Put Your Hands Up for This Scarce 1908 Chung Ling Soo Magic Poster, Which Could Fetch $6,000 at Potter & Potter

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What you see: A 1908 poster touting the talent of magician Chung Ling Soo. Potter & Potter estimates it at $5,000 to $6,000.

Who was Chung Ling Soo? Born William Ellsworth Robinson in Westchester County, New York in 1861, he was a behind-the-scenes designer of magic tricks for headliners Harry Keller and Alexander Herrmann before he struck out on his own. Around 1900, while in Europe, he adopted the Chung Ling Soo persona. He went to great lengths to preserve the illusion, limiting his speech on stage to the occasional bit of broken English and relying on an interpreter to talk to journalists. He died in 1918 at the age of 56.

Are vintage posters featuring Chung Ling Soo rare in general? “Yes, I would say they’re uncommon or scarce,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “The one we’re talking about is a bit harder to find than the others.”

This is one of eight different Chung Ling Soo posters in the auction. Did they all come from the same consigner? One comes from one consignor, and the rest come from a second.

Other famous magic posters of the era show the magician receiving supernatural help. Here, Chung Ling Soo shows what he purports to be the source of his magical talent–his own hands. No supernatural help required. Is this an unusual theme for a vintage magic poster? “There are plenty of portraits [on magic posters],” he says. “We have sold other posters of magicians showing their hands and doing maneuvers, but they’re not as artful as saying ‘My Ten Assistants.’ It got reworked by Ricky Jay into ‘My 52 Assistants.’ It’s not the only example of a magician showing sleight of hand on a poster or referring to sleight of hand, or how they accomplish their tricks.”

Is Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the first person to move from a backstage magic designer role to an on-stage magician role? “He was the great secret weapon for these guys. He was designing and inventing illusions,” he says. “In any professional situation, someone will say, ‘Oh yeah, my boss doesn’t know what he’s doing. I can do a better job.’ He proved he could do as good a job. It took work, and a different persona, but his success is pretty significant.”

Would you talk about how Robinson/Soo died? “He was performing a bullet catch trick in London, England. It was one of the big theatrical showpieces of his performance,” Fajuri says. “I wrote a long time ago that instead of catching the bullet on a plate, he caught the bullet in his chest. They brought the curtain down, and he died not long after.”

Was he the first magician to die doing the bullet catch trick? No. “It wasn’t a new trick. It had been around for decades [by 1918, when Robinson/Soo died], and it had killed people,” he says. “Keller advised Houdini against it in a very famous letter. Robinson did have experience backstage with the trick, and he was familiar with other ways of performing the feat. There’s controversy surrounding what happened. Not thoroughly checking his props led to his demise. It’s a tragic story. He was at the top of his game.”

How rare is the ‘Chung Ling Soo and His Ten Assistants’ poster? “I haven’t had one before in ten years of auctioning magic memorabilia,” he says, adding that he’s aware of at least six copies. “This one was owned by a magician in England. He died years ago, and his family consigned it. It’s in A- condition. Very little was done to it. You’re not going to get much better than this.”

What else makes this Chung Ling Soo poster special? “This is more scarce. The image is realistic. The turn of phrase is nice, and the colors are not garish,” he says. “It has a lot going for it by way of aesthetics, the story, and the man it depicts. It has a little bit of everything.”

How to bid: The ‘Chung Ling Soo and His Ten Assistants’ poster is lot 10 in Potter & Potter‘s Winter Magic Auction on December 16.

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If you’re intrigued by the story of Chung Ling Soo, you need to read The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, The ‘Marvelous Chinese Conjuror,‘ by Jim Steinmeyer. Really, you ought to read everything Jim Steinmeyer has ever written, but start there, and please buy your copy from an independent bookstore.

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

Young Abraham Lincoln Made This Wooden Mallet. Christie’s Could Sell It For Half a Million Dollars.

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What you see: A wooden bench mallet bearing the initials ‘A.L.’ and the date ‘1829’, and made by Abraham Lincoln as a young man. It’s one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Lincoln artifacts in private hands. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who was Abraham Lincoln? He was the 16th president of the United States, and second only to George Washington in the pantheon of great presidents. He steered the country through the crisis of the Civil War, ultimately holding the union together and defeating the system of slavery. He was fatally shot on April 14, 1865 by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and died the following day. He was 56.

So, this mallet is made entirely of wood? Yes. “The top part is the burl of a cherry tree, which is where two branches come together–it’s a nice, dense piece of wood–and the handle is hickory,” says Peter Klarnet, senior specialist in Americana, books, and manuscripts at Christie’s.

Would Lincoln and his neighbors on the Indiana frontier have used it like a hammer? “Not exactly,” he says. “Most housing at that time (the 1820s), when they were constructing the frame of a house, they wouldn’t use nails. They’d use wooden pegs, because they’d breathe with the frame of the house. An iron hammer on a wooden peg is just too much force [so they used a wooden mallet instead].”

Why would Lincoln have put his initials on the wooden mallet? To make sure no one else would take it? “That, and it was also a mark of pride–‘I made this,'” he says. “His father was a cabinet-maker, and he would have learned the [mallet-making] skills from his father.”

Why would Lincoln have put the date on the mallet? Did he initial and date it at the same time? “He probably marked it ‘1829’ because it was 1829. He was 20 years old, and he was becoming a man,” he says. “We can’t determine if he initialed and dated it at the same time, but all the materials would have been available to him at the time.”

And a wooden mallet would have been a must-have on the frontier back then? “Absolutely. This was a necessary tool for any frontier farm to have,” Klarnet says, adding that it explains why Lincoln might have given it to his neighbor, Barnabas Carter, Jr., as a wedding gift–it was the sort of thing that a newlywed young man needed. Carter married in January 1830, around the time when Lincoln moved to Illinois, and was giving away possessions ahead of the move. “It’s conjecture, but it makes a lot of sense for [Lincoln to give the mallet to] someone establishing a household,” he says.

How did the Lincolns and the Carters know each other? “We know from the historical record that they were neighbors,” he says. “Family tradition shows that Barnabas Carter, Jr., was the original owner of the mallet, and Lincoln gave it to him around 1829. In examining census records and church records, we see that they went to the same church and voted in the same place.”

When did the mallet stop being a tool and start being a relic? “Not until 1858, with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, when he rose to national prominence,” he says. “After Abraham Lincoln was famous, the family actually hid the mallet away, in a basement, and kept it out of sight.” In the late 20th century, Carter’s descendants displayed the mallet on the family hearth (scroll down to see the picture), and one of them brought it to show-and-tell when she was a child of five.

Does the mallet show signs of wear? Yes. “You can see where it’s been pulverized by repeated strokes,” he says. “It was used for maybe 20 years [after Carter received it from Lincoln], then it stopped.”

The mallet head was scavenged from the remains of a broken rail-splitting maul. Do any other artifacts that reflect Lincoln’s image as a rail-splitter survive? The National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. has an iron wedge for splitting wood that features Abraham Lincoln’s initials on one side. According to legend, Lincoln applied the letters to the wedge himself when the blacksmith shied away from the task.

What else convinces you that Abraham Lincoln personally made this mallet? “Those people decided to keep quiet, which makes me more confident in its authenticity,” he says. “It had a more special meaning to them. They didn’t want publicity.”

Why is the family selling it now? “I don’t know the specific motivation. In every generation, it went to one person. This time, it went to two. That might be behind it,” he says, adding, “And they wanted to share it with the world. They think it belongs in a major museum collection, as do I. It’s very evocative of an early period of Lincoln’s life.”

How did you put an estimate on the mallet? Klarnet laughs heartily, then says, “To a certain extent, it’s an educated guess. In terms of manuscripts, we had his 1864 victory speech and his last speech as president, and both brought in excess of $3 million. It was based on those high points and other material that sold in excess of $1 million. We hedged our bets. We thought $300,000 to $500,000 was a relatively conservative estimate that underscores its importance to the Lincoln story.”

How does it feel to hold the mallet in your hand? “I’m not going to swing it!” he says, laughing. “I held it very, very gingerly. But it felt pretty cool. To think that it’s a tool that was actually used by Lincoln… I’ve handled letters by George Washington, by Lincoln, by FDR, by Teddy Roosevelt. It still gives you goosebumps when you’re given the opportunity to handle something like this.”

What else makes the Lincoln mallet special? “I have never had anything quite like this before,” he says. “It offers a view of a not-well-documented portion of Lincoln’s life. To have something that was his from this period, which is so difficult to source–that’s why it will always stick with me.”

How to bid: Abraham Lincoln’s wooden bench mallet is lot 67 in the December 5 auction of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana at Christie’s New York.

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

SOLD! Marlene Dietrich’s World War II Autograph Collection Sells For $5,250 at Swann

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Update: Marlene Dietrich’s short snorter sold for $5,250.

What you see: A short snorter–a collection of paper money covered with autographs–compiled by Marlene Dietrich during World War II. It comes directly from Dietrich’s descendants to Swann Auction Galleries, which estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

Who was Marlene Dietrich? She was a Berlin-born actress and singer who became an international star from her role in the 1930 German film, The Blue Angel. She actively resisted the Nazis, who assumed power in her home country, by funding efforts to help refugees flee Hitler’s regime. She renounced her German citizenship in 1939 and threw herself into the U.S. war effort, touting war bonds and embarking on two long tours in 1944 and 1945 with the United Service Organization (USO). Her war work earned her the Légion d’honneur from the French government and the Medal of Freedom from America. She regarded the latter award as her proudest accomplishment. After the war’s end, she continued to act in films and perform as a cabaret singer. She died in 1992 at the age of 90.

What is the purpose of a short snorter? The tradition seems to have started among aviators in the 1920s. If two flyers met, each would sign a piece of paper money belonging to the other. If they met again, one could challenge the other to produce the signed bill, or else buy the challenger a drink–but a small one, as full-on drunkenness and flying don’t mix. The small drink, known as a short snort, gave its name to the signed roll of bills. At some point the tradition spread beyond aviators to military personnel.

Do we know when Dietrich started her short snorter? “We have the story of how it likely happened, but not how it actually happened,” says Marco Tomaschett, autographs specialist at Swann, explaining that Dietrich’s collection dates to the 1940s, and she might have started it on one of her USO tours. “Someone who was collecting signatures for his short snorter asked her to sign his, and she thought it was a cool idea and decided to start one herself.”

Dietrich’s short snorter measures 38 feet long. That’s kind of unwieldy. Did she really carry the bill roll on her person during her war travels? “The tradition at the time was you were supposed to have all of them [the signed bills], so if a compatriot asked to see a signature, she could present the signature so she wouldn’t have to buy a drink for them,” he says. “Most short snorters were easier to carry, because most could fit the signatures on a single bill. If you ran out of room, you got a second bill. But not everyone was called to the front repeatedly, and not everyone did as much travel as she was doing.”

Do we know if she was ever challenged to produce a signed bill? “I don’t know. Probably not,” he says, laughing. “But she did use it to demonstrate solidarity with the soldiers.” He adds that seeing Dietrich’s short snorter inspired Army Air Force Captain John L. Gillen to start his own, and his bill roll ultimately grew to contain paper money from 36 countries and measure 100 feet long.

How often do you, as an autograph specialist, handle short snorters? “They don’t come up, mainly because they generally don’t have the value that brings them to auction,” he says. “This is unusual in that it has collectible autographs and it was owned by a celebrated figure.”

Has the short snorter tradition disappeared? “The historical factors that made it exciting at the time have dropped away,” he says. “The drinking game has completely vanished. The last time you get a serious collection of signatures on a bill is in the 1960s, connected with the space race. The analogy of space exploration to aviation made it a natural continuation.”

Who are some of the notable people who signed Dietrich’s short snorter? Author Ernest Hemingway, whose friendship with the actress predated World War II, wrote, “She’s long gone She never stands to fight knowing etc. Oct 4 1944.” Tomaschett is unsure of what the message might mean, but suspects it’s an inside reference of some sort. Military signers include George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, and Nathan Farragut Twining; entertainers include Danny Thomas and Burgess Meredith.

What is your favorite signature on the Dietrich short snorter? Tomaschett cited the inscription of Lieutenant Buck Dawson, who wrote, “Even a paratrooper must admire your courage. You volunteer for many things we have to do. Thanks. The 82nd Div.” “The courage he’s referring to is that she performed in these conditions,” he says, referring to the rugged environment of the war’s front lines. “We’re certainly not used to being shot at or bombed, but she did it [staged her USO act] repeatedly, for years.”

How to bid: The Marlene Dietrich short snorter is lot 46 in the November 7 Autographs sale at Swann Auction Galleries.

If you click the link to lot 46, you can see a period black-and-white photo of Dietrich draped in her short snorter.

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

 

LAST CALL: A Rare Winchester Model 1873 1 of 1000 Rifle Could Sell for $400,000 at James Julia

 

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What you see: A closeup of a Winchester 1873 “1 of 1000” rifle, serial number 6594. James D. Julia estimates it at $250,000 to $400,000.

What is the Winchester Model 1873? It was one of the most popular 19th century firearms from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which touted the Model 1873 as “The gun that won the West”. Named for the year in which it debuted, Winchester produced well over 700,000 of them from 1873 until 1923.

What does “1 of 1000” mean? “According to Winchester, they were barrels specially selected for accuracy. It’s estimated that only one of a thousand barrels met those accuracy standards,” says J.R. LaRue, head of James D. Julia’s fine firearms consulting department, noting that 136 Winchester Model 1873s earned the designation, and about 70 to 75 of those still exist.

How often do Winchester Model 1873 “1 of 1000” examples come to auction? LaRue says he started to see them appear at James D. Julia about eight to 10 years ago, and saw many more come in during the last two to three years. “In this auction, we have three. The other two, I haven’t had time to describe yet,” he says, “But they’re not anything remotely like the quality of the one you read the description on [this one]. This is a really fine, high-condition example.”

This example dates to 1875, the year in which Winchester introduced the “1 of 1000” designation. Does that make the firearm more valuable? “It may add a little bit of prestige to a new owner, but it’s not going to add significantly to the value,” LaRue says.

It’s described as “one of the highest condition Model 1 of 1000 Winchester rifles extant.” What does “high condition” mean here? “It doesn’t show a lot of wear, and it shows a great deal of original finish,” he says. “The likelihood is the owner who purchased the rifle held it in such high regard, he didn’t allow it to be abused or exposed to the elements. Whoever owned it took care of it. It didn’t rattle around in a wagon box or a saddle scabbard.”

In the realm of antique firearms, condition includes functionality. Does this one work? “We don’t fire it at all,” he says. “We only check the functionality of the mechanics to ensure it’s working as intended.”

How unusual is it for an elite 19th century Winchester to have even a partial provenance, as this one does? “Pretty rare. Most of them can only be dated back to 1950, when Universal Studios searched for 1 of 1000 rifles to promote the movie Winchester ’73. We know the history of this one back to 1935,” LaRue says. The first twenty owners who wrote to the studio received a Winchester 184 “Carbie” for their efforts. The person who owned the rifle in 1950 was quick enough on the draw and won a Carbie. That 20th century gun is included in the lot.

This rifle is estimated at $250,000 to $400,000. James D. Julia sold a Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 in fall of 2014 for $258,750. Could this Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 do better? “It certainly has a chance to do so. I absolutely hope it does,” he says.

How to bid: The Winchester is among the lots in the Extraordinary Firearms Auction at James D. Julia on October 31, November 1, and November 2, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of James D. Julia.

Heritage Auctions Has a Matched Set of Bull Mammoth Tusks That Could Fetch $250,000 (Fluffy Bunny and Carrot Not Included)

Pair of Woolly Mammoth Tusks. Mammuthus primigenius. Pleistocene. Alaska...

What you see: A pair of mammoth tusks from Alaska that date to the Pleistocene era (which spans about 11,700 years ago to 2.6 million years ago). Heritage Auctions estimates the pair at $150,000 to $250,000.

These tusks come from a bull, or male, mammoth. Did only bull mammoths grow tusks? And how do we know these are from a bull? “The females have tusks, and the juveniles have them too,” says Craig Kissick, director of nature and science for Heritage Auctions. “The consensus is based on size. This pair of tusks has a pronounced horn, with a big curve. Female tusks are straighter and thinner.”

Were they attached to a skull when they were discovered? “These were probably not found with the bone. They were found together, and you can tell by looking that they’re a matched pair,” he says. “It’s a really nice matched pair, with good color and a nice curve. That’s rare.”

How often do matched pairs of mammoth tusks come to market? “They’re much less common,” Kissick says. “For every tusk you find, a matched pair would be a very small portion of the total take.”

The measurements given in the lot notes–68 inches by 40 inches by 5 inches–are a little hard to understand. What do they describe? The number 68 describes the width of the tusks as they appear in the black display armature, which is visible in the picture. The 40-inch measurement corresponds to height, starting at the bottom of the armature and ending at the top of the tallest tusk. The 5-inch measurement should probably be five feet, because it describes the depth of the display from the front of the armature to the back.

You said that the tusks have “good color.” What does that mean here? “They have smooth whites, tans, and creams. The colors are sublime, not bright and bold like some of the others,” he says. “It’s a nice color palette that’s the result of how the tusks were actually fossilized.”

The lot notes say the tusks are in excellent condition. What does that mean when we’re talking about fossils? “With fossils, by their very nature, you’re not going to find what you’d call a perfect fossil,” he says, explaining that all fossils need at least some level of “preparation”, a term that covers repairs and restoration. “These tusks appear to have minimal restoration. There’s not a big chunk of the tip that had to be put back on. There are no cracks that had to be filled with putty or paint. These are in really good condition. That’s why they’re important and have a high valuation. They’ve been polished to make them the most presentable [they can be]. No matter how museum-quality it [a great fossil] is, there’s also a decorative quality that makes it amazing to put on display.”

In the foreground of the photo of the mammoth tusks, there’s a fluffy bunny with a carrot in front of it. Why? “It’s for scale,” he says. “Scale doesn’t always translate from your brain to your eyes. We usually put a brass ingot next to minerals, for context. For things that are really big, we’ve used babies, we’ve used kids, we’ve used people, we’ve used dogs.”

But why a fluffy bunny, this time, then? “The tusks are weird with the armature–it’s not easy for an adult or a child [to get in to the space between the tusks in a manner that works for the shot]. It’s easier to plop a bunny down there, and that’s what we did,” he says, explaining that the rabbit is the pet of a junior cataloger at Heritage Auctions. “For further whimsy, we threw the carrot in front of it, because it doesn’t look like a bunny, it looks like a beast. It behaved well enough not to hop off before we took the picture.”

I’d be tempted to tweak the lot notes to add a jokey reference that says the bunny and the carrot don’t come with the tusks. “People can get weird about it [what’s shown in catalog photos versus what’s actually part of the lot]. You’d be surprised,” he says. “We were half thinking of saying, ‘Rabbit not included.'”

How to bid: The matched pair of woolly mammoth tusks is lot #72194 in Heritage Auctions‘s Nature & Science Signature Auction in Dallas on November 4. As noted above, the rabbit and carrot are not included. Also know that if you live in New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, or California, your state’s laws prevent you from bidding on the tusks. See the lot notes for more.

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

Beep Beep, Beep Beep, SOLD! An Exceptional 1969 Dune Buggy Drives Away with $36,250 at LAMA

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Update: The dune buggy sold for $36,250.

What you see: A Bounty Hunter dune buggy, completed in 1969. It has 45,000 miles on its odometer, and it has a manual transmission. Los Angeles Modern Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

What is a dune buggy? It’s a recreational off-road vehicle designed for use on beaches, deserts, and dunes, hence the name ‘dune buggy.’ It descends from the VW Beetle, a car with a chassis that was light enough to drive on sand. Dune buggies were primarily kit cars, which means that someone would buy the kit and build the car themselves or have other people do it for them. The cars had their heyday from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, when lawmakers realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to let drivers tear across delicate shoreline ecosystems with abandon.

Why is this one called a Bounty Hunter dune buggy? The name is a nod to Steve McQueen’s Western show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, which ran in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He played a bounty hunter. Apparently, one of the dune buggy’s designers met McQueen and helped him when the star ran out of gas.

LAMA primarily handles art and design. Why offer a motor vehicle? “We’ve sold a couple of cars, as a matter of fact,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA, citing, among other things, a supercharged 1963 model 63R2 Avanti Studebaker that belonged to design god Raymond Loewy. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) acquired it.

How do you choose the cars that you auction at LAMA? “We’re looking for something special,” he says. “It’s not necessary to sell it to a car person, but it’s important that a car person looks at it and gets it. It has to do both–it has to excite the design people and a car person can’t look at it and say, ‘Why this one?”

Dune buggies were kit cars, which means the people who bought them built the car or had someone else do it. Why does this example stand out? “The original owner is a figure in the custom car world,” Loughrey says. “When he built it in 1968, he knew what he was doing. This really is the ultimate dune buggy. He custom-built the best example that could be built around this body.”

I also understand that the car is street-legal, while most dune buggies are not? “Because he’s a professional builder and wanted to build the ultimate dune buggy, he wanted to drive it to the dunes and drive it back [instead of towing it],” he says. “He had the headlamps built into the body. The turn signals and rear lamps are from a 1964 Corvette body. He never liked the Jeep-style windshield on other dune buggies, so he took the windshield from a 1964 Renault. He knew every detail was going to make a good, fun vehicle to drive.”

This car is described as being ‘mint.’ What does that mean in this context? “Maybe that’s not the right word. It’s more like a flawless survivor,” he says, explaining that the only parts that aren’t original are the radio and a set of speakers that were installed in the 1980s. “It shows very little wear. The original [fiber] glass body was gel-coated. It has its original gel coat. It has all-original pin-striping that hasn’t been touched since 1968. He [its creator] knew it was a special car, and not a daily driver. It was a work of art, always.”

Is it drivable? Have you driven it? Yes, and no. “These things have to be usable,” he says. “A Picasso vase–you can use it. I won’t, but I can use it. An Eames chair–you can sit on it. If you say oh, it’s not functional anymore, you cut out a large reason for buying it.” But Loughrey had yet to drive the dune buggy during the week that he did this interview–the brakes were being replaced. “If I sell it to a museum, I’ll be the last one to drive it,” he says.

What else stands out about the dune buggy? “Anytime we have a car, it always stands out. The little kid in me loves that we’ve got a dune buggy in our showroom,” he says. “People have asked me for years what our next car will be, and I’d said, ‘maybe a dune buggy.’ I’ve been beating the bushes for several years. When I saw it, it was love at first sight. It was exactly what I wanted–not restored, not repainted. It was 100 percent original.”

How to bid: The Bounty Hunter dune buggy is lot 93 in LAMA‘s 25th anniversary Modern Art & Design Auction on October 22, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

 

 

 

SOLD! The Cover Model For Rago’s Curiouser and Curiouser Auction–A 19th Century Life-Size French Artist’s Mannequin–Fetched $45,000

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Update: The antique French life-size articulated wooden artist’s mannequin sold for $45,000.

What you see: A life-size articulated wooden artist’s mannequin, made in France, dating to around 1860, and measuring about 60 inches tall. Rago Auctions estimates it at $20,000 to $25,000.

If you were an artist in the 19th century and could afford a life-size articulated wooden mannequin, couldn’t you afford to hire a live model instead? “Possibly, but live models were not always available. And a mannequin can hold a pose forever. It’s almost more posable than a real person,” says Marion Harris, a specialist in antique mannequins and curator of the Curiouser and Curiouser sale for Rago. “Life-size artist’s mannequins were expensive, and they were valued in their own right. They became something of worth in an artist’s inventory. Mannequins were often listed in the estates of artists when they died.”

How many life-size artist’s mannequins have you dealt with? How many are known? Harris says she has handled 15 to 20 over the last quarter-century. She suspects that maybe as many as 100 were made between the 16th and 19th centuries, and as many as half might survive. “They’re just about always androgynous,” she says. “I’ve looked at the same one and seen it as male, then seen it as female.”

Would one artisan have carved the face, and other artisans have carved the rest of the body? “I don’t know how they did it, but it’s likely. Four or five ateliers were known for carving them. Even the bad mannequins are very good. It’s so hard to do,” she says. “This mannequin has a particular sensitivity to the carving. It’s so lifelike.”

Ribs were carved into the mannequin’s torso. Why? “That’s another sign of quality, when the ribs are evident,” she says. “You do want to see the ribs, if you can. It lets the piece look more realistic. Without the ribs, it looks more puppet-like. Anything that gives the mannequin a more realistic human quality to its features makes it more efficient and effective for the artist.”

Does the mannequin have a patina? “It has a brilliant patina–not just from being handled, but from age. It glows with pride as well as age, I like to say,” she says.

How much does it weigh? About 100 pounds. “I could almost carry it. But it would have been on a stand. Once it’s on a stand, it’s completely posable,” she says. “It’s almost like a real person.”

People might know the mannequin from the Manhattan shop window of Ann-Morris. How did you convince the shop’s owners to consign it? “Everybody wanted to buy it. They would rent it to films, but they would never sell it. Now that the son has taken over the business, I finally got him to part with it,” she says. “It’s a fitting way to part with it. They wanted to give it a rather grand farewell. They’ve had others, but this one was always the queen.” (Harris later confirmed that though the mannequin had appeared in the window since the 1970s, the family never gave it a name, surprising as that might seem.)

What else makes the mannequin special? “I’ve seen other mannequins. This one almost calls out to you to say, ‘Touch me, love me, hold me, pose me, care for me. I’m here for you and you’re here for me,'” she says. “Even people who’ve never seen it before stop in their tracks. And a number of people would have seen it and looked at it adoringly [when it was in the Ann-Morris window].”

How to bid: The life-size articulated artist mannequin is lot 39 in the Curiouser and Curiouser auction on October 22 at Rago Auctions.

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