SOLD! Eldred’s Sold the 1911 Schooner Portrait by Antonio Jacobsen for (Scroll Down to See)

Eldred's Goldfield Jacobsen

Update: The Antonio Jacobsen portrait of the Goldfield sold for $8,400.

 

What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

 

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

 

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

 

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

 

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

 

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

 

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

 

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

 

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

 

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

 

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

 

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

 

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

 

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

 

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Heritage Sold the Yousuf Karsh Vintage Gelatin Silver Print Portrait of Winston Churchill for (Scroll Down to See)

Yousuf_Karsh_Winston_Churchill_1941

Update: The vintage gelatin silver print of Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill sold for $5,000.

 

What you see: A vintage gelatin silver print of a portrait of Winston Churchill, taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941 and printed in the 1940s or 1950s. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

 

The expert: Nigel Russell, photographs director at Heritage.

 

I wanted to start by talking about how this photo came about. Could you tell the story of how Karsh got this image? He set up a studio in Ottawa in the early 1930s. He was friendly with the Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King. He had a reputation in Canada, but he wasn’t that well-known. Churchill was doing a tour during World War II. He came to Washington and then Ottawa to get support for the war. He gave an electrifying speech in Ottawa. The Canadian Prime Minister asked Karsh to take a picture of Churchill, but apparently, no one told Churchill he was going to have his picture taken. He was annoyed to begin with. He lit a cigar, puffed away, and said, “OK, you can quickly take the picture,” very angrily. Karsh held out an ashtray [so Churchill could] take the cigar out of his mouth. He didn’t. He ignored him. Karsh made his final settings [on his camera] and just before taking the picture, he said, “Excuse me, Sir,” and took the cigar out of his mouth. That’s why you get a scowling look in the picture.

 

This image made Karsh’s reputation. How soon did he know the strength of what he had? When he took the photo, he knew it was good and important, but he didn’t know how important it would be. He went from a Canadian photographer to an international photographer. It launched his career of photographing heads of state and important people around the world.

 

I was thinking about that act–plucking the cigar from Winston Churchill’s mouth–and I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do it… Karsh was a rather small man, and Churchill was an imposing figure who wasn’t paying any attention to him. He felt the need to get his attention and probably felt he didn’t have much to lose. He was not a very important photographer at the time, so he just did it. There is another photo that’s not very well-known because it’s just not the same, where Churchill is smiling. I think Churchill was actually impressed with what Karsh did, and let him take another picture.

 

When I think of Winston Churchill, I think of this photo. That’s the image that winks into my head. What makes it so effective? It’s exactly the way you picture him giving powerful speeches in World War II–a powerful, no-nonsense person. It’s one of those few instances where the portrait is what you imagine the personality of the person [to be] and conveys something more than a plain portrait. It makes you feel you have an idea that you can understand the person better.

 

How is the image a testament to Karsh’s talent? A couple of things make Karsh the most important portrait photographer of the mid-20th century. From a technical point of view, he was excellent–impeccable technique, fantastic lighting, print quality, all of that. The Churchill portrait marked a turning point. From then on, he’d try to get the subject to make a unique expression that shows their inner power, or shoot them in such a way that you wouldn’t normally see.

 

We know he took the photo in 1941, but I don’t see anything about the date when he printed this one. Can we pin that down? We don’t know exactly when he printed this particular one, but we are listing it as a vintage print. It’s an early print. Karsh did early prints at different sizes, 8 1/2 by 11 inches or 11 by 14 inches. We know it was early because he signed it in white ink, which he seemed to stop doing sometime in the 1950s. It has silver mirroring, which a photograph doesn’t get unless it’s quite old. It’s an oxidation of the silver in the print. If you hold it at an angle, there’s a silvery sheen to the darker areas of the print. Usually it takes 50 years or so to show up. Another indication of age is the print is warm in tone. It’s printed on cream paper, where later prints were on white paper.

 

The secondary market for photographs didn’t evolve until the 1970s. For whom would Karsh have made this gelatin silver print of his Churchill portrait? I think you have to look at it a little differently. Though the fine art photography market wasn’t created until the 1970s, there was a market for portraits of statesmen and celebrities. People would buy a portrait of someone they admired and hang it in their study. Karsh didn’t make a huge amount of money [from these prints] but you see early prints of Einstein, Charles De Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower… even though the market for fine art photography didn’t exist, there was a market for this kind of portraiture earlier.

 

And it was not part of a limited edition? Right. Not until you get to the 1970s, to the fine art market, does he start making larger sizes and start doing editions.

 

How often does this pre-1970s print show up in auction records? I did a search in general of all different Karsh Churchill prints. There have been 187 up for auction since 1987, so about five or six a year, of which maybe one is vintage, or maybe less than that. [Standard reminder: 187 auction results doesn’t mean 187 individual prints went to auction. Some might have been the same print, consigned twice or more.]

 

And to be clear–because there was demand for portraits of statesmen before the 1970s, there would be more vintage prints of Karsh’s Churchill portrait floating around than you’d get for other types of vintage prints. Yes. I would say from a vintage point of view it’s fairly popular.

 

How involved would Karsh have been in physically making the print? From what I’ve read, he printed in the darkroom with assistants. He might have been supervising. It’s not clear if he handmade each print himself or if he told his assistants what to do. He was certainly not like some photographers who let their assistants do [the work] and never entered the darkroom. He was very much hands-on.

 

Is the world auction record for a Karsh photograph a Churchill photograph? And if so, what is it? It’s interesting. I did a search and it turns out the auction record for any Karsh is this image, and it was set at a Beijing auction house by a vintage 8 by 10 in 2015. That was kind of the peak of the Chinese art market auctions. It sold for $39,713. The next-highest result is for a vintage 16 by 20. It’s unusual because he didn’t [normally] make vintage prints that big. It would have been a special order in that size. It sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $20,000. Later on, once the photography art market got going, he made 16 by 20s and 20 by 24s.

 

Of all the collectible photographs of Churchill, is this the one that collectors want most? Oh yeah, by far. If someone’s looking for a Churchill portrait by any photographer, they gravitate toward this one. It’s one of the few where we do have crossover appeal to people who collect Churchilliana, people who collect World War II in general, and people who want a nice Churchill portrait.

 

Do collectors care if the portrait is vintage or not? A lot of the people who want this picture like it in the later, larger size. We sold a 20 by 24 for $11,300.

 

What condition is the print in? Silver mirroring is noticeable at an angle, and there are a few small spots of retouching. It’s in overall good condition.

 

How many Karsh Churchill portraits have you had at Heritage? In all, we’ve sold 11 since we’ve been having photograph auctions [the house began holding them in 2004]. Of those, three were vintage.

 

As we speak I’m looking at a digital version of the print. What is it like in person? Again, it gets into the realm of connoisseurship. Later black and white prints reproduce fine digitally. They’re what you kind of expect. With vintage prints, there’s a color to them, a warmth to them. The paper often has a bit of texture to it that you can’t see [in a digital reproduction]. It’s really nice to see them in person. They have a certain presence that you don’t get in later prints.

 

How to bid: The vintage print of Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Winston Churchill is lot #73197 in the Photographs Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in New York on April 6, 2019.

 

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

 

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Something to Sing About! Morphy Auctions Could Sell a 1960s-era Coin-Op Recording Booth for $100,000

High Res Recording Booth

What you see: A 50-cent Calibre Auto Recording Booth. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Don Grimmer, vice president of Morphy Auctions Las Vegas.

 

So let’s imagine I’m wandering along a boardwalk, or in an amusement park or an arcade, and I see this and I want to use it. How do I do that? You open the door, go in, and close the door behind you to keep the outside noise from coming in. You inserted two quarters and began speaking or singing when the red light was on. It was recommended that you stand six to 12 inches from the microphone.

 

And the recording time lasted about four minutes? A few minutes per record, I don’t know how many. It stopped on its own. A machine behind the microphone created the record for you.

 

Do we know how many of these units were made? We don’t know, but they were popular in the UK also.

 

And this is the only version of the unit that the manufacturer produced? I think this is the only style. It’s very rare. It’s the only style I’ve seen.

 

Is this the first one you’ve handled? This is the first one we’ve had to auction. One sold privately recently, which is how we created the estimate.

 

Do we know when this particular unit was made? Mid- to late 60s. That’s what I’d say as a guy who’s been around coin-op [machines], judging by the look and feel of it.

 

Does it work? Everything is there. It appears to be complete. It hasn’t been tested, and you’d need to fill it with blank discs. The collector will be the one to get it wired and working. We don’t have the discs to put in it. It probably needs maintenance to get it in full working condition.

 

Have you heard any records that were made by a booth such as this one? How do they sound? It’s mostly a low-fi recording, despite the hi-fi ad on the exterior. It’s not a great quality record. It’s a cool novelty.

 

So you hear pop and hiss? Right. Sometimes you can find one somebody made. They pop up in old record stores and thrift stores.

 

The lot notes describe its condition as “very good.” What does that mean in this context? It’s structurally sound. The graphics are intact. The mechanism is intact, which is a major  plus. It’s not a hunk of crap. Perfect equals mint. Because the mechanism is there, that makes it very good. It’s very easy to see the wear markers, the scratches, the condition.

 

Have you sat in it? What is that like? There’s no seat present in it. You stand inside and it makes you want to put a coin in the slot and give it a try. It’s a good experience. It gets you excited that this will be a great thing to try.

 

How many people can comfortably fit inside the booth, really, knowing that you have to close the door to get a legible recording? It measures only about two and a half feet by two feet. You could possibly get two or three skinny people in there, or five kids, but honestly, it’s made for one.

 

What do we know about the provenance of this unit? It comes from the Seaside Heights boardwalk in New Jersey, and was used in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, New Jersey.

 

Is there anything we can say about the graphics decorating the machine? The good thing is that they’re intact. They’re legible and clear. There are wear issues. This thing was used! You climb in it and your friends climb in with you, having fun and being rowdy, especially when you start singing. It’s lucky to be in the condition it’s in.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate for this, knowing that none of these units have been to auction before? What are its comparables, beyond private sales? Very few exist, and very few survive. I’ve talked to two guys who know of these. The market will do what the market will do, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? When you get in it, it makes you want to use the machine. And it records you. Not many things out there actually records yourself. It makes you want to something silly, like stand in a booth and sing to yourself. And this is a rare, fresh to market piece, which makes it even more desirable.

 

How to bid: The Calibre Auto Recording Booth is lot 1179 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale at Morphy Auctions Las Vegas on April 13 and 14, 2019.

 

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

 

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WOW! Swann Sold Emma Amos’s “Let Me Off Uptown” for a Record (Scroll Down To See)

M39247-1 008

 

Update: Let Me Off Uptown sold for $125,000, more than tripling the previous world auction record for the artist at auction. Hooray!

 

What you see: Let Me Off Uptown, which measures 80 inches by 78 7/8 inches and was created by African-American artist Emma Amos between 1999 and 2000. It incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

 

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

 

The lot notes say Let Me Off Uptown is “a significant work from Emma Amos’s important series of paintings on fabric from the late 1990s that celebrate African-American women”. How big is the series? Is it still ongoing? She did a large group of work in the 90s where images of women were painted on canvas not on stretcher bars [a traditional treatment for paintings] but on hanging cloth. It extended to the mid-2000s. She’s not working on it now.

 

What do we know about how Amos made the mixed media work? Artists like Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold, when they came up in the 1960s and 1970s, the gallery system was very difficult for women to get any representation. Male abstract painters predominated. There were few spaces in the art world for empowering images of African-American women. She was very much a part of the African-American movement and the women’s movement. She took all those elements in the 1980s and 1990s and found a way to paint the imagery and make it her own–large figurative subjects about women, the bodies of women, and the roles women had in society. This is more celebratory. It’s about African-American culture and about jazz. It shows how jazz brings different people together.

 

Is the woman in red a self-portrait? Is she Amos? I don’t believe so.

 

Why did she name the work Let Me Off Uptown? It’s a reference to Harlem. That was where you got off the train to listen to jazz music.

 

Did she use models for the main figures or any of the smaller figures? I don’t know precisely her practice, but I would think it’s a variety of sources. [The man] could be someone she knows, I really can’t say, but it’s not portraiture. It’s not important who these people are–it’s what they represent. For centuries, images of African-Americans in art were either put on the sidelines, completely secondary, or they were caricatures. Since the Harlem Renaissance, [African-American artists have] taken over the representation of their figures and made a viable language. Like other contemporary artists, Amos has focused on the figure, and has embraced making figurative art that shows African-Americans doing things. In her case, they have larger symbolic meanings. They speak to a larger discourse about how we view African-Americans and African-American figures in our art. She wants to change the way we look at art.

 

The lot notes say Amos “has long sought to deconstruct traditional representations of beauty”. How does she do that here? With these images of celebratory figures and dancers [she asks] what is a beautiful figure? Can an African-American woman stand in for other figures that traditionally represent women and ideals of beauty? That is where she’s coming from. The classical models from art history are Eurocentric. Black bodies, shapes and colors and the way they look, are not necessarily considered ideal in art. She makes ordinary people heroic. These [the two main figures] are painted six feet high, at a scale and size that are almost lifelike, if not lifelike. She says they are people we should celebrate.

 

Do any of the smaller figures carry meanings that might not be immediately obvious? When you first look at it, it looks like lots of fun, dancing figures, but a lot of them are subversive. Some are unclothed. Different races and genders together. Music and freedom. At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz was revolutionary. It represented freedom and improvisation. She’s definitely tapping into that here. It’s a great party of twirling figures, having a great time.

 

What details stand out to you? The fun thing about her work is the different levels it works on. It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.

 

Amos included this work in her 2000 application for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation fellowship, which she won. Does that affect collectors’ interest in the work, or its value, at all? I think it’s a nice plus. It certainly shows the reputation of her work strongly.

 

I’d been calling her a fabric artist but it seems like “mixed media artist” is better… She’s really a painter, a collage artist, and a printmaker. It’s a bit simplistic to call her a fabric artist. That’s one element of her work. Sometimes she paints on textile, but she’s a multimedia artist, absolutely.

 

What is Let Me Off Uptown like in person? It has a human scale to it. It’s about six feet high. What you can’t necessarily see in the catalog is there’s a wonderful variety of texture. The surface has a wonderful shimmer. There’s a richness to it. It doesn’t just have a flat, uniform surface.

 

Are her works usually this colorful and lively? Let Me Off Uptown is not an anomaly. Her works are often dynamic and brightly colored, with large figures taking up the whole picture plane.

 

How rarely do pieces by Amos appear at auction? We’ve been selling her work in our auctions since the start of our African-American Fine Art auctions in 2007. Primarily they were prints and works on paper. Then last year [in October 2018], we sold Arched Swimmer, the first large, unique painting we had of hers. It was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and, with the buyer’s premium, sold for $40,000 and set an auction record for her. That painting set the stage for this one. It’s quite possible this work will set a new record. Her work is in people’s minds. That’s why it felt like a good time to bring this to auction now.

 

Why might Let Me Off Uptown beat the sum achieved by Arched Swimmer? First of all, it’s a larger, more complex piece. Arched Swimmer was 30 inches by 32 inches, and it was a stretch canvas. It was not one of the larger hanging pieces, and it’s a quarter of the size of the work we’re selling now. I think we’ll have a lot of interest in it.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think it’s a fantastic image of dance and jazz. It’s a joyous image, and it’s what her work is all about.

 

How to bid: Let Me Off Uptown is lot 163 in the African-American Fine Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on April 4, 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.

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Nigel Freeman has appeared on The Hot Bid many times before, talking about a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, a story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelou, an Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask. The Ringgold and the Johnson set records for the respective artists.

 

Emma Amos has a website. She’s represented by the Ryan Lee Gallery.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

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Visions of Rome: Christie’s Could Sell a Late 19th Century Grand Tour-era Micromosaic Tabletop for $80,000

A Large Roman Micromosaic

What you see: A large Roman micromosaic tabletop, dating to the last quarter of the 19th century. St. Peter’s Square is shown in the center, surrounded by scenes of Pantheon, the Arch of Titus, the Tomb of Caecillia Metella, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, Temple of Vesta, the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Capitoline Hill. Christie’s estimates it at $50,000 to $80,000.

 

The expert: Casey Rogers, specialist of 19th Century European furniture and decorative art at Christie’s.

 

Do we know what workshop made this tabletop? In the absence of a signature, no, but there were several workshops associated with the Vatican Mosaic Studio, as well as independent mosaic studios, who had established studios near Rome’s Spanish Steps. Names which come to mind are the studios of Luigi Gallandt or Cesare Roccheggiani. They were very well-known to create mosaics of this caliber.

 

Would this have been a Grand Tour souvenir? I believe so, and it’s a very lavish one at that, given its scale and intricacy. It’s nearly 40 inches in diameter. It would have been a very special piece to bring home from one’s travels and would have certainly a conversation piece.

 

Do the landmarks depicted on the tabletop show how the Grand Tour has changed over time? Are there sites depicted here that would not have been on the Grand Tour list in previous centuries? The question is very relevant to another question you asked–is it a commission, or is it on spec? Certainly some of the larger mosaic tabletops are likely to be tailor-made for a tourist who could choose sites to visit on the Grand Tour. In terms of how it has changed over time, I can’t say. That would require more research. But I think one could tailor it–“I’d love to see scenes depicted in the souvenir I take home.”

 

Is there anything notable about how the sites are portrayed, and the order in which they are portrayed? Not specifically. It links back to the point I was just making, that you could certainly chose the types of sites that were depicted. Quite playful images could be done, tailor-made to an experience on the Grand Tour. When we speak about the imagery on the tabletop, St. Peter’s Square tends to be the focal point. We often find St. Peter’s Square in the central roundel.

 

And I take it it’s fair to assume that these sites would be far more crowded in the late 19th century than they are depicted on this tabletop? [Laughs] Certainly, and they’re not as we know them today, in modern times. It [the lack of crowds in the images of the Roman landmarks] also speaks to the mosaic itself, and the difficulty of making it. We find some mosaics that are more heavily populated. It’s a testament to the mosaicists’ meticulous skill when there’s more people in the scene. The number of tourists shown would have been a mark of the expense and the skill of the work.

 

Is this a one-off, or have you seen other tables with tops that look like this? We certainly have sold and seen tables with very similar compositions to this. No two are alike. We have also seen a number of smaller scale.  Presently, this size was the largest known to be available.

 

Do the mosaicists rely on a template? There’s a template to it, but every mosaic’s size and scene is unique because of the craftsmanship. Each has its own nuances that sets it apart from the last, but the template is there.

 

Would it have been made on speculation or would it have been a commission? In this case, it’s very tough to say. The records aren’t there. I can say the mosaicists were very attuned to the tastes of their clients who came to Rome and to the sites on the Grand Tour. There were examples that could be acquired quickly, and others that were special commissions.

 

What can we know by looking how difficult the tabletop would have been to make? Micromosaics are a marvel of technique. What’s so incredible about the work is its painterly quality. As you stand back, you may mistake the surface as a painting, but as you delve more into the nuance and intricacy of the piece we can discern each glass piece (tessera) and understand that each was laid individually as one would do a paint-by-number.

 

The glass would be custom-colored? Absolutely, and hand-cut and hand-laid in the design created by the studio.

 

Do we know how many tesserae were used to make this tabletop? Thousands upon thousands, each individually hand cut and placed according to a specific design or vista.

 

How long might it have taken to make something like this? It is difficult to say work-to-work, but depending on the magnitude of a tabletop or panel, the work could have been executed over months and up to a year. In terms of technique, the mosaic workshops – such as those at the Vatican Mosaic Studio – originally used cubic tesserae, known as smalti, made from ground glass and baked in an oven like enamel. By the 1760s this art had been so perfected that it was possible to produce rods or threads of colored glass, called smalti filati, thin enough to be cut into the minute tesserae used on this table top. These tiny individual tesserae, in an almost limitless palette of as many as 28,000 colors, allowed truly painterly compositions.

 

Is there anything we can say about the borders and rings–the geometric border sandwiched by malachite, and the scalloped border between the center panel and the outer panels? Are these the sorts of designs that appear on tabletops such as these, or would they have had symbolic meanings? The neoclassical flourishes are nods to the antique and neoclassical trends that grew out of the discoveries of the sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the 18th century. They launched a revival of ancient styles. Another [reason to] make the decorations [is] to convey the mosaicist’s skill level and convey the luxury of expensive materials like malachite [the green stone that comprise the two outer rings of the tabletop].

 

Would it have come with a matching chair? I would say not. You’re probably bringing the tabletop itself home. It may be mounted to a very subdued ebonized base. It comes down to collectors and their aesthetics. We find a wide variety of table bases.

 

And the base would not have been made by the same studio? No. I think the studio could make them available.

 

Would this tabletop have been viewed as a piece of art or a piece of furniture? My hope is it functioned as a piece of art given the difficulties of how it was made. It continued to be treated as such by collectors and the market in general. In contemporary interiors, [you’d get] a glass top for the table if you chose to use the table to protect the mosaic itself. I absolutely think it was made as a work of art, a souvenir to take home to remember one’s experiences by. That’s why you see so many in great condition. They’ve been preserved as works of art.

 

What do we know about the provenance of this piece? It’s from a private family collection in the south. The family passed it from generation to generation. I don’t believe their relatives necessarily acquired it on the Grand Tour in the mid-19th century, but we know them to have had it in their possession by the early 20th century.

 

What condition is this tabletop in? This one has had a break or two to it. It’s been extremely well restored by a very well-versed conservator. It is not in perfect condition, but it’s in good condition considering it’s over 170 years old.

 

Is it heavy? Yes, very. [Laughs] It’s got weight to it. It’s several hundred pounds. It’s set into black marble surrounding a wood base. It’s very hefty. In terms of moving it safely, you’ll want professional art movers.

 

What is it like in person? What I love about micromosaics is they’re extremely photogenic. The catalogs in print and online give a good indication of the execution level of the mosaic. What you can’t get in the photo is being able to walk up to the glass and inspect the fine detail. In the Parthenon, you can see little flourishes that convey the carving in the friezes. Taking the time to inspect it is a real joy.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s the seemingly impossible craftsmanship and the magnitude of the work of creating it. I can view it several times over and I think I know every nuance, but I pick up something new when I come back to it 20 minutes later.

 

How to bid: The large Roman micromosaic tabletop is lot 101 in The Collector: English & European 18th & 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on April 9, 2019.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Potter & Potter Sold the Circa 1880s Will & Finck Brass Sleeve Holdout Device for Cheating at Cards for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Will & Finck circa 1880s brass sleeve holdout sold for $9,000.

 

What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

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

 

Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.

 

How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.

 

It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]

 

And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]

 

Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.

 

Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.

 

Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?

 

Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.

 

Have you tried it on? No.

 

How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.

 

How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.

 

How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.

 

The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]

 

How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

 

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.

 

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Eldred’s Has a 1911 Schooner Portrait by Antonio Jacobsen That Could Command $10,000

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What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

 

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

 

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

 

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

 

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

 

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

 

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

 

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

 

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

 

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

 

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

 

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

 

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

 

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

 

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

 

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

 

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