A Demon’s Head Card Trick Device Could Fetch $6,000

A circa 2000 replica of a Victorian era demon's head card trick device, created by the late Rüdiger Deutsch. It could sell for $6,000 or more.

What you see: A demon’s head card trick device replica created circa 2000 by the late Rüdiger Deutsch. Potter & Potter estimates it at $6,000.

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

Who was Rüdiger Deutsch? He started out as a pastry chef in Germany. When he met his wife, Ute, he became a photographer, because that was her family business. He was not a professional magician though he appeared on numerous European shows in the 1980s with his wife as Bellchini XIII. He took all the props he collected and used them in the act. He put it together with style and panache. It was kind of surprising how good it was. The tricks really worked.

So his magic collection was a working collection? They weren’t just museum pieces. He put them to use in the show. If he couldn’t find an original trick [device], he made it. A lot of things in the auction are things he constructed based on photographs, catalogs, descriptions, and occasionally, the item itself.

Do we know how Rüdiger Deutsch came to build the demon’s head card trick device? I don’t know specifically, but it’s modeled on pictures in a classic book of Victorian magic called Hoffman’s Modern Magic, from 1876. One of the most fascinating and interesting illustrations in the book are the demon’s head. The cover of the auction catalog is kind of an homage to the way the demon’s head is pictured in the book.

Deutsch created the demon head out of papier-mâché, and installed levers that control the eyes, the mouth, and other elements.

Do we know how long it took him to build the demon’s head card trick device? No.

Did he work alone, or did he have assistants? He had his limitations. He would hire someone to do something he was unable to do. When he needed help, he got it.

Was the demon’s head card trick device part of the routine Rüdiger Deutsch performed on European television in the 1980s? Not this piece, no. I’m sure he demonstrated it, but in what venue, I don’t know. But it set Rüdiger apart in many ways–he could use these things, and he did. He was an entertainer, a performer who put these pieces to work. A lot of collectors buy pieces with no intent of performing with them. Rüdiger was not that guy.

How far back does the principle behind the demon’s head card trick device go? Is it as old as card tricks themselves? No, I don’t think it’s as old as card tricks. The first reference is in Hoffman, but the devices were built years before that.

How common were devices such as this demon’s head card trick device in the late 19th century? They were available for purchase in catalogs of the Victorian era. Dealers offered the items for sale, but they were built to order. They were one of the more expensive things in those catalogs. They were kind of like automata in that way.

Did the devices take other shapes, or were they usually in the form of a demon’s head? Typically, yes, they were a demon or a satyr’s head. I know of one built as a teddy bear, which is just bizarre.

Deutsch worked alone on his replica of a Victorian era demon's head card trick device. It appears to be the only such replica he made.

How would a magician use it in his or her act? The cards are chosen and returned to the deck. The magician puts the whole deck in the mouth of the figure. The demon looks around, moves his jaw, and spits out one of the chosen cards. When another person from the audience says, “I picked one too, where’s my card?” it pops out of his head.

How does the demon’s head card trick device work? It’s activated with levers at the bottom of the base, at the back. Different control levers operate the eyes, the mouth, and the release of the card. There are other versions that are controlled by clockwork. This is manually operated–it’s manual in the sense of pushing a button or pulling a lever to operate it. This is kind of like a glorified, creepy, masterful ventriloquist’s figure in some ways.

What advantage does this demon’s head card trick device give to a magician? Why use this instead of doing card tricks without an expensive device? It offers you a different type of presentation, a different type of entertainment than someone just finger-flinging. It’s the difference between a reading of Hamlet on the street versus going to the Globe Theater and watching the Royal Shakespeare Company–bare bones versus all the bells and whistles.

This demon’s head card trick device is described as a “faux automaton”. Is that because it has no clockwork? Correct, and it’s operated by a human being.

A lever controls the demon's eyes, allowing them to dart and scan the audience as it grips a deck of cards in its mouth and ultimately finds the chosen card.

What is the device like in person? It’s imposing, but also, on close examination, it’s readily apparent that it’s the work of someone who really knew what they were doing, in terms of the painting, the finish, the fabric, the mechanism. It’s a sight to see. You’re not going to buy it at Target for a Halloween display. It’s really something special.

How does Deutsch’s circa 2000 replica compare to demon’s head card trick devices that date to the late 19th century? In some ways, it’s better. There’s less to go wrong. You don’t have to be so nervous about handling it. If it was Victorian era, it could triple or quadruple in price.

I don’t want to say it’s beautiful, but… it’s charismatic. It’s charismatic, magnetic, certainly attractive. It’s evident that a true craftsman who took pride in his work made it. The guy who took over Rüdiger’s photo studio from him said that he searched forever for German newspapers that were contemporary to the era [to use in the papier-mâché].

Deutsch went to considerable trouble to hunt down late 19th century German newspapers to use in the papier-mâché elements of the demon's head.

Just how exacting was Deutsch in creating this replica? Rüdiger did it the way they used to. This is a guy who never used a Phillips head screwdriver because Phillips head screwdrivers weren’t invented until the 1930s. He didn’t buy an 1876 lathe to turn metal, but it’s close to what they’d have during that era. The device shows a level of detail that’s not on mass-produced items.

What’s your favorite detail on this demon’s head card trick device? The paint. Every strand of hair is painted in, within reason. It brings it to life. It sounds strange, but it’s true. And it also brings the illustrations in Hoffman’s Modern Magic to life. It looks like the book almost exactly.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because it looked better in person when I went to Germany to pack up the collection than I would have expected when I saw the pictures. The aesthetics, the quality of construction, the condition exceeded my expectations. It’s a superior object.

How to bid: The demon’s head card trick device is lot 1 in The Magic Collection of Rüdiger Deutsch: Part II, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on October 31, 2020.

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Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a group of Diane Arbus photographs owned by their subject, albino sword-swallower Sandra Reeda vintage Harry Houdini postcard from the magician’s personal collectionan oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200, a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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A Gold Eid Mar Coin–THE Most Desirable Ancient Coin–Could Fetch $500,000

A gold Eid Mar coin, issued by Brutus in 42 B.C.E. It could sell for $500,000 or more.

What you see: A gold Eid Mar coin, dating to 42 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). Roma Numismatics Limited estimates it at $500,000.

The expert: David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

The Eid Mar has been described as “the most famous ancient coin of all”. Do you agree? I do. Typically, with coins, you have a cultural or a national interest–Americans want American coins, Indians want Indian coins. Ancient Greek and Roman coins transcend nationalism. In that sense, the Eid Mar jumps out as the most famous ancient coin.

Do we know the story of how and why the Roman government chose to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on gold and silver coins in 42 B.C.E? At that point, Rome was gearing up for civil war between competing factions. One carried on Caesar’s cause and included Mark Antony and Octavian. The other included Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. In the Senate, there was sympathy for both parties.

So the Brutus and Cassius side had this coin made, I’m guessing. Why? The faction led by Brutus and Cassius was gathering a great army to go to war with the other faction. When trying to defend their cause, they had to appeal to the sympathies of soldiers and Senators. There were many who considered Caesar a tyrant and were glad to be rid of him. With this coin, Brutus doubled down on what got him to this stage to begin with.

So this coin acted kind of like a political lawn sign does today? It advertised and boosted a political cause? This is an attempt by Brutus–a very blatant attempt–to make the case that Caesar’s assassination was not only good for Rome, it was justifiable. It’s a peek into the mind of Brutus. The stakes were life and death. He went with the justice of his cause.

The reverse of the gold Eid Mar coin shows a pair of daggers, representing the murder weapon and the two men who conceived the coup, Brutus and Cassius. The hat in the middle was of a style issued to newly freed Roman slaves. "Eid Mar" is a truncated phrasing for the Ides of March, the date of the assassination.

Let’s talk about the iconography on the gold Eid Mar coin. I see two daggers on the reverse side. Why two daggers, when a big group of Senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death? It isn’t necessarily recorded anywhere, but the natural conclusion is one dagger represents Brutus and the other represents Cassius, who were the ringleaders of the plot to murder Caesar.

The designer of the gold Eid Mar coin has placed between the daggers an image of a cap that was given to Roman slaves who have gained their freedom. Nothing subtle about that… It’s such a clear, bold statement linking the act with the result of the act.

This side of the coin features the words “Eid Mar”, which is a shortened form of the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar–the Ides of March, aka March 15. Why include the date? The incident was notorious enough that the designer didn’t really need to include it. Everyone understood the context. The date was just a design choice. I would have loved to have been in the room when they made that choice.

Co-conspirator Brutus issued this gold Eid Mar coin and had his profile depicted upon it.

Why does the other side of the coin, the obverse, show a profile of just Brutus, and not Brutus and Cassius? The two leaders of these armies, which were eventually conjoined before the Battle of Philippi, struck their own coins. If you’re paying soldiers, you want to put your face on the coins. There was no overlap between Brutus’s and Cassius’s coinage. The Eid Mar coin is of Brutus’s design, and is the most spectacular of them. It’s of Brutus, by Brutus, and for Brutus.

So Cassius’s coins were not as evocative? No coins of Cassius directly allude to the murder of Caesar. They speak to local conditions rather than the act that got them there. Brutus’s coin is as blunt and as straightforward a message as could be delivered. It’s really a masterpiece in that respect. It’s very fortunate that Brutus undertook this coin, but in the end, it didn’t save him. [Brutus killed himself in October of 42 B.C.E. after losing the second Battle of Phillipi.]

The Eid Mar coin represents Brutus pushing all of his chips onto the table, then? This is evidence that Brutus was not backing down. He’s saying, “I did it, I did it for the right reasons, and you should support me because of that.”

Is the Eid Mar coin a better-looking coin than most ancient coins? Not necessarily. I would say its strength is not in its artistry. It resonates because of its historical importance.

The gold Eid Mar coin, with both obverse and reverse shown. It is one of only three surviving examples struck in gold.

How would the gold Eid Mar coin have been struck? Typically, coins of this era were struck by hand. The die would be engraved in reverse. They’d take two of these dies, put a blank piece of metal between them, and hammer it several times.

How did the striker know when to stop? Experience. Gold coins of narrow diameter took fewer strikes than a copper coin. With something like this, they’d get away with two or three hammer blows.

Do we have any idea how many Eid Mar coins might have been produced in 42 B.C.E? Unfortunately, we don’t have any surviving records. In warlike circumstances such as this, they would have struck coins based on what they could provide. They probably turned every bit of metal–gold or silver–into coinage to pay the soldiers and suppliers.

So it’s not like Brutus swung by the Roman Mint and placed an order for 100 gold Eid Mar coins and 10,000 silver Eid Mar coins. No. Under other conditions, coinage was planned out and targets were met. These were struck under field conditions. They did whatever they could. With this, it was get it, melt it, strike it.

How much gold is in this Eid Mar coin? Its purity is extremely high. It’s very close to 100 percent pure. There’s some copper and trace elements in it. It weighs a touch over eight grams, which is about $500 in melt value.

How much purchasing power did a gold Eid Mar coin have in the world of ancient Rome? There’s very limited info on this subject. It’s known that in the time of Augustus, a soldier’s annual pay was 225 silver denarii, and there’s 25 denarii per gold aureus. It’s [a soldier’s annual pay in silver seems to be] equivalent to nine gold coins a year. This was an unusual and expensive coin. The average person in the Roman Empire and the late Roman Republic would never handle gold coins. They were for larger payments.

When Mark Anthony and Octavian later assumed power, did they deliberately target the Eid Mar coin for removal from circulation? We don’t know for sure if that happened in this particular case. Coins were melted for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes, they circulated for well over a century. One of the gold Eid Mar coins that does survive is quite worn, and some of the silver ones are worn almost absolutely slick. But there probably was some effort to reduce the coins in circulation, if only to melt them and strike coins in their own image.

To what extent, if at all, has the Eid Mar coin served to burn the memory of Caesar’s assassination into the collective consciousness? Has it helped keep that historical event alive? The sparking of the Renaissance in Europe was promoted strongly by the discovery of ancient coins. When antiquarians studied these coins, getting an Eid Mar was the ultimate prize. There’s something about having an object speak directly to a moment in history. The coin gives it context, meaning, and a tactile reality–here’s the proof of the history, the proof of what you read about. And it inspired Shakespeare. It’s hard to dismiss the coin’s impact on why the assassination is still a memorable occasion. [The Wikipedia pages for the assassination of Julius Caesar and Brutus prominently show photographs of silver Eid Mar coins.]

Do you mean that the gold Eid Mar coin is, in and of itself, historical evidence? Without this coin, one might be able to introduce a scholarly concern about how the assassination was described. But if you get this type of evidence, it’s very hard to dispute that it did occur and Brutus took credit for it. Coins help us have confidence in certain statements. Without a coin to back it up, it’s easy to assume something is exaggerated for political gain.

How did this gold Eid Mar coin emerge? I have no idea. Our role at NGC Ancient doesn’t have to do with the buying or selling of coins. I made no investigation into that.

According to what I have here, this gold Eid Mar coin was sitting, largely unnoticed, in a European collection until now. So it’s a previously unknown example of THE most desirable ancient coin, in its rarest metal form, in something close to mint condition. I assume that alarm bells went off in your head when you got word of this? When you hear that, as you describe it, I assume I need to be very careful. Ancient coins have been collected systematically and aggressively for 500 years. The possibility exists of a coin, even of this stature, being around without being brought to the notice of anyone in the business.

Did you examine the gold Eid Mar coin before it was encapsulated? I have to sign off on it as the director of the department.

What details or clues convinced you, as you looked at this coin, that it was the genuine article? [Laughs] It’s so funny. There’s an initial gut reaction you have, a visceral response, the instant you see a coin. You’re extremely wary, or quite pleased. From the second I saw it, it rang true. Then I looked for any reason to contradict my initial reaction. One way to look at it is as if it were any other gold coin of Brutus or Cassius. We’ve had quite a number of both over the decades. If it was another Brutus or Cassius type, would it give us alarm bells? The answer is no. It really did perform extremely well. There was literally nothing we could find about this coin that raised concerns.

How much experience do you have with handling ancient coins? My business partner, Barry Murphy, and I have over 60 years’ experience. We’ve looked at over five million ancient coins, and looked at them very clinically. Is it something real? Is it altered? That’s always been the principal focus. This coin fits in perfectly for where it should be–a field-mint issue of Brutus from 42 B.C.E. It’s everything we could expect.

Have you seen either or both of the other two gold Eid Mar coins in person? I’ve seen one of the other two.

I take it you’ve examined dozens of silver Eid Mar coins. Absolutely. Between Barry and myself, we’ve handled 30 to 35 of the silver ones. And we see a lot of counterfeits. What’s most important to know is what should it generally look like? There are so many aspects to determine authenticity, and it’s so easy for a forger to mess up on one. With this coin, we did not encounter any of those.

The gold Eid Mar coin as it now appears, encapsulated in plastic.

What is the gold Eid Mar coin like in person? It’s wonderful, and in the holder [the plastic encapsulation], it’s equally wonderful. It doesn’t take anything away from it–it showcases it, honors it. And it makes it possible to take the coin and hand it to somebody else. What people don’t know about coins is if you drop them or rub your thumb across them and you have slightly rough fingers, you can change their appearance. Gold is a soft metal! With the holder, you can reach a broader audience that poses no potential harm to the coin.

The gold Eid Mar coin is described as “mint”. What does “mint” mean when we’re talking about something that’s more than 2,000 years old? It has no observable wear from circulation. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dinged here or there, or hasn’t been cleaned. If it was in a mint state when it was buried, and it wasn’t affected by disruption or acid in the soil, it can come out absolutely perfect. There weren’t any banks in this period. People buried their coins. Then they died, or forgot about them, or were unable to retrieve their treasure. That’s how ancient coins survive in a mint state.

What’s your favorite detail of the gold Eid Mar coin? I’m a fan of Brutus as a historical figure, and I love the portrait on the Eid Mar coin. It captures what I perceive to be his personality.

How does the portrait capture Brutus’s personality? He was a very motivated individual. He had a sense of destiny and was very committed to his cause. To plan a coup, he had to have very strong political convictions. It may be my imagination, but I see it in the portrait. I see the intensity and the laser-focus of his ambitions. This is not an idealized portrait. It’s extremely individual. I could stare at it for hours.

I’d like you to walk me through the grades that NGC applied to the gold Eid Mar coin. You gave it five out of five on “Strike”. What does that mean? On a five-point scale, a five is not necessarily literally perfect. Everything about this coin was done by hand–it was hand-struck, it was melted by hand, the dies were cut by hand. You rarely get what, in a modern coin, would be described as perfection. A five out of five means that for what it is, it’s close enough to perfection.

The gold Eid Mar coin gets three out of five on “Surface”. Explain? “Strike” affects everything up to when the coin left the die. “Surface” covers things that happen after it leaves the mint. There can be circulation wear, or damage. This falls pleasantly in the middle of the range, very typical of coins of this era.

And “Fine Style” means what? It has to do with whether or not the engraver of the dies was inspired. This was carved by a gifted artist on a good day who produced a wonderful work of art in relation to the coin art of the period.

Why will this gold Eid Mar coin stick in your memory? It’s truly one of the highlights of my career. This is the coin everyone dreams of handling. Being given the responsibility to make a determination about it was an honor. When you’re evaluating a coin, you try not to let emotions enter the equation on any level. You try to do a scientific job. Now that it’s out of our possession, I can sort of allow myself to put my guard down and soak in the pleasure of the coin and reflect upon how and why it’s the most important Roman coin we’ve ever handled. That did not hit us initially. We had to keep it at bay.

Only after it left the NGC building you and your colleagues could enjoy the experience of having handled it? Correct. There are two towers of emotion: assuming it’s not genuine and it’s too good to be true, and wanting to believe. I had to shelve my emotions completely. But I have images of it, and the memory of holding the coin. When it actually sells, I’ll be there in spirit.

How to bid: The gold Eid Mar coin is lot 463 in Roma Numismatics Limited‘s Auction XX, which takes place on October 29 and October 30, 2020.

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A Triple Caille Slot Machine–One of the Rarest Vintage Coin-op Machines–Could Command $300,000

A triple Caille slot machine, one of only two known. The machine, built between 1898 and 1905, could command $300,000.

What you see: A Caille (pronounced Kay-lee) Brothers Triple Centaur musical upright machine, built between 1898 and 1905. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

The expert: Tom Tolworthy, chief executive officer at Morphy Auctions.

Who would have bought a triple Caille slot machine when it was new? Who was the target market? They were directly available to shop owners, and to operators who were in the business of putting out machines. In some cases, they were sold to saloons, cigar stores, or restaurants.

I’m guessing a triple Caille would have been much more expensive than a single. Do we know what they cost when they were new? Pulling it out of my memory, you could buy a Caille triple for $125. [That’s roughly equivalent to $3,700 in modern dollars.] If you look at early photos of cigar stores and saloons, you see one slot machine, not two or three. Caille triples were probably purchased by places that had a strong clientele and could afford to pay extra.

The player would insert a coin in one of the six slots at the top, and then crank the handle toward the floor.

What advantages did a triple Caille offer over owning a row of single slot machines? Whoever operated a slot machine needed a license. If they had three machines, they needed three licenses. With a triple, you needed only one license. And they could give the consumer more options. With three individual slots, you have the capability for a nickel, a quarter, and a half-dollar slot.

Do we have any clue about how many triple slot machines the Caille company made? No, there really isn’t. There might be 20 standard Caille single upright slots today. Triple Cailles, there might be two known. Of all the total uprights, less than ten percent are doubles or triples.

Only two triple Caille slot machines survive? Eight triples are known to exist. Two are Cailles. The others are by Mills. There probably weren’t many triples, even in their heyday, though a lot of them got destroyed during Prohibition.

I see the measurements given in the lot notes [62 1/2 inches by 70 1/2 inches by 19 inches], but what does this triple Caille slot machine weigh? I’d guess 250 pounds.

Weighing in around 250 pounds, the triple Caille was pretty much a sitting duck if federal agents came a-raiding during Prohibition.

Ah. So it’s difficult to move a triple Caille fast, even if someone tips you off about the police coming to raid your place. The fact that they survived at all is a mystery to us collectors. I’ve seen pictures of federal agents smashing up machines with sledgehammers, and they’re known to have dragged them to the water and sunk them.

What sorts of things have to happen to allow these vintage slot machines to survive to the present? In several instances, the machine goes from a shop or saloon to a family member’s house. I know specifically of several slot machines that came out of a basement in Omaha that had been there since 1906.

So this triple Caille slot machine might have idled in a basement at some point between the turn of the last century and, say, the 1970s? That’s my best guess. I know of others that have been found in buildings that were locked up for several generations, sitting there from the teens or 20s until the 50s or 60s, that were found and moved into collections. They had to have been tucked away where someone was not going to notice them.

Would these late 19th and early 20th century machines have been pulled from service eventually for falling out of fashion? Things were a bit more utilitarian back then. There were advances in gaming technology over time, but not in this period.

The rear of the triple Caille slot machine shows some of the few parts and areas that might have been replaced over the decades.

How original is this triple Caille slot machine? Has anything been replaced or restored? One of the back doors might be new, and all three of the locks on the back doors are replacements. Aside from that, it appears to be all-original.

The lot notes say the triple Caille slot machine comes with its original keys. Is that rare? And does it make the machine even more interesting to collectors, or is that irrelevant when we’re talking about something that’s as rare as this piece? Having its original keys is pretty unusual. The more original it is, the more collectors appreciate it. It does create value.

The player's coin never fed directly into the slot; it was five coins back in the line. If you inserted a slug into the top of the machine, the so-called "witness window" would reveal you as a cheat.

How does the triple Caille slot machine work? There are six slots at the top that all correspond with a color on the wheel, and different odds appear on the wheel. If you bet on white, there’s a ten-to-one chance of a payout. You could bet on one color or bet on them all, but if you bet on them all, you wouldn’t make any money.

Odds for each color are applied directly to the wheels of each machine in the triple Caille.

Let’s say I’ve loaded a coin in the top slot. What happens next? The triple Caille has three big handles on the front. You crank one toward the floor to make the wheel spin. It’s all mechanical, no electrics. Once you play it, it auto-engages the music. You get to hear a little tune. There’s also a witness window on the top slots. It’s not your coin that gets played–there are five coins before yours in the slot. If you hit the jackpot, they [the venue owner] can see if you played a slug or not.

How does the spinning wheel come to a stop? It’s a random set of actions in the mechanism. Think of a wheel in the back, but it has teeth. At some point, one of six levers will fall and connect to the teeth on the wheel and stop it. The lever is connected to the color of the coin slot that was played.

So the wheel with teeth is kind of like the wheel on the Wheel of Fortune television game show? Exactly, but it’s a bit more aggressive. The lever doesn’t slow it in its tracks, it stops the wheel right there.

The Caille company called this triple slot machine model a Centaur Jackpot. Do we know why? Is there centaur imagery on the cabinet or the castings? There is some centaur imagery on the castings, but it might not be noticeable in the photos. Caille made a Centaur single. When they built a triple with three Centaur mechanisms, they called that a Centaur.

This triple Caille features a nickel-quarter-nickel arrangement. Do we know why? Whoever operated it knew their customers. They could order the triple Caille with whatever coin heads they wanted. They had more customers who could afford nickel slots than quarter slots.

Once you pulled the front crank to the floor, the triple Caille would play a tune. Often, it would outlast the spin of the wheel.

Does the triple Caille slot machine play more than one song? It actually plays longer than the wheel spins. A single play gets you part of a song.

Would we recognize any of the songs it plays? Likely you wouldn’t. I was playing it for someone the other day and I didn’t recognize the tune.

What is the triple Caille slot machine like in person? It’s an impressive piece of furniture. It has oak cabinetry made by craftsmen. There’s detail in the legs and the castings. When you’re there and putting your hands on it and touching it, it’s a completely different feeling. It’s a massive piece and impressive to see.

What’s your favorite detail of the machine? The originality of it. The mechanism shows some oxidation, but it’s [the cabinet has] got its original varnish and original finish. I also like the music, because of the value of music as an option. Music boxes have been added to machines to increase their value. The music box shipped in this machine when it was bought–I can tell by the way it was mounted inside, and by the way it operates. It’s great to see an original music box of that age.

The mechanisms in the triple Caille are all-original, including the coveted music box (which is not visible in this image).

Have you played the machine? What was that like? There’s nothing electric about it–it’s mechanical. It clanks and clunks and makes noise. When you play today’s slots, you accumulate your winnings and bring a receipt to the payout window. With this, when the coins come out, you hear it. It’s a whole different feel.

Vintage triple slot machines have been faked in the past. Aside from a correctly mounted music box, what other clues tell us this triple Caille is genuine? Of the eight triples known, four are believed to be faked. That doesn’t make them worthless, but they’re not triples. What’s faked about them, generally, is the cabinet. When someone fakes one, they build the cabinet and get three [genuine period] mechanisms to populate it.

What condition is this triple Caille in? It has not been refinished. There are some dings in the cabinet, and there are places where the nickel plating has been rubbed thin, but that adds character. If it had been restored, or had recast parts, we would have put it in the description.

Does the upcoming sale represent the first time a triple Caille slot machine has gone to auction? No. There was one in a Witherell’s auction earlier this year. [The Caille Triplet Musical Upright sold for $217,800 against an estimate of $100,000 to $250,000 in January 2020.]

Why will this triple Caille slot machine stick in your memory? Because the last time I saw it, I was at Mel’s house [collector Mel Getlan, who consigned the machine] in 1996, when he was still living in New York, and I played it for four hours. [Laughs]. It’s really nice to see it again. There’s something whimsical about standing in front of a machine and playing it, and wondering who owned it before us, and were they as excited to play it as we are. Whoever buys it, I hope it brings them the same joy it brought to Mel. It’s a spectacular piece.

How to bid: The Triple Caille is lot 1110 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale taking place at Morphy Auctions from October 29, 2020 through October 31, 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.

Tom Toleworthy appeared on The Hot Bid earlier in 2020 to discuss a pair of 1928 Princess Doraldina fortune teller machines that were offered in the same auction.

Images are courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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A Walter Lang 100-Blade Knife Could Sell for $7,000 (Updated October 28, 2020)

A Walter Lang 100-blade knife, created around 1960, could sell for $7,000 at Skinner.

Update: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife sold for $5,500.

What you see: A Walter Lang 100-blade Exposition knife, No, 227, created circa 1960. Skinner estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.

Who was Walter Lang? What do we know about his family’s company? He was the fourth generation of a knife-producing family in Germany. Pius Lang started the company in 1852, and in 1889, he showed an 100-blade knife at the Paris Exposition. They say Walter Lang pushed the family to enter the global marketplace. The company is still going.

Do we know why Walter Lang made this 100-blade knife in 1960? Was it for the 1964 World’s Fair? No, I think he just continued to make these. He made 50-, 100-, and 200-blade versions with mother-of-pearl sides and polished stainless steel blades.

I take it he didn’t make this 100-blade knife on his own–he had assistants? I’m under that assumption as well. I think it’s similar to fine watchmaking, with certain people produce certain blades.

Do you have a list of all 100 blades and their functions? No, I can’t find one. [Laughs] When I was researching it for the auction catalog, I went to the Pius Lang website. They don’t have it.

Ok, but how do they account for 100 different blades? I’m thinking after you get past the most popular two dozen, things get a bit too specific or obscure… I think there’s a lot of repetitive pieces, whether they’re different sizes or shapes. [The lot notes mention the following implements: Pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.]

So this Walter Lang 100-blade knife is not a one-off? In my research, I found that 400 100-blade knives were produced by Walter Lang. I think they date to the 1960s, but the information I could pick up was vague.

Shown here closed, the Walter Lang 100-blade knife measures almost 5 inches long and weighs about two pounds.

The lot notes say the 100-blade knife, when closed, measures almost five inches long. How much does it weigh? It weighs 935 grams, or a bit over two pounds.

Was it meant to be functional, or was it a stunt piece? I think it’s a pure stunt, but the precision and the quality of the blades is impeccable. There are a couple of saw blades on it. I would not try to cut down a tree limb with a saw blade, but you definitely could. It took 35 minutes to open all the blades on one side.

Thirty-five minutes! Did it take the same amount of time to open the blades on the other side? Give or take, yes. I’d call it a good hour to do it without cutting yourself.

If you did cut yourself when opening the knife, I’m sure there’s a surgeon’s needle on it somewhere that you could use to stitch up the wound. [Laughs] It’s a conversation piece, for sure.

Can you comfortably carry the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Did you try putting it in your pocket and walking around with it? I did not, no. It’s stainless steel and mother-of-pearl, which is hard to damage, but it’s not ours. Any scratches or scuffs could potentially hurt it.

The bit with the mother-of-pearl is called the “grips”. I take it that’s where your fingers are supposed to rest? Yes. It’s claimed that the mother-of-pearl is from stock set aside by Pius Lang.

What is your favorite blade on the knife? It’s the mustache comb. [Laughs]

The 100-blade knife's implements include pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.
The mustache comb is visible in the fan of tools on the right side of the 100-blade knife, on the bottom, peeking out from under what appears to be a butterknife.

Why? This thing is two pounds. The mustache comb is just shy of two inches long. To have a two-pound object in your hand at the right height to comb your mustache…it’s a challenge.

Who was the target market for the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Or did he do it just because he could? I believe that 100 percent. It’s not a functional piece, its a “Wow” piece.

What is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife like in person? This is craftsmanship at its best. The polishing of each blade, each instrument, is astonishing. No corners were cut with this. The lock and hinge each instrument is on makes a nice click when you open it. It’s pure quality, like fine Swiss watchmaking.

What does it feel like to hold the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in your hand? Is it clumsy or awkward? No, it’s very well-balanced. It’s not top-heavy or bottom-heavy or left-heavy or right-heavy. There’s nothing really I can compare it to.

I imagine that’s how Walter Lang shows his mastery, yes? This thing could have been an absolute mess, but it’s merely ludicrous and still functional. Yes. [Laughs]. I’d be so curious how it evolved over the last 50 years–what the layouts were, what came with the piece, and what happened over that time frame. It’s a work of art.

What condition is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in? There’s no tarnish or scratches. There’s a few surface scratches on the mother-of-pearl, but there’s way to tell with the naked eye. I think a lot of people buy them as curiosity objects, open them once, and shut them.

How often do Walter Lang 100-blade knives come to auction? We had one in June 2012 that sold for $7,110. So this is the second one I’ve seen in person.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Being able to experience an object like this–we called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience in 2012, but now it’s twice in a lifetime. I thought I wouldn’t see another, but here we are.

How to bid: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife is lot 1346 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments online sale at Skinner, taking place between October 19 and 27, 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.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Skinner.

Jonathan Dowling has appeared on The Hot Bid twice previously, talking about a scarce and remarkable crainiometer and unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

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

Reminder: A Wharton Esherick Table Made for Hedgerow Theatre Could Fetch $250,000

Back in March 2020, The Hot Bid posted a story on the Thunder Table, a magnificent unique piece that Wharton Esherick made in 1929 for the Hedgerow Theater.

It was meant to go to sale at Freeman’s Auction a few weeks later, but COVID-19 intervened.

The auction was ultimately rescheduled for October 28, 2020.

Given the unusual hiccups that have postponed the sale, I felt it best to post a reminder with a link to the original story:

A Futuristic Concept Car by a Brilliant Unknown Maker Could Fetch $75,000 (Updated October 15, 2020)

La Shabbla, a unique concept car created by John Bucci, a little-known Italian-American designer. It could sell for $75,000.

Update: The futuristic concept car sold for $30,000.

What you see: La Shabbla, a futuristic concept car designed by the late John Bucci. Everard Auctions & Appraisals estimates it at $50,000 to $75,000.

The expert: Amanda Everard of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

Who was John Bucci? He was an Italian-American who grew up in an area of northern Italy that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. He immigrated around 1959 and found ultimate freedom after coming to America, but he didn’t have a car. He built himself the car of the future, which would get noticed. He drove it around Chicago.

He didn’t have money for a car, so he built one instead? Did he not realize that it would be more expensive to build one? I don’t know him, but I talked to people who did. Bucci had a magnetism about him. He was also an electrical engineer. His mind was always working. His widow said his motto was “nothing is impossible”. If he didn’t have it, he’d create it.

John Bucci dubbed his unique concept car "La Shabbla," which means "the sword", for its aerodynamic shape that slices through the air.

La Shabbla apparently means “sword”. Do we know why he gave his futuristic concept car that name? He chose it because the car’s aerodynamic form could cut or slice through the air. That was the thinking behind it.

Did Bucci have any experience making futuristic concept cars before starting work on La Shabbla? No, he had no experience, but he was an electrical engineer. He was very outgoing, and he would learn as he went.

And he did this alone? No assistants? As far as I know, yes.

From every angle, John Bucci's futuristic concept car looks like something that would fit right into the Jetsons universe.

How long did it take him to finish this futuristic concept car? I asked his widow that, and she didn’t know exactly. He immigrated in 1959 and La Shabbla was in its first custom car show in 1962, so it took at least that long–a couple of years.

Do we know why he chose to build La Shabbla on a Fiat chassis with an Abarth 750 engine? Because it had a potent engine and a compact size.

So Bucci bought a car to make a car… I guess buying a car like everyone else does wasn’t satisfying for him? This was the car of his imagination and his dreams. He couldn’t buy it off a lot. He was the center of attention. He got all the looks.

While we’re calling La Shabbla a futuristic concept car, it doesn’t really fit the strict definition of a concept car. It was never meant for mass production, and never meant to influence car designs that might go in to mass production. It was always for Bucci’s use alone. Yes? That’s correct. His widow said it identified him as an American. It was his American dream.

He designed the body of the futuristic concept car out of fiberglass. Was fiberglass a novel material in the early 1960s? Or was it well-established by then? It was invented in the late 19th century and was used in car design starting in 1949, but not for production cars until later in the 1950s. Bucci liked it because it was resilient and lightweight.

How does La Shabbla show Bucci’s mastery of fiberglass? I don’t think he mastered it. He trained himself, essentially. It’s certainly a slick form, very futuristic. If you look at films from the era that look into the future–1950s space films–it has that look. I always think of the Jetsons flying cars when I see it.

La Shabbla turned the heads of General Motors executives. Bucci declined to take a job with them, but accepted an invitation to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World's Fair.

How did Bucci manage to wrangle permission to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World’s Fair? My assumption is he was seen driving around Chicago or it was seen at one of the custom car shows. General Motors (GM) executives talked to him and wanted him to work for them, but he wanted to remain independent. The executives got him a pass for the 1964 World’s Fair. He drove the car from Chicago to New York. I assume he drove it alone. He was a very determined individual.

Ever the promoter, John Bucci politely pressed the powers that be at the 1964 World's Fair for permission to drive his futuristic concept car onto the fairgrounds for a killer photo shoot.

What happened once he brought his futuristic concept car to the fair? He wanted to drive it on the actual fairground. He wanted a photo op with the globe behind it. He asked for a pass and was told no. Day two, he was told no. Day three, the guy [in charge of fairground permissions] said, “I don’t know who you know, but here’s your pass.” He took shots with the globe behind him. He knew it would be a timeless thing.

Where within the 1964 World’s Fair was his futuristic concept car displayed? In the Transportation Pavilion, in the Cavalcade of Custom Cars.

A period article from 1964 says La Shabbla was “valued at over $250,000”. Did that number come from Bucci? It came directly from Bucci. He was a self-promoter. He thought his blood, sweat, and tears was worth $250,000.

Originally silver, at some point John Bucci repainted La Shabbla a khaki green.

What happened to Bucci’s futuristic concept car after the 1964 World’s Fair ended? It stayed with him the whole time. He stored it for a while, and when he got a new studio in Chicago, he displayed it there. [Bucci died in February 2019.]

Is La Shabbla drivable? No, not currently.

Bucci, an electrical engineer, built the car unassisted. It took him at least three years' worth of nights and weekends to realize his vision.

What is the futuristic concept car like in person? It’s so sleek, like a real-life Jetsons vehicle–the car of the future in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s a very sleek, very sexy car.

Have you sat in it? How could I not? I couldn’t resist. It has amazing woven blue leather bucket seats. Very comfortable.

Does it still have its engine? It has an engine, but we have not turned it on. It probably hasn’t been turned on for a long time.

Bucci designed La Shabbla with a retractable V-shaped steering device instead of a standard wheel.

What features does the futuristic concept car have? Were any of them novel or innovative for their time? It has retractable headlights and a retractable V-shaped steering wheel. The passenger side windshield goes up and down. And it has an 8-track tape reel on the passenger side.

Bucci fitted La Shabbla with a pair of woven blue leather bucket seats.

What is your favorite detail of La Shabbla? The seats. They’re just so sexy, like Bottega Venetta woven leather. And they’re eye-catching. The blue pops with the color of the car.

Did Bucci design La Shabbla without doors, or did it have them and lose them over time? It was designed with no doors.

Though he was living in Chicago when he built La Shabbla, Bucci sent it into the world without doors or a hard top to shield its driver and passenger from the elements.

Did he give the futuristic concept car a hard top or a removable dome? No. It was a sunny day car. [Laughs]. It needs a garage.

Does it have an odometer? It does not appear to have one.

How did you set the estimate for this futuristic concept car? [Laughs] It’s clearly hard to set a value on a one-of-one car by an unknown designer. I spoke to colleagues in the collector car field and developed a gut feeling on what it will bring. Concept cars at auction are mostly made by manufacturers, so they get high-flying prices. I would love for this to do that, but I don’t know that an unknown designer can bring that. There’s not a huge amount known about him, and there should be.

Why will this futuristic concept car stick in your memory? For me, it’s always about the story. I never knew John Bucci, but I feel like I do through his artwork and the cars I’m selling for the family. His widow said she felt the car defined him. That’s what will stick with me–optimism and possibilities and a dream coming true.

How to bid: The futuristic concept car is lot 0020 in Concept Cars & Art from the John Bucci Estate, a sale taking place at Everard Auctions & Appraisals on October 14, 2020.

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A Vase by Contemporary Native American Artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez Could Command $25,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

A black on black water jug-shape vase by Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez could command $25,000.

Update: The Youngblood Sanchez vase sold for $16,000.

What you see: A vase by contemporary Native American ceramic artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez, co-created in 2008. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Mark Sublette, founder of the eponymous gallery and auction house in Tucson, Arizona.

Let’s start by introducing each contemporary Native American ceramic artist. Who is Nancy Youngblood? She is a Santa Clara potter. She began as a young girl, and she comes from a great lineage of pottery-making.

And who is Russell Sanchez? He’s one of the great Pueblo potters from San Ildefonso, a different pueblo from Youngblood, but close to where she grew up. He and Youngblood are considered masters of the Pueblo pottery world. They’re two of the most decorated living Pueblo potters. She has won Best of Show at SWAIA [the Southwest Associaton for Indian Arts, which hosts the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico every August], and he has won Best Of his division.

Where were Youngblood and Sanchez in their careers in 2008, when they collaborated on this vase? They were at the top of their game, as they are now.

Do we know how the Youngblood Sanchez vase collaboration came about? I don’t, but dealer Charles King has represented both of them. My guess is he thought, “Let’s put two of the best potters together and see what comes up.” What they are is in the same league, which is the best. [Laughs]

Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez collaborated on this vase in 2008. It appears to be a one-off.

So it was a contemporary Native American art dealer, and not the artists, who probably came up with the idea to collaborate? I’m sure it was, and I’m sure it was an easy pitch. It’s a natural. Potters have, historically, worked together. Usually it’s family members working together. This vase is a little different, because the artists are from two different tribes.

Is this Youngblood Sanchez vase part of a series of works they did together, or is it a one-off? My guess is this is the only one. I’ve never heard of another. Both are masters of the trade. They don’t need to work with anybody. They did this to see what would happen. It’s beautiful. That’s why it’s at auction.

Native American pottery seems to be female-dominated. The few pots I’ve seen that represent the joint efforts of a woman and a man have been the work of a wife-and-husband team. Does that fact make the Youngblood Sanchez vase unusual? Yes. I would say it’s very unusual. The only other pairing I know of is Tammy Garcia [a Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor and ceramic artist] and Preston Singletary [a Native American glass artist from the Tlingit community in the Pacific Northwest]. Those two are at the top of their field, too. Aside from that pairing and this one, I’ve never seen another.

Do we know how this Youngblood Sanchez vase was made? We can look at the pot and tell who did what. Nancy would have done the ribs on the pot. Russell is known for sgraffito, the etchings on the pot. I don’t know who fired it, but they probably did it together, outdoors, over a fire. My guess is each polished the part they did, with Nancy doing the ribs and Russell doing the neck.

Nancy Youngblood contributed the scalloping at the mouth of the vase and the ribs on the lower half. Russell Sanchez decorated the neck with sgraffito etchings and heishi beads.

I see two thin parallel lines of material on the lower neck of the Youngblood Sanchez vase. What, exactly, do I see, and who would have been responsible for that contribution? Those are heishi beads, from Russell. Heishi are generally shell beads.

How do the two artists’ styles complement each other in this vase? Both are known for working black-on-black. Nancy usually only works in black or red. Russell is more attuned to using lots of different slip colors. [A slip is a mixture of water and clay that can be used like paint.]

This detail shot of the Youngblood Sanchez vase shows off Youngblood's scalloping work.

Is there a narrative or traditional theme expressed on this Youngblood Sanchez vase? The jar itself is a water jar. The two pueblos of the artists have long histories of making water jars. Then they’ve taken the elements of what they’re known for–Russell with his sgraffito and heishi, Nancy with her ribs, and the scalloping at the very top of the jar. They’ve worked from the basis of history and tradition, though they are from two different pueblos.

Youngblood signed the interior base of the vase in letters, while Russell Sanchez opted for a sketch of a rafter on a wave.

Both Youngblood and Sanchez signed the vase on the bottom of its interior. She used letters, and he used graphics. Do we know why? Russell changes his script every so often, when he feels like it. Sometimes he’s a rafter. He was a world-class white-water rafter. That’s what that is. He’ll sign his name too. It just depends on where he is in his life.

What is the Youngblood Sanchez vase like in person? One of the hardest things to appreciate is how finely polished it is. You look at it and you don’t see any flaws at all. If you like the black-on-black sheen in the picture, you will love it in person.

Youngblood hand-polished the lower two-thirds of the vase, while Sanchez handled the upper third.

How does each artist approach the polishing of their ceramic pieces? Do they rely on assistants for that part of the process? They’re the only ones who can do the polishing. I’m sure he did the upper third, and she did the lower two-thirds. To get into those little grooves, she’s using little rocks that have been handed down through the generations.

Why does she use rocks to polish her ceramics? First, it comes from tradition. They’ve [her pueblo] been doing it that way for a thousand years. The rocks–if you’re not absolutely perfect with the pressure on the wet clay, you’ll leave little grooves. This looks perfect. You can’t see how perfect the finish is.

I imagine doing things the old-fashioned way places a natural limit on how many pieces Youngblood and Sanchez could make together. Yes. Polishing slows down the process, that’s for sure.

What is it like to hold the Youngblood Sanchez vase? Any Native American pot, not just that pot, has the sense of a continuation of the culture–watching your mom or your aunt, and helping them. You can tell how much effort is required to get to this point. When you hold the pot, you hold tradition, culture, and personal effort all at once.

This Youngblood Sanchez vase appears to be unique. How did you set the estimate? Did you look at auction prices for Youngblood and Sanchez and average them? Yes, exactly right. Russell Sanchez works have sold in the $40,000 range, and the same is true for Nancy. Both artists are highly desirable. When they do the Indian Market [the Santa Fe fair mentioned above], they sell out in a few hours.

Who do you think will win the vase–a Youngblood collector, or a Sanchez collector? Is there a great deal of overlap between the two? Yes and yes. If you’re a Nancy Youngblood fan, it’s hard to believe you’re not a fan of Russell Sanchez as well. This vase is going to be on your hit parade for sure. It’s hard to come by.

As we speak on September 28, the Youngblood Sanchez vase has received enough bids to meet its $8,000 reserve, well ahead of the October 11 auction. Does that matter? I think it does. It means people are watching. If you want something of this rarity, you need to be aggressive and on top of this. If it sets a record, that wouldn’t surprise me.

The Youngblood Sanchez vase will automatically set an auction record for a collaboration by both artists, but could it set new auction records for each artist as well? It’s possible. In auctions, you occasionally have one shot at a rare piece in your collecting career. This may be that piece if you’re a contemporary Native American pot collector.

Why will this Youngblood Sanchez vase stick in your memory? I’m a fan of both, and I’ve known both artists for 30 years. I considered taking this piece home and putting it in my own collection. It’s definitely selling. And it’s the rarity–having something this rare and unique and beautifully made.

How to bid: The Nancy Youngblood Russell Sanchez vase is lot 0292 in the Rare Early Native, Western Art, Photography sale taking place at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction on October 11, 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.

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction.

Earlier in 2020, Sublette interviewed Russell Sanchez for episode 115 of his video podcast, Art Dealer Diaries.

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

STAN the T. rex Skeleton Could Set a New World Auction Record (Did He Ever! Updated October 6, 2020)

STAN the T. rex, one of the best-known examples of the legendary dinosaur species, could command $8 million at Christie's New York.

Update: Whoa! Whoa! And WHOA again! The T. rex skeleton known as STAN sold for $31.8 million–just shy of four times its high estimate, and a new world auction record for any dinosaur.

What you see: A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as STAN. Christie’s estimates it at $6 million to $8 million.

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

Christie’s describes this T. rex skeleton as “one of the largest, most complete, and widely studied tyrannosaurus rex skeletons on earth”. I’d like to take each claim in turn. What makes STAN one of the largest? He stands 13 feet tall and 37 feet long. [The Christie’s press release notes that the skeleton is “40 feet long with the tail outstretched”.] He is a male T. rex. Females are larger than the males.

A detail shot of the tapering tail bones of STAN the T. rex. When fully outstretched, STAN is 40 feet long from nose to tail.

Is that how we know STAN the T. rex is male? His skeleton is smaller? The size is a clue, but ultimately, it’s the shape and size of the hips that determine the gender of a T. rex. STAN’s are slightly more narrow.

How complete is this T. rex skeleton? STAN has 188 of his bones. Only one or two other T. rex skeletons can boast a higher number of bones than STAN. No complete T. rex will likely ever be found. The circumstances of the animal’s death, followed by the preservation of remains in the geological record, are generally unfavorable to preserving the entire beast.

Would Sue be one of those two T. rex skeletons? She’s probably the best and most complete T. rex. She’s resided at the Field Museum in Chicago for 20-odd years. Another, Victoria, is a more recent discovery.

STAN lacks 112 of his bones. From where on his skeleton are they missing? The famously short, stubby arms of the T. rex aren’t present on STAN. He’s missing one of his femurs, some ribs, vertebrae, and parts of his feet. What’s important is so much of his skull is intact. All elements of his skull are present, including 30 teeth.

STAN's skull is unusually intact for a T. rex skeleton. Christie's New York has displayed the original at ground level, so visitors to its gallery can examine it up close. The skull on the full skeleton is cast from resin.

When you say this T. rex skeleton is widely studied, what do you mean by that? There are countless scientific publications on STAN, and he’s been cast at least 60 times for institutes and museums around the world. I think he’s the most-seen T. rex there is.

When you say “cast”, do you mean STAN’s skeleton has been cast in plaster 60 times? Yeah, originally, but these days, resin is used for lighter weight.

How did the T. rex skeleton get the name STAN, and why is STAN spelled in all caps? The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research [in Hill City, South Dakota] always referred to the dinosaur as STAN. Stan Sacrison found the first bones of the dinosaur in 1987. Unfortunately, it was identified as a triceratops, and triceratops are the most commonly found dinosaur. In the late 1980s, there was less impetus to excavate.

Christie's mounted STAN's skeletal feet in a position that imitates that of an ostrich.

I imagine that’s why they didn’t feel the urge to extract STAN’s bones from the earth until 1992. How much work went into recovering the skeleton? Each bone had to be documented, recorded, and transported to the Black Hills Institute. It was meticulously restored and prepared, 30,000 hours from ground to mount.

What can we learn about STAN’s life from studying his bones? Did he have adventures? Or should I say misadventures? Misadventures is exactly the term for it. Many of his ribs cracked and healed during his lifetime. He has holes on his jaw that are not caused by disease–they are puncture wounds that are pretty much the size of a T. rex‘s tooth. And vertebrae in his neck fused together and healed, right behind the skull. STAN broke his neck, healed, and carried on being at the top of the food chain. That tells you how tough the T. rex was as an animal.

Can we tell, by looking at STAN the T. rex‘s bones, how old he was when he died? Not with great accuracy. It’s thought that mature T. rexes lived to their late 20s or early 30s.

Long since stripped of flesh and photographed from the back, STAN  has lost none of his ability to strike fear into those who get too close.

What is STAN the T. rex‘s skeleton like in person? I’ve been lucky to come face to face with dinosaurs in my career. There isn’t anything like standing close to a T. rex. They are big, really big, terrifyingly big. I’m six-foot-two and I don’t get halfway up to the top of his hipbone. We had him mounted so he’s stooping down in a very dynamic pose. Even then, you look up to his skull.

Wow. With STAN, the skull is displayed separately. We wanted people to be able to see the puncture wounds and his neck. Also, the weight of the skull is severe. We’ve got a [lightweight] cast resin skull on the skeleton so we can have the dinosaur swooping down toward you.

What is your favorite detail of STAN the T. rex? It’s going to sound ridiculous, but it’s the feet. When I was out cataloging him, I watched the photoshoot happen, and I took a shot of my leg and foot up against STAN. His claw was bigger than my boot. He’s just an enormous animal.

What was it like to install STAN the T. rex in the display gallery at Christie’s New York? It’s been an adventure. It’s amazing the operations team speaks to me at all. STAN takes two to three days to install, and in 2020, social distancing is a big consideration. We want as many people as possible to see STAN, and we can’t accommodate them all in the building. We removed a temporary wall so you can see him from the street.

Did you supervise the installation? Because of COVID-19, I’m trapped in London. The last time I saw STAN was at the photoshoot.

Is that nervewracking–knowing that STAN the T. rex was being assembled an ocean away from you, and not being able to watch over the process? Having seen it go up once, I have full confidence in them [the team] to do it without me there. I don’t know where STAN will end up, but the team will be able to install him in any conditions you throw at them.

STAN the T. rex's skull retains 30 of its teeth.

So the team that assembled STAN at Christie’s New York will be made available to the winning bidder? Shipping will be at the buyer’s cost, but we would absolutely help the buyer, and advise them on how to position the skeleton in space. We’d recommend the team because they know the skeleton well.

When was the last time a substantially complete T. rex skeleton came to auction? Would that have been Sue? The last was Sue, in 1997. Sotheby’s sold it for a still-world-record price for any dinosaur: $8.36 million. The main difference, other than the gender and the size, is Sue was sold unassembled. The bones hadn’t been prepped or mounted into a full skeleton. The Field Museum spent one or two years getting it ready. [The original lot notes for Sue are not online, but the Associated Press (AP) archive channel posted video of the 1997 auction.]

Was the estimate for STAN the T. rex based on the price commanded by Sue? Yeah. There’s precious little auction history for T. rexes. STAN is being sold without reserve, but really, almost any price is possible. We’ve probably estimated STAN conservatively. Sue set a world record price and the benchmark for the market. I expect a world record with STAN and I expect another such reset. The number of T. rexes that have gone to market is pretty scant. Really, it’s a generational wait.

You said earlier that STAN’s skeleton has been cast at least 60 times and displayed all over the world. How might his fame make him more interesting to collectors? Or does the inherent rarity of a substantially complete T. rex skeleton coming to market make STAN’s fame irrelevant? I think the two are interwound. He’s been so well-studied and documented over the years, and so reproduced for museums, it’s hard to separate those two. If he was a triceratops, he wouldn’t command an estimate in the millions.

Why has Christie’s placed STAN the T. rex in its October 6 evening sale, rather than a natural history auction, or a single-lot offering? Two reasons. STAN really is the best of the best. The 20th Century Evening Sale is a marquee sale at Christie’s, and STAN is a natural fit for that reason. He was 67 million years in the making, but the T. rex is an icon of the 20th century. The first T. rex was found in Cezanne’s lifetime and was first published in 1905. Within 13 years, the T. rex had made its first appearance in Hollywood, doing battle with King Kong on Skull Island. More recently, the T. Rex was almost the lead actor in Jurassic Park.

Why will STAN the T. rex stick in your memory? Apart from the logistics and it happening in 2020… I was there as the skeleton was going up. I saw it as a pair of hips and nothing else. I saw the bones go up one by one over ten to 12 hours. Seeing it fully assembled with the lights dimmed was magical. It’s big and scary. You don’t forget something like that.

How to bid: STAN the T. rex is lot 59 in the 20th Century Evening Sale taking place at Christie’s New York on October 6, 2020.

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