Cowan’s Has an Exceptional Porphyry Popeye Fantail Birdstone That Could Soar to $350,000


What you see: A porphyry popeye fantail birdstone, created by the people of the Glacial Kame Culture sometime between 3,000 and 500 BCE in what is now DeKalb County, Indiana. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $250,000 to $350,000.


The expert: Erin Rust, specialist in the department of American Indian Art at Cowan’s.


What is a birdstone, and what do we know about how the Glacial Kame Culture people might have used it? It’s an effigy, usually carved from a softer stone, and it’s kind of unclear what, exactly, the artifacts were used for. They’re usually field finds. This was found in a potato field in northern Indiana. It was possibly an atlatl [pronounced at-el-at-el] weight–a throwing device used to achieve a higher power when throwing.


Kind of like a counterweight on a trebuchet? It’s an extension of the arm throwing a spear. Harder and faster and for high-powered hunting. We don’t really find them in archeological contexts. It’s up for conjecture what they were actually used for.


How were birdstones made? They were expertly carved, chipped away from a larger block of stone. They roughed out the form in the shape they wanted, then polished it into the final form.


Sounds like a lot of work. Especially if it’s a hard, granite-type stone.


How hard is it to carve porphyry? It’s pretty difficult. It’s a hard hard stone. They’d typically use banded slate, which is a lot easier to carve. There are not as many porphyry birdstones. They’re much more labor-intensive, and much more rare. About 10 percent of the known birdstones are carved out of porphyry.


Would the cream-colored splotches have drawn the carver to the stone, and influenced how they carved it, in the way that jade carvers in China work with rust-colored inclusions in the stone? Exactly. They would look at the material and decide to carve it based on the cream-colored splotches, which are called phenocrysts.


And why is it called a birdstone? This one, to me, looks more like a dog than a bird. It could be a dog, it could be a bird, but it’s commonly called a birdstone. Some look like bears, some look like birds, some look like dogs. It’s the interpretation of the viewer. “Birdstone” is the general term for it.


And the things protruding from the head are called eyes? I thought they were ears. They’re called eyes, but whether they’re actually ears or eyes is open to interpretation as well.


Is it made to be held in the hand? It is small, but because of the perforations on the ridges at the bottom, it [was probably] meant to be attached to something like an atlatl rather than held.


To be clear–if birdstones were found in an archeological context, they’d be more likely to be considered jewelry. Because they’re found in fields, it’s more likely they were attached to an atlatl with a sinew and maybe the sinew broke. It could be jewelry, but they’re found in fields. We don’t really find them in an archeological context.


Cameron Parks, who owned this piece, deemed it the finest birdstone in the world. Is it? What makes it so? This piece is regarded as one of the top five examples of Popeye porphyry birdstones. What makes it unique is the blue hue to the stone. Porphyry can be quite dark. The blue hue with the cream phenocrysts make it pop and makes it unique. Also, the popeyes are large on the top of his head, and the form tapers into his head. And the bodies are usually long and slender, but with this, the body expands into a circular form, and a tail that widens to a fantail, and tips up.


This birdstone was found in 1950. Was the mid-20th century a time when many birdstones were being discovered? Among the top five greatest birdstones, this piece was discovered the latest. The Smithsonian birdstone was discovered in 1882. The majority of them had been discovered by 1950.


What condition is it in, and what does “condition” mean when we’re talking about something that’s thousands of years old? As old as this piece is, it’s in exceptional condition. With these, the head breaks off, the tail breaks off, the eyes or ears break off. On this, nothing has broken off. It has two small nicks, one on the bottom near a perforated ridge, and one on the top edge of the left eye. The fact that it’s never broken and it’s as old as it is is pretty amazing.


The lot notes say it retains its original polish. What does that mean here? This piece did not spend time buried in acidic soil. It has not deteriorated. The polish is the same as it was when it went in the ground. The surface is very smooth. There’s no pitting to it. It’s incredible.


So, it being made of porphyry made it more resilient? Birdstones made from banded slate lose their polish faster and the ground erodes them quicker. Porphyry ones are less likely to erode.


Has this piece been auctioned before? It’s been in the same family for 70 years. They have offered it before at auction, probably eight years ago.


What does the Cameron Parks provenance add to the piece? Cameron Parks had one of the largest and better collections [of artifacts] in the country. That makes artifacts from his collection are more sought-after.


What’s the record for a birdstone at auction? Very few, if any birdstones of this caliber have been offered at public auction. They have been offered privately, but not at auction. We had a very nice collection of 30 to 35 birdstones, but not of this caliber. We sold them starting in 2017 and finishing in September 2018. That was a very large collection of birdstones, but normally when they come up there are one or two, not 30 to 35.


What is it like in person? He’s small, but he’s pretty mighty. [Laughs] I call him “he”. It has a very strong presence to it. The craftsmanship of it is absolutely incredible. Very few [other birdstones] compare to this piece because of its craftsmanship, the material, everything about it.


What is it like to hold it in your hand? It fits perfectly in your hand, but it doesn’t feel like something [designed] to hold on to. The perforations at the bottom makes it sit oddly in the hand. That’s why it might have been used with an atlatl.


Is there anything that the camera doesn’t pick up? The camera really emphasizes its presence. When you first see it, you think, “Whoa, he’s kinda small.” Then you handle it, and its aura is magnificent. I think the photographer really captured the presence in this piece.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a rare opportunity to have close access to such a high-level artifact. I probably won’t have the opportunity to see this caliber of birdstone come through the door again. It’s pretty remarkable.


How to bid: The porphyry popeye fantail birdstone is lot 22 in the American Indian and Western Art: Premier Auction taking place at Cowan’s Auctions on April 5, 2019.


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Cowan’s is on Twitter and Instagram.


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


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SOLD! Hake’s Sold the Page of Original Art from The Sandman Sold For… (Click to See)


Update: The page sold for $14,278–a new record for artwork from the original series of The Sandman.


What you see: Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Penciled by Mike Dringenberg and inked by Malcolm Jones III, Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates it at $5,000 to $10,000.


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


How often do original pieces of art from the Sandman series of comic books come to auction? The Sandman is its own universe at this point. The basis of The Sandman is the 75 [issues] plus one special that ran between 1989 and 1996. [There are also two later series.] Upwards of 2,000 original pieces of art could come from that series. We don’t know how many have come on the market, but we’ve had two. It’s safe to say it’s a fraction of what was created for the comic book.


I see three images with the lot. Is that what the winning bidder gets, or are some of the images there solely for context? You just get the first piece [the piece on the left of the three shown with the lot]. The next image is a detail of the panel, and the next is the cover of the comic book it was published in.


The lot notes says there are seven panels in the original art, but I only see five. Where are the two that I missed? The middle panel of the bottom three panels, the Fun Land panels, has three different narrative scenes in it. [It looks like one panel, but it counts as three.]


The lot notes say the artwork contains a “splash panel.” What is a splash panel, and why might the artist have used one here? In the beginning stages, it meant a full page of art. As it evolved [it came to mean] a bigger than normal panel. A true splash is one full page, one scene, almost like a cover.


The illustration at the top, of Dream holding Rose Walker, is the splash panel? Yes.


Why might Dringenberg have used a splash panel here? That’s a question for the artist, but what’s interesting about The Sandman is the different artists he [Neil Gaiman] used, and their styles are all incorporated with the comic book. He worked closely with the artists and co-created with the artists. The Sandman series let them do different things no one had seen in comic books before. It was a groundbreaking series. Gaiman picked artists with very different styles for different story lines. There were no rules. Every artist was very distinct, and not every artist did a complete story line. The Doll’s House story line [depicted in this panel] ran from issues nine to 16.


The art comprises two boards that together measure 11 inches by 17 inches. Is that typical for art created for comic books? No, it’s never been a typical practice. Usually there’s one sheet and that’s that. It’s not like it’s never been done by anybody before, but it’s not the norm, no.


Why might Dringenberg have done that here? I guess it’s his artistic process. Maybe it was easier for him to do this and put it on the page. I would think the effect [of the splash page] is the reason why it was done the way it was done.


And Dringenberg did the watercolor effect we see behind Dream and Rose Walker? It’s all him. It’s not penciled in by anybody else. This is a guy who did many different things, unlike a comic book artist. Usually, comic book artists who paint just paint, and those who draw just draw. He mixed media together, which is why his art is well liked. It’s different and quite striking. What makes the page so nice is that top panel.


Could you explain why most comic books have a pencil artist and an ink artist? Many times an artist does pencil and another does ink. Sometimes one does it all. You look for a team that works together and makes a page look cohesive. Here, Dringenberger did the penciling and Malcolm Jones III came in over the top of the penciling [with ink] and made it more detailed.


What is happening on this particular page? What is happening in the story? The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate. It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as “Batman beats Superman.” With The Sandman, you can’t say that.


The page shows three characters from The Sandman–Dream, Rose Walker, and Fun Land. Which one do collectors most want to see? Dream is the lead character of the series. His official name is Morpheus, but he’s also called Dream and The Sandman. Every time you have the Sandman, it’s desirable. The top splash panel makes it unique. As a collector, it’s what you look for.


Dream is depicted planting dreams in the other characters’ heads. Does that make the original artwork more interesting to collectors than panels or pages that show Dream doing other things? It’s something he was known to do, yes. It’s more interesting. As a Sandman fan, it’s an element that I like.


Did Neil Gaiman have veto power over the artwork that was created for The Sandman comic book? I don’t know his work process, but I think he would have been right there with the artist every step of the way. I think he picked artists who he knew would work well. It was a collaborative process.


Is there any indication that Gaiman asked for changes or edits to the artwork that we see in this panel? No, there’s no indication of it here.


Do collectors of original comic book art for The Sandman have a preference for a specific era within the series, or do they go after everything and anything because so little has come to auction? It’s a combination of it being so rare, and I don’t think you’ll find Sandman fans who don’t like the entire run. It had a definite story line. It didn’t go on and on. It was very much Neil Gaiman’s creation. People who love Neil Gaiman love everything he did. Some fans of Sandman go for one page from every artist associated with the series. Then it comes down to the fact that relatively few pages have come to market.


Where are the rest of the hundreds of pieces of art used to create the original 75-plus-one-special series of The Sandman? Are they with the artists who made them, or with DC Comics, which published the series, or with Neil Gaiman…? That’s a question probably everybody is asking, because there are so few pages that have come up. One of the other artists on the series, Jill Thompson, she had some Sandman art herself and sold it. It’s a combination of Neil Gaiman probably kept some art and the artists certainly kept some art. DC, I don’t know. It’s one of the great questions–where is it, who has it.


The owners have generally been closed-mouthed? Typically, if the artist has the art, it’s not a big secret. I don’t know if it’s a well-kept secret or if the question has never really been asked of the right people. There could be plenty in the hands of private collectors that we don’t know about, either.


How did this panel come to you? This and another killer piece, the Rob Liefeld Deadpool, came from the same person. He passed away, and the family liquidated. The story from the family is he bought it at a comic book convention in the early 90s. I don’t know if he bought it from a dealer or the artist. It’s been off the market since it was created. That makes it more desirable. It is, as they say, fresh to market.


The lot notes describe the panel as “clean.” What does “clean” mean here, when we’re talking about a functional piece of art that wasn’t created to be collected? It’s a term that lets you know it was well cared for. The art has no notable defects or blemishes.


What’s the current auction record for an original piece of comic book art for The Sandman? It’s a hard thing to track down because some auction houses don’t track results. Heritage Auctions sold the paperback cover art to Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes for $26,290 in 2017, but it’s technically not from the original run. The next result Heritage had happens to be from page 30 of Number 14, the same issue we have. It sold for $13,145 in 2014. That was five years ago, and the market has changed dramatically. I’d love to say we’ll exceed what they got. The fact that it’s already at $6,000 bodes well, but it’s hard to predict where it will end up. [The Heritage example] didn’t have a splash, but it had Dream in every panel, and it’s very distinct.


Yes, let’s talk about how the lot is doing. We’re conducting this interview on February 26, 2019. The online bids are just above $6,000, with 15 days to go until the auction closes. Is that meaningful? To have a piece jump off to where it is already does bode well. I personally like to see an item take off early. Usually, it translates to more action in the later days, but not always. A lot of art guys are used to bidding feverishly in the final hours.


What is this piece like in person? You definitely get the impact of it. The splash takes it to a different dimension.


How does this panel from The Sandman compare to the other two sold at Hake’s? The other two we had were very nice. The Jill Thompson brought $7,000 in 2014, and the Sam Kieth featured a character, John Constantine, who existed [In the DC Comics world] previous to The Sandman. There was no Sandman character, but it still brought $3,500 in 2015.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? The splash art at the top makes it different from the run of the series. This one you look at and boom, you focus on the top panel. Even if you’re a fringe comic book person, if you see it hanging somewhere, you think, “Oh, that’s Sandman.” There was stunning art through the whole run. As much as The Sandman was about the writing, the artwork is spectacular. With comic books, sometimes the art is great but the story is just ok, or the art is just ok but the story is great. With this, all 75 issues plus the special are great. It never jumped the shark. I’m a lifelong comic book geek. If someone came in and asked me, “What should I read?” I’d hand them The Sandman.


How to bid: The original comic book art from The Sandman is item 1112 in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Auction #226, which ends on March 14, 2019.


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.


Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is on Twitter and Instagram. Neil Gaiman is on Twitter and Instagram as well.


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


Alex Winter spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a record-setting 1978 Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure and a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.


Learn more about The Sandman comic book on the DC Vertigo site.


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All That Jazz: Swann Auction Galleries Could Sell Emma Amos’s Exuberant “Let Me Off Uptown” for $60,000

M39247-1 008

What you see: Let Me Off Uptown, which measures 80 inches by 78 7/8 inches and was created by African-American artist Emma Amos between 1999 and 2000. It incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.


The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.


The lot notes say Let Me Off Uptown is “a significant work from Emma Amos’s important series of paintings on fabric from the late 1990s that celebrate African-American women”. How big is the series? Is it still ongoing? She did a large group of work in the 90s where images of women were painted on canvas not on stretcher bars [a traditional treatment for paintings] but on hanging cloth. It extended to the mid-2000s. She’s not working on it now.


What do we know about how Amos made the mixed media work? Artists like Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold, when they came up in the 1960s and 1970s, the gallery system was very difficult for women to get any representation. Male abstract painters predominated. There were few spaces in the art world for empowering images of African-American women. She was very much a part of the African-American movement and the women’s movement. She took all those elements in the 1980s and 1990s and found a way to paint the imagery and make it her own–large figurative subjects about women, the bodies of women, and the roles women had in society. This is more celebratory. It’s about African-American culture and about jazz. It shows how jazz brings different people together.


Is the woman in red a self-portrait? Is she Amos? I don’t believe so.


Why did she name the work Let Me Off Uptown? It’s a reference to Harlem. That was where you got off the train to listen to jazz music.


Did she use models for the main figures or any of the smaller figures? I don’t know precisely her practice, but I would think it’s a variety of sources. [The man] could be someone she knows, I really can’t say, but it’s not portraiture. It’s not important who these people are–it’s what they represent. For centuries, images of African-Americans in art were either put on the sidelines, completely secondary, or they were caricatures. Since the Harlem Renaissance, [African-American artists have] taken over the representation of their figures and made a viable language. Like other contemporary artists, Amos has focused on the figure, and has embraced making figurative art that shows African-Americans doing things. In her case, they have larger symbolic meanings. They speak to a larger discourse about how we view African-Americans and African-American figures in our art. She wants to change the way we look at art.


The lot notes say Amos “has long sought to deconstruct traditional representations of beauty”. How does she do that here? With these images of celebratory figures and dancers [she asks] what is a beautiful figure? Can an African-American woman stand in for other figures that traditionally represent women and ideals of beauty? That is where she’s coming from. The classical models from art history are Eurocentric. Black bodies, shapes and colors and the way they look, are not necessarily considered ideal in art. She makes ordinary people heroic. These [the two main figures] are painted six feet high, at a scale and size that are almost lifelike, if not lifelike. She says they are people we should celebrate.


Do any of the smaller figures carry meanings that might not be immediately obvious? When you first look at it, it looks like lots of fun, dancing figures, but a lot of them are subversive. Some are unclothed. Different races and genders together. Music and freedom. At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz was revolutionary. It represented freedom and improvisation. She’s definitely tapping into that here. It’s a great party of twirling figures, having a great time.


What details stand out to you? The fun thing about her work is the different levels it works on. It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.


Amos included this work in her 2000 application for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation fellowship, which she won. Does that affect collectors’ interest in the work, or its value, at all? I think it’s a nice plus. It certainly shows the reputation of her work strongly.


I’d been calling her a fabric artist but it seems like “mixed media artist” is better… She’s really a painter, a collage artist, and a printmaker. It’s a bit simplistic to call her a fabric artist. That’s one element of her work. Sometimes she paints on textile, but she’s a multimedia artist, absolutely.


What is Let Me Off Uptown like in person? It has a human scale to it. It’s about six feet high. What you can’t necessarily see in the catalog is there’s a wonderful variety of texture. The surface has a wonderful shimmer. There’s a richness to it. It doesn’t just have a flat, uniform surface.


Are her works usually this colorful and lively? Let Me Off Uptown is not an anomaly. Her works are often dynamic and brightly colored, with large figures taking up the whole picture plane.


How rarely do pieces by Amos appear at auction? We’ve been selling her work in our auctions since the start of our African-American Fine Art auctions in 2007. Primarily they were prints and works on paper. Then last year [in October 2018], we sold Arched Swimmer, the first large, unique painting we had of hers. It was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and, with the buyer’s premium, sold for $40,000 and set an auction record for her. That painting set the stage for this one. It’s quite possible this work will set a new record. Her work is in people’s minds. That’s why it felt like a good time to bring this to auction now.


Why might Let Me Off Uptown beat the sum achieved by Arched Swimmer? First of all, it’s a larger, more complex piece. Arched Swimmer was 30 inches by 32 inches, and it was a stretch canvas. It was not one of the larger hanging pieces, and it’s a quarter of the size of the work we’re selling now. I think we’ll have a lot of interest in it.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think it’s a fantastic image of dance and jazz. It’s a joyous image, and it’s what her work is all about.


How to bid: Let Me Off Uptown is lot 163 in the African-American Fine Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on April 4, 2019.


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.


Nigel Freeman has appeared on The Hot Bid many times before, talking about a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, a story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelou, an Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask. The Ringgold and the Johnson set records for the respective artists.


Emma Amos has a website. She’s represented by the Ryan Lee Gallery.


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


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SOLD! Summers Place Sold the Segment of the Berlin Wall For (Scroll Down to See)


Update: The segment of the Berlin Wall offered by Summers Place in lot 22 sold for £15,000, or about $19,700. The smaller segment offered in lot 23 fetched £6,250, or about $8,200.


What you see: An original four-piece segment of the Berlin Wall, standing almost 12 feet high, almost eight feet deep, and spanning more than 15 feet (including the base slabs). It once belonged to the Parliament of Trees memorial in Berlin. The German phrase stencil-graffitied on the section, spoken by then-German president Richard von Weizsäcker, translates as: “To Unite Means to Learn to Share”. Summers Place Auctions estimates it at £12,000 to £18,000 ($15,600 to $23,400).


The expert: James Rylands, director of Summers Place.


For those who don’t remember the Berlin Wall, let’s talk about it–why did it go up? Why was it notorious? Why was its dismemberment celebrated? The Berlin Wall was one of the most defining things of the 20th century, from a physical and a psychological point of view. It went up in 1961, and a huge amount of East Germans fled to the west by the time it went up. Something like 20 percent of the population fled to the west. It was put up by the German Democratic Republic, which is an oxymoron–it was an Eastern Bloc Soviet state that restricted movement, and personal movement. Barbed wire went up overnight, and over 10 to 15 years, they refined the wall. It became more elaborate and secure. Literally overnight, families were divided.


How many people tried to breach the Berlin Wall? About 5,000 did. We don’t know [exactly] how many died [in their attempt to escape], but it was about 150.


Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? I remember it very well. I’m 60, and I remember it so clearly. Through the Cold War years, we thought we would all die in our beds [from a nuclear bomb dropped by the USSR]. Total obliteration. When the wall came down, it was just huge. Scenes of euphoria. The Berlin Wall was a very obvious physical manifestation of the regime. It went from people attacking it as a symbol of oppression to being attacked by souvenir hunters. It became an instrument of capitalism, people chipping off sections and selling souvenirs. In the news section of our site, we have a story about 16 places around the world where sections of the Berlin Wall ended up–South Korea, the Vatican, Schengan in Luxembourg–it’s worth reading. The Berlin Wall ran for 96 miles, and most of it was turned to rubble and used to build highways.


The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those ‘where were you when’ moments, but it’s unusual for being a happy moment. Most of those moments–Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11–are tragic. This isn’t. You’re right. It rarely gets concrete.


Literally! Exactly.


It must have been a heck of a party when the Berlin Wall came down. Can you imagine the hangovers after that?


I see in the lot notes that the Berlin Wall section in lot 22 stands almost 12 feet tall, but what does it weigh? It’s in four sections, and each bit weighs just under four tons. All together [with the base slabs] it’s about 15 tons, total.


The dimensions note that the section is more than 15 feet wide “overall.” What does that mean here? [In the photo ] you can see a bit that hasn’t been painted–


Like a stand? Yes. The same thing goes out on the other side. Front to back.


So the wall section sits on slabs? Yes. It’s not an easy thing to hop over, especially considering it [the vertical surface] would have been smooth, and it had things [deterrents] on the top as well. To get over that was quite a feat.


And this was once part of the Parliament of Trees monument in Berlin, but it was deaccessed? When? Artist Ben Wagin painted on it in 1990, when it became part of the Parliament of Trees. They [the stewards of the monument] built out at that stage and sold it or disposed of it [to reshape the monument]. The consigner acquired it literally after they sold it [later in 1990].


So the section was part of the Parliament of Trees very briefly, and then it was released? I think it was. With the Parliament of Trees, parts were moved because they were putting up other buildings on it [the site].


How did Wagin choose the von Weizsäcker quote–“To Unite Means to Learn to Share”–to stencil on this segment of the wall? Von Weizsäcker was then president of Germany, commenting on gathering and sharing. West Germany was one of the few countries that could afford to make that happen, to underwrite the whole of East Germany. It was only 45 years since World War II, and then it underwrote a whole new country.


Do you know how many other pieces of the Berlin Wall have gone to auction? I’ve been doing sales for 30 years. I started four years before the wall came down. This is the first time I’ve seen or been aware of a large section going up for sale.


How did you set the estimate? That was the most difficult thing of all. Most things in an auction have an intrinsic value. With something like this, I’m selling chunks of concrete. What price do you put on the provenance and the history? I think it’s a modest estimate. If it [and its consecutive sister lot] fetch £100,000, I’d be pleased and not surprised.


Were the two lots of Berlin Wall segments consigned by the same person? Yes.


What is the segment with the Von Weizsäcker quote on it like in person? It’s powerful. It’s got a real wow factor. We’ve got seven acres on the Summers Place grounds. We only managed to stand one section up. [They had crane issues.] A point I should make is it’s equally at home outside as inside. In a modern building, a corporate building, a museum with a glass atrium, it will look stunning. It really will. Brutalism and urban street art–it combines the two.


How will you sell the Berlin Wall segment on the day? I take it you won’t do the auction outdoors in England in March… Bear in mind that a lot of what we sell is very big. In the sale room, each lot will go up on a TV screen.


Who do you think is going to buy this? Who is the audience? In a way, that’s what makes it a rich man’s lot. It’s going to be an institution or someone with a sufficient indoor-outdoor space. And I don’t preclude selling this to the Russians. We sell quite a lot to Russians. I just pray, and this is me taking off my auctioneer hat here, I hope it ends up in a public institution.


What about an ex-East German? People who were young when it came down… Berlin is a rich city now. What a wonderful thing, to buy it back.


How to bid: The segment of the Berlin Wall is lot 22 in the Garden and Natural History sale on March 12, 2019 at Summers Place Auctions.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.


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Potter & Potter Has a Circa 1880s Will & Finck Brass Sleeve Holdout–A Device for Cheating at Cards–Which Could Sell for $6,000


What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.


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


Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.


How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.


It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]


And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]


Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.


Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.


Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?


Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.


Have you tried it on? No.


How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.


How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.


How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.


The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]


How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.


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Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.


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

SOLD! Bonhams Sold the Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Ruby Eagle Carving For (Scroll Down to See)


Update: The Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio ruby carving of a spread-winged eagle sold for $62,575.


What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.


The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.


When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.


How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.


Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.


Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.


What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.


Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.


How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.


How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.


Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.


Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.


The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.


Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.


He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.


How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.


Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.


Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.


The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.


What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.


Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.


What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.


Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.


How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.


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Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.


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


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Is It Baggage? Is It a Teapot? Both? Neither? Regardless, Christie’s Could Sell This Piece By Zhou Dingfang for $2,500


What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.


The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.


The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.


So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.


What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.


Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.


Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.


Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.


What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.


Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.


Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.


Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.


And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.


I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.


Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.


What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.


I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.


Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.


Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.


Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].


Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.


How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.


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


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