RECORD! Julien’s Sells Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress for $4.8 Million

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What you see: The gown that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 at a Democratic fundraiser that also marked his 45th birthday. Julien’s sold it in November 2016 for $4.8 million, a record for any dress sold at auction.

 

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

 

Looking at black-and-white tape of Monroe’s performance on YouTube, it seems that a dimension has been lost. Can you talk about why the dress made the crowd gasp, and why JFK joked that he could “retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to him in such a sweet and wholesome way”? First of all, she had agreed that she’d wear a conservative black dress. But she knew the power of voting, and knew the power of singing at Madison Square Garden, and it was just before her 36th birthday. She was so in tune with the importance of that event. She took her white stole off and stepped to the left of the podium because she didn’t want it to block her in anyway. There was an amazing reaction when the lights bounced off the crystals–15,000 gasps. It looked like she was wearing nothing. You and I are talking about it today, and 50 years from now, we’ll talk about that moment.

 

So the skin-tight, flesh-colored dress was her idea? She asked [costumier] Jean Louis to make her something that would wow the crowd. Bob Mackie, who was just out of college and 22 years old, drew the sketches for the dress. We sold them a few years ago. 2,500 crystals were hand-stitched onto the dress. Monroe paid for it herself and had matching shoes. We sold the receipt for the dress as well. She spent $6,000 on it [the outfit and related items] which is over $60,000 today–a huge amount of money, a huge investment. She didn’t think about the cost factor. She was thinking about the ‘Wow’ factor. She was very aware of the importance of the event.

 

Could you talk about what Monroe went through when she wore this dress? I understand that she was sewn into it. Also, in looking at the period tape, her movements are clearly restricted. At one point we see her jumping very vertically to rally the crowd to sing. Was the dress as uncomfortable as it looked? The dress was fragile and difficult to walk in. The stitching was done just below the zip line at the back of the dress. It took a few minutes for her to get from the dressing room to the stage. It was distant, and she could not run, because she was wearing heels. She shimmied her way on stage, wrapped in the cloak, and master of ceremonies Peter Lawford announced her as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Three months later, she was the late Marilyn Monroe. [She died on August 5, 1962.] Fox promised to fire her if she was late [she was filming Something’s Got to Give at the time, and the studio did not want her to travel across the country and potentially delay the shoot.] She risked it all to go to New York. When she got back, she was fired from the set.

 

Do we know where that white fur stole went? It got separated from the dress. Monroe passed away in August 1962. She had no family members. Attorneys for her estate put everything from her house into storage. The boxes got shipped back to Lee Strasberg [her  mentor and acting teacher], where they stayed until 1999. The dress was first uncovered for the Christie’s estate sale [in October 1999]. We have not found the fur stole, but believe me, I’m searching for it and the shoes.

 

How much more would the dress be worth if it were part of a complete stage-worn Marilyn Monroe outfit? It’d be hundreds of thousands extra if we found the shoes and the stole. It would be phenomenal to have them all together.

 

What condition is the dress in? It’s in perfect condition, absolutely perfect condition. The consigner [who won the Christie’s auction in 1999] enlisted experts to build a ‘conservative’ mannequin to preserve the shape of the dress. The knee is positioned out so it supports the weight of the dress. The special mannequin was in a special display case with UV-protective glass. Very clever. He [the winner] believed he’d sell it for a profit. The underbidder [in 1999] was Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When the dress came back to auction, Ripley’s was bound and determined not to let it get away.

 

Do we know how much the dress weighs? It would weigh several pounds. Place 2,500 crystals in a bag or a bowl–that’s a lot of weight right there.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $2 million to $3 million? We truly believed that if it fetched $1.27 million in 1999, there had to be a level of appreciation in the dress. It had to double its money. Its historic and political value, matched up with Hollywood history, affected the value of the dress. We felt it would sell for at least $2 million.

 

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a museum. Everyone [who bid] had to be pre-qualified. It came down to two bidders in the room. The energy in the room was just phenomenal. Marilyn Monroe is beloved worldwide. She’s still relevant and still gets high prices.

 

Marilyn Monroe dominates the auction records for clothing, but it’s interesting that this dress, which she wore in real life, is now number one, ahead of a white dress she might have worn while standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. It’s definitely significant. She was not in character in a movie. This was purely Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK, a love affair made public. There was a lot of speculation and a lot of rumors about a romantic relationship between Monroe and JFK, and after this event, people realized there was something to the rumors [laughs]. She disregarded the 15,000 people in the room. It was just her and President Kennedy in those 90 seconds.

 

How long will this auction record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? I can’t think of anything else that would be so iconic.

 

Why will this dress stick in your memory? In 2005, I had a wish list. I said what I’d love to auction is Michael Jackson’s red jacket from Thriller, and that came true in 2011.  The next was Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress. Now I’m looking for a pair of ruby slippers [worn in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz]. That could potentially be $5 million, but there’s only one Happy Birthday dress. It’s presidential history and Hollywood mixed together.

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Sold! That Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Fetched $2,860 at Swann

 

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Update: The 1925 Albert Arthur Allen portfolio of nudes sold for $2,860.

 

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

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.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

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

 

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

A Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Could Command $6,000 at Swann

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What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

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.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

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

 

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

SOLD! U Got The Look! The Purple Tunic Prince Wore in a 1998 BET Interview and a Famous GIF Sold for $16,000 at Julien’s Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The Prince-worn purple tunic with gold details sold for $16,000–double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $8,000.

 

Who was Prince? A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of musicians and showed musical talent at the tender age of seven. He burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1979 and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. His hits include 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go CrazyKiss, Raspberry Beret, U Got the Look, and heaps of others. Songs he wrote became hits for others: Nothing Compares 2 U put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and Manic Monday did the same for The Bangles. In 1984, at the peak of his Purple Rain fame, Prince became the first singer to simultaneously claim the number one album, single, and film on the charts and at the box office. He died in 2016 at the age of 57 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.

 

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

 

This Prince-worn tunic is purple. Is it inherently worth more than a Prince-worn garment in a different color? Yes. It does have an impact. When people think of Prince, they think of purple. Prince has a huge fan base that wants to own something from his career. He created his own style and his own fashion statements. It’s iconic. It’s so Prince.

 

Was it custom-made? Do we know what size it is? Most of Prince’s stage clothes were custom-made. There’s no label present in this one. He was a small guy, and a shy man, but on stage, he took on a whole other aura. If he liked a designer, he’d go back to that designer again and again. Prince himself was slight in build, but he wore items that could be loose-fitting and comfortable.

 

Have you tried it on? I have not. It’s on display in Ireland now [as of late April 2018]. A lot of people have come to see the exhibition. We’re really happy to bring the collection to the auction block. It’s going to be historic. It’s the greatest collection of Prince items to come to the auction block at one time. It comes soon after we sold a teal guitar of his, which was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $700,000–a world record for Prince.

 

Prince didn’t wear this tunic on stage, but he did wear this during a long, well-known 1998 interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET network. [Scroll down for a YouTube link to the interview, which lasts more than an hour.] How does that fact–he didn’t wear it on stage, but did wear it in a notable taped interview, which we can still watch today–affect it? The value of iconic items worn by a celebrity are determined by provenance, authenticity, and performance. Did he wear it on tour? Did he accept a Grammy while wearing it? Did he sit down with Oprah Winfrey or Tavis Smiley? Yes, that does affect the value. If you own the tunic personally as a fan, you can take it out during a dinner party, knowing that it’s Prince’s, and you can play the Smiley interview–it takes on a life of its own. It’s what collectors love.

 

Another interesting detail is the Smiley interview is the source of a popular Prince GIF, and Prince is clearly wearing this tunic in the GIF. [Pull up any list of Prince GIFs and it’ll be there, but you can also scroll down for a link.] How, if at all, does its Internet notoriety affect its value? Because it’s so new, it’s hard to factor in the impact, but it certainly keeps his memory alive. This generation, sharing GIFs, will be curious to know who that is, and what it means, in years to come. It can be hard to quantify, but it celebrates Prince and keeps him current. That’s key to the value of a celebrity and what his items are worth.

 

Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife, consigned the tunic and several other Prince items  to the auction. Why is she selling now? There always comes a time when a window opens in a person’s life. It can be financial. It can be cathartic. It can be a downsizing move. I think she wants people to enjoy them. She’s storing these iconic objects, and that’s a burden. She’s letting them go knowing they’re going to go to museums and the homes of fans, where they’ll be cared for and appreciated for years to come. I think it’s what anybody would want, to share the life of an iconic celebrity as Prince.

 

Why will this purple Prince tunic stick in your memory? If you see a sparkly glove, you know it’s Michael Jackson. You see it’s purple and you know it’s Prince and not anybody else. Not Kurt Cobain. Not Elvis. It’s Prince. And [compared to his stage costumes], this is almost understated, almost regal. He wore it for an important interview, at an important time in his life. It’s understated and totally Prince. Twenty years later, it’s a classic piece anyone can put on and wear, male or female. He was androgynous in his dress, and it’s comfortable.

 

How to bid: The purple tunic Prince wore during the BET interview is lot 135 in Music Icons: Property from the Life and Career of Prince, offered in New York by Julien’s Auctions on May 18, 2018.

 

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

 

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

 

See the 1998 BET Prince interview, conducted by Tavis Smiley. It’s the source of that classic, peerless, eminently useful Prince GIF.

 

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RECORD: Heritage Sells Patrick Nagel’s 1980s Painting, Bold, for $200,000

Patrick Nagel (American, 1945-1984). Bold World Record $200,000 Heritage...

Editor’s note: With the approach of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Bold, a circa 1980s painting by Patrick Nagel. Heritage Auctions sold it on October 13, 2017, for $200,000–an auction record for the artist.

Who was Patrick Nagel? He was an American commercial illustrator who gained fame for his portrayals of beautiful dark-haired women. His best-known works are like Bold–images that focus on the woman’s face. Nagel (pronounced to rhyme with ‘bagel’) did commissions for Playboy and is probably best known for creating the artwork for the cover of Duran Duran’s 1982 album, Rio. He died in 1984 of a heart attack that might have been caused by a congenital heart defect that was first noticed during his autopsy. Nagel was 38.

Did Nagel have a specific woman who he relied on as a model? “He did use models, specific models, but he would alter them so they’re not portraits, they’re idealized,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, adding, “In May, we sold a Nagel titled Joan Collins, #411, for $100,000. [If you know its title,] you say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see it,’ but if you just saw it [without knowing the title], you wouldn’t think it was Joan Collins.”

Why, or for whom, did Nagel make this painting? “In the 1980s, he hooked up with Mirage Studios, and they had him do paintings on spec,” he says. “Bold is from that body of work. He only did them during the last two or three years of his life.”

Why is it called Bold? “In general, Nagel didn’t title his paintings,” Jaster says. “To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a title for this painting. It was [named] by me or the cataloger. If we’re going to coin a title, it’s nice if it’s based on information we have. If we know who the sitter is, it’s obvious.”

How rarely do original works by Nagel come to auction? “Paintings rendered on canvas are a little more rare,” he says. “The untimely nature of his death–he died a young man–means they are very limited, maybe along the lines of 40 to 50 paintings for Mirage Studios. If we’ve sold 20 of them, which is about right, we’ve probably sold half of his body of work from that period.”

When did the secondary market for Patrick Nagel gain momentum? “The earliest Nagel [auction sales] I can find in our records are in 2008,” he says. “From 2008 to 2012, we sold a fair amount of Nagel, but they were all illustrations, not paintings on canvas. We had one in 2012 that brought $56,000 and one in 2013 that brought $158,500. The first on canvas, to the best of my knowledge, was October 2012. From that point on, every one on canvas got [at least] $50,000, but probably the average is more like $125,000.”

Why did Bold do so well? Why did it set a new record for Nagel? “She’s got a very alluring, very hypnotic gaze. Very typical Nagel,” he says, adding, “It was a timing thing. If two people want something, it gets a high price. Sometimes it’s predictable, sometimes it’s not.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “I hope not too long,” says Jaster, laughing. “I’m being a little cheeky, but it’s a strong piece, and it deserves to be the record-holder. It’s quintessential Nagel.”

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

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Bloomsday Comes Early! Sotheby’s Could Sell the Scarcest First Edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses for $250,000

Lot 188, James Joyce Ulysses (i)

 

What you see: A first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses from the 1/100 series of the run of 1,000, which is signed by the author. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was James Joyce? He was an Irish author and poet who ranks as one of the most important and influential authors of the 20th century. Ulysses, published in 1922, catapulted him to literary stardom, even as it was challenged by censors who deemed parts of it obscene. Bloomsday, a June 16 holiday that celebrates Ulysses by visiting places in Dublin, Ireland where Joyce set the story, has taken place since 1954. He died in 1941 at the age of 58.

How was the first edition of Ulysses produced? The Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, run by American Sylvia Beach, printed Ulysses in three issues of 750, 150, and 100, which added up to 1,000 copies. All three were numbered, but only the 1/100 issue was signed by Joyce. All copies were issued in blue paper wrappers, a color meant to call to mind the blue of the Greek flag and link Joyce’s work to the ancient tale of the Odyssey.

What makes this particular copy stand out? “It’s a really, really fine copy of what many critics say might be the most important modernist novel,” says Peter Selley, specialist in books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, explaining that the blue paper wrappers “are quite fragile, and the majority of copies that survive have had to be cloth bound. With this copy, the special wrappers are preserved.” He adds that the copy includes the original prospectus, “which can be collectible in its own right.” It’s a single sheet of paper that announces the forthcoming publication of the book.

When Sylvia Beach published the book in 1922, did she and Joyce know what they had? “There was a lot of excitement before it was printed,” he says. “Sylvia championed it, and it was awaited in critical and collecting circles. There was a lot of excitement before it came out. Joyce was famous by then. They knew something special was happening,” he says, adding, “Sylvia Beach would probably not be surprised if the first edition of this book, 100 years later, was selling for $200,000 to $250,000. She really believed in it.”

When did Ulysses truly take off as a collectible book? “In the early to mid-1980s, there was a big uplift in prices,” he says. “It appealed to collectors who want the high spots. People want the key works in the best condition.”

Is the 1/100 version of the Ulysses first edition considered superior to the other two versions? “It depends on what you mean by superior,” he says. “It’s the most limited issue, and collectors gravitate to the most limited issue. The 1/100 is always going to be the most desirable, and most deluxe, in collectible terms.”

How often does a 1/100 copy of Ulysses come to auction? “About one or two every year,” he says. “Normally they fetch very high prices. It can fetch up to $300,000 to $400,000 for inscribed copies.”

Where did James Joyce sign the book? On the colophon page, a page at the front of the book that describes the details of each edition and gives the number of the copy: 82. “Look at the signature. He always signs at that angle,” he says, referring to the southwest-northeast rise of Joyce’s script. “Even in his manuscripts, he always writes at that angle. It’s very distinctive.” (To see Joyce’s signature, click on the second thumbnail you see below the main image on the lot page.)

Why will this copy stick in your memory? “I’ve been in the business since the mid-1980s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a first edition copy of Ulysses that’s as nice as this,” he says. “I’ve never seen as completely mint copy of a 1/100. It’s probably close to as-issued as any I’ve seen.”

How to bid: The first edition 1/100 copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is lot 188 in the English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations auction at Sotheby’s London on December 11.

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

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RECORD: R. Crumb’s Original Cover Art for His Best-Selling Fritz the Cat Book Commands $717,000 at Heritage

image1

What you see: R. Crumb’s original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000–a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

Who is R. Crumb? He is an American artist who led the underground comix movement. He co-founded Zap Comix and created one of the counterculture’s most enduring images with his Keep On Truckin’ single-page comic, which appeared in the first issue of Zap. Much of Crumb’s output is proudly NSFW, so Google at your own risk. In 2009, he published a graphic novel based on the Biblical Book of Genesis. He will turn 74 on August 30.

How rare are original pieces of Crumb comic art at auction? “We sell a lot of it. There’s been kind of a boom lately,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions. “Crumb has always been a staple of what we offer in our Comic and Comic Art sales, but we’ve never had the wealth and breadth up and down the line with what we’ve had in the last year and a half.”

This work by R. Crumb is the most valuable original comic art ever sold at auction, beating a 1990 cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #328 and a 1974 page from an Incredible Hulk comic that shows the debut of Wolverine. What’s the significance of that? “Put it this way. If you want to buy a Picasso pen-and-ink drawing, $717,000 will get you a really good pen-and-ink drawing,” he says. “You certainly could buy a more expensive Picasso drawing, but this is right there.”

Why has Crumb bested the more traditional superhero comic book artists? “What’s special about Crumb is he’s transcendental. He’s transcended his given media,” Jaster says. “There’s no comic book artist I can think of who’s had as many museum shows and international shows as he has. Crumb has been relevant ever since the hippie days and he’s never gone out of style.”

How long do you think these records will stand? “The original comic book art one, maybe not too long. Comic book art is incredibly popular,” he says. “Those two $657,000 sales were as pleasant a surprise as the Crumb art was. There are scores of things more desirable than them out there. It’s just a matter of them coming to the market. There’s probably an amazing thing out there that will get five or ten million, if it exists. As far as breaking the record for Crumb, I know the cover art for the Cheap Thrills record album is out there. The first Keep on Truckin’ or the cover of Zap Comics #1, a very small distribution comic, are the things that could sell for more.”

What else makes this piece of original Crumb comic book art special? “There’s some irony here in that Crumb is known for pushing the envelope with his subject matter and political views, but Fritz and his girlfriend are quite demure. It’s PG-13 for Crumb, who is known for adult material. It’s kind of a sweet thing,” he says. “And the book, Fritz the Cat, moved Crumb up in importance to be maybe the most famous cartoonist of his generation. It catapulted him from the guy who does sleazy, objectionable stuff to a guy who was really important, and this was the piece that did that.”

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

Graham Nash’s collection of original Crumb comic artworks is up for bid in Heritage Auction’s Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction in Dallas from August 10 to 12, 2018.

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