Update: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet sold for $55,000.
What you see: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet. She was the wife of Wally Schirra, who was an astronaut during the early days of the American space program. RR Auction estimates the charm bracelet at $45,000 to $55,000.
The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.
How did this bracelet with space-flown charms come to exist? Wally Schirra, like most astronauts, would bring tokens and souvenirs into space for friends and family. Wally gave these charms to his wife, Jo, who created the charm bracelet.
Did all the spouses of the Mercury Seven astronauts receive or create bracelets with space-flown charms? No, not all of them assembled something like this. All the Gemini and Mercury astronauts were allowed to carry coins and other things on missions. The astronauts themselves had to buy them and distribute them as souvenirs.
What was astronaut Alan Shepard’s role in helping Jo Schirra create this bracelet with space-flown charms? He provided her with a piece of Freedom 7. He only went up briefly [15 minutes in all], so there were no souvenirs, but he brought her a piece of the cylinder assembly of the heat shield release mechanism from Freedom 7 and provided her a letter of authentication (LOA).
Was the Freedom 7 charm the first that Jo Schirra added to her space-flown charm bracelet? I don’t know the chronology of when she received it, but that’s the first mission [represented], for sure. She certainly got the others in chronological order.
When would she have started assembling the bracelet?At the start of Project Mercury, in 1958? More like 1961. Kennedy was president.
I’d like to talk about at least a few of the space-flown charms in more detail. I understand that one is made with a Liberty Bell 7 dime? Very famously, Gus Grissom brought Mercury dimes with him on his mission [Mercury-Redstone 4]. When he returned, he had to splash down, and the capsule almost sank. One of the things pulling him down was the two rolls of dimes. [Laughs]. These ones, he was able to keep in the pocket by his ankles.
…and one of the space-flown charms is a tiny Robbins medal? I didn’t know they made them that small. This was for the first manned Apollo mission. It was the first created–serial number one. Even if it was not flown, the serial number one makes it the first Robbins medal. But it was flown, and flown by Wally Schirra.
Wow. The astronauts had to buy these, and they were government workers, not making any money.
So the Robbins medals would have tried their budgets? I don’t know. I do know the gold ones were more expensive than the silver ones. Wally had to splurge on this to get it for his wife.
Not hugely expensive, but expensive enough to make them stop and think. Right. They couldn’t buy ’em all, and they couldn’t bring tons. There were not many made. There were 255 [space-flown] Apollo 7 Robbins medals in gold and silver.
There are nine space-flown charms on this bracelet: one for each of the six Mercury missions, one for Apollo 7, and one for Freedom 7. That makes eight. What does the ninth charm represent? It’s a flown 18k gold love medal by Lyonnais jeweler Alphonse Augis. It has a French phrase that translates to “More than yesterday, less than tomorrow.” Engraved on the back is “February 23”, which is the wedding anniversary of Wally and Jo. It’s a very, very personal love medal.
Do all of the charms have inherent value? Yes. They’ve all flown in space, so they all have inherent value. And they’re relics of one of the great achievements of mankind.
Is this the first time Jo Schirra’s bracelet of space-flown charms has gone to auction? Yes.
I imagine that with Jo Schirra having passed in 2015, and the bracelet debuting at auction as a whole, that will help guard against it being broken into individual pieces in the future. Because it’s been kept together… it tells the story of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7. They’re all there, together, all the flights on one chain. It’s a remarkable artifact. We see individual charms come up, but to have these in a bracelet, gifts from an astronaut, lovingly placed on her wrist, it shows the closeness of the married couple.
What is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet like in person? What eludes the camera? Like most charm bracelets, it’s not a gigantic piece to hold in your gloved hand. It’s cool to look at, but they’re small charms.
Do you have a favorite charm from the bracelet? We’ve worked with a lot of these guys. I knew them when they were alive. Design-wise, it’s the Sigma 7.
Did you try on Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? No! [Laughs] No, no, no. It would be inappropriate.
Can you give me a notion of how it might feel on the wrist?It looks substantial. It is a bit substantial and clunky, but I don’t think it was difficult to wear on the wrist. It’s not overwhelming. It’s beautiful, a conversation starter.
Do we have any idea how often Jo Schirra wore this charm bracelet? Was it a daily-wear item, or did she save it for special occasions? I don’t know. I know it was lovingly given to her daughter, Suzanna, when Jo passed away. Her daughter is the consigner. You know from seeing films and reading books about the astronaut program that the wives would gather to watch the launches together. You can imagine Jo Schirra wearing this and with each successive launch, adding a charm. It represents the success of her husband launching into space.
What condition is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet in? And does condition really matter when we’re talking about an item with such strong sentimental value? Typically, condition matters on coins and collectibles. This has an age patina, as you would expect. There’s a beauty about it in its natural state as a charm bracelet. As a historical piece, it stands on its own. It’s not for a coin collection. It would be a tragedy to take it apart and encapsulate it.
Have you ever had anything quite like Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? Is there anything out there that’s even close? I’ve never really had anything like this, which covers the entire space program. It’s very, very unique. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s such a personal item. The Robbins medal does elevate it.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because of its uniqueness, and the way it was lovingly assembled. It tells the story of the Mercury program and Wally Schirra’s career. It’s all there on that bracelet.
Update: The Daum glass vase sold for $17,000, hammer price.
What you see: A circa 1900 Daum glass vase, painted in the Prairie pattern and rendered in a bulbous stick form. It stands a little over 12 inches tall. Jaremos estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.
The expert: Bruce Orr, founder of Jaremos, which is located in Flower Mound, Texas.
How is the word “Daum” pronounced? [Laughs] It depends on if you’re American or French. Here, it’s “dom”. In France, it’s more like “dome”.
Who, or what, was Daum? Is it still active? Two brothers, August and Antonin Daum, ran a cameo-decorating company at the turn of the century. It was in competition with Émile Gallé, and it was contemporary with Tiffany Studios in the United States. The company was strong until 1913, when World War I shut the factory down, and it ended up being used as a field hospital. After the war, the brothers were too old to continue. One of their sons took over. Daum has been a continuously producing glass house for 130 years.
And the “Nancy” in the title of the lot listing–that is the town in France where Daum is based? Yes. Gallé was the primary glass-maker in Nancy. Daum came second. But in 1904, Gallé died, so it lost its leader a little early. Daum has more appeal to Americans than Europeans because it’s pretty. Americans buy pretty. Americans have always gone pretty. Europeans like technique.
Was there a golden age of Daum art glass? There’s an argument based on whether you’re a fan of Art Nouveau or Art Deco, but 1900 to 1913 is considered the high point.
Do we have any notion of how many pieces of art glass Daum produced during its golden age? I’m sure the records are out there somewhere, but any number I could give you would be a guess. Daum was a big operation. It had 100 artists at one point, decorating the glass.
The lot notes describe the vase as having “iconic Prairie décor”. Was “Prairie” a specific line of art glass that Daum produced? Yes. This is a guess on my part, but it was not popular in its day, compared to the Daum Winter scenes. I might see one Prairie piece for every 100 Winter pieces. Because of that, Prairie is desired by collectors.
Do we know how many Prairie pieces Daum made, and how many survive? No, but I can tell you that over the last 15 years, eight have sold publicly that I know of.
Would this be the only Daum glass vase you’ve seen that’s in the Prairie style and has a bulbous stick shape? It’s the only one I know of.
How many different shapes did Daum offer in the Prairie line? There could have been 30 to 40 different ones. Most of the time with Prairie, they’re small.
The lot headline calls this Daum glass vase “rare”. What makes it so? Is it purely the Prairie decoration, or does its unusual shape play a role? It really wouldn’t make a difference what shape it has. It could be an ashtray and it would still get attention. This is one of the better ones I’ve seen as far as the shape. That should help it, but it’s the decoration that makes it rare.
Does this bulbous stick form vase show up only in the Prairie line, or do other pieces of Daum take this form? Other Daum pieces have this shape.
What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Daum glass vase was to make? As far as the enameling–and again, I don’t mean to downplay it–the decoration itself is not difficult to do. It wouldn’t have been that complicated. The difficulty is in getting the shape. When you consider that they were all hand-blown pieces, that’s saying something.
What challenges would the bulbous stick form pose to the glass-blower? Just the consistency. It’s difficult to do it consistently, but Daum, they were masters.
In looking at the shape of the Daum glass vase, it almost revels in its inability to function. Was it explicitly designed never to be used to hold flowers? Oh, come on! You could put one flower in it! [Laughs] I don’t think it was meant to be used. Tiffany, Gallé, and Daum were always made for the affluent of the day. It was always strictly a decorative piece.
What condition is the Daum glass vase in, and what condition issues do you tend to see with the bulbous stick form pieces? Anybody can crack or chip these. Once that happens, it takes 90 percent of the value out of the vase. The decoration can wear, and it’s usually worn by exposure to the sun. This one is very clean. On a one to ten scale, it’s about an 8.5. It has pretty strong decoration and not a lot of wear on it at all.
So the sun is the number one enemy of a piece like this? That, and if the owner is a klutz.
What is the Daum glass vase like in person? The delicate flowers on the bottom–I took a shot of the vase laying down so you could see it–I don’t know how you paint this on a piece of glass. The trees have definitive branches and the wildflowers are very delicately done. It doesn’t take a super artist, you just have to have the time to do it.
As we speak on March 25, 2021, the Daum glass vase has been bid up to $5,500 with the auction almost three weeks away. Is that meaningful at all, this far out? Yeah. It tells you there’s interest. Normally, most [lots] come close to two or three times their presale estimates. In my last sale, I had a Tiffany red flower form that was at $5,500 with three weeks to go, and it ended up doing $19,200. [The link reflects the Tiffany piece’s hammer price, or the price before the premium and attendant fees are added.]
Update: The seventh edition Bay Psalm Book sold for $239,400.
What you see: A 1693 copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the only known survivor of the seventh edition. Sotheby’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.
The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.
The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in British North America. Why was it, above all other books that could have been published, printed first? What made its creation so urgent? It filled a specific need. The Puritans left England because they disagreed with strictures of the church. They accepted the bible as the word of God, but the for the psalms, which are for singing, they wanted their own translation. They wanted something truer to the Hebrew original, not beautiful English poetry. They prized accuracy above everything else.
So the Bay Psalm Book was a tool to do a job. Absolutely. Both the first edition of 1640 and the seventh edition of 1693 were workhorse books. They were not like the Gutenberg Bible, a large, impressive bible for a church or a fine home. It was for congregational singing, which took place at least three times a week.
The book is also an artifact that reflects why the Puritans left England? Yes. And I don’t think it’s incorrect to say it’s the first book written in English in the New World. All the scholarship was done in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by people who lived there. It was also the first book printed in English anywhere in the New World.
What is this seventh-edition copy of the Bay Psalms Book like in person? What eludes the camera? The great thing about books is they’re very tactile and made to be handled. Even when you have a book that’s beautifully bound, you want to open it up and turn the leaves. That’s what’s exciting to me. It survived all those centuries, and the experience [of reading it] is very similar to the experience of the worshippers who handled it in 1693. You get a sense of historical continuity.
What is your favorite detail of this copy of the Bay Psalms Book? I think it’s that it is so workmanlike. What’s most pleasing is it did its job so well. It’s the only one of this edition that survives. The others were used to pieces. It had a job to do, and it did it. Another thing is the provenance. Early owners signed it, which somehow makes the people more real. One was a judge during the Salem witch trials. Here, we have evidence that he owned books and went to church with his wife. She signed the book as well–it’s early evidence of book ownership by women in British North America, which is interesting in its own right.
What condition is this copy of the Bay Psalms Book in, and how are those assessments adjusted for the fact that it was a book that was designed for constant use? It’s funny. Someone who didn’t know books might not find it attractive at all. There’s no gold decorations and no title on the spine. But it did what it was supposed to do–it kept the pages together and got you from song to song. It’s a small book, shorter than four inches. It could be easily carried in a pocket from home to a worship service… it’s just very pleasing.
Is the Bay Psalm Book the sort of rare book on which you want to see some wear? As long as the book is complete–and it is–some sign of wear is good. A bit of wear, in my mind, is not a detraction.
So, signs of wear makes this type of book more interesting? I think it does, and it shows the book had a common interest. Religion played such a huge role in the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and that form of Puritanism [as represented by the Bay Psalms Book] touched all levels of society. The book would have provided a common touchstone, whatever their [the owners’] religious beliefs were.
I imagine its longevity shows how esteemed it was in British North America. It was a very successful translation. The book was constantly reprinted for more than a century after the first edition. Though it was made particularly for a British North American audience, it was reprinted in Scotland and England as well. Some would have been replaced as new editions came out. This one found an owner who did eventually tuck it away.
You were at Sotheby’s in 2013 when a first edition of the Bay Psalms Book sold for $14.1 million and a world auction record for any book. What was that experience like? It was certainly one of the great highlights of my career. It was a book everyone was aware of. It’s an icon of printing, book history, and American history. It deserved to become the most expensive book sold at auction, but it’s hard not to see it as a sort of celebrity. This is easier to see as a book. It reflects the history of the first edition, 53 years later. You can look at the two editions and look at how Boston and British North America grew. In 1640, it was a wilderness. In 1693, Boston was printing more books than Cambridge or Oxford, and was second to London–a distant second, but nonetheless a remarkable achievement. That’s the kind of growth and expansion illustrated by the two editions of the Bay Psalm Book.
How does this seventh-edition copy of the Bay Psalm Book compare to other antique copies of the book you have handled? I haven’t handled more than two Bay Psalm Books. I handled almost all the first editions when I did a census for a catalog, but I haven’t handled more than two commercially. Comparatively, it’s in very good condition because it retains its original binding. Most first editions of the Bay Psalm Book have been rebound. What’s sad about that is it wasn’t out of necessity. In the 19th century, it was thought that important books ought to look important, and they were bound in red or green leather with a lot of gold on it. This seventh edition is in really very desirable condition because it’s close to what it would have been when it was first published.
It’s more true. Exactly. And taste has shifted. You don’t want a book in a fancy binding unless it had a fancy binding when it was first published.
Why will this rare book stick in your memory? For people who are unfamiliar with books, the phrase that’s most familiar is “first edition”. The idea that a seventh edition book can be exciting and historically significant and shed light on the history of books in America–that’s what’s most interesting about it.