SOLD! The Talking Skull Automation Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

Update: The Willmann talking skull automaton sold for $13,200.

What you see: A Willmann talking skull automaton, made circa 1930 in Germany by designer John Willmann. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

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

So, how far back does the talking skull routine go in magic? How old is it? It’s over 100 years old. There are catalogs from the 1870s showing talking skulls in them. There are many different ways the trick can be accomplished. This is one very elaborate method.

A willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

How do magicians tend to use a talking skull in their acts? It’s actually a conversation between the performer and the audience, carried on with a disembodied skull. The skull is introduced with whatever patter the magician chooses to use. Then the skull is put on display and the magician or the audience asks the skull a question–“What card did I choose?” Its jaw will click the answer out as if it were alive.

Was John Willmann known for creating top-of-the-line automata around 1930, when he made this talking skull automaton? Yes. John Willmann was probably the.. I’m not sure if “famous” is the right word, but he was the most prolific builder of illusions and stage effects of this period [in Europe]. He was kind of known as the master craftsman from pocket tricks to automata and everything in between.

The faux book component of the Willmann talking skull automaton, shown alone. It conceals the clockwork that makes the skull's jaw tap.

The lot notes describe the Willmann talking skull automaton as “perhaps the most elaborate talking skull ever constructed.” What makes it so? The fact that it uses a real human skull, and the way it artfully conceals [its clockwork] in the faux book. Without revealing too much, most have a very simple mechanism to animate the skull. This is so elaborate as to almost be ridiculous. We’ve sold many examples of the talking skull. We’ve never sold one as complicated or as fanciful as this. This is truly an automaton.

But isn’t it risky for a magician to depend on an elaborate device to make a trick work? I would agree with that. You better make sure you wound it up.

What advantage does the Willmann talking skull automaton give to a magician that a simpler version of the trick does not? It requires no secret assistants to operate, which many other methods do. And a magician does not need to touch it or be near it. He could sit in the front row and carry on a conversation. The McElroy talking skull sells very well and has literally no mechanism. It’s literally a skull made out of composite material. The Willmann thing is the antithesis of that. It’s a robot.

The lot notes describe the book as “a true masterpiece of Willmann’s mechanical abilities.” What makes it a masterpiece? It combines the aesthetics and mechanics into a shining example of what he was capable of. He literally had a small factory in Germany to make these things. It’s a combination of art and science. And you know it’s a real human skull.

The Willman talking skull automaton, incorporated a genuine human skull.

Do we know where Willmann would have gotten a genuine human skull? A medical school.

When I saw it was German and circa 1930s I freaked out a little and checked to make sure the timing didn’t overlap with the concentration camps. His career was over and done with by the time the war began. I believe the factory was bombed out. And the talking skull could date earlier than the date in the catalog. It’s hard to say.

How did the clockwork inside the book make the skull’s jaw tap? It activated a mechanism that popped out of the book clandestinely, and that’s what moves the jaw.

Clockwork mechanisms, hidden inside a faux book, made the jaw of the Willmann talking skull automaton move.

Is all the clockwork I see in the photographs actually needed to make the jaw tap, or is some of it for show? No. Nobody was supposed to ever see this. Nobody was supposed to know it’s in there. The book is supposed to look like a book. I’m not a mechanic. I don’t know that every last piece is required. But there’s no reason to put in anything that’s extraneous.

Does the clockwork make any noise? It’s pretty quiet. And you [the magician] are going to be talking, and the audience is going to be interacting. There are others [other clockwork-driven devices] in the catalog–an old joke is you need to play a Sousa march to cover it up.

So the magician’s patter and the ambient audience noise is enough to cloak the sounds the clockwork makes? If it’s even that loud. Magicians use silent clockwork mechanisms.

John Willmann went all-out when designing the deluxe version of his talking skull automata. He included several hand-lettered pages inside the fake book that hid the clockwork that moved the skull's jawbone.

I understand that the fake book contains several leaves, aka pages. Willmann didn’t have to bother with that, but he did. How does the time and effort he lavished on making the book pages show the high craftsmanship that he achieved? It gives you another layer of deception. If you try to “prove” it’s a real book, you can show the hand-lettered leaves. You can “prove,” if you so desire, it’s an ancient book of spells by leafing through it. The cheaper way [of making a talking skull illusion] is a fake book that you can’t open up. He went the extra mile.

Was this Willmann talking skull automaton a one-off, or did he offer it in a catalog? I’m sure he made them one at a time when he received orders. I’ve seen two. That doesn’t mean that others don’t exist.

Paperwork, written in German, that accompanies the Willmann talking skull automaton. It describes the workings of the trick and references a less deluxe version of the automaton.

Is the Willmann talking skull automaton shown in one of his catalogs? I’ve looked through John Willmann catalogs, but I wasn’t looking specifically for this item. It wouldn’t surprise me [if it was in there]. Paperwork that comes with it–it’s all in German–some of it describes the effect, and some of it references a slightly lower-grade version at a lower price.

How many other talking skull devices have you seen that include a genuine human skull? One.

Is that one a Willmann talking skull automaton? No, but I have it here. It was in the same collection. It’s quite different in the way it works, its composition and its method. We’ll offer it next year in the second part of the sale.

Is the automaton fully functional? Yeah. Did I have a conversation in German with it? No, but it is fully functional.

When it’s fully wound up, how long does it operate? I did not time it.

A Willman talking skull automaton, created circa 1930, shown sitting on the convincing false book that houses its mechanics.

What is the Willmann talking skull automaton like in person? It’s creepy. It’s a real human skull, that talks to you.

Why will this Willmann talking skull automaton stick in your memory? It’s rarity, its aesthetics, its ingenuity. We’ve handled a lot of weird things. This ranks right up there.

How to bid: The Willmann talking skull automaton is lot 281 in The Magic Collection of Rüdiger Deutsch: Part I, taking place at Potter & Potter on October 26, 2019.

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Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  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.

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SOLD! The Kennedy Wedding Photos, Including an Unpublished Shot of Jacqueline Bouvier in Her Bridal Gown, Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The Kennedy wedding photographs sold for $3,750.

What you see: A previously unpublished shot of Jacqueline Bouvier at Hammersmith Farm on her wedding day in 1953. It’s one of three black-and-white photos and a few negatives depicting the wedding of Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island. John McInnis Auctioneers estimates them at $500 to $1,000.

The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.

Could we start by talking about the importance of Hammersmith Farm to Jacqueline Bouvier during her life? Did its presence near Newport convince Jacqueline and Jack to have their wedding in Newport? Hammersmith Farm was extremely important to Jackie. She explains her love of the farm in her own words in an inscription in The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island: “For Uncle Hugh [her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss] on his seventieth birthday–a book about the place you brought us to–but the most beautiful house there for me will forever be Hammersmith Farm. That is my beloved architectural heritage of Newport — and thank you for it — with all love, Jackie, August 28, 1967.” She absolutely loved the place so much, and Jack loved it too. It was more removed and less stressful for him. It was on the ocean, the gardens were spectacular, and they could go to the America’s Cup [yacht race].

Was Hammersmith Farm John F. Kennedy’s introduction to Newport? He had connections there, but it gave him his true love for Newport.

Do we know who shot these Kennedy wedding photos? It was Bachrach, a very famous photography studio.

So the images in the lot were not taken by someone who lived at Hammersmith Farm? No, these were professional photos, not snapshots.

A collection of photos and negatives from the 1953 wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island.

How were they discovered? They were moved directly from Hammersmith Farm, where Jackie lived, her mother lived, her brother lived. They were stored on the property. Colleen Townsend Pilat was an assistant to Yusha, the brother, and helped clear out the property after he died. She was bequeathed all these things. When I got them, it was a mishmash of Jackie’s wedding, [her sister] Lee Radziwill, and her sister Janet, all mixed in. I had to pull them out. I had to figure out who the people were and who the weddings were. Lots of weddings were done on the property.

So these Jack and Jackie wedding images were one of three sets of wedding images in the same pile? Yes. Lee’s first wedding, which took place just a few months earlier than Jackie’s, and Janet’s wedding. It was almost a two-year project, doing all the research and the curating of it. I had to figure out what was what. It was really… fun. [Laughs] It was a challenge.

How big a deal was the wedding in 1953? Clearly it’s regional news, because Jack Kennedy is a sitting Massachusetts senator. Did it make national news? Positively. It was covered throughout the United States and to a degree, overseas. In an earlier lot, there’s a press release for the wedding. The release was modeled after [the one written for] Eunice [Kennedy’s] wedding. Joe Kennedy rules the roost on everything. Eunice’s was a big wedding, but this would be the biggest one. Joe had his eye on a specific thing–his son being president. Joe was Jack’s press agent. You could say he was behind the scenes on everything. Jack had his own thoughts, but he had an overseer on everything.

The photo of Jackie, solo, in her wedding dress has never been published before. How did this photo managed to go unpublished before now? I think the shot of Jackie with her veil billowing was chosen over this. I’ve had other issues of these pictures [the two outdoors shots] and they’re all well-known. These particular ones have not been. I haven’t seen those particular versions.

Where on the grounds of Hammersmith Farm were the outdoor shots taken? Near an equestrian area? At the front lawn, I believe. If you turn your head to the left, you’d see the ocean. At that point, [the family] was raising Guernsey cows and they had horses as well.

A group shot of the wedding party for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier shot in September 1953 at Hammersmith Farm.

And the group shot shows the bridesmaids, the bridesmatron, and the groomsmen? Yes. This particular group shot shows Jackie looking down at a dog.

In reading up on the wedding, it sounds like Jackie didn’t get much of what she wanted from her “special day”–that Joe Kennedy stuck his nose in and was very controlling. How did things unfurl? [Laughs] He oversaw… it was just the kind of guy he was. She knew when she got into [it] there were limitations on what would happen.

I understand she wanted a much smaller wedding and reception than she had, but anywhere from 700 to 800 were at the church, and more than 1200 were at the reception at Hammersmith Farm. That would be Joe [his doing]. The biggest thing for Jackie was her father, Black Jack. He was supposed to give her away.

From what I’ve read, allegedly, Jackie’s mom, who was Black Jack’s ex, tempted him into getting drunk in hopes that would make him fail to show up… It was very disappointing for her. She loved her father. Her stepfather, who she called Uncle Hugh [stepped in and did the honors.] She loved him too, but I think she wanted her birth father there. It was probably a big issue in her mind. I haven’t heard of anything else being out of place.

I haven’t been inside the church, but I have been in that area of Newport, and it’s… pretty congested. How did the church physically accommodate all those people? If you’ve seen some of the photos, there are throngs of people on the street, ten to 15 deep. They weren’t all in the church. In the auction, [there are lots with typewritten documents of] the procession for the church, where the bridal party was staying, who was going in which car. It’s very interesting. They had everything right down to a science.

That’s good preparation for life at the White House… [Laughs]

Another arrangement of the Kennedy wedding images in the lot, shown with negatives.

Hammersmith Farm was a 300-acre property, so it could handle 1,200-plus people. How did the reception go? I see a photo in the group that shows guests at a long table. There was a huge tent, and there were tables outside the tent–the reception sprawled onto the lawn as well. It was kind of like a picnic at some point. It was very difficult, I am sure, for everyone to have time with the couple. But what I’ve heard from people who were there was they had a great time. No one felt slighted. The next lot after shows [wedding guests] individuals, couples, and kids with smiles on their faces. That was a different part of the property. What would be really nice is if people find themselves in those pictures, or their children find them.

How do these Kennedy wedding photos reflect the image that Joe Kennedy was trying to project for his family, and how do they foreshadow the glamour of the Kennedy White House? They played very well for what Joe Kennedy had in mind for his son. They played extremely well. He couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $500 to $1,000? It’s what we felt was reasonable. It’s an unreserved sale. They’re gonna sell for whatever they sell for. But what we have here are personal photos from Jackie’s family, right from Hammersmith Farm. That’s what separates them from other photographs. It could possibly go much higher.

How well do Kennedy wedding photos do at auction? They’re always highly sought-after. The Kennedy wedding invitations sell for thousands. Any of those kinds of things maintain a human interest. Price-wise, they could go for higher than a wedding invite.

Why will these Kennedy wedding photos stick in your memory? Because of where they came from. We love what we do here, and we get sought out to handle these things because of our past experience with them. For me, the most important thing is the provenance. When it comes right from the source, there’s no doubt about how valuable it was within the family.

How to bid: The Jack and Jackie Kennedy wedding photos are lot 0126 in the Camelot with a Twist auction at John McInnis Auctioneers on October 13, 2019.

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Dan Meader appeared before on The Hot Bid talking about a record-setting Presidential Air Force One bomber jacket, given by John F. Kennedy to loyal aide Dave Powers.

Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.

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A Morton Bartlett Figure Could Sell for $150,000 at Rago

What you see: Daydreaming Girl, a circa 1950 sculpture by the late American outsider artist Morton Bartlett. It’s one of 15 he made between 1936 and 1963, when he created a series of highly detailed figures of children in order to photograph them. Rago Auctions estimates Daydreaming Girl at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Marion Harris, an independent specialist for Rago’s Outsider & Fine Art, Curious Objects auction.

How does Morton Bartlett fit the definition of an “outsider artist”? “Outsider artist” means outside the mainstream, for various reasons. You can be in prison. You can not be informed by the art world. Another way is being obsessive. Morton Bartlett falls into the “obsessive” category. This was his life, and he didn’t have traditional [art] training.

Was Bartlett entirely self-taught? He taught himself to sculpt, make clothing, make wigs, and shoot photographs? He didn’t take classes, but he went to Harvard and left after two years. He certainly had no help with sculpting. His downstairs neighbor was a sculptor, and he clearly saw him working.

The front of an alternate outfit, made by Bartlett, comes with Daydreaming Girl.
The front of an alternate outfit, made by Bartlett, which comes with Daydreaming Girl.

He taught himself to sew? Yes, yes. He bought wigs and altered them, but otherwise, he made everything. He didn’t make anything he wasn’t going to photograph.

He made the chair that goes with Daydreaming Girl? No, he bought the chair. I think that’s a commercial thing.

And he had no assistants? No, no, there weren’t. Nobody to help him. But if he wanted help, he would have gotten it. It [his project] wasn’t secret, it was private.

Do we know how much time he spent on creating each figure? We do. He tells us in a 1962 Yankee magazine story that each figure took up to a year, and each head took three to six months, depending on the head.

A closeup on Daydreaming Girl, showing her face and upper body.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult these Morton Bartlett figures were to make? The level of difficulty was quite high. He clearly was a perfectionist.

What do we know about how he worked? My sense, and it’s only a sense, is he worked mainly on one figure until it was done. He started with metal armatures for the arms and the legs and built around them with clay and plaster.

Daydreaming Girl shown in full against a white background, with scuffed knees and dangling feet clearly visible.

How does Daydreaming Girl compare to the other Morton Bartlett figures? I’d put her quite near the top. Her knees are just slightly scuffed, and her toe just skims the floor. He captures the essence of childhood in this figure.

And that facial expression… so fleeting, and he gets it. Exactly.

What book is the Morton Bartlett figure reading? I have photos of Daydreaming Girl from several angles, but none shows the cover or the pages of the book clearly enough to identify it. It’s a book the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore supplied for us. [The museum recently displayed Daydreaming Girl in a themed exhibit on parenthood.] It’s a 1950s children’s book about airplanes, but it’s not the original book. We don’t know what the original book was, but everything else is original–the clothes, the chair.

Do we know if Bartlett had any opportunities to observe actual children when he was making these figures and photographing them? We do. I researched carefully, and that’s why I’m comfortable saying [the figures] are a fantasy family, with no dark intent. He worked for a toy manufacturer and distributor in Boston called Scharf, which is how we know that if he wanted help [making his figures], he could have had it. He took pictures of Scharf’s daughter and Scharf was delighted, very happy with them. Bartlett also took pictures of children on the beach at Cohasset. When the Yankee magazine article came out, he received letters from people who recognized the dolls. People wrote to him, asking, “Are you the same Morton Bartlett who took pictures of my daughter at Cohasset? I send my regards.” It’s obvious he had nice relations with everybody.

Daydreaming Girl, a figure by outsider artist Morton Bartlett, shown in full on a white background.

Bartlett made his figures in order to photograph them, but I looked through everything I could find for Bartlett online and I did not see any photographs of Daydreaming Girl. Did I miss them somehow? No. Two or three of the figures aren’t photographed. When I bought it [the collection of material that came from Bartlett’s estate], it was boxes of arms, legs, hands, hundreds of bits. It took two years to assemble them. The paint finish was so precise–not every arm goes in every arm socket. Once I had the 15 dolls [assembled based on Bartlett’s photographs] I had to go do the catalog. If I had bits that didn’t relate to a specific doll, I set them aside to deal with them later. Twenty-five years passed. The Met bought them. Bartlett became an icon. I didn’t forget about the extra box, but I didn’t give it extra attention. Then we [she and her husband] moved. Then we assembled this doll.

Are there any other Morton Bartlett figures that don’t survive–they appear in his photos but don’t correspond to anything in the storage boxes of parts? I don’t think so. I don’t believe there are any more. The two he didn’t photograph–perhaps he wasn’t happy with them. That’s probably the answer to that.

Are any of the Morton Bartlett figures intended to be pairs of siblings, or are they all individual? I don’t see them as siblings, myself. They’re all quite individual. A lot of people believe the three boy figures are self-portraits. The boys are always seven or eight, the age Bartlett was when he was orphaned and adopted.

Is there any evidence that he named these figures? Yes, there is some. There were little cards with typed names [that she found in the trove of material from his estate]. I don’t know if this was his record-keeping technique, but there’s no other evidence of names.

And there’s no way to know which name goes with which Morton Bartlett figure… Exactly.

How many photographs did Morton Bartlett take of these figures? About 220. When I bought them, I didn’t know there were photos. It really was boxes of arms and legs and heads. That’s why it took so long to assemble them. The photos are a small body of work, which makes it more amazing.

What I find the strangest fact about all of this is the 1962 Yankee magazine article. With the biography that Morton Bartlett wrote for Harvard, he was kind of in a walled garden, speaking to peers who would tolerate some eccentricity, and even with that piece, his reference to the figure-photographing project is oblique. It does not hint at the scope of what he was doing. The Yankee magazine article shows the Morton Bartlett figures and goes into detail about them. Do we know why he agreed to do that piece, and why he never again sought or allowed media coverage? When I bought everything, I started my research, which led me to the writer [of the Yankee magazine piece], Michael Tatistcheff. He’s now dead–he died ten years ago–but he did remember it. He was engaged to Patricia Beals, Bartlett’s goddaughter. Bartlett loved them both, but he had no money. It all went into the dolls. As an engagement gift, he said to Mike, who had just graduated in communications, “Would you like to write about my dolls?” The twist was Yankee magazine told Mike they would pay him $6. It was meant to be one of three articles on Boston craftsmen. But they only paid him $4, and he decided he didn’t want to be a journalist, and went into teaching.

I wouldn’t have guessed that would be the explanation. I wouldn’t have guessed it either, but it’s ordinary. Not a big fancy complicated answer. It spoke to his kindness and generosity. But Pat and Mike never got married.

It was an engagement gift for his goddaughter that got him to step forward during his life. That’s right. That also means he was proud of it. It was private, but not a secret. I think that’s very important.

Daydreaming Girl, a figure by outsider artist Morton Bartlett, shown in full.

Morton Bartlett stopped making the figures in 1963. Was the Yankee magazine article a catalyst for that? I don’t think it was. He moved in 1963, to a house two doors down. We asked his neighbor about that [why Bartlett stopped] in the Family Found documentary. He looked at us and said, “Because he was finished.”

Can you talk about what it was like to discover Morton Bartlett’s work at the Pier Show in New York in 1993? I just stopped in my tracks. Ironically, it was the first year I hadn’t done the fair. I just went in with the public. It didn’t look complete–boxes of heads–I think people didn’t know what to do with them. But I love dolls, and I felt immediately attracted to them. When I got there, it had just come off hold [a hold is imposed on an artwork when a dealer at a fair has a commitment from a buyer]. Right away, I said I’d have them. It was a bit of money, but it was a fortune in assembling and doing the catalog and the research. Up until a couple of years ago, people said to me, “I was just behind you when you bought.” [They were a few minutes late and would have bought if she hadn’t.] There’s a moral to not panicking and getting there when you’re relaxed.

So, you getting the Morton Bartlett figures was down to luck? Isn’t it always? Everyone was talking about them. Clearly, there was a lot of work to do [to make them saleable]. About 60 boxes were delivered.

Sixty is a lot! It is. But I had a visceral connection–I’ve got to know what it is. I was fascinated, and I wanted to find out more.

Do we know how Morton Bartlett’s figures came to be saved? And could you talk about the inherent power of this material? So many outsider artists have gone unknown because whoever cleaned out their place decided to chuck their stuff in the Dumpster or the landfill rather than saving it and finding a place for it. Whoever found Bartlett’s stuff recognized it was worth saving, even though all they saw was boxes of plaster heads and limbs. I don’t know about powerful, but I think it’s interesting and tender. I do love dolls. Maybe it was luck, again, or the power of the work. Henry Darger is another example. It does take someone to present it.

But Bartlett himself didn’t see the figures as inherently valuable as art. He didn’t see in them what we see now. I don’t know what he saw. I know he saw them as a family, because he carried the photos with him. They were 4 x 3, very small.

A closeup, in profile, of the face of the Daydreaming Girl figure.

What, like wallet-size school portraits? Yes, exactly. That’s how I know the photos were his reality. He wrapped [the elements of the figures] up very carefully in newspapers dated to 1963, but he made the dolls only in order to photograph them, and he made the clothes only to clothe them. The end product was the photos.

Who saved the Morton Bartlett figures? Pat Beals was the one who told me this. He had a house, and after he died, his lawyer had the house cleaned out. This [the figures and the related material] was virtually all that was there. The cleaner contacted a dealer she knew and that dealer took it to the show on their behalf.

Why do you think he kept them? Because they were so beautiful, and they were part of the process. They were a means to an end. I’m quite comfortable in saying the photos are his reality, the end product. For 30 years, they were all in boxes. He didn’t need them any more–they had served their purpose. But it was 30 years of work. It was too special to throw away.

The Morton Bartlett figures were not mentioned in his will. Why do you think he left no instructions on what to do with them after he died? I don’t think he thought they were worth anything. And they weren’t, until they were complete. It took me five years to sell the first, and it was not easy.

I’m struck by the fact that he only did three boy figures, and all look to be around seven or eight years of age, which was roughly how old he was when his parents died and he was adopted. Why do you think he sculpted himself at the age when he suffered his greatest loss? Was he frozen in time? I don’t know. It’s just speculation that they look like him.

How reasonable is the speculation that the boy figures look like him? I don’t think I ever asked Pat Beals that. It is speculation, no more and no less than that.

A full shot of Daydreaming Girl, created by the late outsider artist Morton Bartlett.

Different art critics and art historians have different ideas about why Morton Bartlett made these figures. Why do you think he did it? I think it was a fantasy family. It was fulfilling the fantasy of having brothers and sisters.

The only reason the Morton Bartlett figures were recognized as art is because he died and they were found among his belongings. If we could somehow show him how people have received his creations, how do you think he would react? I think he’d be thrilled, I really do. And I think he’d be glad they survived. If he wanted to throw them away, he could have.

When did you finish assembling the Morton Bartlett figure titled Daydreaming Girl? About two years ago. Then we moved [she and her husband], and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore contacted me. They had exhibitions of Morton Bartlett before, twice. They asked, “Do you have any Morton Bartlett sculptures? Our next show is on parenthood.” I said, “If you had called six months ago, I’d have said no, but I just completed another one.” [She loaned it to the AVAM show.]

What condition is the Morton Bartlett figure Daydreaming Girl in? Everything was perfect. There’s slight surface paint restoration and a very good cleaning and there’s really nothing else. It’s like finding an old painting in a cellar. It didn’t need very much at all.

How many Morton Bartlett figures have come to auction? There was one at Christie’s in 2003. It was a seven-year-old girl. The estimate was $20,000 to $30,000, and I think it sold for $35,000.

How many of the 15 Morton Bartlett figures remain in private hands? I think maybe three or four.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $100,000 to $150,000? It was a bit of a struggle. Morton Bartlett figures have sold for more than that privately. At auction, you start below what they go for. I believe it will find its level. I’m not at all worried.

How to bid: The Morton Bartlett figure is lot 1052 in the Outsider & Fine Art, Curious Objects sale at Rago Auctions on October 20, 2019.

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Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Marion Harris has appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a 19th century life-size French wooden artist’s mannequin that ultimately sold for $45,000.

Marion Harris also deals in antiques. Her website devotes a section to Morton Bartlett and offers the Family Found catalog. A short version of the Family Found documentary is on YouTube.

Images are courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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NEW RECORD! Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculpture Seated Woman Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Update: Elizabeth Catlett’s Seated Woman sold for $389,000, more than doubling the high estimate and setting a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

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

Do we know how many sculptures Elizabeth Catlett made? There’s easily over 100, and probably close to 200. What’s interesting about the sculpture is it’s an early piece. She didn’t begin working in wood until she studied woodcarving in Mexico in the late 1950s. Her earliest dates to 1956. This is a significant work of refined sculpture. It shows how quickly she took to wood, and wood quickly became one of her materials.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Did she normally work in mahogany? She did do a number of works in mahogany. There are several mahogany works early in her career. She would do works in tropical woods, cedar, pecan. Mahogany, for a lot of reasons–beauty and durability–was a wood she would use often. It lends itself to the carving that she did.

Is Seated Woman a subject that she returns to over her career as a sculptor, or is this the only instance? Strong representations of women are part of her work, part of her creative impulse, and what she wanted to do. A woman seated on a box appears in the late 1950s in her work, and you see it throughout her work.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Was this sculpture based on a live model, or did Catlett imagine the figure? Most of these were done from her imagination. She may have had a model at some point. She may have done drawings of a model, but I’m not aware of a model for this piece. It’s an anonymous figure. There are later works where we do know the model. Here, the identity is not specific to a particular person. It’s more a universal idea.

What, if anything, do we know about how Catlett carved, and how she might have carved this work? This was actually made from several blocks of wood. She would find blocks of wood she would make into the figure she wanted, and glue them together. This is quite a complex thing to carve in wood.

And I imagine she had to wait to get blocks of wood that would match well. The wood has to be pieced together carefully. It’s stained and polished and made to fit together. It’s kind of the magic of these pieces. This is a typical way she would construct the general form. There were many different stages in the carving, down to the fine modeling and the polishing–very labor-intensive. This is a very finished, polished piece of wood.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

And she wouldn’t have had any assistants at this point? I don’t think so.

Seated Woman was purchased by George Crockett, Jr. and his wife, Ethelene J. Crockett. He put his name and his social security number on the base of the sculpture. Do we know why? I understand why he might want to put his name on it, but… his social security number? [Laughs] I think it’s sort of sweet, in a way. He really valued Seated Woman. [He thought, if he put his social security number on it] if it was ever lost or stolen, it would come back to him. His grandchildren, who were involved in consigning it, weren’t aware of it [his unusual anti-theft precaution], but it rang true with his character. It’s endearing. He prized it, and he didn’t want anyone else to claim ownership. [The ID carving] is very small, on the back of the sculpture, on the bottom of the base. You’ll only find it if you look very closely. [It’s not visible in any of the pictures Swann provided.]

Have you handled the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture? It’s in my office. One of the nice perks of the job is getting to live with the art for a while.

What is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture like in person? It’s got a wonderful presence.

This, more than many things I cover on The Hot Bid, I want to pick up and handle. [Laughs] It has a beautiful surface. It is a thing people want to handle. It stands about two feet tall. It’s larger than its size–it’s got a bigger presence. It’s got a certain heft and weight to it. You’re drawn to it. It’s very attractive.

Are there any aspects or details of the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The experiential part of the sculpture. Your eye can move around it. She’s not just square on the base. It’s got a visceral quality and a very animated quality. She gives it life. It works on so many different levels–how dynamic and complicated the pose is, all the curves to it.

What condition is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture in? It’s in very good condition. This work was in the Crockett family for a long time. With all wood, there’s some aging, and there’s always a few cracks. It was professionally cleaned and preserved for its appearance and to take care of the wood. Now it looks really fantastic.

How does it compare to other Elizabeth Catlett sculptures you’ve handled? We have had other works of hers in terra-cotta and wood. The record is Homage to My Black Sisters, a 68-inch high piece from 1968 that still stands as her auction record. We sold it in October 2009 for $288,000. It’s a decidedly different market today. In 2009, we’d only been doing African-American fine art auctions for two years, and there had been very few Elizabeth Catlett works at auction at that time. It was still early days.

How often do Elizabeth Catlett sculptures come to auction? From time to time. For wood, there have probably been half a dozen at auction. They’re all different. Homage to My Black Sisters was much more abstract, very modern.

Does Seated Woman have a different sort of presence than her later sculptures? This one is much more intense, I think, more intimate. It’s a small figure. The others are more abstracted. This is more representative. It’s an intricate carving, and very complex. It has a life to it. Her earlier works are more realistic and imbued with emotion. In her later works, though they are abstract, they’re more political works of art. This is more subtle. It’s part of its appeal. And she was getting into the prime of her career in the 1960s, which is wonderful.

Why will this Elizabeth Catlett sculpture stick in your memory? It’s from an interesting point in her career, and for the gorgeousness of the sculpture. It’s a really beautiful work. You can see all that went into it and the skill to pull it off–you can see it in the sculpture. It’s an impressive sculpture, and when you see it, you can’t help but be impressed.

How to bid: The Elizabeth Catlett sculpture is lot 63 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 8, 2019.

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Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman spoke to The Hot Bid previously about an Emma Amos mixed-media work that ultimately sold for an auction record for the artist;  a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglasa story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelouan Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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RECORD! A Star Wars Boba Fett Rocket-firing Prototype Crosses the $100k Threshold at Hake’s

A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration firing mechanism. It set a new world auction record for a Star Wars toy at Hake's in July 2019.

In the course of reporting this story, I learned about the next likely record-breaking Star Wars action figure–an even rarer Boba Fett prototype to be offered in a Hake’s auction that opens on October 15, 2019, and closes on November 6 and 7, 2019. That prototype could sell for as much as $200,000. You will see mentions of that toy, as well as pictures, woven into this article.

What you see: A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration. It comes with a letter from Collectible Investment Brokerage (CIB) assigning the encapsulated toy an 85 (NM+) grade. It sold at Hake’s in July 2019 for $112,926–a new record for any Star Wars toy, and the first time a Star Wars toy has crossed the six-figure threshold at auction.

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

How often do late-1970s Star Wars prototype toys come to auction? What others have appeared? Prototypes for action figures are much more layered than for other things. They go through various stages, various color treatments. That’s why there’s so many Boba Fett prototypes. Only a handful have been at auction. It’s still fairly uncommon for them to come up. We happen to have had the luxury of two back to back, and one coming up. [Scroll down for news on the Boba Fett prototype that’s coming up.]

When I hear “prototype” I assume there’s just one, but you’re telling me that action figures require more than one. What number of prototypes is more typical for an action figure? Three to five? I think so. There’s a few for every figure. Boba Fett went through stages of the rocket-firing figure because it had a spring-loaded mechanism. They had to get it right, so more prototypes had to be produced.

Do we know how many Boba Fett prototypes exist? It’s all very vague and speculative, but there’s a very good article that has an accurate lineage of the Boba Fett action figure. [The 2016 story suggests that maybe 100 Boba Fett prototypes exist: about 80 of the L-slot variety, and 19 of the later J-slot version. The letters describe the shape of the rocket-firing mechanism built into Boba Fett’s backpack.]

Could you talk a bit about this rocket-firing Boba Fett toy, and why it’s legendary? It’s taken on a life of its own. Kenner documented what it was supposed to be and put it all into motion before realizing it was not going to work. [As described in the previously given link, the rocket-firing Boba Fett toy was touted in a winter 1979 Kenner catalog as free with four proofs of purchase of other Star Wars toys. Kids gathered the material, sent it off to Kenner, and waited six to eight weeks for the prize to arrive, only to discover that the much-celebrated rocket was fixed in place.] I was eight when Star Wars came out. I saw the original run and sent away for the Boba Fett figure. I don’t remember being disappointed, but everyone got a fixed rocket. Other kids could have been disappointed.

A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration firing mechanism, shown with its certificate of authenticity from CIB.

This prototype is an example of the L-slot version of the toy. There was also a J-slot version. What is the significance of the slot configurations? The L-slot is the first version [of the rocket-firing mechanism]. It was very touchy–tap the figure, and it fired. The J-slot version made it a little more difficult to fire the rocket, but there was a problem. A piece of plastic could snap off that was very sharp, and could puncture [a kid’s] finger. Because they had already advertised it [as a rocket-firing toy], my guess is when they got to the deadline for when they were going to ship, they said, ‘Let’s just mount the rocket in place and get it out of here.’ [Another factor that might have led Kenner to fix the rocket in place] was a kid had choked to death on a rocket from a Battlestar Galactica toy. That could have been the reason for it. [A rocket-firing toy] sounds like a great concept, but it didn’t work. Kids got a stationary version in the mail.

This figure is unpainted. What’s the significance of that? Is it just further proof that it’s a prototype? This shows you the progression. With action figures, you go through so many stages until you get it right. Because they were still working out the firing mechanism, it was not painted. In the process, the concern is that the figure looks right, then making sure that the rocket works, and then they paint it in the final stages. It [the lack of paint] is a signpost.

Is this toy on a blank card? It’s encapsulated in plastic, in an acrylic case.

How did you set the estimate of $75,000 to $100,000? Was that the first time you’d given a Star Wars toy an estimate that includes a six-figure sum? It’s the second time. The first time was the Obi-Wan. It just got into that estimate. We based the estimate on what other Boba Fetts have sold for.

What’s the difference between this Boba Fett and the Obi-Wan Kenobi that set the record in November 2017? Is it down to one being a prototype and the other being a production toy? That’s really the big difference–one is a prototype and one is a production toy. Very few Obi-Wan have ever come to auction and sold. It’s probably a toss-up which one has fewer in existence.

The world auction record for a Star Wars toy broke three times from November 2017 to now–between the Obi-Wan and this Boba Fett prototype, you offered a different Boba Fett L-slot prototype in March 2018 that sold for more than $86,000. Why is there such strong movement in Star Wars toys now? Why has the record broken three times in less than two years? Five years ago, it [the Boba Fett prototype] was a $25,000 figure. Star Wars collectors are serious, and a lot are of the age where they have disposable income. It’s in the last five years or so that it’s been elevated to the level that it is.

The sale of this Boba Fett marks the first time any Star Wars toy has sold for more than $100,000. Could you discuss the significance of that? And did that milestone come when you expected it to come, or was it a little early, or a little late? The first comic book, the first baseball card, and the first original comic artwork breaking six figures was big news. This getting over $100,000 is a big deal, and a long time coming. A lot of that is [due to] third-party authentication. Other collectibles that have been encapsulated [sealed in plastic] have set the guideline for how the market is trending. That’s why we’re seeing what we see. As for the timing of the six figures, we had thought the Obi-Wan could do that. If it was one grade higher, it certainly would have. It’s trending upwards, as all Star Wars toys are. Collectors are there, and they’re ready and willing to pay what they have to.

What was your role in the auction? I tend to stay off the phones if I can. It’s all Internet bidding or phone bidding. I was monitoring things to make sure everything was running smoothly. I watched the whole auction unfold in front of me.

Did you have a dedicated screen for this Boba Fett lot? I have to watch the entire auction at once. It’s important that I watch everything unfurl.

That sounds tricky. I’ve been doing it for 34 years. But it’s hectic, for sure.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? We had a lot of activity for all three weeks online, to closing. On closing day, the Boba Fett prototype was around $85,000 with premium, which would have been $1,000 under the record. Even if we’d closed at that, we’d be happy, because it was right up to where the other sold. It came down to the wire. We got a bid at 9:19 pm, and that reopened the clock.

It reopened the clock? When you bid on an item, it resets the clock for 20 minutes.

So it extends the bidding life of the lot? Correct. When this was still going, much of the rest of the auction was over. It took to the very end until we eclipsed the record. It was a bit unnerving. A lot of people waited until the last minute, but that doesn’t work with us. We’re not eBay. There’s no sniping.

The Boba Fett sold for just under $113,000. Were you surprised by that? No. No. If it was twice its estimate, I would have been surprised, but it was just over the estimate. We were very pleased, but I wouldn’t say we were surprised.

And I understand Hake’s has another Boba Fett prototype coming up in November 2019 that could break the world auction record for any Star Wars toy again? This is the J-slot, the next version of the firing mechanism. It’s painted, and its grade is 85+. It’s the same grade [as the current record-holder], but it’s more desirable because it’s a J-slot, of which there are fewer. It looks like the one that was released.

Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which Hake's will offer in November 2019.
Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which Hake’s will offer in November 2019.

Do you have an estimate on that upcoming Boba Fett prototype? I haven’t committed to one yet. It literally showed up one day after the [July 2019] auction. It could be $100,000, it could be $200,000. It could beat the record substantially, based on what it is. It’s the more desirable of the two [styles] of rocket-firing mechanisms, it’s painted, and it appears in Star Wars collectibles reference books.

What did Kenner learn from the Boba Fett disaster, if anything? It changed the toy industry dramatically. After that, people were cautious and didn’t want to be sued [over a potential choking hazard]. [The toy industry] moved into a different era.

So it wasn’t just overpromising and underdelivering, it was eek, kids could die. Yep. They made sure every base was covered so nothing would come back on them. Now it’s obvious that a tiny piece of plastic that launches with great force was not the smartest [idea]. But it all led up to this legendary status for the rocket-fired Boba Fett.

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

Hake’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Hake’s.

Alex Winter also spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

I also wrote a piece about record-setting Star Wars action figures for the Field Notes section of the October 2019 issue of Robb Report.

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SOLD! The Frank Lloyd Wright Armchair Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

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.

Update: The Frank Lloyd Wright casual armchair from Price Tower sold for $13,750.

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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Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

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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WOW! The TV Space Patrol Toy Car Sold at Morphy Auctions for (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The TV Space Patrol toy car with box sold for $7,500.

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 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.

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.

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.

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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SOLD! The Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

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.

Update: The Lino Tagliapietra small dinosaur sold for $17,500.

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

Image is courtesy of Rago 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.