RECORD! Diego Rivera’s The Rivals Sells for $9.7 Million–A Record for Rivera and ANY Latin American Artwork

The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie's sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

What you see: The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie’s sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

First off, how rarely do Diego Rivera canvases of any kind come up for sale, let alone fresh-to-market works from the Rockefeller family? We get them from time to time. We actually just had a smaller canvas in the regular Latin American art sale. They are rare, but every now and then we do get some.

Have any other Diego Rivera canvases painted for members of the Rockefeller family come to auction? No, not directly from the Rockefeller family. The collection of David Rockefeller’s mother was bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and became part of their collection. MoMA deaccessed one in the 1960s, but it had been in the collection for decades. Technically the answer is no, no Diego Riveras for Rockefellers at auction.

Why is it called The Rivals? Do we see the rivals in the lower left corner? It’s actually the narrative of a festival in Oaxaca, Las Velas. Here, the confrontation goes on in the foreground. The third male [the man in the black hat] looks like he’s going to intervene, but we don’t know if they’re about to have a fight. That’s why it’s called The Rivals–the male characters.

The lot notes describes The Rivals as the ‘most important Rivera offered at auction in decades.’ What makes it so? A picture on this scale has not been seen for 20 years. The last great Diego Rivera was at auction in the 1990s, a much larger painting than ours, but similar subject matter. It was from the collection of IBM, and it sold at Sotheby’s.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $5 million to $7 million? We had some notion of  work that had transacted privately recently. $5 million to $7 million became the low estimate of what we had in mind. We thought it would be [would sell] closer to $10 million, which it did. Not that we expected that–it was a wonderful surprise. The estimate needed to be fair but with room to grow and create competition. Sometimes bidders are guarded. Everything came together in the last two days. Six to eight people were interested in the painting and pursued it to the end.

Can you talk a bit about the importance of its having been commissioned from Diego Rivera in 1931 by a member of the Rockefeller family? That is important. People like to know where things have been. Only the Rockefeller family owned it. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that 1931 is a prime year for the artist. He was much-celebrated in Mexico and globally. It made his relationship with America very fruitful and complicated. It [The Rivals] precedes the painting of the Detroit murals. In 1931, MoMA did a Rivera retrospective, and this painting was part of it. All those factors make it very special.

What is The Rivals like in person? Beautiful. The colors are vibrant and fresh. All we did was have a conservator superficially clean it. Some of the characters are very abstracted, especially the women in the background–just the idea of a face. It really draws you in, almost like you’re watching a movie. It’s very cinematic in that way.

What was your role in the auction? I had a phone [he represented a bidder on the phone], but I didn’t have the winning bid. It was a multi-departmental sale for Christie’s. It had pre-war material, American art, and Latin American art. It was very dynamic for that reason alone. It was one of my favorite sales. Not only was it important, but it felt so energetic and dynamic, and there were some surprises. Everything that sold that night, five or six parties were interested. People love to see that. It’s exciting.

Were you there when the previous world auction record for Latin American art was set in 2016? Yes, I was in the room. I didn’t have the winning bid that evening.

A work by Frida Kahlo was the previous Latin American art record-holder. Could you talk about the significance of Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, handing the honor off to him? The Frida Kahlo sold in 2016 for $8 million. The market for Diego Rivera had not really moved in the high end. We really wanted it to be at the level of Frida Kahlo. We sold it [The Rivals] and surpassed it. Now Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hold the top prices in Latin American art. I think it’s well-deserved.

How long do you think the records–for Diego Rivera at auction, and for any work of Latin American art–will stand? It’s really unpredictable. Obviously, every season you hope, but the reality is you don’t really know. I’d like to see other Latin American artists get Mexican prices [Rivera and Kahlo were both Mexican].

The Rivals is pretty hard to beat, though. What could challenge it? Would it have to wait until this artwork comes back to auction? No, no. It would have to be something from a private collection. A few Frida Kahlos remain in private hands in Mexico. There are no plans for them to be sold, but maybe someday they could be. A few Wifredo Lams in Europe could do it. But it’s unpredictable, that’s the thing.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Garza spoke to The Hot Bid earlier in 2018 about a Fernando Botero Circus painting.

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RECORD! A Near-complete Dodo Skeleton Sold for $430,000 in 2016

A nearly complete (95 percent) Dodo skeleton, assembled by a collector over the course of four decades. Maybe a dozen similarly complete Dodo skeletons exist, and all of them are in museums. In November 2016, Summers Place Auctions sold it for £280,000, or about $430,000, a world auction record for a Dodo skeleton.

What you see: A nearly complete (95 percent) Dodo skeleton, assembled by a collector over the course of four decades. Maybe a dozen similarly complete Dodo skeletons exist, and all of them are in museums. In November 2016, Summers Place Auctions sold it for £280,000, or about $430,000, a world auction record for a Dodo skeleton.

The expert: Rupert van der Werff, director of Summers Place Auctions.

How abundant are Dodo bones, generally? Are some harder to get than others, making it difficult to piece together a fuller skeleton? The way bones are found are by people walking through the swamp [on Mauritius]. Given that they come from one small swamp on one small island from one small species, they’ve never been particularly abundant.

When did Mauritius ban the export of Dodo bones? It became illegal in 2016, but it was generally considered unacceptable post-World War II.

Did the collector who consigned the skeleton set out to piece one together, or did he realize after several years that he had a nearly complete Dodo skeleton? He was a passionate collector of all things Dodo-related. He’d been acquiring bones as they popped up. He came to the realization that he may well have a skeleton, started piecing it together, and realized he did indeed have a skeleton.

How did the nearly complete Dodo skeleton come to you? We’ve sold a diplodocus, a mammoth, and an allosaurus–we’ve had some pretty fabulous star lots. The publicity and the prices we managed to achieve certainly alerted the person to us. In a way, it was natural for him to come to us.

But how did you learn of the Dodo skeleton’s existence and come to receive it? I got a call. He said what he had. It was so unlikely, but there was a chance it could actually be true. He was a few hours away. I popped in my car and went as soon as it was practicable. It was in his shed. He had mounted it. Even I, who wouldn’t pretend to be an expert, could see it was the real deal. I took pictures, talked to the owner, picked it up, and drove very carefully back to work to start the publicity rolling.

What do you do in a moment like that? I mean, he may as well have shown you a unicorn skeleton. Did you try to maintain a poker face? It is something of a Holy Grail in terms of natural history. If I’d tried to remain straight-faced, it wouldn’t have worked. It was quite extraordinary, not something I ever dreamed would happen.

How did you put an estimate on the nearly complete Dodo skeleton? There aren’t really Dodo comparables other than the skeleton that sold in 1914. I tried to negotiate with the owner for the lowest estimate he would consider acceptable and use the auction for what auctions can do–establish what something is worth on any one day.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a a pretty serious collector we’ve done a lot of business with in the past.

Were you surprised by the result? I was pleased it sold, of course. But when you find something as rare as this, as iconic as this, as exciting as this, you can’t help but getting a little carried away in your imagination and think it can go on and on.

In the material that Summers Place assembled to promote the Dodo, you noted that the last time a Dodo skeleton sold was in 1914. The Cardiff Museum paid £350 for it, but you estimate that because Britain was on the gold standard back then, the sum is equivalent to £5 million, or $6.5 million. Does this mean that the 2016 bidder got a bargain? I think so. As far as anyone knows, there’s only one in private hands. Any future discoveries belong to Mauritius. It’s unique. That word is used a lot in the art world, but it’s rarely true. In this case, it actually is. Frankly, it could have made anything [sold for anything].

And the only way this record will be beaten is if this particular Dodo skeleton returns to auction? Yes. There are no others unless a museum deaccessions, which isn’t going to happen. If it’s back to market, that’s the only chance there is.

Why are we still so fascinated by the Dodo, a bird that went extinct centuries ago? It’s clearly quite an unusual animal, and it does look a bit unfortunate. To think it existed on one little island in the Indian Ocean 300 years ago and man wiped it out, it’s incredibly sad. If it were a better-looking animal, it wouldn’t figure in the public consciousness. But it’s got a great name and an unfortunate look. Like a T-Rex, everyone has heard of one. And there are more relatively complete T-Rex skeletons than Dodo skeletons, which puts it into perspective, and shows you how special it is.

Why does this Dodo skeleton stick in your memory? Because I never considered… when I got the opportunity to include a diplodocus, I couldn’t believe it. Never in 100 years would I dream of handling a diplodocus skeleton. It’s right up there, one of the icons of natural history. If I handle a T-Rex, that’d also be incredible, and there’s probably more of a chance of getting a T-Rex than a Dodo. If anything, things like this almost transcend monetary value. It’s surprising that a private individual was able to secure it.

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Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

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RECORD! The Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr., Owner of Native Dancer, Sells for $100,000

A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

What you see: A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

How often do Triple Crown trophies come to auction? Infrequently, and for the Preakness, it’s even less frequently. What you normally see are Kentucky Derby Trophies. They’re highly prized by the families who win them. Kentucky Derby Trophies tend to be valuable. The race has name recognition and the trophy is made out of high-karat gold. The Preakness Trophy is made of silver. A Preakness trophy sold at Christie’s on January 17, 2008, won in 1970 by Personality, which was owned by Ethel D.Jacobs, a very notable horse owner, sort of on a par with Vanderbilt. [He later provided a link to a story that mentioned a third sale of a Preakness Trophy at SCP Auctions in November 2017. Scroll down for the mention.]

How much is this trophy worth simply as a Preakness Trophy, without factoring in the names of Vanderbilt and Native Dancer? Any winner of the Preakness would be a notable horse, bred and raised and trained by notable owners. You’ve got to go back a ways to find a no-name. The Preakness trophy was not available before 1953. The original trophy was the Woodlawn Vase, a pre-Civil War trophy made by Tiffany & Co. for a racecourse in Kentucky called Woodlawn. Not until the late 19th or the early 20th century did Pimlico host the Preakness–the vase was not made for Pimlico. It passed to the next winner until 1953, when Native Dancer won. Vanderbilt decided that the original trophy was too valuable, and should be safely held in the Baltimore Art Museum. 1953 was the first time a replica trophy was issued, and that’s what we sold. It’s notable in that it was the first one you could get. I think that helped its price in the end.

How did the Vanderbilt name affect the value of the 1953 Preakness trophy? Lots of people collect things related to prominent Vanderbilts. The cross-current of competition [with collectors of horse-racing memorabilia] helped drive the price up. This trophy belonged to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., and was sold [consigned] by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III. Vanderbilt Jr., was very influential in the history of American racing and particularly in Maryland.

And how did the Native Dancer name affect the value of the trophy? Native Dancer is one of a small group of horses that lost the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness. That’s the only mar on his record. He was a big favorite going into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. In 1953, the Preakness was shown on live television and got huge national attention. The country fell in love with Native Dancer.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $30,000? We matched the estimate on the trophy sold at Christie’s in 2008. That sold for $32,200. Ours really took off.

What is the 1953 Preakness trophy like in person? It wasn’t huge, but it was imposing, though. It had a very nice look to it, and it was in good condition. I think it was two-thirds the size of the original Woodlawn Vase. It’s a good, presentable size.

What was your role in the auction? Were you in the room? I acted as a specialist. I wrote the essay about the horse and its owner. The silver specialist cataloged it. And I was there, watching it sell. The whole thing took maybe two minutes. There was a pretty big pool of bidders that dropped down to two once it was over $60,000.

How long do you think the record will stand? I think this Preakness record should stand for a while. Probably none of the owners of horses that won the Preakness have the name recognition of the Vanderbilt family. It would probably have to belong to a horse that won the Triple Crown.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a major sports collectible, probably the highest-ranking sports collectible I’ve ever sold. It’s a case of a fantastic owner, Vanderbilt, with a fantastic horse, Native Dancer, and the Preakness. It’s hard to get trophies for major horses. That’s why it’s special. The trophy clearly spoke to a lot of people.

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Image is courtesy of Doyle.

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

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RECORD! A Dale Chihuly Chandelier Sold for $200,000 in 2015

A white, clear, and amber chandelier, measuring ten feet tall, five feet wide, and four feet, eight inches deep, made by Dale Chihuly in 2004.

What you see: A white, clear, and amber chandelier, measuring ten feet tall, five feet wide, and four feet, eight inches deep, made by Dale Chihuly in 2004. Rago Auctions sold it in June 2015 for $200,000 against an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.

The expert: Suzanne Perrault, partner and co-director of Rago’s 20th and 21st century design department.

How did this Dale Chihuly chandelier come to be? Was it a commission? Is it unique? It is a commission, and it is unique. The chandeliers usually are. These weigh hundreds of pounds, and they’re not technically chandeliers–they’re glass sculptures. Each is unique, but Chihuly has made quite a few of them.

Where was it displayed originally? It was for a residence in New York City. I came to have it because a gentleman who bought the house with the piece in it had a three-year-old son who was terrified of it. He contacted us about selling it.

How did you sell this huge, fragile Dale Chihuly chandelier? Did you bring it to the sale room? We didn’t put it up in the auction house. It’s pretty much the only thing we’ve sold by a photo only. It was available to be seen in situ in New York. We had a banner of it made to scale to hang in the gallery.

Was it tricky to sell it largely on the basis of a photo? Yes and no. There are so many items people buy without seeing in person. A lot of people seem to be comfortable with that. I always encourage people to see things in person, but of the four who saw the chandelier in person, none bought.

Just how fragile is this Dale Chihuly chandelier? The glass in these is considerably thicker than other Chihuly glass. It’s definitely sturdier.

The colors of this chandelier are white, clear, and amber. How did that affect its value? It’s actually white, clear, and gold. It has done considerably better than multicolor ones that have sold subsequently. It’s pretty fancy. It may look a little plainer in the photo than in reality.

Have other Dale Chihuly chandeliers gone to auction? How did they do? Chandeliers are the pieces by Dale Chihuly that bring the most. The closest price was $158,500 at Heritage in Texas in May 2013. Another at Wright didn’t sell.

What condition was this one in? It’s hard to tell, and it’s kind of irrelevant. When the chandelier is designed, it’s always an organic process. There’s no finite number of elements going in. The person putting it up for the original purchaser asks them if they have enough elements, or if they want it fuller.  If the client insists, elements can be replaced by the Chihuly studio.

How many elements does the Dale Chihuly chandelier have? About 700 pieces, and it took about a week to install [in the home of the winning bidder].

What was your role in the auction? I was calling the auction. There was tremendous interest in the lot.

What stands out about the experience of selling it? When the underbidder asked me to go for a half-bid, and I said no.

What’s a half-bid? Bids go up by increments that are codified in the catalog. They go up by a certain amount until we hit a cap. Maybe we’d gotten to $150,000, and maybe he said give me a half-bid when it should have been $10,000. It could have been that. The people who bought the chandelier were very grateful, and it cemented our friendship after that. I hate half-bids. These are lovely items. No one really needs them. They’re luxuries. I don’t think half-bids are fair to other bidders who are willing to go to the full increment. There were many underbidders.

How many bidders were in the hunt? We started with ten, which is a lot for piece at that level. And you should know about the chandelier–it is quite large. There are not a lot of places that can afford [to set aside] that kind of space, and it’s expensive to put up. There’s one company Chihuly recommends and will stand behind [to install his works], and it’s done a ton of them. The company needs to be there many days. It’s a big job, and it’s costly. This is not like buying a sculpture that’s ready to put on a center table. It’s a lot more complicated.

How long do you think the record will stand? I have no idea. There’s quite a few of these Chihuly chandeliers. There’s a spectacular red chandelier in a home in Philadelphia that overlooks the city. It’s right there in the middle of the room, and it goes from the ceiling almost all the way to the floor. It looks like an upside-down Christmas tree. It’s magical. How much would that do? I don’t know. That’s the magic of auctions.

What is this chandelier like in person? It’s lovely. It’s so wonderful because of how they [the winning bidders] set it up. It’s in a four-story house which is industrial and modern, all glass and steel. You walk up the stairs, which curl around this piece. It’s a real show-stopper. It couldn’t look any better. It was meant to be there.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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RECORD! Louis Eliasberg’s 1913 Liberty Head Nickel Sold for $4.5 Million

This Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.5 million, a world auction record for a coin made from a non-precious metal.

Update: The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.5 million, a world auction record for a coin made from a non-precious metal.

What you see: A 1913 Liberty Head nickel, one of five produced. Stack’s Bowers Galleries estimates it at $3 million to $5 million.

The expert: Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

I see here that five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were made–not that five survive. What do we know about how the nickels came to be? The history of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is a little murky and there’s a lot of lore to it. That’s one of the intriguing aspects of this coin. There’s no confirmed story, and there’s no U.S. Mint records surrounding the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. But there are a couple of theories. One is they were struck and exchanged with collectors for coins that were missing from the Mint’s collection. Another is they were privately struck at the Mint and they found their way onto the market, or they were struck for wealthy collectors. 1913 was the first year of the buffalo nickel. Because the buffalo design was not approved until late February of 1913, there was a two-month period in 1913 when the nickels could have been made.

And the Liberty Head design on the 1913 nickel is the same design that was on the nickel from 1883 to 1912? Yes, it’s the same. In 1913, the Mint switched to the buffalo nickel that everyone is so familiar with.

How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are in private hands? Two are permanently housed in museums–one is in the Smithsonian, and the other is in the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That leaves three in private hands.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

When was the last time a 1913 Liberty Head nickel went to auction? Two nickels were offered in 2014. They were two different specimens, and one of the two was previously offered in 2010. Prior to that, the last auction appearance was our coin in 1996. They do not come around very often.

When was this nickel graded? Was it encapsulated? It is encapsulated, and I do not have the date when it was graded. Our collector acquired it in 2007. I’m guessing it was around then.

Are the other two in private hands graded and encapsulated? And is it a tough call to seal the coin in plastic? You bring up a good point. There are a lot of benefits to certification and getting it sealed in a plastic holder. One, the coin is guaranteed to be authentic. If you’re spending a couple of million on something, an authenticity guarantee is important. Two, it’s protected. And most important of all, having it third party-graded and encapsulated is really the way the market accepts rare coins today. Everything we sell is encapsulated. It does feel a little more bit more distant because it’s in a plastic holder, but it’s really not a hard decision to have them graded.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

How does this Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel stand out from its four siblings? It’s pretty universally recognized that this is the finest of the five pieces. Ours is mirror-like, and very sharply struck. All the design shows up in the coin. It’s a 66 on a scale of 70. It’s nearly flawless. The other two in private hands have grades of 63 and 64. The others have more of a satiny finish, and other coins do show some signs of handling. The one in the ANA museum was owned by someone who carried it in his pocket, unprotected, with keys and change, and it shows significant signs of wear.

This nickel once belonged to Louis Eliasberg, a prominent American coin collector. Why was he such a big deal in the numismatic world? He was probably the most accomplished numismatist ever. Not only did he get examples of every [American] coin ever created, he got great pieces. Today, everything with an Eliasberg provenance trades at a premium.

How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels has Stack’s Bowers Galleries handled? We’ve handled four of the five. The one in the ANA museum never made it through our hands at any point.

What’s the world auction record for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel? What’s the likelihood that the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel will meet or beat that sum? In 2010, the nickel with the 64 grade sold for $3.7 million. It’s pretty likely to meet or beat the record. I’ll take the over if we’re betting. (Laughs.)

What has changed in the numismatic market between 2010 and now? The market is very strong right now. Given the fact that the coin has not been offered publicly since 1996 and may not be offered again in our lifetime, depending on who buys it, we expect a lot of competition for the coin and we expect it to do well.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

Why will this Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel stick in your memory? It’s far and away the finest example of one of the greatest American rarities. It’s a piece of American history. It’s museum-worthy.

How to bid: The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel is lot 1096 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries‘s official auction at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money, taking place from August 14 through August 18, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Stack’s Bowers.

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RECORD! A Walter Dorwin Teague Nocturne Radio Sold for $149,000

A Nocturne radio, model 1186, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for the Sparton Corporation in 1935.

What you see: A Nocturne radio, model 1186, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for the Sparton Corporation in 1935. Wright sold it in November 2015 for $149,000 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000–a record for any work by Teague.

The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house.

Sparton unveiled the Nocturne radio in 1935, during the Great Depression. It was priced at $350 to $375, which means it almost cost as much as a car. Who would have been the market for this high-end radio? It was always a Cadillac premium item, not intended for the masses. They didn’t sell a lot of them, but it was marketed to high-end posh interiors–hotels and similar venues. They did it as futuristic branding of the company as opposed to selling a lot of these.

I look at the Nocturne radio and to me, sitting here in the 21st century, it still seems futuristic. Do we know how the public reacted to the radio at the time? People looked at it and felt optimistic about the future. The fact that it came out at the depths of the Great Depression spoke to the idea that there was real hope and promise in technology. Things are different today, but the promise is out there that technology can make the world better. We still do that. Computers and technology products tend to be futuristic in design.

This represents an auction record for a work by Walter Dorwin Teague, but is it also an auction record for any radio? It seems to be, but I can’t verify that. There are auction databases, but you can’t just search on radios. Enigma machines have a radio component, but that’s a different category. For a straightforward radio, I do think it’s a record.

Could you explain what the yellow dial at the top does? I think it’s the frequency tuner. This radio works but we were very reluctant to plug it in. I didn’t play around with all the things it could do.

And the black box at the bottom is the speaker? Yes.

And the ladder structure and the blue glass–is it decorative or functional? Does the glass help amplify the sound? It’s purely aesthetic. There’s no functional aspect to that.

About two dozen Nocturne radios survive, and they pop up at auction every now and again. How does this one compare to the other examples? This was a particularly good one. It had been incredibly restored, and there had been a carefully documented restoration of it. There’s a relatively small number of buyers for these today. The best buyers for us for these have been museums.

What is the Nocturne radio like in person? It’s impressive. I think the reason it’s collected today is it’s a visually iconic symbol of industrial design and American Art Deco. To your point, it still looks very modern today and very pared down and pure in its expression. And it’s big, physically big. It was meant to be a real show-stopper. There was a tabletop version. I think it was called a Bluebird. There are many more of those, but it doesn’t at all have the presence of the Nocturne. This is bigger, and you can see yourself in it. It’s a pretty interesting experience to stand in front of it.

What does it sound like? I did hear it on. I didn’t play with it, didn’t tune it to different bands. It’s hard to gauge the sound quality. We’re pretty spoiled now [as far as expectations of sound quality]. It has a pretty big sound, but a mono speaker.

What drove the price of this Nocturne radio so high? There were five active bidders, which is significant at that level. I think it was a fantastic example, historically documented, we did a good job telling its story, and it had the nice element that part of the proceeds went to charity. If you were waiting to buy one, this was the one to buy, and people recognized that.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $90,000? It was based on comparables that existed. We’d handled Nocturnes before, and we knew this was a great one. The estimate was fairly aggressive. We did sell one in 2003 to the Dallas Museum of Art for over $100,000 on an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. The consigner was the widow of the radio enthusiast, but she had a good sense of the market. She also played a part [in the estimate]. She wanted to honor her husband’s legacy and wanted a significant price, for sure.

What was your role in the auction? I was the auctioneer. I don’t remember much. Auctioneering is very much a flow activity. You’re very concentrated. You try to respond with energy and try not to make a mistake and then you go to the next lot.

When did you know you had a record? Records are nice, but it wasn’t first and foremost in my mind. I didn’t go into it hoping to break a record, but I know the benchmarks. I handled the consignment myself.  It was her husband’s legacy, his favorite radio. I felt proud that I had told the story of the radio, put it online, linked to her husband’s blog, and got a great result. That’s the best of my work. I helped myself, I helped somebody, and I preserved history. I feel super-proud of that. And I want it [the lot listing] to be out there as a resource for people who find it.

What else is out there by Walter Dorwin Teague that could challenge this record? Teague designed a wide range of things. Nothing else would touch it in his oeuvre. It’d be another Nocturne. That’s the only thing that would get back up there.

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Wright is on Twitter and Instagram.

The Nocturne’s previous owner, the late Roger E. Dillon, created a website about the exquisite radio and how he restored it.

Image is courtesy of Wright.

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SOLD! A Sydney Laurence Painting of Alaska’s Mount McKinley Fetched $75,000 at Bonhams

Mount McKinley, 63 Degrees North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet, painted by Sydney Laurence in 1911 or 1912.

Update: The Laurence painting sold for $75,000.

What you see: Mount McKinley, 63 Degrees North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet, painted by Sydney Laurence in 1911 or 1912. Bonhams estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

Who was Sydney Laurence? He was an American painter who built a career on depicting the landscapes of Alaska. He moved there around 1904, several years before Alaska became a U.S. territory (it gained statehood in 1959). He made a specialty of painting images of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. (It has since regained its original name of Denali, but it’s called Mount McKinley throughout this story because it’s the name Laurence used when giving titles to his works.) He died in 1940 at the age of 74.

The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.

How prolific was Sydney Laurence? Fairly prolific. We do see quite a bit of his paintings.

And how often do you see a painting of his that dates to 1911 or 1912? That’s really the main story here. It appears to be quite rare in that regard. Len Braarud, a Sydney Laurence afficionado who died a few years ago–his research led him to believe this seems to be one of, if not the earliest, Laurence scene of Mount McKinley. Braarud’s theory is it’s not an accurate depiction of Mount McKinley. To get to that vantage point, Laurence would have had to trek to that spot. There were no roads, the weather could be nasty, and the mosquitos were really severe in the summer. You’re not going to plunk down a canvas and paint there. He probably took a drawing pad, which you can put in a backpack, and did field sketches of the scene, then went back to the studio and did the painting.

I admit I’m not a Mount McKinley aficionado. Is it obvious on sight to those who know the mountain well that Laurence’s vision in this painting is a bit off? People who know Mount McKinley will be quick to tell you that. It has similarities, but it’s not exactly the same. Certain lines of the face of it aren’t exactly how it looks today.

Could its lack of accuracy make it less interesting to collectors? It could, but some might find the historical oddity is part of its appeal. It’s hard to say.

Why did Sydney Laurence go to Alaska? I think the jury is still out on why he went. He left his wife and kids in England. We’re not entirely sure of the reasons behind it.

What were the perceptions of Alaska when Sydney Laurence moved there in 1904? How did he shape those perceptions? It was a very, very wild place. with grizzly bears and wild animals. It was very primitive, for lack of a better word. At the same time, it was exciting. It was undiscovered territory for those who want to be adventuresome. It was an untapped world.

The painting measures 36 5/8 by 54 5/8 inches. Is that a typical size for Sydney Laurence? It’s much bigger. It’s one of his biggest canvases that we’ve handled. Once he got into the swing of his career, he never deviated off of standard size canvases from art supply stores. It’s definitely an unusual size.

There’s another Laurence painting of Mount McKinley in the auction that’s estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Is that because it’s smaller and undated, but made later? Exactly, exactly. It’s a more typical work from the middle of his career. He did Mount McKinley paintings over and over because he found there was a market for them. He churned out more of the same.

What’s the auction record for a Laurence? Does it belong to a larger-size Mount McKinley painting? The auction record is $235,200, for a large Mount McKinley painting. The top three [most expensive Laurences] are all large Mount McKinley paintings.

Does that mean this one, which is also a large Mount McKinley painting, could break the artist’s record at auction? I can’t say it will take off. But it’s a little different, and a little early. I just don’t know.

But it shows Sydney Laurence becoming Sydney Laurence… Some may not care. Some may find it a great storyline. It’s hard to say. Considering he did a million Mount McKinley scenes, that [its early date and the oddities in its depiction] makes it stand out from the others. Whether anyone will see it that way outside of a museum, it’s hard to say. I’d love to follow up with you after the auction to see if we were right.

Why will this work stick in your memory? Its size and its quality. It’s a really strong, crisp, bright painting that has a really strong presence on the wall.

How to bid: The early Sydney Laurence Mount McKinley painting is lot 109 in the California and Western Paintings and Sculpture sale at Bonhams Los Angeles on August 7, 2018.

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Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Scot Levitt previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Gilbert Munger painting of a famous landmark in Yosemite National Park.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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RECORD! A Deck Chair from the Titanic Sold for Almost $150,000

IMG_0162

What you see: A deck chair recovered from the ocean debris field of the Titanic after it sank in 1912. Henry Aldridge & Son sold it in April 2015 for just over £100,000, or about $150,000, setting a world auction record for a Titanic deck chair, and presumably any deck chair.

The expert: Andrew Aldridge, auctioneer.

I’m surprised that any deck chairs survived the wreck of the Titanic. How did it happen? It’s very straightforward. When any ship sinks, especially one that’s 46,000 tons and 883 feet long, there’s a lot of debris. The two main recovery ships were cable-layers that were redirected to pick up bodies. They also picked up a lot of flotsam and jetsam, not for souvenirs, but for recycling. The ship carpenter on the Mackay-Bennett would fashion something out of it [salvaged wood]. The Titanic would have had thousands of deck chairs, and they washed off the deck. They [the rescue ships] probably picked up 20 to 30 deck chairs. That small number narrows down to a handful today.

The Titanic did not have its own specific, distinctive deck chair. How do we know that this particular one was used on the Titanic and not another White Star Line vessel? They are generic deck chairs. What makes it is the provenance. [Period records show that the chair originally belonged to a French cable ship captain who was on board the Mackay-Bennett when it was diverted.] That’s one reason this chair is so desirable. To give you an example, the provenance package for this deck chair included a folder that stood an inch and a half high. You’re talking no more than a few deck chairs that could pass muster, in our opinion.

How many Titanic deck chairs have you handled? One. That shows you how rare they are.

Does the Titanic deck chair show evidence of having been in the water? There was some discoloration of the wood and oxidation of the fittings. Things like the fittings going green–you want to keep that. You don’t want to polish them to new. The conservator walked a tight line between keeping the patination and the age of it, but preserving it as well.

You’ve sold this Titanic deck chair twice, in 2001 and again in 2015. How do the two sales show how things have changed over time? In 2001 it sold for £33,500, which was then a record for a Titanic deck chair. It illustrates the difference in the market between 2001 and 2015. The one percent, the best of the best, the blue chip pieces have gone up.

When did the phrase ‘Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic‘ enter pop culture? Certainly not right after the sinking? Possibly in the 1950s. She sank in 1912 and by 1913, 1914, she was old news. People were not interested in her for decades and decades. Only in the 1950s, with A Night to Remember, did people get interested in her again. I guess it entered pop culture after that.

Did you sit on the Titanic deck chair? No. I’m 16 stone [224 pounds]. It’s not sensible. But if you’re lighter than me, yes, you could. If I was 8 stone [112 pounds] I’d happily sit on it.

What do you remember of the auction? It was 25,000 lots ago, but there was a hell of a lot of interest in it. It got to £50,000 to £60,000 quick. We opened bidding with a new record for a Titanic deck chair.

Why does the Titanic deck chair stick in your memory? We were talking before about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic–that’s your answer, really. You don’t see an object like that every day.

There were so many spectacular ocean liners, but material from the Titanic is far and away the most collectible. Why are we still fascinated with that ship? Most people don’t care how long the Titanic was or how many tons she weighed. People care about people. There were 2,200 people on that ship and every man, woman, and child had a story to tell. That’s why we still talk about it.

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Henry Aldridge & Son is on Instagram.

Henry Aldridge & Son‘s October 22, 2018 auction will include a Titanic travel poster that touts a return voyage that never had a chance to happen.

Image is courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son.

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RECORD! A Harold Dunbar Cape Cod Scene Sold for $78,000

A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred's sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000--stomping the artist's previous auction record several times over.

What you see: A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred’s sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000–stomping the artist’s previous auction record several times over.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

First, let’s talk about the artist who made this work, Harold Dunbar. What can you tell me about him? There are two distinct parts of his career. When he was younger he lived in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a gifted Impressionist painter, and if he stayed that course, he might be better regarded than he is today. In the 1910s, he moved to Chatham, Massachusetts, and he started to work for the tourist trade. He could paint local scenes of Chatham fairly quickly, and he sold them to tourists and locals for a tidy sum. Lore says he had quite the alcohol issue. We see a real variety of quality in his later era–some paintings where he didn’t give his all, and others that are much better.

Did this work have a name when it came to you? No, it did not have a name. We applied the name.

This has been described as Harold Dunbar’s best work. What makes it so? Obviously it’s a very subjective thing to say. In my opinion it’s in the top five. It’s certainly the best we’ve ever handled. The thing that really grabs people is the woman. She’s looking right at you and she’s almost talking to you, like she’s trying to draw you into the painting. Her pose, the way her head is cocked, the way she’s looking toward the viewer, it’s really dramatic.

How do we know the landscape shows the Cape Cod town of Chatham? There’s a bit of debate about that now. Some feel it might be Truro instead. We can’t say it’s an exact point in Chatham. There’s a bit of a debate about exactly where it is on the Cape, but we’re fairly sure it’s Truro now.

Do we know if Harold Dunbar used models for this, and if so, do we know who the models were? I don’t know. I suspect he did. He didn’t do an awful lot of figurative work.

What makes this painting stand out among Harold Dunbar’s works? The prominent figures, the work is a fairly large size for him, and the quality is outstanding. He obviously puts a lot of time and effort into it. On the quality scale of his Cape Cod works, it’s a 10.

How many Dunbars have you handled? How have you seen his market change over time? We’ve handled probably 500 Dunbars. The market for him has been pretty steady. There’s always been pretty solid demand, particularly on the cape. They’re bright, cheerful, and fairly easy and popular sells.

How did the Harold Dunbar painting find its way to you? It came in to an art dealer in a shop in Denver, Colorado last summer. The dealer called us to refer the consigner, and shipped the painting out. It was not where you expect to find a Dunbar. My suspicion is someone who was probably here originally left the area. We didn’t see a public record of it being sold. None of the local dealers and collectors recalled seeing it on the market before.

Did that prompt a concern that it might be fake? Are fakes a problem with Dunbar’s work? That didn’t concern us at all. There actually have been a few fakes out there, but they’re pretty easy to spot. A lot of the “fakes” that we see are not intentionally faked, but people thinking, “If I put a signature on it, I can make a couple hundred bucks.”

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

What was it like to see the Harold Dunbar painting show up? It was exciting. We looked at it and said, “Wow, this is the best Dunbar we’ve ever seen.” It was a nice moment to unpack it. I put it on the cover of the catalog not thinking it would bring that kind of money, but because I thought it was a powerful image.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 for the Harold Dunbar painting? Estimates are always a tricky thing. As an auctioneer, you want the estimate to be fair but conservative. In this case, the Dunbar auction record up to that point was $5,000. It was a very nice harbor painting that we sold about 10 years before. Only about five percent of his works had broken the $3,000 barrier. Conservative estimates are better, but a lot of people get caught up in the moment and bid what they want to bid. I thought if they got caught up, on a great day, the Dunbar might sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

When did you get a notion that the Harold Dunbar painting might do better than $5,000? We had a preview two weeks before the sale, and it was very, very well-received. Dunbar collectors loved it. Even those who didn’t care about Dunbar loved it.

What was your role in the auction? I am one of the principal auctioneers, but I did not auction the Dunbar. I was a bystander.

What do you remember of the sale? I think it started around $5,000. There were two very active people in the room, and it quickly got around $15,000. After $15,000, there was one bidder on the phone and one in the room who bid it up to the final price. The person who bought it was in the room, and the underbidder was on the phone.

What was your reaction when you saw the Harold Dunbar painting glide past $15,000? I would have been pleased with $15,000. Once it got to $20,000, I was shocked. It was a surprise to everybody. Two people desperately had to have it, and it became a battle.

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

Why do you think they fought so hard for it? I think the painting just spoke to them. This is just my analysis of it–I haven’t spoken to either of them. This is a wonderful Cape Cod painting. Everyone was taken in by the female figure. It’s a pleasing painting, a relaxing painting. You can picture yourself walking on a Cape Cod evening and passing her. It was one of those moments. And there’s mystery around the painting, too. The man is much older. Is it her father? Her husband? People had fun figuring out what the story was. At one point, I thought it might be a commissioned work or an illustration for a story, but there’s no proof. That’s complete conjecture on my part.

How long do you think this record will stand? Could any other Harold Dunbar painting challenge it? I know of nothing out there that would be available for sale at any point that could challenge it. I know of some Dunbars in private hands, but they wouldn’t achieve close to this level. In my opinion, it will stand for a long time, potentially our lifetimes. It was lightning in a bottle.

Well, this painting pretty much appeared out of nowhere. Maybe lightning will strike twice? It certainly can. I’m not a gambler, and I wouldn’t bet on it, but part of the fun of what we do is we never know. Last summer, we sold a scrimshaw tooth that shattered the record, and it was bought at a gun show. There’s always that next wonderful thing out there. That’s part of what keeps us going.

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Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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RECORD! A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning Sold for $929,000–a Record for Any Motorcycle at Auction

A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, one of 19 with full matching numbers [same numbers on both the frame and the engine]. Bonhams sold it in Las Vegas in January 2018 for $929,000--a record for any motorcycle at auction.

What you see: A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, one of 19 with full matching numbers [same numbers on both the frame and the engine]. Bonhams sold it in Las Vegas in January 2018 for $929,000–a record for any motorcycle at auction. (Also, scroll all the way down for news of another Vincent Black Lightning, estimated at $400,000 to $500,000, which Bonhams will offer in early October in Birmingham, Alabama.)

The expert: Ben Walker, international department director for collectors’ motorcycles at Bonhams.

Vincent Black Lightnings are rare–fewer than three dozen exist. How often do they come to auction? Before this, one came up in October 2008, a supercharged example, which was also at Bonhams. [It sold for £221,500, or about $294,149.]

Was that an auction record for a motorcycle? It was an auction record for a Vincent Black Lightning. Not overall.

The lot notes say that when this bike’s first owner offered it for sale for £500 in 1951, the sum would have bought “a couple of nice houses in Sydney at the time.” What did the buyer get for his money? He got the ultimate, the best that money could buy. If you look at the bike, this was based on the Vincent Black Shadow, which was the quickest thing you could buy. It must have been like something out of space. A sedan averaged 45 mph. The bike was capable of 150 mph. It’s phenomenal. The bike had ingenuity, it’s a beautiful object to look at, and it was extremely expensive. He got an incredible luxury product.

What did luxury mean in the context of buying the best motorcycle that 1951 had to offer? Power. Comfort. He got something that had suspension. The majority of bikes that got you to work were two-stroke things, very utilitarian. They were not designed with the ability to cover big distances at great speeds in comfort.

What makes the Vincent Black Lightning a holy grail for motorcycle collectors? Rarity, speed, and the fact that this was the fastest thing you could buy on two wheels. It was a competitive motorcycle, and people want to win. They don’t want to be at the back of the grid–they want to be at the front of the grid. This is a bike you could do that on.

The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle is described as being in “original condition.” Can you point to a specific detail on the bike that shows how original it is? The paint, the paint. I don’t want to see something that’s perfect. I want to see something that has a patina. That look is so exciting when you can find it, and so exciting when you see it. It’s as good as you can possibly get. There are Vincent Black Lightnings, and then there’s this bike. It’s high up purely on the basis of its condition. It’s not messed-with.

So it’s the best of the Vincent Black Lightnings? I have to place the Rollie Free [Vincent Black Shadow] above this. I have to. I know it’s not a Vincent Black Lightning, but it does get bracketed into the Black Lightning numbers. It’s the top of the tree, something extraordinarily special. [Free made his Black Shadow famous when he set an American land speed record on it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1948. This photo of him attempting the record while dressed in a Speedo-like bathing suit is regarded as the most famous image in all of motorcycling.] That bike sold privately in 2012 to an American collector for $1.2 million. Whether or not the bike is still worth that price or a bit more, I don’t know, but the market has changed dramatically since 2012.

But if we’re talking strictly about unambiguously counted Vincent Black Lightnings, is this one number one? It’s got to be top three. I know of other bikes. I’m fortunate enough to go to a lot of collections and see a lot of motorbikes, a lot of Vincent Black Lightnings. I can’t talk about them without betraying confidences. But this one is definitely up there.

What markings do I see on the side of the tank of the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning? It’s the Australian land speed record, which Jack Ehret set on this bike. I don’t think he held it for very long, but he had to make the point about making the Australian land speed record. [Ehret reached 141.5 mph on the motorcycle in January 1953. The inscription on the tank is visible in one of the many shots Bonhams included with the lot. You may have to scroll down to find it.] It’s a really cool little touch. To paint that bike would be sacrilege. It would be taking value off it, because it would take off the notation.

Have you ridden this 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle? Sadly not, but if you look online, on YouTube, for “Patrick Godett Vincent,” you can see a video of it being tested. It was ridden pretty extensively in the run-up to the auction.

This 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle has had five owners over 66 years. Is that an exceptionally low number of owners, or is that about what you’d expect? Does it matter? Few owners, traceable history–it’s a big benefit. You can have a vehicle with nine or ten or maybe more owners, and that makes tracing things harder. For this one, we have every owner on record up to the point of sale. It’s unusual. Each owner held the bike in high esteem.

It has fewer than 9,000 miles on its odometer. Is that unusual for a 66-year-old elite motorcycle? It’s unusually low, but maybe not for a racing bike. Racing bikes have a shelf life. They’re not really built to last more than two or three seasons, after which they’re not that competitive anymore. They become obsolete. Jack Ehret [its third owner] campaigned it for a long time and got results with it. It is low mileage, but you’re going to have limited use in racing. It’s [the low number is] not that unusual.

What was your role in the January 2018 auction of the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle? I wasn’t watching. I was on the phone to the vendor [the consigner], who could not be there. I relayed what was going on. He relayed a lot of expletives to me, but not in a bad way. [Laughs.] I’m not going to imitate a French accent–he said “sacre bleu!” but not “sacre bleu”, it was something else. The auction was quite exciting. I kept my cool. Malcolm Barber [Bonhams’s co-chair and CEO of Bonhams Asia] sold the bike. In the YouTube video, I’m pacing around in the background. [Walker is behind the Bonhams desk to the left of the stage.]

When did you know you had a new world auction record for a motorcycle? Only afterwards. You’re so focused on what’s going on. I was telling the client what was happening with the motorcycle. I was not surprised, to be honest. It deserves to be the record-holder, and it deserves to be beaten. I think there are bikes out there with potential.

What motorcycles are out there that could challenge the record? The Rollie Free Vincent Black Shadow? If it came up at auction, yes, it would, but I don’t think it will come up at auction. Thinking rare bikes again, I think Mike Hailwood’s comeback bike for the 1978 Isle of Man TT. Maybe a Lawrence of Arabia-owned Brough Superior. Two, possibly three of those survive. Steve McQueen adds value–he had some exceptional bikes. An AJS Porcupine from the mid-1950s is a potential world record. Steve McQueen’s Triumph from The Great Escape, if it ever came up. What would be interesting about that is the Triumph was used by a fictional character, versus a bike ridden by Lawrence of Arabia, who was not a fictional character.

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On October 6, 2018, Bonhams will offer an early Vincent Black Lightning at an auction scheduled during the Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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