RECORD! Potter & Potter Sold Cardini’s Stage-worn Tux for $72,000, a Record for Any Magician’s Costume

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What you see: A tuxedo outfit worn on stage by Cardini, including spats, bow tie, vest, white dress shirt, pocket handkerchief, fake flower, and top hat. It sold at Potter & Potter in April 2013 for $72,000 [with premium], a world auction record for a magician’s costume at auction.

 

Who was Cardini? Born Richard Valentine Pitchford in 1895 in Swansea, England, he was a magician who patterned his stage name after Harry Houdini. He practiced card tricks in the trenches while serving in World War I, and the harsh conditions forced him to master the sleights with his gloves on. After the war he traveled the world performing his magic act and ultimately rose to the top of his profession. His wife, Swan Walker, joined him onstage as his assistant. Pitchford died in 1973 at the age of 77.

 

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

 

How often do you receive stage-worn costumes from any prominent magician, period? We have not had many. Cardini wore many tuxedos over his life. We’ve never had anything Houdini wore before, except for a straitjacket. We sold a Harry Blackstone Sr. tuxedo last year for a lot of money [$45,600 with buyer’s premium]. They’re not like magic books or tricks, which we get on a daily basis.

 

How many tuxedos would Cardini have traveled with? He had to have had more than one, yes? He had at least two. He’d need to have fresh clothes because he’d do multiple shows a day. He came up in vaudeville, doing five to seven shows a day at its peak. Then he transitioned to nightclubs and hotels. He was working.

 

Do you know when he would have worn and used this tuxedo? What span of time? We don’t know, but I’d guess later. It came directly from his daughter, and she got it from her mother [Swan Walker, Cardini’s wife and stage assistant].

 

The lot notes say the tuxedo is “custom-tailored”. Did Cardini have anything done to the suit to help him with his act? There might have been one or two things. Most of the things he added to the tux are literally added to the tux, not sewn in. There’s folklore that Cardini’s extra-long tails inspired Fred Astaire to add long tails [to his tuxedo coat] for his dance moves, but there’s no proof. But they [Cardini and Astaire] certainly came up through the ranks at the same time.

 

The lot notes say this outfit is “perhaps the most iconic costume of the most imitated magic act of the twentieth century”. Could you elaborate? Cardini and his wife did a 12-minute act for four decades. He became the archetype of nightclub and vaudeville magic. He didn’t invent the card trick, but he was what everyone aspired to because his technique was perfect and he did it wearing gloves. He had a character, a slightly tipsy gentleman, who people could recognize. He had a monocle, a top hat, a cigarette holder–he had a brand, essentially. You look at Cardini and think, ‘Isn’t that how magicians dress?’ Yes, and it’s because of this guy.

 

He didn’t wear the outfit to look like a magician–he wore it to look like a gentleman arriving at his club. Or leaving his club. Watch the video. His character is not exactly surefooted. He’s using the monocle as a way to register surprise. He had a little story to tell within the span of the act. It was all part of the story.

 

Just how badass is it that Cardini did his card tricks while wearing gloves? It’s really hard. I’ve tried it. It’s hard enough to do what he’s doing without wearing gloves. That’s the thing–his technique is flawless.

 

Have any other magicians tried to perform card tricks with gloves on? People have done it since. How well is a matter of debate.

 

The Cardini tuxedo did exceptionally well, selling for $72,000 against an estimate of $2,500 to $3,500, but almost everything in the 2013 Cardini auction did exceptionally well. You sold the last pair of gloves he wore on stage for $26,400 against an estimate of $800 to $900. You sold his monocle for $12,000 against an estimate of $1,200 to $1,500. You sold his bow tie for $10,800 after estimating it at $300 to $500.

 

Why was the Cardini auction such a big hit? It was a big breakout sale for us. We had Cardini’s whole life. Trunks, costumes, books from his library, we had everything, and he was one of the most important magicians of the 20th century. We had people calling who we hadn’t heard from before. To present somebody’s life so completely is unusual.

 

Was Cardini a magician’s magician? He was, but at the same time, he had incredible real-world success. He was the top of the heap. He combined great artistic presentation with impeccable technical skill and melded it into an incredible act.

 

What was the experience of selling the Cardini tuxedo like? Anticipation was high in advance of the sale. There were ten or fifteen lots in there that we knew would be off the charts. His daughter [who consigned the material] said she didn’t want to watch the stuff sell. She stayed at the back for the first three, four, five lots. They started to go, and she never left. I’ll never forget going out with her family after the auction. She told me that despite all the work [her parents did] they didn’t have money. They spent every dollar they had. They never really saved anything, so she never got an inheritance. After the auction, she said her parents did finally give her a gift.

 

Did the sale of the Cardini tuxedo stand out? I think at that point it was the most expensive thing we’d ever sold. I think the monocle came up before that. I don’t think anybody thought it would get there. I remember the day before the auction thinking we wouldn’t sell the tux. (Laughs.) There was not a lot of advance interest in that item. I don’t think we had any absentee bids on it until the day before the auction.

 

Why does the tuxedo stick in your memory? It was well-used. I remember the lapels showing they’d been worn down a bit. It’s not like he was going out to dinner parties–he was out working. He wore a tux to work. What I would say in reflecting on it is it sold for more than many Hollywood costumes from the same era. It sold for more than a pair of Laurel and Hardy costumes auctioned at Profiles in History. People probably know Laurel and Hardy more than Cardini. That struck me.

 

What’s out there that could challenge the record set by the Cardini stage-worn tuxedo? There are at least two Cardini tuxes out there, but I don’t think it [one of those tuxes] can do it again, no. A Houdini tuxedo, if it ever shows up. We had a Houdini thing come close. A brooch worn by Bess Houdini sold for $72,000 last year. Outside of Houdini, I doubt it. We sold Harry Blackstone Senior’s tux for a lot of money, more than I expected. It was a huge price, and Harry Blackstone was a great magician. And still, Cardini beat him.

 

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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If you didn’t click on the link to the 1957 Cardini performance–the only one known–do yourself a favor and watch it now.

 

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

 

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

 

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RECORD! Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Sold a 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi for $76,000–an Auction Record for Any Single Production Action Figure

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What you see: a 1978 Kenner Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure with a double-telescoping lightsaber and an AFA grade of 80 NM. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sold it in November 2017 for $76,700, setting a world auction record for any singly packaged production action figure.

 

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.

 

How many Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi action figures of this type did the Kenner toy company make? Exact production numbers are not known, but the change was made very early in the production run. This is the first of this rare version that we’ve sold. As far as I know, it is the only example sold by a major auction house in this AFA grade. We’ve had a number of other rare vintage Star Wars pieces over the years, but nothing in the same league as Ben–very little is. There are probably less than 20 known on the card [still in its unopened original packaging], and not all of those have been AFA graded and/or are in the high grade we sold. It being on its card is key. Loose figures are still in high demand and valuable, but not to the extent of carded examples–that makes it a “holy grail” item.

 

The lot notes say the card is ‘unpunched’. What does that mean, and why is that important?

The hanger tab at the top of the card is intact. These tabs were to be punched out and the cards hung on the hooks of store displays. Any action figure that is unpunched commands a higher price.

 

How rare are circa 1977 unpunched Star Wars production action figures? Not crazy rare, but if you’re a high-grade collector, you want it unpunched. It adds to the value.

 

The lot notes say the figure has the ‘initial ‘Double-Telescoping’ lightsaber’. When and why did Kenner stop providing this feature with its Star Wars production action figures? The first lightsaber was two pieces, with the inner piece telescoping out from the outer piece–it slides out, extending it an additional length. The production costs for this two-piece lightsaber were high, and it was thought that it didn’t add much play value for the cost. The lightsaber change was made very early in the production run to three figures: Ben, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker.

 

So there are also circa 1977 Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures from Kenner with double-telescoping lightsabers? Yes. Luke is more common than the others. We’ll have a Luke in our next auction in July, and we expect it’ll get $25,000 or so.

 

What is AFA, and what does it mean for this toy to have an AFA grade of 80 NM? AFA [Action Figure Authority] is a professional grading company that authenticates and encapsulates all types of action figures and related toys. It’s like CGC, but for action figures. As we have seen with comic books, cards, and coins, having a third party grade items adds greatly to the value. The higher the grade, the more it impacts things. The 80 NM that the Ben had is a high grade for this figure, and it certainly added to the selling price. It also established that this was a legit double-telescoping lightsaber figure, so bidders had piece of mind about that, and again, it encouraged strong bidding.

 

Does AFA grade on a 1 to 100 scale?  Yes, but it’s not like CGC. It’s done by fives–80, 85, 90, 95. A 95 is extremely difficult to get on an action figure because they’re graded on three components: the card, the figure, and the blister [the plastic covering the figure, which attaches to the card]. All three can have distinctly different defects. For example, you can have a beautiful figure and a beautiful blister, but a card that’s creased. It makes action figure grading a bit more difficult, but it also makes sense. We had an AFA 95 Mint Luke Skywalker in the November 2017 auction that we estimated at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold for $50,622. The person [who won the bidding] didn’t want to wait and hope to find a 95 again. The next auction will have a 95 Darth Vader.

 

The record-setting Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure is from the Russell Branton Collection. Who is Branton, and how does his provenance add value? And is Branton the only person who has owned this toy?

Russell Branton established himself as a serious Star Wars collector who assembled one of the best collections of vintage original trilogy Star Wars toys. It contained key pieces, rare variations, foreign issues, proof cards, prototypes, and high-grade examples. There’s no way of knowing if he was the only owner of any of the toys. They came from a variety of sources with no clear record of their history prior to his acquisition, in many cases.

 

What was the previous record for any singly-packaged production action figure? By how much did this Obi-Wan figure exceed the record?

I don’t have exact results, but there have been others in the $30,000 to $50,000 range at auction for single-figure carded production pieces. I’m not sure by how much, but it is established that no production action figure has ever sold for more at auction.

 

I understand that Hake’s has never had a physical sale room–it initially took bids by phone and mail, and now takes online bids, too. How does that change the experience of watching as a world auction record is set? We’re online three weeks before the auction closes. Most of the bidding, in general, is done in the last couple of hours, but what’s a little different about key Star Wars pieces is there’s constant action through the three-week process and heavy hitting before the close.

 

 

Did you have a notion, prior to the auction, that this toy could beat the record for a production action figure? We promoted this figure, and the entire collection, many months prior to the inaugural Branton offerings. Early reaction from the collecting community let us know we were most likely going to set a record. We got the collection in March 2017 and between March and November we did comics conventions and toy shows. The excitement was building, and dealers told us, ‘You’re going to be surprised.’ Originally we were going to put a $25,000 to $50,000 estimate on the Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure. In the end, we did raise the estimate to $75,000 to $100,000 based on word-of-mouth. We thought it had a chance to hit $100,000. We weren’t disappointed with $76,000, but we knew early on that it was going to set a record.

 

How many bidders were there initially? How long did it take for the bidding to narrow to two people? We had eight bidders in total, including three once the figure reached the $50,000 range.

 

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? That’s impossible to predict, as this is still a relatively new area in the hobby, especially the graded aspect. Hake’s is really setting a precedent with the Branton sale, but who knows what is to come? Star Wars remains as popular today as when it debuted in 1977, so I don’t see any downside to Star Wars collectibles anytime soon.

 

What effect do you think the sale of the Branton collection will have on the Star Wars market? I think it’s going to change in a positive way. The value is going to go up. We have six, eight, ten, twelve bidders on any given piece, and four or five can be at a very high level. Star Wars has a deep, passionate field of collectors, and they have the funds to take action figures to a level not thought of a decade ago.

 

What else is out there that could credibly challenge the auction record set by the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure? I think it would take the same figure in a higher AFA grade. This Ben is impressive, but it’s only an 80. If a DT [double-telescoping] shows up in an AFA 95 grade, it’d certainly bring six figures. Maybe even a 90. A 90 or higher, Ben or Darth Vader. It’s hard to say that wouldn’t get six figures based on our sale.

 

More Star Wars material from the collection of Russell Branton is in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles current auction, which opened online on June 19 and closes between July 10 and 12, 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.

 

Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Alex Winter last spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

 

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SOLD! A Scarce Robert-Houdin Mystery Clock Fetches $36,000 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock sold for $36,000.

 

What you see: A mid-nineteenth century glass column mystery clock by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $40,000 to $50,000.

 

Who was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin? He was a self-taught French magician as well as a horologist, or clockmaker. His father, Prosper Robert, made watches, and Robert-Houdin later married into a clock- and watchmaking family, adding his wife’s surname to his own. At some point between 1831 and 1844, Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock, a device that baffles by keeping time without any visible gears or clockwork. He invented or refined many magic tricks that are still performed today, and his 1859 autobiography became a best-seller. Eric Weiss, a struggling young American immigrant, was so inspired by Robert-Houdin’s life story that he referenced the Frenchman in his stage name: Harry Houdini. Robert-Houdin died in 1871 at the age of 65.

 

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

 

How rare are Robert-Houdin clocks at auction? They’re very hard to come by.

 

Is there a catalog raisonné of his clocks, or an accepted count, or… There’s no great count. Even his own property got scattered to family members.

 

How many Robert-Houdin clocks have you handled? Two other mystery clocks, and one electromagnetic that wasn’t a mystery clock. It was one of the most expensive ones we’ve sold.

 

How do you know this clock is by Robert-Houdin and not his son, who made some mystery clocks after his father’s death? That’s a tough one, especially because they worked in conjunction to some degree. Two expert horologists took it apart [for Potter & Potter] and did a 12-page report on all the clocks in the David Baldwin collection. Other clocks in the auction, on examination, were pieced together with old parts or done in the style of Robert-Houdin. Their estimates would be five times higher if they were original, maybe more.

 

How often do you see a Robert-Houdin mystery clock with this magnifying glass-like shape, as opposed to the one in lot 30, which has a square dial sitting in a frame on a marble base? You see just one glass dial most often. This [lot 28] is a double mystery. The single mystery is the glass dial–how does it keep time? The double mystery is the glass dial plus the glass tube.

 

And Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock? For a Paris exposition, yes. If he wasn’t a magician, he would have been a clockmaker. He invented a lot of things, and he was fascinated by electricity. He was one smart dude.

 

How does the mystery clock reflect his inventiveness? It’s interesting because it’s the confluence of two things in his life–clockmaking and magic. Here’s a beautiful clock that you’d be happy to put in your salon, but at the same time, you think, how does it work? It’s both beautiful and miraculous.

 

Does it work? I got it to chime, but I haven’t seen its hand move. Robert-Houdin mystery clocks are notorious for needing adjustments. You’ll need to have a clockmaker look at it.

 

This clock has an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. The square dial clock in lot 30 carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. What accounts for the difference? It’s [the clock in lot 28] a much more uncommon form. One of the guys who did the examination for me thought it was quite unusual and original enough to be exciting to a clock collector.

 

Who fights more fiercely for Robert-Houdin mystery clocks–magicians, or clock collectors? I’ve had winners in both of those camps. It’s hard to predict.

 

What is this clock like in person? Does it make an impression? It certainly did when I walked into the [consigner’s] house to look at it the first time I saw the collection. He had 15 of them. You can instantly tell it’s something special.

 

How to bid: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock is lot 28 in the David Baldwin Magic Collection II auction at Potter & Potter on June 16, 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.

 

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

 

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He talked about a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

 

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.

 

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, 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.

 

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

RECORD! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original 1983 Panel From Gary Larson’s The Far Side for $31,070–an Auction Record for the Comic Strip! Also, Quack!

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Update: The original 1983 art for The Far Side sold for $31,070–a world auction record for original artwork from the comic strip. Hooray! And Quack!

 

What you see: An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31. Heritage Auctions could sell it for more than $11,000.

 

Who is Gary Larson, and what was The Far Side? Larson created The Far Side, a daily single-panel comic strip that ran from 1980 to 1995. Nothing on the funny pages has been like it before or since. The Far Side reveled in the surreal, the wacky, and the downright weird to the point where it makes little sense to try to explain its humor. You just have to see it for yourself. (Scroll down for relevant links.) Scientists, in particular, loved The Far Side. Larson has had a beetle, a louse, and a butterfly named in his honor. He will turn 68 in August.

 

The expert: Weldon Adams, comic book art cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions.

 

How rarely does original art for The Far Side come to auction? Fairly rarely. In the past ten years, we’ve had 20 pieces of art.

 

How does that compare to, say, how often original Peanuts art appears at auction? We have about two of Charles Schulz’s Sunday strips in every signature auction we do, and we do them four times a year. For the dailys, three or four in an auction is not uncommon.

 

How does original art from The Far Side find its way to the market? Who has it? Where is it? I think Larson did sell a few occasionally, and he gave some out as gifts. But I have to assume he has the bulk of it.

 

How did this original panel from The Far Side come to Heritage? We’ve sold this particular strip before, in 2013, for $11,352.50. We expect it to go for what it sold for in 2013, if not more.

 

This strip dates to 1983, which is relatively early in the run of The Far Side. Does that matter? To a degree, yes. In general, the older the strip is, the more prized it is. But because Gary Larsons are so rare to come across in the first place, I don’t think it plays a role here.

 

Did Gary Larson do Sunday versions of The Far Side? Are those worth more than the dailys? In the later years, there are Sunday strips, but they’re more or less larger versions of the dailys. Sometimes there are two larger panel single-panel gags. I think they were printed on a larger scale. In other comic strips, the Sundays are physically larger, with more panels. In the case of The Far Side, the Sundays are functionally the same as the dailys, so I don’t know if there’s a difference.

 

How does the strip’s Far-Side-ness, for lack of a better word, influence its value? This scene between the man and the duck is a pretty straightforward joke by the standards of The Far Side. It’s not like Larson’s infamous “Cow tools” panel, which is held up as an example of how inscrutable the strip could be. It’s a good example of The Far Side‘s off-center sense of humor. The Far-Side-ness draws the fans in because it’s so off-center. You don’t have to look very hard to see that Larson was inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons and their very dark laughs. Only later do you think about the implications and go, ‘Oh.’ Gary Larson did slapstick humor with a dark edge. This is just lighthearted and goofy. He was a master of that as well. And ducks are funny.

 

Yeah, about that. Larson’s animals are beloved. His cows are probably the most beloved, but he had great strips that feature ducks, such as the one captioned ‘Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.’ How does the presence of the duck affect the value of this original piece of art for The Far Side? Ducks are inherently funny. They’re essentially nature’s stand-up comedians, and they’re one of Larson’s go-to animals. His cow strips are very popular in part because cows are such a familiar animal in the Western world. Ducks are much the same. It’s a familiar animal, and it’s quick and easy to put a duck in a silly situation. The duck adds to the Far-Side-ness. We’re situated to laugh at a duck, from Donald Duck to Daffy Duck to Howard the Duck. Ducks are masters of comedy.

 

Do animals, in general, tend to add to the value of original art from The Far Side? I’d say probably so. Larson did plenty of strips with people in goofy situations, but where he really shines is anthropomorphism–aspects of making animals human. That’s what brings out the Far-Side-ness, in my opinion. Everyone loves the animals. It’s ideal to have both humans and animals [in a strip]. It sums up the silliness of both sides of the equation.

 

The art is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? Most comic strip art is in excellent condition. It’s looser than comic book grading. We don’t have a ten-point system for the art. This is artwork that was created on an art table. It was not created with the idea of keeping it in pristine condition. “Excellent” is the top. It means the paper is good quality. It’s not wrinkled or creased. There are no smudges and no lines that don’t belong.

 

What’s the auction record for a piece of original art from The Far Side? I don’t know the overall record, but I do know our record is for a piece of original comic strip art from 1981, which we sold in 2017 for $28,680. It shows a group of rabbits holding up a stagecoach at gunpoint, so it has the goofiness of humans and animals interacting in funny ways.

 

As of April 26, the lot has been bid up to $3,000, and the auction is two weeks away from closing. Does that mean anything? Early bids are always a good sign. It shows that people out there are interested. When you have more bidders, it’s better in general. But it only takes two. The end is where the real frenzy lies.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The Far Side has a habit of sticking in your memory even if you don’t think it does. This one, when I saw it, it reminded me of another strip from The Far Side where scientists are studying the language of dolphins and they’re oblivious to the fact that the dolphins are speaking Spanish. I remembered that because I saw the panel with the duck speaking Spanish.

 

How to bid: The original 1983 comic strip art for The Far Side is lot #91031 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on May 10 – 12, 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.

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Never seen The Far Side? You have a treat ahead of you. Purchase the collected strips, clear your calendar, and enjoy one of the best binge-reads life has to offer.

 

If you’re curious about the “Cow Tools” strip from The Far Side, see this Reddit thread that debates its weirdness and quotes Larson explaining what he was going for. It includes an image of the panel. The “Cow Tools” cartoon was so enduringly bizarre that it earned an entry on TV Tropes, too.

 

Weldon Adams previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an original Sunday Peanuts strip from 1958 with a Christmas theme. It ultimately sold for $113,525–a tie for the auction record for original Sunday Peanuts art.

 

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SOLD! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport Poster Fetched the Way Out Price of $149,000 at Swann

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Update: The Man Ray 1938 London Underground poster did indeed sell for a way out price–$149,000.

 

What you see: A 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray. Swann Galleries estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who was Man Ray? Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitsky,  Man Ray was vital to the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. He was wildly creative in several media, especially photography and film-making. His art appeared in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925, alongside that of Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst. Man Ray befriended Marcel Duchamp and worked with him often. He died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 86.

 

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

 

How was Man Ray chosen for this London Transport poster commission? Hard to say exactly. Man Ray was living in Paris at the time. One school of thought is he went through London on his way back to the United States because of the war, but he may have designed the poster earlier than that, in 1936. He was chosen because Frank Pick, the head of London Transport advertising, was a real visionary. He employed a lot of fabulous artists and he pushed the envelope. He worked with László Moholy-Nagy, and probably through those connections, Pick became acquainted with Man Ray.

 

This looks like it’s one poster of a set of two. The second has the same image and asymmetric border structure. It’s meant to be a pair. This one says “Keeps London Going.” The other says “London Transport.

 

Does the other poster survive? It survives, but to the best of my knowledge, none have ever come up for public auction.

 

Apparently the design of the poster recalls Man Ray’s rayographs? A rayograph was Man Ray’s personal spin on the photogram. Objects are placed on paper, light is turned on, and shapes are left on the paper. The poster is more nuanced than a rayograph, which would not have had shades of gray.

 

And people enjoy debating what the poster might mean? A lot have surmised what it could mean, but to my mind, it’s pretty straightforward. My interpretation is, basically, he’s comparing the London Transport system to the solar system. The image at the top is the London Transport logo, which is called a roundel. On the bottom is Saturn. The way the planets move around the solar system is the way that London Transport moves you around London.

 

The lot notes call this poster ‘rare.’ I was under the impression it was unique? Unique means one of a kind. Salvator Mundi is unique. It’s an original work of art. Posters are never unique. Between 1,000 and 2,000 [copies of the Man Ray poster] were printed.

 

How often has the Man Ray London Transport poster been offered at auction? There are four auction records since 1994. One sold at Sotheby’s, and the other three sold at Christie’s. I think we have the one that Christie’s sold in 1994 for $39,800. The high-water mark was in June 2007 at Christie’s, when one sold for $100,906.

 

How much of that $100,906 auction record for a London Transport poster was driven by the fact that Man Ray designed the poster? I think it’s almost entirely [driven by Man Ray]. No other London Transport poster has commanded that kind of money. The qualities of a poster that make it valuable are image, artist, condition, and rarity, not necessarily in that order. László Moholy-Nagy is a super-famous artist. We have a poster he designed as lot 75 in this sale–

 

…I got the impression that Moholy-Nagy’s London Transport posters weren’t all that spectacular. The consensus [on lot 75, which is for Imperial Airways] is it’s a rare poster, but not that great an image. Here [with the Man Ray] you have a famous artist and an extraordinary image. He put all his technique and his creativity into the design. It’s rare, and its condition is fine.

 

If you lined up the ten best London Transport posters and asked me to pick the one that holds the world auction record, I doubt I’d pick the Man Ray because it’s black and white, and I think of great posters as being colorful… That’s a slight misconception on your part. You’re right, great posters have great color, but great posters are supposed to catch your eye, and there’s no methodology on how to do that. This catches your eye. The imagery makes you think about what’s going on. It’s a good advertisement because it makes you think. And it might have stood out [in its time] because it was black and white.

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? Because for many years, it was the most expensive travel poster ever sold. That travel poster record was beaten by us in 2012 when we sold an A.M. Cassandre poster for British Rail for $162,500. In the poster world, you deal in $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 posters. It’s wonderful, out of this world, that it [the Man Ray London Transport poster] would sell for $100,000. From that point of view, it sticks in my mind as exceptional.

 

How to bid: The Keeps London Going poster is lot 76 in the Graphic Design sale at Swann Galleries on May 3, 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 Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

 

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

 

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about a trio of Mont Blanc posters from 1928, a mid-1930s German travel poster featuring the Hindenburg, a 1968 MoMA poster by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo, an I Want You 1917 World War I recruiting poster that introduced the modern concept of Uncle Sam, and an Alphonse Mucha poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt.

 

In case you missed it above, the London Transport Museum has the other poster from the pair in its online collection, and it includes a link to a period photo of the posters on display outside St. Paul’s station in London.

 

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YES! Bertoia Auctions Sold the Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy for $11,000

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Update: Bertoia Auctions sold the Tremendous Mike robot toy with box for $11,000.

 

What you see: A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

 

Why was this robot toy called Tremendous Mike? Lots of Japanese toys used goofy names. There was Magnificent Mike, a few different Mikes, a few American names. Arguably, it was made for the American market–that’s why the language on the box is in English.

 

Do we know how many Tremendous Mike toys were made, and how many survive? We can’t even take a guess at how many were made. How many are around–that’s easier to take a stab at. I know of at least a dozen in circulation, and that doesn’t include those that are tied up in collections. It’s important to note that what makes the difference between being worth $2,000 or $3,000 versus being worth $10,000, what makes it swing, is its condition, if it has its box, and if the original antenna is still on the top of its head. This guy is fresh, in stellar condition. That’s why it’s so valuable. It might even be old store stock.

 

And the fact that the original box survives too–does that point to it possibly being old store stock? Exactly. What’s helpful on this box compared to other toy boxes are the graphics. Its a pretty, colorful box. The artwork is not just a sticker on the front of the box. It’s on the sides, too.

 

How rare is it to see a Tremendous Mike with its original box? In the last decade, I’ve only seen a few box examples. In general, a robot with its box is harder to come by than a loose example. I know of one Tremendous Mike with box offered through an auction. There was one on eBay a few years ago as well. Those are the only two aside from this one. That said, there’s a little more than a handful of these robot toys without their boxes that have surfaced in the last few years.

 

What’s the condition of the box? Does its condition matter, given how rare it is for a box to survive at all? In the high-dollar collectors’ market, every scratch matters. The condition of all the pieces and parts are relevant. This box is in really impressive condition. It has a little tear on a flap. The robot is in better shape than the box. The toy doesn’t look like it’s had much play.

 

How did the toy and its box survive in such good condition? I often joke that maybe a really bad child had it, because it wasn’t played with often. It’s possible that the robot had several homes throughout its life. It’s hard to believe it would survive years of children playing with it. Maybe the child had a lot of toys and didn’t play with this one much. Often when you see a toy this crisp, and the box is complete, not folded or crushed, that’s an assumption that can be made.

 

Tremendous Mike is a wind-up toy. What does he do when you turn his key? The wind-up mechanism is pretty cool. Tremendous Mike had action–he was not a simple forward-and-back moving toy. The red glass window in his chest sparkles as he rolls. The satellite dish on his head spins and changes direction after he rolls for a certain distance.

 

Tremendous Mike came in two body colors–red-orange, and grey. Are they equally desirable, or do collectors like one color more than the other? They have the same red accents on both. Red pops a lot more strongly off the grey. It’s a better visual than the red-orange.

 

How many times has Bertoia handled a Tremendous Mike? This is the first time in a decade.

 

What’s the auction record for a Tremendous Mike with box? It belongs to a red-orange version of the toy sold by Morphy’s in May 2015 that commanded $13,200. (Scroll down to see it.)

 

Could this Tremendous Mike with box beat the auction record, do you think? It certainly could. It certainly deserves it. The underbidder [at the Morphy’s 2015 auction] would be satisfied to acquire this example. It’ll take two to make the numbers.

 

Why will this toy stick in your memory? Other than my appreciation of the fine name of Mike, it’s very seldom, given the quantity and volumes of toys we handle on a regular basis, that we have to look at one for a long time and research it. If it stumps us, it stands out, because it’s a challenge. I appreciate the challenge. I like to be stumped.

 

How to bid: The Tremendous Mike with original box is lot 0050 in Bertoia‘s Signature Sale on April 27 and 28, 2018.

 

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

 

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