WHOA! Christie’s New York Sold Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch for (Scroll Down to See)

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

Update: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch sold for $250,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

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

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Will Christie’s New York Sell the “Mirror of Paradise” Golconda Diamond for $10 Million?

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in full on a black background. Part of the ring setting is visible on either side of the stone.

What you see: The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Christie’s estimates it at $7 million to $10 million.

The expert: Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas.

First, could you explain what Golconda is–is it a city? A region? A mine? It’s a district. You could say, in more general terms, it’s an area. It’s near Hyderabad, in south India. Of areas that produce diamonds, it is by far the most famous.

Has anyone done a survey or a census of known Golconda diamonds? I imagine that would be difficult, given that people cut and reshape diamonds… Mining began in 400 B.C.E., and went on for 2,000 years. It’s impossible to know the number of stones, and they can be cut and refashioned. There’s no way to track it.

When did Golconda stop yielding diamonds? About 1725.

What is it about Golconda diamonds that give them their famous limpid quality? Has anyone studied the geography or the chemistry? It’s because of the lack of nitrogen in them. It gives them a unique purity. Nitrogren impedes the transmission of light. Their lack of nitrogen allows them to transmit light in an unimpeded way.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shown in three-quarter view on a black background. It is in a ring setting.

What do we know about the provenance of the Mirror of Paradise? Do we know when it came out of the ground, and how big the rough stone was? No, but we can assume, given that it’s 52 carats, the rough was over 100 carats. But there’s no way for us to know.

The Mirror of Paradise has a rectangular cut. Is it possible to know if that is its original cut? Also, how does the rectangular cut enhance the stone? The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.

Do we know when and how it was placed in a ring, and do we know who designed the ring? We don’t know, unfortunately. It’s how it came to us from the client.

The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot from the side on a black background and angled to display its ring setting.

Christie’s New York sold the Mirror of Paradise two times previously, in 1988 and 2013. Was it in the ring setting for both sales? It was in the same mounting the last two times it was sold at Christie’s.

When was the last time a Golconda weighing 50-plus carats came to auction? We sold the 76.02-carat Archduke Joseph diamond in November 2012 in Geneva for CHF 20,355,000 [About $21.4 million. The sale also represents a world auction record for a colorless Golconda diamond.]

So, six years ago. Is it fair to say that Golcondas of 50 carats or more tend to pop up every six to ten years? You never know when they’re going to come up, but I would say that.

How does the market for Golconda diamonds compare to the market for white diamonds generally? This is a very specific subset of a larger market. It’s always highly sought-after by collectors and connoisseurs who are looking for unique and special stones. Certainly among clients there is a premium, and a general interest.

How did the Mirror of Paradise perform when it sold at Christie’s New York in 1988 and 2013, and what does that say about the market? In 1988, it sold for $7.48 million. In 2013, it sold for $10.9 million. The sales show a steady increase for Golcondas.


The Mirror of Paradise 52.58-carat Golconda diamond, shot on a black ground, head on, to showcase the rectangular cut of the stone.

Have you worn the ring? Yes.

What was that like? [Laughs] It was a bit breathtaking to try it on. It’s an exceptional stone. One of the perks, or requirements, of the job is actually trying jewelry on, because a lot of clients aren’t able to see it in person. Being able to handle and interact with the pieces gives a better sense of what they’re like. They’re not just objects–they’re worn.

How does the Mirror of Paradise compare to other Golcondas in the same sale? We don’t have anything else quite like this [in the auction]. It’s so incredible–the breadth of what’s offered in the collection spans 500 years. I think this stone certainly stands on its own.

What is it like in person? We have photographers that are trained only in jewelry photography, but seeing it in person is different. A camera never fully captures the essence of a stone–the size, the luster, the luminosity–you need to see it in person to fully grasp the presence of it.

How to bid: The Mirror of Paradise is lot 229 in the Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction at Christie’s New York on June 19, 2019.

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

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SOLD! Freeman’s Sold Ben Austrian’s “White Hen with Chickens” for (Scroll Down to See)

Ben Austrian's "White Hen with Chickens" shows a mother hen at left, with 13 yellow chicks clustering near her on a bed of straw. One of the chicks perches on her back.

Update: Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens sold for $6,875.

What you see: White Hen with Chickens, painted in 1913 by American artist Ben Austrian. Freeman’s estimates it at $7,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Raphaël Chatroux, associate specialist in the fine art department at Freeman’s.

Who was Ben Austrian? What do we know about him and his work? He’s a local boy, born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had a lonely childhood, and he was sick very often. The air in Reading was quite polluted, so he had to spend his summers outside the city at a relative’s farm. He called it his vacation home. He went there for many years, from his early childhood until his mid-teens.

And he was self-taught, yes? Yes. Not by choice, but by necessity. Austrian’s family was very poor, and they didn’t have the means to send him to art school. At the age of five, his parents gave him a box of watercolors. During the summer, he was by himself and experimented with it. At an early age, he knew he wanted to become an artist. His mom was supportive, but his dad was wary. It was hard for a local artist to break through. He wanted him to work in the family business, which started as a dry-goods shop and evolved into a steam laundry. Austrian always painted on the side.

How did his career evolve? The first phase is from his early years until his father dies when Austrian is 27. He did have a few successes. He was very persistent in trying to show his art, though he wasn’t able to devote himself to it full time. His dad dying was a wake-up call to sell the family business and devote himself to art.

Did he paint hens and chicks exclusively? No, but it’s what he started painting in the very beginning–he painted what he knew. The first things he painted were chickens and landscapes. He painted other animals, such as ducks and horses, and at one point, his cat paintings were as popular as his chicken paintings. As he aged, he turned solely to landscapes.

And when he was a kid on the farm in the summer, he would feed the chickens? Exactly. He grew up surrounded by them. In a letter, he said, “I paint chickens because I love them.”

Was Austrian prolific? Do we have a count of how many works he made? There’s no catalogue raisonné. It’s hard to estimate the number of paintings he did, but he was prolific. It’s in the thousands. It’s difficult, too [to get a more precise count], because he wasn’t so good at keeping track of all of them, especially the early ones. A lot of the paintings are very similar, with similar names, like Mother Hen and Chicks. It’s tough to establish a chronology and an exhaustive summary of what he did. In the 1900s, he started putting dates on paintings.

Was he well-known in his time, or did his reputation grow later? He was well-known while he was alive. He was considered a Reading celebrity and he was smart about it–he was able to create a business out of it. When he worked for his dad, he knew to paint an original before meeting one of his dad’s clients. He was very strong-headed, and he did everything possible to break through. His partnership with the Bon Ami Company helped a lot. It assured his legacy, and it’s part of why he’s famous today. They made reproductions [of his works] that people could have on their fridge or in their wallet.

In reading about Austrian, I came across a claim that he taught his chickens to pose for him. Is that true? It seems crazy, but it’s true. You can find a lot of pictures of Austrian in his studio, surrounded by hens and chicks. He loved them. He talked to them every day, and he gave them names–some were elaborate. He raised them all on his own, so they only knew him. There was a special bond between the animals and Austrian. He had an incubator as well. [He did] whatever he needed to study their behavior and be as accurate as possible.

How did he teach chickens to pose for him? He always started by painting the hen first, and alone, because the chicks will always harass the mom. He’d put her in something like a nest, so she’d be quiet. With the chicks, the key to catching their attention was speaking to them–he could imitate their mom’s cackle. Or he’d use an object, like a piece of raw meat hanging from a stick. They’d gather round, infatuated with it, and that would give him a minute to catch the overall composition. Cigars would hypnotize them. They would freeze when they saw the light of a cigar. That would keep them quiet for a few moments.

In looking at the catalog for the sale, it’s clear that 100 years ago or so, there was a market for paintings of chicks and hens. I see several works by Austrian, and paintings of chicks by Mary Russell Smith and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. Who was the audience for these works when they were new? Who bought and collected them? I’ll start by saying Austrian was not the first one [to paint chicks and hens] and not the only one. He was late in the game. When Mary Russell Smith died, he was very much a kid. Because Austrian was self-taught, he didn’t copy from other artists, but it [scenes of chickens] was a popular genre of the time. There were lots of dealers who handled these paintings, and Austrian often chased private collectors himself. He sold a lot to department stores and jewelry stores, which saw art as a way to get people to feel comfortable and spend more money. Wanamaker’s [a Philadelphia department store] had a lot of Austrians, and John Wanamaker bought directly from him–he bought for himself and for his stores. It was a good source of income.

What detail of White Hen with Chickens do you like best, and how does it speak to Austrian’s mastery? It’s quite a good painting because you have a lot of chicks, which is what matters, and an imposing motherly figure that anchors it all. What I like is the composition itself. I like the contrast between the quiet mom and the undisciplined children. They’re running around, some are on her back, and some are about out of the picture frame, but mom doesn’t move. She’s self-composed. That’s what I like, the organized chaos in the painting.

Have Austrian’s paintings always been collected, or was there a fall-off after his death? I think he’s always been steadily collected. There was never really a fall-off.

How often do Austrians come to market? And is it unusual to have this many in a single sale? What’s unusual here is the collection provenance. They’re from the Bon Ami Company itself, which helped shape his legacy and his image. It’s never sold works by Austrian before. It’s an event for them to come up for sale. Bon Ami is a golden provenance for a Ben Austrian painting.

Why are they selling the paintings now? They’re reshaping their collection and taking a more curated approach. They’re not trying to get every painting linked to Ben Austrian. And it’s a good way to raise brand awareness of the company, through Ben Austrian.

So this is the first time the Bon Ami Corporation has sold any of its Austrians? They’re fresh to market.

And that’s why you’re comfortable selling several in the same auction–because of the Bon Ami provenance? Exactly. The Bon Ami name helps because it ties the collection together.

White Hen with Chickens measures 20 inches by 26 inches. Is that an unusual size for Austrian? I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it’s on a larger scale. It’s the largest devoted to chickens. At 20 inches by 26 inches, the birds are pretty much life size, which was something Austrian was well aware of. When hens are in the paintings, the paintings tend to be larger. When it’s just chicks, they tend to be smaller. It has to do with the emotions you’re supposed to feel. A small work with two chicks fighting over a bug is cute, and you can hold it in your hand. A hen is more serious. It has to be bigger, and it has to hang on the wall. He was very well aware of those visual tricks.

What’s the world auction record for a Ben Austrian painting? It’s a painting of a dog and a cat–no chickens–that sold at Pook & Pook in 2011 for $80,000. I dug a bit deeper and found the fourth-highest auction record is very similar to the White Hen with Chickens painting. It sold in 2004 for $40,000.

What is White Hen with Chickens like in person? What’s very nice about the painting is on one hand, you have a subject that’s very whimsical and cute–the children are agitated and the mom is quiet. It’s not a hen with chicks, it’s a mother and her children. That’s why you like it–he’s able to put humanity into the painting without being versed in sentimentalism. He’s very naturalistic in style, but he’s able to give some warmth to it, so it’s not kitsch. And if you look up close, the technique is perfect. The colors are not at all muddy or dark. They’re very pure, very bright, even though [the scene] takes place in a barn. For the chicks, he wanted something light and fuzzy, so he drew an outline and created a soft, sfumato-like blur, which gave that effect. You think it’s whimsical, but you can see the skills there. His technique is spot-on, and he learned it by himself.

How to bid: White Hen with Chickens is lot 48 in the American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists auction at Freeman’s on June 9, 2019.

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

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Does Original Disney Mickey Mouse Art Get Better Than This? Heritage Might Sell a “Fantasia” Sorcerer’s Apprentice Model Drawing for $3,500

A model drawing of Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer's Apprentice costume of red robes that tie at the waist and a blue wizard's hat. He is in the classic Sorcerer's apprentice pose, with an arc of yellow light springing from his left hand and hovering over his right index finger. The drawing is rendered in colored pencil.

What you see: A Disney “model drawing” of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia. It dates to the 1940s. Heritage Auctions expects it to sell for $2,500 to $3,500.

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

So, what makes this the “Holy Grail of Mickey Mouse art”? Mickey Mouse was changed in 1939 by Fred Moore to have pupils. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was originally going to be a short, but they needed box office power for the art film, so they put it into Fantasia. When you rank Mickey Mouse’s greatest hits, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is considered his number one all-time appearance. It’s the Fred Moore design, the first time Mickey Mouse has pupils, Fantasia, and Mickey Mouse’s signature role of all time.

Did Fred Moore make other notable changes to the design of Mickey Mouse? The ears changed a little bit, and the face is fuller. But the introduction of pupils was a big thing.

This is a model drawing. What are model drawings, and how did Disney use them? A model drawing is used for reference, for publicity, for books, and for posters. It didn’t go under the [animation] camera. It’s always perfect, and it’s used for reference on how something is to be drawn. It’s a high-quality piece of artwork.

This one is identified as MD-28. Does that imply that Disney did at least 27 other model drawings for Fantasia? No, it’s just an inventory number for the studio.

Are there other Mickey Mouse Fantasia model drawings? There’s never just one, but it’s the only one of the quintessential [Mickey Mouse Fantasia] pose seen everywhere that’s come to market. I’ve been doing this [animation art] for 40 years and I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen it on the covers of books and press kits. It’s a famous pose.

Is it at all possible to know who at Disney would have done this model drawing? No, it’s not known. You have to remember that the animators weren’t paid to be artists. They were making films. The artist was always Walt Disney Studios. At that time, the head of art for Disney Publicity was Hank Porter, but we can’t say it’s Hank Porter. There’s no way to know it’s him.

Was there someone, or some type of animator at Disney to whom the task of model drawing typically fell? The principal animator for Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was Fred Moore. He came up with the design used for Mickey, but there’s no way to know who did the drawing, because it’s so tight.

If the drawing was looser, we might be able to tell who drew it? If it was looser, we could tell by the animator’s style. But it’s not an animation drawing, it’s a model drawing. It’s final, and cleaned up.

How often do Disney model drawings come to auction? They’re not common. We do see them from time to time, but one of this quality is extremely rare.

This is faintly colored, not fully colored. Was that typical for model drawings at Disney in the 1940s? Pencil was used for the drawing, so they stayed with graphite and colored pencils. If it was a cell, it would be different, and if it was a painting, it would be different.

What estimate would you put on this? I think it’s going to go to $2,500 to $3,500. That’s what I see good Sorcerer’s Apprentice drawings going for.

What’s the provenance of this piece? It’s from the family of a former Disney employee.

The lot notes describe the model drawing as being in “very good condition.” What does that mean in this context, when we’re talking about a piece of functional art? It’s not folded. It’s not smudged. There are no tears, or holes in the paper.

What’s it like in person? I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s Mickey Mouse in his greatest role, and in an amazing pose. It’s kind of a trophy piece of Mickey Mouse art, and it’s done by hand.

What’s the record for a Disney model drawing? I wouldn’t do that for Disney model drawings, but I would do it for Disney Mickey Mouse drawings. The highest I know of for a Disney Mickey Mouse drawing is $14,400 for a Steamboat Willie drawing at Heritage Auctions in December 2018.

Ah, so this model drawing probably won’t get close to that. I think it will go for $2,500 to $3,500, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit $5,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? That image looks at me every day. I have a whole library of Disney books that I reference when I work on catalogs. I have one, The Art of Disney’s Fantasia, and that image is on the cover. It kind of threw me when I first saw the artwork–“Hey, wait a minute!” It pops up a lot. It’s a famous image. It’s pretty spectacular.

How to bid: The circa 1940s Disney model drawing of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is lot #96139 in the Animation Art auction taking place at Heritage Auctions on June 15 and 16, 2019.

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

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Christie’s New York Could Sell Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch for $120,000

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 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.

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

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SOLD! Swann Sold Edward Gorey’s “Cat Fancy” Cover Illustration for “The New Yorker” For (Scroll Down to See)

A New Yorker cover by the late Edward Gorey. It depicts two tuxedo cats looking at each other on an oversize bed, fitted with ruffles, shams, and pillows festooned with intricate yellow flowers.

Update: The Edward Gorey Cat Fancy cover illustration for The New Yorker sold for $16,250.

What you see: Cat Fancy, a cover illustration created for The New Yorker magazine by the late Edward Gorey. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Do we know why Gorey only did two covers for The New Yorker, and why the commissions came so late in his life? He seems like a good fit for a cover illustrator for that magazine. Was he considered too well-known to commission? Gorey’s relationship with The New Yorker was a long and curious one. His first real review and introduction to the wider public, and certainly the New York cultural elite, appeared in the magazine’s pages in its December 26, 1959 issue. The great literary critic, Edmund Wilson, an admirer of Gorey’s work, wrote an appreciation titled The Albums of Edward Gorey. His relative obscurity, he felt, was due to his working mainly to amuse himself. In 1950, around the time of his first commissions, when he was drawing for the Harvard Advocate and smaller humor magazines, Gorey actually submitted his work to The New Yorker. Then-Cartoon Editor Frank Modell rejected it, suggesting that “less eccentric drawings might draw a more enthusiastic audience.” It would take 43 years before the sensibilities and ironic humor of the magazine, under Tina Brown’s editorship, finally embraces his irreverent, camp-goth style.

How did the magazine use the artwork commissioned from Gorey under Tina Brown’s editorship? Lot 188 is among the three pieces he submitted in 1993. Instead of being used as a cover, it was used as a memorial postscript in The New Yorker when he died in 2000.

Why was this Gorey illustration, Cat Fancy, not used by The New Yorker until 2018? Art editor Françoise Mouly explained in her Cover Story that The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, asked if they had any unpublished work by Gorey in their archives to accompany an appreciation of him by Joan Acocella for their December 10th issue. Mouly was delighted to find a file of this original artwork and used it on the cover. The original artworks were sent back to Gorey’s agent, John Locke, after they had been digitized.

Do we know why The New Yorker didn’t use it back when they commissioned it, in the early 1990s? There’s no indications about why they didn’t use it, but in general, The New Yorker doesn’t like to use the same illustrator in a calendar year. They did one in December 1992, the first time Edward Gorey was on the cover, of a fantastic image of a denuded, stick-like Christmas tree with a family enthusiastically wrapping it with holiday-themed wallpaper. Maybe other covers came in, and it sunk to the bottom of the pile.

How often do Edward Gorey originals come up at auction? Pieces do come up a few times a year. We’ve handled upwards of 60 originals.

So, they’re out there, but at any given time, what’s out there might not be the Goreys you’d want most. That’s true, and Gorey appeals to people in different ways. Some like his Goth style. They want Dracula, and they want anything related to his Mystery! drawings for PBS. Those two works tend to set the highest prices.

You’ve got eight Goreys in the June 4 sale. Is that an unusually high number? We’ve had as many as 12 in a single sale. It varies. We’ve had sales with no Goreys, and sales with three to four. Three to four is more typical.

What’s the record for an original work by Gorey? In March 2017, we sold a piece I named Skeletons and Hiding Figures. We believed it’s an illustration for PBS’s Mystery! series, circa the 1980s. It’s not terribly large and it’s unsigned, but it’s clearly in Gorey’s hand and it contains all his types–obelisks, hiding figures, mustachioed men in a garden setting. It sold for $18,750.

Where are most of Gorey’s originals? Are they in a library or another institution? The majority of his pieces are owned by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. When Gorey died, anything in his possession became property of the trust. It has them at an off-site property and loans them to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.

Cat Fancy looks elaborate. Do we have any notion of how long it might have taken him to finish? His attention to detail is so strong, I imagine it took him several days. He drafted parts of it in pencil, then he went over it with ink, and then he colored it in with watercolors.

Could we talk about how this piece will appeal to Gorey collectors? What details does it have that Gorey collectors prize? First and foremost, its subject is cats. Gorey adopted several in his lifetime and thought of them as family, and as kindred spirits. They served as artistic inspiration, and sometimes he referred to them as people. His signature “Gorey Cat” pranced on the scene in 1972 with the publication of Amphigorey, his first anthology. Other works featuring cats include The Sopping Thursday, Category, Fletcher and Zenobia, T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and his famous ballet cats. Their style changed throughout the years, but they remain among his most popular. Cat Fancy also reflects his love of Victorian and Edwardian interiors—the overstuffed fussiness and detailed fabrics. It shows his skill and love of line work, much of which was influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, the Surrealists, and the ink work of English artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Ardizzone. His favorite colors were lemon yellow, olive green, and lavender, and this piece contains them in varying hues. In short, it hits on all cylinders.

Are there aspects of the illustration that the camera doesn’t quite capture? When you get up close to the artwork, you can see the flowers contain little insects. Not all of them–here and there throughout the quilt. Gorey loved insects. He often worked insects into his artwork.

Are there other aspects the camera doesn’t pick up? It draws you in. The composition, while incredibly complicated and busy, but part of its enchantment is that you find yourself, like the cats, getting lost in that big, soft bed.

Why will this illustration stick in your memory? I had an inkling where the two New Yorker pieces were, and I am thrilled to be able to be able to shepherd them from one appreciative owner into the hands of new, excited collectors. And I’m a Gorey groupie. I’m a book person, I adore cats, and lounging places, and it has my favorite color, so you’re making me want to bid on it! [Laughs]. It’s a terrific piece.

How to bid: Edward Gorey’s Cat Fancy is lot 187 in the Illustration Art auction taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on June 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 Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

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

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Edward Gorey House has a website.

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

Rennert’s Gallery Has an Iconic Steinlen Cat Poster with Two Progressive Prints. It Could Command $17,000

The completed version of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It features a calico cat and a black cat, both seated.

What you see: An 1894 poster by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, advertising a show of his work at the Bodiniére gallery. It also includes two progressive prints of the lithographic poster (scroll down to see them). Rennert’s Gallery estimates the group at $14,000 to $17,000.

The expert: Jack Rennert of Rennert’s Gallery.

I realize to some extent that all posters are advertisements for an artist’s skills, but how unusual is it to see a poster as literal as this one, which advertises Steinlen’s first gallery show in Paris? He did this for an exhibition at Bodiniére. It’s not a reproduction of a poster or a painting [in the show]. It’s an actual design, integrated with text, and he designed the text. It’s completely his poster.

What does it say about him that when choosing the image for this poster–which is intended to lure people to the gallery to buy his artworks–he chose to depict cats? Cats are one of his most iconic and popular images. He loved cats, and had a house full of them. People say you could tell where he lived within five blocks of his house.

The lot notes describe the pair shown on the poster as “his cats.” Might we know which of his cats modeled for this? Did they have names? Or were these imaginary cats? He had dozens of stray cats that he brought into his home in Paris. He didn’t need to imagine them. He had his models right there in his home. Lot 450, the following lot, is maybe his most famous poster of all, and it has his daughter, Colette, and three cats. It was for sterilized milk. She’s testing it before she gives it to them. Of the three cats, the two at the front could be the same two in the Bodiniére exhibit poster. He did them two years apart.

Are the cats in the Bodiniére exhibition poster shown at around life size? The poster is 32 inches wide by 23 inches high, so yeah, pretty much life size. They take up half the entire image of the poster.

The poster is horizontal. Is that unusual for this era? Yes. Ninety percent of the posters of the 1890s were vertical posters, meant to go on vertical spaces, like hoardings. It could have been that this Bodiniére exhibit poster was never meant to be an outdoor advertisement. It could have been in store windows.

Do I sense Japanese influence here? It kind of reminds me of Japanese woodcuts. Japanese art was very popular and influential with many artists in the 1890s, especially in Paris. You can see some of that in the treatment here, especially in the coloring of the cats. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. This is Steinlen and his way of drawing.

Do we have any notion of how many of these posters were printed, and how many survive? We don’t know, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find out. I would guess that since it was a one-time exhibit, for one month, in one place and one city, I don’t think he would have had more than 200 or 300 copies made. There was no need for more.

This example of the poster comes with two progressive prints of the design, which show lithographic color passes. How do the prints give insight into how the poster was made? It’s stone lithography, so first, they’d do just the gray area, then overprint it with black in a few areas, giving it a solid, deep black look. The third color plate is red, which gives a nice color to the cat and the lettering. It’s unusual to show the final product and how it was arrived at.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the gray areas of the image.

Do we have any idea how this example of the poster survived with two related progressive prints? I’d say it’s more likely that it came from the archive of Charles Verneau, his favorite printer. There’s no reason for someone outside of a printing plant to have them. Every now and then you do see progressive prints for a poster, and inevitably, they come from printers’ storage. They’re rare.

How many times have you handled the Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster? Over the last 50 years, I’ve handled it ten to 12 times.

And how rare is it to see any poster with progressive prints, never mind a poster as iconic as this Steinlen? It’s extremely rare. Only real passionate poster collectors care enough to even want it. There’s nothing pretty about them. They’re incomplete works. But they appreciate seeing what went into the final [lithographic] stone.

In your 50 years in the business, how often have you seen a poster with progressive prints come up? I’ve probably had a couple dozen instances of that. Once every two or three years, I get a series.

So the Steinlen plus progressive prints will be of more interest to a museum or an institution? Absolutely. I expect museums, galleries, and foundations to have a special interest in them.

How did the presence of the progressive prints affect the estimate? It obviously increases it, but not by a hell of a lot. The poster often sells for $10,000. I estimated this in the $14,000 to $17,000 range because of the prints.


A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the black areas of the image.

What’s the world auction record for this Steinlen poster? Was it set with you? The highest at our auctions was $9,200 in 2006. [This seems to be the world record, not just a house record.]

What makes this a successful poster? Why does it still sell for thousands of dollars more than a century after it was printed? It’s very appealing. It catches your attention. Cat people have an additional reason to be enamored of it. It’s one of the favorite posters by one of the most famous poster artists of the period. It was an important exhibition for him. It established him in the artistic community.

So the 1894 show did well? It was a successful show for him. He sold all his works. I won’t say it was because of the poster, but maybe it takes some of the credit.

How to bid: The 1894 Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster is lot 449 in the PAI-LXXVIII: Rare Posters auction taking place at Rennert’s Gallery on June 23, 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.

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

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