WHOA! That Elmer Crowell Preening Black Duck Decoy Flew Away With $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The circa 1912 A. Elmer Crowell Phillips rig preening black duck decoy sold for $600,000—double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

 

Who was A. Elmer Crowell? Born in 1862 in East Harwich, Massachusetts, he’s the king of American duck decoy carvers. Initially, he carved in the course of his work at duck-hunting camps, but over time, his magnificent wooden birds won fans who loved them as decorative objects. His decoys have sold at auction for six-figure sums, and two sold privately for more than $1 million each. Crowell died in 1952, at the age of 89.

 

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but is this preening black duck a hen or a drake? Black ducks get a pass on being hens or drakes. 99 percent of the time, they’re just black ducks. This is just a black duck, with no clear designation on being one or the other.

 

It’s also described as being a “rig mate” to other duck decoys that belonged to the late Dr. Phillips. What does it mean for a decoy to be a rig mate? A rig is a group of birds [decoys] owned by and hunted over by one person. It doesn’t always mean the decoys are exactly alike, or made side by side. There can be a lot of variation, depending on how they were made and used. In the context of the Phillips rig, a decoy can be anything out of that group of rig mates. There are Phillips rig mates that look nothing like Crowell’s work.

 

Crowell carved and painted hundreds of decoys that depicted black ducks. Where does this one rank among his lifetime output? It’s among his very finest. As you mention, he did hundreds of them. This bird is as good as they come, in my personal opinion.

 

Did he carve the decoy from a single piece of wood? The bird is made of two pieces, one for the body and one for the head. One thing that makes the bird so strong is the masterful sculpture of the duck in a preening position. It’s not easy to capture well, and Crowell did it nearly perfectly. The finer details of the carving show Crowell’s tremendous effort to do his best work for his best patron. We see him coming into a sweet spot in his career–he was as good a carver as he would be, and this was on the early side of showing his command of his wet-on-wet painting technique, which gives a natural, soft look to the feathers.

 

This looks gorgeous enough to have been destined for a mantle, but the lot notes say it shows evidence of being used on a hunt… It’s a working decoy, and at the same time, it represents one of the best carved decoys in a decorative sense. The bird was hardly used. It was probably retired early because of an appreciation of its aesthetic qualities. I suspect the patron deemed it too precious to hunt over. What’s interesting about the Phillips rig is Crowell didn’t just make this decoy for Phillips, he was his stand manager. He created the decoys, and decided where they would be hunted, and how they would be hunted over. Crowell knew he was going to be involved with handling the decoy after it left his workshop. He wasn’t handing it over to a hunter who might break it. It’s unknowable, but it’s possible because of the relationship Crowell and Phillips had.

 

Do we know when Crowell made this decoy? He used a hot brand [on his decoys]. We can date his birds to some extent on the quality of the brand. Every time a brand is heated, it corrodes a little. Over the years, a brand can be seen burning out, leaving a softer and softer impression. It’s a great dating tool that Crowell inadvertently left behind. This has a perfectly crisp oval brand, which suggests it was 1912.

 

Carving the duck’s head to make it hover in a natural-looking way over the body seems difficult. Is it harder to carve a preening duck? You can think of a preener as the decoy maker’s deluxe model. It’s harder to carve and harder to paint. But it adds variety to the rig, making it look more lifelike as a group. An additional benefit is they’re less breakable because the body can protect the head. We have a 200-year-old decoy in the sale with an intact bill because it’s protected by the body in the preening pose.

 

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? When I look at this bird, the first thing it does is hold together as a phenomenal piece of sculpture. You can go from tip to tail picking out fine details that were expertly executed, but the bird is better than any one single detail.

 

What is it like to hold the decoy? [Laughs] Being in the presence of the decoy before handling it is a real pleasure. It’s excellent from every angle. And it feels just right in the hand. It’s full, robust, and you can feel the finer subtleties in the carving details. I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

To explain what a big deal it is to auction Donal C. O’Brien, Jr.’s collection of decoys and sporting art, can you draw an analogy to other notable auctions of lots consigned by great collectors? It would be somewhat like the Rockefeller collection or the Yves St. Laurent collection in its breadth and quality, and that’s been reflected in the market response to the birds so far.

 

Why will this Crowell preening black duck decoy stick in your memory? Crowell is a quintessential representative of great American bird carving. He was self-taught. He started making decoys because he needed to, and his working decoys led to the birth of American decorative bird carving. This bird is at the nexus of his carving career, where his working decoys became so good, they’re indistinguishable from decorative carving. He’s one of the best makers, making his best effort, carving one of his favorite species for his most important client. It fires on all cylinders from a historic standpoint and an aesthetic standpoint.

 

How to bid: The Crowell preening black duck is lot 14 in the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys, Session III, taking place July 19, 2018 at Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

Copley Fine Art Auctions appeared on The Hot Bid last summer in a post about a record-setting Gus Wilson duck decoy.

 

Quack!

 

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RECORD! In 2012, Swann Galleries Sold an A.M. Cassandre Poster for $162,500–A Record for Any Travel Poster

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What you see: L.M.S./Best Way, a 1928 poster by Adolphe Mouron (A.M.) Cassandre. Swann Galleries sold it in November 2012 for $162,500, an auction record for any travel poster.

 

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

 

Cassandre did so many great travel poster designs. Why is this one so sought-after? The easiest way to sum it up is it’s the only poster of his that had a limited edition run. The fewer there are, the more collectors want it.

 

Cassandre did designs along these lines for two different train company clients, both of whom rejected them. Why did they say no? The story is a little bit murky. In 1927, he did a painting for a French railway that was similar. It was not accepted, and there’s no record as to why. The British railway line [L.M.S] didn’t want it either, so Cassandre printed it in a small run.

 

That’s quite a move for a poster artist, to print the thing himself. Why did he do it? Because the poster is great. I think he was very, very proud of it.

 

Why might the train companies have hesitated to go ahead with this design? We’re looking at it with 20/20 historical hindsight, but what we love about it now is it’s a unique view of a train. The train companies might have asked, ‘Dude, where is the train going?’ It could have been too abstract for them.

 

Why does the poster take this unusual square-ish shape? This is the standard size British poster format for the hoardings [billboards] at a British train station. Had the British railway accepted the poster design, they had to be able to use it in their system. The French version, which I’ve only seen as a photo in a book, is quite close to this. You look at them and you could base a game on picking out how they’re different from each other. It’s not at all obvious.

 

Cassandre printed 50 of these posters. Do we know how many survive? No one has done a census of them, but I’d have to imagine there’s probably ten to 25. Some are in institutions, which will never sell them. There can’t be more than 25 in private hands.

 

How many have you seen or handled? We’ve only handled one. I have seen three others. A different organization has offered it for sale four times. Twice, it was the same piece.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? It came from the fact that in 1990, it sold at auction for $60,500, and in 1997, one sold for $57,500. In the decade and a half since the 1997 sale, there had been more poster auctions. His name was more known, his stock was rising, and his talent was known more.

 

Cassandre numbered these posters like you would a limited edition print. Was that an unusual practice for 1928? Posters are never numbered. It’s more than unusual, it’s singular. For his Normandie ship, no one knows how many were done, but it was probably in the thousands. This one, because it was privately printed, signed, and numbered, it was more like a Picasso lithograph.

 

You were the auctioneer that night. What do you remember about selling the poster? Without looking anything up, I remember it was not bought by someone who I thought would buy it. We know who the big collectors are, and the big dealers who feed the big collectors. We know whose toes to tickle, and it went to someone else. It was such a rarity that people outside the expected circle were participating. It was bought over the Internet and remains our largest purchase online to date.

 

Do you remember when you knew you had a record? It’s too long ago to say, but it was clearly a groundbreaking moment both for the artist and for the poster market as a whole. $162,500 is real money. I don’t think I thought this at the time, but it really showed that posters had come of age. It showed how deep the market was.

 

What factors drove the poster to its record price? Rarity, but you can have something that’s rare and ugly. This is rare, and it’s extraordinary, and it’s by Cassandre. It’s a trifecta. Cassandre is still the gold standard for machine age Art Deco design, and this poster is incredibly attractive. It’s great.

 

How long do you think the record will stand? I don’t think anything else is out there that could challenge it. What you haven’t asked me is what its estimate would be if it came up today. Since 2012, everything has changed. That sale was after the crash in 2008. Now the economy is booming. If the poster came up again, I think the estimate would be $100,000 to $150,000, and I have to think it would sell for substantially more. I’m almost certain that it would set the record again, depending on its condition. The one we sold was not in great condition. It had a grade of B+/ B– not a proud condition grade. If it were in better shape, the estimate might be $120,000 to $180,000.

 

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, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

 

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

 

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about a 1938 London Transport poster by Man Ray that ultimately sold for $149,000a trio of Mont Blanc posters from 1928, a mid-1930s German travel poster featuring the Hindenburg, a 1968 MoMA poster by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo, an I Want You 1917 World War I recruiting poster that introduced the modern concept of Uncle Sam, and an Alphonse Mucha poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt.

 

 

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SOLD! Hunt Auctions Sold the Circa 1968 Mickey Mantle Game-worn Yankees Cap for $58,750

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Update: The circa 1968 Mickey Mantle game-worn Yankees cap sold for $58,750.

 

What you see: A game-worn Mickey Mantle Yankees baseball cap, circa 1968, size 7 3/4, inscribed by Mantle to his teammate, Tom Tresh. It also comes with a letter of provenance from Tresh, who died in 2008. Hunt Auctions estimates the cap at $50,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions.

 

How rare is it to see any authentic game-worn garments from Mickey Mantle at auction, hats or otherwise? Game-used, game-worn, there’s different terminology used in our industry. Jerseys and uniforms come first, and that’s understandable, because [prior to the 1970s or so] there were a few sets issued per year [players got a home uniform and a road uniform each season], and few are in private hands. Then there’s hats and bats and the like. Hats are rare specifically because [provenance] is so hard. If you take a magic marker and write ‘7’ inside the hat, it could be attributed to Mantle. Here, the provenance is buttoned up. It’s so special. I’ve had two or three Mantle hats of any type over the last 26 years, and this is clearly the best one I’ve offered.

 

What makes this Mantle cap the best one you’ve offered? In today’s [Major League Baseball] world, everything is formally witnessed. It’s just different from the 1960s. You’ve got to get as close to the primary source as you can. To the degree that you can, this cap has every attribute that can be corroborated. You have “Mick 7” written underneath the bill with the inscription, “To Tom My Best Wishes, Your Friend Mickey Mantle.” You have a letter of provenance from Tom Tresh, his teammate.

 

Is it rare to have an inscribed game-worn hat from any well-known baseball player? I would say it’s unusual. You do see them.

 

How hard is it to document a period game-worn baseball cap? Fewer hats are documentable to the degree that meets [accepted third-party graders’] guidelines. We’ve had plenty of hats that could well be significant, but don’t have the documentation to prove it. We have one in the auction, a game-worn Brooklyn Dodgers hat with insertion plates [which were needed] because teams were beaning Jackie Robinson. A Brooklyn Dodgers employee gave it to his neighbor–we locked that up [that aspect of the provenance]. But there’s no 42 in it, and the size is off from Jackie Robinson’s hat size. [The lot notes state that the cap is 6 3/4, while Robinson’s documented hat size is 7.] It’s a beautiful hat, a rare hat with insertion plates. It may sell for $3,000 to $4,000, but if it had a 42 in it, it could be a quarter million plus. We clearly point out the inconsistencies that say that its not [not necessarily worn by Robinson]. That’s how to represent it.

 

How generous was Mantle with his game-worn hats? Did he give them away often? I don’t know. You do see, with a player of Mantle’s caliber, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays–they were the most popular people in the world. People sought them out and had access to the players and the field that we don’t have today. You could wait by their cars. Hats weren’t worth a lot then. It was a different world.

 

And Mantle gave this hat to Tresh because they were teammates? As far as we can tell. They clearly were teammates, they played during the same era, and they had a lot of chances to interact. What’s nice is there’s a personal letter from Tom [explaining how and when Mantle gave him the hat].

 

How do you know the hat dates to circa 1968? Yankee hats still are so stylistically similar to what they wear [now] that you go by tagging [period tags sewn inside the hat]. We had the advantage here of Tresh himself noting in the letter of provenance when he recalled getting it. The 1968 date is consistent with the tagging, model, and style. With the Tresh attribution, we feel comfortable in saying it’s circa 1968.

 

Game-worn clothes present a weird situation to collectors: you want them to show some wear, but not too much. What condition is the Mantle cap in? It’s very fine. It’s excellent. It’s not abused in any way, shape, or form. It does have cracking to the bill, which is normal. It has perspiration wear, but not abusively so. The top of the hat is navy blue in color, but muted. Why? Because of the sun. It’s a nice mix of honest use and the wear you want to see, but not with the condition issues that might hold the value down.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? It was actually a bit difficult. Mantle game-worn jerseys bring from a quarter of a million to $750,000. There are so few hats at this level that this hat–it’s tough. You could argue it’s $20,000 to $30,000. You could argue it’s $100,000 to $150,000. If it was a jersey, it would be one of the better jerseys.

 

Have you tried on the hat? No. Nope. (Laughs.) People have asked me that before with jerseys and hats, and I can honestly say in 26 years I don’t think I ever wore one. Not once.

 

How have you avoided the temptation? I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with wearing them, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s baseball superstition. Maybe it’s reverence. Maybe it’s coincidence. But I don’t know.

 

As of July 6, 2018, bids on the Mantle cap have passed $15,000, with the close of the auction more than a week away. Does that mean anything? It really doesn’t. You can go through the auction and see things that are three times higher than the estimate already. It could sell for past that, or not any further. I wouldn’t say it’s completely irrelevant. It can be. But it’s by no means indicative of how it will end up.

 

Why will this Mantle cap stick in your memory? I’m a fan of the pieces of professional model equipment that have incredible provenance. When you have something so well-sourced, it not only does better at auction, you can go to the client and stand behind it and say this is the one to go for. On this piece, it’s the combination–it’s not just the “Mick 7,” or the inscription, or the size and the style being consistent with other Mantle hats, or the letter–it’s all of those things. It has all those boxes checked to make it one of the better pieces.

 

How to bid: The inscribed Mickey Mantle game-worn Yankees cap is lot 895 in Hunt Auctions‘s 2018 Live Auction at the MLB All-Star FanFest on July 16 and 17, 2018.

 

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

 

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RECORD! RR Auction Sells Astronaut Dave Scott’s Apollo 17 Space-flown Robbins Medal for $68,750

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What you see: A space-flown Apollo 17 Robbins medal owned by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh man to walk on the moon. RR Auction sold it in September 2016 for $68,750–a record for a Robbins medal.

 

The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

 

How did Scott get this Robbins medal? All astronauts had the opportunity to buy them. Dave Scott bought one for every Apollo mission, starting with Apollo 7. They’re a neat crossover between coin collecting and space flight memorabilia. These were meant for the astronauts–the general public couldn’t buy them. They had the mission logo on the front and their names [the names of the three crew members] struck on the back. They were great commemoratives.

 

Unlike stamps or flags, which are flat and light, silver medals have heft and weight. How did the Robbins company convince NASA to make room for several dozen medals on its Apollo spacecraft? I’m not familiar with the history of the decision. I do know it was a tradition of NASA to allow certain artifacts to be flown in space. NASA flew Robbins medals into the 1990s. It was a long tradition with the government and the astronauts.

 

What makes a Robbins medal valuable? Aside from being flown in space, having a letter of authenticity from an astronaut makes them extremely valuable. When Buzz Aldrin writes a letter saying, “I took this Robbins medal to the moon,” that adds value. The chain of custody matters.

 

If a space-flown Robbins medal lacks a letter of authenticity from an astronaut, is it still valuable? Yes. Each coin has a number stamped on its edge. We know which numbers flew [in space] and which did not. If it flew, it has value. With Dave, when he was on Apollo 15, he requested his to be number 15. Not only did he take a coin, he took a specific number because it related to the mission. I can’t imagine one more valuable.

 

How did Dave Scott snag the number 15 Robbins medal from the Apollo 17 series? Because he asked for it. Dave is a collector, so he understood what was neat and what made sense. These guys are engineers, they’re numbers guys.

 

That’s what I mean. There were two other guys on Apollo 15. How did Dave Scott claim the number 15 Apollo 17 Robbins medal for himself? Did he arm-wrestle them for it? Wrong. He was the mission commander. He outranked them. (Laughs)

 

How often do Robbins medals come up at auction? They appear at auction consistently, but the supply is limited and the price is going up. They’re becoming more commodified.

 

I understand the Robbins company struck 14-karat gold Robbins medals. How do they fit in here? They’re rarer and more desirable. They struck three to seven for each mission. All have serial numbers on them, and they were only available to the flight crew. They were made specifically to give to their wives.

 

Have any of the gold ones come to auction? One from Apollo 13 sold recently. We had one with a diamond in it from Apollo 11. They’re not giant coins–they’re smaller than a silver dollar, maybe a bit smaller. They’re beautiful.

 

Why are flown Apollo 17 medallions considered the most sought-after and difficult to obtain? Is it because of their limited numbers, or is it more than that? Only 80 Apollo 17 Robbins medals were flown. You can’t have a complete set of flown medals without Apollo 17. It was the last mission, and it’s rare. They come up once every couple of years, and we’re actively seeking them out. People are not willing to sell them.

 

This example has a third-party grade of MS67. Did the high grade drive the medal’s record price? It was in great condition, but I don’t know if the grade made a difference to the person who bought it. He needed it for his collection.

 

Dave Scott is still alive. Could you talk about what prompted him to consign back in September 2016? Why did he sell then? Most of the astronauts donated lots of material to universities, and a lot gave things to their children and grandchildren. There’s stuff left over that their families don’t want, and they want to get it into the hands of people who would want them. Dave Scott cares a lot. He’s got things that went to the moon, he’s in his eighties, and he’s a collector. He will write a whole dissertation about what it [a given piece he owned during his NASA career] meant. These things will be lost unless they’re documented and put in the hands of people. On a side note, Alan Shepard lived in Derry, New Hampshire. His family had a garage sale. Someone bought a bureau for $50, and in it was a letter he wrote to his parents, talking about being considered for the Mercury 7 selection program. We sold it for $106,000. These astronauts–if things are not documented and curated, they’ll be put on the curb, like [those countless mothers who infamously threw out their kids’] baseball cards. It happens! (Laughs)

 

What was the previous record for a flown Robbins medal? Was it an Apollo 11? We sold an Apollo 11 for $56,000. It was an interesting one, owned by a nephew of Neil Armstrong, but it wasn’t the previous record. In May 2013, we sold Gene Cernan’s Apollo 17 Robbins medal for $61,000. The Apollo 17, because it’s rarest, sold for more.

 

The September 2016 auction took place entirely online. When did you know you had a record? We realized it that night, and we put a press release out right away. We’re very proud every time we set a record.

 

How long do you think the record will stand? I don’t know, but records are made to be broken. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coming up, we may see a lot of excitement in the space collectibles market. The attention is going to be intense. I wouldn’t be surprised if we break the record in a year or two.

 

What else could challenge it? Maybe Neil Armstrong’s 14-karat gold Robbins medal?   I don’t know if that’s ever going to come to market. If it did, it would have a pretty high estimate. It would be incredibly valuable, and it would break the record.

 

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

 

Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

 

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RECORD! In May 2018, Heritage Auctions Sold Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer 6 for $1.7 Million — a Record for Any Piece of Comic Art

SOLD $1,792,500 --WORLD AUCTION RECORD Frank Frazetta Death Dealer 6 Pa...

What you see: Death Dealer 6, an original painting done in 1990 by the late Frank Frazetta. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2018 for $1.7 million, an auction record for the artist, and for any piece of comic art. (Also, scroll all the way down for a link to a Frazetta painting in an August 2 to August 4, 2018 auction at Heritage that could command $600,000 or more.)

 

The expert: Joe Mannarino, director of comics and comic art for Heritage Auctions. Mannarino and his wife, Nadia, were longtime personal friends of Frazetta’s, who died in 2010 at the age of 82.

 

So, for those who don’t know, can you give an introduction to the work of the Frank Frazetta, and explain why he’s such a big deal? He came to fame because he was originally an illustrator of popular culture. He grew up as a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan series, and he happened to get in a situation where he helped an artist who was doing the illustrated covers for reprints of Burroughs’s work in the early 1960s. One out of every three paperbacks sold [then] was an Edgar Rice Burroughs paperback, and many people bought them because of their covers. Later, Frazetta did the cover illustrations for Conan the Barbarian, and he revitalized the entire franchise. Then he was in demand, doing paperback covers, magazine covers, movie posters. Warren Publishing, a magazine publisher, said to him, “You come up with any image you want, and we’ll get a writer to write a story around it.” I can’t tell you how many people from so many different walks of life grew up with a Frank Frazetta poster on their walls. They spark the imagination. Every picture tells a story.

 

What do collectors look for in a Frazetta? Frank is known for the Four Bs. The first is beautiful babes–he has an eye for the beautiful. There are people who love his barbarians. There are people who love Burroughs and the sci-fi fantasy realm. And there are people who love the way Frank does beasts.

 

How did Frazetta hit upon the idea of the Death Dealer character? In the 1960s, he decided for himself–it wasn’t an assignment–to do a depiction of what he felt Death would look like.  No sooner does Frank do it than people think of ways to use the image. It was on the cover of a magazine, and on the cover of a record album. Frank was always surprised by this. The last thing he thought would be licensed was Death Dealer. It’s a feeling, it’s a mood.

 

How many Death Dealer images did he paint? He was always looking for licensing deals. He was asked if he could do more images with the same character. He did six, five of which were published as paperback covers [of Death Dealer novels]. The last one, number six, never came out. It was cancelled after five issues.

 

How does Death Dealer 6 compare to the other five? The first Death Dealer is very intense. It’s motionless. It has great gravitas. You feel the intensity there. The others depicted scenes in a novel. He is a character almost like a barbarian. Death Dealer 6 captures a lot of what Frank is known for. He hated art that was stiff. Look at the horse, and look at the guy’s arm. Nothing there looks overworked or stiff. It has tremendous visual appeal. That’s what his art is about.

 

And Death Dealer 6 is the only Death Dealer painting to go to auction? Yes. The family has the other five.

 

How often do Frazetta paintings come to auction? He was fanatical about keeping his original art. He felt his art was going to be more valuable. He kept 80 to 90 percent of what he produced. None of the [other] Death Dealers have been sold. His key paintings were always in his museum. Then he passed away. His wishes were that his museum continue, but his kids had other ideas.

 

So his paintings started to come to market after he died? He would agree to sell things sporadically [while he was alive]. The first time he sold a lot of material, it was the mid 1990s. He sold eight or nine paintings.

 

How prolific was Frazetta? He wasn’t. That’s a misconception. He worked in any medium that you can imagine, but he considered himself to have 150 finished oil paintings, with maybe another 25 unfinished. Maybe he sold 30 prior to his death. He sold very infrequently.

 

What drove Death Dealer 6 to such a high price at auction? How much of that was because it was a Death Dealer image? A Death Dealer painting had never come on the market before, and Death Dealer is an original character created by Frank Frazetta [unlike Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian]. That was most of it. And the market has been escalating. With each painting we put up, we get more and more, and as comparables are rising, people are comfortable going up to the next stage. But if he had ever agreed to sell Death Dealer 1 in the 1990s, I could have gotten $1 million for it then. Frank just refused to sell his paintings. The only thing that ever held back the Frazetta market before was because nothing great came up for sale. If it had, the market would have gone up much quicker. But he wanted to keep them.

 

When did you know you had a new world auction record for a Frank Frazetta work? When it passed $1.1 million. It was very exciting, on many levels. First of all, you know you’re helping a consigner, and you see them get a lot of money–that means a lot to them. And knowing the artist, and knowing what it would have meant to him [to see a work of his cross the seven-figure threshold], means even more.

 

How long do you think this record will stand? What else could challenge it? If any of his more iconic paintings come to market, the market will be pushed, that’s for sure. We have yet to see some of the greatest Frazetta paintings come up for sale. I don’t know what will happen if they do.

 

What’s the likelihood that another painting from the Death Dealer series will come up? Impossible to say. It depends on the family’s needs and wishes going forward.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

In its Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction, taking place from August 2 to August 4, 2018, Heritage is offering Escape on Venus, a 1972 Frazetta painting for the cover of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. It could command $600,000 or more.

 

The Frank Frazetta Museum has a website. The original Death Dealer image is its logo.

 

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

 

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WHOA! Sotheby’s Sold Canova’s Rediscovered Bust of Peace for More Than $7 Million

Canova, The Bust of Peace (side)

Update: Whoa! Canova’s Bust of Peace sold for £5.3 million, or slightly more than $7 million.

 

What you see: A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova. Sotheby’s anticipates bidding in excess of £1 million, or $1.3 million.

 

Who was Antonio Canova? Born in 1757 in Possagno, Italy, Canova is the greatest of the Neoclassical sculptors and one of the greatest sculptors ever. You might not recall his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work–Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, The Three Graces, and Venus Victrix, to name three. (If you’ve been to the Louvre and managed to miss Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, go back, you did it wrong.) He died in 1822, at the age of 64.

 

The expert: Christopher Mason, director of the European sculpture and works of art department at Sotheby’s.

 

How rarely does anything by Canova come to auction, let alone one of his Ideal Heads? Very rarely. In the last 30 years at auction, I can think of only a handful of examples. Last year there was a bust of Murat in Paris. It sold for €4.3 million ($5 million). We had an Ideal Head in the early to mid-1990s. It sold for £750,000 and is now in the Ashmolean. Before that, there was one in the 1980s that went to the Getty. They’re very rare, as you can see from those examples.

 

The Bust of Peace belongs to a series Canova did that was dubbed the Ideal Heads. Why is that important? He produced very few Ideal Heads. He made them as gifts for patrons and friends, and that gave him a degree of freedom in the execution of his ideas. They’re different versions of what Canova considered to be beauty. Really what distinguishes the Ideal Heads is not facial characteristics, but the hair. This one is unique, and has uniquely beautiful hair. And it’s the only bust [of his] we’re aware of that has a tiara like that.

 

What did Baron Cawdor, the sculpture’s first owner, do for Canova that earned him the Bust of Peace? He was Canova’s first British patron and a substantial landowner over here. What comes across in his letters is he’s a nice man. He and Canova got on together, and they were personal friends. Baron Cawdor was an important patron who commissioned iconic works, including the Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre. It was sort of appropriated by Murat [Joachim Murat, a French military leader and brother-in-law of Napoleon]. At the time, Britain was at war with France, and Murat could say, ‘I’ll have that.’ We know by 1814, the first fall of Napoleon, many treasures of Rome were taken by French forces and were in the Louvre. Canova was very much a patriotic Italian, and he wanted to get them back. Baron Cawdor was among the British dignitaries who supported the effort to get them back. The bust may have been given to him for that reason. But through thick and thin, Baron Cawdor was a patron who stuck by Canova.

 

Where does the Bust of Peace rank among the Ideal Heads? How well-regarded is it? There aren’t many Ideal Heads. It is a rediscovery. This is literally the first time since 1817 that it’s been published as a Canova. It’s very much fresh off the block. In terms of beauty, in my opinion, it’s one of the more beautiful. It has this glorious tiara which none of the others have. Not only is it an early Ideal Head, it has a backstory that symbolizes the end of the Napoleonic era and symbolizes peace. It combines remarkable history and a remarkably beautiful work by the greatest Neoclassical sculptor.

 

The lot notes say that Canova’s Ideal Heads “caused a stir when they arrived in Britain.” Can you explain in more detail how they were received? I don’t think you can get better than the fact that Lord Byron wrote a poem about one of the heads. Lord Byron, the great poet of the age, wrote a poem about the great sculptor of the age. At the time, the Ideal Heads were totally different from anything that came before. They would have stood like icebergs among the galleries of paintings. This gleaming white marble of an objectively regal-looking woman must have been wholly refreshing in that environment.

 

Canova also did a Statue of Peace, which he started before making this bust and delivered after finishing the bust. How do the statue and the bust relate to each other beyond their shared theme? The statue is in Kiev and is difficult to access for that reason, but the images we have of the statue compare very well. It appears to be nearly identical. There is a small natural flaw in the bust, on the upper lip. Canova wrote to Baron Cawdor apologizing for it. It’s hugely important to us because [the flaw] is a characteristic we know it had when it left Canova’s studio. It’s very slight, but it’s there. We haven’t color-corrected it out [of the catalog images]. We’re very proud of it. It is historical, isn’t it?

 

Other Ideal Heads that Canova made for British patrons and friends have dedicatory inscriptions, but this one does not. Why? Baron Cawdor went to Rome and received it into ownership at that time. The lack of a price in the archives and the fact that the others were all gifts strongly suggest that the Bust of Peace was a gift. The other four Ideal Heads arrived later, in 1817. He sent them from Rome to patrons in the U.K. [without handing them over in person]. In my opinion, Canova saw the need to inscribe them, and it was probably more natural to him to carve in stone than write in ink.

 

Do we know who Canova’s model would have been for this bust and the statue? We don’t know whether he used a live model. The conventional thinking on this is the heads are formed solely in his imagination. That might explain why they [the bust and the statue] share the same facial characteristics.

 

What features does this Bust of Peace have that 19th century viewers would have recognized on sight, but which might be obscure to 21st century viewers? First, she’s crowned, and the only other Canovas that are crowned are the Statue of Peace and a portrait he did of Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise. Clearly for the artist, the coronet represented harmony and peace. It was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of peace at the time. And it’s different from the others in that she assumes a serene and godlike expression, which shows the power of peace.

 

What condition is the bust in? It’s in very good condition. There is some minor wear, but the bust broadly retains its original surface and is particularly beautiful on the cheeks and neck–particularly smooth and perfect.

 

You said earlier that the bust is something of a rediscovery? It was considered to have been lost. When the Canova catalog raisonné was published in the 1970s, it was considered unknown. It was on view in 1817 at the Royal Academy in London. After that, it went into the Cawdor private collection until 1962, when they sold the contents of a house. It [the Bust of Peace] sold as an anonymous bust. It was at auction in 2012, again as an anonymous bust. Then it was acquired by the present owner, who, gradually, through a lot of work, figured out it was one of the Ideal Heads.

 

That is a heck of a discovery. I think the owner began to have an inkling of what it was and wrote to the great Canova expert, Hugh Honour, who is now deceased. He wrote back, ‘Congratulations on rediscovering one of the Ideal Heads, the Bust of Peace.’ The attribution was confirmed by the director of the Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy.

 

What is the Bust of Peace like in person? Personally, I find it very affecting. The bust is perfect in its conception. Peace is objectively serene, with a wonderful Neoclassical crown. The bust is designed so it can be viewed from any angle–as you move around it, the figure is changing. The tresses falling from the back of the head are arranged in a way that is not symmetrical. Canova’s great skill is producing harmonious compositions that are seemingly symmetrical, but not. It explains how he was able to breathe life into the composition. As you walk around it, it really does seem like Peace could spring into life. It’s one of the most beautiful marbles we’ve ever sold.

 

How to bid: The Bust of Peace is lot 25 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 4, 2018.

 

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

 

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RECORD! Phillips New York Sold Paul Newman’s Own Paul Newman Rolex Daytona for $17.7 Million–a Record for Any Wristwatch

PN-6-2

What you see: A 1968 Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman,” reference 6239 and owned by the late actor Paul Newman. Purchased for him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, she engraved the back of the case with the words, “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” Estimated in excess of $1 million, Phillips sold it in New York in October 2017 for $17.7 million, a world auction record for any wristwatch.

 

The expert: Paul Boutros, head of watches for the Americas for Phillips.

 

How rare are these mid-century Rolex Daytonas with the “exotic” dial that was later nicknamed for Paul Newman? Not especially rare, in the grand scheme of things. The thing with this type of Daytona is they’re really sought-after. There’s far greater demand than supply. The regular Daytona appeared in 1963. The version with the exotic dial, aka the Paul Newman dial, appeared on the market in 1966.

 

For a long time this watch was considered “lost.” How did you find it? Did the consigner come to you, or did you sleuth it out? It came to us. The consigner, James Cox, had had it in his possession since 1984. [Newman spontaneously gave it to Cox, who was dating Newman’s daughter, Nell, at the time, after he idly mentioned that he did not own a watch.] In 2016, he decided it was time to sell it for a good cause, Nell Newman’s charity. He reached out to his attorney and asked how to sell it. The attorney said he didn’t know, but he had a client with a world-class watch collection, and would ask him. The attorney called the collector and asked, “What would you think if I had Paul Newman’s Paul Newman?” The man said “$100,000 to $150,000.” The attorney said, “No no no, the Paul Newman watch worn by Paul Newman.” The collector replied, “Whoa. You have to go to Phillips.”

 

Did John Cox know what he had? And did he know that the watch was thought to be missing? He didn’t know its importance initially. He wore it casually. Once he was in Japan, and someone came up to him and said, “Paul Newman! Paul Newman!” and he thought, “Wow, how did they know I have Paul Newman’s Daytona?” He didn’t know the watch was called a Paul Newman until he did some research. Then he understood it was an important watch. He placed it in a safe deposit box in the early 1990s. Maybe he didn’t know collectors were hunting for it.

 

The Paul Newman Daytona was the top lot in Phillips’s first New York auction of watches. Did you hold and schedule the Paul Newman expressly for this sale, or did it happen to come to you at the right time? We always knew we would launch watch sales in New York, but the time had to be right. We felt that a great way to launch New York, and the best thing for the Paul Newman, was to sell it in New York. It was a great alignment of the stars.

 

You estimated it in excess of $1 million. The previous record for any wristwatch was $11 million, set at Phillips Geneva in November 2016 by a 1943 Patek Philippe, ref. 1518. When you set the estimate for the Paul Newman, did you have any notion that it could break the record? No. We did not. We were as surprised as anyone. We took in the watch in 2016. Before that, the most expensive Rolex at auction sold for $2.4 million. While the Paul Newman was in our possession, a Rolex sold for $3.4 million and another sold for $5 million. We thought it had a chance of beating the $5 million record for a Rolex. We didn’t know it would beat the record for any wristwatch.

 

Phillips sold those two record Rolexes in the same May 2017 Geneva auction. But you didn’t change the $1 million-plus estimate on the Paul Newman. Why not? We were still unsure. And once we agree upon an estimate and a contract is in place, we don’t like to change it unless we have to. We kept the estimate conservative.

 

Have other Paul Newman-owned watches gone to auction? How did they do? There was a modern 1990s Daytona associated with him that sold at a charity auction in 1995. It was one of many watches in the auction. It probably sold for $30,000. That’s it. He donated it for charity.

 

How do auction records of charity sales affect how you prepare an estimate for a similar item? There’s a little art and science behind an estimate. We ask, “How much would we pay for this watch if it was presented to us?” Another thing we consider is the price of a standard Paul Newman. In 2016, it was $150,000. With a Paul Newman provenance, it’s maybe eight to ten times that.

 

What factors drove the watch to such a staggeringly high record price? It’s an iconic watch from an iconic brand. By itself, without the Paul Newman provenance, it was $180,000 to $200,000, maximum. Factor in the Paul Newman provenance, and it’s $17.7 million. That portion above the $200,000 is directly associated with the provenance.

 

To what extent, if at all, did the charity angle–the fact that the Nell Newman Foundation and the Newman’s Own Foundation would benefit from the sale–help push the watch to its record price? It’s impossible to quantify. But if there was no charity aspect, I don’t think it would have sold as high.

 

What condition was the watch in? It was all-original. It was worn and enjoyed but it never experienced a polishing. It had its original factory finish, and the engraving was perfectly preserved. Its originality really helped it fly.

 

Does it work? Oh yes. We only sell watches that work. If it hadn’t worked, we would have sent it to a watchmaker to make it work. It’s a minor cost.

 

Did you try on the watch? Of course, yeah. It was very emotional. Your first time seeing it, looking at it, handling it–it’s the moment many wait for for their collecting careers. It was a breathtaking moment for me.

 

How long did you wear it? Not too long. I took a couple of wrist shots for my Instagram account.

 

When you announced Phillips would sell the Paul Newman Daytona, did you have bidders signing up who you’d never worked with before? Yes, many people were new to us. For a typical top lot, we have maybe five qualified people interested in bidding. The Paul Newman was above average. We had 34 registered to bid on Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, and all of them were qualified. All 34 had to show their bank statements.

 

You sold the watch in a traditional way–no online bids allowed. Why? We always accept online bids, except for this one. We wanted no potential sabotage of the lot. We accepted phone, absentee, and in-room bids. Online bids were turned off.

 

What was your role during the sale? I was on the phone with a potential bidder. Aurel [Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer, from the consulting firm Bachs & Russo] started the lot with a commission bid of $1 million, and then Tiffany [Tiffany To, a Phillips watches specialist from the Hong Kong office who was representing another phone bidder] interrupted to say “10 million!”

 

Have you ever seen anything like that happen before at an auction–the auctioneer barely finishes relaying the initial seven-digit bid, and it’s almost instantly trounced by an exponentially larger one? No. It was an incredible jump bid. It decapitated many bidders. My phone bidder, they said they were out. The person who bid $10 million was the underbidder in the end. [Phillips taped the whole thing, and you can see it on YouTube, from the opening promotional film to the final fall of the hammer.]

 

Was the record acknowledged at the time? I think Aurel knew at $10 million [that it was going to stomp the $11 million record]. He was shocked like the rest of the room, taken aback. [Bachs announces the opening $1 million bid around the 2:06 mark, and Tiffany jumps in soon after. When he realizes that she’s confirming a $10 million bid, he is indeed speechless for a few seconds.] He regained his composure. He knew, but I don’t recall him saying it was a new record [at that moment]. [Around the 10:00 mark, Aurel remarks, “I don’t need to say what this watch does in terms of records. It does everything.”]

 

How did you feel after the final gavel strike? It was… Wow. We were really shocked. Very happy, of course. Elated for Elinor Newman, for James Cox, and for collectors of watches. It was a great moment for the hobby, for someone to pay so much for an important timepiece. For me, it was the ultimate wristwatch. One thing to note is the fact that it took place in New York. Not Geneva, New York. It was great for the market.

 

How long do you think this record will stand? What else could challenge it? The watch was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s going to be tough to break, this record. I don’t think it will stand forever. I always hope something new will be unearthed that will give it a run for its money.

 

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.

 

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram. Paul Boutros is on Twitter and  Instagram also.

 

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

 

Read Phillips’s own story about the Paul Newman watch, which includes period photos of Newman wearing it.

 

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