human face. It’s looking out at you, and it has an ambiguous expression. [The face is shown in the fourth image on the lot page.]

Why will this silver ewer stick in your memory? As an object, it’s incredibly rare. This is the last chance for the market to acquire something of this importance by Adam van Vianen. It captures everything he’s known for–technical skill and extraordinary imagination. Work by the van Vianen family of silversmiths has never ceased to be celebrated. It’s like an incredible piece of jewelry, something to be marveled at.

How to bid: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer is lot 21 in the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s on April 20, 2018.

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

See a Christie’s video of Harry Williams-Bulkeley showing and talking about Adam van Vianen’s spectacular silver ewer.

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SOLD! A Sam Maloof Double Rocking Chair Fetched $35,000

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Update: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair sold for $35,000.

What you see: A double rocking chair, created in 2006 by the late American studio furniture artist Sam Maloof. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

Who was Sam Maloof? The California-born woodworker was the first professional craftsman to earn a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship. He learned the fundamentals of his trade in high school and opened a workshop in 1948, after marrying and returning from World War II. Best known for his chairs, Maloof’s furniture resides in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He worked until he died in 2009 at the age of 93.

How many double rocking chairs did Sam Maloof make? “There are around a dozen known,” says Jason Stein, Director of Modern Decorative Art & Design at Bonhams Los Angeles, noting that about four of those are in institutions. “There are very few in private hands. This is the first we know of to ever come up in the auction format.”

How hard was it for Sam Maloof and his team to make a double rocking chair? “These pieces took a solid month to produce,” he says. “It’s more complicated, with way more spindles in the seatback. There are 13 spindles on this one, and Maloof double rockers normally have 13 to 15. A single rocker only has seven. Everything on a double rocker takes longer.”

When did Sam Maloof start making double rocking chairs? “They came into play in the early 1990s. The single rockers started years before,” he says. “When he was fully developed in his craft, he was confident to make a piece like this.”

What details distinguish this particular double rocking chair, and what distinguishes Maloof’s furniture overall? “It has pronounced horns at the top, and the sleighs at the bottom come up beautifully at the back. It’s the most expressed version of this chair,” he says. “It’s incredibly sculptural, yet ergonomic. It’s a beautiful piece of art that you can also sit in. That was a thing with Maloof. He was a craftsman’s craftsman.”

This double rocking chair is made from walnut. Does that make it more desirable to collectors? “Walnut was his wood of choice,” he says, adding, “Throughout the American studio furniture movement, the majority of the works are made from walnut. They take advantage of the beautiful grain. You can create amazing compositions by working the grain.”

Have you sat in the double rocking chair? “Yes. It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s something that’s incredible to look at and sit in and to feel, to touch. It’s highly tactile. It’s an interactive experience to sit in a piece of Maloof. You want to sit in it. You want to stay in it. It’s not just a sculpture. It’s functional.”

Have you sat in the double rocking chair with another person? “I have not,” he says. “But in looking at this chair, each seat in it is fully pronounced. It’s made for two. Each seat will totally support a person. They won’t spill into each other.”

What’s the auction record for a piece of Sam Maloof furniture, and what’s the record for a Maloof rocking chair? The overall record belongs to a conference table and a set of ten chairs, which sold at Bonhams for $194,250 in March 2006 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. The Maloof rocking chair record was also set at Bonhams in April 2012 by a chair made in 1986 that fetched $80,500. Its estimate was $30,000 to $50,000. Both record-setting furnishings were made from walnut.

How have you seen the Sam Maloof market change over time? “When I started in the early 1990s at Butterfield & Butterfield, single rockers were $12,000 to $15,000. There’s been an ascent over the years,” he says. “It’s always popular, and we’re always excited to get pieces by him. This time we have four lots by Maloof, including a single rocking chair.”

Why will this Sam Maloof double rocking chair stick in your memory? “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work with this form–to be with it personally, to be near it, and to work with the consigner to bring it up for auction. It’s an exciting moment for an auction house specialist,” he says. “And it’s exciting to see where the market is going to take it, where it’s going to go, and who’s going to acquire it. I’m curious if it’s going to go to an institution or a private collector.”

How to bid: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair is lot 236 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design auction on April 17, 2018 in Los Angeles.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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Wow! Pete Townshend Smashed A 1964 Fender Stratocaster On Stage. Its Wreckage Sold for $30,000

A 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster "smasher,"--a guitar played on stage and smashed by Pete Townshend of The Who--on December 1, 1967 at Long Island Arena in Commack, New York.

Update: The 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster smashed on stage by Pete Townshend sold for $30,000.

What you see: A 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster “smasher,”–a guitar played on stage and smashed by Pete Townshend of The Who–on December 1, 1967 at Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

Who is Pete Townshend? He’s the lead guitarist and lead songwriter for the legendary British rock band, The Who, which played its first concert in 1964. Townshend also first smashed a guitar on stage in that year. The band’s hits include My Generation, Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Magic Bus, and Pinball Wizard, a song from the 1969 rock opera, Tommy. Townshend will turn 73 in May 2018.

How rare are genuine stage-played 1960s-era smashed Pete Townshend guitars? “Very rare,” says Garry Shrum, director of entertainment and music memorabilia for Heritage Auctions. “Usually Pete smashed a guitar until it was in shreds. I know a couple of collectors who own multiple stage-played guitars. I know one guy who bought several smashers to make one whole guitar–he Frankensteined it together. But it’s very rare to find one from the 1960s. People didn’t keep them. If it was in the crowd, it was a dive-fest. People wanted a piece of that guitar.”

How many Townshend smashers have you handled? “Two, and I’ve been at Heritage for 14 years,” he says. “Before that, I had a shop for 30 years. People brought in smashers to share with me, but they wouldn’t let me buy them off them.”

Has anyone tried to document how many times Townshend smashed a guitar on stage? “There’s got to be something, somewhere. Someone might have tried to document it, but I have not seen it,” he says. “I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. But he smashed guitars hundreds of times.” [After we spoke, I found a heroic stab at a list on thewho.net. Scroll down for the link.]

I was going to ask if this smasher was worth less because it isn’t complete, but hearing you speak, I get the impression that it’s unusually complete. “Exactly. You have to get the neck and some pickups to make it complete, but you generally don’t get that chance at all,” he says. “It’s a great piece of music history. Over the years, other people have broken guitars on stage, but it was all spawned by Pete in the ’60s.”

Townshend smashed hundreds of guitars on stage? Didn’t that get expensive after a while? “In the early years, he used cheaper guitars, but it got expensive,” he says, noting that Fenders “were imported to the U.K., and the pound versus dollar exchange made it more expensive for him. Probably £400 to £700 for a guitar every time he picked one up.”

This smasher doesn’t have a neck, but it does have its neck plate, which contains the guitar’s serial number. Does that help prove that Townshend played it and smashed it on stage? “In most cases, you don’t see the neck plate. You see half of a guitar. Once he started breaking it, the plate went because of the neck,” he says. “Pete would throw the whole thing into the crowd, and people would rip it to pieces. Somebody got the plate, somebody got the pickups, somebody got the headstock, somebody got the strings. The neck plate helps date it. It’s a stronger provenance of the time period. But there’s no way to trace it back [to Townshend]. After two or three years, music stores threw out their paper receipts. There was no reason for them to keep them. Guitar-collecting didn’t get serious until the mid-1970s.”

Is it rare for a smasher to have accompanying documents, as this one does? [It comes with a ticket stub from the December 1, 1967 show and a two-page handwritten account of how the original owner caught it.] “That’s rare, and that’s so cool, because we can date it,” he says. “A lot of times it’s a hearsay story. When you have other pieces of paper, a paper trail, it’s more exciting to talk about. You can close your eyes and picture the whole thing happening.”

Are Townshend smashers worth more than stage-played guitars that he didn’t smash? “No. An original 1964 Fender Stratocaster is worth money on its own, without a Pete Townshend provenance,” he says. “They sell for $16,000 to $20,000, depending on condition. If Pete played it during that period, it’s easily over $100,000. This is broken. We hope it’s worth $15,000 to $20,000, maybe more. All it takes is two people to push it up.”

What’s the auction record for a Townshend smasher? Is it higher than the record for an intact Townshend-played guitar? The auction record for a smasher as well as an intact guitar appears to belong to a lot sold at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge in December 2015. It contained a pair of Rickenbachers–one whole and one destroyed on stage during The Who’s 25th anniversary tour in 1989, along with a signed November 2014 statement from Townshend about them both. The lot sold for £52,500, or $73,934.

You set the opening bid for this guitar at $10,000. Why? “The consigner hopes to get at least $10,000,” he says. “We wanted it in the auction because it was such a cool, rare piece. You can’t go on eBay and find it. That’s not gonna happen.”

Why will this Townshend smasher stick in your memory? “I have certain bands I admire. I had a shop, and I had the advantage of going backstage to meet people,” he says. “In 1970, I hung out with The Who on the fifth floor of the Hilton San Diego. My wife was 17, and I was 18. It was one of those time periods when I thought, ‘Is this really happening? I’ve spent three hours talking about music with John Entwhistle.’ Keith Moon was doing crazy stuff. Pete and Roger didn’t stick around. They had girls. Anything from The Who that comes in makes me think about the time I spent then. It’s part of my history with music, and with the band itself.”

How to bid: The Pete Townshend Fender Stratocaster smasher is lot #89636 in Heritage Auctions‘s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on April 15, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

By clicking through to the lot, you can also see a photograph of Townsend playing the guitar in classic windmill style on stage, as well as images of the handwritten account of the December 1967 concert.

The folks behind thewho.net have assembled a list of guitars that Pete Townshend smashed over the years. The guitar being auctioned at Heritage is included.

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SOLD! A Louis Tavelli Tryptic Sells at Rago for (Scroll Down to See)

2214

Update: The Louis Tavelli tryptic sold for $5,625–a new auction record for the artist.

What you see: Untitled (hunters and bulls), a 1991 tryptic by Louis Tavelli. Rago Auctions estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Louis Tavelli? He was an American musician and abstract expressionist whose art career spanned six decades. Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is home to Williams College and the Clark museum of art, he mostly lived there and in Woodstock, New York throughout his life. Tavelli’s earlier works were influenced by music, but a 1983 trip to Spain with his chamber music group changed him forever. He took a side trip to Altamira, a cave decorated with paintings that are at least 15,000 years old, and after that, his artworks reflected the effect that the ancient, unnamed cave paintings had on him. Tavelli sometimes staged one-man gallery shows and participated in museum shows, but it’s unclear if he ever had steady gallery representation. He died in 2010, at the age of 96.

This Louis Tavelli tryptic is monumental–each of the three panels measures 59 1/2 by 36 inches. Did Tavelli normally work at that scale? “He did like to work big like this,” says Arlen Sam Brown, design specialist at Rago. “He created art his whole life, and it morphed into a graffiti-like style. His earlier works paid homage to music. But there was definitely a switch, a change, and he went a little more Basquiat-like.”

This Louis Tavelli tryptic belongs to his Indigenous Peoples Series of works, which he started after viewing prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira, Spain. Are all of the pieces from the series as large? And how many pieces are in the series? “He did do other pieces that were large, but they’re not all on that scale. He did works on paper as well,” she says, noting that there are at least 60 to 70 works in the series.

It seems like Louis Tavelli didn’t concern himself with promoting or selling his work. The earliest auction result for him is in 2011, a year after his death. Was he only discovered as an artist after he died? “He had local showings, and he did exhibit his work, but he remained regional. It was not shared publicly until he passed away,” she said, noting that his output is still being cataloged. “What’s exciting about this work is it came to market in a strong capacity. We’ve had the good fortune to roll his work out on a stronger scale, and we’ve had good results.”

Rago set the world auction record for Louis Tavelli in June 2017 with an untitled, undated mixed media collage on paper that sold for $4,063 against an estimate of $800 to $1,200. Was that work also part of his Indigenous Peoples Series? And what are the odds that Untitled (hunters and bulls) will set a new auction record for the artist? She says the mixed-media collage is from the same thematic series, and says there’s a “strong likelihood” that the tryptic will break the record.

Untitled (hunters and bulls) is estimated at $4,000 to $6,000. Did its large size have any influence on its estimate? “Its size informs the estimate, but it’s not what made the decision,” she says. “We had a discussion with [the consigner,] whose perception was, ‘It’s three times the size, so it should be three times the estimate.’ That’s not the case… We truly believe in being very grounded in our estimations. We believe in basing them on auction results. While Tavelli is being well-received, we maintain our integrity. He’s a relatively unknown artist. I’m not sure if you’d call him an emerging artist. You don’t need to be young to be emerging.”

Where do you think the market for Louis Tavelli works is going? “I think the notion that it’s still being shaped is very accurate,” she says. “It’s limitless because it’s fresh. I’ve been pleased and surprised by the reactions to each sale. Tavelli is getting more attention with each one, which is cool.”

Why will this Louis Tavelli work stick in your memory? “It stops you in your tracks, no question,” she says. “It’s a pretty intense piece. The people are almost stick figure-like. It’s almost like a cave drawing.”

How to bid: Untitled (hunters and bulls) is lot 2214 in Remix: Contemporary + Classic, a sale taking place at Rago Auctions on April 7, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

Louis Tavelli has a website.

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SOLD! A Japanese Poster for Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai Fetched $22,705 at Heritage Auctions

A 1954 Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai). It is the only known example of its type. The kanji on the poster translate to: "The dream awaited by 70 million finally has come true! A massive spectacular samurai drama which is created, for the first time, by the fighting spirit of the Maestro!"

Update: The 1954 Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai sold for $22,705.

What you see: A 1954 Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai). It is the only known example of its type. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $20,000 to $50,000. The kanji on the poster translate to: “The dream awaited by 70 million finally has come true! A massive spectacular samurai drama which is created, for the first time, by the fighting spirit of the Maestro!”

Do we know how this Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai was discovered? Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions, says it came to him via a friend who knew the owner. The poster had been in Japan from 1954 until three or four months ago. “I’d never seen it before,” he says. “I’m not aware of another copy.”

The poster is 21 inches by 58 inches–long and skinny. I’m wondering if this is a standard size for a Japanese movie poster, or if the poster was made at this size to imitate a Japanese scroll or painting. “You would think it might, but it was a commonly used size in Japan,” he says, adding that it’s comprised of two panels that are stacked on top of each other. Look for the samurai dressed in a green top and brown pants at the center of the poster, and you’ll see the join. (The samurai’s left hand doesn’t quite line up with his wrist.)

Is the design of the Seven Samurai poster typical for Japan in 1954? “I’ve always admired Japanese movie posters from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s,” he says. “They were ahead of their time in photo montage work, they really were. America just wasn’t as interested in movie posters then, and you can see it. All the interest was in television by then. Compare it [the Seven Samurai poster] to Cat Ballouthat poster is totally lackluster.”

I’m pleasantly surprised that women appear on the Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai. I was under the impression it was a manly-man type of movie. “It had romantic elements, but it was a male-dominated film about war,” he says, adding that featuring women on posters was not unusual in Japan in 1954: “On Japanese posters from the ’50s and ’60s, 85 percent of the time, there’s a female lead on it.”

What condition is the Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai in? Heritage Auctions calls it Very Fine – (Minus), which Smith deems “A pretty good grade. It was folded. Most Japanese posters were. It has little nicks and dings in it. But it doesn’t need to be archivally restored. You could frame it like it is.” He also explains that in Japan, theatre owners sometimes stuck a snipe–a piece of paper that listed specific screening dates–to the bottom of a poster. Posters can suffer damage if someone tries to remove the snipe, but it doesn’t look like a snipe was applied to this Seven Samurai example.

We’re talking on March 20, 2018, and this Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai already has a bid of $10,000 on it. The auction is almost three weeks away. How do you think the poster will do? “I hope it will be north of $25,000 or $30,000, but we just don’t know,” he says. “I think the estimate was $20,000 to $50,000. I’ll be disappointed if it sold for under $20,000.”

Do you know what the auction record is for a Japanese movie poster for a Japanese film? “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say specifically, but in 2005 at Heritage Auctions, I sold a 1954 Godzilla poster for $21,850,” he says.

What will make this Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai stick in your memory? “I’m excited about it because it’s never been seen before,” he says. “Personally, I always love to get new items into auction.”

How to bid: The 1954 Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai is lot #86137 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 7 and 8, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD! A Narwhal Tusk, Inspiration for Tales of the Unicorn, Fetched More Than $25,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

A 19th century narwhal tusk, measuring 84 1/4 inches, or just over seven feet tall.

Update: The 19th century narwhal tusk sold for 200,000 HKD, or $25,580.

What you see: A 19th century narwhal tusk, measuring 84 1/4 inches, or just over seven feet tall. Sotheby’s estimates it at 200,000 to 300,000 in Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), which is $25,580 to $38,370. It’s one of three lots of narwhal tusks in a Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale coming up on April 2, 2018.

What’s a narwhal? It’s a medium-sized whale that lives in the Arctic waters off of Canada, Russia, and Greenland. The males of the species grow a tusk–an elongated left canine tooth–that they use to hunt by whacking and stunning fish that they wish to eat. The tusks can measure almost nine feet long. Weirdly, narwhals don’t have teeth inside their mouths, just the tusk, which grows through the upper lip.

How were narwhal tusks collected in the 19th century? Did whalers bring them home? “The Inuit used pretty much every part of the narwhal, from the meat to the horn, to make tools,” says Nicolas Chow, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and the International Head and Chairman of the Chinese Works of Art department. “Later, the horns were worth more in barter with European traders. The Inuit would trade them for iron tools, which worked better than tools made from bone. There are stories of narwhal tusks washing up on beaches, but if they did [the tusks in the sale], I don’t know how they look so nice.”

How did Europeans use narwhal tusks? “For the longest time, narwhal tusks were thought to be the horns of unicorns,” he says. “In the 17th century, they were popular in kunstkammers–cabinets of curiosities. They were among the most highly regarded objects that you could have. Queen Elizabeth I spent £10,000 to buy one at a time when £10,000 could buy a castle. It was presented to her mounted with jewels.”

Are narwhal tusks considered to be ivory? “No. They have the appearance of ivory, but it’s not the same substance,” he says. “It’s the tooth of the narwhal. It’s like elephant ivory, but it’s from a different animal, so it’s different material. The narwhal is a protected species, so you need a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) license to sell narwhal tusks, and you can’t trade in new narwhal tusks.”

Why do narwhal tusks appear so rarely at auction? “They need to be ancient, as is the case with the ones we have here,” he says.

Are narwhal tusks solid or hollow? “They’re solid, like ivory,” he says. “They’re very dense and quite heavy.”

How much does this narwhal tusk weigh? Is it heavier than a pool cue? “We don’t have the weight on it, but it’s very dense material. I’d say it’s heavier than a pool cue.”

The pictured lot is one of three lots in the auction that feature 19th century narwhal tusks. Is it rare to have this many tusks in a single sale? And do they all come from the same consigner? “It’s quite unusual to have so many in one auction. This will be the first time we’ve offered narwhal tusks in Asia,” he says, adding that all four tusks come from the same owner.

Why does the narwhal tusk in lot 3044 have a higher estimate than the other lots featuring narwhal tusks? “There’s a certain level of subjectivity here, but we find it a particularly good example,” he says, citing “the depth of the grooves, the caramel-colored patina, and the very nice luster” of the tusk.

What’s the auction record for a narwhal tusk at auction? It seems to have been set at Sotheby’s Paris in November 2011 by a pair of tusks from the late 17th or early 18th centuries that commanded €108,750 ($144,418) on an estimate of €40,000 to €60,000 ($53,119 to $79,679). They were mounted on Italian gilt-bronze stands. “I’m not sure how much [of the record] was the stand and how much was the narwhal tusk,” he says. “But narwhal tusks are always very popular. Few objects are as rich with mythology and so visually astounding. They’re always a hit.”

You said earlier that the auction will mark the first time narwhal tusks have been offered at an auction in Asia. How will they appeal to Asian bidders? “They’re so beautiful, and because they’re so big, they can make a big space seem even bigger,” he says. “Narwhal tusks are very open-ended objects. Very few people are left unimpressed by these things. I think we’ll see a bit of a fight for some of these items. I’m quite confident.”

The pictured narwhal tusk stands just over seven feet tall. What is it like to see it in person? “It’s a very mysterious object,” Chow says. “Most people looking at it for the first time don’t think it’s a narwhal tusk. Most think, ‘What is this thing?’ It’s incredibly tall and obviously ancient, with a rich, smooth surface. They can’t figure out what they are. They figure out it’s not man-made, and it looks like a unicorn horn, but it can’t be. They can’t wrap their heads around them. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and a great conversation piece.”

How to bid: The pictured 19th century narwhal tusk is lot 3044 in the Curiosity IV auction taking place at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on April 2, 2018.

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Thank You For Being a Friend! Rue McClanahan’s Golden Girls Letterman Jacket Could Command $4,500 at Potter & Potter

A circa 1980s wool, leather, and nylon Golden Girls letterman jacket, size L, personalized for Rue McClanahan. It's one of four; the other three went to her co-stars on the beloved sitcom. It comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) from McClanahan's estate.

What you see: A circa 1980s wool, leather, and nylon Golden Girls letterman jacket, size L, personalized for Rue McClanahan. It’s one of four; the other three went to her co-stars on the beloved sitcom. It comes with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) from McClanahan’s estate. Potter & Potter estimates it at $2,500 to $4,500.

Do we know why this Golden Girls letterman jacket was commissioned? “We don’t,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “But they were generally made as 100th episode gifts, or after a season ended, or to mark an anniversary. We don’t know when she would have gotten this.”

Are there any pictures of McClanahan wearing this jacket, or any pictures of all four Golden Girls leads wearing their jackets? “We weren’t able to find any,” he says. “There are other clothing lots in the auction where we have photos of McClanahan wearing the clothes, but not for this one.”

Have any of the other three Golden Girls letterman jackets appeared at auction? We don’t know, but the consigner bought several McClanahan pieces directly from the estate of the actress, who died in 2010 at the age of 76. The jacket is the marquee item among 27 McClanahan lots in the Potter & Potter auction.

McClanahan’s Golden Girls jacket is described as being in “fine” condition. What does that mean? “Almost unworn. It looks almost new,” he says.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $2,500 to $4,500? “It’s a combination of market expertise and researching similar celebrity costumes and clothes, and looking at demand for the person,” he says.”The consigner thinks it’s worth a lot more. We’ll see on auction day.”

Have you tried it on? He laughs heartily and says, “No!”

Why will this jacket stick in your memory? “We’ve had movie star clothes and costumes, but not a letterman jacket,” he says. “It’s a high-quality thing. They didn’t order it from a cheap catalog. They obviously went to the trouble to make it very attractive.”

How to bid: Rue McClanahan’s Golden Girls letterman jacket is lot 616 in Potter & Potter‘s Entertainment Memorabilia auction, scheduled for April 7, 2018.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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