Wilson Bentley Snowflake Photos Could Fetch $12,000 at Sotheby’s

What you see: One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley. Sotheby’s estimates the group at $8,000 to $12,000.

The expert: Hermione Sharp, associate specialist in the photographs department at Sotheby’s New York.

Let’s start by talking about Wilson Bentley–who he was, and how he became interested in photographing snowflakes. He was a farmer from Jericho, Vermont. I understand he lived on the farm his whole life. At some point, his mother had a microscope. For his birthday, as a teen, he asked for a better one. He was in Vermont, and he was around snow a lot. Around the age of 20, he wanted to document snowflakes on camera. It took him a while to figure out how to do that. Once he did, he ran with it.

Was he the first to tackle the problem of how to capture snowflakes on film before they melted? More or less. Some had tried here and there, but no one had the interest that he did. He was determined to get good pictures of snowflakes. They melted so quickly, it was hard to do.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did he solve the problem? He put together an apparatus, a microscope attached to a camera. That’s how he was able to capture the images we see today.

I understand the invention relied on a bellows. What’s a bellows? In 19th century pictures, you’ll see cameras with a long accordion thing at the front. That’s a bellows. That extension allowed him to get to the microscope, to get the image taken through the microscope itself. Later, he added a piece of wood with [attached to] a band of leather to pull the focus back and forth on the microscope.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did Bentley create these images? He would run around his backyard, catching snowflakes on a piece of velvet. He’d run back to the camera and move the snowflakes around with a feather to get the one he wanted. When he got one he liked, he’d move it onto a microscope slide, stick it in the camera, run to the other side of the camera, and focus. Then he got the picture. He would do a lot of this outside in the cold.

And he did it before we had Gore-tex or other modern cold-weather gear. No Gore-tex, and no electricity. To expose the pictures, he used natural daylight.

What sort of shutter speed did he need to use? He had about two minutes before the snowflake would melt. The exposure, I think, was a minute and a half long.

Did he have any assistants? I don’t believe so. There’s no mention of assistants in the records I found. He would have been helping his family on the farm to some extent, but I think they didn’t understand why he was doing that, and why he wasn’t helping them more.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How many snowflake images did Bentley take? He took over 5,300 by the end of his life.

The Wilson Bentley snowflake photos are described as “photomicrographs”. What are photomicrographs? Did Bentley invent the photomicrograph process? A photomicrograph is a photograph of a microscopic object, taken with the aid of a microscope. He did not invent the process. I don’t know who’s really credited with it. It was used before Bentley used it, to photograph blood cells in the mid-19th century.

What can we tell, just by looking at these photomicrographs, how difficult they were to make? We all know how small a snowflake is. You can see how much he was able to magnify it himself, with 19th century equipment. You can see how detailed they are. They show the work put into the images. You can see not just the outsides [of the snowflakes] but the unique designs, the details in the prints themselves.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

I found a quote on Wikipedia about Bentley that said, “He did it so well that hardly anybody bothered to photograph snowflakes for almost 100 years.” What was it about the quality and strength of his photographs that convinced everyone else to leave the field to him? He really was the first to be able to photograph snowflakes the way that he did–over 5,000, and he did publish a book in the final year of his life. He devoted himself entirely to this. We don’t really see snowflake photos by anyone else [during this period]. I can see how that would be true.

How responsible were Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos for promoting the idea that no two snowflakes are alike? Very important. He basically figured it out. Nobody knew that before. He shot the first image in 1885, and he died in 1931. He never saw two that were the same.

Did he ever deliberately market and sell any of his snowflake images as collectible works of art? Might he have sold some of them to fund his snowflake photography work? I actually don’t know. I could not find anywhere [evidence or discussion] if he sold prints during his life. He would have sold some slides to American schools and museums, and sold them to fashion designers and jewelers as inspiration for design. But I don’t know if he sold them for money. In 1904, he contacted the Smithsonian. He had taken 2,000 images [by then] and he wanted them to take the best images for long-term preservation. They did, and they sent him some money for supplies.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

So Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos were not seen as artistic images during his lifetime? I would say they were mostly viewed as scientific images. I’m sure a lay person could understand the beauty of seeing snowflakes up close. But I can’t imagine him framing them and sticking them up on the walls. He did not try to decorate his house [with them]. He wanted people to know his research he was doing, scientifically speaking.

So people start seeing Wilson Bentley snowflake photos as art some time after he dies in 1931? In terms of the art market, I didn’t find auction records for these before 2005. Dealers sold them here and there over the years. They didn’t get to the secondary art market for a long time.

The date range for this group of ten Wilson Bentley snowflake photos spans the late 1890s to the 1920s. Why is the span so wide? We just don’t know when they were taken. They’re not dated. When we get a set, we use the widest range we can. We err on the side of caution.

It’s odd that he did not date the snowflake images, given that he saw himself as doing scientific work. You’d think he’d want to, if only to see if certain patterns emerged over time. It is interesting, and we don’t know why [he didn’t date them]. In general, photographers did not sign or date all their things until the 20th century. It’s not unusual to see prints like this that are unsigned.

The lot notes describe the group as “selected images”. Who did the selecting? Were the Wilson Bentley snowflake photos released originally as this specific group of ten, or did someone along the way pull them together? “Selected” is just what we say when we have a group of photographs from one photographer. It came to us this way from one collector.

How often do Wilson Bentley snowflake photos come to auction? On a fairly regular basis. We see a set once a season, maybe.

Are they always in some sort of group, or do individuals come up? We have not offered individuals at Sotheby’s. They sell on their own for a few hundred.

What are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs like in person? They’re not black and white. They have deep, dark brown tones, and some are slightly lighter than others. The darks are not just black–they’re almost black-brown. In person, you can really see the lovely dark chocolate browns. The whites are not white–they’re a creamy color. And there’s a bit of silvering in some of the dark areas, which is typical of something of this age. It adds a beautiful look to each object on its own. They’re quite small–four inches by three inches, which is the size they always are.

Do you have a favorite among the ten? This [above] is the one we chose to reproduce in the catalog, and it remains my favorite. It is a beautifully symmetrical shape, from the center all the way to the formation of the six “arms”, which I think are called dendrites. There is so much detail captured in this tiny print.

What condition are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs in? They’re really in quite excellent condition for prints of the late 19th century. There’s barely anything to report. The silvering is not distracting. It’s in the darks. You’ve got to hold them in high, raking light, at an angle, to notice it.

I understand the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs are framed. Is that unusual? Do we know when they were framed? They were framed pretty recently by the owner. The frames wouldn’t be original to them. I can’t imagine Bentley would have framed anything.

How many groups of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs have you handled? I started in 2015. Since then, this is the sixth group.

How does this set compare to the other five? It’s really nice, but they’re all very comparable sets. He clearly uses the same process over and over. All six sets that have come up during my time have sold. In October 2016, we sold a group for $22,500.

Is that the world auction record for a set of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs? It’s up there. Swann sold an album of 25 in February 2016 for $52,000. The next three records are all Sotheby’s, including the one I mentioned.

Why will this group of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs stick in your memory? It’s a nice selection of different snowflakes, as good a variety of shapes that you can have. What seems to be important to Bentley–he really was passionate about what he did. In his book, he documents snowflakes by shape. That was important to him. He died right after his book came out, of pnemonia, after walking around in the snow. His legacy lives on. He achieved his goal.

How to bid: The group of 10 Wilson Bentley Snowflake photographs is lot 142 in the Classic Photographs sale at Sotheby’s New York on October 3, 2019.

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SOLD! The Print of President Theodore Roosevelt Dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier.

Update: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House sold for $2,250.

What you see: A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier. Heritage Auctions estimates it could sell for $2,000 or more.

The expert: Curtis Lindner, associate director of Americana at Heritage Auctions.

How did the dinner come about? Why did it make sense for President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House in 1901? Roosevelt was not the first president to invite African-Americans to the White House, but Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to dine at the White House. Washington was an advisor to Roosevelt.

What did Booker T. Washington advise President Theodore Roosevelt on? He advised him on horrible things happening to African-Americans, and wanted to get them more rights. That was a reason to invite him to dinner–to discuss voting rights in the South. Roosevelt probably had it in his mind that he wanted to run for president in 1905. Having Washington talk about voting for Roosevelt was very important. He was also a good friend of Roosevelt as well.

When did the two men become friends? Probably when Roosevelt was vice president. And when Roosevelt was governor of New York, he had invited African-Americans to the governor’s mansion, and had invited them to stay overnight. That didn’t become national news because he was a governor. When he did it as president, there was an uproar in the South. There are graphic quotes. The n-word was used extensively. Horrible things were said [along the lines of]–‘How dare he defame the White House by inviting him to dinner,’ and ‘How dare he dine with Roosevelt’s wife and white children.’ [Roosevelt had three sons and a daughter at the time.]

Was the uproar in all of the South? A majority. U.S. Senators and Congressmen made these comments. It seemed to be acceptable at the time.

How did the Northern states react? A lot of Northerners did support it. It was primarily the South, and a lot of Southern politicians, that didn’t like it at all.

Did the White House announce the dinner before it happened, or after? The White House announced it, from what I understand, after the dinner. Washington was up there for some sort of conference, and Roosevelt sent him a telegram inviting him to the White House. I don’t know if Roosevelt expected an uproar.

It sounds like it was spontaneous. Yes, it was more of a spontaneous thing. It was not fancy. It was just Booker T. Washington and Roosevelt’s family. And there were other people there–servants coming through as well. This is a “pro” print. It’s in support of the Roosevelt-Washington dinner. There are “con” buttons that depict Washington in caricature, and with bottles of liquor on the table, as if they were getting drunk. Those can sell for several hundred dollars, as well as the “pro”. There are also two versions of the “pro” print–one where the tablecloth says “Equality”, and one where it doesn’t. Both have the image of Lincoln between Roosevelt and Washington.

Yes, now that I look more closely at the print, there’s no hint of alcohol. No glasses are on the table, and maybe that’s a water carafe in the foreground? Absolutely. The “con” image is different from the “pro” buttons and the “pro” print. Washington has larger, curlier hair, and there’s no Lincoln between them. The juxtaposition is so interesting between the “con” image and the “pro” print.

The lot notes describe the dinner as a “public relations mistake Roosevelt never repeated.” What made the dinner a public relations mistake? After the uproar, the White House backpedaled a little, claiming it was a lunch. It was at 8 pm at night. It was not a lunch. The White House [might have said to Roosevelt] ‘We have a perception problem, Mister President.’ It was bad publicity for the president and the government in the eyes of many, especially in the South. I’m sure it took some time for this to go away. And Roosevelt never invited another African-American to dine at the White House. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have them over to visit, but there were no dinners or lunches. He probably didn’t want to deal with more controversy.

The dinner took place in 1901, but the print is dated 1903. What accounts for the two-year lag between the event and the publication of the print? I don’t have a definitive answer. What comes to mind is in late 1903 and early 1904, Roosevelt started running for president. Could he be trying to look good to the African-American population? On the other hand, would he want to remind the white American South about how mad they were when an African-American was in the White House? I don’t have a definitive answer. I could see how [a printer] would put it out a month after the dinner, but why two years after? Why wait those two years?

Well, in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of Irish Catholic homes displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy alongside the Pope. Could this print of President Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington have served the same sort of cultural role in African-American homes? That’s a good point. That could very well be why.

So, who would have been the audience for this print? Middle-class African-Americans? I would think it would be more for the African-American community. It’s a very flattering print of two brilliant men sitting down to eat. It was probably a coveted print that hung in a home next to a print of Abraham Lincoln.

Did you find any evidence that this could have been printed by a press that also offered an African-American newspaper? I could not find any information about that.

Is it possible that the Republican Party, or a local Republican group, might have commissioned the print to support Roosevelt’s 1905 campaign? I don’t think so at all.

And I take it this is a fanciful rendering of the dinner? There probably wasn’t a print of Abraham Lincoln hanging in the room where they ate? We do not know if there was an image of Lincoln in the room, but it was smart for the artist to add it. I’m sure he put it there with a lot of thought behind it. But there’s no actual photo or drawing of them having dinner. There was no White House photographer then. The images of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington’s faces were used in other memorabilia. What you see is an artist’s rendition of what the dinner might have been like.

Yeah, the faces of the men look like they were lifted from two different photographs. Exactly. They [the artist or the printer] found other images and used the faces for this purpose.

It’s odd that Roosevelt and Washington aren’t looking at each other. It is strange. The artist could have had them looking at each other. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.

What condition is the print in? There’s some damage to it, some edge roughness, but this is overall a good example. The majority of examples have some condition issues–the print is 116 years old, and it’s ephemeral by nature.

Do we have any notion of how many of these prints were made, and how many survive? We’ve sold four examples, the highest for $5,250 in June 2018. I’ve probably seen 15 to 20 examples. I’m sure it was made in some quantity.

Why will this print stick in your memory? To me, I think, it shows we can look past our differences. Roosevelt was a great man who saw he could take advice from African-Americans and treat them equally. This print makes me think we have a chance in thus country to all get along.

How to bid: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House is lot #43316 in The David and Janice Frent Collection, Presidential and Political Americana, Part VI auction, taking place at Heritage Auctions on September 21 – 22, 2019.

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A Mangling Board Carved from Icelandic Driftwood in 1742 Could Fetch $19,000 at Bonhams

What you see: A carved driftwood mangling board, created in Iceland in 1742. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $12,000 to $19,000.

The expert: David Houlston, specialist for the sale of the Brookwell Collection of Smoothing Implements at Bonhams Oxford.

What is a “mangling board,” and how was it used? It’s the forerunner of the mangle. It comes in two parts–most have been separated. It comes with what looks like a rolling pin [called a roller] that’s the length of the mangling board itself. You’d roll cloth or linen or bedlinen around the roller and rub it back and forth [on the mangling board] to smooth it out. That’s how you’d get the nice, neat straight lines [in the cloth]. There was no heat involved. It was all manual labor.

I realize this mangling board has long since lost its roller, but what would the roller have looked like? Would it have been as elaborately decorated as the mangling board? No. It would be totally plain, plain Jane. It had to be completely smooth.

How effective was it to smooth out clothes and linens with a roller and a mangling board? It was quite questionable. I think the majority of mangling boards were love tokens.

And that’s why these mangling boards are elaborately carved–they are meant as love tokens? Probably, yes. If someone gave you an iron, you’d wrap it around their neck, but I assume this was different. These mangling boards were a huge amount of work.

This mangling board is described as “very rare”. What makes it very rare? It’s Icelandic. You don’t get trees growing in Iceland. Any timber they would get would be driftwood that washed ashore. You’d literally have to wait to find a piece of driftwood [good enough to create a mangling board like this one]. And it’s dated. It’s an early date for a mangling board.

Is it rare to find a mangling board with a date on it, regardless? Quite a lot in the sale are dated, but that’s probably because the collection was formed over 60 years. They [the collectors] went for the better pieces. Maybe one in ten are dated [in general].

If this was a love token, does that mean that it wouldn’t have been used as a mangling board? Yes.

What clues point to it being created as a love token? The hand might symbolize the hand at home–his hand [the husband, who would also be the carver] at the end. If she used it, she would “hold his hand” as he worked in the fields, or at sea. The hand at the end is the part you hold [when using the mangling board to smooth fabric].

There’s a heart framed by scrolls at the top that have writing on them. Is that another clue? The heart was typical of giving your heart away, that sort of thing. The writing is typical of it. That’s how we know it’s Icelandic. The writing is a form of Höfdaletur, which is their script.

A grid of letters that represent a form of Höfdaletur, an Icelandic script, and how the same letterforms vary as they appear on the Icelandic mangling board.

Yeah, when I requested images I was also sent a grid of letters with the letters A, B, E, K, R… It shows you how to write those letters in their script.

And it shows you how the letters show up on the board? Yes. It makes them difficult to read. [Additional lot notes sent later explain “depending on the shape of the driftwood the carver would either have to expand or contract the font to fit the available space.”]

They’re the same letters, in different forms on the board? Yes, absolutely. That’s why many people can’t read it.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this mangling board would have been to carve? It’s one piece of wood. It was exceptionally difficult to carve. It’s not just the quality of the relief carving–it’s got cut-away carving.

And I imagine, seeing as the 18th-century Icelandic carver had to hunt down driftwood, he didn’t have many opportunities to practice… There probably weren’t. This is one big piece. [It measures 23 inches long by two and a half inches wide by one and a half inches deep.]

Does the mangling board show signs of wear? The underside and the ends of it are worn. But it’s 250 years old. It’s going to have signs of wear whether it was used or not.

Have you handled it? Yes.

What was that like? Is it heavy? Not particularly heavy, no. It is tactile.

The mangling board bears this inscription: “Gudrun Bjarnesdatter is the legal owner of this mangling board and has obtained it in an honest way.” Why would she have felt the need to inscribe the board with this language? Standard ownership, really. It’s a way of saying, “This is mine, I’m the legal owner.” That’s not rare.

What would it have meant in 18th century Iceland to have obtained a mangling board in an “honest way”? I don’t know. To put a name on it and say “that’s mine” is not unusual. But obtaining it in an “honest way”? I don’t know.

What’s your favorite detail of this mangling board? Probably the hand. It is quite rare to get a carved hand. I like the idea of clasping the hand when you use it. It makes sense. The rest [other mangling boards] have rounded ends. It makes you feel a connection to the person who is using it.

Why will this mangling board stick in your memory? Because personally, I wasn’t very familiar with Icelandic text. And it’s a different form. A lot of mangling boards are chip carving–that’s much more the norm. To have different Celtic motifs and cutaway carving makes it stand out.

How to bid: The 18th century Icelandic carved driftwood mangling board is lot 968 in the auction of the Brookwell Collection of Smoothing Implements, taking place on October 2, 2019 at Bonhams Oxford.

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SOLD! The George Ohr Vase Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, dating to 1897 to 1900.

Update: The George Ohr vase sold for $10,625.

What you see: An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” dating to 1897 to 1900. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

How prolific was George Ohr? He made about 10,000 pots during his career, from about 1885 to about 1909. Because the work was virtually unsaleable, most of it survived. Because the work was often paper-thin, much of it has minor damage. The entire body of work was stored away in Biloxi, some in the private homes of relatives, and the rest held by his surviving son. That, in and of itself, is a great story.

What makes this an “exceptional large vase” by Ohr, per the lot notes? What’s a more typical size for him? And specifically, what makes it “exceptional”? Ohr tended to work in “hand-sized” pots, as I like to call them. Four inches by four inches is typical. It seemed he could manipulate a pot uniformly, in integrated gestures, to complete something original and in the moment. He was very much an artist who worked with the flow the material–spinning clay, of a very elastic variety–and his own creative impulse. There is an immediacy to his best work, which is why it has captured the attention of collectors, artists, gallerists, and museums since 1970, when it was first put out on the open market. The vase in question is much larger than most and has two complicated handles. These tall, handled pots are a subset of his work that have remained among the more highly regarded this last half-century.

How often did Ohr create vases? Was that a favorite form of his? Is it a form that Ohr collectors prefer? One man, one pot. He dug the clay from a local river, wheelbarrowed to his Pot-Ohr-E, which he build with his own hands from the ground up, including the kiln. He threw on a wheel, endeavored to make “no two pots alike”, like human souls, and devoted his life to making truly unique work that no one wanted to buy.

Is ‘Pot-Ohr-E’ his term, or a whimsical term of your invention? His. “Mary had a little lamb.  George had a Pot-Ohr-E.”

The George Ohr vase is described as having ‘ear handles’. What are ear handles, and how often do they appear in his work? A small percentage of Ohr’s work had paired handles–unlike pitchers, say, which had one handle for pouring. Of the 10,000 pieces he produced, less than one percent received this treatment. I say this based on what I’ve actually seen [which is] about half his body of work, since 1973 when I handled my first piece, and period photos of him and his wares.

The George Ohr vase is described as having a ‘serrated rim’. How often does that feature appear in his work? Far less than one percent of the time. It’s not a decorative technique I think particularly interesting. The handles are the main point here. The pot itself is fairly straightforward, and the brown/green glaze is typical of much of his work.

How do all these elements–vase form, ear handles, serrated rim, ochre and gunmetal-speckled in color, large size–affect its appeal to collectors? Is it rare to have all these things in one Ohr piece? Any pot by Ohr this size with large double handles is quite rare and elevates it in the minds of collectors, both in stature and price, to the top ten percent of his production.

Is this vase unique? With rare exceptions, all of his work is unique. That was his fundamental approach, that art should occur in the moment, through an artist’s connection with his or her spirit, manifest in the craft. I don’t know that he actually worded it this way, but he spoke of souls and God, and it’s clear he was trying to capture something larger than to just make a pottery vase.

Did Ohr intend his vases to be functional, or purely sculptural? Are they meant to be used? He gave them functions, but I think that was just a starting point. For example, he made a double coffee/teapot where you poured coffee from the right and tea from the left. The lids were fused to it in the firing, so it didn’t actually function. I can’t speak for the man, but I’m sure he did not intend for these to actually be used to hold flowers or potables.

Would Ohr have created this vase entirely on his own, or would he have relied on assistants for certain parts of the production? Very few pieces of Ohr were done in any capacity by anyone but Ohr. He did have an assistant for a brief time, a Mr. Portman, whose initials have appeared on some pieces. He also worked with the famed potter Susan Frackelton, whose name [or] initials also appear on such pots. But 99 percent of the time, you buy a piece of Ohr, you’re buying Ohr’s hand.

How do we know this is an Ohr? Are fakes a problem with Ohr ceramics? There are a lot of fakes. His work has been augmented and copied by various people since the mid-1970s. The way to know a fake is to know Ohr’s work. If you’re buying this stuff online, on eBay, or from someone who is not a known expert in Ohr, it can be a rough ride. 

What sorts of Ohr fakes have been identified? The earliest fakes were in fact Ohr pieces, but ones he only bisque-fired and never glazed. Early sellers, thinking this work incomplete, and knowing it was hard to sell back in the 1970s, augmented them with glazing of their own. The next run of fakes were made from the ground up, with pieces usually of red clay and jet black glazing, rolled out and turned into hollowware vessels. These bore entirely the block stamp mark, which the fakers recreated using printer’s type, as Ohr did originally. Then came the absurd fakes, about mid- to late 1980s, which were dreadful pieces having nothing to do with Ohr’s work. Imagine, if you would, a piece of pottery that looks like a tree branch. Whatever mark was on the bottom of it was covered with plaster and “Ohr” crudely etched into it. As though that wasn’t stupid enough, that particular faker then spray-painted part of the work in day-glo colors.

George Ohr made this vase between 1897 and 1900. Was that a strong period for him? This is arguably his best period. He was still glazing pots at this time. He later switched to bisque fire only–“God put no color in souls, and I’ll put no color on my pots”–but was also at his creative peak in manipulation and overall concept of what he pieces could be. That is definitely his power alley period.

How have you seen the Ohr market change over time, in general? Mostly up, though with peaks and valleys.  We are not at a high point, but close to that level, in today’s market.

The 2011 description says the vase has “ribbon handles” and a “ripped rim”. Why might the language that describes these details changed between then and now? Just a different cataloguer at this point in time.  They are both correct in their way.

How does this Ohr vase compare to other Ohr vases you’ve had? I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. If this were a truly exceptional two-handled piece, the glaze would be red with orange and blue spots, the vase would have an in-body twist at its center, and it would be worth maybe seven to ten times the price.

What’s the world auction record for a piece by George Ohr? Sotheby’s sold a pot for 130,000 at auction in 2006. I sold a piece privately for about 150k about the same time.

What is it like to hold this vase in your hands? What is it like in person?Most are much lighter than you would expect, the fragility being an extension of the ephemeral nature of being human, I would surmise. If you were to handle a later bisque piece, it would be as though you were handling a large potato chip. The thinness of the work results from the local clay he developed and his unparalleled prowess at the potter’s wheel.

Rago sold this vase in June 2011 for $6,820 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. What does it say about the Ohr market that it’s up again eight years later with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000? Ohr is one of the few potters from the art pottery period whose work has retained value and even, in some cases, gone up.  That is because of an international market for the material, and the crossover to fine art buyers who recognize his importance as an artist.

How to bid: The George Ohr vase is lot 116 in the Early 20th Century Design auction at Rago on September 21, 2019.


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David Rago has appeared on The Hot Bid several times before, speaking about a super-tall Wally Bird, a record-setting unique ceramic tile by Frederick Hurten Rhead, a Paul Evans cabinet, and a René Lalique vase.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (OOMA) in Biloxi, Mississippi is devoted to Ohr and his work. (O’Keefe is the name of the family who made a major donation to the museum.) It has posted an online exhibit of Ohr pottery.

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WOW! The B.B. King Lucille Guitar Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien's estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

Update: The prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King, sold for $280,000–well above its estimate.

What you see: A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien’s estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

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The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

So, let’s start by explaining the deal with Lucille. How many Lucilles did B.B. King have over the course of his career? Is there an official count? There’s no official count, but we know there were many. Lucille dates back to 1949, when he was in his 20s and playing a venue in Arkansas. It was heated by a bucket of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men, and the kerosene was kicked over and started a fire. B.B. King realized he’d left his guitar behind, a very inexpensive Gibson arch top, and ran into the burning building and got it out. He found out that the fight was over a woman called Lucille.

And B.B. King named that guitar and all his subsequent main guitars Lucille as a reminder not to do something silly like run into a burning building to save a guitar? And to never fight over a woman.

So B.B. King had many Lucilles over the years, and not all looked the same, but what are the characteristics of a Lucille? What do most of us think of when we think of his guitar, Lucille? When you talk about what’s recognized as a Lucille, it’s black with gold hardware, and it’s a Gibson ES-345 guitar. It probably dates back to 1967, when he shifted his affection to the Gibson 345. That’s a luxurious model, a high-end guitar, very fitting for the king of the blues, B. B. King.

There are several Lucilles in the September 21 auction, but this particular one has the highest estimate of all. What makes this B.B. King Lucille guitar that much more valuable than the others? It’s a prototype, made for his 80th birthday. It was prototype one. He played it for the rest of his life. His last performance, in 2014, was with this particular guitar. It was one he cherished, and it was so beautifully done, customized for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. [King died in 2015, at the age of 89.]

And it became his main guitar from the time he received it from Gibson? Yes. This was his main guitar. He cherished it. There always seems to be a story to Lucille–this one was stolen from him in 2009, and he was devastated. It showed up in a pawn shop [later in 2009] in Las Vegas. A guitar dealer found it, sweaty, with broken strings, and with “prototype one guitar” on the back. He contacted Gibson, which put him in contact with B.B. King. He was very happy to be reunited with the Lucille guitar. He traded [a different guitar] to the dealer, saying, “I hope you enjoy playing this as much as I enjoy playing this prototype guitar.”

Does the fact that the B.B. King Lucille guitar was stolen and recovered make it more interesting to collectors? Its intrinsic value is $8,000 to $10,000, let’s say. I think the John Lennon Gibson we sold for $2.4 million had an intrinsic value of $2,000. That was stolen at a Christmas show in 1963. People loved the story, and it definitely played into it selling for $2.4 million.

A closeup of the lavishly decorated neck of the B.B. King Lucille guitar.

Do we know how many concerts B.B. King played with this Lucille? It would have been in the hundreds. He worked tirelessly. In his heyday, he played over 300 concerts a year. He came from very humble beginnings and he strived to become famous. When he got to a plateau in his career he never wanted to let go of that. He enjoyed playing music.

Does the September 21 sale represent the first time any B.B. King-owned and -stage played Lucille guitars have gone to auction? It’s the first time B.B. King has gone to auction with any of his guitars. It’s coming directly from his home to the auction block. That’s where the value is–the provenance, the chain of ownership, collectors love that. Being the next owner after the celebrity adds huge value.

What condition is the B.B. King Lucille guitar in? There’s no one area I’d say is worn down. It’s a heavy-duty guitar, a beauty of a guitar, but you can look at it and see it’s not pristine. There are little scratches that indicate it’s not a brand new guitar.

Have you played it? I have not, but I’ve held it many times. It’s amazing.

Is it well-balanced? It’s very well-balanced. It’s a very, very heavy guitar. For me to carry it for a period of time, it’s a challenge. I have handled many, many guitars, and this one stands out as being particularly heavy.

Is it solid? Semi-solid.

Would its weight have affected its sound? Yes, it definitely affects the sound. That’s why he liked it. He collaborated with Gibson on the guitar and definitely, the weight impacted the sound. That was important to B.B. King as a bluesman.

A closeup on the body of the B.B. King Lucille guitar, showing the decorative crown and the bluesman's signature, rendered in gold on gold.

What is your favorite detail on this B.B. King Lucille guitar? The gold inlay, the crown representing the king, his signature in gold on it–it’s just a beautiful instrument.

How to bid: The stage-played prototype B.B. King Lucille guitar is lot 543 in Property from the Estate of B.B. King, talking place at Julien’s Auctions on September 21, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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A Frank Lloyd Wright Armchair Could Sell for $18,000 at Heritage Auctions

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and shown in profile.

What you see: A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Could we start by telling the story of Price Tower, and how it came to be, and how it fits within the body of work of Frank Lloyd Wright? Price Tower was built in 1956. It’s a really interesting example of the work Wright was doing at the end of his life and career. [He died in 1959 at the age of 91.] He was approached by the Price family from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Harold Price Sr. had a family business in oil and energy. Bartlesville is just outside Tulsa, a center of that [oil and energy businesses] at the time. He wanted to build a new headquarters for his company, and was looking for an architect. His sons, who were taking classes in architecture, initially recommended Bruce Goff, the truly maverick architect of this period. He taught at the University of Oklahoma. He met with Price and recommended meeting with Wright instead.

What happened when the Prices met Wright? They asked him to build something three to four stories tall. He proposed a 19-story skyscraper instead, in the middle of the prairie. They were swept along with his enthusiasm for the project and it was built. Wright called it “the tree that escaped the crowded forest”.

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Here, it is shown in full from the front.

Is this the first time a Frank Lloyd Wright armchair from Price Tower has gone to auction? No. There have been a handful that have come up over the years. I count at least four of this model. About 15 years ago, an initial group of furniture from Price Tower sold in New York, and a handful have circulated and been on the market since.

Do all the Frank Lloyd Wright armchairs of this design look like this one–silver-colored frame with red upholstery? There are different variations, with different finishes and different colors of paint. We believe this one has its original paint finish. It’s been reupholstered, but in fabric that’s as close to the original as possible.

The lot notes say “some forty were originally specified”. Were 40 in fact made? I don’t know, but I suspect there were about 40 made. Some were sold and circulated over the years. The Price Tower Arts Center has many in their collection. Price Tower, the building, is now owned and operated by the nonprofit Price Tower Arts Center. It’s preserving, and in the process of preserving, more period rooms in the building, restoring them to how they were created. The funds from the sale will help them continue their core mission of preserving Price Tower.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown from the rear in three-quarter view.

The seat and the back of this armchair have a hexagonal shape. I also see hexagons in the back and seat of a different Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower chair offered in the sale. Are hexagons a main design motif of the building? I wouldn’t say hexagons, as such, are specifically a formal motif Wright used, but the building is entirely about angles. It’s formed as a series of triangles locked together at 30 degrees, 60 degrees. Wright was exploring geometry in a more complex way than boxes and rectangles. The angular design is mimicked and repeated in the furniture that was designed.

So they’re not so much hexagons as joined triangles? Yeah, I would say so.

How many Frank Lloyd Wright lots are in the October 1 sale? About 20 lots. Many are works for Price Tower, and many are duplicates from within the Price Tower Arts Center collection. Some were donated by Carolyn Price, the wife of Harold Price, Jr., who passed away last year.

A design drawing for the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower.

We have that great quote from Wright talking about the Price Tower, but do we have any quotes from Harold Price, Sr., or others in his family about this particular chair design? I don’t have anything at hand for you, but generally, the furniture was greeted with mixed reviews by the people who had to use it. It was designed for company offices, and the staff was meant to use the furniture. There are stories of people bringing their own chairs or desks in. The Price family must have been happy enough, because they were patrons of Frank Lloyd Wright for many years.

A detail shot of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair, showing the spine-like appearance of the back strut.

The metal spine of the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair makes me think of vertebrae. Is that deliberate? Is the back of the chair meant to imitate a spine? I think it’s an innovative use of material. Cast aluminum was not usually done at the time. Wright found a local person to do the work. He used a single material to provide the frame of the chair and provide a decorative layer to the chair at the same time. It’s one of the reasons I find the chair so compelling.

To me, it looks like the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair would have been seen as futuristic in 1956. Was the chair design considered futuristic? I don’t know how it was considered, but Price Tower was completed at a time when Wright was doing a very forward, very unique type of architecture. A couple of years later, he completed the Guggenheim in New York. His residential projects of the time were different and new. To a certain extent, people came to expect it from Wright. It was 20 years since he had done Fallingwater. He had moved quite a bit past his early and mid-career periods. At the same time, it was the mid-1950s. There were a lot of new ideas being generated through the applied arts, and seen throughout the American mid-century movement. I’m not sure the degree to which it was so surprising. Also, the armchair was not made for the mass market. It was a private commission. Wright had the freedom to experiment.

This is described as a “casual armchair”. Why? What makes it casual? I think it’s probably a reference to the slope of the arms, which allows for a more casual sitting position.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown in full from the rear.

Have you sat in the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I have.

What’s that like? It’s fine. It’s like many chairs. It felt absolutely comfortable, but I don’t know what it’s like for eight or nine hours for a workday. It feels good to sit in. I don’t know if it would win any awards for ergonomic design.

Yeah, I’ve heard tell of how… how shall I put this… Wright making designs to please himself, and perhaps not thinking much about the people who would actually have to use his designs on a daily basis. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. The more I learn about Wright, [I am convinced] Wright cared about what his clients felt, and he did care about the function of his designs. But the wanted to consider the whole, and the unified whole, for that matter.

A three-quarter rear view of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair.

What’s your favorite detail of this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I’d say it’s the interpretation of the pattern into the structure itself, primarily in the use of triangles. It’s an echo of the design of the building. It has very few right angles.

What’s the world auction record for this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I can find £48,000 (roughly $60,000) in 2007 at Christie’s South Kensington, London.

Is there any chance this example will meet or beat the one that sold at Christie’s? Is its provenance better? I think we have to wait and see. It’s a very strong market for Wright right now. This is a great example, and I hope collectors will recognize it as such. I hope we’ll get a good price for the Price Tower Arts Center.

Why will this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair stick in your memory? It has its own visual language, its own aesthetic vocabulary, that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Once you see it, you’ll remember it. In that way, it’s iconic.

How to bid: The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower in Oklahoma is lot #67050 in the October 1, 2019 Design sale at Heritage Auctions.

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Brent Lewis appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing Widow of a King, a 2006 work by Pae White.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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A TV Space Patrol Toy Car Could Command $5,000

A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

What you see: A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

Do we know when this TV Space Patrol toy car was made? I don’t see a date in the lot notes. There’s not an exact date, and there’s not an exact company. It just says “Made in Japan”. There is no maker [indicated] on the box or the car. I would say mid-1950s. It’s definitely 1950s, that’s for sure. It [looks like] a concept car or a Batmobile.

The cover of the box for the TV Space Patrol toy car, showing an astronaut driving a Motorama-looking dune buggy on the surface of the moon.

How often does the TV Space Patrol toy car come up with its original box? It’s rare with or without the box, but it’s especially rare with the box.

The TV Space Patrol car, shown overhead and at full length.

The lot notes describe its condition as “near mint”. What does that mean here? It’s got some scratches on top of the plastic dome. But usually, the dome is broken or missing. Most times, [the toy] doesn’t have it. This has it.

How many TV Space Patrol toy cars have you handled? I’ve handled four, and there were two boxed ones.

The TV Space Patrol toy car, shown in full, from the rear, in a three-quarter view.

Do we have any notion at all of how many TV Space Patrol toy cars might have been made, and how many might have been imported to the United States? We don’t know how many were made, but there probably weren’t many. I’ve had four in 40 years.

This is described as a “Friction-powered” toy. What does that mean? You push it forward, and it rolls forward. Also, the spaceman inside has a TV camera, and he rotates, like he’s taking pictures on a planet or something, I guess. [Laughs] It was [made] 15 years before we actually landed on the moon. The pulp magazines got some things correct, and some things not nearly correct.

The TV Space Patrol car shown in full profile, with its nose cones pointing to the left.

This TV Space Patrol toy car is definitely cooler-looking than the moon buggy that the Apollo astronauts drove on the lunar surface, I grant you that. It was a lot cooler. And it wasn’t large, maybe nine and a half inches long. Maybe it didn’t sell well because of that. If they had made this car bigger–15 inches instead of nine–it could be worth $20,000. That’s my opinion.

An angle on the TV Space Patrol toy car's box, showing it from the side.

The box calls this a “TV Space Patrol” toy car. Was there a TV show connected with it? No. There was a TV show called Space Patrol, but it had nothing to do with this.

A detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol toy car, focusing on the astronaut and his TV camera.

What’s your favorite detail of the TV Space Patrol toy car? The cones in the front are very cool. You can kind of twist them. They come off, and when they come off, they’re gone. Kids could pull them right off. They usually don’t survive. And having an astronaut with a smiling face [in the driver’s seat] that rotates and takes pictures is pretty neat.

If I was going to dream up a mid-20th century toy car, I would dream of this–something with fins and a dome and cones on the front. It’s impressive. It’s a really nice car, but seeing it in a book [before] seeing it in person, you think it’s going to be bigger. It’s not to scale.

Why did this particular TV Space Patrol toy car survive so well? I don’t know. Somebody probably owned it–there’s a ‘J’ written in pen on top of the box. Sometimes, kids write on the box. You see that a lot. Like a kid writing his name in a baseball glove–same thing.

Another detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol car, showing the driver-astronaut-photographer in profile.

You mentioned earlier that the dome tends to be broken or missing, and the cones on the front tend to get lost. What other problems have you seen with TV Space Patrol toy cars? The hubcaps go missing. It has four white hubcaps, and they pry right off. A lot can go wrong with the car. If it’s in good condition, it will bring a lot of money.

We’re speaking on September 9, 2019, and there’s already a bid of $1,500 on the TV Space Patrol toy car. Is that meaningful? No. There are going to be a couple of serious bidders–usually calling in bids on the phone, or bidding during the auction.

What’s the world auction record for a TV Space Patrol toy car? Was it set at Morphy Auctions? In September 2013, we had one that brought $16,800. It might have been a shade nicer than this one. There was no scratching on the top of the dome. I would think that would be the record. I can’t remember one bringing more.

Why will this particular toy car stick in your memory? Because it’s boxed. I’m kind of a box freak. The box is probably worth as much as the toy. And there’s real character and a sense of history about the toy car because of when it was made–15 years before we landed on the moon.

How to bid: The TV Space Patrol toy car is lot 2194 in the Toy, Doll, & Figural Cast Iron sale at Morphy Auctions on September 24 and 25, 2019.

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Tommy Sage Jr. has appeared once before on The Hot Bid, discussing a record-setting Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese robot toy.

Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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A Print of Theodore Roosevelt Dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House Could Command $2,000

A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier.

What you see: A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier. Heritage Auctions estimates it could sell for $2,000 or more.

The expert: Curtis Lindner, associate director of Americana at Heritage Auctions.

How did the dinner come about? Why did it make sense for President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House in 1901? Roosevelt was not the first president to invite African-Americans to the White House, but Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to dine at the White House. Washington was an advisor to Roosevelt.

What did Booker T. Washington advise President Theodore Roosevelt on? He advised him on horrible things happening to African-Americans, and wanted to get them more rights. That was a reason to invite him to dinner–to discuss voting rights in the South. Roosevelt probably had it in his mind that he wanted to run for president in 1905. Having Washington talk about voting for Roosevelt was very important. He was also a good friend of Roosevelt as well.

When did the two men become friends? Probably when Roosevelt was vice president. And when Roosevelt was governor of New York, he had invited African-Americans to the governor’s mansion, and had invited them to stay overnight. That didn’t become national news because he was a governor. When he did it as president, there was an uproar in the South. There are graphic quotes. The n-word was used extensively. Horrible things were said [along the lines of]–‘How dare he defame the White House by inviting him to dinner,’ and ‘How dare he dine with Roosevelt’s wife and white children.’ [Roosevelt had three sons and a daughter at the time.]

Was the uproar in all of the South? A majority. U.S. Senators and Congressmen made these comments. It seemed to be acceptable at the time.

How did the Northern states react? A lot of Northerners did support it. It was primarily the South, and a lot of Southern politicians, that didn’t like it at all.

Did the White House announce the dinner before it happened, or after? The White House announced it, from what I understand, after the dinner. Washington was up there for some sort of conference, and Roosevelt sent him a telegram inviting him to the White House. I don’t know if Roosevelt expected an uproar.

It sounds like it was spontaneous. Yes, it was more of a spontaneous thing. It was not fancy. It was just Booker T. Washington and Roosevelt’s family. And there were other people there–servants coming through as well. This is a “pro” print. It’s in support of the Roosevelt-Washington dinner. There are “con” buttons that depict Washington in caricature, and with bottles of liquor on the table, as if they were getting drunk. Those can sell for several hundred dollars, as well as the “pro”. There are also two versions of the “pro” print–one where the tablecloth says “Equality”, and one where it doesn’t. Both have the image of Lincoln between Roosevelt and Washington.

Yes, now that I look more closely at the print, there’s no hint of alcohol. No glasses are on the table, and maybe that’s a water carafe in the foreground? Absolutely. The “con” image is different from the “pro” buttons and the “pro” print. Washington has larger, curlier hair, and there’s no Lincoln between them. The juxtaposition is so interesting between the “con” image and the “pro” print.

The lot notes describe the dinner as a “public relations mistake Roosevelt never repeated.” What made the dinner a public relations mistake? After the uproar, the White House backpedaled a little, claiming it was a lunch. It was at 8 pm at night. It was not a lunch. The White House [might have said to Roosevelt] ‘We have a perception problem, Mister President.’ It was bad publicity for the president and the government in the eyes of many, especially in the South. I’m sure it took some time for this to go away. And Roosevelt never invited another African-American to dine at the White House. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have them over to visit, but there were no dinners or lunches. He probably didn’t want to deal with more controversy.

The dinner took place in 1901, but the print is dated 1903. What accounts for the two-year lag between the event and the publication of the print? I don’t have a definitive answer. What comes to mind is in late 1903 and early 1904, Roosevelt started running for president. Could he be trying to look good to the African-American population? On the other hand, would he want to remind the white American South about how mad they were when an African-American was in the White House? I don’t have a definitive answer. I could see how [a printer] would put it out a month after the dinner, but why two years after? Why wait those two years?

Well, in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of Irish Catholic homes displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy alongside the Pope. Could this print of President Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington have served the same sort of cultural role in African-American homes? That’s a good point. That could very well be why.

So, who would have been the audience for this print? Middle-class African-Americans? I would think it would be more for the African-American community. It’s a very flattering print of two brilliant men sitting down to eat. It was probably a coveted print that hung in a home next to a print of Abraham Lincoln.

Did you find any evidence that this could have been printed by a press that also offered an African-American newspaper? I could not find any information about that.

Is it possible that the Republican Party, or a local Republican group, might have commissioned the print to support Roosevelt’s 1905 campaign? I don’t think so at all.

And I take it this is a fanciful rendering of the dinner? There probably wasn’t a print of Abraham Lincoln hanging in the room where they ate? We do not know if there was an image of Lincoln in the room, but it was smart for the artist to add it. I’m sure he put it there with a lot of thought behind it. But there’s no actual photo or drawing of them having dinner. There was no White House photographer then. The images of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington’s faces were used in other memorabilia. What you see is an artist’s rendition of what the dinner might have been like.

Yeah, the faces of the men look like they were lifted from two different photographs. Exactly. They [the artist or the printer] found other images and used the faces for this purpose.

It’s odd that Roosevelt and Washington aren’t looking at each other. It is strange. The artist could have had them looking at each other. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.

What condition is the print in? There’s some damage to it, some edge roughness, but this is overall a good example. The majority of examples have some condition issues–the print is 116 years old, and it’s ephemeral by nature.

Do we have any notion of how many of these prints were made, and how many survive? We’ve sold four examples, the highest for $5,250 in June 2018. I’ve probably seen 15 to 20 examples. I’m sure it was made in some quantity.

Why will this print stick in your memory? To me, I think, it shows we can look past our differences. Roosevelt was a great man who saw he could take advice from African-Americans and treat them equally. This print makes me think we have a chance in thus country to all get along.

How to bid: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House is lot #43316 in The David and Janice Frent Collection, Presidential and Political Americana, Part VI auction, taking place at Heritage Auctions on September 21 – 22, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur Could Sell for $15,000 at Rago

A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. It is flamelike and colored with bright yellow and red and hunter green. It's kind of teardrop-shaped.

What you see: A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

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

First, how is Lino Tagliapietra’s name pronounced? Tag-lee-uh-pee-et-tra? Perfect!

How prolific is Lino Tagliapietra? Is he still working? He was born in 1934 and just turned 85. He is still working and regularly coming up with new techniques and series. He gives hope to all of us!

When did his “Dinosaur” series start? It started in 1997.

Why are these pieces called Dinosaurs? It has something to do with creatures of the Murano lagoon surrounding him, and the struggle between the heaviness and difficulty of handling glass in a large piece, while it is, at the same time, such a delicate material.  Lino can be very creative with how he brands his piece – look up “Batman!”

The reverse side of the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur looks vaguely like a sunflower bloom.

How well-regarded is the Dinosaur series among his works? Is it among the most sought-after? Lino has done a great many series and continues to invent new ones regularly. Some works also don’t have specific names. I’m sure some collectors like the swooping grace of dinosaurs best of everything. Personally, I’m a coldwork lover. [Coldwork describes techniques performed on glass at room temperature.] My favorite piece we’ve ever offered was this one because of all the different patterns offered on it.

What defines this piece as “small”? How big do his Dinosaurs tend to get? Well over 40 inches. At 21 inches tall, this is the tiniest I’ve seen.

What qualities make this an “exceptional small Dinosaur,” per the lot notes? It has a lovely, manageable scale. Its surface is also cold-worked in battuto and inciso, which they aren’t always. These are both carving patterns on glass, battuto being shorter and squatter, like a hammer mark on metal. Inciso refers to narrower marks, more reminiscent of wood grain. They add a dimension to the piece which collectors really appreciate. The way the colored elements are assembled is referred to as incalmo. It’s a difficult technique, and one that Lino and his crew have mastered like few others. All that together makes this Dinosaur an exceptional piece.

The Lino Tagliapietre Dinosaur shown against a black backdrop.

What details or characteristics mark it as a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur? The bulbous base, the elongated, twisted neck, and the impossibly small foot. While he has other bulbous shapes–something he might well have picked up from Archimede Seguso, his mentor–the Dinosaur’s shape is full of motion.

Are its colors typical or atypical for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur?  Dinosaurs come in a very wide variety of colors and patterns. This is a difficult question to answer as there is not a specific color palette in this series.

How many people does Lino Tagliapietra work with to produce a Dinosaur? What is the production process like? I’ve seen him make a Dinosaur in a demonstration, and he probably had at least three or four people around him. It was a pretty big space, so there might have been more spread around. You can see him blow something like that on YouTube videos.  That’s just for the blowing part. The coldwork is done later by a company in Murano, I believe. For the most complicated shapes, he can be surrounded by as many as a dozen assistants. He’s also terribly popular, so I’m thinking there’s a line around the block for the opportunity to assist the maestro.

The lot notes say the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur has an etched signature and date. Is that typical? Yes. Lino signs pretty much everything he makes.

The Dinosaur form looks kind of… precarious. What stops Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs from tipping over and breaking? They’re well-balanced. They’re not as tippy as they appear, and they’re fairly heavy.

How often do Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs come to auction? No more than a few a year at auction, like two or three lately, world-wide.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? At the risk of sounding obvious, it’s really small. It feels like a little dancer en pointe, which is heightened by the tiny, clear foot. It also looks like a flame. The experience of seeing this particular work is completely different from being confronted with a bold, large piece of glass.

What is the world auction record for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, and for a Lino Tagliapietra piece, period? We hold the world record for a Lino work, a twelve-piece Masai installation we sold in May 2018 for a price of almost $119,000. We sold a Dinosaur for $31,250 in 2017. Camard (Paris) beat that by a little in 2011 with the Barry Friedman Collection, I believe, with a hammer price of E20,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Pretty much every unique piece of Lino sticks in my memory. I don’t know when I will see another Dinosaur of this size. It packs a lot of punch.

How to bid: The Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur is lot 1559 in Contemporary Glass Featuring Dan Dailey: From the Barbara Tarleton Collection, a sale taking place at Rago on September 22, 2019.

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Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Suzanne Perrault appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a record-setting Dale Chihuly chandelier.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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A Bauhaus Chess Set Owned by Walter Gropius Could Command $24,000

A complete 32-piece Bauhaus chess set, in blond and ebonized beech wood, designed by Josef Hartwig. It comes with its original box.

What you see: A complete 32-piece Bauhaus chess set, in blond and ebonized beech wood, designed by Josef Hartwig in 1923-1924. It comes with its original box. Christie’s London estimates it at £15,000 to £20,000, or about $18,270 to $24,360.

The expert: Murray Macaulay, head of the prints and multiples department, Christie’s London.

How do we know this is a prototype of the Bauhaus chess set? We haven’t pinned our flag to the mast on this one. Walter Gropius’s recollections describe it as a prototype, and that was conveyed by the Isaacs family [to whom Gropius gave it]. The story is Josef Hartwig gave it to Gropius in the 1920s. Gropius himself attributes it as a prototype. It’s his recollection of the set that we’re referring to.

Do we know how many prototypes of the Bauhaus chess set Josef Hartwig made? It’s been suggested that one copy was given to all the masters at the Bauhaus at the time. If that was the case, about ten were made. Whether Hartwig gave them to each of the masters is not clear.

The original box that comes with the Bauhaus chess set, which originally belonged to Walter Gropius.

How rare is it for a complete Bauhaus chess set to come to auction with its original box? Probably five in the last ten years. But what really sets this particular set apart is its provenance. It’s the Walter Gropius connection that makes it so interesting.

How do we know that the Bauhaus chess set first belonged to Walter Gropius? Reginald Isaacs was a very noteworthy architect, a student of Gropius, a family friend of Gropius, and he wrote his biography. The Isaacs were frequent visitors to the Gropius home. The recollection of Isaacs is it was a direct gift from Gropius. Reginald Issacs later gave it to his son, Henry Isaacs. Also, the box has an inventory label on the bottom that is Gropius’s inventory label, which [was applied] prior to him going to the United States. It validates Gropius’s story that he was given the set by Josef Hartwig.

The underside of the box for the Bauhaus chess set shows a Gropius inventory tag and number.

Is the Bauhaus chess set the thing that Josef Hartwig is best known for? Yes.

Did Josef Hartwig design it without a chess board, or did the one with this set go missing? There was a board design that went with it, made out of paper and card. It folded into four pieces. We believe it [the board that went with this set] perished.

And the set went into production? Yes,.

Do we know how many Bauhaus chess sets were made? We don’t. It wasn’t mass-produced. It was manufactured by Bauhaus themselves. There would have been limitations in terms of scale [the scale of production]. There can’t be many, or we’d see them more often.

The lot notes describe the Bauhaus chess set as “model XVI”. What does that mean? It means it’s design number 16. There are other models and other variations in the design as Josef Hartwig refined it. This model went into production.

What’s the Bauhaus chess set like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? What’s wonderful about this particular set is the sense that it’s been played with. Henry Isaacs remembers playing chess with Gropius. It’s not just a historically significant object, it was everyday. It was used for its function. The box shows quite a bit of use, like the game boxes you’d find in any family home.

The full Bauhaus chess set, pictured stored in its original box.

What makes this Bauhaus chess set design stand out? The conceptual idea behind it is so brilliant. It’s a major rethink of the design of the chess pieces. Josef Hartwig tried to think of a way to remove the hierarchical sense of the chess set while making it much more utilitarian. The pieces are designed around their function, and the way they move. The bishop takes the form of a cross. The rook is a cube because it moves forwards, sideways, and backwards. The knight is the shape of two ‘L’s sitting on top of each other, because it moves in an L-shape on the board. It’s very logical. When you see it, it makes absolute sense. It’s function-first. The conception of it is very unified and modern. It was thought out in a very contemporary way, the whole package. Now we don’t look at it as revolutionary as it really was.

What condition is the Bauhaus chess set in? The pieces do definitely [look as if] they’ve been handled. Very much so.

Do they have a patina? Yes. They’re not pure black and not pure white. The wood looks like it’s been used and played with.

What’s the world auction record for a Bauhaus chess set? It was set earlier this year at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen in Germany. It was €20,000, hammer. It had a board, but no provenance. This set doesn’t have a board, but it has a wonderful backstory.

I imagine you’ll see serious cross-competition between chess set collectors and Bauhaus collectors? It appeals to both. This particular set has been featured in important exhibitions–The Art of Chess show in London in 2003, and The Imagery of Chess Revisited at the Noguchi Museum in 2005 to 2006. It’s a great prize of 20th century chess-related artwork.

Does the fact that this particular set appeared in those two significant shows add yet more value? It adds to its weight. You’re buying something that you could see in the Museum of Modern Art. That’s what you’re getting.

Even more so than the chess set Man Ray designed? Yes. It’s a classic of modern design, so ahead of its time. It’s incredibly important.

Have you handled the pieces in the Bauhaus chess set? Yes.

What was that like? The pieces being light to hold is an interesting thing. It stood out to me that it’s been thought out on so many levels. It’s easy to play with. The pieces have a lovely quality when you hold them.

How to bid: The Josef Hartwig Bauhaus chess set is lot 1 in the Prints & Multiples auction at Christie’s London on September 18, 2019.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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A B.B. King Lucille Guitar Could Command $100,000 at Julien’s

A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien's estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

What you see: A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien’s estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

So, let’s start by explaining the deal with Lucille. How many Lucilles did B.B. King have over the course of his career? Is there an official count? There’s no official count, but we know there were many. Lucille dates back to 1949, when he was in his 20s and playing a venue in Arkansas. It was heated by a bucket of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men, and the kerosene was kicked over and started a fire. B.B. King realized he’d left his guitar behind, a very inexpensive Gibson arch top, and ran into the burning building and got it out. He found out that the fight was over a woman called Lucille.

And B.B. King named that guitar and all his subsequent main guitars Lucille as a reminder not to do something silly like run into a burning building to save a guitar? And to never fight over a woman.

So B.B. King had many Lucilles over the years, and not all looked the same, but what are the characteristics of a Lucille? What do most of us think of when we think of his guitar, Lucille? When you talk about what’s recognized as a Lucille, it’s black with gold hardware, and it’s a Gibson ES-345 guitar. It probably dates back to 1967, when he shifted his affection to the Gibson 345. That’s a luxurious model, a high-end guitar, very fitting for the king of the blues, B. B. King.

There are several Lucilles in the September 21 auction, but this particular one has the highest estimate of all. What makes this B.B. King Lucille guitar that much more valuable than the others? It’s a prototype, made for his 80th birthday. It was prototype one. He played it for the rest of his life. His last performance, in 2014, was with this particular guitar. It was one he cherished, and it was so beautifully done, customized for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. [King died in 2015, at the age of 89.]

And it became his main guitar from the time he received it from Gibson? Yes. This was his main guitar. He cherished it. There always seems to be a story to Lucille–this one was stolen from him in 2009, and he was devastated. It showed up in a pawn shop [later in 2009] in Las Vegas. A guitar dealer found it, sweaty, with broken strings, and with “prototype one guitar” on the back. He contacted Gibson, which put him in contact with B.B. King. He was very happy to be reunited with the Lucille guitar. He traded [a different guitar] to the dealer, saying, “I hope you enjoy playing this as much as I enjoy playing this prototype guitar.”

Does the fact that the B.B. King Lucille guitar was stolen and recovered make it more interesting to collectors? Its intrinsic value is $8,000 to $10,000, let’s say. I think the John Lennon Gibson we sold for $2.4 million had an intrinsic value of $2,000. That was stolen at a Christmas show in 1963. People loved the story, and it definitely played into it selling for $2.4 million.

A closeup of the lavishly decorated neck of the B.B. King Lucille guitar.

Do we know how many concerts B.B. King played with this Lucille? It would have been in the hundreds. He worked tirelessly. In his heyday, he played over 300 concerts a year. He came from very humble beginnings and he strived to become famous. When he got to a plateau in his career he never wanted to let go of that. He enjoyed playing music.

Does the September 21 sale represent the first time any B.B. King-owned and -stage played Lucille guitars have gone to auction? It’s the first time B.B. King has gone to auction with any of his guitars. It’s coming directly from his home to the auction block. That’s where the value is–the provenance, the chain of ownership, collectors love that. Being the next owner after the celebrity adds huge value.

What condition is the B.B. King Lucille guitar in? There’s no one area I’d say is worn down. It’s a heavy-duty guitar, a beauty of a guitar, but you can look at it and see it’s not pristine. There are little scratches that indicate it’s not a brand new guitar.

Have you played it? I have not, but I’ve held it many times. It’s amazing.

Is it well-balanced? It’s very well-balanced. It’s a very, very heavy guitar. For me to carry it for a period of time, it’s a challenge. I have handled many, many guitars, and this one stands out as being particularly heavy.

Is it solid? Semi-solid.

Would its weight have affected its sound? Yes, it definitely affects the sound. That’s why he liked it. He collaborated with Gibson on the guitar and definitely, the weight impacted the sound. That was important to B.B. King as a bluesman.

A closeup on the body of the B.B. King Lucille guitar, showing the decorative crown and the bluesman's signature, rendered in gold on gold.

What is your favorite detail on this B.B. King Lucille guitar? The gold inlay, the crown representing the king, his signature in gold on it–it’s just a beautiful instrument.

How to bid: The stage-played prototype B.B. King Lucille guitar is lot 543 in Property from the Estate of B.B. King, talking place at Julien’s Auctions on September 21, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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RECORD! A Peter Hujar Portrait of David Wojnarowicz Commands $106,250 at Swann

Peter Hujar's black and white print, David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III), features his friend and mentee. David Wojnarowicz, looking directly at the camera with a moody, faintly sultry expression.

What you see: David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III), a 1985 silver print by Peter Hujar. Estimated at $15,000 to $25,000, it commanded $106,250 and a new auction record for Hujar during the first Pride Sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 20, 2019.

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

Is his name pronounced HOO-jar? Yes.

How often do Peter Hujar photographs come to auction? I would consider them rare. As his work becomes more recognizable by collectors, more will come to the market. About 15 to 20 per year reach the auction market and they attract a lot of attention when they do.

How many prints did he typically make of an image? As far as I know, Hujar did apply edition numbers to his prints, but “four of 15” didn’t mean “four of 15.” It meant he was happy with the print, and generated interest in the print by adding a number. Photography is a young market, and at that time [the photograph dates to 1985], it was incredibly young. There was awareness among photographers of numbering in the print market, but it was not applied. He was not unique in that sense.

How many copies of David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III) did he make? As far as we know, this is one of three examples of this image.

Do you know where the other two are? I don’t.

Was this the first print of the three to go to auction? There have been other images of David Wojnarowicz by Hujar at auction, but not this particular image.

Did Peter Hujar typically sign and date his photographs? Typically, yes, but not as a rule.

How involved was he in the process of printing his photos? Did he usually do most or all of the darkroom work? I believe he did do most or all of his own work. Part of the mentorship with David Wojnarowicz involved working in the darkroom together.

Was David Wojnarowicz involved with the production of this particular silver print? I couldn’t say with authority whether it could be true. If it is true, it’s impossible to prove.

Do we know how many portraits Peter Hujar took of David Wojnarowicz? He made several well-known portraits of Wojnarowicz. It was an incredibly close relationship. There are many images.

Are Hujar’s portraits of Wojnarowicz sought after? The result demonstrates that they are. Both are sought-after artists. [The photo] represents a rare opportunity to acquire an object that represents both of them. Hujar was known for taking portraits of figures of the downtown art scene. This is a stellar example of that type of image.

Do we know why Hujar named this photograph David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III) ? I don’t. The title was supplied, in this case, by his estate.

The lot notes say this photograph went from the artist to the collector to you. Is that a typical trajectory for a Hujar? Yes. Much Hujar material we see coming to the market doesn’t have a long [provenance] history at all. The work has been held in collections by the first owners. Some were friends or colleagues of Hujar.

The portrait photograph measures 19 3/4 inches by 15 3/4 inches. Is that considered large for Hujar? If it is large, did that fact play a role in the final price? Many of his photographs are on a sheet like this. In the larger photographic market, it [oversize photographs] are often a factor. But much of his work has the same presentation. I don’t think the size was a factor in this case.

What is it like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t pick up? We do our best to capture the depth and lustrous qualities in the catalog, but nothing compares to seeing a print like this in person. Hujar is very subtle, very elegant, very rich. This has deep, velvety blacks and it’s rather moody. There’s a lot of detail in the lighter grey and white values. It’s so much more stunning in person. His work is characterized by sensuality–he draws it out of the figures he photographs. It’s one reason why [his work] is so prized by collectors today.

What was the previous auction record for a Hujar? It was set in 2015 at Christie’s by Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973. It sold for $50,000.

What was your role in the auction on the day of the sale? The Pride Auction involved almost all the departments at Swann. Sale day was all hands on deck. It was a really exciting moment. Most of the staff worked the phones. I think the whole room was holding its breath watching the phones battle it out [to see who would win the Hujar].

How was the photograph chosen for the Pride Sale? We were actively looking for material for the sale throughout the entire season. The Pride Sale was the right context for the work.

Does the creation of the Pride Sale predate the consignment of the Hujar photo? As I recall, yes, it did. We worked on the sale for quite some time.

Does Swann have plans to hold another Pride Sale? We do plan to hold another next year.

How did the context of the Pride Sale affect the final result? Would the Hujar photograph have done as well in a standard photography sale? I do think the context is really important to the work. The Pride Sale tells a specific story, and helped it [the photograph] gain a level of attention. I have no way of knowing [if it would do as well in a standard photography sale], but I hope so. The quality of the work and its rarity are very high.

Were you surprised that it sold for $106,250? I was. I think we all were very happily surprised at the results.

So you weren’t expecting it to break six figures? I was not. It was pretty stunning. I think everyone in the room was surprised. We knew how important Peter Hujar’s work is, and how stunning it is. It’s the moment we wait for–when something like this just takes off, it’s thrilling.

How long do you think this world auction record for Peter Hujar will stand? What else is out there that could beat it? One of the exciting and beautiful things about the auction market is you don’t know what will turn up tomorrow. I think the Hujar market will certainly grow as more collectors become aware of his work.

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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Deborah Rogel spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a circa 1865 tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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