A Print of the First Melvin Sokolsky Bubble Photograph, Over New York, Could Command $20,000 (Updated April 9, 2021)

'Over New York', the first Melvin Sokolsky Bubble photograph, tested a concept that he would soon make famous. A print from a large limited edition of the color image could sell for $20,000.

Update: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph sold for $20,160.

What you see: Over New York, a limited edition 1963 photograph by Melvin Sokolsky that measures 39 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches. Phillips estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Sarah Krueger, head of the photographs department at Phillips.

Who is Melvin Sokolsky? He’s a pioneer when it comes to 1960s fashion photography. He was bringing [then-new] Pop Art into his images, and it coincides with the [rise of] Harper’s Bazaar co-art directors Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler. They were very young, very passionate about photography, and interested in bringing a fresh, creative element into the magazine.

Did one or both women bring Sokolsky in? He started with Harper’s Bazaar around 1954.  The Bubble pictures–including what we have on offer–are his most iconic fashion story and were completed under the tenure of Ansel and Feitler as co-art directors.

I understand that Sokolsky is now 87 years old. Is he still active as a photographer? He’s active with his galleries and with his studio, and has had work included in museum retrospectives around the world. He lives in Los Angeles.

How many series of Bubble photographs had Sokolsky shot when he created Over New York? This is the first. He conceived the idea when he was on assignment to shoot the Paris collection for the March 1963 issue. He was inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. He tested the concept on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, which is what we see here. It’s proof-of-concept before going to Paris to shoot the Paris collection. A variant of this image appeared on the cover.

And if it hadn’t worked, then, no Bubble photos? If it hadn’t worked, no bubbles over Paris, or he puts additional thought into how to make it a reality.

And the model really is inside a plastic sphere, yes? That’s the wonderful thing about the image. You must think of the image-making of the time in the early 1960s. Sokolsky set up a crane with a thin steel cable and a model inside a plexiglass bubble. The only alterations done was the cable was retouched out of the final photo.

And he can’t just pick any fashion model. She has to wear the clothes well, and not be claustrophobic or afraid of heights… The model is Simone D’Aillencourt. She had worked with Sokolsky before, and was a very notable model of the time.

I imagine at least some of her peers would have told Sokolsky, “What? Are you nuts? No! What if you drop me?” Over New York speaks to the creativity of the time. Successful, iconic, and memorable fashion images are direct collaborations between the model, the photographer, and the team putting it together. D’Aillencourt realized Sokolsky’s vision. She’s the model who had the nerve to do this with him.

How did Sokolsky get D’Aillencourt’s dress to floof out like that? That’s Simone. She fanned out the dress. The designer of the dress is unknown to me, but it’s a Grecian-inspired pleated dress. It’s her posing inside the bubble for Melvin to have options and to capture this one remarkable and memorable shot. 

How high off the ground was D’Aillencourt when taking this Sokolsky Bubble photograph? I’m not aware of the height, but she was high enough to not have anything in the foreground. Whether it was one foot or 10, it’s pretty remarkable.

What, if anything, do we know about the physical logistics of shooting the Sokolsky Bubble photographs? I would love to hear those stories. I don’t know them myself. You’ve got to look at them with a little bit of a sense of awe that it all came together–to be inspired by a Bosch painting, then to see it through, and have the picture resonate so much today.

What is this Sokolsky Bubble photograph like in person? What eludes the camera? The rich sense of color, the vibrant ochre-hued dress against the setting sun in the background. The colors really come through in person. And it’s really large in scale–30 by 40 inches. It has a mural-size component to it that doesn’t necessarily come across on screen.

What’s your favorite detail of the Sokolsky Bubble photograph? If I have to choose one, I have to choose the bubble, but the whole thing is wonderful–it’s hard to pick one detail. It’s a model, in a bubble over the Hudson River. It’s fanciful in how she’s playing and posing for the camera. It’s really spectacular.

I realize this Sokolsky Bubble photograph dates to 1963. Is that when the limited edition of 25 was made? I don’t know exactly when the edition was produced. I think it’s more recent than that, because of its scale.

Are there other limited editions of this Sokolsky Bubble photograph, maybe in different sizes? We’ve offered the limited edition of 25 at 30 inches by 40 inches before. And we have offered it at 40 inches by 60 inches, but it’s a much smaller edition.

What’s the world auction record for Over New York, and for any Marvin Sokolsky photograph? Were they set with you? We do hold the auction records for Sokolsky’s work. The record belongs to a portfolio he printed of his Bubble pictures of the Paris collection. It sold for $92.500 in April 2012 at Phillips New York. The world auction record for Over New York was set at Phillips London in 2019. It sold for £21,250, which is about $27,000.

I think it’s worth pointing out here that the known limited editions were printed much, much larger than the size of the cover of a magazine. How does printing it at a larger size than the public would have seen it change the impact of the Sokolsky Bubble image? The larger it is, the more magnificent it is. The conceptual nature of the artwork really comes across. The larger size creates wonder.

Why will this Sokolsky Bubble photograph stick in your memory? It speaks to a wonderful, creative time when we see Pop Art come into fashion and editorial. And it’s on the cusp of space-age fashion, which we see in the middle of the decade, and it’s still very 1960s. It seems like a precursor to space-age fashion, which is why it seems so strong.

I like how it captures the essence of fashion photography–a heck of a lot of work goes into making something that looks ethereal and effortless. A lot of work and a lot of thinking went into the image’s creation, and the vision Sokolsky was imagining for Harper’s at the time.

How to bid: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph Over New York is lot 199 in the Photographs auction scheduled at Phillips New York on April 8, 2021.

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A Pair of Ted Williams Cleats, Worn During His Final At Bat, Could Sell for $63,000 or More (Update, April 4, 2021: They Did!)

A pair of Ted Williams cleats, worn during his final at-bat as a major leaguer. As of March 19, they've already reached $63,000 and could well go higher.

Update: The Ted Williams cleats sold for $70,745. Hooray!

What you see: The cleats Ted Williams wore during his final at bat of his Major League Baseball (MLB) career on September 28, 1960, at Fenway Park. SCP Auctions estimates them at $50,000-plus.

The expert: Mike Keys, chief operating officer of SCP Auctions.

Who was Ted Williams? He was a Red Sox great and one of the best hitters in MLB history. He played 19 seasons with the Red Sox, primarily in left field. He had a tremendous career and was a Hall of Fame player.

Lots of baseball players enter their final career at bat without knowing it. How well-telegraphed was this event? Had Ted Williams announced he would retire at the end of the 1960 season? He had announced his retirement on three different occasions–in 1951, again in 1954, and in 1960. He had had injuries in the early 1950s, but 1960, that was it. People knew it would be his last at bat. He came up in the eighth inning. It was not likely he’d get another at bat, and it was his last game.

So it’s September 1960. No internet, no smart phones. Is Fenway Park full? In 1960, the Red Sox were not the best team. There were 10,454 fans in the stands.

Was that its capacity? I don’t believe so. [Keys is correct. Baseball Almanac says Fenway’s capacity was 33,368 at the time.]

What happened during Ted Williams’s final at bat? How did it go? The first pitch, he took for a ball. A lot of sluggers watched the first pitch anyway then. The second pitch was a high fastball. Ted Williams swung really hard at it. There was no doubt he was swinging for the fences. The third pitch he hit for a 440-foot home run.

That is a long home run, like you only see in the Home Run Derby contest in the All-Star Break. Or Mike Trout. But yeah, he nailed it.

So the crowd goes nuts. Then what happens? He runs the bases very humbly, very business-like, with his head down. He shook the catcher’s hand and got into the dugout quickly.

The Ted Williams cleats, in full. Note the number 9 written on the tongue of the left shoe.

How do we know these are Ted Williams game-worn cleats, and how do we know he wore them during his last major league at bat? It ties in to Jim Carroll. He and Ted Williams were friends going back to at least five years prior to the home run. Carroll would cruise around town in Ted’s Cadillac and shepherd him around. After the game, Carroll was there to take Williams to the airport. The provenance is Jim Carroll. [Carroll wrote a letter of authenticity for the cleats in 2007 that reads in part: “After the game, Ted started to take off his cleats and uniform to take a shower. Ted cantankerously threw his cleats in a barrel nearby. I sheepishly went to grab them and figured what a great collectible these would make. The equipment manager Jonny Orlando for the Red Sox turned and said “Hey, what are you doing”, Ted then turned around and stated, “No, that’s okay, let the Bush (my nickname to Ted) have ’em.”] They were originally sold in 2007, in a joint auction with SCP and Sotheby’s, and Carroll wrote the letter at that time. Other attributes of the cleats check out–the Spot Bilt tagging, the number 9 inside the tongue.

What did the Ted Williams cleats sell for in 2007, when SCP and Sotheby’s joined forces on that auction? $51,000.

I’ve seen any number of game-worn baseball jerseys that predate 1970, and a few pairs of pants. This is the first pair of cleats I can remember. How rare are vintage game-worn baseball cleats, generally? They don’t come around that often. In 2019, a pair of Babe Ruth cleats sold for $72,000, and had provenance from the Ruth family. Other than that, none have come up for sale. There are more jerseys out there than cleats. Unless they’re from a player like Ruth or Williams, or from a significant game, you don’t see cleats pop up. And game-worn jerseys are easier to authenticate. There aren’t too many cleats authenticators out there. That’s not really a thing that’s done.

Let’s talk about the condition of the Ted Williams cleats and how condition works when we’re talking about game-worn clothing. How do you assess a piece for which you want to see some wear, but not so much that it looks like it’s been dragged behind a bus? You do want a lot of wear on some game-worn items. You don’t want them to look like they were run through a wringer. You want dirt and creasing and evidence he was running around in them. With these ones, in particular, you can see dust and dirt speckling off, still. You can assume it comes from Fenway. It’s still there. They’re well-made leather cleats. They’re by Spot Bilt, a manufacturer of cleats back then. The tagging inside is vintage, everything about the cleats is vintage.

The Ted Williams cleats were manufactured by Spot Bilt.

Did I hear you say the Ted Williams cleats have Fenway dirt in them? There’s some dirt in the nooks and crannies of the seams. Not big chunks–dust. We can assume it’s from Fenway.

The Ted Williams cleats, shown from the front. Clearly game-worn, the cleats show a good amount of wear, not too much.

What are the Ted Williams cleats like in person? What eludes the camera? They’re just special in person. You can see the little grains of dirt and dust, and looking at the cleats part is interesting. They have six spikes coming out of the soles, and they look welded on. It’s really cool to have them in front of me on my desk. You can feel the difference. There’s an aura about these items when they come around.

What is your favorite detail of the Ted Williams cleats? I love the spikes. You can also see the stitching at the bottom of the shoe. These things were just made differently.

The Ted Williams cleats, tilted to show the spikes installed on their soles.
The Ted Williams cleats, tilted to show the spikes installed on their soles.

What size are the Ted Williams cleats? Size 9 to 9 1/2. That’s Ted’s size.

That’s convenient, seeing as that was also Ted Williams’s number. [Laughs]

Have you tried them on? They don’t fit my feet, but we wouldn’t put them on, the same way we wouldn’t swing a Babe Ruth game-used bat. We’ve put on jerseys before, but we haven’t tried on the cleats.

Well, they’re leather. That’s an organic material. Who knows when and whether they’ll crack? And they’re an old artifact. Since 2007, they have had shoe horns inside that have kept their shape.

So when you were figuring out a presale estimate for the Ted Williams cleats, you looked to the results from when they sold in 2007? It’s based on itself because there’s really no comparables out there. They’re one of a kind. There are no other Ted Williams last home run cleats out there. $51,000 was a big price at the time, and it has already reached that price.

Whoa, you’re right. We’re speaking on March 19, 2021, I’ve just refreshed the lot page, and they’re at $53,594. With the premium, they’re over $63,000.

How meaningful is that–it’s more than two weeks before the auction ends, and they’ve already exceeded the price they fetched the last time they were auctioned? We’re excited about it, of course, and we hope it keeps going, but it’s really a crapshoot. Sometimes, at auction, you see something reach a number and sit there and never move from that bid. Sometimes things go absolutely crazy toward the last day. But we’re glad the cleats are where they are now.

What’s the world auction record for a pair of game-worn baseball cleats? It’s a pair that Michael Jordan wore while playing in minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons. They sold for $93,000 in May 2020. To my knowledge, his are the highest priced game worn baseball cleats. Michael Jordan kind of owns the shoe world.

Do you think these Ted Williams cleats could set a new record? If they beat $93,000, we’ll be ecstatic. They’re already halfway there. They could certainly get there.

Why will these Ted Williams cleats stick in your memory? Because I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. They probably won’t come up for sale again [in my career]. I hope whoever wins really cherishes them and takes good care of them.

How to bid: The Ted Williams cleats are lot 43 in the Winter Premier Auction 2021 at SCP Auctions. It opened on March 17, 2021 and closes on April 3, 2021.


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See Ted Williams’s final at-bat in full at the YouTube channel of David Marlin, who filmed it and later donated his camera to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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A Set of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger Paintings on the Five Senses Could Fetch $140,000 (Updated March 31, 2021–New World Auction Record!)

Sight, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

Update: The Henri Guillaume Schlesinger set of paintings, The Five Senses, sold for £200,250, or about $275,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Sight, one of five paintings from Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses, a series he painted in 1865. Each canvas measures 45 1/2 inches by 35 1/4 inches. Bonhams estimates it at £70,000 to £100,000, or $97,000 to $140,000.

The expert: Martina Fusari, specialist in the 19th century paintings department at Bonhams.

Who was Henri Guillaume Schlesinger? Where was he in his career in 1865. when he submitted this group of works to the Salon? He was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1814 and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before moving to France. In Paris, he exhibited regularly at the Salon between 1840 and 1889.

Wait, he got into the Salon regularly over a 50-year span? Whoa. The Salon helped him secure good visibility and important commissions. He won a bronze medal [at the show] in 1840 and a silver medal in 1847.

It sounds like Henri Guillaume Schlesinger was not just a skilled artist. He was equally good at figuring out what subjects would earn a place in the Salon lineup year after year. He was known for his lively and sensitive depictions of young women. There’s no way we can prove it [that he explicitly acknowledged a strategy for winning a place in the Salon]. We couldn’t find any letters or diaries in which he wrote, “Yes, of course.” There’s still a lot to be discovered about the artist.

Painting a set of five interrelated works is a huge commitment, especially when you’re doing it on spec, as an entry for an upcoming Salon. Why do you think Henri Guillaume Schlesinger thought that his bet would pay off? It’s a very commercial and eye-catching subject, and he conveyed it in a way that was light and easy for the public to understand. It immediately captured a lot of attention, and it’s impressive because of its size. He illustrated the five senses over five large canvases and put them on display in frames. I’ve never seen something like it before–I’ve never seen such intricate, architectural frames on five paintings like that. And I think he wanted to be criticized [he wanted to cause controversy] because it was a way to be noted. The Five Senses was probably the turning point of his career. Emperor Napoleon III bought it for 25,000 francs. That was more than what the French state paid other established French artists.

In painting the set of five canvases, Henry Guillaume Schlesinger was betting that the Salon would find enough wall space to display them. Most artists were lucky to land one painting in the show, never mind five. Was that a risky move on his part, even though by 1865, he had a decades-long track record of winning a place at the Salon? That’s true, but consider that the size of the paintings at the Salon was pretty large. Artists were pushed to work on very large canvases, and the Salon was the place to do that. It could showcase your abilities, and let you show off and be recognized by the public and by critics.

Martina Fusari located this 1865 image of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger's The Five Senses on display in that year's Paris Salon.
In researching the lot, Martina Fusari located a period photograph of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses on display at the 1865 Paris Salon.

There’s a phrase we like to say in America: Go big or go home. Was the ethos of the Salon kind of like that? In most cases, yes. They [the show’s planners] wanted to make sure that artists were able to work well on a large scale. It’s not easy. You’ve got to master the skills to do so. That’s why the canvases the artists submitted had to be large.

Still, five canvases is a lot, even if they’re a themed set. They’re five large canvases, but they’re not massive canvases. When you put them together, all in their frames, it’s quite something.

The five senses is a theme that shows up in Western art as far back as the Middle Ages. Rubens and Brueghel the Elder teamed up on a group of five. Rembrandt did his own set, too, and I’m not even bothering to name the artists who depicted all five senses within a single work. What does Schlesinger bring to the topic that lets him make it his own? As I mentioned earlier, I think he tried to make the personifications more accessible to a wider public. There are no complicated references to mysterious symbols. There’s no need for a deep understanding of mythology to read these canvases. Anyone can stand in front of them and discuss what they’re seeing and what the artist wants to do. It’s a really new and modern interpretation of a topic that’s been reworked for centuries.

Sound, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

I don’t pretend to be a scholar of images of the five senses, but I’m thinking Henri Guillaume Schlesinger marks his version out by focusing on two young women… They’re very nice, attractive models. One magazine from the time described them as being ladies from Spain and Germany who moved to Paris for work. He used two models to keep the narrative moving, and it let him show off a bit more. He had to build up scenes, and think about how to make them interact to create each of the senses. It makes it more playful as well. It’s a lot of fun to look at. It’s colorful, and nice to the eye.

Did he rely on the same two models for all five paintings? I think they are the same two. It makes more sense for him to keep both for a series of paintings.

Taste, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

Can we talk a bit about how Henri Guillaume Schlesinger dresses the models and stages the actions and the backdrops? It seems to me that he’s trying to reflect the world of his audience, who either lived like the women in the paintings, or hoped to live that way. For example, he depicts taste by showing the two enjoying a bowl of ice cream. Mass refrigeration was several decades away in 1865, so I’m guessing ice cream was a treat reserved for the rich and elite. I completely agree. Ice cream probably was not cheap at all or easy to find. I think you’re right when you say he wanted the actions to give pleasure to the eyes of the people who looked at them. In a way, he was all about giving pleasure. His rich, lavishly painted fabrics resonated with viewers. They would have been captivated immediately by the colors and the details.

It strikes me, as we speak, that this series is as far away from a religious or history-themed work as possible. It literally shows two beautiful, well-dressed young women indulging in sensory pleasures. Did the paintings draw any criticism for that? At the time, a lot of the [Salon] paintings that won medals were of religious or mythological subjects. In this case, it’s pure genre. In a way, it talks about the tastes of the time. 1865 was five years before the start of the Franco-Prussian War. It’s a specific moment in taste and collecting that goes back to a more frivolous type of genre painting. It’s something easier to live with. It wouldn’t have been popular only ten years before.

Every painting in the Henri Guillaume Schlesinger series features beautiful young women. I’ve heard tell of pendants–portraits painted in pairs–in which the dour old husband and his lovely young bride are divorced by dealers who are only interested in the more salable painting. How impressive is it that The Five Senses is still together as a group of five canvases more than 150 years after they were painted? It is impressive, because I’m sure at some point there would have been pressure to sell them separately. It’s fantastic for us that that wasn’t the case. The artist created the idea and all five are still together with the same narrative, telling the story.

What are the Henri Guillaume Schlesinger paintings like in person? What eludes the camera? When you see them all together, it’s quite impressive. You’re impressed by the quality of the paintings, the brush strokes, the rendering of the fabrics. You’d miss it if you weren’t standing in front of the works.

Smell, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What is your favorite painting among The Five Senses? Definitely Smell, the lady smoking a cigar. I was amazed–is she really smoking a cigar?–and she is. At the time, smoking was definitely not something for a lady or a young girl, and definitely not a cigar. I’ve never seen such a depiction before of a woman smoking a cigar in the 19th century. It caught my eye and intrigued me.

And she’s looking directly at the viewer, almost as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” I find it very striking and modern for a painting from 1865. It shows how Henry Guillaume Schlesinger is trying to literally create a bit of controversy. He wanted to be controversial, and wanted people to talk about him.

How did the public react to Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses? Comparing popular magazines against art history magazines and papers, [it’s clear that] people were in love with these canvases.

So, he gambled and won. He succeeded, which is great.

Touch, one of a themed set of five paintings by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger. The Five Senses could fetch $140,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What’s the world auction record for a work by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger? It’s £85,000, for a portrait of Sultan Mahmud II in Constantinople, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2009.

What are the odds that The Five Senses will do better? I think it’s going to be the new world auction record for the artist, given its provenance, its historical importance, its quality, the subject matter–yeah, I think there’s a very good possibility it well sell well above the current record.

Why will this set of Henri Guillaume Schlesinger paintings stick in your memory? I’ve never seen a set of five works. Researching these canvases was something very exciting, and it was exciting to find the photo of them in the Salon in 1865. It was quite a big project, definitely worth the time.

How to bid: Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s The Five Senses is lot 43 in the 19th Century and British Impressionist Art auction taking place at Bonhams London on March 31, 2021.

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A 1932 Marx Brothers Movie Poster Could Sell for $50,000 (Updated March 28, 2021)

Update: The Marx Brothers movie poster sold for $40,800.

What you see: A Marx Brothers movie poster for their 1932 film Horse Feathers. It’s a three-sheet poster, which measures 41 inches by 80 inches. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions.

Who were the Marx Brothers, and where were they in their career in 1932, when Horse Feathers was released? They were really known for their stage work prior to the early 1930s. They were recruited in New York by Paramount to do an adaption of a play they were in called The Cocoanuts. The Marx Brothers weren’t primarily physical comedians–it was all verbal banter, puns, and plays-on-words that attracted the audience. They did this movie and Duck Soup and then MGM picked them up. Most Marx Brothers fans love the Paramount films because they were more loose, less…

Well, they were pre-code–made before the Hays Code. Right. The Paramount films were more loosely concocted stories, all over the place. MGM buttoned them up and gave them a more direct narrative. When they made Horse Feathers, they were at the peak of their popularity in the early part of their career.

The poster touts “The 4 Marx Brothers”. Who’s the other guy off by himself? That’s Zeppo, in the lower right. The fifth Marx Brother, Gummo, never appeared in the films. Zeppo was the straight man to the other three brothers. He didn’t continue to the MGM years.

Do we know who did the portraits on the Marx Brothers movie poster? We do. The man who did them was Sam Berman, an artist working for Paramount. He did a number of images of the Marx Brothers for the poster campaign.

It’s funny how the design layout of the poster plays right into how most people remember them–“Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and… that other guy, what’s his name…” Exactly right. In marketing this movie, they played up the three crazy ones, but they needed to show the other brother. I don’t want to say he’s an afterthought, but there he is.

How rare are vintage Marx Brothers movie posters? Original Marx Brothers material is really pretty scarce. There was quite a demand for many years. I suggest that it was college students who found them in the 1950s and 1960s, who found the fun of those films. They really became popular in those years and the posters were probably sought after and they scooped up whatever they could find.

And that’s how this Marx Brothers movie poster might have survived? College students who ran campus film clubs would ask the distributor to send along any old posters they had kicking around, so they could advertise it? I can only believe that is the case. Local television stations needed product to fill their airwaves and were showing older films constantly. The Marx Brothers were part of that. Their verbal banter, their appearances, and their movements were really fascinating. Young adults discovered them, and it probably led to a run on their films. It’s a guess, but it’s a fair one to make–their posters are desirable.

The appearance of each Marx Brother seems to have been codified by 1932, judging by the Horse Feathers poster. How did the brothers’ recognizability help sell the movie? By this time, their fourth movie with Paramount, their images were pretty iconic. They were really well-known in their screen personas, and they immediately translated to the poster in exaggerated cartoon form. Everyone knew by looking [at this poster that Horse Feathers] was not a serious romantic drama. They could see what it was.

The lot notes describe this Marx Brothers movie poster as “exceptionally rare”. What makes it so? We sold another copy of this one last year for $66,000. The only difference is this copy is in a little bit better condition than the copy that was previously sold, and that other copy was autographed by Groucho. He wrote his name next to his head.

And that’s it? Those are the only two copies of this version of this Marx Brothers movie poster? They’re the only two copies I’m aware of. It’s a coincidence that this one appeared so soon after [the first one sold in March 2020].

Ok, let’s pretend I’m walking to the movie theater to see Horse Feathers. Where would I see this long, skinny Marx Brothers movie poster? Is it in a case outside the theater, or is it displayed inside? Both. It could be outside the theater, in a case, and they put them inside the theater. The most common movie poster is the one-sheet. Three-sheets [which this poster is] and six-sheets are more rare. They’d get used and abused more than a one-sheet. They [the people who ran movie theaters] would take three-sheets and six-sheets and cut out the Marx Brothers’ heads for a display of their own making. This paper was very inexpensive and totally expendable.

What is this Marx Brothers movie poster like in person? What eludes the camera? When people come here to view a poster, they say, “Wow, it’s so much brighter in person,” and it usually is. The photographs are good, but it’s not like seeing it in person. It’s just much more vibrant.

What’s your favorite detail of the poster? The caricatures are wonderful, especially Harpo, whose eyes are wide open.

Sam Berman seems to have given Harpo Marx red hair, though. I wonder why? We don’t know. Bear in mind that none of these films are in color. The studio provided the artists a number of stills from the film, and they used them to create images for the poster.

The Marx Brothers movie poster is described as being in “Very Fine, minus” condition. What does that mean? It’s just saying the poster is very presentable. Very Fine minus means there’s very little, if any, paper loss, and very minor wear to the paper.

As we speak on March 9, 2021, the Marx Brothers movie poster has been bid up to $12,500. Is that meaningful, given how far away in time the auction is? Not really. I don’t think so. I tell people all the time that people don’t get involved in bidding until the week before, and really [get involved] when it comes down to the auction block. I have seen posters come to the block with a $10,000 bid and when it’s all over, they sell for $355,000. That’s not unusual. Now that auctions are so immediate and many have access to bidding in real time, people will wait and keep their cards close to their chest until the auction goes live.

Comedy is ephemeral. Horse Feathers is close to being a century old. The Marx Brothers have been dead for decades. Why do they persist? Why are we still talking about them today? The only way to explain it is to go watch a few of their films. They had a unique and really quick banter. It’s sort of like asking what people find enchanting about Charlie Chaplin–City Lights is one of the best films created. It’s incredible.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I see a lot of good material come through our auction house. I see posters as tangible pieces of cinema history. This poster is a very, very significant piece of cinema history. Fifty years from now, people will look at the auction catalog and think, “Wow, you could buy that for that price.” I think demand will continue to be significant. Museums and institutions will want them.

How to bid: The Marx Brothers movie poster is lot #86138 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction held at Heritage Auctions on March 27 and 28, 2021.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid many times, talking about a 1929 Russian movie poster for Battleship Potemkina lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks,  a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun

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A Leonora Carrington Bronze Could Command $97,000

What you see: The Ship of Cranes, a 2010 Leonora Carrington bronze, produced in a limited edition of six plus four more marked as P/A. Bonhams estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000, or about $69,000 to $97,000.

The expert: Ruth Woodbridge, specialist at Bonhams.

Who was Leonora Carrington? She was a British-born artist who ended up in Mexico and split her life between there and New York City. She met Max Ernst in 1937 and moved with him to Paris and met all the Surrealist artists. When World War II broke out, Ernst left her, and she had to try to get back to England by herself. The journey through Spain led to a breakdown, and she was in an asylum for a bit. She was released into the care of a minder, from whom she escaped. She made a marriage of convenience with Renato Leduc, an ambassador to Mexico, and that’s how she ended up there.

What influences shape Carrington’s work? From a very young age, she was interested in the stories told by her mother, who was Irish–she liked the folklore. When she moved to Mexico, she absorbed its folklore as well. She embroidered new worlds, based on different sources.

How prolific was Leonora Carrington? Is there a catalog raisonné of her work? It’s in preparation at the moment, not yet published, but it’s just her oils. Her sculptures are much more rare.

Yeah, it seems like she’s better known as a painter. She only started to sculpt later in life. She took it up in the 1990s, making the last sculptures between 2008 and 2011. She created around 40.

Do we know anything about how The Ship of Cranes came to be? Did she leave behind any letters or documents that explain it? I notice that the Museo Leonora Carrington in Mexico has a monumental sculpture on display on the grounds that looks similar to The Ship of Cranes... I haven’t seen any writings, but there’s a similar Carrington sculpture in Mexico City, Cocodrillo, which she donated to the city in 2000. It’s five crocodiles riding in a boat, and the sixth has an oar. It’s a monumental bronze, huge in scale.

In what ways is this Leonora Carrington bronze typical of her work, and in what ways is it atypical? It’s apart from her work in terms of it being a bronze. I can find only 30 bronzes by her at auction. The white patina is unusual, too. We don’t see it on any other bronzes of hers at auction. What’s typical is the air to it–it creates a whole new world. The figure steering the boat has a human hand gripping the oar–he has metamorphosized.

She made and cast this bronze in 2010, the year before she died. Given her interest in folklore and fairy tales, is there any chance she was playing with the image of a ferryman sailing the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the next world? We had a discussion about this in the department yesterday. The standing figure is very noble. He does feel like a guide. The others in the boat seem smaller and younger by comparison. There’s also an idea in Asian myths that cranes represent longevity, and that they live for a thousand years. This could be her facing her mortality, or, equally, facing the idea of everlasting life.

But this Leonora Carrington bronze–it’s not as if she left behind any notes or quotes that hint at what she was thinking when she made it? It’s hard to ascribe meaning to her work. It was a mystery to herself. She wanted viewers to find their own meaning in it, reading it for themselves.

How involved was she in the casting of the limited edition bronze? Did she design it and hand it off, or was she more hands-on than that? We know she was hands-on. She was very much there and present. Alejandro Velasco, the operator of the foundry, worked with her. I have a photo of her at the foundry, casting the work.

Do we know why this Leonora Carrington bronze has a bone white patina? We don’t, actually, but it gives it a silvery air that creates a shimmering effect. It’s lovely.

Does this sale represent the first time a bronze from this limited edition of The Ship of Cranes has gone to auction? It is the first we’re able to find in our research.

What is this Leonora Carrington bronze like in person? What aspects elude the camera? It’s surprisingly delicate. The oar is delicately wrought. And there are incised patterns around the eyes of all the figures, but particularly the standing figure. You’ve got to really zoom in to see them.

Is it solid or hollow? I think the standing figure and the head at the front of the boat are hollow. It is heavy.

What’s your favorite detail of the Leonora Carrington bronze? The standing figure at the back. He has a real air of nobility, and he looks like the figure in one of her other works, The Palmist.

What’s the world auction record for any Leonora Carrington bronze, and for any work by the artist? The bronze record is not that much. It was set by a leopard figure in 2012 that was 750,000 in Mexican pesos, or about £35,000. The artist’s world auction record is The Temptation of St. Anthony, an oil that sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $2.6 million.

Both of those numbers are surprisingly low. That’s the thing. Carrington works were offered quite a lot in Latin American art sales. Now her work is becoming recognized for what it is. Offering it in a Surrealist setting is exactly the thing to do.

To what do you attribute the shift? The growing interest in the work of female artists? I think so. We’re finding there’s a lot of interest in the female Surrealists. In this sale, we have Carrington, Leonor Fini, Alice Rahon–there’s definitely new interest.

Why will this Leonora Carrington bronze stick in your memory? This is the first time I’ve seen in person a three-dimensional work by the artist. To be able to move around it, and to link to the fantastical worlds she created–it brings it to life, I think.

How to bid: The Leonora Carrington bronze is lot 22 in The Mind’s Eye/Surrealist Sale scheduled for March 25, 2021 at Bonhams London.

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A Pair of Albert Paley Doors Could Command $50,000 (Updated March 23, 2021)

Update: The Albert Paley doors sold for $18,750.

What you see: A pair of entrance doors fashioned in 2004 by Albert Paley, with glass elements by Martin Blank. Hindman estimates them at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Hudson Berry, director and senior specialist for the Modern design department at Hindman.

Who is Albert Paley? He’s one of the nation’s leading and most influential blacksmiths. He was instrumental in the revitalization of the craft, which had declined with the closures in the American automobile industry in the 70s and 80s. Paley’s sculptures can be seen all over the world, and he has made architectural contributions to numerous institutions across America. Through his work as an educator at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he has continued to inspire and foster the careers of the next generation of international blacksmiths.   

Where was Albert Paley in his career in 2004, when he made these doors? And is he still active? The Springborn doors were conceived during his apex. He would have been 59 or 60 years old at the time of fabrication. He’s still fully active as an artist and designer.

How often has Paley worked with Martin Blank? How often have the two worked together on sets of doors or gates? The two artists have a multi-decade history of collaboration. Most take the form of sculpture, but it’s unlikely that they’ve worked on many doors together. Glass incorporated in functional kinetic design on an architectural scale poses obvious challenges, and requires an instrumental key ingredient: an imaginative and open-minded client!  

How do these doors show how Paley has evolved since creating the Renwick Portal Gates in 1974? What do the two sets of doors have in common, aside from their fundamental purpose, and how do they differ? While there are obvious threads that connect the Portal Gates and the Springborn Doors, such as nods to the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts masters, the Springborn examples showcase Paley’s evolution as a designer. There is an incredible sense of rhythm and motion to the Portal Gates, but they also feel relatively restrained when considered alongside his later works. In the Springborn doors, we see much harder angles in dialogue with almost fabric-like elements placed atop jagged edges, while also incorporating a true sense of depth. All of which, in conjunction with Blank’s glass elements, creates harmonious tension more like that seen in Paley’s public works, with the overall design of the doors transcending the materials themselves.

Detail of Albert Paley doors, showing colorful glass elements by Martin Blank.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how difficult these doors would have been to make? I’d say even in the hands of a master blacksmith such as Paley… extremely difficult. While we don’t know how long it took from commission to completion of the doors, Paley is said to have spent 3,800 hours over the course of seven months to complete the Renwick Portal Gates commission. Of course, the Springborn commission came 30 years later in Paley’s career, but it’s still an incredible display of virtuosity and material intelligence. Paley has a reputation for raising the bar with each project, and the Springborn doors are no exception.

How much input did the Springborns have in the design and appearance of the doors? I can’t speak to the level of collaboration or involvement the Springborns had with the overall look or specific details of the project, but we know from researching their relationships with other artists in the collection that their standard practice was to let them have total creative freedom.

The Albert Paley doors come with the original design sketch, which Paley signed.

The lot includes the original proposal drawing from Paley. How rare is that? Do most Paley works that come to auction lack their design drawings? The majority of Paley’s works that include proposal drawings are commissioned by larger institutions. In this instance, we are thrilled to have access to the original proposal, which would only come to market under a very specific set of circumstances.
 

What are the Albert Paley doors like in person? What aspects elude the camera? Depth and scale, for sure. While we have an incredible photography department here at Hindman, an image on a smartphone just can’t replicate the presence of two seven-foot sculptural steel doors. And the tactile experience can’t be understated. The textures of the various materials are incredible, and an integral part of the experience. The steel presents as warm brown, with a rust-like appearance, but is actually quite smooth to the touch, similar to Blank’s glass elements. The internal glass isn’t simply frosted, it’s got an incredible pebbled texture intersected with inset vertical soft waves that seem to mimic rain on a window. If these were backlit, the effect would be almost cinematic. You could only imagine coming home to these on a daily basis, an interaction that would likely never get old. 

The Albert Paley doors shown from the rear, or as the occupants of the home would have seen them as they approached the doors to let guests in.

What is your favorite detail of the Albert Paley doors? To me, the doors are a holistic experience. Having assembled them and spent some quality time with them, I still think of them as chamber music or an ensemble cast–the interchange of the two mediums is so intertwined that choosing a single favorite detail starts to dismantle them. 

Is the door design meant to be purely abstract, or are there colors, details, or other features woven in that have special meaning to the Springborns? Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the Springborns’ correspondence with the artist on this particular project.

Detail of Albert Paley doors from the reverse side, showing a cobalt-blue glass element by Martin Blank.

Could you talk about how well the Albert Paley doors work as a functional, integrated piece? Sadly, due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was unable to experience the doors in situ. But their construction is extremely robust, with every detail exquisitely crafted and tooled. Even the doorknob is a small sculpture unto itself! The doors also include all of the necessary hardware to facilitate full functionality once they arrive at their new home. I can only assume they are truly gratifying to open and close. 

I see that the doors are not mirror images of each other, but they share some shapes in common… I find the dialogue of symmetry juxtaposed with asymmetry to be the most compelling element of the design, and it changes depending on how close you are to the doors. That dialogue can also be seen as a recurring theme in Paley’s work. For me, this is Paley alluding to his adoration for artists such as Hector Guimard, Louis Majorelle, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Louis Sullivan.

Detail of Albert Paley doors, showing colorful glass elements by Martin Blank.

What did Paley and Blank do to ensure that the glass elements would be robust enough to serve as part of a functional set of front doors? They’re extremely well-engineered. The glass elements are held in place with a series of rubber gaskets and adjustable hard rubber setscrews to ensure that the glass isn’t compromised with regular use. And while the glass is hollow, it’s also quite thick-walled, and it’s less nimble than it appears. 

How often do pieces by Albert Paley come to auction? Using LiveAuctioneers for metrics, and with the inclusion of the pieces in the Springborn Collection–as of March 2021, we are currently at 429 works, going as far back as 2003.

What is the world auction record for a work by Albert Paley? It’s a sculpture from 2013, titled Harlequin, which sold for $55,000 at Rago in 2018 as part of The Albert Paley Archives Part 1 auction. Of course, we hope the Paley works from the Springborn Collection will sit in the top percentile of achieved prices, if not setting new auction records themselves.

With these Albert Paley doors estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, a new world auction record for the artist could be set. What’s your opinion—could it happen? Could this lot do it? Yes. Given the importance of the client and how rarely Paley’s architectural private commissions come to market, the potential is certainly there for these to break and exceed any previous auction results. 

Why will these Albert Paley doors stick in your memory? Glenn Adamson wrote in his catalog essay for this lot: “Art-curious visitors to the home of Robert and Carolyn Springborn didn’t have long to wait. They were greeted right at the entrance by one of the collection’s most spectacular works”. That sums up the gravity of the Springborns as collectors and patrons. These doors truly served as the grand overture to the collection as a whole, setting the stage for surprises to come after you entered the home.

How to bid: The Albert Paley doors are lot 37 in The Springborn Collection of Contemporary Craft, a sale taking place at Hindman on March 23, 2021.

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The Luboshez Gong, an Archaic Chinese Bronze Vessel, Could Fetch $6 Million (Updated March 19, 2021)

A late Shang dynasty gong that joins the figures of a tiger and an owl in one archaic Chinese bronze vessel could command $6 million at Christie's.

Update: The Luboshez gong sold for $8.6 million.

What you see: The Luboshez Gong, an archaic Chinese bronze vessel dating to the late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 13th to 12th century before common era (BCE). Christie’s estimates it at $4 million to $6 million.

The expert: Margaret Gristina, specialist for Chinese works of art at Christie’s.

This piece is described as a “gong”. What is a gong? How rare is the gong form of ritual bronze vessel in the late Shang dynasty, and among archaic Chinese bronzes in general? It’s amongst the rarest forms from the Shang dynasty. It was probably made for the most elite people. It first appeared in the Shang dynasty and was made for a brief period of time from the 13th to the 11th centuries, when the Shang fell to the Zhou dynasty. Zhou rulers claimed that the Shang taste for wine was decadent and not in keeping with sacred rituals. They thought the ancestors were more interested in sober offerings like rice and grain.

How do we know that this archaic Chinese bronze vessel was used for serving wine? From the inherent shape of it. It’s a pouring vessel, and it’s too small for pouring water. It was used in rituals that offered food and wine to the ancestors. There’s a lot of speculation going on, but we infer from the pieces that they [the gong vessels] were made and used for wine.

The Luboshez gong is described as a “ritual” wine vessel. What sorts of rituals might it have been used in? Because there was no written language [during the late Shang dynasty], very little is known about the actual rituals. We know they made offers of meat and grain, and we know they made wine from millet, which was more like a modern-day ale.

What makes the archaic Chinese bronze vessel “exceptionally and highly important”? Gongs themselves are among the rarest shapes from the Shang dynasty. The figural shapes on this particular model, with the tiger and the owl, make it even more rare. Only five others are known.

What do we know, if anything, about how archaic Chinese bronze vessels such as this one were made? The Shang were a really sophisticated and developed society. They used a piece-mold technique, not the lost wax method. The piece-mold technique was a complicated process developed in China, and it could produce thin-walled vessels that allowed for a lot of surface decoration. The Shang were very wealthy and were able to get the copper, tin, and lead needed for the piece-mold process.

Why might the people who made this vessel have wanted to combine two animals in the same form? And why might they have chosen a tiger and an owl in this instance? We don’t know. We don’t know the significance of the tiger or the owl to the Shang, but the Chinese were an agrarian society, very perceptive about the animals around them, as opposed to Rome and Egypt, which focused on human forms [in their art].

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this archaic Chinese bronze vessel might have been to make? We can assume that the sculptural elements were more difficult to make. They would have required multiple pieces in the piece-mold process.

The surface of the Luboshez gong is incised with spiral decorations. Do they have any particular meaning, or are they just there to look good? They don’t mean anything. They completely cover the surface, with no blank spaces. They enliven the gong and add a bit of texture to it as well.

Is it possible to know if a vessel such as this one was the work of one person, or if it must have been produced by a team? We assume it was not one person. One would have designed it, another would have done the ceramic mold, a third would do the casting. It had to be produced by a team.

What constitutes the cover of the archaic Chinese bronze vessel? Is it the tiger’s face and the upper part of its neck? The cover kind of ends at the base of the chin of the tiger. It goes all the way down to the owl, and the head comes off.

And do I see a handle at the back? Yes, it’s a handle. It has a figural top in the shape of a mythical beast. It’s an example of the mythical animals you get during the Shang dynasty.

I also see a detail shot of an inscription on the Luboshez gong. Apparently it means “wei”, and it’s surrounded by footprints. Do we know what “wei” means here, and why we see footprints? We’re not sure exactly. It could be a clan sign. The feet have been interpreted by some scholars as guardians of the object. The modern Chinese word that descends from “wei” means “to guard or protect”.

And the wei inscription–it is inside the vessel, on its floor, where it would be covered up by wine when it was in use? Exactly. We have an overhead shot of the cover off, so you can look at the interior.

Have archaic Chinese bronze vessels always been known, or was there a time when they were lost or forgotten? We have various records that acknowledge the tradition of passing down bronze vessels in China. There was a short gap in the historical record between 200 B.C.E and A.D., but by the Song dynasty in 970 A.D., scholars and the educated classes were acquainted with archaic bronzes. It’s not like they’re a new, modern discovery. They were known in China, and valued.

What is the Luboshez gong like in person? What eludes the camera? Definitely, you feel like you’re with a piece of history. It has a commanding presence as a work of art. When you spend time looking at it, there are so many details: the tiger, with its forearms and springing legs, the owl with its claws. You can spend a lot of time studying it and you can look at it as an amazing art object.

What is it like to handle the vessel? Would it have been awkward to lift and carry when it was full of wine? It’s not too heavy. Again, it’s thin-walled. If you fill it with wine, you have to balance it beneath the spout. We know they [the Shang dynasty elite] served their wine warm. Maybe the vessel was conceived so steam would come out of the tiger’s mouth during serving, but that’s speculation. The cover is not fixed, so you’d need to keep a hand on it when pouring.

Is it common for archaic Chinese bronze vessels to lose their covers? Sometimes. It’s certainly nice to have this with its original cover. These bronzes have been collected for a long time. The cover of this one might have been more likely to stay because of the vessel’s size and because of the integral part it plays in the piece.

What is your favorite detail of the Luboshez gong? I really love the tiger head, and in particular, its eyes. An amazing artist 3,000 years ago created a sense of animation in them. It seems like he’s looking right at you.

What condition is this archaic Chinese bronze vessel in, and how do condition issues apply to something that’s so impossibly ancient? The figural cover is in amazingly good condition. The top of the crest on the tiger head has a tiny bit of restoration, but other than that, the cover is great. It’s completely intact. That’s unusual for a large, elaborate vessel. The body of the vessel itself has some repaired breaks. With something this old, you expect some kind of condition issue.

This archaic Chinese bronze vessel has a rich green patina. How much does that matter in the greater scheme of things? Patina is important to collectors. The gong would have started its life looking golden. Over the years, as it had contact with moisture, crystals adhered to the body and created the malachite and azurite–green and blue–hues you see. It’s important for the patina to look attractive to the eye. You don’t want it to be thick or crusty. This has a really beautiful blue-green patina.

Did it get that patina purely through handling and exposure, or was it ever buried at some point? The patina can be a combination of exposure to air and being buried in the ground, different reactions to air and to life.

How does having Captain Ferris Luboshez in its provenance–an owner so notable that the piece is known as the Luboshez gong–affect its value? A great work of art that’s known and documented always attracts the attention of collectors at auction. The gong has been documented from 1949, when Luboshez returned to the United States. A recognized provenance definitely adds a premium to the value.

How did you arrive at the $4 million to $6 million estimate for the Luboshez gong? It’s a very rare piece, and nothing has come up to compare with it exactly. It checks all the boxes. It has great beauty, great provenance, a great shape, and rarity.

What’s the world auction record for an archaic Chinese bronze vessel from the Shang dynasty, and the record for any archaic Chinese bronze vessel? In 2017 we had a sale from Japan’s Fujita Museum, and a late Shang dynasty fangzun vessel sold for $37.2 million, which I believe is still the record. In the same sale, we had a completely figural late Shang dynasty gong in the form of a ram. It sold for $27.1 million.

I see that both those pieces had estimates of $6 million to $8 million, which isn’t far off the estimate given to the Luboshez gong. Do you think it might set a new world auction record? I can’t speculate on that. I just know it’s going to be very well sought-after by collectors. I can’t overestimate the rarity of the provenance in this situation.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because of the shape itself and the animation in the depictions of the tiger and the owl. It’s a very memorable piece, and I had a lot of time to spend with it. It’s really wonderful.

How to bid: The Luboshez Gong is lot 505 in Shang: Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from the Daniel Shapiro Collection, scheduled for March 18, 2021 at Christie’s New York.

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Margaret Gristina appears in a Christie’s story about the Luboshez gong.

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An Apothecary Trade Sign Could Fetch $2,000 (Updated March 11, 2021–Nice!)

An American apothecary trade sign decorated with 195 colorful pieces of glass could command $2,000.

Update: The apothecary trade sign sold for $6,500, more than triple its high estimate. Nice!

What you see: A lighted apothecary trade sign, covered with colored pieces of glass and dating to the 1920s. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $1,000 to $2,000.

The expert: Ben Fisher, director of Americana for Hindman. [Hindman and Cowan’s merged in 2019.]

What, if anything, do we know about who might have commissioned this apothecary trade sign? I would say maybe it was commissioned from a specific shop. I believe it’s late 19th century in inception. There are ads from the late 19th century from Travis, McLewee & Ferry in New York, and this sign looks almost identical to the trade signs made by that company, which specialized in artistic gas fixtures.

The front of a late 19th century business card for Travis, McLewee & Ferry, a New York company that offered a sign very much like the one at auction.
The reverse of the late 19th century business card touted the merits of the "jeweled mortar", available with gas or oil fittings. The admonition to "beware of imitations" implies that other gas fixture companies might have offered their own spin on the design.

Where does the circa 1920s date for this apothecary trade sign come from? It’s based on an invoice provided by the consigner.

Does the appearance of the sign point to a 1920s date? Admittedly, the electrification of the sign is confusing. I’m 99 percent certain it was fitted for gas [originally].

I see that the apothecary trade sign is meant to look like a mortar and pestle, but what is that cone-shaped metal thing full of holes sticking out of the top? What does that do? It’s almost an exhaust or a chimney, a manner of expelling the smoke that the gas flame would have emitted. It’s really built into the cover. It’d be difficult to remove without replacing or altering the cover.

The apothecary trade sign, unlit. The cone-like thing sticking out of the top is probably a vent from its gas-burning days.

It started out as a gas fixture and at some point, the sign was converted to electricity? I’m not sure what the original gas element looked like. I think it would have been easy to convert it to electricity in the 20th century and in any period since then. My assumption is [the conversion took place in] the last quarter of the 20th century.

So it morphed over time. It was updated so it could continue to be used for its purpose. How many people do you know who have a gas line running through their kitchen? The sign had to be changed in order to be used. It’s a cool thing. Not a lot of these illuminated apothecary signs exist.

I think of antique trade signs as being two-dimensional, or flat. Setting aside cigar store figures, is it unusual to come across a sign like this, which is three-dimensional? I don’t believe so, no. I do see a lot of two-dimensional signs, but there are loads of three-dimensional signs. Carved barber poles are 3-D objects. Shoemakers’ signs, hat-makers’ signs, they all have three-dimensionality to them. This is remarkable in its rarity and condition. It’s not remarkable for being a 3-D trade sign from the 19th century.

How does the apothecary trade sign work? Do all the lights go on at once, and off at once, or do they light up as individual, graduated bands? It has a single lighting element, one bulb. You turn it on and all the beads [the glass elements] light up. Some light up more than others, but you turn it on, and every bead is illuminated.

How many glass pieces, or beads, are there on this apothecary trade sign? It has 195. They are glass, but they’re all secure. Some have tiny chips on the edges of their interiors, but there are very few of them.

Is the sign solid? It’s hollow.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how hard the apothecary trade sign would have been to make? I’d say the most difficult part of the process was creating the glass inserts. They either molded these beads out of glass, or made the shape of the bead and hand-cut it to facet it. As for the metal, I don’t think it was very hard for a competent metalworker to fashion.

Does it have a patina or pattern of wear that hints that it spent some or all of its life outside, or was it displayed indoors? It probably lived part of its life outside. When Paul [Paul Bentley, the consigner] acquired it, it had certainly been restored and cleaned up, but there’s oxidation that suggests exposure to the elements. I’m fairly certain that at some point, it lived outside, but definitely not all its life.

I think I see glass beads in white, blue, amber yellow, and red. Did I get all the colors, or did I miss any? You got them all. The late 19th century business card indicated that the gas fixtures company was able to make glass of ruby, crystal [white], and emerald color.

Ah, this apothecary trade sign doesn’t have any emerald beads. That’s disappointing to me, in that I think emerald is a more interesting color. But red, white, yellow, and blue aren’t bad either.

A total of 195 "beads", or pieces of cut, colored glass, decorate the apothecary trade sign. Once illuminated by gas, it now draws its light from a single, common household bulb.

The provenance information on the lot page says “American Garage, Los Angeles, California”. What does that mean? American Garage is an antiques shop in Los Angeles. It’s temporarily closed [due to COVID-19 restrictions]. The consigner bought the sign there in 2010.

Has the apothecary trade sign been rewired for LEDs (light-emitting diodes)? It just has one central lighting element in the center. You can use any household light bulb to attach to it. It has a very simple solution.

What is the apothecary trade sign like in person? What aspects elude the camera? The scale of this is really something to be desired. It’s 29 inches tall–a large and very charming thing. I don’t know if you get that if you don’t see it in person.

Is 29 inches kind of petite for a trade sign meant for outdoor display? Other examples of these signs can be as small as 20 inches.

How many other examples are you aware of? More than a dozen? There are very few others. Certainly less than 20.

What’s your favorite detail of the apothecary trade sign? The thing I like most about it is the colored dots of light it leaves on the wall when it’s illuminated. There’s something very whimsical about it. Put it on a shelf in the corner and multiple walls will show polka dots on them.

Like a disco ball? Sort of. It’s funny–if you put it on a rotating platform, there would be a disco light aspect to it. I would love to see it lit with a flame to see how light reacts to it. Imagine being on a street and passing under it as colored lights dance on the ground.

Did the makers of the apothecary trade sign know it would cast little dots of multi-colored light when it was illuminated, or was the effect a happy accident? I would love to think they had the forethought, but it might be how it turned out.

The apothecary trade sign displayed indoors, and lit.

What condition is the apothecary trade sign in? It’s in good condition. It operates, it functions. Given the changes to how it functions, some might be concerned, but electricity might be the only way to preserve what its purpose is. Also, it’s been cleaned. There’s no verdigris and the very little oxidation that exists suggests that it’s been outside.

Would the sign be worthless if it didn’t light up? It’s certainly a sculptural, wonderful thing to look at. If it didn’t function, fewer people would bid on it. Even if it was sold unelectrified, someone who is capable could convert it to electricity.

About that–as of February 25, 2021, the day we’re speaking, the apothecary trade sign has 62 watchers and has drawn four bids, the largest of which is $850. Is that meaningful at all? I tend to follow the numbers on LiveAuctioneers, and how many watchers and bids there are before a sale. Usually, it’s a good indicator of how it will perform.

Have any identical or similar apothecary trade signs come to auction? There was one that came up 20 years ago at Morphy’s. It sold for $2.000. I think this one is comparable.

What’s the world auction record for a trade sign? Putting aside traditional Samuel Robb [cigar store Indian] figures, it was an elephant-shaped boots and shoes sign for John M. Dyckman, which sold in October 2019 at Sotheby’s for $56,250.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This is probably the only one I’ll ever get to handle. I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and I think it’s the only one I’ve seen in my career.

How to bid: The apothecary trade sign is lot 0015 in the American Folk & Decorative Arts auction at Cowan’s Auctions on March 9, 2021.

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Images are courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions. Images of the late 19th century advertisement are courtesy of Ben Fisher.

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A Vintage Jumbo NFL Bobblehead Could Fetch $25,000 (Updated March 12, 2021)

A vintage jumbo NFL bobblehead styled as a San Francisco 49ers player could sell for $25,000.

Update: The jumbo NFL bobblehead sold for $19,600.

What you see: A jumbo NFL bobblehead, made in the early 1960s and styled as a player for the San Francisco 49ers. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.

The lot notes say the jumbo NFL bobblehead was distributed by the Otagiri Mercantile Company. What do we know about the company? Is it still in business? As far as I can tell with our research, it is not. It’s a company out of Japan in the 1950s, when these bobbleheads were mostly made. Then it kind of went away. I didn’t find out what else they might have made.

So it pretty much disappears by the 1970s? I believe so, or the dolls weren’t being produced by then.

Why might the Otagiri Mercantile Company have wanted to make jumbo NFL bobbleheads for the 14 American football teams that existed in the early 1960s? At that time, the NFL wasn’t anywhere near as dominant as it is now, and the first Super Bowl was years away. What convinced the company that it could turn a profit off these toys? I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and have sold several of the jumbo NFL bobbleheads. The story among hobbyists is these were promo dolls sold at airports in the United States, probably in the 14 cities that were home to the teams. They [the airport stores] would put the big bobblehead up, and little bobbleheads around it, and you could buy the little ones.

So the jumbo versions were display-only? Yes, I believe the big ones were not designed to be sold. I think they were designed to be eye-catchers for the little guys.

These jumbo NFL bobbleheads stand about 15 inches tall. Is that what qualifies them as “jumbo”–being 12 inches tall or taller? Yes. The regular ones were about five to six inches tall.

Do we have any notion about how many of these jumbo NFL bobbleheads were made, and how many survive? The lot notes say the company might have produced as many as five jumbos per team. Five is a guess. Very few were produced, and very few survive. I’m in the Baltimore area. We’ve sold half a dozen of the Colts ones, but that’s the area we’re in. They were very, very regional. I think this is the first San Francisco 49ers one we’ve ever handled.

A detail shot of the left foot of the jumbo NFL bobblehead, which clearly shows the NFL logo. Because a Japanese company made the toy in the early 1960s, well before the first Super Bowl, the league probably wasn't approached for permission.

I see an NFL logo on the bobblehead’s left foot. Did the Otagiri Mercantile Company get the league’s permission to use it, or not? I think they just stuck the logo on. Today, if you were to reproduce a logo owned by a team without permission, you’d get sued real quick. Nobody cared back then. Probably, the league was happy that somebody was promoting the sport.

The jumbo NFL bobblehead has the words FORTY NINERS written on its chest. Did the team not have a logo then? I’m not really sure, but the red and silver coloring of the uniform is consistent with the 49ers colors.

The back of the jumbo NFL bobblehead in full. It's likely that all versions, regardless of team, carried the double zero number on their backs.

Do the jumbo NFL bobbleheads look basically the same–same face, same pose, but different colors of uniform and helmet? Yes, and I believe the numbers on the backs of the players are always double zeroes.

How might these jumbo NFL bobbleheads have been made? They probably poured ceramic material into a mold of some sort. It hardened, and then it was painted.

Painted by human beings? I would think somebody painted them individually. When you get the smalls, they’re a little bit different in the painting. You can tell they’re not rolled out on a factory assembly line.

And the jumbo NFL bobbleheads are 100 percent ceramic? Yes. Today, bobbleheads are made out of hard plastic. You can throw them against the wall and they won’t break. These, they’re very fragile. You drop ’em, you have a pile of dust.

How did these toys manage to survive at all, given that they were made in such small numbers, from a highly breakable material, and were never meant to be sold? I don’t know. When the promotion ran out, whoever ran the gift shop or the hobby store might have given them to someone, or taken them home. [The world auction record for any bobblehead belongs to an early 1960s jumbo Yankees bobblehead from the same Japanese company. It sold for $90,000 at Heritage Auctions in October 2019.]

Side view of the jumbo NFL bobblehead, which stands 15 inches tall. The same company made a six-inch version and an even smaller version with a magnet in the base, meant to decorate a car interior.

What is the jumbo NFL bobblehead like in person? What aspects elude the camera? The crudeness of how it was made. If you held it in your hand, you could tell it’s very fragile.

Detail shot of the jumbo NFL bobblehead to show its interior spring.

What condition is the jumbo NFL bobblehead in, and what sorts of condition issues do you tend to see with these oversize vintage toys? We’ve found indentations on the shoulders and flaws at the backs of the heads, where there are hairline cracks from people pushing the head down to make it bob. This one is described as being in “near mint” condition. That’s very rare to find, based on what they’re made out of.

Why will this toy stick in your memory? For the size of it. It’s so unique, compared to thousands and thousands and thousands of other bobbleheads that we sell all the time. We see so few of the big ones. It’s rare to find a jumbo at any time.

How to bid: The jumbo NFL bobblehead is lot 937 in the Winter Auction held at Huggins & Scott. It opened on February 26, 2021 and continues until March 11, 2021.

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Images are courtesy of Huggins and Scott.

Bill Huggins appeared on The Hot Bid previously to discuss a 1903 World Series program printed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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