A George Hunzinger Chair Could Fetch $1,500 (Updated June 4, 2020)

A remarkable chair fashioned by German-American furniture maker George Hunzinger in 1869. It could sell for $1,500.

Update: The George Hunzinger chair sold for $1,750.

What you see: A George Hunzinger chair made from beech wood and dating to 1869. Wright estimates it at $1,000 to $1,500.

The expert: Megan Whippen, senior specialist at Wright.

Who was George Hunzinger? He was born in Germany and came from a family of cabinetmakers. When he came to the U.S., he mostly lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He was a pretty unconventional designer with a unique aesthetic that he paired with technical innovations made possible in the 19th century.

Do we know how old he was when he came over from Germany? He was about 20 years old.

And I take it his family taught him how to make furniture? It’s assumed. There’s not a lot of information, to be honest, but it was a family craft.

Do most or all of Hunzinger’s furnishings look like this chair, or did his style evolve from something more traditional to what we see here? All his hallmark designs were made in the U.S.

And he would have worked in New York City? He was in Brooklyn in the 1860s and moved to Manhattan. It was a pivotal move. His business was taking off, and it definitely accelerated after the move. He had as many as 50 people working for him at the apex of his career.

How prolific was George Hunzinger? Has anyone attempted a count of his works? Unfortunately, that information is lost. What’s distinct about Hunzinger’s work is he applied for patents–he had 21 patents on his designs. It’s rare for a 19th century furniture maker to have 21 patents to his name, and to have an unusual and eclectic style that sets him apart.

Did Hunzinger have a patent on this chair that you’re offering? There’s an actual patent for the 1869 chair. He made very small changes, but it’s almost exactly [like] the patent in its details.

George Hunzinger explored and embraced new techniques that his 19th century contemporaries ignored, leading him to create striking pieces such as this chair.

What does the patent application or patent paperwork tell us about this George Hunzinger chair? It doesn’t really tell us about the chair, it’s more that he went ahead and got the patent. That set him apart from his contemporaries. The chair has a mark on it that notes the patent. Marking the chair with that information shows it’s something [he’s] proud of.

Does George Hunzinger’s work change over the course of his career? Are there clear phases? Not really. This [the style that we see in this chair] was an aesthetic that carried through his career. To my eye, what defines the differences in the pieces is his clear experimentation with technique and certain structural elements within the chair itself. It set his chairs very far apart from what was being done by his contemporaries.

Was George Hunzinger’s furniture appreciated in his time, or only later on? It’s hard to say. The documentation we can see shows that he had a successful business.

Was this George Hunzinger chair a one-off? There’s no question some chairs were made in multiples, and he made distinct chairs as well. There have been other forms of this chair at auction previously.

The lot information for the George Hunzinger chair describes it simply as a “chair”. Where would it have gone within a house? I’m guessing this wasn’t meant to be placed at a dining room table… There’s not a lot of information to that end. Though it’s radical in its stylistic sensibility, it was functional furniture. But I don’t think it was a chair for everyday [use].

German-American furniture maker George Hunzinger took out 21 patents on his works, including this chair design.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult this George Hunzinger chair was to make? When you look at the form itself, you see really intricate construction details in it. I would think it’s a very hard piece to produce. A lot of hallmarks of his innovative designs are included, such as the diagonal legs and the rounded crest rail at the top.

Much of the George Hunzinger chair’s frame looks like metal piping translated into wood. Yes, a lot of that is that steel element and joinery to make the concept a reality.

Steel element? He would introduce steel wiring in his furniture’s construction, and allow things that traditional joinery would not have. The overall construction and aesthetic was made possible by innovations he experimented with. He was doing things none of his contemporaries tried.

What is the George Hunzinger chair like in person? Unfortunately, because of [COVID-19-related] travel restrictions, I haven’t seen this chair firsthand. I can say the camera captures the delicacy of the form. Its most captivating feature is the intricacy of the design. There’s so much detail in the frame of the chair and all the elements of the chair. Not one part hasn’t been fully thought through.

I realize you haven’t had the chance to sit in this George Hunzinger chair, but have you sat in others made by him? I’ve never had the opportunity to sit in one. I’ve witnessed them and looked at them, but never had the opportunity to sit.

How often do George Hunzinger pieces show up at auction? Once a year? Or sometimes more than that. They appear pretty regularly on the auction market in varying degrees of originality and what’s been done to them.

I take it that the upholstery on the George Hunzinger chair is not the original upholstery, yes? Not in any way. It’s later upholstery, but it’s pretty common not to have the original upholstery. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum have George Hunzinger furnishings with original upholstery. It’s as intricate and rich as the detailing of the frame.

The George Hunzinger chair is part of a sale drawn from the collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy, who were noted for their mid-century material. How does this piece fit their aesthetic? What’s really interesting about this chair is how atypical it is in the collection, but that’s what makes the collection so special. Mark Isaacson liked to include works across disciplines. He had an extraordinary eye.

How have you seen the market for George Hunzinger furniture change over time? During my career, the market for American aesthetic furniture was highly collectible in the 80s and 90s. Now we’re seeing more at auction.

Why do you think that is? I think people are looking at the material differently than they did 10 years ago. A lot of scholarly work has been done recently, and they appreciate its modernity. It’s outside of our concept of Victorian furniture.

Do we know what the world auction record is for a piece of George Hunzinger furniture? I’ve seen individual chairs go for $10,000.

Why will this George Hunzinger chair stick in your memory? For me, this chair is about Mark Isaacson and his vision as a collector. As a young specialist in the field, I went back to the Fifty/50 collection [the gallery Isaacson founded in New York in 1981]. It defined what collecting 20th century arts was at the time. There are some true masterworks in the collection, and we get to celebrate its full story.

How to bid: The George Hunzinger chair is lot 256 in The Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy Collection auction taking place at Wright on June 4, 2020.

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An Annie Oakley Gun Could Command $400,000 (Updated May 28, 2020)

A closeup on the gold-plated frame of the Annie Oakley gun, clearly showing the name of its recipient. The Stevens company apparently gave her this early model 44 in 1893.

Update: The Annie Oakley gun sold for $528,900.

What you see: A Stevens model 44 .25-20 single shot rifle, given to Annie Oakley. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $400,000.

The expert: Michael Salisbury, firearms expert at Morphy Auctions.

Who was Annie Oakley? In the 1880s, exhibition shooting was extremely popular, like football or baseball is today. A well-known traveling exhibition shooter, Frank Butler, came to a Cincinnati hotel owned by Jack Frost. Him coming to town was a great event. At the time, Annie Oakley was known as Phoebe Ann Moses. She was providing game meat to the restaurants at Frost’s hotel, and everybody knew she was an incredible shot. Frost arranged a shooting event. Moses beat Butler by one shot, and a romance began. She married Butler in 1882.

How did Phoebe Ann Moses become a star? In 1885, Butler was looking for his big break. When one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s exhibition shooters fell ill, Butler and Moses applied for the slot. The focus became Annie Oakley because she was a beautiful lady and an incredible shot.

When did she take the name Annie Oakley? Soon after joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1885. The reason is unknown, other than it was popular for performers to have stage names. Perhaps Cody recommended she do so. There is much conjecture on the subject [of how she chose her stage name]. Her sisters, growing up, would call her “Annie”. The name “Oakley” is believed to have come from a town near where she grew up.

No one alive today saw Annie Oakley perform in person, yet we’re still talking about her, almost a century after her death. Why? Why is her legacy so strong? The most important thing is exhibition shooting was a man’s sport. It was a big event, her being a lady and outshooting men. She was kind of ahead of her time. She really promoted hunting and shooting to young ladies. She made incredible shots with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She was one of the stars. Hers is an interesting story that stuck with people.

Why was Annie Oakley so exceptionally skilled with firearms? What made her a standout? Obviously, she had incredible hand-eye coordination. In her autobiography, she said she had an inherent love of firearms and hunting. It was unusual for a lady, but it developed out of necessity. She was seven when her father died. In the book, she says, “I remember how I struggled to master the family’s 40-inch cap and ball Kentucky rifle, which I finally did much to my pride, I was eight years old at the time.”

That rifle was 40 inches long? Sounds like it was almost as long as her own body when she learned how to use it. Here was this little girl, taking the rifle off the wall and into the woods to shoot game to feed her mother and sister. I think her coordination, her ability, and her willpower contributed to her being an incredible markswoman.

Annie Oakley and her husband would have just moved into a custom-made home in Nutley, New Jersey when this gun was made. The Stevens company marked the occasion by giving her this single-shot rifle.

The lot notes don’t give a date for the Annie Oakley gun. Do we know when it was made? Stevens was developing the model 44 rifle in 1893, and Annie and Frank Butler moved into their first home together in Nutley, New Jersey in 1893. Those dates coincide. My theory is Stevens gave the gun to Annie Oakley as a Christmas gift or a housewarming present. That would explain the “Nutley, N.J.” inscription on the left side of the gun’s frame. The Stevens records are not complete for that period.

Where was Annie Oakley in her career in 1893? She was at the height of her career. She had toured Europe eight times with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and done hundreds of shows in America. She gave performances for royalty and the elite. There’s a story that Kaiser Wilhelm II [of Germany] challenged her to shoot the ashes off his cigarette. She took the challenge. There are all kinds of different accounts–some say he had the cigarette in his hand, some say it was in his mouth–but she shot the ashes off his cigarette. When World War I began, she’s noted as having written Kaiser Wilhelm II a letter saying she wanted another shot. [Laughs] She was a daring woman who had a sense of humor.

How did this Annie Oakley gun come to be? Let me tell you a story. Every firearms manufacturer in the U.S. gave Annie Oakley firearms. It was no different than Nike sending Michael Jordan shoes he could wear. She was a rock star. Everybody wanted to go to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. It was a huge event. And I don’t know if it was her intellect or her desire to shoot different weapons, but Annie Oakley never settled on one type of gun. She used a wide variety of firearms. She’d hear about, for example, a new type of Winchester rifle, and would write to the manufacturer saying she’d like to have one, and of course they’d send her one.

It sounds like Annie Oakley was the 19th century version of an influencer. The Stevens company was developing this gun, the model 44, and gave it to Annie Oakley. It was one of their very first ones. Later on, the model 44 became Stevens’s most famous and best-selling firearm.

The Annie Oakley gun, shown in full.

So this gun has inherent value, even without the Annie Oakley provenance? Yes. It’s a very desirable weapon. If you find an early Stevens model 44, embellished, in near mint condition, it’d be worth $15,000 to $20,000. The connection with Annie Oakley increases that tenfold or more.

This Annie Oakley gun is a single-shot rifle. Why is that important? Stevens’s claim to fame as a manufacturer was very accurate single-shot rifles and pistols. That’s what they did, and they would have wanted to promote that.

Did Annie Oakley use this gun during a performance? I do believe, in my heart, it was special to Annie because it commemorates her and Frank’s first home together. I think it was hung on the wall and never used, but all this is speculation on my part.

The Annie Oakley gun is described as being in “near mint overall” condition. What does that mean when we’re talking about vintage firearms? Typically, what it means is it has 97 to 98 percent of its original finish. In this case, it means the bluing on the barrel and the gold on the frame has no more than two to three percent loss on any part of the gun. This gun has that.

An even closer close-up of the engraving on the Annie Oakley gun.

What has to happen for a vintage firearm to survive in such good condition? This gun was well-cared for. They knew how to handle a firearm, and they kept it dry and clean and never used it.

The Annie Oakley gun has never been fired? Not even by her? Not even by her.

Really? Never fired? I’m sure it was test-fired at the Stevens factory. It’s impossible for me to say Annie Oakley never shot this gun. I don’t have any doubt that she took it to her backyard and shot an apple off the head of her dog, Dave. But there’s no record of it. There’s no photos or illustrations of her shooting it.

So I take it you haven’t fired this Annie Oakley gun either. Certainly not!

The Stevens company of Chicopee, Massachusetts, gave this early model 44 to Annie Oakley. The model 44 went on to become one of its best sellers.

Does the Annie Oakley gun function? Can it fire? Absolutely. You can take this gun out and fire it today.

How can you be sure that the Annie Oakley gun works if you or someone else at Morphy Auctions hasn’t fired it? You operate the action. You pull the trigger, and it fires the firing pin.

Why do collectors require vintage firearms to work when no one in their right minds will ever load and shoot them? For the same reason you wouldn’t want to buy a half-million dollar Ferrari with an engine that doesn’t run. Same thing.

A detail shot of the wood stock on the Annie Oakley gun, which could command $400,000.

What is the Annie Oakley gun like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t capture? Yes. On most engraved guns, the engraving isn’t that deep. This is very deeply engraved and has an almost 3-D look to it. The finishes are so vivid, and the wood is incredibly well-figured–beautiful, beautiful wood. It’s very rare to find a gun of this age in near mint condition. It’s a work of art, and the canvas here is wood and steel.

How many guns with firm Annie Oakley provenances are out there? There are three or four guns I’m aware of, by L.C. Smith, Parker, and Marlin. Most of these guns are in museums. This is one of the few with an Annie Oakley provenance that’s in private hands.

As we’re speaking on May 22, 2020, the Annie Oakley gun has been bid up to $100,000. Is that at all meaningful at this stage? Yeah, it’s a good indicator that there’s interest there, and there’s going to be some robust bidding on the gun.

What’s the world auction record for an Annie Oakley gun? It was a Marlin Model 1897 sold through Rock Island Auction Company in December 2019 for $575,000.

Do you think this Annie Oakley gun has a chance of meeting or beating the record? Yes, for a couple of reasons. One, our gun has higher condition. [The Rock Island Auction Company’s lot notes described the Marlin as “exceptionally fine” and retaining 70 percent of its original gold plating.] Two, our gun is factory-inscribed to Annie Oakley. And three, I think Nutley New Jersey, Annie and Frank’s first address, is important.

Why will this Annie Oakley gun stick in your memory? I’ve had a connection with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show my whole life, and I’ve had an interest in Annie Oakley and the performers in the show. Buffalo Bill’s partner in the show was Nate Salisbury, a relative of mine. Nate had a deluxe engraved Winchester rifle. I have that gun in my collection. He and Annie Oakley were friends. It’s been a privilege to research the gun and be connected with the gun.

How to bid: The Annie Oakley gun is lot 1369 in the Extraordinary, Sporting, & Collector Firearms sale at Morphy Auctions on May 28 and 29, 2020.


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Admiral Yamamoto’s Rank Flag, Which Flew Above Him When He Gave the Command to Attack Pearl Harbor, Could Fetch $10,000 (Updated June 9, 2020)

Admiral Yamamoto's rank flag, which flew above his head as he gave the fateful order to attack Pearl Harbor. Bids will open at $10,000 and it's likely to sell for much more and set new world auction records.

Update: The Admiral Yamamoto rank flag sold for $40,000.

What you see: Admiral Yamamoto’s rank flag, flown on the Japanese naval vessel, the Nagato. Heritage Auctions does not generally give ranged estimates, but is opening bidding for the flag at $10,000.

The expert: James Ferrigan, consulting vexillologist [flag expert] for Heritage Auctions.

Who was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and what role did he play in World War II? Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese admiral of the Imperial Japanese navy and the Commander in Chief (CIC) of the Combined Fleet during World War II. He was responsible for much of the IJN’s pre-war modernization, especially in the area of naval aviation. He planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though he personally opposed war with the United States due to his years at Harvard University and his service as naval attaché in Washington. He remained the commander of the Combined Fleet until his death in 1943.

What is a rank flag, and how were rank flags used during WWII? A rank flag signifies the rank of a military officer, ashore or afloat. During WWII rank flags were used as they have been since the age of sail–to indicate the physical presence of the officer in command. Rank flags are still used today in the same way. 

Do rank flags mark a vessel as a flagship? If so, did this rank flag serve that purpose when it flew on the Nagato? Yes, when a vessel wears a rank flag, that makes it, by definition, a flagship. And, yes, that was this flag’s purpose on the Nagato.

Did a vessel typically have a single rank flag, or would it have or need more than one? A capital ship [a significant vessel in a naval fleet] would have a complete suite of flags for all the flag officers who might hoist “his flag” on the flagship. There would likely be large and small flags for both routine and ceremonial use. 

Do we know how many rank flags the Nagato had? I know of six: two for rear admirals, two for vice admirals, and two for full admirals. I would guess there were more. Admirals are like peacocks–they like to show off.

I understand this flag was flown on the Nagato. Why is the Nagato important? What role did the vessel play in WWII? The Japanese battleship Nagato was the lead ship of her class. She was sleek, with rakish lines, powerful engines, and eight 16-inch guns mounted in four turrets. The Nagato spent much of her service as a flagship for the Imperial Japanese navy and, for that reason, did not engage in ship-to-ship combat. She was the only Japanese battleship to survive the war. 

How did the Nagato manage to escape and survive the war? It’s not so much a question of escape, but how she was being used. The Nagato was modestly damaged on a sortie, and the Japanese realized they didn’t have the fuel to keep her operating. They turned the Nagato into a coastal defense ship. When U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz made it his goal to take out the last Japanese capital ships, the Nagato was damaged, but she did not sink. She could have had sorties, and one was proposed for August 1945, before the Japanese emperor surrendered. Then nuclear weapons were dropped, ending the war. That’s how she survived.

Japanese characters on the flag translate to "Big Six", which likely references its size and importance. It's unusually large for an Imperial Japanese navy rank flag, which points to it having been assigned to Admiral Yamamoto.

This Admiral Yamamoto rank flag measures 99 inches by 152 inches, and the lot notes indicate that it’s bigger than similar Japanese rank flags. Do we know why this flag is bigger? Is it fair to assume it’s deliberately bigger than other Japanese rank flags? And how might the term “Big Six,” which appears on the flag in Japanese characters, relate to its larger-than-average size? It is likely that Yamamoto’s flag was the largest because a full admiral was the highest ranking officer in the Imperial Japanese navy, as in all navies. It’s fair to assume this is why it was larger. The term “Big Six” was likely a field expedient nickname created by the signalmen on the Nagato, as in, “The admiral’s coming aboard, hoist the Big Six.”

The lot notes say the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag “was likely shipboard made”. Does that mean that it was stitched by Japanese sailors aboard the Nagato? Flags made at a navy yard were often all machine-sewn. This flag had hand stitching that was very likely done by sailors aboard the Nagato, so it “was likely shipboard made.”

The Admiral Yamamoto rank flag has eight unequal rays projecting from the red sun at the center. Does the number or the position of the rays have any particular meaning? The number of rays differentiates the rank flag from the Japanese national ensign, which has 16 rays. 

Wait, I thought an ensign was the same thing as a flag. How are they different? “Flag” is a generic term. An ensign is a flag of national character flown at sea.

The lot notes say the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag “likely represented Admiral Yamamoto in 1941-1942”. What evidence supports this idea? Deductive reasoning. This is a rank flag for a full admiral, and Yamamoto was the only full admiral to use the Nagato as his flagship. 

Where, exactly, on the Nagato would the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag have been flown? It was a universal custom among both Allied and Axis navies during WWII to indicate the status of a commissioned warship with a pennant worn at the maintop [a platform on the ship’s mainmast] or other conspicuous hoist [position on the ship]. Whenever a warship was designated as a flagship, the flag-officer’s rank flag replaced that pennant. 

Was this Admiral Yamamoto rank flag flying on the Nagato during the attack on Pearl Harbor? Did the vessel take part in the attack? Yes, it is thought that this was the flag used by Yamamoto while serving as CIC aboard the Nagato during the Pearl Harbor attack. It was on Nagato‘s flag bridge that he issued the now infamous command, “Niitaka yama nobore” (Climb Mount Niitaka), a coded signal to proceed with the Pearl Harbor attack.

The reverse side of Admiral Yamamoto's rank flag. It might look surprisingly unscathed for a flag that flew in battle, but expert James Ferrigan says such flags rarely take direct fire.

How do we know this was Admiral Yamamoto’s rank flag? It was not his in a personal property sense, but rather his by use. He was the only full admiral to use the Nagato as a flagship, therefore the flag became “his.”

How often do Japanese rank flags of any type come to market? Japanese naval rank flags occasionally come to market, generally without provenance. Since all but one of the Japanese battleships were sunk during WWII, documented rank flags from those ships are exceedingly rare. Rank flags are far less common than ensigns or national flags. 

Does this auction mark the first time this Admiral Yamamoto rank flag has come up for sale? Yes, this flag is fresh to the market, having been in private hands since 1945.

How, exactly, did the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag leave the Nagato?This flag was acquired a trophy of war on August 30, 1945, taken by a member of a prize crew: Prince “Ted” Duncan, a 37-year-old chief boatswain’s mate and the Iowa’s master-at-arms. He left the Nagato with this huge Admiral’s rank flag of the Imperial Japanese navy, a piece of halyard, and 20 small Japanese silk stick flags and ensigns. 

The lot notes say the rank flag was “hauled down” on August 30, 1945, but Admiral Yamamoto died in April of 1943. Why was the flag still able to function as a rank flag after the admiral’s death? It’s unclear why the Nagato may have been wearing a full admiral’s flag. A review of the Nagato’s WWII service record reveals that she served as a flagship for a full admiral only from December 7, 1941 until February 12, 1942–for Admiral Yamamoto. At all other times, she was the flagship of either a vice admiral or a rear admiral. Perhaps the Nagato wore this flag one last time in homage to Yamamoto, or the term “hauled down” was a sailor’s tale. Either way, this was the only Admiral’s flag taken as a trophy on August 30, 1945.

What is the provenance of this rank flag? How did it go from the Nagato to this auction? And how did it manage to survive in this condition for the better part of a century? It went from the Nagato to Prince “Ted” Duncan as a trophy of war on August 30, 1945. It stayed with him until the 1960s, when he gave it to Richard Brundo, a former mayor of Culver City, California. Brundo died in 2016. A descendant consigned the flag.

What is the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag like in person? Are there aspects or details that the camera doesn’t capture? For example, what is it like to touch the fabric? Is it substantial? The flag is a good quality wool bunting. It has a soft hand–it is not a roughly woven fabric. The stitching is well executed and substantial. 

What condition is the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag in? And what role does condition play when we’re talking about WWII-era Japanese rank flags–are they so rare that collectors have to be more forgiving of stains and rips and other injuries? Admiral Yamamoto’s rank flag from the Nagato is in good condition–used, worn, and soiled, but otherwise intact. That would be expected in that there is a certain prestige in being a flagship, let alone that of the Combined Fleet. The signalmen would have taken care of such a rank flag. 

With game-worn sports uniforms, collectors want to see enough wear to show that the garments were used in a real game, but not so much that they look as if they were dragged under a bus. Is that the case with battle-flown flag collectors? They want to see some wear, but not too much? Condition is everything. Most damage to flags occurs from use, the weather, or the environment. We rarely see documentable damage from ship-to-ship combat. Rank flags are in good condition, probably for that reason–they were probably not exposed to direct enemy fire. We don’t expect to see that kind of damage. Looking at this flag, you can see it was used. You can tell by the nap of the wool if it was exposed to the elements. This one was. The spotting on the fly edges [the edge opposite the edge that attaches to the flagpole] is not egregious and gives the flag a little character. It doesn’t detract from its appearance.

The period photos shown here appear to document the United States Navy Prize Crew's boarding of the Nagato on August 30, 1945. A member of the crew obtained Admiral Yamamoto's rank flag during that operation.

Among the photos sent over by Heritage Auctions is a quartet of period black-and-white images showing a ship and its crew from various angles. Could you explain what I see here? Those appear to be images of the Nagato taken on August 30, 1945 by the United States Navy’s Prize Crew. They are views of different aspects of the Nagato at anchor in Tokyo Bay. One depicts the prize crew with the Nagato’s ensign, which was conveyed to the US Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, MD. 

Were any other Japanese flags recovered from the Nagato? Have any of those flags gone to auction? How have they performed? The entire contents of the Nagato’s flag locker [the space on the vessel dedicated to flag storage] was captured intact, so there are at least 13 known Nagato flags, and probably more. Some of the other Nagato trophy flags have come to auction. A Nagato ensign sold at Mark Lawson Antiques in 2013 for a hammer price [the price without buyer’s premium and related fees] of $18,000. Bonhams sold a Nagato flag in 2018 for $13,750. Heritage handled at least one other ensign from the Nagato on December 14, 2019 for $47,500. That was the highest known price paid for a Nagato flag.

What is the world auction record for a World War II-era rank flag? What are the odds that the Admiral Yamamoto rank flag will meet or exceed it? The highest price of which I am aware is $6,000. I have no crystal ball, but I would expect this flag to meet and exceed this. It’s got the Nagato cachet, but it’s even rarer. It was only displayed in the presence of a full admiral, and the only full admiral present was Yamamoto.

Why will this rank flag stick in your memory? It has the triple crown of historic importance. It’s from a distinguished individual, Admiral Yamamoto. It’s from a distinguished vessel, the Nagato. And it’s associated with a historic event, the attack on Pearl Harbor. For me, personally, as a flag scholar, I’d love to see it go to a museum.






How to bid: Admiral Yamamoto’s rank flag is lot 43037 in the Historic Flags of WWII and Other Historic Flags sale taking place at Heritage Auctions on June 6, 2020.


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The Kurt Cobain Guitar from MTV Unplugged’s 1993 Nirvana Episode Could Command $1 Million and Several World Auction Records (Updated June 20, 2020: WHOA!)

Shown in full here is the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar that Kurt Cobain played during a legendary episode of MTV Unplugged. The vintage instrument could sell for $1 million.

Update: WHOA! The 1959 Martin D-18E guitar that Kurt Cobain played on the 1993 MTV Unplugged episode featuring Nirvana commanded just over $6 million–$6,010,000, to be exact. It did indeed set several world auction records, including most expensive guitar at auction; most expensive Martin guitar; and most expensive item of Nirvana memorabilia.

What you see: A 1959 Martin D-18E guitar, played by Kurt Cobain for Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged episode. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $1 million.

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

Who was Kurt Cobain, and why does his music still resonate today? Kurt Cobain was the lead singer, guitar player, and writer for the band Nirvana, which had a short lifespan. Cobain died tragically in April 1994, but the peak of his fame was 1991 through 1994. Grunge music and grunge clothing represents an era of music, an attitude, Gen X–so many things are wrapped up in it. Nirvana has music and lyrics that have meaning to us all right now.

Another angle on the vintage Martin guitar Kurt Cobain played during the 1993 MTV Unplugged performance by Nirvana.

I get the sense that there’s not a lot of Kurt Cobain material out there to be had. Is that right? That’s absolutely true. There’s a very limited amount of stuff out there. Kurt Cobain was a minimalist guy in a minimalist era. The majority of the stuff is still with the family. We sold a Fender guitar of his last year for $340,000. And the green cardigan [he wore during the MTV Unplugged episode] we sold for $334,000. I think Kurt Cobain would be laughing and crying at the same time [over the result]. He bought it for a few bucks in a thrift shop, and it has cigarette burns and stains. And he wrote great songs, but he was also an artist from a very young age. When his drawings come to market, they can get $7,000, $8,000, $9,000.

I guess Kurt Cobain is kind of like John Lennon, in a way. Exactly. There’s a lot of crossover between Kurt Cobain and John Lennon. The Beatles transformed music and our attitude to music in the 1960s. Nirvana did it again in the 1990s.

The front of the headstock of the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar cherished by Kurt Cobain. He chose it to perform the entire 14-song setlist for the MTV Unplugged Nirvana episode.

Do we know when and how Kurt Cobain acquired this 1959 Martin D-18E guitar? Kurt Cobain played many guitars and broke many guitars on stage. It was part of his show, and part of his schtick. He bought this in the early 1990s at Voltage Guitars, a store in Los Angeles. Martin made 302 of those D-18E guitars. They’re rare and highly collectible. This guitar is number seven in the production run.

What might have moved Kurt Cobain to purchase this vintage guitar? He bought it for a couple of reasons. Kurt Cobain was a left-handed guitar player, and it’s easy to adapt a Martin guitar for left-handers. He also added a Bertolini pickup. That made it an electric guitar–it was still acoustic, but it was modified for electricity. [Since this story went live on May 18, 2020, Lloyd Chiate, owner of Voltage Guitars, offered a correction: The Martin D-18E is, in fact, an electric guitar. While we can no longer ask Cobain why he added the Bertolini pickup, he may have done so to improve the guitar’s tone and its performance during recording sessions.]

A close-up on the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar that shows the Bertolini pickup Kurt Cobain added to it (it's visible inside the sound hole).
If you look inside the sound hole, you can see the Bertolini pickup that Kurt Cobain added to the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar.

MTV Unplugged was a well-regarded, even prestigious musical showcase before taping the Nirvana episode, but that 1993 show is great enough to demand its own category. Why? What makes it such a magnificent performance? Kurt Cobain ruled the roost with that production. He designed the stage, the candlelight, the chandelier–all his decision. There were 14 songs, including six covers from the Vaselines, David Bowie, Lead Belly, and the Meat Puppets. He had members of the Meat Puppets on stage during the performance. It was shot in one take, which is the first time that had happened for MTV Unplugged. Everything Kurt could give, every single ounce, he laid it out in that performance. Five months later, he was gone.

A detail shot of the vintage 1959 Martin belonging to Kurt Cobain that shows the body of the guitar.

Do you think, maybe, Kurt Cobain approached the look and feel of the MTV Unplugged performance and made those choices knowing he might not be around much longer? For me, it’s hard to say, but with hindsight, the candles, the lilies–it was almost a funeral parlor type of setting. He certainly seized the moment to deliver an unforgettable performance for us all. He poured it out there, and the Martin guitar was the canvas that he used. Kurt is gone, but the guitar remains of this historic event.

Did Kurt Cobain use this Martin guitar exclusively for all 14 songs in the MTV Unplugged set list, or did he switch it out for another instrument for some songs? I believe this was the only guitar Kurt used during MTV Unplugged.

A detail shot of the vintage Martin owned by Kurt Cobain, showing three knobs on its right side.

This one is a weird one for me because Nirvana is part of my life. I remember where I was when I got the news of Kurt Cobain’s death, and I connected with his outlook on things… He didn’t want to be famous. He didn’t love fame at all, or music executives, or studios. [In the MTV Unplugged episode] he looked to elevate less well-known bands. The 14 songs included Lead Belly. He had the Meat Puppets. He could have had more famous artists, but he said no, we want the Meat Puppets.

The Kurt Cobain guitar comes with the hard case that he stored it in. How unusual is it to have a guitar from a name musician that retains its carrying case? I wouldn’t say it’s very rare. It’s fairly common. If it’s a special guitar, I’d say a hard-shell case is attached to it. What’s really interesting is it’s not a custom guitar built for Kurt Cobain. It’s not a highly decorated guitar. It was made by the Martin Guitar Company in 1959. He got it in the early 1990s and he played it a lot and played it in important venues. It clearly was something special.

The vintage Martin guitar owned by the late Kurt Cobain, shown in full, with its hard case, and items found inside the case.

Yeah, I think it’s worth pointing out that the Kurt Cobain guitar is not covered in mother-of-pearl or silver or other flashy decorations. It’s a tool to do a job. He definitely had an affinity with the guitar and a sense of reverence for it. It’s a musical instrument built to deliver sound–that’s what it was used for. It doesn’t seem right to have it tricked up with all the bells and whistles. It’s a beautiful guitar with nothing ostentatious about it.

Can you talk about how Kurt Cobain decorated the guitar case, and talk about the things of his that come with the case? On the case, there’s a flyer from Poison Idea, stuck on with silver masking tape. It’s like a postcard of the 1990 album cover for Feel the Darkness. Poison Idea was a huge inspiration for Kurt and Nirvana. There’s an Alaska Airlines sticker, luggage tags on the handle, and also half a pack of guitar strings. And there’s a suede pouch, like a stash pouch, a recreational drug pouch, I’d describe it as. It has a miniature knife, fork, and spoon.

A closeup on a Poison Idea flyer that Kurt Cobain duct-taped to the neck of his guitar case. It touts the punk band's 1990 album Feel the Darkness.

Yeah, what’s the deal with the little set of utensils? Do we know why it’s there, and how Kurt Cobain might have used it? I have no idea, but I think it was a souvenir. You can wear it [the utensils] on a lapel, but you can attach them to the pouch. The spoon is pinned to the outside of the pouch.

The Kurt Cobain guitar comes with its case and an assortment of items found with the case, including luggage tags, spare strings, guitar picks, and a set of miniature utensils.

How do we know that this 1959 Martin D18-E guitar is the same one Kurt Cobain played in the MTV Unplugged episode? It’s so well-documented. It’s so identifiable, with the video performance. The markings on the guitar match perfectly. There’s no question this is the guitar.

You mean the scratches on the guitar match those on the guitar Kurt Cobain plays in the MTV Unplugged show? Exactly. It’s easy to match up.

Scratch marks on the body of the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar match marks on the guitar Kurt Cobain was filmed playing during the MTV Unplugged episode.

Julien’s estimates the Kurt Cobain guitar at $1 million. That’s a serious number. Not many stage-played guitars get seven-figure estimates. What informed the number? Dave Gilmour’s 1969 Martin D-35 sold one year ago for $1 million, the highest price paid for a Martin guitar. Before that, Eric Clapton’s 1939 Martin OO0-42 sold for $791,500. We’ve estimated this 1959 Martin D-18E guitar at around $1 million, and I think we could set a new record for a Martin guitar, and possibly could set a world auction record for a guitar.

The world auction record for any guitar belongs to another David Gilmour guitar sold last year at Christie’s, a 1969 black Fender Stratocaster that commanded $3.975 million. You think the Kurt Cobain guitar has a shot at taking the title? This definitely has the potential, given the interest in it, and the sophisticated buyers interested in it.

What sort of reaction are you getting for the Kurt Cobain guitar? Bigger than usual, even for a top-of-the-line item? There’s been an unbelievable outpouring. It’s up there with when we sold the John Lennon guitar that had been lost for years, and up there with the Marilyn Monroe dress. I’ve done so many interviews!

A shot of the vintage Martin Kurt Cobain owned, alongside its hard shell case.

What condition is the Kurt Cobain guitar in? The case is beat up, but the guitar is in great condition.

Did the person who consigned the Kurt Cobain green cardigan consign the guitar? No, they’re not the same person.

The Kurt Cobain-owned vintage Martin guitar, shown in full inside its case.

Do we know what happened to the Kurt Cobain guitar after he died in 1994? How did it go from the estate to the current consigner? I have to be careful here because I’m under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). The guitar stayed in the family for many years. It comes to the market from a consigner who remains anonymous. It comes free and clear, no issues, absolutely none.

What is the Kurt Cobain guitar like in person? It’s a good, sturdy guitar. A big guitar, but not tremendously heavy. Given its age and history, it’s in very good condition. It’s been played, but it’s been cared for as well.

Have you played the Kurt Cobain guitar? No. I loosened the strings to take it on the plane [to personally escort it to London, where it’s on display until May 31, 2020 at the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus]. The cabin pressure on the plane could tighten them up, and they could snap. We think the strings on it are from when Kurt last played it. Nothing has been done to the guitar since then. We want the new owner to get the guitar from Kurt, as the last person who played it.

Does this June 2020 sale represent the first time the Kurt Cobain guitar has come to auction? It’s the first time it’s been to auction. We felt that $1 million was the appropriate estimate for this particular guitar because of its importance. Based on the pre-auction interest, it still feels like a conservative estimate.

A detail shot of the Kurt Cobain guitar, focusing on the back of the headstock.

Did the sale price of the Kurt Cobain green cardigan factor in to the $1 million estimate for the guitar? It certainly did. Not to take away from the sweater, but if you have the chance, would you want a grungy sweater with cigarette burns, or would you want a guitar from the same performance that you can use and play? Also, when the sweater sold for $300,000, you have to think [the guitar] should sell for at least three times that, if not ten times that.

You’ve handled a lot of amazing guitars in your time at Julien’s. I mean, a lot a lot. Why will this one stick in your memory? It’s amazing just because I have a great personal appreciation of Kurt Cobain, and a sadness for how he’s no longer with us, and how he passed away. He was a creative genius, and became a star against his own wishes. To be entrusted with this guitar, and to be part of its story in a small way, is a massive privilege.

How to bid: The MTV Unplugged Kurt Cobain guitar is lot 742 in the Music Icons sale taking place at Julien’s on June 19 and June 20, 2020.

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

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Images are courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

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

The 1993 Nirvana episode of MTV Unplugged isn’t online as a whole, but as of May 2020, you can watch individual songs from the legendary show on Nirvana’s YouTube channel. The band is offering access to encourage donations to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

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A Golf-Themed Cocktail Set from 1926 Could Fetch $7,500

A silver-plated golf-themed cocktail set, created circa 1926 and regarded as the first figurative cocktail set. It is not complete, however. The full set consists of a shaker, six cups, and a tray.

What you see: A silver-plated golf-themed cocktail set, consisting of a shaker and six cups and dating to 1926. Sotheby’s estimates it at $5,500 to $7,500.

The expert: Alan Bedwell, founder of Foundwell, a vintage accessories gallery.

I’d like to start by talking about the relationship between Prohibition and cocktails–specifically, how the former shaped the latter. People drank cocktails before Prohibition. You can see shaker designs that date to Victorian times. I think what revolutionized it was people began to travel to more exotic, far-off places, like Brazil and Singapore, and when they came back, they wanted to drink caipirinhas and Singapore slings here. There was a wonderful scene in the 1920s and 1930s, coming out of the gloom of World War I. People were into having fun. Cocktails became more iconic in that period for those reasons. Prohibition was a time where people were maybe having too much fun. [Laughs]

As you just said, cocktail shakers go back to Victorian times. Prohibition became law in 1920. Why did it take until 1925 for the first figurative cocktail shaker design to come along? And why did it take golf as its theme? I’d say it was more the influence of golf on design, really, than thinking “Oh, I’m going to design this”. Golf was an elitist sport at that point and few people played it. What it [this golf-themed cocktail set] did was light the touch paper, in a way. It changed the landscape of cocktail shaker design.

The cocktail shaker in the golf-themed cocktail set lightly adapts a common barware form--the watering can-shaped shaker.

So whoever created this was more interested in combining golf with barware than revolutionizing barware design? Yes. Barware didn’t take a novelty appearance until this came around. You see some departures, but the shapes are not fun things like penguins. This piece is still not a huge departure. There are two classic styles [for cocktail shakers]: the cylinder and the jug, which is almost like a watering can. The watering can is similar to a golf bag. They took the handle and made it the shoulder strap of the golf bag, and put fake leather stitching on it and a golf ball on top.

Does the golf-themed cocktail set pictured here–consisting of a cocktail shaker and six cups–represent the complete set? You could buy it as a set, and the set came as eight pieces, but you could buy them as individual pieces. A complete set had a tray to go with it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have the tray. It’s very rare. I’ve only ever seen one.

Do we have any notion of how many of these golf-themed cocktail sets were made, and how many survive? No, I’ve never been able to find records for manufacturing numbers. I’d say they’re quite rare.

Do we know how much this golf-themed cocktail set would have sold for when it was new? The eight-piece set sold for $66.50 in 1926. In 1927, a Model T Ford sold for $850, and the average monthly income was $250. It was a luxury item when it was made, and they didn’t make a lot of them, that’s for sure. As pieces go, the shaker is most common. You very rarely see the cups.

Why are the cups so rare, compared to the other pieces in the golf-themed cocktail set? They’re quite small by modern standards. The cups are three inches tall–very easy [for them] to go missing. They got lost, or thrown out.

So the cups that go with the golf-themed cocktail set no longer reflect how people drink? Essentially, today, these are shot cups. In the period, they were cocktail cups. Elsewhere in the sale we have two sets of martini glasses, one from the mid-1920s and one from the 1930s. They’re tiny compared to modern glasses–the portion sizes were smaller. What you get, liquid-wise, is less than you get today.

When you have a complete or near-complete golf-themed cocktail set, what sorts of things have to happen to allow it to remain intact for a century? It’s very rare to find everything together. Somebody cherished this over the years. Usually they come out of houses that have had them for a very long time, or collectors who have had them all their lives.

I understand you’ve had two of these golf-themed cocktail sets in your career: This one, and a second that required some assembly? The prior set I had, I bought the shaker on its own, and bought five cups from a different dealer. Very fortunately, eight to ten months later, I found a sixth cup [at a different venue] in a cardboard box of odds and ends. I had it in three different installments. It’s not unusual to find [a vintage barware set] in that kind of way.

The press release for the auction talks about the golf-themed cocktail set and says it was “perhaps intended to fool authorities by making it appear to be decorative or ornamental rather than practical”. What evidence supports that idea? And where would its original owner have stored or displayed the set when it was not in use? Alcohol consumption was heavily frowned upon. People didn’t openly display barware, or alcohol, for that matter. With the Prohibition movement, everything was put behind closed doors.

So the golf bag design for the shaker is not about fooling the cops. It’s about deflecting the attention of your cranky old aunt who will give you an earful if she sees anything in your house that hints that you might be a drinker. Exactly. A Puritan eye might look at it and think, “Oh, that’s a golf trophy”. Lot 23 is another one that can sit inconspicuously on a shelf. You think, “Oh, that’s just a bell”. You don’t think, “He’s having wild parties on the weekend and getting up to god-knows-what”.

The design of the cups in the golf-themed cocktail set matches that of the shaker. They, too, are styled with a decorative (but flat) strap, and styled to mimic the look of leather and canvas.

In the photographs Sotheby’s sent over, the cups are arranged to show a decorative detail on one side, and I’m not sure what the decoration is–is it a bag strap? It’s an exact play on the body of the shaker–it has the pouch for tees, and a shoulder strap. It also [imitates] a structured, shaped golf bag and the things that went around the bag. Look at the finish of the shaker and the cups–they’re textured, because most golf bags are canvas and leather.

What do the components of the golf-themed cocktail set feel like? Do they have a good weight to them? Pretty good, yeah. With these things, you don’t want them to be heavy, but you don’t want them to be fragile. If you have a few drinks and drop it, you don’t want to break it. The only downside is that the cups are small. But it’s a really good set.

How practical is the golf-themed cocktail set? Is it easy to make and serve cocktails with it? It’s very practical. If you make a drink with ice or fruit in it, a strainer [in the spout] makes everything easier. It’s not bulky, and it’s very easy to clean when you’re done. The lighthouse shaker, a rare and important piece of cocktail design–that is big. I don’t want to put people off, but when you fill it with ice and booze, it’s heavy. This golf-themed cocktail shaker, because it’s early, it’s very useful. It’s a very loosely figural piece, a classic watering can style made to look like a golf bag. It’s a good size, and easy to mix and clean.

What condition is the golf-themed cocktail set in? And what sort of condition issues do you see with this set? I see pieces missing–the lid missing, the spout stopper missing. Sometimes the handle snaps off if people are brutish with it. And general dents and dings happen with cocktail shakers when they’re banged against each other or banged on the bar. This is in pretty damn good condition for something that’s 100 years old, and has been used. It’s got all its original silver plate, and the patina is great.

What’s the world auction record for this golf-themed cocktail set? Sets have been to auction before. One sold at Christie’s London in 2008 for £5,250.

Why will this golf-themed cocktail set stick in your memory? It’s an important piece. It’s kind of the Michael Jordan of the barware world. It came into the game and changed everything. In all my years of doing it [handling vintage barware], it’s only the second one I’ve had. In this auction, we’ve got a good showcase of important designs in the catalog–we’ve got the penguin, the lighthouse, the bell. This is the superstar, because it’s the first figurative one.

How to bid: The golf-themed cocktail set is lot 29 in Prohibition in America | 100 Years, an online sale at Sotheby’s that opened on May 7, 2020 and closes on May 21, 2020.

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A Tall Gogotte Formation Could Fetch Almost $4,000 (Updated May 21, 2020)

A tall gogotte--a naturally occuring sculpture-like rock formation--could fetch $4,000 in a Christie's online sale.

Update: Sacre bleu! The tall gogotte from Fontainebleu, France sold for £27,500, or about $33,600–more than eight times its high estimate.

What you see: A gogotte formation from Fontainebleu, France. Christie’s London estimates it at £2,000 to £3,000, or $2,520 to $3,780.

The expert: James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history.

What is a gogotte? At its most basic, it’s an incredibly beautiful white, sculpture-like, naturally occurring rock formation. On the scientific level, it’s silica sand and calcium carbonate that fused 30 million years ago.

How did these naturally occurring sculptures get the name “gogotte”? What does “gogotte” mean? I don’t know the etymology, and I don’t want to speculate. But we’ve known of these formations since the 18th century. There’s a grotto-like fountain at Versailles built entirely out of these.

What do we know about how gogottes form, and what conditions were present 30 million years ago that allowed them to form? They formed in the geologic unit of time called the Oligocene. The African and European [techtonic] plates were colliding, and the ocean spread up to Paris. Volcanic activity forced mineral-rich water containing calcium carbonate through sand at exactly the right temperature and consistency to get locked into position. The process was unknown for a long time–they figured it out in the last 30 years.

That’s a long time to wait, considering that gogottes have been known and collected since the 18th century. For scientists, gogottes are not necessarily an exciting formation. Only when you take them out of the context of geology do they become exciting. It’s interesting that the artistic side drove the understanding of the science [of gogotte formation], and not the other way around.

Are all gogottes white? No. The white color is from the sand–quartz, essentially. You see natural yellow coloration in many gogottes, but the more pure the color white, the more commercial it is. It’s the white color that makes them look so perfectly cloudlike and desirable.

When were the first gogottes discovered? I’m pretty certain it was in the 18th century, when [the French] were building the gardens at Versailles.

Are gogottes still being quarried in France today, or are they quarried out? I don’t know of anywhere in France that’s actively quarrying at the moment, but they found several of them in the early 2000s. “Quarrying” is a slightly more aggressive term. Many are probably lifted off the ground.

Are gogottes found only in France? You do see similar sandstone concretions elsewhere, but you don’t get the color and the sense of movement that the French ones have.

Gogottes are found all over the world, but the ones that formed in France are considered the most compelling.

The gogotte pictured in lot 4 of the sale measures a bit more than 17 inches high and is described as “a tall gogotte formation”. Why? Are few gogottes taller than 17 inches? You can certainly have them larger than that. The descriptives I use tend to describe the impression they make on me. There are 14 gogottes in the sale. Writing “A Gogotte Formation” over and over gets a bit repetitive. Descriptives give them a bit more dynamism. It’s as simple as that.

Is this gogotte solid? What does it weigh? It is solid. If I dropped it on my toes, it’d break a few bones, but I could certainly carry it upstairs and not be upset. I’d guess it’s 20 to 25 kilos [44 to 55 pounds].

What is this gogotte like in person? Are there details that the camera can’t capture? The camera doesn’t get how three-dimensional they are. You want to stand it on a plinth and walk around it. It’s spectacular from every angle.

Have you held this gogotte? I’ve been at Christie’s for 15 years, and I’ve seen many things. For me, there are two categories that no matter how many I catalog, they’re exciting: pocket globes, and gogottes. There’s something magical about them. They’re quite a contemplative object to touch, [not unlike] the Chinese aesthetic of scholar stones.

Do the Chinese like to collect gogottes? The Chinese market is adamant about completely pure white gogottes. They don’t tolerate the yellowing that Westerners might be more forgiving of. Everybody is drawn to these natural sculptures. I’ve had collectors come [over] from Old Masters, antiquities, rare books, and contemporary art. I’ve seen gogottes stood next to contemporary art and they hold their own. It’s really amazing.

Were the 14 gogottes in the sale consigned by the same person? No.

Is it unusual to have this many gogottes in the same sale? I would say it is rare. When I put together a sale, I try to curate a good selection of different sizes and different price points. It’s fun to decide what makes the cut and the order to run them in. But I’m picky when it comes to shapes and colors in the auction. If I get offered ten, I might take only one or two.

So it’s OK to put more than a dozen gogottes in one sale, because the demand is there. With 14, there’s plenty of interest in each. It’s a bit like the art market in that there are different tastes–you want one that’s pure white, or a bit larger, or has a bit more movement to it. I expect five or six [bidders] to chase after each one.

About 30 million years ago, water rich in calcium carbonate was forced through silica sand at the right temperature and consistency to form this gogotte.

What’s the provenance of this tall gogotte? It’s been in a French collection for at least ten years. Most of the ones on the market now are from finds in the 80s, 90s, and the early 2000s.

Can a gogotte lose its white color over time from being touched by human hands? They can. The other thing to consider–and this is ludicrous–but 30 million years is still relatively young [for a natural history specimen]. It’s not fully cooked. The surface is a bit crumbly. You could take a car key and scratch it.

What’s the world auction record for a gogotte? It was at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2016, and it was around $100,000 in U.S. dollars.

I realize there are 13 other gogottes in the sale. Do you have a favorite? Lot 61 stands out for me because it has a barn owl face in it. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I love barn owls, so that pleases me. And I’m covetous of lot 7, which has a large, rounded shape that’s quite minimalist in appearance. I’ve not seen one that minimalist and that large before.

Why will the tall gogotte stick in your memory? There’s something about it that seems optimistic, like a rocketship shooting up to the moon. You can see the different directions of water flowing. They’re such fun objects to contemplate.

How to bid: The tall gogotte formation is lot 4 in Sculpted by Nature: Fossils, Minerals and Meteorites, an online Christie’s sale that began on May 4, 2020 and ends on May 21, 2020.

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James Hyslop has appeared on The Hot Bid twice previously, talking about a Canyon Diablo meteorite and a Seymchan meteorite with pallasites.

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A Rufino Tamayo Galaxia Print Could Fetch $15,000 (Updated May 21, 2020)

Galaxia, a monumental 1977 print by the late Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, depicts a gorgeous, constellation-bedecked night sky that fades from magenta to royal purple.

Update: The Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print sold for $15,000.

What you see: Galaxia, a 1977 print by Rufino Tamayo. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000

The expert: Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings.

Who was Rufino Tamayo? He was a famous Mexican artist who started as a painter and a printmaker in the late 1920s. He was also well-traveled and worked in various artistic centers around the world. He wasn’t the “revolutionary” artist that [fellow Mexican artists] Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros were. His work has a much different tenor.

What role did printmaking play in Rufino Tamayo’s career? It was instrumental to his career and it propelled him to worldwide renown, but he was known for his paintings and murals.

How often do night scenes appear in Rufino Tamayo’s work? Is is a theme he returned to often, or is Galaxia a rarity? He produced night scenes throughout his career, in his paintings as well as his prints. Galaxia is by far the most ambitious and best-known. It stands apart for its size, its ambition, and its graphic quality.

Do we know what moved Rufino Tamayo to create Galaxia? He was drawing from his Zapotec heritage. The Mesoamericans based their calendar on constellations. The knowledge was passed down through the generations. Tamayo was tapping in to that. He might have chosen night images to bring the ancient Mesoamerican traditions to life.

Does the Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print depict a real place, or is it imagined? It’s almost certainly of his own invention.

Do the constellations in Galaxia correspond to known constellations? They don’t appear to be. Tamayo was drawing on the graphic quality–the dots and lines–to create a rhythmic repetition in the piece. They’re more decorative than realistic.

The Galaxia print’s medium is called “color Mixografía”. I haven’t encountered that medium before. What is Mixografía? It’s a separate printing technique developed by Tamayo in conjunction with the Taller de Gráfica Mexicana printmaking workshop in Mexico City. [The studio later changed its name to Mixografía and relocated to Los Angeles.]

Could you talk about how Rufino Tamayo uses color in Galaxia? He sure gets a lot of expression out of that purple. The color is magnificent. [Laughs] Above all, Tamayo is a great colorist. In particular, the Mixografía prints were made on very absorbent handmade paper with a cotton-like texture. It allowed the colors to bleed and blend in a manner not unlike watercolors. The tones of the vast moonlit sky give the image a wonderful ethereal quality.

How thick is the paper? In some cases, the handmade Mixografía papers are a quarter-inch or more thick. It’s a very hefty, ultra-handmade paper. It feels more like pressed cotton pulp than a fine, finished paper.

In Tamayo’s obituary in the New York Times, poet Octavio Paz said: “If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters of our age, I would say, without a moment’s hesitation: sun. For the sun is in all his pictures, whether we see it or not; night itself is for Tamayo simply the sun carbonized.” Do we see Paz’s observation reflected in Galaxia? I would say so. Tamayo portrayed powerful natural phenomena as mystical forces. He didn’t just incorporate elements in his work as background–he made them the subject of his work. The sun is a sheer, all-encompassing power that makes humans seem insignificant in the face of nature.

How does the moon in Galaxia match the power of the sun in Tamayo’s work? It imparts the vastness of Tamayo’s imagery in its size and scale, and its focus on the night sky, the constellations, the moon, and the shadow of the mountain. There’s no human presence, just a vast night desert sky.

When did Rufino Tamayo start working with the Taller de Gráfica Mexicana print workshop? They started working together in 1973, when Tamayo wanted to incorporate texture and dimensionality in his prints in the same way as in his fresco work. Taller de Gráfica Mexicana was a second-generation print workshop operated by Luis Remba and his wife, Lea.

How thick is the layer of ink on the Mixografía paper? Is it similar to impasto? It’s not impasto in the sense of [that seen on] a painting, but it has impasto-like qualities.

The Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print is large and long–20 inches by 47 1/4 inches. First of all–is it printed on one sheet, or more than one sheet that’s been joined to make a whole? Amazingly, it’s one sheet.

This is a big, weird size for a print. Did Galaxia pose any extra challenges to make? Tamayo had to specifically produce handmade paper for his prints, and he had to customize it for each of his editions, including Galaxia.

Making paper by hand… that’s not trivial. Not at all, but it’s something the printmakers would have been accustomed to, despite the challenges.

Did the Rembas have to build a special press to realize Galaxia? They had to build a special press, but they built it in 1973, in advance of this [the creation of the Mixografía print medium].

Is Galaxia the largest print that Rufino Tamayo made? No, he did larger. [Laughs]. In May 2019, we actually had one that was almost 60 inches by 95 inches. Its maquette utilized the largest lithographic stone ever produced. It still survives at the Mixografía workshop. Imagine working with that in the studio.

The lot notes describe the Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print as a “large, scarce print”, but I see this is number 66 of 100. I don’t necessarily think of a limited edition print run of 100 as translating to scarcity. What makes this print scarce? Given the size of Galaxia, its delicateness, and the care that goes into preserving it, it’s scarce. There have been only four at auction, including this one, in the last 30 years.

Now that you mention it, how do collectors store a Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print without damaging the ink? Most that I see are kept in shadow box frames. The paper has a textured quality, and the ink is not completely flat. It needs room, and also protection. You can’t pile it with other things in a flat file.

What’s the world auction record for a Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print? Interestingly, the last impression to go to auction was at Swann in 2018. It achieved $11,875.

How does the 2018 Galaxia compare to the one you have in the upcoming sale? Do you think it will beat the record set two years ago? I think the odds of beating it are fairly strong. The market for Tamayo has gotten stronger. The 2018 impression and this one are fairly equivalent. If anything, there’s one fewer on the market. It’s a little more scarce. It might be a little more sought-after.

What is the Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print like in person? I’m guessing it, more than most, is tough to translate to pixels on a screen. It’s difficult. The paper is wonderfully textured, and the colors are so vivid and deep. When you’re in front of it, it transports you. It’s not a characterless inked sheet of paper. There’s a mood about it, something about the colors and the view.

It’s easy to imagine crickets chirping or frogs croaking as you look at it. Galaxia is large. As you stare at it, nothing else is in your field of vision. Your isolation under the night sky is imaginable.

Why will this Rufino Tamayo Galaxia print stick in your memory? I think it’s so evocative of his work. You can see in it the artist’s hand and his creativity. And it is transporting. There’s something universal about the beauty of a night sky like this. Everyone gets to see one at some point.

How to bid: Rufino Tamayo’s Galaxia print is lot 402 in the Old Masters Through Modern Prints sale at Swann Auction Galleries on May 21, 2020.


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Todd Weyman has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a Howard Cook print that depicts the Chrysler Building and a print of M.C. Escher’s Night and Day.

Mixografía, the printmaking studio that collaborated with Rufino Tamayo, has a website.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

A Paul Evans Sculpture Front Cabinet Could Fetch $150,000 (Updated May 13, 2020)

A Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet, created in 1975. The slate-topped Brutalist marvel could sell for $150,000 or more at Rago in May.

Update: The Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet sold for $106,250.

What you see: A Paul Evans sculpture front wall-mounted cabinet, created in 1975. Rago Auctions estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

Who was Paul Evans? He’s from Newtown, Pennsylvania. He was formally trained in jewelry-making, studying at Cranbrook [now known as the Cranbrook Educational Community], and then became a furniture maker. He had at least four studios that I know of, [including] a gallery he and Phillip Lloyd Powell owned together in the 1960s and 1970s. He died of a heart attack in 1987.

Where was Paul Evans in his career in 1975, when he made this sculpture front cabinet? Was he mostly a regional phenomenon? Yes and no. We get offered Evans pieces. It’s what we’re known for. One reason we get offered them is they were made here and never left. Paul Evans or Dorsey Reading [Evans’s studio manager] personally set them up in their homes. Evans was catering to educated, wealthy world travelers. Imagine how radical this cabinet was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Radical? Normal people were not buying this stuff. They were not buying benchmade pieces by radical guys working in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Paul Evans made about 75 sculpture front cabinets. This example features three doors.

This sculpture front wall-mounted cabinet is what I think of when I think of Paul Evans. But do we know how he hit upon this look? I can only guess, but people had credenzas. People needed pieces to hold silverware and tableware in the dining room, and needed pieces to hold stereos in the living room. It’s a very functional form. It’s a large piece of furniture with a lot of flat surfaces. Evans transformed them into works of art within a modern household.

But do we know how Paul Evans came to give his sculpture front cabinets this particular style and appearance? He was a jewelry designer first. Each box is designed like a little piece of jewelry, with small elements. Evans knew what it was basically going to look like. He’d do them [design the look of the sculpture front] all together and give them to Dorsey Reading to fabricate.

Do any of the motifs on Paul Evans sculpture front cabinets repeat, or is every cabinet entirely different-looking? He repeated these ideas, but no two are alike. If you look on the left-hand panel of the three on this cabinet–do you see the three crosshatches in orange?

Evidently thinking it wasn't heavy enough on its own, Evans topped his sculpture front cabinets with a slab of locally quarried slate. It takes four people to move the piece, with two assigned to the top.

Do the crosshatches kind of look like a tic-tac-toe grid? Yes. That’s unusual. The circle to the right of the tic-tac-toe–that’s always there. On the right-hand panel of the three, on the lower left, you’ll see another circle that looks like a sun. That’s an unusual variation, with color radiating from it. The clusters of gold nail heads–Evans liked that. There are always nail heads. If you look at the cluster of nail heads above the sun, and look to the right, there are stalactites. He always has those. There are four of them total on all three doors. The motifs tend to repeat, but he always plays with them.

How many sculpture front pieces did Paul Evans make? He made about 75 sculpture front pieces, and probably made them over eight or nine years. They’re labor-intensive, but all one-of-a-kind. And they were not a lot of money.

Not a lot of money? No. I’ve had half the sculpture front pieces made, and easily one-third of them had their original invoices. The most expensive was several thousand dollars. I recall invoices that say $1,000, $1,500.

So the original prices don’t reflect the labor that went into them. Not in my opinion.

A head-on view of the Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet. His initial training as a jeweler shaped the appearance of this piece.

The lot notes say this Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet comes with digital copies of the original invoice and drawing. Does that indicate that the cabinet was commissioned? Yes and no. I think he might have had a small selection of these in his shop on Main Street in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and took orders from them. But no two are alike. I’ve had cabinets with two doors, three doors, four doors. There are similarities in their shape, and the types of designs [on the front], and the mined slate tops–those are from a local quarry.

Because the Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet is not heavy enough on its own–it needs a slate top. Exactly. It takes two men to carry the top. And you can’t get any more of the slate. It’s quarried out. It’s gone. There’s a lot of character to this slate.

Why do you think Paul Evans chose the slate to top the sculpture front pieces? I don’t know why, but it’s a local element, and it’s beautiful. It’s not even a polished piece of stone. It has whorls and ridges in it. It’s not a flat surface. But it’s a beautiful accompaniment to the sculpture front.

Would Paul Evans have designed the sculpture front cabinet and handed the design off to Dorsey Reading to fabricate? It was more collaborative than that, from what I understand. As Dorsey was fabricating, Paul Evans might sketch something out and Dorsey would incorporate it. I’d say Paul Evans was the primary artist here, but Dorsey knew what he was doing.

So the sculpture front design was kind of liquid? Evans might add a motif while Reading was still making it? Yes, or a couple of motifs. It wasn’t like he sketched the whole thing out.

A side view of the sculpted front of the Paul Evans cabinet, showing how some of the motifs jut forth.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult this Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet was to make? That I can’t speak to. For Evans to come up with the design–easy. Dorsey, his skills are really good. But it’s all magic to me.

How much work does this Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet represent? I think this took about a week. It didn’t take a day, or a month. This is thick, welded steel. The ones [cabinets] on a wall are two-and-a-half feet deep.

How heavy is this Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet, and how did its installers make sure that it didn’t tear away from the wall? I would say it’s 1,000 pounds for a full-size [cabinet]. This is a little less, because it’s a three-door. They didn’t just go into the sheetrock or plaster. They were set right into the studs, because the studs are supporting the wall.

A side view of the Paul Evans sculpted front cabinet, showing its raw, rugged appearance. Installers typically bolt the cabinets to the studs of the wall to ensure it won't pull away.

Oh! So it became part of the architecture. Yeah. When we move them, we don’t move them in one piece. We take the doors off. That’s three-quarters of the weight.

Paul Evans sculpture front cabinets were used when they were new, but do contemporary collectors use them, or do they tend to treat them like pure sculpture? I don’t see anyone using them as record cabinets. They store mostly dishes and silverware. But I think people who buy them understand they’re high art.

What condition is the Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet in, and what condition issues do you tend to see with these pieces? I joke about it, but I’m serious–they’re indestructible. This is as solid as it looks. There can be some rust issues, and the colors can fade or oxidize, but this has good color. Look at the checkerboard on the left door. It has blue, yellow, red. Good color. And the kelp-like blue stuff below it, the red background is like dried blood. I think the color was more expressive half a century ago, but it has beautiful color.

What is the Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet like in person? I think it’s photographed beautifully. It’s a powerful piece of Brutalist design. It’s massive, creative, and has a very strong presence to it.

This particular Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet was pictured in the book Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism. Does that matter at all to collectors? As I like to say, I can’t guarantee it helps, but I can guarantee it never hurts. This cabinet has great provenance, from its original owners, and even an original sketch. That’s plenty. On top of that, it was selected for the monograph of the artist. And the colors pop on this one.

Do collectors prefer the Paul Evans sculpture front cabinets that are more colorful? Yes, definitely. The one I sold for the most had a lot of red and sky blue in it. It was very colorful.

Is this piece unusually colorful for a Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet? Usually you don’t get as many of them. Usually, it’s just reds and blues. The checkerboard [on the left door] and the sun on the right door give you the full rainbow. They’re on opposing sides of the piece, but they’re not placed at the same level. It’s a really lyrical piece. You’ve got a thousand-pound piece of steel here, yet there’s an elegance and a lightness. That’s genius–the genius of design.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I like the way the elements on the front are composed. It has a really good balance to them, a symmetry to them. The condition is excellent, and the colors are softer and add balance to the mass and scale of this piece. I would like it better if it was a four-door over a three-door, yes. But for this size, it’s perfect.

How to bid: The Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet is lot 116 in the Modern Design sale at Rago Auctions on May 13, 2020.

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

Dorsey Reading has a website.

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