RECORD! An Eileen Gray Transat Armchair Commanded $1.59 Million at Christie’s

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Update: The Eileen Gray Transat armchair sold for $1.59 million, a new auction record for a Transat chair at auction.

 

What you see: A Transat armchair by Eileen Gray, dating to 1927 to 1930. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

 

Who was Eileen Gray? She was an Irish-born designer who initially gained fame for her mastery of lacquer. She attended the Slade School in London and trained in Paris for with Japanese lacquer master Seizo Sugawara, who was in town to prep pieces destined for the country’s Exposition Universale display. She opened the Jean Désert boutique on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1922, which lasted for eight years. In the mid-1920s, she began work on a villa in southern France that she dubbed E-1027, a name that alluded to herself and her partner, Jean Badovici. (The ‘E’ stood for Eileen; the ’10’ represented Jean; the ‘2’ meant Badovici, and the ‘7’ translated to Gray.) The villa still exists and is undergoing restoration. Overlooked in her time, she began to gain real recognition in the late 1960s. Gray died in 1976 at the age of 98.

 

The expert: Beth Vilinsky, senior specialist in design at Christie’s.

 

How often do furnishings by Eileen Gray appear at auction? Her output of production was very limited to begin with. It’s quite rare to see any of her work come up for sale. I think in the last four or five years not even ten pieces have appeared on the market. It’s always a special event when they do.

 

How often do her Transat chairs appear at auction? The last time an example appeared on the market was in 2014 at Phillips New York, which was made for the Maharaja of Indore. Its frame also had a lacquer finish, and it had an upholstered seat. It sold for over $1.5 million.

 

Gray originally designed the Transat chair for E-1027, her personal villa in France. She designed the villa completely, from the architecture to the furnishings and fittings. Does E-1027 represent the first time that a woman designed an entire house, Frank Lloyd Wright-style? It’s an interesting question. I think you’re right. She specifically did do the architectural design and designed the interiors as well. No other female designer-architect comes to mind at that early time in the 20th century [who did something along those lines]. She worked within her own framework, her own vision.

 

To what extent did Gray’s partner, Jean Badovici, assist with the design and creation of E-1027? They were partners professionally and personally, and a dynamic team. He encouraged her to pursue this venture. I think he just kept encouraging her and pushing her to realize her ideas as best as possible.

 

The consensus is that this particular Transat chair was made for sale in the late 1920s through Gray’s Paris boutique, Jean Désert, and not for E-1027. Do we have any notion of what happened to this chair between the late 1920s and the 1980s? We really don’t. We know it was rediscovered by dealer Barry Friedman in New York. We spoke with him, and he doesn’t remember when or how he discovered the chair, but he remembers owning it twice. He sold it privately, got it back again a few years later, and sold it to the Time Warner Collection in 1988. [The current consigner acquired it in 1993, after its deaccession from the collection.]

 

Does the fact that this Transat chair wasn’t made for use at E-1027 affect its value at all? It’d be quite extraordinary and so exciting if it was out of the villa owned by Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici. But it’s equally exciting because the chair is as rare as a hen’s tooth. We believe a dozen were made. That’s a tiny number. The Transat is such a celebrated and iconic design, it will stand on its own merits. To the best of our knowledge, only two were created with the calfskin slung seat, and this is one of the two. People are going to be incredibly enthusiastic and wowed by this piece–by its beauty, its integrity, and the fact that it’s in wonderful condition. It has everything you want in a work by Eileen Gray. This is an opportunity that comes around very, very infrequently.

 

What condition is it in? Really quite good. The lacquer is original, the calfskin is original. It’s just in very remarkable pristine condition.

 

Does the calfskin upholstery provide more evidence that this Transat chair was made for sale in the Paris boutique, and not for E-1027? Yes. The chairs for that villa could be moved from indoors to outdoors. I don’t believe there’s a calfskin example in the home. What’s really great about the calfskin, what makes it so special, is the use of contrasting materials. It’s got wonderful lines, and the lustrous black lacquer frame contrasts with the seat. Materials were very important to Eileen Gray. It’s really interesting to have this combination of lacquer with calfskin.

 

Did Gray design her works and hand them off to others to realize, or did she physically create any aspects of this chair? She had two small workshops in Paris, one for handwoven wall hangings and carpets, and one for furniture design, lamps, and mirrors. Her carpets were her most successful product. The furniture was more expensive. She had a very small staff working for her. She was known as a master lacquerist. She mastered the technique of Japanese lacquer, and studied under a Japanese master. She was unmatched among Westerners.

 

So she would have done the lacquer work on this Transat chair? Quite possibly, yes.

 

Have you sat in the chair? I haven’t, and I wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s a very delicate piece. The materials are quite delicate and fragile. At this point, it’s more of a sculptural piece than a chair used for seating. But it was made with the intention for use.

 

Why will this Transat chair stick in your memory? It is an incredible, powerful form. It’s very refined, very elegant. It’s beautiful, but when you think about how modernist it was for the time–it’s a departure from what others, including Eileen Gray, were doing then. It’s got beautiful materials, construction, and technique, the shimmer of lacquer contrasted with a beautiful calfskin seat–it’s magnificent. It’s an incredible, iconic work. To have it in front of you is absolutely breathtaking. It’s the perfect expression of the vision of Eileen Gray in terms of concept and execution.

 

How to bid: The Transat chair is lot 6 in the Design sale taking place at Christie’s New York on June 20, 2018.

 

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

 

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RECORD! Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Sold a 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi for $76,000–an Auction Record for Any Single Production Action Figure

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What you see: a 1978 Kenner Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure with a double-telescoping lightsaber and an AFA grade of 80 NM. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sold it in November 2017 for $76,700, setting a world auction record for any singly packaged production action figure.

 

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.

 

How many Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi action figures of this type did the Kenner toy company make? Exact production numbers are not known, but the change was made very early in the production run. This is the first of this rare version that we’ve sold. As far as I know, it is the only example sold by a major auction house in this AFA grade. We’ve had a number of other rare vintage Star Wars pieces over the years, but nothing in the same league as Ben–very little is. There are probably less than 20 known on the card [still in its unopened original packaging], and not all of those have been AFA graded and/or are in the high grade we sold. It being on its card is key. Loose figures are still in high demand and valuable, but not to the extent of carded examples–that makes it a “holy grail” item.

 

The lot notes say the card is ‘unpunched’. What does that mean, and why is that important?

The hanger tab at the top of the card is intact. These tabs were to be punched out and the cards hung on the hooks of store displays. Any action figure that is unpunched commands a higher price.

 

How rare are circa 1977 unpunched Star Wars production action figures? Not crazy rare, but if you’re a high-grade collector, you want it unpunched. It adds to the value.

 

The lot notes say the figure has the ‘initial ‘Double-Telescoping’ lightsaber’. When and why did Kenner stop providing this feature with its Star Wars production action figures? The first lightsaber was two pieces, with the inner piece telescoping out from the outer piece–it slides out, extending it an additional length. The production costs for this two-piece lightsaber were high, and it was thought that it didn’t add much play value for the cost. The lightsaber change was made very early in the production run to three figures: Ben, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker.

 

So there are also circa 1977 Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures from Kenner with double-telescoping lightsabers? Yes. Luke is more common than the others. We’ll have a Luke in our next auction in July, and we expect it’ll get $25,000 or so.

 

What is AFA, and what does it mean for this toy to have an AFA grade of 80 NM? AFA [Action Figure Authority] is a professional grading company that authenticates and encapsulates all types of action figures and related toys. It’s like CGC, but for action figures. As we have seen with comic books, cards, and coins, having a third party grade items adds greatly to the value. The higher the grade, the more it impacts things. The 80 NM that the Ben had is a high grade for this figure, and it certainly added to the selling price. It also established that this was a legit double-telescoping lightsaber figure, so bidders had piece of mind about that, and again, it encouraged strong bidding.

 

Does AFA grade on a 1 to 100 scale?  Yes, but it’s not like CGC. It’s done by fives–80, 85, 90, 95. A 95 is extremely difficult to get on an action figure because they’re graded on three components: the card, the figure, and the blister [the plastic covering the figure, which attaches to the card]. All three can have distinctly different defects. For example, you can have a beautiful figure and a beautiful blister, but a card that’s creased. It makes action figure grading a bit more difficult, but it also makes sense. We had an AFA 95 Mint Luke Skywalker in the November 2017 auction that we estimated at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold for $50,622. The person [who won the bidding] didn’t want to wait and hope to find a 95 again. The next auction will have a 95 Darth Vader.

 

The record-setting Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure is from the Russell Branton Collection. Who is Branton, and how does his provenance add value? And is Branton the only person who has owned this toy?

Russell Branton established himself as a serious Star Wars collector who assembled one of the best collections of vintage original trilogy Star Wars toys. It contained key pieces, rare variations, foreign issues, proof cards, prototypes, and high-grade examples. There’s no way of knowing if he was the only owner of any of the toys. They came from a variety of sources with no clear record of their history prior to his acquisition, in many cases.

 

What was the previous record for any singly-packaged production action figure? By how much did this Obi-Wan figure exceed the record?

I don’t have exact results, but there have been others in the $30,000 to $50,000 range at auction for single-figure carded production pieces. I’m not sure by how much, but it is established that no production action figure has ever sold for more at auction.

 

I understand that Hake’s has never had a physical sale room–it initially took bids by phone and mail, and now takes online bids, too. How does that change the experience of watching as a world auction record is set? We’re online three weeks before the auction closes. Most of the bidding, in general, is done in the last couple of hours, but what’s a little different about key Star Wars pieces is there’s constant action through the three-week process and heavy hitting before the close.

 

 

Did you have a notion, prior to the auction, that this toy could beat the record for a production action figure? We promoted this figure, and the entire collection, many months prior to the inaugural Branton offerings. Early reaction from the collecting community let us know we were most likely going to set a record. We got the collection in March 2017 and between March and November we did comics conventions and toy shows. The excitement was building, and dealers told us, ‘You’re going to be surprised.’ Originally we were going to put a $25,000 to $50,000 estimate on the Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure. In the end, we did raise the estimate to $75,000 to $100,000 based on word-of-mouth. We thought it had a chance to hit $100,000. We weren’t disappointed with $76,000, but we knew early on that it was going to set a record.

 

How many bidders were there initially? How long did it take for the bidding to narrow to two people? We had eight bidders in total, including three once the figure reached the $50,000 range.

 

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? That’s impossible to predict, as this is still a relatively new area in the hobby, especially the graded aspect. Hake’s is really setting a precedent with the Branton sale, but who knows what is to come? Star Wars remains as popular today as when it debuted in 1977, so I don’t see any downside to Star Wars collectibles anytime soon.

 

What effect do you think the sale of the Branton collection will have on the Star Wars market? I think it’s going to change in a positive way. The value is going to go up. We have six, eight, ten, twelve bidders on any given piece, and four or five can be at a very high level. Star Wars has a deep, passionate field of collectors, and they have the funds to take action figures to a level not thought of a decade ago.

 

What else is out there that could credibly challenge the auction record set by the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure? I think it would take the same figure in a higher AFA grade. This Ben is impressive, but it’s only an 80. If a DT [double-telescoping] shows up in an AFA 95 grade, it’d certainly bring six figures. Maybe even a 90. A 90 or higher, Ben or Darth Vader. It’s hard to say that wouldn’t get six figures based on our sale.

 

More Star Wars material from the collection of Russell Branton is in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles current auction, which opened online on June 19 and closes between July 10 and 12, 2018.

 

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

 

Alex Winter last spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

 

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SOLD! A Scarce Robert-Houdin Mystery Clock Fetches $36,000 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock sold for $36,000.

 

What you see: A mid-nineteenth century glass column mystery clock by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $40,000 to $50,000.

 

Who was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin? He was a self-taught French magician as well as a horologist, or clockmaker. His father, Prosper Robert, made watches, and Robert-Houdin later married into a clock- and watchmaking family, adding his wife’s surname to his own. At some point between 1831 and 1844, Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock, a device that baffles by keeping time without any visible gears or clockwork. He invented or refined many magic tricks that are still performed today, and his 1859 autobiography became a best-seller. Eric Weiss, a struggling young American immigrant, was so inspired by Robert-Houdin’s life story that he referenced the Frenchman in his stage name: Harry Houdini. Robert-Houdin died in 1871 at the age of 65.

 

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter Auctions.

 

How rare are Robert-Houdin clocks at auction? They’re very hard to come by.

 

Is there a catalog raisonné of his clocks, or an accepted count, or… There’s no great count. Even his own property got scattered to family members.

 

How many Robert-Houdin clocks have you handled? Two other mystery clocks, and one electromagnetic that wasn’t a mystery clock. It was one of the most expensive ones we’ve sold.

 

How do you know this clock is by Robert-Houdin and not his son, who made some mystery clocks after his father’s death? That’s a tough one, especially because they worked in conjunction to some degree. Two expert horologists took it apart [for Potter & Potter] and did a 12-page report on all the clocks in the David Baldwin collection. Other clocks in the auction, on examination, were pieced together with old parts or done in the style of Robert-Houdin. Their estimates would be five times higher if they were original, maybe more.

 

How often do you see a Robert-Houdin mystery clock with this magnifying glass-like shape, as opposed to the one in lot 30, which has a square dial sitting in a frame on a marble base? You see just one glass dial most often. This [lot 28] is a double mystery. The single mystery is the glass dial–how does it keep time? The double mystery is the glass dial plus the glass tube.

 

And Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock? For a Paris exposition, yes. If he wasn’t a magician, he would have been a clockmaker. He invented a lot of things, and he was fascinated by electricity. He was one smart dude.

 

How does the mystery clock reflect his inventiveness? It’s interesting because it’s the confluence of two things in his life–clockmaking and magic. Here’s a beautiful clock that you’d be happy to put in your salon, but at the same time, you think, how does it work? It’s both beautiful and miraculous.

 

Does it work? I got it to chime, but I haven’t seen its hand move. Robert-Houdin mystery clocks are notorious for needing adjustments. You’ll need to have a clockmaker look at it.

 

This clock has an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. The square dial clock in lot 30 carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. What accounts for the difference? It’s [the clock in lot 28] a much more uncommon form. One of the guys who did the examination for me thought it was quite unusual and original enough to be exciting to a clock collector.

 

Who fights more fiercely for Robert-Houdin mystery clocks–magicians, or clock collectors? I’ve had winners in both of those camps. It’s hard to predict.

 

What is this clock like in person? Does it make an impression? It certainly did when I walked into the [consigner’s] house to look at it the first time I saw the collection. He had 15 of them. You can instantly tell it’s something special.

 

How to bid: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock is lot 28 in the David Baldwin Magic Collection II auction at Potter & Potter on June 16, 2018.

 

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

 

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He talked about a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

 

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SOLD! A Rocky and Bullwinkle Scene Cel, Signed by Bill Scott to June Foray, Fetched $960 at Heritage

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Update: The Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed from the voice of Bullwinkle to the voice of Rocky, sold for $960.

 

What you see: A Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed and inscribed by Bill Scott, the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose, to June Foray, the voice of Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $3,500.

 

Who were Rocky and Bullwinkle? If these names are new to you, you have a treat in store. Introduced by Jay Ward, the two starred in one of the most exquisitely hilarious animated shows ever to grace a television screen. Rocky is a charming and peppy flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle is a charming but slow-witted moose. Together they dodge Boris and Natasha, Russian spies who try to catch and “keel” them. Other popular segments on the show feature the Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right and his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash; the time-traveling Sherman and Mr. Peabody; and Fractured Fairy Tales, which are exactly what you think they are. The show originally aired from 1959 to 1964.

 

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

 

What’s a scene cel? It’s a limited edition animation cel, not used in production.

 

How did this cel come to be? It post-dates The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It never went on camera. Foray started ASIFA, a union for animators. They had cel sales in parking lots and malls to raise money for the union. This is one of the cels made for an ASIFA fundraiser, and it was June Foray’s personal cel. It’s inscribed by Bill Scott to her. That changes everything–it’s as close to Rocky and Bullwinkle as you’re going to get.

 

This cel was made after The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show stopped production. Would it still have value if it didn’t have a Bill Scott signature and inscription and a June Foray provenance? Any Jay Ward art is valuable because there’s so little out there. It’s maybe $500 without the signature. This is worth $1,500 to $3,500, in that range. There are very few with signatures, maybe a handful. Bill Scott is not a signature you see a lot out there.

 

Does the cel belong to the first offering of items from June Foray’s estate at auction? Yes. I knew June very well. She was one of the most giving and intelligent and smart women I’ve met in my life. She was the one who led the charge to get animation [included] in the Academy Awards. She was a tireless crusader for animation in general, and she was the single most important woman in animation. She was the voice of Rocky over fifty years. She was Natasha. She was Ursula in George of the Jungle. She was Granny in the Tweety Bird cartoons. She was Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Chuck Jones once said, “June Foray is not the male Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”

 

Why does The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show endure? Why do we still love it? It takes three things to make a great cartoon: animation style, acting, and writing. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show might have been one of the best-acted and best-written cartoon shows. When you can make a child laugh and an adult laugh at the same time, for different reasons, that’s phenomenal.

 

How to bid: The Bill Scott-signed, June Foray-owned Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel is Lot 96003 in the Animation Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on June 16 and 17, 2018.

 

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Jim Lentz has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a vintage Kem Weber-designed Walt Disney Studios animation desk that sold for $13,145 and a Walt Disney-signed original animation cel from Song of the South that fetched just under $9,000.

 

ASIFA-Hollywood’s website devotes a section to June Foray, who died in 2017 at the age of 99.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Albert Einstein’s 1935 Passport Photo Commands $17,500 at Bonhams

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Update: The 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo sold for $17,500.

 

What you see: A passport photograph of Albert Einstein, signed and dated May 30, 1935, along with a piece of paper signed and dated by Einstein and featuring a brief goodbye note in German from Einstein’s son-in-law, Dmitri Marianoff. Bonhams estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

 

Who was Albert Einstein? He was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He came up with the theory of relativity, which upended the fields of theoretical physics and astronomy. He also composed the formula E = mc2 [energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared], which has come to symbolize science and, to some extent, genius itself. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work in theoretical physics. After Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany, Einstein, who was Jewish, settled in the United States, gaining citizenship in 1940. A 1939 letter he sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sparked the creation of the Manhattan Project, the scientific endeavor that led to nuclear weapons. He based himself in Princeton, New Jersey, where he died in 1955 at the age of 76.

 

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

 

Has anything else Einstein-related come to auction that’s similar to this passport photo? Have you seen any other 1930s passports or immigration paperwork connected to Einstein? Not that I know of. I’ve only come across a Swiss passport of his dating back to 1923. This particular photo was always in the possession of the consigner. The way it was was in the 1930s, Einstein was already in the United States. He was working in Princeton, New Jersey, and he decided not to return to Germany. In order to apply for citizenship, you had to be outside the country. So he took his family on a trip to Bermuda and got the ball rolling there. He used a different image on his passport. After Bermuda, I think they came through Ellis Island in New York and turned in their paperwork.

 

How does the fact that the passport photo dates to the 1930s–when the Nazi regime was imposing anti-Semitic policies on its citizens, convincing Einstein to leave–add to its value? It’s a huge factor in its value. [The choice that the passport photo represents] is just an awesome moment to witness. It was a turning point–a man of the world applying for U.S. citizenship. It represents the very first step [toward that]. This is a very close witness to things that were on his mind at the time.

 

And he would have sat for the photo in Bermuda? Yes. You can’t tell, but he’s wearing a leather jacket in the photo. In the formal portrait on the paperwork, he’s wearing something else.

 

Wait, was Einstein wearing THE leather jacket in this photo? The one that Levi Strauss & Co won at Christie’s London in 2016 for $147,000? It’s a leather jacket, but we can’t see enough to say it’s THE leather jacket.

 

And this is fresh to market? Yes. It comes directly from the person who received it. She was a little girl [at the time], the granddaughter of the innkeeper [at the guest house where Einstein stayed in Bermuda]. She was 13 years old, and she was curious. She engaged Einstein in conversation. He signed and dated the photo and gave it to her, and she kept it all her life. She’s in her nineties now, and she’s decided to sell. I don’t think it was ever published or anything like that.

 

How did you arrive at an estimate for this? It’s a gut feeling. I feel the photo is incredibly important. It reflects on him becoming a U.S. citizen. The estimate reflects its historic significance.

 

How have you seen the market for Einstein material change over time? In the 1930s, he was already famous. The photo definitely had value back then. But the Einstein market has changed significantly. I can’t say Einstein items are rare. He would get lots of letters, and he spent a good deal of time every day answering them. The most significant ones are the manuscripts where he talks about scientific things, and certain items that he owned. For example, he was very interested in music and performing with friends; we sold his violin in March 2018 for $516,500. The passport photo is a more iconic thing. Einstein was at a turning point in his life, deciding to become a U.S. citizen. It’s signed and dated, and it shows him the way you expect him to look like. He didn’t get a haircut before the picture was taken.

 

Why is Einstein the most sought-after scientist at auction? He had the most brilliant mind in physics since Newton, and on top of that, he was not a nerdy scientist. He was incredibly approachable. He didn’t just follow scientific interests. He played the violin, he went sailing, he was someone who enjoyed life.

 

Why will this Einstein passport photograph stick in your memory? The personal connection. It shows him being open and approachable and talking to a 13-year-old girl in Bermuda. And it’s consigned directly by that person. It’s special. It’s two degrees of separation–the consigner, and then Einstein. That’s what makes it so beautiful and significant.

 

How to bid: The Einstein passport photograph is lot 76 in Bonhams‘s June 12, 2018 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York.

 

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

 

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SOLD! A Rare Marie Zimmermann Necklace Commanded $53,125 at Rago

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Update: The Zimmermann necklace sold for $53,125, which is likely a record for her jewelry at auction.

 

What you see: An enameled yellow gold and gem-set collar necklace with turquoise, carved garnet cabochons, and blue enamel by Marie Zimmermann, circa 1937. Rago Auctions estimates it at $35,000 to $55,000.

 

Who was Marie Zimmermann? She was an American metalworker and jewelry designer who was active in the early 20th century, taking word-of-mouth commissions from well-to-do clients. She closed her studio and retired in 1940 after all of her close family members passed away in a five-year span. Zimmermann died in 1972 at the age of  93.

 

The expert: Katherine Van Dell, director of jewelry for Rago Auctions.

 

How often does Marie Zimmermann jewelry appear at auction? Pretty infrequently. She was a fairly prolific metal artist. She did make jewelry, but not in great quantities. The pieces that come to auction are few and far between. They’re quite rare.

 

Were the necklace and the Zimmermann ring shown in lot 2050 conceived as a set, or are they two separate pieces? They’re two separate pieces. It’s serendipitous that they came together for the same sale. The recipients knew each other, but their families do not know each other. The two go together, but they were not conceived as a set. It certainly would be lovely if someone wants to buy them both. I don’t want to play that down. But they were definitely not conceived together.

 

How did the necklace come to be? Was it a commission? In the 2012 book The Jewelry and Metalwork of Marie Zimmermann, there’s a bracelet of the same design pictured and an ‘Egyptian-style necklace’ [is mentioned in the text]. The man who commissioned the pieces paid for them in installments. We don’t know if he never finished paying for them. It could have been that she made two of the same necklace. It could have been that he never paid it off and she kept it. But there’s at least one necklace and bracelet suite.

 

Did Zimmermann design the jewelry and hand it off to others to make, or did she physically create her pieces? She had a hand in the making of the pieces, but she had workers and craftspeople who she employed to fabricate her designs. Even though not everything was done by her hand, they were all hand-done pieces.

 

What visual signatures does the necklace have that mark it as a Marie Zimmermann piece? It screams Marie Zimmermann because of its Egyptian Revival influence. It’s very evident in the necklace, and less so in the ring. The enamels and the rich metalwork are probably the visual giveaways. The necklace is unsigned, but the ring is signed with her cipher.

 

I see references in background material to Zimmermann having closed her studio in 1940 after “her entire family died,” but I can’t find any more information than that. What happened? She didn’t have any children. She had a sister that died, I believe. She was largely dependent on her parents to fund her lifestyle. She surrounded herself with friends. She was a lesbian before people were openly lesbian, and she had a life partner.

 

Were Melita (Bessie) Stewart and Ida Egli–the household staffers to whom Zimmermann willed the necklace and the ring–among her friends? For sure, yeah. They became friends and companions. Clearly she was close enough to both that she left her estate to them. [Zimmerman willed her home in Punta Gorda, Florida to the two women.]

 

And Stewart’s and Egli’s descendants consigning the necklace and the ring to Rago now–that’s a coincidence? It’s a total coincidence. My hair stood on end when I figured it out. For the ring, I started talking to the [family] last summer. It came in in February. The necklace came in just before the deadline in April. The necklace is from a great-aunt, I believe. The consigner had done her homework. But I took the ring in first, from a family in Indiana. That consigner said [of Melita Stewart] ‘I’d only ever known her as Grandma Bessie.’ Given how infrequently they come up at auction, to get two Zimmermann pieces at the same time from the descendants of individuals who had the same life, it’s really phenomenal and really cool.

 

What’s the auction record for a work by Zimmermann? It’s a jeweled box that Rago sold in 2005 for $125,000. [Unfortunately the lot results for the box are not online. – Ed.] It’s now in the Met. The necklace might beat it, I’m hoping. I think it stands to do quite well and might sell to an institution. Most of her things currently live in institutions or private collections. It speaks to the rarity of her pieces.

 

How to bid: The Zimmermann collar necklace is lot 2051 in Rago‘s Fine Jewelry auction on June 10, 2018.

 

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.

 

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram. It also did a dedicated piece on the Marie Zimmermann ring and necklace.

 

The Friends of Marie Zimmermann have a website and a Facebook page.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Arthur Rackham’s Stunning Image of Danaë and the Infant Perseus Commanded $22,100 at Swann

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Update: Arthur Rackham’s 1922 original illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseus sold for $22,100.

 

What you see: Danaë and the Infant Perseus, an original illustration in watercolor, ink, and wash on board by Arthur Rackham for the 1922 Hodder & Stoughton edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Arthur Rackham? He was regarded as a leader in the Golden Age of British book illustration, which spanned 1890 to the onset of World War I. He enlivened editions of Alice in Wonderland, Rip van WinkleGulliver’s Travels, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. He died in 1939 at the age of 71.

 

Who were Danaë and Perseus? In Greek mythology, Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. When an oracle told the king that his grandson would kill him someday, he locked his childless only daughter in a tower to thwart the prophecy. Zeus upended the plan by sneaking in to Danaë’s cell in the form of a shower of gold (yes, you read that right) and getting her pregnant with little Perseus. The king loaded his daughter and tiny grandson into a wooden box and tossed it into the sea, hoping that nature would take care of them. It did, but not the way he wanted; the box came ashore on the island of Seriphos. Danaë eventually caught the eye of that island’s king, Polydectes. Perseus, now closer to being grown up, agreed to kill Medusa and bring back her head to get Polydectes to leave his poor mom alone. The oracle proved correct when Acrisius went to Larissa to watch a sports exhibition. Perseus was there to play, and did not know that his grandfather was in the audience. He accidentally took the old man out when a discus throw went awry and clocked him.

 

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How was Rackham chosen for this 1922 project? He was known to work on Greek and Norse mythology and had done his own book in 1913, Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, which had a lot of mythology. He was chosen by the publisher [for the 1922 release] because it was well known that he could execute illustrations of Greek and Norse myths, and that was what the Nathaniel Hawthorne book was about.

 

How many illustrations did Rackham do for the Hawthorne book, and how many for the Danaë and Perseus story? Sixteen color plates in all, and two for the story. This illustration was just used last year as the cover for a 2015 reissue of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book. Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures has a different picture [of this scene in the story] that’s more Rackhamesque in a way. In this image, he concentrates more on the waves, and them being swept out. It’s more threatening. In the 1913 version, you don’t see Perseus’s face. He’s nestled into her breast. They’re in the same simple wooden box, and there’s clouds and wind, but there’s no forboding stormy sky. And the other one doesn’t have as much color as this one.

 

I saw a reference to Rackham having been influenced by Meiji woodblock prints. I couldn’t find more information than that before we spoke, but it made me feel less crazy when the waves in this illustration made me think of Hokusai’s The Great Wave. You don’t think of Rackham being influenced by Asian artists, but he was. He was the master of illustration in the time of three- and four-color printing. When he created an image for a book, the detail would often get lost in the four-color printing process. He’d often go back and re-ink pieces, and define the line very precisely. This image is Rackham, but it’s heavier and thicker than you’re used to seeing. If you cover Danaë and Perseus and just look at the left-hand side of the illustration, you’d think you’re looking at a Japanese woodcut.

 

Was Rackham prolific? He was one of the masters of the Golden Age of British illustration. He did a lot of magazine illustrations and job work before launching into his own deluxe editions. He dominated the Edwardian deluxe gift book market. His 1905 Rip Van Winkle cemented his reputation as a master illustrator.

 

How often do original Rackhams appear at auction? They come up with some frequency, and the prices are all over the place. The range in price depends on how well-known they are, and the amount of detail. A Wind in the Willows illustration sold last year in London for £52,500 ($70,700). It had all the hallmarks of a Rackham illustration, and it had the main characters in it as well. We sold one of his illustrations for A Christmas Carol–it was extremely popular and hotly contested at auction. It was Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley, and it sold for $32,500. The more iconic the image, the higher the price.

 

How did Danaë and the Infant Perseus come to you? This is from a private collection. It was purchased from a gallery in London several decades ago.

 

What qualities does this Rackham image have that makes it desirable to collectors? You have a scene taking place in nature, where the subjects are vulnerable to nature. Danaë and Perseus have this sort of sweet, pre-Raphaelite look to their faces–innocent features, very expressive, and the light touches of color enhance their expressions. And the treatment of the fabric is very Rackham-esque. You can see the figures beneath the clothing and you can tell the elements have affected them. He also shows the simple craftsmanship of the box and the wood grain and at the same time, shows how sturdy but delicate the vessel is. It’s also in how he puts the two figures in the foreground and on the right. Your eye goes to their faces, but you see the ferocity of the storm. It’s about them, but it’s about fear, and about the episode they’re about to face.

 

I’m surprised the estimate is as low as $10,000 to $15,000. It’s a strong piece, but the Rackham market is a little soft right now. While we love Rackham and he’s one of the greats of illustration and he’s still considered a favorite, he’s not among the greats for new, young collectors.

 

Why will this Rackham illustration stick in your memory? It’s a haunting image. It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time. It’s from one of my favorite works by Rackham. I love his treatment of Norse and Greek myths. I feel very few illustrators have been able to grasp the excitement and the drama of those myths like Rackham did.

 

How to bid: Danaë and the Infant Perseus is lot 38 in the Illustration Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 5, 2018.

 

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.

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

 

Christine von der Linn has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

 

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