SOLD! A Minnie Evans Work on Paper Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1960s portrait by Minnie Evans shows a copper-colored face of indeterminate gender crowned with an elaborate, colorful headdress and surrounded by flourishing plants.

Update: The circa 1960s Minnie Evans work sold for $8,000.

What you see: Beautiful Portrait Surrounded by Vivid Flora, a circa 1960s work on paper by self-taught African-American artist Minnie Evans. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

I’d like to start by talking about Evans herself, and how she became a self-taught artist, and how her story matches other people who became self-taught artists. She seemed compelled to make art. Is that true of many other self-taught artists? It’s very typical. We like to say our artists are untrained and unschooled in art, but something happens and they’re driven to create art. She was definitely driven to create art, and create garden-like drawings that came from her surroundings as a gatekeeper for a garden. [Evans worked as the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina from 1948 until she retired in 1974.]

She started making art at the age of 43. Is that unusually late for a self-taught artist to embark on a career? It’s hard to say what’s typical. Most artists don’t have the opportunity [to make art] until later in life. Evans created art as the gatekeeper because she had the time to do it.

Was she prolific? She was very prolific. She did a lot of drawings. Like a lot of these artists, she was somewhat obsessed with making art.

Has anyone come up with a conservative number of works that she made over her lifetime? I don’t know if there’s an actual number. She did a lot as the gatekeeper of the garden, selling them for 50 cents. There’s probably an untold number out there.

Was Evans discovered and recognized in her lifetime? She was. There was a folk art show at the Corcoran in the 1980s of self-taught African American artists [Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980]. The show kicked off outsider art mania. It woke people up to what incredible artists we have in this country who are not influenced by academic or European masters.

Is this piece typical of Evans’s work? It’s very typical and very desirable. It’s got a central face with flora around it, and the colors are beautiful and strong, with one color bleeding into the next. It’s a really good indication of what her work looks like.

Is this a self-portrait? I don’t think it’s a self-portrait. It doesn’t look like her. She had a rounder face. I think there’s one distinct facial type that she does, and like the colors, the faces range the gamut from Caucasian to Native American to African-American depending on the individual piece.

How is she producing the effect of colors bleeding into the next–by mixing crayon and colored pencil? Back in the day I’m sure no one thought this would be as important as it is. [She worked with] everything she could get her hands on. That’s how most folk artists worked. Because no one considered them artists, they didn’t have the means to buy the best materials. I don’t know how she did it [the effect], but she did the best with what she had.

This is undated, but it has a circa date of the 1960s. Is that the period of her career that collectors prefer? Her strongest periods were the 1950s and 1960s. The look of it is really powerful and detailed. People like this period because the colors are strong and vivid and just beautiful. This is what they want to live with. In the 1970s, she was older, and not as strong, and may have spent less time on [each work].

The lot notes describe the piece as being in excellent condition. What does that mean here? I’m looking at the condition of the paper and the work. There’s no tears, no holes, and if it had paint on it, it means there’s no cracking or crazing or flaking off. Overall it’s in great condition.

Is that unusual for an Evans, given that she sold them directly to visitors to the garden where she worked as a gatekeeper? Remarkably, her paintings did well over time. We typically find them in really good condition. It would have been easy just to discard it if it was bought as a fluke. People saved them. Even if you didn’t know what it was, it’s very likable. You’d enjoy having it in your house and looking at it.

What’s the provenance for this work? This is from a longtime collector who had a fabulous collection [they’re] selling most of in this auction.

What is the work like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The only thing you don’t see in the photo when you look at it in person is how the colors bleed into each other and how calming it is to be around the piece. It’s a wonderful piece.

How many Minnie Evans works have you handled at Slotin over the years? I’ve sold between 50 to 70 pieces, with her highest being over $30,000.

Would that be the auction record for Minnie Evans? That is the auction record. It was a larger piece, maybe two times the size of the one here. It was from the Rosenak collection, Chuck and Jan, who wrote the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. It had a lot of detail in it, faces and flowers and birds. I sold it 10 years ago. Maybe now it would go for $50,000 to $60,000. Prices have jumped so much on her work, if I had it back, it might have doubled by now.

How to bid: The Minnie Evans portrait is lot 0161 in the Spring Masterpiece Sale at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia on April 27 and 28, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200. He also discussed a painting by African-American artist Sam Doyle that later commanded $17,000.

Minnie Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95, but her memory lives on at Airlie Gardens through a sculpture garden that bears her name.

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

A Demas Nwoko Painting Was Rediscovered Under a Bed in Boston. Bonhams Could Sell It for $100,000.

Children on Cycles by Demas Nwoko features a black truck at the top, with four black children, some in white and some in yellow on a red background. The four children are streamlined and abstract, with heads but no faces.

What you see: Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams.

How prolific is Nwoko? Not at all, really. His later career was as an architect. In the last 10 years, I’ve only seen four or five come to market. We’ve been lucky enough to sell three in the last four years.

When did he stop painting? I would say by the end of the 1960s he had pretty much stopped painting to concentrate on architecture.

He hasn’t gone back? No. He was born in 1935. He’s a very elderly gentleman. I think he’s hung up his paintbrush.

Do collectors prefer works from this point in his artistic career? The early 1960s is more unusual and very nice to have in some ways. He was at his most formative.

The painting is undated. How do we know he made it circa 1961? Because it was bought at the Mbari Exhibition in 1961 [in Nigeria], and it was painted for that. It was his first exhibition.

Is this image typical of his work? I would say it’s typical. When I was sent the image, I recognized it immediately. It’s definitely his kind of subject and his manner of painting. His output is not large, and he’s not a household name, but that doesn’t make him less important as an artist.

Could you tell the story of how the painting was rediscovered? I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed. We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, “What about this, is it special?” I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.

Speaking of it having been stashed under a bed for 50-odd years, what sort of condition is it in? Putting it under a bed keeps it pretty safe. It got a bit dusty, but the dust can be taken off. [Under a bed] is the safest place, normally. It’s important not to move it because it can get damaged.

The family didn’t display it? It’s so easy for us, knowing what it’s value is, to say, “What are they doing? Are they mad?” If you didn’t think it was anything, you wouldn’t know it was anything.

Still, I’m surprised they didn’t hang it up. It has wall presence, yes? I agree. Every piece of art is taken a different way. For whatever reason, they didn’t display it.

So Children on Cycles was known, but considered lost until now? In some ways, it was. The only previously known image of it was a black and white photo in the archives of the Harmon Foundation.

People hear stories like this all the time, of some amazing piece of art discovered in an attic or a basement after decades… this stuff actually happens. What’s nice about the story as well is the artist is like a J.D. Salinger figure. He was an incredibly talented artist who became a recluse. He became an architect and became known as an architect. I think it’s glorious, the fact that his art is coming to light and fetching strong prices.

Is he reclusive, or does he just not promote his artistic career? I would say the latter. He’s not in any way promoting his art. He’s not a hermit, but he doesn’t go to art events.

Did he paint Children on Cycles from his observations of his surroundings, or is this an invented image? I don’t know. It could be his imagination, but he’d certainly see children on cycles. The red road is redolent of the baked clay roads they have in Africa. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what he observed.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects of the painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? In my view, it looks better in the flesh. When you get in front of the original work, it’s a lot more impressive. It’s the simplicity and the spareness of the work. The colors are strong and glowing.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? We’ve sold two or three Nwokos in the past two or three years. It [the range] is about right. I won’t be surprised if it performs a bit better. It’s one of the nicest and best Nwokos I’ve seen.

What’s the world auction record for a Nwoko? Was it set at Bonhams? Yes, we did set it. We sold Metro Ride in October 2017 in London and Rickshaw Ride in October 2018 in London for the same sum–$106,503.

What are the odds that Children on Cycles will set a new auction record for Nwoko? At the risk of giving it the kiss of death, I think there’s a chance it will break the record. Nothing is certain at auction, but at $107,000, it hasn’t got far to go.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Probably because of the way it was discovered! [Laughs] Quite often, one goes to a collector and [the work to be consigned] is hanging on a wall to great fanfare. This came along rather gently.

How to bid: Children on Cycles is lot 6 in the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale at Bonhams New York on May 2, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Giles Peppiatt appeared on The Hot Bid once before, speaking about a record-setting sculpture by Ben Enwonwu.

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John Atkinson Grimshaw’s “Spirit of Night” Could Fly Past $500,000 at Christie’s New York

John Atkinson Grimshaw's Spirit of Night shows a fairy-like woman with delicate wings, wrapped in a see-through gown festooned with stars. She holds a wand and hovers over a seaside city. Her face, shown in profile, is haloed in gold.

What you see: Spirit of Night, an 1879 oil on canvas by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

Do we know why Grimshaw might have painted Spirit of Night? Was this a book illustration? It’s not clear why Grimshaw picked up this subject matter, but it doesn’t seem to be a book illustration. This is more from his love of poetry. It inspired him to turn to this subject, that’s my feeling.

About that. The lot notes say the painting had a tablet with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, To Night. Was the painting directly inspired by the Shelley poem?  I think it’s all but certain he was. The words “Spirit of Night” appear as the second line of the Shelley poem. He was interested in Keats and Browning. Tennyson was a favorite. Five of his 16 kids got their names from Tennyson’s poetry.

How does the painting depict the poem? In Shelley’s poem, the poet describes the personification of night emerging from her cave, ushering the personification of day from the world, putting all the creatures to sleep. I think that’s what’s happening here.

Is the city below her identifiable as a specific place? I don’t think the city is meant to be identifiable. It’s probably meant to stand in for any town. It’s by the water, which is mentioned in the poem. He wanted to explore [the effects] of reflected light.

How many fairy pictures did Grimshaw make? It’s hard to give an exact number, but there were approximately seven or eight. They were quite popular in Victorian times but the subject was on the wane by the time Grimshaw turned to it.

Where does Spirit of Night rank among them? I would say definitely it has an interesting and important place in the corpus of fairy painting.

Grimshaw was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Where do we see that influence in Spirit of Night? Grimshaw starts painting in a lot of ways by looking at the Pre-Raphaelites. The use of color in the fairy wings speaks to the influence on his art and the level of detail as well, the lacy details of the fairy wings. If you get up close to the painting, the veining looks like dragonfly wings. The Pre-Raphaelites were almost fanatically interested in the most minute details of nature. That very close attention to nature is very Pre-Raphaelite.

How does the painting testify to his talent? To me, all of Grimshaw’s paintings testify to his talent. Not only was he self-taught, his family actively discouraged his painting. That he became an artist at all is a triumph. His mother would throw his paints on the fire and turn off the gas to his room, so he didn’t have heat. When he got married, he left home, and his wife, who was also his first cousin, was very instrumental in encouraging him to become a painter.

How does he achieve the luminescent effects? Because he didn’t have formal training, he taught himself. He would look at the beveled edges of mirrors to learn what the effect looks like, and his kids would bring home opalescent glass that he would keep by his easel as a reference.

Is the fairy outlined in white or silver? It’s a sort of silvery-white. It’s a very hard color to describe. The diaphanous cloth that covers her is a tour-de-force. The stars woven into the cloth is a direct reference to the poem. He doesn’t always have the easiest time painting the human form, but he really gets it spot on here.

Is that because he had a model for the Spirit of Night? Yes.

Let’s talk about that–his relationship with Agnes Leefe, and whether it was unusual or not. It sounds a bit sketchy to modern ears, but it seemed to be above board. Leefe was a ward who modeled for him and became a companion to his wife and children as well. It was like taking in a distant relative. The Grimshaws had a sad life. Of the 16 kids, six survived to adulthood. He would jokingly refer to Leefe as Little Orphan Annie.

How did they meet? I don’t know how they met, except it was in Leeds [where Leefe performed as an actress]. His daughter recalls her mom being not super thrilled when he brought her home, but she came around quick. There didn’t seem to be any impropriety. He and his wife were very happy, though Leefe’s death [from tuberculosis] was hard on them. It probably brought back memories of the losses of their other children.

How often do Grimshaw fairy paintings appear at auction? Fairly infrequently. There were two in the 1990s and two, including this one, in the 2000s. His landscapes appear more reliably.

When was the last time a Grimshaw fairy painting came up? The most recent one was in 2004, at Christie’s London. It went for just over $500,000. This one came up at Christie’s New York in 2002. It brought $537,500. The fairy pictures are tricky to price because they appear so infrequently. They’re atypical, compared to the landscapes. But 19th century European art is very image-driven. You have to take that into account when estimating.

What’s the record for a Grimshaw fairy painting? It’s this one, sold in 2002.

So there’s a chance it could reset the record? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

What condition is the painting in? It’s in really nice condition. It does have an old lining on it but all the artist’s glazes are intact.

What is it like in person? The figure really does seem to be glowing. It pops and glows. The detail in the wings, too–you don’t pick up their lacy dragonfly quality until you get close to the painting.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? The fun of working in 19th century painting is covering so many schools and styles, and getting to see new things. I love to see an artist who’s so controlled and staid go completely outside the box. This definitely falls into that. The opalescent effect in the wings and the drapery–you don’t get that in Grimshaw’s moonlight scenes. Those are more about reflecting the light off of moss and brick. They’re beautiful, but this is in a class of its own.

How to bid: Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night is lot 51 in the European Art auction at Christie’s New York on April 30, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! Original D for Delinquent Pulp Paperback Cover Art Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The cover art for the 1958 pulp novel D for Delinquent shows a nubile blonde in jeans and a yellow sweater leaning against the doorway of a shack. Inside, a tough-looking teen with greased black hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth locks eyes with her.  Behind him, two couples grapple.

Update: The original cover art for D for Delinquent sold for $6,875.

What you see: Original cover art for D for Delinquent, a 1958 juvenile delinquent-themed pulp paperback. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Meagen McMillan, junior specialist and cataloger for illustration art and American art at Heritage Auctions.

First, could you talk about how rare it is for any original pulp cover art to survive at all? Most often, when an artist created a cover for a pulp or a paperback magazine, they’d send in the artwork and never see it again. The publisher used it for publication and then threw it away, or gave it to friends, or sold it at charity events. The majority of art from this period was thrown in the trash. These come up extremely rarely.

How did this particular piece of art evade the trash bin? It was most likely due to Charles Martignette [pronounced Martin-etty]. While he was collecting he actively went to publishing houses to buy directly–stacks of art for bulk prices. I don’t know if this one was bought that way.

The lot notes call this “the finest single example of the juvenile delinquent genre from the estate of Charles Martignette”. What makes it so? It’s just got the classic [details]–the blonde bombshell with the overly tight sweater and the greaser character, in an abandoned house. It perfectly contains what you want to see from this genre.

What makes it an effective pulp novel cover? It’s immediately dynamic. The print version has a large D in D for Delinquent, and the D is yellow. It draws your eye directly to the blonde.

Do we know who the artist is? We don’t know who the artist is. It’s similar to a lot of different artists’ works. It’s similar to James Avati. It’s similar to Raymond Pease. It’s similar to Norman Saunders. But we don’t know who did this. The publishing house didn’t have records. Back then, it was something done quickly, and they didn’t acknowledge who did these incredible covers. It makes it special. While we can’t assign it to a specific artist, it’s so well-done that it still has value. Normally, if you can’t assign it to an artist, it cuts its value. It’s valuable by the image alone.

I realize we don’t know who did this, but what would have been the typical way to create images like these? Would the artist have used models, or shot reference photos, or just imagined the scene? It depends on each individual artist. Gil Elvgren used models and photos. Norman Rockwell used [models and] photos. Others used their imaginations. It’s really hard to tell what the process would have been [here].

This image was used for an American paperback in 1958 and a British one two years later. Does that speak to its power as an image? It was actually very common. Paperbacks were released in the U.S., the U.K., and maybe Australia. Sometimes they had different covers, and sometimes they re-used the covers. The artist didn’t own the image. They gave it to the publisher and they could use it as many times as they wanted.

What condition is the artwork in, given that it was created as a piece of functional art? It’s actually in surprisingly wonderful condition. The margins might have been trimmed at one point.

Does it show any wear from having passed through several hands at the publishing house? I’d have to unframe it to be certain, but I can give you an example of unframed cover art. Lot #71317 has all sorts of writing and dings to the edges. [You might have to click on the alternate image, which is  shown below the main shot.]

How did you arrive at the estimate? Have you sold this piece of art before? I believe we did sell it before, when it was in the Martignette collection. We handled the Martignette estate. We sold it previously in 2011 for $7,170, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The market showed the value is there, though there is no artist associated with it. We look at it and see what we’re all looking for–a beautiful girl, a dangerous guy, action, the setting, and it’s a published cover. If it was an interior [a piece of art used inside the book, rather than on the cover]. or we couldn’t prove it was published, it goes down [in value].

What is the piece like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? I guess the only difference is really, when you see it in person, it evokes something in you–an emotional response and a sense of presence. This definitely has it.

And this image was painted at a larger size than it would have appeared as on a pulp cover, yes? A paperback cover is four inches by six inches. This is 24.75 inches by 16 inches. It’s definitely larger.

Do we know what the auction record is for original pulp cover art for a juvenile delinquent-themed book, or would we have to look at pulp cover art in general? We’d have to be more broad. We sold a piece of pulp cover art in 2009 by James Avati, called Goodbye to Berlin, for $26,290. You have to do it [search for auction records] by artist. Doing it by pulp covers is nearly impossible.

Might this piece set a record for original pulp cover art by an unknown artist? It could, but I don’t know that anyone keeps that data point.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The rarity of it, for sure. I’ve handled probably thousands of pieces of illustration art per year. I’m a big fan of pulp art. When you have a piece come across your desk where you don’t know who the artist is, and it doesn’t matter–that’s rare. It’s still amazing. It’s going to do well, no matter what. It’s an image that speaks for itself.

How to bid: The D for Delinquent art is lot #71185 in the Illustration Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 23, 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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

Will Original Pulp Paperback Cover Art for D for Delinquent Soar to $7,000 at Heritage Tomorrow?

The cover art for the 1958 pulp novel D for Delinquent shows a nubile blonde in jeans and a yellow sweater leaning against the doorway of a shack. Inside, a tough-looking teen with greased black hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth locks eyes with her.  Behind him, two couples grapple.

What you see: Original cover art for D for Delinquent, a 1958 juvenile delinquent-themed pulp paperback. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Meagen McMillan, junior specialist and cataloger for illustration art and American art at Heritage Auctions.

First, could you talk about how rare it is for any original pulp cover art to survive at all? Most often, when an artist created a cover for a pulp or a paperback magazine, they’d send in the artwork and never see it again. The publisher used it for publication and then threw it away, or gave it to friends, or sold it at charity events. The majority of art from this period was thrown in the trash. These come up extremely rarely.

How did this particular piece of art evade the trash bin? It was most likely due to Charles Martignette [pronounced Martin-etty]. While he was collecting he actively went to publishing houses to buy directly–stacks of art for bulk prices. I don’t know if this one was bought that way.

The lot notes call this “the finest single example of the juvenile delinquent genre from the estate of Charles Martignette”. What makes it so? It’s just got the classic [details]–the blonde bombshell with the overly tight sweater and the greaser character, in an abandoned house. It perfectly contains what you want to see from this genre.

What makes it an effective pulp novel cover? It’s immediately dynamic. The print version has a large D in D for Delinquent, and the D is yellow. It draws your eye directly to the blonde.

Do we know who the artist is? We don’t know who the artist is. It’s similar to a lot of different artists’ works. It’s similar to James Avati. It’s similar to Raymond Pease. It’s similar to Norman Saunders. But we don’t know who did this. The publishing house didn’t have records. Back then, it was something done quickly, and they didn’t acknowledge who did these incredible covers. It makes it special. While we can’t assign it to a specific artist, it’s so well-done that it still has value. Normally, if you can’t assign it to an artist, it cuts its value. It’s valuable by the image alone.

I realize we don’t know who did this, but what would have been the typical way to create images like these? Would the artist have used models, or shot reference photos, or just imagined the scene? It depends on each individual artist. Gil Elvgren used models and photos. Norman Rockwell used [models and] photos. Others used their imaginations. It’s really hard to tell what the process would have been [here].

This image was used for an American paperback in 1958 and a British one two years later. Does that speak to its power as an image? It was actually very common. Paperbacks were released in the U.S., the U.K., and maybe Australia. Sometimes they had different covers, and sometimes they re-used the covers. The artist didn’t own the image. They gave it to the publisher and they could use it as many times as they wanted.

What condition is the artwork in, given that it was created as a piece of functional art? It’s actually in surprisingly wonderful condition. The margins might have been trimmed at one point.

Does it show any wear from having passed through several hands at the publishing house? I’d have to unframe it to be certain, but I can give you an example of unframed cover art. Lot #71317 has all sorts of writing and dings to the edges. [You might have to click on the alternate image, which is  shown below the main shot.]

How did you arrive at the estimate? Have you sold this piece of art before? I believe we did sell it before, when it was in the Martignette collection. We handled the Martignette estate. We sold it previously in 2011 for $7,170, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The market showed the value is there, though there is no artist associated with it. We look at it and see what we’re all looking for–a beautiful girl, a dangerous guy, action, the setting, and it’s a published cover. If it was an interior [a piece of art used inside the book, rather than on the cover]. or we couldn’t prove it was published, it goes down [in value].

What is the piece like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? I guess the only difference is really, when you see it in person, it evokes something in you–an emotional response and a sense of presence. This definitely has it.

And this image was painted at a larger size than it would have appeared as on a pulp cover, yes? A paperback cover is four inches by six inches. This is 24.75 inches by 16 inches. It’s definitely larger.

Do we know what the auction record is for original pulp cover art for a juvenile delinquent-themed book, or would we have to look at pulp cover art in general? We’d have to be more broad. We sold a piece of pulp cover art in 2009 by James Avati, called Goodbye to Berlin, for $26,290. You have to do it [search for auction records] by artist. Doing it by pulp covers is nearly impossible.

Might this piece set a record for original pulp cover art by an unknown artist? It could, but I don’t know that anyone keeps that data point.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The rarity of it, for sure. I’ve handled probably thousands of pieces of illustration art per year. I’m a big fan of pulp art. When you have a piece come across your desk where you don’t know who the artist is, and it doesn’t matter–that’s rare. It’s still amazing. It’s going to do well, no matter what. It’s an image that speaks for itself.

How to bid: The D for Delinquent art is lot #71185 in the Illustration Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 23, 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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

My Latest “Sold!” Column at Art & Object Showcases Six High-flyers from Asia Week 2019

A COMMEMORATIVE GOLD BRACELET 1839-1841

What you see: A very rare gold commemorative 18k gold bracelet made between 1839 and 1841 and sold on March 18, 2019 at Bonhams New York for $187,575 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.

 

My latest Sold! column for Art & Object showcases six magnificent lots that commanded strong sums at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams during last month’s Asia Week auctions.

 

In addition to the absurdly intricate gold bracelet shown above, the column includes:

 

An important and extremely rare imperially inscribed greenish-white jade “twin fish” washer, sold at Christie’s New York for $2.89 million against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Chakrasamvara, made in Tibet in the 15th century and sold at Bonhams New York for $225,075 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

An extremely rare set of seven archaic bronze ritual Zhong bells, dating to the Western Zhou dynasty, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Amitayus, made in Tibet in the 15th or 16th century, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

A compressed Yixing teapot and cover, dubbed Flowing and made by Wang Yinxian and Zhang Shouzhi in 1988, and sold at Christie’s New York for $150,000 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000

 

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The True History of Pepper’s Ghost–a Rare Book on the Famous Special Effect–Could Sell for $900

The cover of The True History of Pepper's Ghost depicts a skeleton seated cross-legged and lifting a white cloth or veil off itself. The book cover has a black background.

What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

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

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 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.

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Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a 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.

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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SOLD! A Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

This circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham has a shell-shaped spoon that truly resembles a cockle shell. The interior of the spoon is gold. The stem of the ladle is festooned with with seaweed, fish, and grains of sand. The top of the handle resembles an oyster shell.

Update: The circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham sold for $16,250.

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! A 1960s-era Coin-Op Recording Booth Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The booth has fabulous 1960s graphics rendered in red, teal green, and black on a white background. It's about twice as big as an old-school phone booth. On top is a sign with a red sun on a white background that says "Record Your Own Voice, 50 cents (2 Qtrs). The top of the booth is white and the bottom is slate blue.

Update: The 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth sold for $44,000.

What you see: A 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Don Grimmer, vice president of Morphy Auctions Las Vegas.

So let’s imagine I’m wandering along a boardwalk, or in an amusement park or an arcade, and I see this and I want to use it. How do I do that? You open the door, go in, and close the door behind you to keep the outside noise from coming in. You inserted two quarters and began speaking or singing when the red light was on. It was recommended that you stand six to 12 inches from the microphone.

And the recording time lasted about four minutes? A few minutes per record, I don’t know how many. It stopped on its own. A machine behind the microphone created the record for you.

Do we know how many of these units were made? We don’t know, but they were popular in the UK also.

And this is the only version of the unit that the manufacturer produced? I think this is the only style. It’s very rare. It’s the only style I’ve seen.

Is this the first one you’ve handled? This is the first one we’ve had to auction. One sold privately recently, which is how we created the estimate.

Do we know when this particular unit was made? Mid- to late 60s. That’s what I’d say as a guy who’s been around coin-op [machines], judging by the look and feel of it.

Does it work? Everything is there. It appears to be complete. It hasn’t been tested, and you’d need to fill it with blank discs. The collector will be the one to get it wired and working. We don’t have the discs to put in it. It probably needs maintenance to get it in full working condition.

Have you heard any records that were made by a booth such as this one? How do they sound? It’s mostly a low-fi recording, despite the hi-fi ad on the exterior. It’s not a great quality record. It’s a cool novelty.

So you hear pop and hiss? Right. Sometimes you can find one somebody made. They pop up in old record stores and thrift stores.

The lot notes describe its condition as “very good.” What does that mean in this context? It’s structurally sound. The graphics are intact. The mechanism is intact, which is a major  plus. It’s not a hunk of crap. Perfect equals mint. Because the mechanism is there, that makes it very good. It’s very easy to see the wear markers, the scratches, the condition.

Have you sat in it? What is that like? There’s no seat present in it. You stand inside and it makes you want to put a coin in the slot and give it a try. It’s a good experience. It gets you excited that this will be a great thing to try.

How many people can comfortably fit inside the booth, really, knowing that you have to close the door to get a legible recording? It measures only about two and a half feet by two feet. You could possibly get two or three skinny people in there, or five kids, but honestly, it’s made for one.

What do we know about the provenance of this unit? It comes from the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey, and was used in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, New Jersey.

Is there anything we can say about the graphics decorating the machine? The good thing is that they’re intact. They’re legible and clear. There are wear issues. This thing was used! You climb in it and your friends climb in with you, having fun and being rowdy, especially when you start singing. It’s lucky to be in the condition it’s in.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this, knowing that none of these units have been to auction before? What are its comparables, beyond private sales? Very few exist, and very few survive. I’ve talked to two guys who know of these. The market will do what the market will do, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? When you get in it, it makes you want to use the machine. And it records you. Not many things out there actually records yourself. It makes you want to something silly, like stand in a booth and sing to yourself. And this is a rare, fresh to market piece, which makes it even more desirable.

How to bid: The Calibre Auto Recording Booth is lot 1179 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale at Morphy Auctions Las Vegas on April 13 and 14, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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A Minnie Evans Work on Paper Could Sell for $8,000

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What you see: Beautiful Portrait Surrounded by Vivid Flora, a circa 1960s work on paper by self-taught African-American artist Minnie Evans. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

I’d like to start by talking about Evans herself, and how she became a self-taught artist, and how her story matches other people who became self-taught artists. She seemed compelled to make art. Is that true of many other self-taught artists? It’s very typical. We like to say our artists are untrained and unschooled in art, but something happens and they’re driven to create art. She was definitely driven to create art, and create garden-like drawings that came from her surroundings as a gatekeeper for a garden. [Evans worked as the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina from 1948 until she retired in 1974.]

She started making art at the age of 43. Is that unusually late for a self-taught artist to embark on a career? It’s hard to say what’s typical. Most artists don’t have the opportunity [to make art] until later in life. Evans created art as the gatekeeper because she had the time to do it.

Was she prolific? She was very prolific. She did a lot of drawings. Like a lot of these artists, she was somewhat obsessed with making art.

Has anyone come up with a conservative number of works that she made over her lifetime? I don’t know if there’s an actual number. She did a lot as the gatekeeper of the garden, selling them for 50 cents. There’s probably an untold number out there.

Was Evans discovered and recognized in her lifetime? She was. There was a folk art show at the Corcoran in the 1980s of self-taught African American artists [Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980]. The show kicked off outsider art mania. It woke people up to what incredible artists we have in this country who are not influenced by academic or European masters.

Is this piece typical of Evans’s work? It’s very typical and very desirable. It’s got a central face with flora around it, and the colors are beautiful and strong, with one color bleeding into the next. It’s a really good indication of what her work looks like.

Is this a self-portrait? I don’t think it’s a self-portrait. It doesn’t look like her. She had a rounder face. I think there’s one distinct facial type that she does, and like the colors, the faces range the gamut from Caucasian to Native American to African-American depending on the individual piece.

How is she producing the effect of colors bleeding into the next–by mixing crayon and colored pencil? Back in the day I’m sure no one thought this would be as important as it is. [She worked with] everything she could get her hands on. That’s how most folk artists worked. Because no one considered them artists, they didn’t have the means to buy the best materials. I don’t know how she did it [the effect], but she did the best with what she had.

This is undated, but it has a circa date of the 1960s. Is that the period of her career that collectors prefer? Her strongest periods were the 1950s and 1960s. The look of it is really powerful and detailed. People like this period because the colors are strong and vivid and just beautiful. This is what they want to live with. In the 1970s, she was older, and not as strong, and may have spent less time on [each work].

The lot notes describe the piece as being in excellent condition. What does that mean here? I’m looking at the condition of the paper and the work. There’s no tears, no holes, and if it had paint on it, it means there’s no cracking or crazing or flaking off. Overall it’s in great condition.

Is that unusual for an Evans, given that she sold them directly to visitors to the garden where she worked as a gatekeeper? Remarkably, her paintings did well over time. We typically find them in really good condition. It would have been easy just to discard it if it was bought as a fluke. People saved them. Even if you didn’t know what it was, it’s very likable. You’d enjoy having it in your house and looking at it.

What’s the provenance for this work? This is from a longtime collector who had a fabulous collection [they’re] selling most of in this auction.

What is the work like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The only thing you don’t see in the photo when you look at it in person is how the colors bleed into each other and how calming it is to be around the piece. It’s a wonderful piece.

How many Minnie Evans works have you handled at Slotin over the years? I’ve sold between 50 to 70 pieces, with her highest being over $30,000.

Would that be the auction record for Minnie Evans? That is the auction record. It was a larger piece, maybe two times the size of the one here. It was from the Rosenak collection, Chuck and Jan, who wrote the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. It had a lot of detail in it, faces and flowers and birds. I sold it 10 years ago. Maybe now it would go for $50,000 to $60,000. Prices have jumped so much on her work, if I had it back, it might have doubled by now.

How to bid: The Minnie Evans portrait is lot 0161 in the Spring Masterpiece Sale at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia on April 27 and 28, 2019.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200. He also discussed a painting by African-American artist Sam Doyle that later commanded $17,000.

Minnie Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95, but her memory lives on at Airlie Gardens through a sculpture garden that bears her name.

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SOLD! Mainbocher Corset, Horst P. Horst’s Most Iconic Image, Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Horst P. Horst's "Mainbocher Corset" is a lush black and white image of a young woman with her back to us. She seems to be sitting on some sort of bench. The ribbons of her white corset are unstrung and draped behind her and over the bench. She hides her face behind her shoulder like a dove tucks its beak into its wing.

Update: The gelatin silver print of Mainbocher Corset sold for $7,000.

What you see: Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939, shot by Horst P. Horst for Vogue magazine.  Christie’s estimates the gelatin silver print at $7,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Anne Bracegirdle, specialist in Christie’s photographs department, and the head of the Face of a Century auction.

First, to clarify–when did he change his name to Horst P. Horst, and why? He was born in East Germany, and his name was Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann. By the early 1940s, he had emigrated to the States, and he was concerned that his name would be confused with that of a famous Nazi, Martin Bormann, so he legally changed it.

Horst shot Mainbocher Corset in 1939, and it showcases a piece of underclothing most women no longer wear routinely. Yet it remains the most iconic image Horst ever shot, and it’s one of the most iconic fashion photographs ever taken. What makes it so powerful? Keep in mind the timing of the image. Horst is one of the first fashion photographers to be celebrated. He influenced generations of photographers at Vogue. Only a handful of fashion photographers have been championed as great artists. [The strength of the image comes from] an ability to recognize the effects of strong lighting and strong angles. Horst was known to use many, many spotlights at one time. If Mainbocher Corset is considered as a series of lines and slopes, you can see a sense of balance in the composition, an effect which creates a “pleasing” photo, a sense of geometric balance. And it was revolutionary to do at the time.

What made this a revolutionary photo in the 1930s? The corset is half untied and partly off her body. The ribbons are hanging off the sides of the shelf. It’s clearly being removed. Erotic implications are unusual in 1930s publications. The corset was meant to be pulling further away from her body, on the left, but that was considered too risqué.

Do we know how much time Horst spent setting up this shot? We don’t, but he was known to take very great care. It was very well-planned, with multiple spotlights in the studio. Every image we know of his was staged very well in advance. It was taken the night before he left Paris, for fear of the Nazi threat. [Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and this image appeared in the September 1939 issue of Vogue.] He left his studio after this shot, at 4 am. He took the early train to Normandy and emigrated to the U.S. This is a very emotional image for him. It represents his career in Paris, and what he left behind.

How much of Mainbocher Corset‘s power as a fashion image comes from the fact that we can’t see the model’s face? Does that add to its power? I think so. And it was taken to sell the corset. This is a commercial image. It’s more about the composition, and less about her identity.

The lot notes say it was “printed later,” which I take to mean after it appeared in Vogue in 1939, and before Horst died in 1999. Is it possible to narrow the date of the limited edition down from that six-decade span? If we don’t know with certainty which decade it was printed in, we err on the side of “printed later.” This was the late 1970s, the early 1980s, or in the 1990s, before he died. The market didn’t fully develop until the 1970s. That’s when the commercial secondary market [for photography] was created, and when fashion photographers were looking back at their images and realizing that a market was being created. It was not fully known then that edition printing was needed to create a value structure. Many did not edition.

Do we know how many Mainbocher Corset prints Horst made? There are so many prints of this image, there’s no way to determine how many exist.

Do we know how many limited editions of Mainbocher Corset there are? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reality is that some images are so iconic, there are many different editions in different sizes.

Is this particular print regarded as a good size for Mainbocher Corset? Yes. This is the more standard size, which is more available frequently. [The sheet measures 13 7/8 inches by 10 7/8 inches; the image itself is 9 7/8 inches by 7 7/8 inches.]

Is this print more desirable for being part of a numbered limited edition of 50? The estimate you see is the same estimate we’d use for the same size print from a later, not-limited edition. The premium is really given to larger-format prints, and platinum prints, which are much more rare, and vintage prints [which were made around 1939].

This print is number four of 50. Does that matter? Do collectors prefer earlier or later numbers in a Horst limited edition? At auctions, at least in my department, there’s no value on earlier or later [numbers] in an edition. It’s not a factor for us, and it really shouldn’t be to the buyer either.

I guess Mainbocher Corset prints are similar to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia–there’s a lot floating around, but it holds its value or rises because the demand is there. Exactly. Ansel Adams is really prolific. There’s no way to know the number of iconic images that exist, but we can estimate them strongly because the demand exists. Any time an image rises to the level of an icon, it stands the test of time. Mainbocher Corset represents the height of fashion photography. It’s an icon of the medium. It’s important socially and politically, and in how modern it is. It really is a timeless icon. I would advise clients who are risk-averse and interested in focusing on images that we know will retain their value–this is one I’d recommend.

What’s the world auction record for a Horst photograph, and for a print of Mainbocher Corset? The highest prices for Horst and for fashion photography were in the early 2000s and the late 2000s. That was the boom time for this imagery. The three highest Horst results were achieved then, and all three were this image. The market became flooded with this image. What ended up happening is you’d see it up for auction every season, and there was less incentive to bid if it was going to come up next season. In the past two years, we started offering iconic Horst images less frequently, to let the market recover.

So the record for any Horst at auction and for Mainbocher Corset are one and the same… It was in 2007, in a specific Horst sale at Christie’s, a single-owner collection from Gert Elfering, who owned the Horst estate. It was a 23 1/4 by 17 inch platinum palladium print from a limited edition of five, and it sold for $288,000. The second-highest was a vintage version of this image, estimated at $120,000 to $180,000 and sold for $216,000.

How involved would Horst have been in the printing of this limited edition? Would he have done it himself, or would he have supervised someone else, or would he have handed off the work entirely? He always printed himself until he became elderly. Ricky Horst, his partner, who he eventually adopted as his son, oversaw Ricky [after Horst was too old to do the work from start to finish in the dark room].

Do collectors prefer prints made by Horst to those made by Ricky Horst under his supervision? No, there’s no market difference. What’s more important is the condition of the print.

What’s the condition of this particular print? There are no condition issues. With these later prints, which do come to market frequently, we have high standards for them.  When there are many prints available on the market, collectors demand [they be] in very good condition. If they’re not, there are more available.

What is the print like in person? One reason photographs are so special is their qualities as objects. One quality of a gelatin silver print [which this print is] is it’s printed on glossier paper, which creates a sheen that emphasizes the contrasts. It creates a depth to the darks and emphasizes the highlights. It’s a result of the paper and the print process. Platinum prints have a very matte surface and a texture almost like a charcoal drawing. For collectors, it’s almost a personal preference. Each print process brings out different qualities of the image. Gelatin silver prints have more vibrant grays, and are inherently cooler. Platinum prints are inherently warm. This can be overlooked when you’re consuming photographs digitally. They have a tactile quality.

How to bid: Mainbocher Corset is lot 163 in The Face of a Century: Photographs from a Private Collection, taking place on April 2, 2019 at Christie’s New York.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

If you think you’ve seen Mainbocher Corset before, you almost certainly have–it’s been a fashion inspiration since the day it was printed. Maybe the most famous reference to the image is Madonna’s “quote” at the end of her 1990 music video for Vogue.

Horst P. Horst has a website, and hey, guess what’s shown right there on the landing page? Yep.

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern Could Command $15,000

This circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham has a shell-shaped spoon that truly resembles a cockle shell. The interior of the spoon is gold. The stem of the ladle is festooned with with seaweed, fish, and grains of sand. The top of the handle resembles an oyster shell.

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! An Antonio Jacobsen Schooner Portrait Sailed Away with (Scroll Down to See)

Antonio Jacobsen's 1911 portrait of the schooner dubbed Goldfield depicts the white-bodied vessel in profile, prow to the left. Its four masts are topped by, respectively, an American jack, a line flag, a flag with the ship's name, and the American flag.

Update: The Antonio Jacobsen portrait of the Goldfield sold for $8,400.

What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

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

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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SOLD! A Winston Churchill Photograph by Yousuf Karsh Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Yousuf Karsh's famous black and white 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill shows the British prime minister scowling directly at the camera, with one hand on his waist and the other resting on the head of a cane. It is the scowl to end all scowls, designed to reduce offenders to a gibbering mess.

Update: The vintage gelatin silver print of Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill sold for $5,000.

What you see: A vintage gelatin silver print of a portrait of Winston Churchill, taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941 and printed in the 1940s or 1950s. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Nigel Russell, photographs director at Heritage.

I wanted to start by talking about how this photo came about. Could you tell the story of how Karsh got this image? He set up a studio in Ottawa in the early 1930s. He was friendly with the Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King. He had a reputation in Canada, but he wasn’t that well-known. Churchill was doing a tour during World War II. He came to Washington and then Ottawa to get support for the war. He gave an electrifying speech in Ottawa. The Canadian Prime Minister asked Karsh to take a picture of Churchill, but apparently, no one told Churchill he was going to have his picture taken. He was annoyed to begin with. He lit a cigar, puffed away, and said, “OK, you can quickly take the picture,” very angrily. Karsh held out an ashtray [so Churchill could] take the cigar out of his mouth. He didn’t. He ignored him. Karsh made his final settings [on his camera] and just before taking the picture, he said, “Excuse me, Sir,” and took the cigar out of his mouth. That’s why you get a scowling look in the picture.

This image made Karsh’s reputation. How soon did he know the strength of what he had? When he took the photo, he knew it was good and important, but he didn’t know how important it would be. He went from a Canadian photographer to an international photographer. It launched his career of photographing heads of state and important people around the world.

I was thinking about that act–plucking the cigar from Winston Churchill’s mouth–and I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do it… Karsh was a rather small man, and Churchill was an imposing figure who wasn’t paying any attention to him. He felt the need to get his attention and probably felt he didn’t have much to lose. He was not a very important photographer at the time, so he just did it. There is another photo that’s not very well-known because it’s just not the same, where Churchill is smiling. I think Churchill was actually impressed with what Karsh did, and let him take another picture.

When I think of Winston Churchill, I think of this photo. That’s the image that winks into my head. What makes it so effective? It’s exactly the way you picture him giving powerful speeches in World War II–a powerful, no-nonsense person. It’s one of those few instances where the portrait is what you imagine the personality of the person [to be] and conveys something more than a plain portrait. It makes you feel you have an idea that you can understand the person better.

How is the image a testament to Karsh’s talent? A couple of things make Karsh the most important portrait photographer of the mid-20th century. From a technical point of view, he was excellent–impeccable technique, fantastic lighting, print quality, all of that. The Churchill portrait marked a turning point. From then on, he’d try to get the subject to make a unique expression that shows their inner power, or shoot them in such a way that you wouldn’t normally see.

We know he took the photo in 1941, but I don’t see anything about the date when he printed this one. Can we pin that down? We don’t know exactly when he printed this particular one, but we are listing it as a vintage print. It’s an early print. Karsh did early prints at different sizes, 8 1/2 by 11 inches or 11 by 14 inches. We know it was early because he signed it in white ink, which he seemed to stop doing sometime in the 1950s. It has silver mirroring, which a photograph doesn’t get unless it’s quite old. It’s an oxidation of the silver in the print. If you hold it at an angle, there’s a silvery sheen to the darker areas of the print. Usually it takes 50 years or so to show up. Another indication of age is the print is warm in tone. It’s printed on cream paper, where later prints were on white paper.

The secondary market for photographs didn’t evolve until the 1970s. For whom would Karsh have made this gelatin silver print of his Churchill portrait? I think you have to look at it a little differently. Though the fine art photography market wasn’t created until the 1970s, there was a market for portraits of statesmen and celebrities. People would buy a portrait of someone they admired and hang it in their study. Karsh didn’t make a huge amount of money [from these prints] but you see early prints of Einstein, Charles De Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower… even though the market for fine art photography didn’t exist, there was a market for this kind of portraiture earlier.

And it was not part of a limited edition? Right. Not until you get to the 1970s, to the fine art market, does he start making larger sizes and start doing editions.

How often does this pre-1970s print show up in auction records? I did a search in general of all different Karsh Churchill prints. There have been 187 up for auction since 1987, so about five or six a year, of which maybe one is vintage, or maybe less than that. [Standard reminder: 187 auction results doesn’t mean 187 individual prints went to auction. Some might have been the same print, consigned twice or more.]

And to be clear–because there was demand for portraits of statesmen before the 1970s, there would be more vintage prints of Karsh’s Churchill portrait floating around than you’d get for other types of vintage prints. Yes. I would say from a vintage point of view it’s fairly popular.

How involved would Karsh have been in physically making the print? From what I’ve read, he printed in the darkroom with assistants. He might have been supervising. It’s not clear if he handmade each print himself or if he told his assistants what to do. He was certainly not like some photographers who let their assistants do [the work] and never entered the darkroom. He was very much hands-on.

Is the world auction record for a Karsh photograph a Churchill photograph? And if so, what is it? It’s interesting. I did a search and it turns out the auction record for any Karsh is this image, and it was set at a Beijing auction house by a vintage 8 by 10 in 2015. That was kind of the peak of the Chinese art market auctions. It sold for $39,713. The next-highest result is for a vintage 16 by 20. It’s unusual because he didn’t [normally] make vintage prints that big. It would have been a special order in that size. It sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $20,000. Later on, once the photography art market got going, he made 16 by 20s and 20 by 24s.

Of all the collectible photographs of Churchill, is this the one that collectors want most? Oh yeah, by far. If someone’s looking for a Churchill portrait by any photographer, they gravitate toward this one. It’s one of the few where we do have crossover appeal to people who collect Churchilliana, people who collect World War II in general, and people who want a nice Churchill portrait.

Do collectors care if the portrait is vintage or not? A lot of the people who want this picture like it in the later, larger size. We sold a 20 by 24 for $11,300.

What condition is the print in? Silver mirroring is noticeable at an angle, and there are a few small spots of retouching. It’s in overall good condition.

How many Karsh Churchill portraits have you had at Heritage? In all, we’ve sold 11 since we’ve been having photograph auctions [the house began holding them in 2004]. Of those, three were vintage.

As we speak I’m looking at a digital version of the print. What is it like in person? Again, it gets into the realm of connoisseurship. Later black and white prints reproduce fine digitally. They’re what you kind of expect. With vintage prints, there’s a color to them, a warmth to them. The paper often has a bit of texture to it that you can’t see [in a digital reproduction]. It’s really nice to see them in person. They have a certain presence that you don’t get in later prints.

How to bid: The vintage print of Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill is lot #73197 in the Photographs Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in New York on April 6, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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A Coin-Op Recording Booth from the 1960s Could Sell for $100,000

The booth has fabulous 1960s graphics rendered in red, teal green, and black on a white background. It's about twice as big as an old-school phone booth. On top is a sign with a red sun on a white background that says "Record Your Own Voice, 50 cents (2 Qtrs). The top of the booth is white and the bottom is slate blue.

What you see: A 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Don Grimmer, vice president of Morphy Auctions Las Vegas.

So let’s imagine I’m wandering along a boardwalk, or in an amusement park or an arcade, and I see this and I want to use it. How do I do that? You open the door, go in, and close the door behind you to keep the outside noise from coming in. You inserted two quarters and began speaking or singing when the red light was on. It was recommended that you stand six to 12 inches from the microphone.

And the recording time lasted about four minutes? A few minutes per record, I don’t know how many. It stopped on its own. A machine behind the microphone created the record for you.

Do we know how many of these units were made? We don’t know, but they were popular in the UK also.

And this is the only version of the unit that the manufacturer produced? I think this is the only style. It’s very rare. It’s the only style I’ve seen.

Is this the first one you’ve handled? This is the first one we’ve had to auction. One sold privately recently, which is how we created the estimate.

Do we know when this particular unit was made? Mid- to late 60s. That’s what I’d say as a guy who’s been around coin-op [machines], judging by the look and feel of it.

Does it work? Everything is there. It appears to be complete. It hasn’t been tested, and you’d need to fill it with blank discs. The collector will be the one to get it wired and working. We don’t have the discs to put in it. It probably needs maintenance to get it in full working condition.

Have you heard any records that were made by a booth such as this one? How do they sound? It’s mostly a low-fi recording, despite the hi-fi ad on the exterior. It’s not a great quality record. It’s a cool novelty.

So you hear pop and hiss? Right. Sometimes you can find one somebody made. They pop up in old record stores and thrift stores.

The lot notes describe its condition as “very good.” What does that mean in this context? It’s structurally sound. The graphics are intact. The mechanism is intact, which is a major  plus. It’s not a hunk of crap. Perfect equals mint. Because the mechanism is there, that makes it very good. It’s very easy to see the wear markers, the scratches, the condition.

Have you sat in it? What is that like? There’s no seat present in it. You stand inside and it makes you want to put a coin in the slot and give it a try. It’s a good experience. It gets you excited that this will be a great thing to try.

How many people can comfortably fit inside the booth, really, knowing that you have to close the door to get a legible recording? It measures only about two and a half feet by two feet. You could possibly get two or three skinny people in there, or five kids, but honestly, it’s made for one.

What do we know about the provenance of this unit? It comes from the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey, and was used in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, New Jersey.

Is there anything we can say about the graphics decorating the machine? The good thing is that they’re intact. They’re legible and clear. There are wear issues. This thing was used! You climb in it and your friends climb in with you, having fun and being rowdy, especially when you start singing. It’s lucky to be in the condition it’s in.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this, knowing that none of these units have been to auction before? What are its comparables, beyond private sales? Very few exist, and very few survive. I’ve talked to two guys who know of these. The market will do what the market will do, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? When you get in it, it makes you want to use the machine. And it records you. Not many things out there actually records yourself. It makes you want to something silly, like stand in a booth and sing to yourself. And this is a rare, fresh to market piece, which makes it even more desirable.

How to bid: The Calibre Auto Recording Booth is lot 1179 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale at Morphy Auctions Las Vegas on April 13 and 14, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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WOW! Emma Amos’s Let Me Off Uptown Set a New World Auction Record for the Artist

Emma Amos's mixed-media work Let Me Off Uptown is a large, square piece that showcases a dancing couple who hold hands. The black, besuited gentleman dancer tips his hat to the light-skinned woman, who has black stiletto heels and a spaghetti-strap red dress that falls to the knee. A green circle behind the couple draws the eye to them. Tiny figures appear across the background. All are jubilant. Most are dancing. All races and ages are represented, and there's at least one dancing dog.

Update: Let Me Off Uptown sold for $125,000, more than tripling the previous world auction record for the artist at auction. Hooray!

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.

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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.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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A Roman Micromosaic Tabletop Could Command $80,000

A large Roman micromosaic tabletop, dating to the last quarter of the 19th century. St. Peter's Square is shown in the center of the elaborate tabletop, surrounded by scenes of Pantheon, the Arch of Titus, the Tomb of Caecillia Metella, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, Temple of Vesta, the Castel Sant'Angelo, and the Capitoline Hill. The micro-mosaic images were created from thousands upon thousands of tiny pieces of hand-cut and hand-placed glass.

What you see: A large Roman micromosaic tabletop, dating to the last quarter of the 19th century. St. Peter’s Square is shown in the center, surrounded by scenes of Pantheon, the Arch of Titus, the Tomb of Caecillia Metella, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, Temple of Vesta, the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Capitoline Hill. Christie’s estimates it at $50,000 to $80,000.

The expert: Casey Rogers, specialist of 19th Century European furniture and decorative art at Christie’s.

Do we know what workshop made this tabletop? In the absence of a signature, no, but there were several workshops associated with the Vatican Mosaic Studio, as well as independent mosaic studios, who had established studios near Rome’s Spanish Steps. Names which come to mind are the studios of Luigi Gallandt or Cesare Roccheggiani. They were very well-known to create mosaics of this caliber.

Would this have been a Grand Tour souvenir? I believe so, and it’s a very lavish one at that, given its scale and intricacy. It’s nearly 40 inches in diameter. It would have been a very special piece to bring home from one’s travels and would have certainly a conversation piece.

Do the landmarks depicted on the tabletop show how the Grand Tour has changed over time? Are there sites depicted here that would not have been on the Grand Tour list in previous centuries? The question is very relevant to another question you asked–is it a commission, or is it on spec? Certainly some of the larger mosaic tabletops are likely to be tailor-made for a tourist who could choose sites to visit on the Grand Tour. In terms of how it has changed over time, I can’t say. That would require more research. But I think one could tailor it–“I’d love to see scenes depicted in the souvenir I take home.”

Is there anything notable about how the sites are portrayed, and the order in which they are portrayed? Not specifically. It links back to the point I was just making, that you could certainly chose the types of sites that were depicted. Quite playful images could be done, tailor-made to an experience on the Grand Tour. When we speak about the imagery on the tabletop, St. Peter’s Square tends to be the focal point. We often find St. Peter’s Square in the central roundel.

And I take it it’s fair to assume that these sites would be far more crowded in the late 19th century than they are depicted on this tabletop? [Laughs] Certainly, and they’re not as we know them today, in modern times. It [the lack of crowds in the images of the Roman landmarks] also speaks to the mosaic itself, and the difficulty of making it. We find some mosaics that are more heavily populated. It’s a testament to the mosaicists’ meticulous skill when there’s more people in the scene. The number of tourists shown would have been a mark of the expense and the skill of the work.

Is this a one-off, or have you seen other tables with tops that look like this? We certainly have sold and seen tables with very similar compositions to this. No two are alike. We have also seen a number of smaller scale.  Presently, this size was the largest known to be available.

Do the mosaicists rely on a template? There’s a template to it, but every mosaic’s size and scene is unique because of the craftsmanship. Each has its own nuances that sets it apart from the last, but the template is there.

Would it have been made on speculation or would it have been a commission? In this case, it’s very tough to say. The records aren’t there. I can say the mosaicists were very attuned to the tastes of their clients who came to Rome and to the sites on the Grand Tour. There were examples that could be acquired quickly, and others that were special commissions.

What can we know by looking how difficult the tabletop would have been to make? Micromosaics are a marvel of technique. What’s so incredible about the work is its painterly quality. As you stand back, you may mistake the surface as a painting, but as you delve more into the nuance and intricacy of the piece we can discern each glass piece (tessera) and understand that each was laid individually as one would do a paint-by-number.

The glass would be custom-colored? Absolutely, and hand-cut and hand-laid in the design created by the studio.

Do we know how many tesserae were used to make this tabletop? Thousands upon thousands, each individually hand cut and placed according to a specific design or vista.

How long might it have taken to make something like this? It is difficult to say work-to-work, but depending on the magnitude of a tabletop or panel, the work could have been executed over months and up to a year. In terms of technique, the mosaic workshops – such as those at the Vatican Mosaic Studio – originally used cubic tesserae, known as smalti, made from ground glass and baked in an oven like enamel. By the 1760s this art had been so perfected that it was possible to produce rods or threads of colored glass, called smalti filati, thin enough to be cut into the minute tesserae used on this table top. These tiny individual tesserae, in an almost limitless palette of as many as 28,000 colors, allowed truly painterly compositions.

Is there anything we can say about the borders and rings–the geometric border sandwiched by malachite, and the scalloped border between the center panel and the outer panels? Are these the sorts of designs that appear on tabletops such as these, or would they have had symbolic meanings? The neoclassical flourishes are nods to the antique and neoclassical trends that grew out of the discoveries of the sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the 18th century. They launched a revival of ancient styles. Another [reason to] make the decorations [is] to convey the mosaicist’s skill level and convey the luxury of expensive materials like malachite [the green stone that comprise the two outer rings of the tabletop].

Would it have come with a matching chair? I would say not. You’re probably bringing the tabletop itself home. It may be mounted to a very subdued ebonized base. It comes down to collectors and their aesthetics. We find a wide variety of table bases.

And the base would not have been made by the same studio? No. I think the studio could make them available.

Would this tabletop have been viewed as a piece of art or a piece of furniture? My hope is it functioned as a piece of art given the difficulties of how it was made. It continued to be treated as such by collectors and the market in general. In contemporary interiors, [you’d get] a glass top for the table if you chose to use the table to protect the mosaic itself. I absolutely think it was made as a work of art, a souvenir to take home to remember one’s experiences by. That’s why you see so many in great condition. They’ve been preserved as works of art.

What do we know about the provenance of this piece? It’s from a private family collection in the south. The family passed it from generation to generation. I don’t believe their relatives necessarily acquired it on the Grand Tour in the mid-19th century, but we know them to have had it in their possession by the early 20th century.

What condition is this tabletop in? This one has had a break or two to it. It’s been extremely well restored by a very well-versed conservator. It is not in perfect condition, but it’s in good condition considering it’s over 170 years old.

Is it heavy? Yes, very. [Laughs] It’s got weight to it. It’s several hundred pounds. It’s set into black marble surrounding a wood base. It’s very hefty. In terms of moving it safely, you’ll want professional art movers.

What is it like in person? What I love about micromosaics is they’re extremely photogenic. The catalogs in print and online give a good indication of the execution level of the mosaic. What you can’t get in the photo is being able to walk up to the glass and inspect the fine detail. In the Parthenon, you can see little flourishes that convey the carving in the friezes. Taking the time to inspect it is a real joy.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s the seemingly impossible craftsmanship and the magnitude of the work of creating it. I can view it several times over and I think I know every nuance, but I pick up something new when I come back to it 20 minutes later.

How to bid: The large Roman micromosaic tabletop is lot 101 in The Collector: English & European 18th & 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on April 9, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Casey Rogers appeared on The Hot Bid previously talking about a pair of Venetian lobster-form chairs.

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SOLD! A Brass Sleeve Holdout Device for Cheating at Cards Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

This brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s, allowed the wearer to cheat at cards. When the player received a valuable card they wanted to save for a later hand, they'd touch the button that extends the device, surreptitiously tuck the choice card into the gripper, and then hit another button that pulled the card back up their sleeve. The card cheat would wear the device strapped to the underside of an arm, hidden beneath clothing. The photograph shows the device upside down.

Update: The Will & Finck circa 1880s brass sleeve holdout sold for $9,000.

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.

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.

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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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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An Antonio Jacobsen Schooner Portrait from 1911 Could Command $10,000

Antonio Jacobsen's 1911 portrait of the schooner dubbed Goldfield depicts the white-bodied vessel in profile, prow to the left. Its four masts are topped by, respectively, an American jack, a line flag, a flag with the ship's name, and the American flag.

What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

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

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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