Which stories did readers of The Hot Bid enjoy and share the most in 2019? Counting down, from ten to one, they are…
10. Cat Fancy, an original piece of Edward Gorey cover art for The New Yorker. Offered at Swann Auction Galleries with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000, it sold for $16,250. Christine von der Linn, Swann’s specialist in art books and original illustration, said, “It draws you in… Part of its enchantment is that you find yourself, like the cats, getting lost in that big, soft bed.”
9. An Andrew Clemens sand bottle with a patriotic theme. Created in 1887, the bottle rocketed past its estimate of $35,000 to $45,000 to sell for $102,000 at Cowan’s Auctions. Auction house founder Wes Cowan called it “an outstanding example of [Clemens’s] late period work, but he didn’t make any crappy examples… He was recognized as a genius then and now. Anyone who holds a bottle in their hands is flabbergasted.”
8. A Malling-Hansen writing ball, an example of the first commercial typewriter. Auction Team Breker assigned this circa 1870s device, created by Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen, an estimate of €70,000 to €90,000 ($78,000 to $100,000) and sold it for €100,000 (about $111,600). Nick Hawkins, speaking on behalf of auction house founder Uwe Breker, said, “One of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys… [Malling-Hansen’s] machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.”
5. Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a portrait painted by American folk artist Ammi Phillips circa 1830-1835. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for $1.69 million and a new world auction record for Phillips. John Hays, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas, said of the painting, “It captures the essence of what folk art collectors want and what they look for. It’s hard to define it in words, but it has a universality to it. It’s just riveting, and kind of mesmerizing. You say, ‘God, he gets it.’”
4. Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Hake’s estimated it at $5,000 to $10,000. It ultimately sold for $14,278 and a new world auction record for artwork from the original series of The Sandman. “As much as The Sandman was about the writing, the artwork is spectacular,” said Hake’s President Alex Winter. “With comic books, sometimes the art is great but the story is just ok, or the art is just ok but the story is great. With this, all 75 issues plus the special are great. It never jumped the shark. I’m a lifelong comic book geek. If someone came in and asked me, ‘What should I read?’ I’d hand them The Sandman.”
3. An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s gave it an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000 and sold it for the stunning price of $250,000. Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York, talked about what it was like to hold the watch: “I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.”
1.The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. It carried an estimate of $7 million to $10 million and sold for $6.5 million at Christie’s New York. Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, enjoyed the privilege of wearing the ring. “It was a bit breathtaking to try it on. It’s an exceptional stone,” she said, adding, “One of the perks, or requirements, of the job is actually trying jewelry on, because a lot of clients aren’t able to see it in person. Being able to handle and interact with the pieces gives a better sense of what they’re like. They’re not just objects–they’re worn.”
Most lots chosen to appear on The Hot Bid go on to find buyers. Here are the ten that commanded the highest sums in 2019.
10. Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimated it at $300,000 to $500,000 and sold it for $425,075. In discussing Howard Terpning’s appeal, Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department, said, “It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.”
9. An oil on panel portrait of the artist John Singer Sargent, painted by Giovanni Boldini in 1890. It carried an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000 ($261,800 to $391,200), and fetched £371,250, or about $494,000, at Christie’s London. Veronica Scarpati, specialist at Christie’s London, said of the work, “What I love about it is you can see the board [the panel] coming through, especially on the edges. It doesn’t appear to be a commission, or a study. It’s an artist at play, looking up to and admiring [his friend]. That’s why it’s so special. It’s frank and intimate.”
8. Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas from the late Kenneth Noland. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimated the painting at $100,000 to $150,000 and sold it for $550,000. “It’s vibrant. It’s really quite impressive. It’s in flawless condition, which is always nice,” said Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA, adding, “It almost vibrates right in front of your eyes. It’s not subtle like some of his chevrons. This is really bold, and pops out.”
7. A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Estimated at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200, it sold at Christie’s London for £587,250, or roughly $734,569. Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s, spoke of the sensation of handling the landmark book: “To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.”
6. COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down, which is how the person who commissioned it displayed it in his home.] Sotheby’s estimated it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. It commanded $1.28 million, just a bit more than its high estimate. “It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in,” said Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s day auctions of Contemporary art in New York, adding, “Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.”
5. Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a circa 1830-1835 portrait by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for $1.69 million and a new world auction record for the artist. In explaining why Phillips’s portraits of children fetch the highest prices for the artist at auction, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.”
4. Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million. They sold for $1.8 million. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, viewed the tapes in the process of preparing them for sale, and was surprised by the emotions that the familiar images evoked. “When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.”
3. The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Estimated at $7 million to $10 million, it commanded $6.5 million at Christie’s New York. In discussing why the precious stone has a rectangular cut, Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, said, “The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.”
2. A double elephant folio version of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Sotheby’s estimated the copy of the legendary book at $6 million to $8 million. It sold for $6.6 million in a single-lot auction. Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York, said of the American flamingo plate shown above, “It’s the encapsulation of Audubon’s achievement in a single plate. He took an enormous, wonderful scarlet bird and gets it in there without looking unnatural or awkward. And he throws in anatomical details at the top, which he very seldom does. It’s a great combination of artistry, science, and the personal observation behind the artistry.”
1. Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s New York estimated it at $4 million to $6 million. It sold for almost $7.2 million–a record for the artist, and a record for any female artist of the pre-modern era. “[Vigée Le Brun] was a brilliant painter and a brilliant portraitist, able to capture the subject with a sense of knowing them,” said Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, adding, “I think her early training as a pastelist shows a sense of softness and light that comes from the pastel medium. Her social skills were advanced, and she used them to her advantage to get the sittings she got and to draw out her sitters. She studied them and knew who they were, and she focused on them.”
Most lots showcased on The Hot Bid do well at auction. Some perform exceptionally well. Here are all the lots featured on The Hot Bid that went on to set a world auction record in 2019.
Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, painted between 1830 and 1835 by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for just under $1.7 million and a world auction record for the artist. In explaining what makes the winsome portrait distinctly American, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.”
Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s estimated it at $4 million to $6 million, and it sold for almost $7.2 million. It set two world auction records: One for Vigée Le Brun, and another for any female artist of the pre-modern era. In discussing how Vigée Le Brun captured the sitter’s ferocity, Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, said, “It’s the look on his face, but a lot of it is the pose. It’s amazing to me, the masculine power–“Let me hold a large sharp sword”–but the sword has beautiful detailed carving. It’s a work of art in itself. There’s a balance to the sense of power that comes from the sword, the pose, and the look.”
Let Me Off Uptown, an 80 inch by 78 7/8 inch work by African-American artist Emma Amos that incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, it sold at Swann Auction Galleries for $125,000 and a world auction record for Amos. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, said of the piece, “It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.”
A U.S first state “Butcher” album prototype, stereo example, of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, which was owned by John Lennon, who inscribed and dated it and drew a sketch on the back cover. A subsequent owner of the album obtained signatures from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Julien’s Auctions estimated it at $160,000 to $180,000. It fetched $234,400–a record for a Beatles “Butcher” album. It left Lennon’s possession when he traded it for a Beatles bootleg. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, explained why the exchange made sense to the musician: “Lennon surely thought that getting his hands on the recording was more important to him at the time. He could get another album cover on his wall if he still needed it. Morrell [Dave Morrell, the other party involved in the swap] was not interested in monetary value. He in turn got something he wanted.”
Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Estimated at $70,000 to $100,000, it sold for $225,075 at Bonhams New York–a new world auction record for Demas Nwoko, and more than double his previous record. The painting had been purchased in Nigeria and had been stashed under a bed in Boston for five decades when Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams, learned of its existence. “I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed,” he says, recalling. “We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, ‘What about this, is it special?’ I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.”
A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimated it at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold it for $8,850, a world auction record for this particular piece of baseball ephemera. Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant, talking about what the piece is like in person, said, “It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.”
Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Hake’s estimated it at $5,000 to $10,000. It commanded $14,278 and a new record for artwork from the original series of the legendary comic book. “The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate,” says Alex Winter, president of Hake’s, adding, “It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as ‘Batman beats Superman.’ With The Sandman, you can’t say that.”
Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million, and sold them for $1.8 million, a record for vintage videotape. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said of the group, “Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.”
Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, Swann Auction Galleries sold it for $389,000 and a world auction record for the artist. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, described the sculpture as having “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.”
This is a two-fer of sorts. An unpainted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype crossed the six-figure threshold at Hake’s in July 2019, setting a new world auction record for any Star Wars action figure. Five months later, a fully painted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype sold for $185,850. In explaining why the Kenner toy company fabricated more than one Boba Fett prototype, Hake’s President Alex Winter said, “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 [in March 2018 and July 2019], and one coming up [in November 2019].”
Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimated it at $25,000 to $35,000 and sold it for $25,000, which represents a world auction record for Howe. Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction, said, “It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. [Howe] rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.”
The expert: Saara Pritchard, senior specialist in Sotheby’s Contemporary art department in New York.
Why was this painting chosen to lead the By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women sale in March 2019? Sotheby’s photographed Oprah Winfrey, collector Agnes Gund, and others in front of it. The auction featured a strong lineup of works. Why does Blanco y Verde earn that treatment? I think this painting would stand out in almost any group of works. It’s incredibly rare to have a work of this scale and caliber come to auction at all. I think it would have achieved the world auction record for the artist in any auction for its rarity, its exceptional provenance, and its status as a truly iconic work by the artist. It doesn’t get better.
Could we talk a bit about Carmen Herrera and her contributions to art? She trained as an architect when she was much younger. She moved between Europe and New York and was friends with important painters, including Ellsworth Kelly. She pursued an interest in minimal geometric abstraction before Kelly and Frank Stella got into it.
Herrera was born in 1915. Is she still painting? Yes. She is still making new work, with a studio assistant to help her build compositions.
Herrera has said she regards her Blanco y Verde series as her most important. Do you agree? What makes it important? Because she started her career training as an architect, she’s said she paints with her brain, not her heart. She investigates color relationships, pairing one color with another to create her desired effect. She pursued the relationship between white and green for over a decade. And Blanco y Verde generally and this painting in particular inspired her to pursue sculpture–she started thinking about the 3-D nature of her work. Her first sculpture, from 1971, has the same composition as the work in the auction. It has the same one-two-three diagonal, the same horizontal format, and a similar scale. The green areas are negative spaces in the sculptural work. This form and this composition became very iconic. That’s why she believes Blanco y Verde is important.
The painting measures 40 by 70. Is that a typical size for her work, and for the Blanco y Verde series? This is among the larger of her canvas compositions, but not the largest. It might be the largest of any to come to auction.
Do we know how many works there are in the Blanco y Verde series? I don’t know, but she did them over the course of 13 years, and there were nine in the Whitney show. [The Whitney Museum of American Art presented Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight in late 2016 and early 2017.]
Do we know how many paintings from the series have come to auction? I think only two have come up in recent years.
When did the secondary market for Herrera works begin? It’s much more recent. I think it didn’t have a presence until the Whitney show.
What is Blanco y Verde like in person? There’s a clear distinction in how she layers different components of the paint, creating a contrast between the green and the white. It does create a sculptural quality. It’s certainly not a uniform surface. The green is the window through, like an opening, and the white is like architecture. And because there’s so many different diagonals, there’s a sense of movement as the diagonals meet and join.
What was your role in the auction? I was helping the school [Miss Porter’s School, the beneficiary of the sale] get works for consignment, and working with collectors who ended up bidding on the painting. Several were familiar with Herrera’s work, and some were completely new to her work and were captivated by it in the view [the preview show]. We had five bidders on the day of the sale. It came down to two when it was over $2 million. I think the buyer and the underbidder were sitting in the room.
That’s unusual. It was very special. Agnes Gund [the collector who consigned Blanco y Verde] was thrilled with the result, obviously.
How did the provenance of the work influence the final price, if at all? It certainly didn’t hurt. Agnes Gund has a great eye, and she’s a very deeply committed collector. If you acquire a painting she owned, it’s probably the best work by the artist there is.
The auction was designed to benefit Miss Porter’s School, a private girls’ school in Connecticut. Did that influence the bidding? I don’t think so. People close to the cause–people who were alumnae, people who were involved in the auction did bid on lower-value work, but that wasn’t the case with this painting. It was bid on by five of the best collectors in the world.
It sold for $2.9 million. Were you surprised? No. I was prepared for more, but thrilled with the result.
How long do you think this record for Carmen Herrera will stand? What else is out there that could challenge it? I’m not sure you’ll see a price quite this high at auction. Not too many Carmen Herreras are better than this one. I think the big public auction prices help the primary market [sales by Herrera’s gallery], and it sure helps spread her name, making her better-known among the collecting community. That’s the importance of a sale like this, especially since she’s still making work.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Anything that’s the best of its kind is harder to forget. A lot of good will was created by the sale, and it was history-making as well–the first all-female artist auction. I’ll never forget it. Not every day do you get to have dinner with Oprah and Agnes Gund.
During the holidays, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.
What you see: A Ludwig oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit that Ringo Starr played on stage and television, with the Beatles, in the early 1960s. Estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, it sold at Julien’s for $2.1 million–a world auction record for any drum kit.
The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.
So, is Ringo Starr pretty much the whole of the market for stage-played drum kits? Does he dominate the category in the same way that Muhammad Ali dominates boxing collectibles, and the way Harry Houdini dominates magic memorabilia? Absolutely. Ringo Starr is the most famous drummer in the world. He’s the Holy Grail when it comes to drummers.
Does it matter that this is a Ludwig brand drum kit? Does it have any inherent value, apart from the Ringo Starr provenance? The real impact on the value and the record sale price is it was Ringo Starr’s. The Beatles helped make Ludwig famous. [The brand] became synonymous with the Beatles and Ringo Starr. There’s no intrinsic value. The value is in Ringo Starr, and that he used it.
Could you talk about how Starr came to choose this kit? Starr had a four-piece Mahogany Duroplastic 4-piece Premier kit [that was worn out]. In April 1963, Ringo Starr and Brian Epstein [the Beatles’ manager at the time] went into a store in London called Drum City Limited. He remembers seeing the Ludwig kit in the window and saying to Brian, “Oh, great, look at this kit!” That’s what it was.
I understand the drum head, which shows the Beatles logo, is a later remake. What happened to the original drum head? The kit was borrowed by Paul McCartney for many performances in the 1970s and 1980s. When he returned it to Ringo, it was returned without the drum head. Paul, according to Ringo, has it framed on a wall in his home.
I understand the Ludwig drum kit is not complete–Starr kept the snare drum. Do we know why? It’s easier to transport and keep with him. He’s used it for very many other performances. He’s quite attached to it, and couldn’t see himself letting it go. He still has it, and Ringo Starr is still performing.
Wow. He’s almost 80, isn’t he? He looks amazing, and has so much energy. He’s an inspiration.
Ludwig made this kit just before it started putting serial numbers on its instruments. Does that matter? Or are there so many photos and films and other things that document Ringo Starr playing this drum kit that it doesn’t matter? It could be a concern, excluding the fact that it comes from Ringo Starr, and the provenance is 100 percent. Ringo helped Ludwig become famous. It skyrocketed them to fame when the Beatles started using this kit. We did a film of Ringo playing the kit and talking about it. If Ringo wasn’t here to talk about it, it could be an issue, but there are so many photos and videos of Ringo playing the kit that there’s no doubt.
Did you play these drums at any point before the 2015 auction? I definitely sat on the seat he sat on and played the hell out of those drums. [Laughs] It was phenomenal to sit there behind such an iconic drum kit and hold drumsticks and play. I got goosebumps. I have the best job in the world.
Was Ringo Starr there when you played? No!
That would be intimidating. Very intimidating. I’m not a musician, but I was drawn to it and to sit there and go, “Wow.” Ringo was fully involved with the project. He and Barbara [Bach, Starr’s wife] came to the gallery many, many times, identifying objects, telling stories. It was really cool.
I got the impression at the time that Starr was more involved than most celebrities choose to be. Is that accurate? In your experience, have any other celebrities of his stature been as involved in their sales? I’d say no. He and Barbara were unique. It was really important for them to get it right–get it all documented and recorded accurately. In a way, it was cathartic for them, letting go. Their level of involvement was truly hands-on.
Where does this drum kit rank in the pantheon of Beatles-played instruments? Were any others used at both the Cavern Club and the Ed Sullivan show, as this one was? Paul McCartney has a Hofner bass guitar that would be really important if it ever came to auction. We sold John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson, which was a record for an acoustic guitar. That was from the early days of the Beatles as well. The drum kit is certainly really important. It’s very historic and extremely well-documented. It was bought by a collector in Indiana.
I would have thought that Ludwig would have gone for it. There was great interest in it. The winner was Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. He’s a huge collector. It was important to him.
After the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, Starr stopped playing this drum kit. Do we know why he stopped then–why he didn’t play those drums for the other Ed Sullivan appearances? We have no idea about that, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ringo to verify that. There was obviously a good reason for it. Sound was so important to them. Maybe the new setting–a studio with a live audience–was the thinking behind that.
As you said earlier, Paul McCartney played this drum kit, too. How did that factor into its value? It definitely was a factor. There are photos of Paul McCartney playing it, and Ringo Starr playing it–a double whammy. It definitely impacted the price.
I see in the lot notes that Starr has, or had, five drum kits. Was this the only one of the five consigned to the 2015 auction? The other four were not in the sale, correct. He may have earmarked them for his children.
Do we know why he chose this one for auction? It’s certainly one that’s very historic, and it’s in its entirety, apart from the snare drum and the missing drum head. Maybe it’s because he was away from it when he loaned it to Paul for the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe it was easier to let go. But these instruments are really important. [Musicians] talk about guitars and drum kits like it’s a baby. It’s amazing how they remember these items and become attached to them.
So Starr found it difficult to sell? Yeah, yeah. He played it, he’s associated with it, he stored it and kept it for so long. He loaned it to the Grammy museum, and after that he decided to let it go, but it was definitely hard for him to let go.
How did you come up with the $300,000 to $500,000 estimate? By looking at sales of other Beatles-played instruments? Exactly, other Beatles instruments. We thought $300,000 to $500,000 was appropriate. We hoped it would break a million. We could never dream of breaking two million.
What was your role in the auction of the Ringo Starr drum kit? We had a crowded room. I was on a phone with a client–the underbidder. The winner had a representative in the room, and ultimately, he won out.
What do you recall of the sale of the Ringo Starr drum kit? There was great excitement, great buildup, great hype. There were hundreds of thousands of people watching online. Then it came to the drum kit and there was silence. We got to half a million, which was the record for a drum kit. Then $750,000. Then we broke a million. It moved very quickly between one million and two million. It was electric, it was tense, it was exciting.
So you were surprised by the final price of the Ringo Starr drum kit? We had hoped it could break a million and set a world record. Breaking two million was one of those moments when I know exactly where I was. My client couldn’t go any further, so it went to Jim Irsay.
Was Ringo Starr in the room? He was not there, but he was watching online.
What was his reaction to the sale of the Ringo Starr drum kit? He was very pleasantly surprised. It hadn’t been done before. How do you surprise a Beatle? He’s seen everything and done everything. He was really chuffed at the result.
How long do you think this record will stand? I imagine it’d be another Ringo Starr drum kit–maybe the one he played during the 1969 Beatles rooftop concert? It will take a long time to break the record. Possibly, it could be the rooftop drum kit. Because this was the first one [to come to auction directly from Ringo Starr], and he has children he may decide to leave the kits to, who knows when [another] will come on the market? It’s so rare, so unusual, and it’s from Ringo. It’s hard to offer another drum kit that would sell for more than $2.1 million.
Do we know if the drum kit he played during the rooftop concert is still around? I’m not sure, but I think he has all his Beatles kits. It’s very likely [Ringo has it].
Maybe the record will break if this set comes back to auction? It could. Think of the Marilyn Monroe dress in 1999 [which set a record at Christie’s]. Seventeen years later, it sold for $4.8 million. The underbidder kept the paddle [from the 1999 auction] and came back in 2017, determined to get it that time. They waited 17 years.
So we should plan to talk about this drum kit again in…2032? [Laughs] If you want to schedule for 2032, why not?
Update: The double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America sold in a single-lot auction for $6.6 million.
What you see: The American flamingo plate from the double elephant folio version of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Sotheby’s estimates the copy of the legendary book at $6 million to $8 million.
The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.
First, let’s talk about who Audubon was, and what he went through to create this book. Audubon was initially a nature lover and in particular, a bird lover. As a boy growing up in France and as an older teen in the United States, he loved seeing birds, and he loved drawing birds. But he didn’t have the sense of that as his profession. He ran a shop, and worked in a museum for a while, but he kept being drawn back to nature.
I understand that Alexander Wilson paid a visit to Audubon’s shop, and that proved to be something of a turning point? Wilson showed him his portfolio of drawings for his own book of American birds. Audubon was polite, but he recognized that his [drawings] were far superior to Wilson’s. He was hit with the idea of making drawings and sharing them with a wider audience.
Was Audubon the first person to show the birds at full size in the pages of a book? Audubon hit upon the idea of depicting the birds at actual size, which had never been done before. For wrens and robins, that’s easily done. For big water birds, that presents a challenge. Because he spent so much time outside, he understood their habits informed what they did. He was not looking at stuffed, taxidermied birds. He was out in the field, appreciating them in natural poses in their own environment. He devoted years of his life to tramping around the United States, and tried to present them as living creatures, not stuffed portraits.
What talents did Audubon need to have to make The Birds of America a reality? He was an artist, but he was also an entrepreneur, a promoter, and an organizer. It was the work of one person, but he had a large support system. He needed to find a paper manufacturer who could fulfill his vision to depict the birds at life size and found one in England. One of the ironies of The Birds of America is to find a craftsman capable of producing the book, he had to go to Great Britain. He had to find engravers who could fully translate [his images] into print. He needed colorists to translate the vividness of his watercolors. And he had to find subscribers to pay for it.
Yes, can we talk about how Audubon’s TheBirds of America isn’t like books sold today–you couldn’t walk into a bookstore and buy a complete copy, you had to subscribe to it? It took eleven years to complete, and it was issued by subscription and in parts. By getting subscribers to support the book, Audubon had some capital to begin with. The Birds of America was issued in monthly parts of five engravings: one large bird, one medium-size bird, and three smaller birds. It was not issued taxonomically. You didn’t get all the owls or all the songbirds at once. You had to wait for 20 parts to be completed and then you got an engraved title page for volume one, to have it bound. It was a long process for Audubon and for the people who subscribed to his work. But once people saw the engravings and the quality of them, I’m sure they got excited waiting for the next installment to come, and I’m sure there was sadness after the last title page arrived.
And I understand that 119 complete copies of the double elephant folio version of Audubon’s TheBirds of America were produced? Audubon got at least 161 subscriptions, and I think he printed additional copies. The best guess is 175 to 200 full sets were completed. The most recent census we have is 119 complete or essentially complete copies, mostly in university libraries or museums. Approximately 60 sets were lost, or more likely, taken apart and sold plate by plate.
Audubon produced several versions of TheBirds of America. Why is the double elephant folio version the most desirable of them all? As in all book-collecting, it’s king because it’s first. You want the first edition, you don’t want the tenth edition. And it’s the only edition that depicts the birds at life size. Even in the 19th century, it was an expensive book. Only the wealthy and institutions could afford it.
How is the octavo version different from the double elephant folio version of TheBirds of America? It’s a reduced-size version. With a few exceptions, the birds are not depicted at life size. It’s still a very beautiful edition, and the plates are colored by hand. But the difference between them is like seeing the Statue of Liberty and picking up a souvenir of the Statue of Liberty at a New York gift shop. It’s a difference in scale.
I understand that TheBirds of America devotes a separate volume to its text, and the volumes with the plates are just that–volumes with plates. Why did Audubon design the book in that way? He did it deliberately, and not just because it was difficult to read pages of that size. He was required to give two copies of books with text to the United Kingdom [a rule that then applied to every book printed in the country]. He avoided that by printing the plates separately and [satisfying the law by] giving the text volume.
Do the text volumes that go with the double elephant folio version of The Birds of America tend to survive alongside the plates-only volumes, or do they tend to part ways? They’re often found separated. The text is a wonderful account, a great story of Western exploration. The sad fact is–and I don’t know if this is a sad fact or not–when we think of The Birds of America, we think of the plates. Many copies don’t have text, or they don’t have the text that was issued with it. In the larger scheme of things, it’s not considered a significant flaw if a copy lacks the text. Because it was published separately, it’s not integral to the book.
The 435 plates in Audubon’s TheBirds of America were colored by hand. How did that work? It was actually fairly efficient, and certainly meticulously done. It was intricate work. There was a roomful of colorists, mostly women, but some men and some children. They worked from a pattern plate that was probably colored by Audubon himself. It was an assembly line. One colorist would do all the green areas and pass it to someone else to do the yellow areas. The most skilled colorists would do the birds themselves. We’re very fortunate that this copy benefits from being overseen by very talented colorists.
The overview for this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America on the Sotheby’s website notes that the “plates are in a very early state”. Could you elaborate? What does that say about this copy of the book? It goes back to the standards of book-collecting. You want the earliest. Primacy is important. If there’s a misprint on the title page of the book, and it’s discovered and corrected after 100 copies are printed, book collectors want the one with the error.
The overview also describes this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America as being ‘unusually large and brilliantly colored’. Again, could you elaborate? And is it more ‘brilliantly colored’ than other examples of the same book? Any bound set that’s remained bound and not overly displayed is more brightly colored than a book that’s been broken up and the plates framed. With this book, The Birds of America, there are so many large images it’s important they’re not cut down, because some of the birds take up almost the whole page. If you shave it, you could shave a feather or a beak. This is a set that hasn’t been trimmed very much at all. There’s very little loss of any images and it’s had the luck to go through the hands of a master colorist, so the images are brilliant.
What else helped preserved the colors of the plates of this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America? The subscriber was an institution, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. It was not in the open library. It could not be checked out. It’s a combination of it being colored very well and preserved well over the centuries.
What makes Audubon’s The Birds of America such a great and desirable book? Several reasons. One, birds still cast a spell. It goes back to Audubon’s fascination with them. As a species, they’re beautiful. There are many bird-watching societies. People enjoy birds. Second is the book itself. It was highly unusual at the time, and it was unprecedented to produce a book of this size. If you go to a library where it’s on view, or an auction house that’s selling it, you can see the monumental size of it. Third is the whole notion of one man’s obsession to get the book to completion. And frankly, I would not discount the value part of the equation. A book that could sell for five, six, seven, eight million dollars–that’s exciting.
Sotheby’s sent over high-resolution images of some of the key plates from the book, and I’d like to discuss each of them. Could we start with the Carolina parrots? Why is this such a strong image? It goes back to the idea of observing birds in the wild and knowing how they behave. A few decades before Audubon, birds were shown absolutely still, in profile, on a branch. That’d be it. Here, he’s showing a flock, or portion of a flock. He shows males, females, and one juvenile at the bottom with his green head. He shows them in the tree they live in. They interact with each other in a variety of poses. He shows action and activity and fills the page, showing them in 360 degrees. You don’t feel like you’re looking at an engraving–you feel like you’re looking at a tree full of birds. And it’s an interesting plate as well because it’s one of the birds Audubon depicts that’s extinct.
Next we have the American flamingo, which bowls me over because in lesser hands, this could have been a mess, but it looks perfectly natural. It’s the encapsulation of Audubon’s achievement in a single plate. He took an enormous, wonderful scarlet bird and gets it in there without looking unnatural or awkward. And he throws in anatomical details at the top, which he very seldom does. It’s a great combination of artistry, science, and the personal observation behind the artistry.
And we have a night scene with the Snowy Owls. Which is very rare. I think there are only two other night scenes out of the other 435 plates. You’re drawn to the birds and initially, you don’t understand that it’s a night scene. But he uses the night scene to make the white of the bird really pop out. They’re up a tree on a mountain, a very dramatic setting and a very powerful image.
How many double elephant folio copies of Audubon’s The Birds of America have you handled? I think this will be the fifth copy I’m involved with selling. I have appraised other copies. Probably, in all, I’ve seen the better part of 20 different copies.
How does this copy compare to the record-setting copy you sold ten years ago? They’re very similar, but one principal difference is the 2010 copy, the Hesketh copy, was in a more elaborate binding. This has a less expensive binding appropriate for the [subscribing] institution, and just as appropriate for the work. The Hesketh is one of the finest copies ever sold. If I had to rank them, Hesketh is 1, and this is 1A. It was in an institution and it did have more handling than the Hesketh copy had. I’d give a slight edge to the Hesketh, but that in no way diminishes the fine condition of this copy.
Does it edge out the Hesketh on the quality of the hand-coloration of its plates? That is harder to remember. I’d say the very best plates of this copy are as good as or better than the Hesketh. They are very comparable. The best plates here are luminous and saturated with color.
What is the book like in person? It has nuance of color and amazing gradation. A bird from across the way looks blue or brown or black. Up close, you appreciate the differences of shade and you see the detail in the flowers, the blades of grass, and the animals in the background. The luminosity is just stunning. And to see it in person–wow, the book really is almost four feet high. We aren’t used to seeing a bound work of this size.
It’s tricky to do now. Absolutely, and in some ways, it’s not practical. What would you do with it? This came with a George IV oak cabinet [to store it in], so that part is solved.
Sotheby’s is selling this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America in a single-lot auction. Is this the first time Sotheby’s has done that for an Audubon double elephant folio? I think it might be. We don’t do single-lot catalogs very often. When we do, they go on to set records. It not only says something about the regard the book is held in, but its potential to reach a high price as well.
Why will this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America stick in your memory? The coloring, and the fact that it’s the second time I’ve been involved in selling it. In 1990, I went to London to assist in the cataloging [the last time Sotheby’s sold it]. I’ve been here a long time. To see the book come back almost 30 years later is very gratifying and exciting.
How to bid: Audubon’s The Birds of America features in a single-lotauction taking place at Sotheby’s New York on December 18, 2019.
Selby Kiffer appeared once before on The Hot Bid, discussing Frank Sinatra’s personal copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
You can see all 435 plates of Audubon’s The Birds of America online at the website of the National Audubon Society.
Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.
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Update: The Munnings painting sold for £419,250, or about $552,000.
What you see: A Start at Newmarket, a circa 1937 painting by Sir Alfred Munnings. Christie’s estimates it at £400,000 to £600,000, or $514,400 to $771,600.
The expert: Brandon Lindberg, senior specialist and head of British Impressionism at Christie’s London.
Let’s start by talking about who Munnings was, and when and how he became enchanted with horses. He was born in East Anglia in 1878, the son of a miller. He had a precocious talent for art. He was always drawing from an early age, and he grew up with horses around him. He was born at a time when horses were the main source of transit. They were part of daily life in rural England. He went to the Norwich School of Art, and as a young man, a patron paid for him to go to Paris. His palette had been very brown and rich, but after Paris, his coloring became a lot lighter, brighter, and fresher.
Did he own and ride horses? He would have been around horses, and his family and friends would have had horses. Very early on, probably when he was in his early twenties, Munnings was buying horses and using them to carry his canvases around.
Munnings suffered an accident when he was 20 that blinded him in one eye. How, if at all, did that affect his approach to painting? I think his dog got caught in a hedge and in trying to get it out, he got a thorn in his eye. In his memoirs, he talked about not painting for a while. He found depth tricky without binocular vision. The story is he’d put brushes through the canvas [because he couldn’t judge the depth]. But his personality was so strong that he got over that and battled through.
How prolific was he? I understand that an Alfred Munnings catalogue raisonné is in progress, but do we have a notion of how many works he made during his life? He was incredibly prolific. To give you a guide, a hundred artworks have sold in the last three years alone. There are several thousand works out there. I can’t be more specific than that. Munnings was an inveterate sketcher. He sketched on anything and everything. In the Munnings Art Museum, they have the wall of a stable block. When the plaster was wet, he couldn’t resist drawing horses in it.
Where does Munnings rank among artists who specialize in horses? I would say Munnings is arguably one of the greatest equestrian artists of all time, ranking alongside George Stubbs.
What do we know about the story behind A Start at Newmarket? I take it he is trying to capture as precisely as possible the instant that the horses are released? Exactly. He’s trying to capture that moment when the jockeys are all focused, the split second before the start. You get a sense of the pent-up energy when they’re just about to set off.
What do we know about how the Munnings painting was created? He would have approached it in a number of ways. He was given free reign on the course at Newmarket. He would have been allowed to drive his car onto the course, and he would have been allowed to loiter and capture the moment when they start. And he was given a rubbing-down house–a windowless small stable where they rub a horse down after a race–as a little studio. For a start, he would use pencil sketches, because he had to capture the moment in a few seconds. He also had a dressing-up box of jockey silks, and had one of his grooms don silks and sit on an abandoned block to do for [simulate] a horse for an oil sketch. The work looks effortless, but it’s a complex fusing of various different techniques–sketches, studio studies, and plein air [painting or sketching outdoors].
Did he ever rely on photographs to create his paintings? No. It’s interesting. It reminds me of the only painting he did of the finish of a race. A patron’s horse, Saucy Sue, won the Oaks [a significant English horse race]. He did that painting from a photo, and it doesn’t have the life and energy of the start pictures.
Was Munnings aware of the horse-racing paintings done by Edgar Degas? We think he would have been. Munnings had an interesting relationship with avant-garde art. He didn’t like abstract or non-representational art, but he experimented with color and movement. I would love to know if his library had books on Impressionism. It’s most likely that he saw exhibitions of modern French art when he was there in 1905.
Do Munnings paintings of horse races, and this particular painting, reflect any influence from Degas? I think so, in the sense of the way he captures a cluster of jockeys, and the way the light falls on their silks. A Start at Newmarket has a sense of realism, with the horses jostling each other. It infuses impressions of color, light, and realism with a classical frieze–banks of horses recessing into the distance behind you.
This Munnings painting measures 17 and 5/8 inches by 21 and 1/2 inches. Is that a typical size for him, or is it smaller than usual? He painted on every size and every scale. He seemed to love 20 inches by 24 inches. Those are the ones you see the most of. But he painted in every size. This painting is probably on the smaller side. It’s quite practical to take onto a course and paint.
How does this Munnings painting show his mastery? To me, I think it shows him capturing different lights, and how it reflects off different surfaces. I love the interplay of color, light, and movement. Because it’s a plein air painting, it’s got a sense of movement and spontenaiety.
This Munnings painting is cropped. Do we know what inspired him to crop the compositions of some of his paintings? Munnings did crop things quite regularly. He was not adverse to it. It was a device he used a lot. It gives the painting a very immediate effect, and a slightly photographic feel.
That makes me more surprised that he didn’t rely on photographs. Because he was such an inveterate sketcher, he reached for the pencil instead of the camera.
Did he routinely crop his images of race starts, to amplify the sense of movement? Not really. There are starts that are centered. I think he uses it to great effect here. There are some like examples we’ve had over the years, but some are cropped, and some are not.
Do all Munnings paintings feature horses, or did he paint other subjects? I suppose probably about 30 or 40 percent [of his output], one way or another, are racehorses, whether they’re racing or are portraits. But he was a landscape painter. He loved the English landscape, and he painted a wonderful series of river landscapes. He also spent one year on the Western front in World War I, painting horses, men, and cavalry. Horses are a predominant theme in his work, but it’s not the only one.
Many of Munnings’s most dramatic sporting images are set at Newmarket. How does that affect the value of those works? Are collectors more interested in Munnings paintings that show Newmarket? Not necessarily, no. There are more Newmarkets out there and he produced more great pictures at Newmarket than any other [venue]. And Newmarket is seen as the home of British horse racing. But I think collectors respond to great racing pictures.
What is this Munnings painting like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think there are. What strikes me is it has a lovely painterly quality to it. He’s not one of these artists who tries to hide every brush stroke. It’s got thick impasto and thin washes that give the painting an added level that you don’t get in the photo at all.
Why will this Munnings painting stick in your memory? Because it’s a lovely fusion. It’s painted like an oil sketch, with spontaneity and capturing the moment, but it’s a complete painting. You really get a strong sense of his design.
What you see: A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Bonhams declines to give a numerical figure for the hero prop, instructing bidders to “refer to department for estimate”.
The expert: Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams.
Why would MGM have felt the need to build a test wand for Glinda the Good Witch? Did they only do that for what we now call “hero” props, or would the MGM prop department have built test versions of pretty much everything visible on screen during The Wizard of Oz to make sure it would look good in Technicolor? They certainly did it with all the costumes. It’s probably more helpful to think of the wand as part of Glinda’s costume, rather than like the hourglass or one of the trees. There was a lot of testing and tweaking in preproduction on The Wizard of Oz. They went through several iterations for the pinafore Dorothy wears, and the same with her hair. The wand would have been tested as part of of Glinda’s overall look.
L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, specified that Dorothy’s slippers were silver. They were changed to ruby slippers for the movie because red looked better against the yellow brick road. Did Baum say anything about Glinda’s appearance that would have given guidance to the prop masters when making the test wand? I don’t know the answer to that, but in general, they tried to stay true to what they knew about what was there. By bringing in Gilbert Adrian, one of the visionary, edgier costume designers, they wanted to put their stamp on the story. Glinda’s wand was a subset of her costume, so it came under that umbrella, as did the ruby slippers.
What’s the difference between the Glinda test wand and the Glinda wand that was used on screen? The first version had clear rhinestones. Because they wanted even more glitz and sparkle on camera, they designed wands with clear and colored stones. Because they were shooting in Technicolor, the colored stones give that much more of a flash on screen. And the wand had to stand up to the rest of Glinda’s costume, which is also pretty spectacular.
What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the Glinda wand was to make? I suspect it wasn’t that hard. Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s a long staff, a fabricated piece of white metal with a finial on the bottom. The star is another finial that screws in [to the top of the staff]. I’m assuming the rhinestones were done by hand.
Two Glinda wands with colored rhinestones were made for on-screen use. Where are they now? They’re gone. The context for when all this stuff was released in the world is the MGM liquidation sale held in 1970. The two wands with colored stones were bought by people in North Carolina who opened a theme park, The Land of Oz, which had a museum portion. They bought a ton of stuff. They had Munchkin costumes and a Dorothy dress. It was active from the early 1970s to 1980. Then a fire broke out and all the property was destroyed. So this is it. This is the only one. [Editor’s note: The Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina has been revived on a smaller scale and offers events during the summer and early fall.]
No test photos survive that show Billie Burke, who played Glinda, holding the wand, but she had an MGM photographer take a shot of herself in costume, with this particular wand. How did that image come about? I don’t think it was rogue or off the book. It was a promotional shot for the film, and it would have been shot anyway, but Burke had some control over who shot it and how it looked. She liked it so much, she ordered copies of the photo, and she incorporated a sketch of it into her holiday card.
Why would Burke and the photographer have wanted the test version of the Glinda wand for this image? It’s more flattering for black and white. The colored stones wouldn’t have looked as good. They would have looked grey, which is not what you want.
The Glinda wand measures 56.50 inches. That’s long–almost five feet long. Why did the movie producers want it to be this length?Did it help Billie Burke move in a more restrained and regal way? That’s a good question. Maybe Billie Burke is taller than we think. It doesn’t dwarf her when she carries it. Maybe it’s that long because that’s how Glinda does her magic–she does it with a wand, and they wanted it to have substance. Its length does make it harder for the actress to move on screen, but it looks more powerful.
I guess the Glinda wand also has to compete to be seen against the backdrop of the pink poufty Good Witch dress, and the colors of Munchkinland… I didn’t realize it was this size. I never thought about how long it was until it came to us. It’s possible they wanted it to be noticeable. It is thicker than a smaller wand would be. Maybe it’s that long to show up against the bling of the Glinda dress. Or maybe for it to be proportional, it had to be that long.
Speaking of which, what is the Glinda wand like in person? Sometimes, when you see props from famous movies, you notice things about them that you never notice on the screen. But what you really take away from it is the magic it creates on screen. With a touch of the wand, Glinda can send you to Kansas. It is magical what they do with a prosaic piece of metal.
When you get right down to it, it’s just a stick. [Laughs] And the shoes are just shoes.
Have you held the Glinda wand? I have not held it. My colleague and the photographer have held it. I’ve tried to minimize contact with it because I don’t want people knocking the rhinestones off. But it’s sturdy. I guess it’s probably two or three pounds altogether. You don’t need two hands–you can hold it with one.
Did you look to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress as comparable lots to consider when setting the estimate for the Glinda wand? We’re not publishing the estimate at the client’s request, but I can tell you it’s in the low six figures. But those were comparables.
How does the Glinda wand compare to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress? They’re very different, but one of the things that’s nice about the wand is it’s portable and easy to display. I can tell you it was on exhibit at the Smithsonian recently, next to the ruby slippers, for a fairly long period of time. The Smithsonian could fit it fairly easily into their exhibition space. It’s not as fragile as a dress [or other textiles].
What condition is the Glinda wand in? There’s some paint loss and there’s a patina to it. I think it’s missing a few rhinestones. Otherwise, I think it’s pretty good, considering it’s 80 years old.
The sale that includes the Glinda wand is called TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year. Did you receive this piece on consignment and view it as a tentpole for a 1939-themed sale, or did you come up with the 1939 idea and then go out looking for 1939 material? It did sort of start almost a year ago with the wand. The consigner approached us with this pretty early. Then I realized that 2019 was the 80th anniversary of 1939, and reached out to get 1939 material.
Update: The Elizabeth I silver pomander fetched £22,500, or slightly more than $29,000.
What you see: An Elizabeth I silver pomander, engraved with portraits of royals and dating to the early 17th century. Christie’s estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $25,900 to $38,850.
The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, International Head of Silver at Christie’s.
Was the pomander a common household object in 17th century England, or was it purely used by nobles and wealthy merchants? I think it was really people of wealth–rich merchants and aristocratic ladies would have had them. They tend to be in silver and rarely in gold.
A fair number of people like to think that previous ages were smellier or stinkier than our own. Is that accurate, and is the silver pomander evidence that bad odors were a common hazard in 17th century England? Yes, very much so. There was no plumbing, and there were open ditches in the street where people threw the contents of their chamber pots. And there was the miasmic theory of disease, the belief that odor itself could give you a disease. The pomander was a way to banish evil smells and evil humors and keep yourself healthy.
Why would a woman have been the likely original owner of this silver pomander? In contemporary portraits [of the period] you see ladies wearing them.
If 17th century Englishmen didn’t carry pomanders, what did they carry instead that served the same purpose? People had scented gloves and scented handkerchiefs. The pomander developed as a form of adornment for women, and it had practical use.
And pomanders usually take the shape of an orb, or sphere? They tend to. Early pomanders were a ball of a scented substance–wax with scents impregnated in them. The form it usually takes is a circular foot with a central stem that has a number of hinged segments. It opens like the petals of a flower.
How would the silver pomander’s owner have used it–to perfume herself, to shield her nose from unpleasant smells, or both? She would hold it up to her nose, like a nosegay or a viniagrette, which is a box that had a sponge with smelling salts or scented waters.
So it’s kind of like us putting Vicks VapoRub under our nostrils today? Exactly.
Would she have worn the silver pomander every day, or did she only wear it on fancy occasions, or at court? It could be everyday. She didn’t necessarily wear it around the house, but it denotes status. It’s a costly object. Certainly, if she went out around town in her finest dress, she’d wear it.
What sorts of nice-smelling things might she have put in the silver pomander? And would she put the same thing in each of its six compartments, or would she put different, complementary things in the compartments? I think it’s each to their own. She might want rosemary for this, or lavender for that. Each scent had certain properties and beliefs about what they would help with. She could put the same thing [in every compartment] or a cocktail. There’s no difference to aromatherapy today–if you’re stressed, try lavender, if you need invigoration, try lemon verbena.
The silver pomander features several portraits of people who are believed to be royals: King James I, King Charles I (as Prince of Wales), King Henry VII, King Henry VIII, and a woman who could be Anne of Denmark (James I’s wife) or Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. How do we know these are the people depicted? They’re really [after] engravings by the de Passe family, a Dutch family that specializes in head-and-shoulder portraits. They’re not exact matches, but similar ones match up. They’re known engravings of members of the Tudor and Stuart royal family. Anne of Denmark was originally attributed as Elizabeth I.
Would the silver pomander have advertised the political leanings of the wearer? Would she have taken a risk if she went out in public with this hanging from her chatelaine? All the royals [depicted on the pomander] are Protestant monarchs. You’ll find by this time (early 17th century), Britain was established as a Protestant nation. Under the reign of Queen Mary I, the owner wouldn’t have wanted to wear the pomander, but it postdates that. At the time, the monarch was Protestant and the country was 90 percent Protestant.
What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the silver pomander was to make? You’ve got six little segments. It’s difficult to make sure they’re all the same size and have the same curve so they come together to form an orb. It’s got a carefully milled thread, so you can screw the top down [and hold the six segments closed and in place]. And it’s been heavily engraved with shield shapes ornamenting the tops of the segments, the medallion portraits, and so on.
What is the silver pomander like in person? Is it heavy? It’s about two inches high. It fits in the palm of the hand. If you make an “OK” sign with your middle finger and your thumb, it’s that sort of size. It feels heavy in the hand.
What condition is it in? When you see it open, [you can see that] the not-quite-rectangular openings in each segment have been squeezed over the years. But really, it’s survived in surprisingly good condition.
I understand that little early English silver survives because various groups sought it to melt it and turn it into money. I realize we don’t know exactly how this silver pomander survived, but what are some plausible theories? In Civil War England, Royalist and Parlimentarian forces were desperate to pay their armies. Silver was the coinage of the day. If you melted a cup and struck coins, you got money. Two silver plates from the Armada service are in the sale. The service was buried in a barn and not rediscovered until 1827. It was almost certainly hidden to avoid being seized by Parlimentarian forces. But this pomander is a small object [which would yield] an ounce and a half of silver, not a huge amount. And it’s easily hidden away. You could stick it in the back of a drawer and if you weren’t really searching for it, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. A silver cup is less easily hidden.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think number one, it being English. It’s unmarked [it lacks hallmarks that would identify the silversmith], but it would be very strange for it to be anything else than English, and to have portraits on it is rare. Pomanders are more likely to have scrolling foliage on them, that sort of thing. And it’s a gem of an object in an amazing collection of objects that survived all the intervening years. It’s a lovely personal object, beautifully decorated in great detail, and it [represents an] extraordinary survival.
Update: The original art for the Charles Addams Poe cartoon sold for the healthy sum of $22,500.
What you see: Original artwork for Nevermore, a cartoon drawn by Charles Addams and published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1973. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.
The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.
Let’s start by discussing who Charles Addams was, and why we’re still talking about his work today. First, I think we can all agree that Addams’s style was like no other. No one else married gloom, death, and danger with humor, often tempered with tenderness and charm, like he did. He could break down humanity to its basest nature. The New Yorker writer and critic Wolcott Gibbs once described his work as “essentially a denial of all spiritual and physical evolution in the human race.” Ask any cartoonist who their main influence was, and they’ll surely name him.
How prolific was he? His output was astounding. He submitted his first work to The New Yorker when he was 21 and continued until his death [in 1988, at the age of 76]. He worked for over 60 years and produced thousands of cartoons and 15 anthologies, which have been translated into numerous languages.
Where is most of Addams’s original artwork now? A large portion resides at the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation in Sagaponack, New York. Tee [Addams’s widow] gave a large portion to the New York Public Library. For many years, they had a dedicated rotating gallery for those works.
Where was Addams in his career in 1973, when this was published? He was 61, and still working for The New Yorker.
How did this Addams Poe cartoon come about? I understand the joke was not Charles Addams’s idea—someone else came up with it, and he was asked to illustrate it?Nevermore was, in fact, the first idea that cartoonist Jack Ziegler sold to TheNew Yorker. At that time, The New Yorker had mostly phased out the editorial practice of having staff cartoonists illustrate caption and concept submissions by other contributors, but it still occurred sometimes. Cartoon editor James Geraghty brilliantly tasked Addams with this one. It was only later that year, when Lee Lorenz joined The New Yorker and invited Ziegler to contribute his own work, that he became a regular cartoonist.
Could we deconstruct this Addams Poe cartoon? It strikes me that it’s much more intelligible and straightforward than other cartoons from The New Yorker… I hesitate to answer this because I feel like the more you analyze a cartoon, the less funny it becomes, but I’ll take the bait. [Laughs.] Ziegler and Addams knew that Poe’s TheRaven is one of the most famous poems ever written. Its tagline is seared in everyone’s brain, and Poe’s likeness is well known. Therefore, it would have immediate recognition and wide appeal, especially to a cultured readership like The New Yorker‘s. We imagine famous authors to be confident in their work, and, in fact, Poe wrote about the creation of The Raven a year later in his essay, The Philosophy of Composition, explaining that he went about it very methodically and logically. So we can’t possibly imagine that Poe had a moment of doubt or ever considered anycreature other than the now-iconic foreboding black harbinger of his spiraling descent into madness. Marry that with Addams’s inimitable skill at depicting anxiety and torment, and there’s the core of the genius. Then you look at the hilariously unsuitable choices Addams showed the exhausted poet contemplating–a basic farmyard pig, a giant, ungainly moose, and a morbid, gormless looking turtle–and it becomes the most hysterically funny thing.
How does the Addams Poe cartoon testify to Addams’s skills as an illustrator, and his skills as an illustrator of gothic images? He was a genius with the details. I love the crumpled up piece of paper on the spare table and floor–what animal choices they contained, we can only imagine. His fingers barely grasping the quill pen from his limp arm resting on his thigh, and the totally dejected look on Poe’s face, are priceless. I also like how something as simple as his excluding the exclamation point after “nevermore” drives home the failure of its delivery. Addams also loved combining animals with gothic themes. He married his last wife, Marilyn, who was known as “Tee”, in a pet cemetery at their home and that is where their ashes are both interred, along with those of all their pets. And Addams was known to be an impeccable draftsman. His editors all remarked that he often handed in his cartoons in a perfect, finished state, with no edits needed. He nailed it nearly every time.
Is this the only instance in which Addams depicted Edgar Allan Poe in a cartoon for The New Yorker, or any cartoon? No. While this is the best known of them, he created three more iterations of The Raven titled Occasionally, Once Again, and the last, in 1983, a lengthier riff on the bird’s refrain, Carnivore, either-or, blood & gore…etc. He likely considered Poe a kindred spirit of the macabre.
I have to admit, when I saw this Addams Poe cartoon in the catalog, I stopped dead, my jaw dropped, and I think I even pointed at the screen. Was that your reaction when you first learned of its existence? I’m so glad you jumped on this, like you jumped on the Gorey cat. It’s a famous Addams piece, so my first thought, which happens with similar iconic Addams cartoon submissions, is that it may be one in a series of reproductions that were printed on watercolor paper with Epson Ultrachrome ink. If someone sends a low-resolution JPEG [of a piece of Addams cartoon art] and does not give dimensions, they can fool you on first glance. I had the same reaction when a consigner approached us with the famous Movie Scream cartoon that we sold in 2017, which brought $31,200.
What condition is the Addams Poe cartoon in, knowing it was created as a piece of functional art, and not to hang on a wall? Quite excellent, really. It was lovingly cared for, framed early on to protect it, and was never exposed to direct light, so the ink is strong. The back has some abraded paper and its The New Yorker stamp is a bit yellowed and frayed, but that adds to its charm, I think.
What is the provenance of the Addams Poe cartoon? It belonged to Dona Guimaraes, who was a New York Times Magazine home section editor, an executive editor of Mademoiselle magazine, and a friend of Addams, who bequeathed it to current owner, a close friend of hers. It has never been on the market.
What is the Addams Poe cartoon art like in person? Are there details or aspects that the camera doesn’t quite catch? The size of it is impressive– 20 inches by 13 inches, which is on the larger side of some of his work. You can also see the brush work on the board, and the care he took with the areas of shading through ink and wash. When you face a work like that in person, head on, it comes at you with even more force. I’m always encouraging people to collect original cartoons because even though the caption and image are digested at first sight, seeing the medium on the surface and picturing the illustrator creating it adds a special element that connects a person to the artwork. That experience isn’t unique to engaging with fine art.
How often do original Charles Addams cartoons for TheNew Yorker come to auction? I’d say about a dozen, on average. These generally consist of cartoons, doodled autographs, and covers for The New Yorker.
Does original Charles Addams cartoon art done for The New Yorker carry a premium? Yes, absolutely.
Could you quantify it? I’d say 50 percent or more. To be specific about it, cartoons for other publications that contain characters that resemble the Addams family tend to bring more. Cartoons that don’t contain them don’t bring as much.
How did you arrive at the estimate for this Addams Poe cartoon? What did you look to as comparables? I looked at the results for other large-scale cartoons for The New Yorker that were also among his most recognizable. I also considered the condition, the provenance, and the fact that it had never come up before. I am generally conservative in my estimates, believing that the auction process will allow works to find their level. I like to attract, not prohibit participation. I’d love to see this reach the level of Movie Scream, though I doubt it may reach the record price set by Sad Movie, a 1946 cartoon for The New Yorker that sold for $40,630 in 2012.
Why will this Addams Poe cartoon stick in your memory? Because it’s a perfect example of Addams’s genius. I had taken a bunch of close-up images of it for a condition report on it for a client. I was at my computer screen, looking at an enlarged, high resolution image of the pig’s face for about the 200th time, with the classic Addams deadpan dot eyes, and I started trembling with laughter, for the 200th time. And because books are fundamental to Swann’s founding and history, an Addams cartoon with a literary theme just gets me where I live.