Bold as Brass: Christie’s Hong Kong Could Sell A Gorgeous 1888 Brass Louis Vuitton Trunk for $192,000

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What you see: A rare Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, dating to 1888. Christie’s estimates it at HKD $1 million to $1.5 million, or $128,000 to $192,000.

 

The expert: Winsy Tsang, vice president and head of sale, handbags and accessories, Christie’s Asia Pacific.

 

This trunk is described as “rare.” What does that mean in this context? Do we know how many brass Explorer trunks of this size that Louis Vuitton made in the 19th century? We don’t know exactly how many were made. All we know is that we haven’t seen another one like this on the market, and only very few in other sizes and models. This is, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for buyers, which is why it warrants the “rare” classification.

 

Do we know how long Vuitton made the Explorer line? Do we know how many sizes of trunk were offered in brass? Our understanding is that this special line of trunks was only produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. The materials used were highly expensive and difficult to work with at that time–this was long before the technological advances of today that have made brass a common material. There were three or four different sizes and models in the Explorer line, as well as some custom pieces, but it’s difficult to know which were produced in brass, as the production of all versions was extremely low, and very few remain.

 

Was the brass finish the most popular of the four? It depends if you mean at the time or today. At the time, these pieces were highly utilitarian. The metals being used were designed for adventurers traveling to the most exotic locations who required light-weight and waterproofing–at any cost. Today, arguably, the brass version is the most popular as it is the most eye-catching because of its gold color.

 

Do we have a notion of how many brass-finish Explorer trunks survive? Also, how many have you handled at Christie’s Hong Kong? This is the first brass version at international auction, so very few still survive. A handful of others remain in private hands, but this is the first of this size and model that we have seen.

 

Is it fair to assume that when this trunk was originally purchased, it was part of a suite or group of matching Vuitton luggage? If so, how often do you find that suites of Vuitton luggage are broken up over time? It is unlikely that an adventurer would have only needed one trunk, so it is likely that it was originally part of a set. Over time, we often see these collections broken up due to their size–they are difficult to store. In addition, now that most travelers do not use hard-sided luggage. They may only need a handful for interior decoration, not a whole collection.

 

What is your favorite detail on this trunk, and how does that detail speak to the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton? My favorite thing about this trunk is certainly the brass paneling–this is what makes the piece truly stand out. But, one detail on this trunk that I really love is the interior Louis Vuitton logo with the serial number written in beautiful script. The last number –“1”– is a bit smudged and makes you imagine the craftsman who oversaw the creation of this incredible piece.

 

What do we know about how this trunk would have been made? Also, was this off the rack, or was it custom? The trunk would have been too expensive to have been produced without a client. It almost certainly would have been ordered by one of the most prominent adventurers of the day. It would have been made entirely by hand.

 

What do we know about the provenance of this trunk? Do we know anything about where and when it might have traveled over its lifetime? The trunk has changed hands a few times in its long life. As is often the case, at some point the trunk was forgotten about and re-discovered by a discerning buyer. It is currently being sold by a private collector.

 

Could you talk a bit about how the buyer would have used it–what sorts of things they would have put in it, and where would they have taken it? These trunks were produced only for the top explorers of the day who had the ambition and the means to adventure to the furthest corners of the earth. At the time, and the reason Louis Vuitton became as well-known and respected as it did, was because of its many technological advancements–the flat-topped trunk for easy stacking, special clasps, etc. This particular model, because of its small size, would have likely held its owner’s valuables and personal items. The trunk would have likely stayed with or near its owner.

 

What condition is it in? How original is it? What issues do you tend to see with brass-finished Explorer trunks, and does this one show any signs of having those issues? This trunk underwent a full restoration in 2015, so it looks quite like it would have in the 1800s. Over time, brass trunks can darken and become tarnished and oxidized. There are only a handful of restorers in the world who know how to handle these trunks – these restorations are extensive and timely, sometimes taking 100+ hours.

 

Are there signs of wear that can enhance the value of a vintage Vuitton trunk? When buying a vintage trunk, buyers want them to be “travelled”–if they wanted a brand new one, they would get it at Louis Vuitton! We love to see dings, dents, and scrapes that show the piece was really used. This mystery lets us imagine to what exotic locations the trunk may have travelled and who the explorer was who owned it.

 

How much does it weigh? The trunk is nearly as light as the more-common canvas version. The metal is quite thin and designed to protect the wooden architecture of the trunk from moisture and insects of exotic and humid locations.

 

The lot notes say it dates to 1888. How do we know this for sure? We were able to narrow the production to just a few years based on the material and model, and Louis Vuitton confirmed that a brass trunk with this serial number was sold in 1888.

 

The lot notes say it has a key. Would it be the original key? If so, how rare is it for a Vuitton trunk of this type to survive with its original key? Most trunk owners know to keep their keys safe–but after 131 years, you can imagine they might get lost. 20th century trunks often have their original keys, but it is quite rare for one of this age. The key with this trunk is a replacement.

 

How have you seen the market for Louis Vuitton vintage luggage change over time? Was there ever a point when something like this would just have been an old trunk, or were these Vuitton pieces always kept, valued, and collected? The market for Louis Vuitton trunks has been steadily growing for the last 20 to 30 years. People began to use them for interiors and collect them due to their mysterious histories around that time, which is why the value began to increase. A large canvas steamer with interesting travel stickers and markings can be very valuable.

 

What is the world auction record for a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, and what is the record for a piece from the Vuitton Explorer line? The world record and the Explorer line record is the aluminum Explorer Trunk sold for £162,500 [about $205,000] in London last December. Although aluminum was equally rare to brass, the aesthetics of this one make it stand out–and a potential record-breaker. [Christie’s also did a 5 Minutes With… piece about the aluminum trunk ahead of its sale, which you can read here.]

 

How do modern collectors of vintage Vuitton luggage use their pieces? Or do they treat them as functional art? They are now most often used as interior decoration by collectors of rare art and sculptures, or by collectors of travel and trunks.

 

What is the trunk like in person? Are there aspects of it that don’t quite come through in the photographs? The brass itself is what makes this piece so precious and that is difficult to capture in an image. It is a bright, true gold color that is extremely eye-catching. The patina around the edges and the wooden trim give it an amazing vintage look and feel as well.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This trunk is unforgettable–none of us will see one like it again.

 

How to bid: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass explorer trunk is lot 3888 in the Handbags & Accessories auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 29, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

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SOLD! The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” An Example of the First Commercial Typewriter, Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball” sold for €100,000, or about $111,600.

 

What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

 

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

 

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

 

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

 

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

 

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

 

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

 

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

 

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

 

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

 

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

 

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

 

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

 

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

 

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

 

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

 

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

 

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

 

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

 

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

 

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

 

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

 

Auction Team Breker has a website.

 

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

 

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SOLD! The Unique Roy Lichtenstein Panel Commissioned by Gunter Sachs for His St. Moritz Penthouse Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION sold for $1.28 million.

 

What you see: COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. Sotheby’s estimates it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down.]

 

The expert: Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s Day Auctions of Contemporary Art in New York.

 

How often did Lichtenstein make porcelain enamel panels? Is this it? There are a few nuances to unpack here. In 1964, Lichtenstein began creating enameled panels in limited editions of six or eight. He’d send schematic drawings to the fabricator, who would make the pieces. Unlike the other panels Lichtenstein did, this one is unique.

 

Did Gunter Sachs see one of those limited edition Lichtenstein panels and commission one from him for his St. Moritz residence? Essentially, yes. Lichtenstein met Sachs on the beach at Southampton in 1968. Sachs, by then, was well-known in the art world as a patron and a critic. I think he came to meet Lichtenstein through Andy Warhol. Once they met, they started a discussion about commissioned works. Sachs made this fabulous apartment in the penthouse [of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland] dedicated to displaying pop art in every form. It was a pop art haven, almost. It spoke to the type of person Gunter Sachs was, loving and living with his art.

 

What are the dimensions of the panel? 24 by 77 1/2 inches, a shape that was meant to fit a specific area in Sachs’s apartment.

 

Where in the bathroom was this panel installed? Sachs had a bedroom and bathroom en suite. This panel ran the width of the area below his double sink in the bathroom.

 

So it needed to be enamel. Exactly. Sachs and Lichtenstein exchanged letters about the subject, and they developed it together. There were two panels–the other has a Leda and the Swan theme, and it ran the width of his bathtub. The two panels are considered a conceptual pair, but two very different works. The other one has been in a private collection for seven to eight years now.

 

Is any of the correspondence between Sachs and Lichtenstein included with the panel? It’s not part of the lot. We don’t have it. We have asked the Lichtenstein Foundation for a copy of it. It’s a dialogue–not just one-sided by either party. Sachs wanted objects that were beautiful in his home, and Lichtenstein wanted to produce something current with what he was working on. He was starting to conceptualize other vehicles for his Pop vernacular–sunrises, hot dogs. In the late 1960s, it merges into his Modern painting series, a comment on modernity and Modernism. He was looking at Léger and Sonia Delaunay, and he put his own very colorful, Pop-y spin on it.

 

When was the panel removed from the penthouse apartment? Sotheby’s sold Sachs’s estate in May 2012. The panel was taken out ahead of the sale.

 

What condition is it in? It’s in exceptional condition. The enamel has stayed bright and fresh and reflective throughout its existence. It looks like it was made yesterday. It [this condition] is what you look for, especially if it’s used.

 

Is this one panel or two? It’s one single panel, a single piece of metal with enamel on top of it. The sun over the lake looks like it’s a dividing element, but it’s one single panel.

 

What’s it like in person? It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in. Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.

 

What’s the world auction record for a Lichtenstein porcelain enamel panel? It’s Crying Girl, from 1964, the fourth in an edition of five. It sold at Christie’s New York in November 2015 for $13.3 million.

 

How did you come up with the estimate? We looked up what it sold for last time–$800,000 to $850,000 in 2012 [converted from British pounds]. The market for Lichtenstein has changed significantly since then. Lichtenstein’s record is $95.3 million. We’ve seen $40 million and $50 million prices for the artist for canvases from the 1960s. We also looked at editioned enamel works. They’ve sold for four million to $12 million when they feature the iconic women Lichtenstein was known for in the 1960s. It’s an abstract work, and it’s an enticing estimate. And there’s truly nothing like it available.

 

How does the Gunter Sachs provenance add value? It’s a great name to attach to any work. The fact that he commissioned it, had a hand in what it looked like, and lived with it for 50 years really adds to it. Having a huge name associated with a work of art adds quality and rarity. That’s what collectors look for.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a fantastic summation of everything Lichtenstein was doing in the 1960s. You have the BEN-Day dots and the primary colors. It really stands out as a unique and exceptional work. Your eye wants to linger over it.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Lichtenstein panel? It was displayed upside-down in Gunter Sachs’s apartment. The correct orientation is as we have it in the catalog, with the moon on top and the reflection at the bottom. But you can display it in your home however you like.

 

Why did Sachs display it upside-down? Was it an error? I wouldn’t say it’s an error. Owner’s artistic license, we’ll call it. He liked it that way, for whatever reason. We’ll never know the true reason.

 

How to bid: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION is lot 137 in the Contemporary Art Day Auction at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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A Unique Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Might Find Glory at Morphy Auctions

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What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

 

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

 

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

 

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

 

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

 

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

 

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

 

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

 

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

 

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

 

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

 

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

 

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

 

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

 

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

 

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

 

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

 

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

 

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

 

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

 

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

 

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

 

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

 

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

 

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

 

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Christie’s Could Sell a Striking Rediscovered 1920s Painting by Mexican Artist Roberto Montenegro for $90,000

Montenegro_Untitled

What you see: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses), painted in the 1920s by Roberto Montenegro. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $90,000.

 

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

 

How prolific was Montenegro? He was very prolific. He worked for five decades. He continued to paint into his sixties. He died in 1968.

 

Why hasn’t he received the scholarly attention that some of his peers have gotten? He’s a very well-known artist, and he’s always included in surveys of Mexican art. The market likes him. What’s missing is a volume that captures the depth of his career and really studies his accomplishments.

 

How do we know that he painted this sometime in the 1920s? It’s not dated, but stylistically, it’s related to a Montenegro painting of Maya women that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) owns, and that dates to 1926.

 

When–on what occasions–do Tehuanas [women native to the Tehuantepec area of Mexico] don this distinctive ceremonial garb? Weddings and funerals? To me, in this particular painting, because they’re holding flowers and almost appear to be compressed in a tight space, almost stacked against each other, it appears to be a processsion. Their demeanor is serious. It’s more an expression of reverence. The faces are not laughing or smiling. Do you remember the Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller collection? That picture was Tehuanas too. That’s a feast, a very different atmosphere, celebrating. This seems to be a little more serious. A religious offering, maybe a funeral, but we can’t tell.

 

What is mexicanidad, and how is it reflected in this painting? It’s a term that refers to putting elements of Mexican culture in the forefront of a painting or an artistic expression. A lot of artists reflect mexicanidad in different ways. Frida Kahlo was a master of mexicanidad. Everything she did or said or wrote deeply embraced her Mexican identity. She took it to another level in dress and in how she expressed herself.

 

The lot notes say that Montenegro traveled in Europe almost continually from 1905 to 1920, looking at historic and contemporary European art. Do we know how soon he painted this after he returned to Mexico? I wish we could, but sadly, no. His sister [who owned the painting] has passed away. She would have known.

 

This looks really Cubist to me. Do we know if he looked at Cubist works during his travels? I think he had seen avant-garde art in Europe, like Diego Rivera had. Montenegro obviously knew the work of other artists like Rivera, who had a Cubist period.

 

Is this the first time he plays with the geometric potential of these Tehuana outfits? I think Diego did it too. What’s different about this treatment in this particular painting–it’s very graphic, very frontal. It seems to confront the viewer. That’s what’s attractive about the painting. And it’s very sculptural.

 

Sculptural? Is the paint piled up on the surface of the canvas? No, no, the painting is flat. When I say sculptural, the shapes almost appear to be 3-D in the way that Montenegro overlaps the headdresses with the faces in the back. There’s a sense of transparency, almost.

 

Are his other depictions of Tehuanas this geometric? No, they’re not. If you look at his murals, the Tejuanas are soft and others don’t have headdresses. I think this is one of the few that do.

 

Do we know anything about his working style? Did he pose models for this, or take reference photos, or did he imagine this scene? I think these women are archetypes.

 

From memory? Yeah, from memory.

 

Why is this painting so effective? I think it’s very striking. Part of that is you’re looking at this very frontally. It’s almost them looking at you rather than you looking at them.

 

Is this typical or atypical of his work? I think it’s an outlier. He used a lot of Mexican motifs, but it’s an outlier in the way the picture is constructed.

 

What is the painting like in person? What’s interesting about the painting is it’s very tight. It’s effective in that you feel this is a group of women in a small procession. They’re very strategically placed in the picture plane, but they have their own personalities.

 

How often do Montenegros appear at auction? Normally there’s one every season. They don’t circulate too much. He’s not an artist people are trading constantly. When collectors find a Montenegro, they tend to keep it for generations.

 

From the looks of the lot notes, this has never been to auction before–correct? No, never.

 

How rare is it to have a Montenegro that’s fresh to market? Every two years, there’s a surprise. This was a total surprise. We didn’t know about the picture until [the heirs] contacted us. It was owned by his sister. She lived in California. Montenegro gave it to her on one of his trips to visit, and it’s been in the family all these years. I don’t know if it’s been published. It’s really the first time it’s been seen. It’s really great. It’s one of my favorite things in the sale.

 

What condition is it in? Very good shape. We cleaned it superficially, but it’s in great shape.

 

What’s the auction record for a Montenegro? It was set at Christie’s. It was one of his self-portraits in a sphere, from 1955. It sold in 2017 for $187,500.

 

So this could set a new record for the artist, maybe. Let’s just say it’s conceivable.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It is a memorable painting. It’s very graphic. And it’s lovely in the flesh, really, really lovely. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a rediscovered artwork. This example has never been seen or published in color. Now the image is out there, and people can refer to it. We love to sell things, and we love to contribute to the understanding of an artist by presenting something that’s so good and special.

 

How to bid: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) is lot 13 in the Latin American Art sale taking place at Christie’s New York on May 22 and 23, 2019.

 

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Virgilio Garza has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a record-setting Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller family and a Fernando Botero circus painting.

 

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This Seriously Steampunk “Writing Ball”, the First Commercially Produced Typewriter, Could Command $100,000 at Auction Team Breker

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What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

 

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

 

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

 

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

 

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

 

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

 

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

 

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

 

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

 

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

 

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

 

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

 

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

 

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

 

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

 

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

 

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

 

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

 

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

 

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

 

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

 

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

 

Auction Team Breker has a website.

 

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

 

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SOLD! Julien’s Auctions Sold John Lennon’s Personal Copy of the Beatles’ Infamous “Butcher” Cover for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: John Lennon’s personal copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today with the infamous “Butcher” cover, which he inscribed, dated, and drew upon, and which was later autographed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, sold for $234,400–a record for a Beatles “Butcher” album.

 

What you see: A U.S first state Butcher album prototype, stereo example, of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, which was owned by John Lennon. He inscribed and dated it and drew a sketch on the back cover. Later, the recipient obtained signatures from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $160,000 to $180,000.

 

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

 

So, let’s start with how this album cover came about. It was offensive in 1966, and many would find it offensive now. How did this image get chosen for the album cover? How did it advance as far as getting a press run of 750,000 before it was stopped and recalled? It was a time toward the end of the Beatles as a group, working together. They were jaded and tired and exhausted [with] another photo shoot, another album. Bob Whitaker shot the photo. Some say it was a message against the war in Vietnam. Another theory was that Beatles albums in the USA were not exactly the same as the format in the UK, and the four guys felt their albums were being butchered.

 

But it was not shot as an album cover. How did it end up on the cover? I think they got together and decided it would be amazing and send a message, whatever the message they thought they were sending. They were young lads. They had produced a new album every year. They had this experience [the photo shoot with Whitaker], this fun event, and decided it would be the cover of the album.

 

All four Beatles were in favor of putting it on the cover? Yeah, I think they were. Their lives were changing. They wanted something that was almost rebellious in a way, and they went along with it.

 

Do we know how many copies of the first state version of the Butcher cover–the ones that escaped into the market, and were not covered with the shot of the Beatles posing in and around the trunk–exist? Capitol Records sent it to retailers and radio stations and leaders in getting the message out about the upcoming album. Advance copies. Once it was out, [people] started to question it. Capitol Records recalled it. I expect at the time the sentiment of the people who didn’t like it returned it to Capitol Records and wanted a replacement one.

 

But do we have numbers on how many first state Butcher covers are out there? I’ve seen maybe five in the last 15 years. We also had the original album, the replacement, and additional photos related to the whole debacle. [Juliens’s sold the collection as a single lot in 2013 for $38,400 against an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.]

 

Do we know how many first state Butcher prototype covers are out there? We do not. But what we should really focus on is it was John Lennon’s first state Butcher prototype cover. We sold Ringo Starr’s copy of the White Album for $790,000. Before that, the highest [the record for the most expensive record sold at auction] was an Elvis Presley record that sold for $300,000. This was Lennon’s, and he had a quote saying the cover was a comment on the Vietnam War–“If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover.”

 

So Lennon was a proponent of the cover? Exactly. And the fact that this hung in Lennon’s apartment [in The Dakota in New York City], and it has John’s drawing on it–it’s an amazing part of this.

 

This is why I want to break it down, because there are a lot of moving parts here. Let’s subtract the Lennon provenance. A first state Butcher album cover prototype is pretty damn valuable on its own. It’s valuable. It’s really important. Collectors love to handle something like that and ideally it hasn’t been handled or opened or played. John Lennon did open and play it.

 

The John Lennon inscription is valuable on its own. Obviously, John Lennon is no longer with us. Anything signed by John Lennon has value in and of itself. Among the Beatles, he’s the most highly collectible.

 

The John Lennon artwork is valuable on its own. His drawings sell for a lot. We sold a concept sketch drawing for Sargent Pepper for $87,500 in 2017.

 

And it’s signed by all the Beatles except George Harrison. [Laughs] Dave Morrell [who received the record from Lennon] was a young guy in 1971. Later, when he saw how the collectibility of the Beatles was going, he thought it would be good to have all four signatures. George Harrison passed in 2001, but he got Paul and Ringo to sign. It’s hard to  do [get signatures from the surviving Beatles]. They rarely sign anything these days.

 

I imagine he tried to get George Harrison’s signature? Surely, he would have tried. Harrison was reclusive, and not as accessible as Paul or Ringo.

 

If the album had signatures from all four Beatles, would that raise the estimate? No, it wouldn’t. It would factor into the winning bid, not the estimate. Three out of four isn’t bad.

 

You sold Ringo Starr’s copy of the White Album for $790,000 against an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. Is the estimate on Lennon’s Butcher cover conservative? When we did the Ringo auction, he was a gentleman to work with. We had everything finished on the catalog, and he asked to meet with us in London. He told us, “I’m going to give you something very special.” It had been in a bank vault for about 35 years. Everyone speculated that John Lennon had the first copy of the White Album, but it was Ringo. He wanted a reserve of $60,000. We said absolutely. We were so amazed by the reactions. It was just phenomenal, a world record. But to answer the question–we placed a conservative estimate. We can’t determine where it will end up.

 

What are the odds that Lennon’s Butcher cover will break seven figures? [Laughs] I certainly hope so, but you never know. It’s an auction. The sky’s the limit. We’re doing the auction in Liverpool, which adds to the hype. John Lennon’s artwork, the signatures, it’s a prototype of an album that was recalled, it all plays into what goes down on May 9.

 

Lennon traded this to Morrell for a reel-to-reel bootleg. For those who don’t know, can you explain a bit about bootleg culture, and explain why Lennon would have traded this album for a bootleg? It’s still happening today, exchanging and swapping [recordings made at concerts and other venues]. With Beatles memorabilia, there’s a huge network of people plugged into that. John Lennon was no different. Morrell had a Yellow Matter Custard bootleg. Lennon wanted it.

 

But we value that Lennon Butcher cover a lot differently in 2019 than Lennon and Morrell did in 1971. Can you explain why the trade made sense to them? Even though the concept of collectibility wasn’t as strong then as now, it was recognized as a collectible album, because of its notoriety. In 1971, people were keeping the cover with the original, controversial art. It wasn’t that unusual back in 1971 not to place a value on an item. They wanted to say they owned it. It was not monetarily driven like it is today. Lennon surely thought that getting his hands on the recording was more important to him at the time. He could get another album cover on his wall if he still needed it. Morrell was not interested in monetary value. He in turn got something he wanted.

 

It was as simple as, “I have this, and you don’t have it. Give me something I don’t have in trade for it.” Like trading baseball cards. If you have something really good, you can get something really good. If you have a B-rated item, you get a B-rated item in exchange.

 

Are there any period pictures that show the album hanging on the walls of Lennon’s apartment in the Dakota? I don’t know, but I’m not aware.

 

Is this the first time it’s come to auction? As far as I’m aware, yes.

 

The auction is planned for Liverpool. Did you get the consignment first, and then choose Liverpool, or did you choose Liverpool and then secure the consignment? We’ve been working with Liverpool for many years. We’ve done discovery days for the last three years, and we’ve uncovered some really interesting items. We thought it would be cool to hold a Beatles auction there at the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool. This album came as a result of the call. Once the press release [about the sale] went out, we got the call.

 

Have you held the album in your hands? I had it in my hands Monday morning [March 25]. This gives me chills. There was so much controversy when it came out. John Lennon signed it, and it was on his wall. 50 years later, we’re talking about it. I’ve never seen an album like this. There are so many variations of collectibility in one album. There’s so much history, so many stories to be told.

 

How to bid: John Lennon’s copy of the first state prototype Butcher album cover is lot 266 in Music Icons: The Beatles in Liverpool, an all-Beatles auction conducted by Julien’s Auctions. It contains more than 200 items, and takes place on May 9, 2019.

 

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

 

Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

 

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about Marilyn Monroe’s record-setting Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress,  a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses; a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction; and a purple tunic worn by Prince.

 

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