LAST CALL: Nothing But Net: Grant Zahajko Could Sell a 1936 Olympic Basketball Gold Medal for $150,000

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Antiques Roadshow returns to PBS with new episodes starting on Monday, October 30, at 8 pm (check your tv listings for your local station). To celebrate its pending return, I’m reposting stories from The Hot Bid that feature people who’ve appeared on the show as appraisers. Up first is Grant Zahajko.

What you see: The Olympic gold medal awarded to John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons for his role in propelling the United States basketball team to victory in 1936. Gibbons was 28 at the time. The medal is double-sided and gold-plated and measures just over two inches in diameter. It comes with a letter of authenticity from his family and ephemera that he gathered on his Berlin adventure. Grant Zahajko estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

Who was John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons? He was a 6’1″ inch guard who played professional basketball years before the NBA arrived. He was on the team at Southwestern College, in Winfield, Kan., and moved on to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), playing for the McPherson Globe Oilers. He earned his nickname from the state where he was raised. He died in 1984 at the age of 76.

Why was the 1936 US Olympic basketball team important? “1936 was the first time basketball was an Olympic event,” Zahajko says, adding that more than 20 countries fielded teams and James Naismith, creator of the game, then 74, crowned the winning team with laurels.

What did the Americans have to do to win? “Hitler was not aware of basketball and didn’t give it much recognition. He built gyms, but he didn’t build one for basketball. They played on lawn tennis courts,” he says. “They played [the Olympic final] in a downpour. They couldn’t dribble. They could only pass.  It was a low-scoring game.” The U.S. squelched its way to the gold, defeating Canada 19-8.

Are Olympic medals from 1936 more valuable than those from other years? “1936 medals are very sought-after, even gold medals with no attribution,” he says, referring to those that come to market without related material that proves who earned them. “It’s because of the importance of that Olympics, and how tense and charged it was. Hitler promised not to push his [regime-glorifying] campaign, but he did not hold to that.”

How many other 1936 Olympic gold medals for basketball have you handled? “Only three from the 14-man team have ever surfaced, and I’ve had the privilege of touching all three,” he says, alluding to having appraised them. One went to auction at another venue in 2015. It commanded $67,000 despite suffering heavy wear that included having a hole drilled at the top so it could be worn as a necklace. The Gibbons medal is in far better condition. “It’s no longer in its original box, but it’s been well-cared for,” Zahajko says.

How to bid: The gold medal is lot 110a in the Sports Cards and Memorabilia, Autographs, Entertainment, Transportation & More! sale offered by Grant Zahajko Auctions on June 24, 2017 in Spokane, Wash.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Grant Zahajko Auctions.

Meet the Cover Model For Rago’s Curiouser and Curiouser Auction–A 19th Century Life-Size French Artist’s Mannequin That Could Command $25,000

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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.

Vroom! An Exceptional 1969 Dune Buggy Could Drive Away With $50,000 at LAMA

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

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.

 

 

 

RECORD: Hunt Auctions Sets a Record with Roberto Clemente’s 1967 Silver Bat Award

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What you see: A National League Championship Silver Bat award, given to Roberto Clemente in 1967. Hunt Auctions sold it in July 2017, during the All-Star festivities in Miami, for $420,000–a record for a silver bat award at auction.

Who was Roberto Clemente? He was a Puerto Rican right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He won the Gold Glove every year from 1961 through 1972, won the National League batting title four times, and played in two World Series. When Clemente died in a plane crash on the last day of 1972, the stewards of the Baseball Hall of Fame changed the rules to allow any player who has been dead for at least six months to gain eligibility to enter. Clemente was chosen for the hall within months of the change, becoming the first player with Latin and Caribbean heritage to earn the honor. He was 38 when he died.

How often do these silver bat awards come to auction? “It’s extremely rare for one to come to auction, especially one from someone of Clemente’s stature,” says Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions, who notes that he’s handled about 10 of the awards over the last 25 years. “They’re inherently scarce.”

This is a full-size bat? And it’s made from solid sterling silver? Yes and yes. The 1967 Clemente silver bat weighs 55.6 Troy ounces, which equates to 3.8 pounds–more than twice as much as a standard wooden Louisville Slugger, which weighs 1.6 pounds. “It’s heavy,” Hunt says, laughing. “It’s a very, very significant presentational piece, which it should be. It was given to some of the greatest athletes in the world. You don’t want to hand them something that’s any less than the quality level you’d expect.”

Clemente earned four silver bats during his career, in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967. Where are the other three? The 1964 bat was sold alongside the 1967 bat in the July 2017 auction. They were subsequent lots–569 and 570. The Clemente family has the third silver bat, and the fourth, which Clemente gave to Pirates manager Joe Brown, was later sold and is now in private hands.

So the 1964 and the 1967 Clemente silver bats both came to market for the first time in the July 2017 Hunt Auctions sale? Yes. Both came directly from the Clemente family, both in the same good condition, both had the same estimate ($100,000 to $200,000). The only difference between the bats was the dates.

The 1964 silver bat fetched $260,000, and the 1967 silver bat sold for $420,000. Why did the 1967 bat do so much better?1967, statistically, is Roberto Clemente’s finest year as a hitter,” Hunt says. “That’s why this is considered the best one, and why it brought the most money.”

This set a record for any silver bat award at auction. What makes this achievement such a big deal? “To give you a sense of the significance, Mickey Mantle is one of the benchmarks, he’s on the Mount Rushmore of baseball, and it wasn’t even close. The Clemente bat sold for at least $100,000 more,” Hunt says. (Mantle’s 1956 silver bat sold for $270,000 in 2003.)

When did you know you had a record? How long do you think it will stand? “When the hammer came down, I was confident it was a record, but I had to check to make sure,” he says. “The number of players on the level of Ted Williams, Clemente, and Mantle, who won silver bats and can eclipse the Clemente bat… it’s tiny. There’s a handful [of comparable silver bats] out there, and I mean a scant handful, less than [the fingers on]one hand, that might have a chance.”

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

 

RECORD: Eldred’s Sets a New World Record for Scrimshaw

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

What you see: A scrimshaw whale’s tooth by Edward Burdett, made in the early 1830s and inscribed, in block letters, “Engraved by Edward Burdett of Nantucket Onboard the Ship William Tell.” It shows a scene of the William Tell capturing a whale while another ship, the George and Susan, floats nearby. On the back, it shows another whaleship, the William Thomson, sailing near a coastline. Eldred’s sold it in July 2017 for $456,000, an auction record for any piece of scrimshaw.

Who was Edward Burdett? He was a Nantucket native and whaleman who was among the earliest to take up scrimshaw–carving or engraving images into the teeth or jawbones of whales. He ranks among the best scrimshanders to practice the art. He’s believed to have made between 20 and 30 pieces, and signed about six. He died while serving as a first officer aboard the Nantucket whale ship Montano. While his team chased a harpooned whale, Burdett became tangled in the line and was pulled overboard. His body was never found. He was 27 years old.

How many pieces of scrimshaw have sold for six figures at auction? “About 11, all in the 21st century. But if there’s 10 over six figures, there’s another 10 that are unreported,” says Bill Bourne, vice president and head of the marine art department at Eldred’s. “Some auction houses just don’t report scrimshaw sales to sites.”

This piece is fresh to market–never auctioned before. Fakes have been an issue with scrimshaw, as they have been in every collecting field. How do you know this is by Burdett? “As far as scrimshaw goes, I have a really good background in it,” Bourne says, noting that his father founded the maritime collectibles field in 1963 and he literally grew up in it. In addition, the consignor drove to New Bedford in May 2012, where a scrimshaw symposium was being held, and had the leading experts look it over. “The tooth itself, and the work done on the tooth is unmistakably his hand,” he says.

You described the Burdett scrimshaw as “a masterpiece.” What makes it a masterpiece? “The tooth just has everything,” he says. “He uses the whole surface of the tooth, and it has the smallest of details. The William Tell has a wonderful blowing flag. On the obverse side, in the central mast of the William Thomson, there’s a watch–a man up there. And there’s a shoreline with a lighthouse with a rooster weathervane. Not many teeth have everything, like this. They might have a whaleship with a flag, but just the ship–no land, no whaling scene.”

How did the auction go, and what was it like as you approached the old auction record for scrimshaw? “I was the auctioneer. I started at $100,000 and five or six hands went up instantly and drove it to $210,000 to $220,000. It came down to two people,” Bourne says. “I focused on the two bidders at that point. I kept it at $10,000 raises. Both bidders were pretty firm in going after it. Until it hit $380,000, there wasn’t any hesitation at all. When you’ve got two bidders like that, you don’t look at anyone else. You focus on those two bidders. The underbidder dropped out, I looked around the room, bang, and a round of applause. It was over in four minutes. It was a lot of fun. It was wonderful to see active bidding throughout the whole auction and on this tooth. It was like being back in 1985.

How long do you think the record will last? “It’s so hard to tell. I’m not aware of something that could come up and challenge it,” he says. “All it takes is another piece coming out of a blanket box in Connecticut, or a few 45 to 50-year-old collectors coming in with unlimited funds.”

What else makes this Burdett scrimshaw special? “I’ve seen spectacular pieces at my dad’s, and here, and at other auction houses. If you google ‘antique scrimshaw,’ put in ‘Edward Burdett’ and you look at what’s there, you’ll realize this is something special compared to the others,” Bourne says. “Novice collectors can see this is something special compared to the others. When you look at this tooth, you can see that it’s a cut above.”

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Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

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

 

RECORD: A Game-Worn 1920 Babe Ruth Jersey Hits a Grand Slam at SCP Auctions in 2012

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What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more game-worn Babe Ruth uniforms saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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

 

RECORD: A Lucie Rie Bowl from the Late 1970s Commands $212,500 at Phillips

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What you see: A flaring footed bowl made by Lucie Rie around 1978. It sold at Phillips New York in December 2016 for $212,500 against an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000–a record for the artist.

Who was Lucie Rie? She was an Austrian-born Jewish artist who moved to England in 1938 to escape the approach of the Nazis. There, she gained a reputation as a ceramicist, though she insisted on modestly calling herself a potter. She died in 1995 at the age of 93, a few years after she retired.

How early does this shape show up in her work? “It appears much earlier, but we associate this bowl form with the late 70s and early 80s,” says Cordelia Lembo, a design specialist at Phillips. “There was no particular exhibit or moment in 1978. The late 70s and early 80s were an important time for her. When you think about it, it’s still so impressive she developed her career in this way at that age.”

How does this bowl show off Rie’s strengths as an artist? “What sets Rie apart from her contemporaries is her ability to create pottery that speaks to larger themes,” she says. “It’s a truly incredible work. You can see it in the photo, but with this bowl in particular, you’re able to understand it when you hold it in your hand.”

How does it feel to hold it in your hands? “It’s a soft matte. Not like sandpaper,” Lembo says. “It’s extraordinarily lightweight and extremely delicate. You can feel its fragility. You understand the level of skill she would have needed to create such a delicate vessel.”

The blue-on-white motif brings to mind Asian ceramics and European ones, too. “The bowl is certainly in dialogue with the tradition of blue and white ceramics in the U.K., Japan, and China,” she says. “This is a worldwide ceramic type that she speaks to in a refined and simplified manner.”

Did Rie intend the bowl to be a functional object, or is it purely aesthetic? “It has a matte glaze, but you want to be careful what you put in it,” Lembo says. “She was able to distinguish between functional works and very special, often unique pieces. You could use them in a tea ceremony, but it wasn’t necessarily the intention.”

Were you surprised when this piece set a new auction record for Rie? “We were very curious to see how it would perform,” she says. “Because it was early in the auction–it was the fourth lot–it was a great way to begin the sale.”

The auction record for Rie has broken four times in the last two years, with three of the records taking place at Phillips. A unique piece in the December 2016 sale fell $13,000 short of breaking the record a second time in the same auction. To what do you attribute the rising interest in Rie’s work? “Ceramics are a subject of great interest at the moment. The secondary market and gallery shows are broadening interest in ceramic artists,” she says. “We were lucky to offer real masterpieces by Lucie Rie. There are a group of educated buyers who are able to pursue them when they arise.”

Given how volatile the Rie auction record has been, how long do you think this one will stand? “The flaring footed bowl was an exceptional example of the artist’s output, so I think it will hold the title for a bit. However, it is always exciting to see what consignments appear on the horizon for upcoming seasons and to see what lots appeal most to collectors,” Lembo says. “We are delighted to have seen such a strong market for Lucie Rie’s work and are optimistic that the demand for her highest quality pieces will continue to rise.”

What else makes this piece stand out? “I personally love Lucie Rie. I’ve been an admirer of her work for so long. This piece is just extraordinary. It’s striking in person. Its minimalist quality really speaks to Lucie Rie’s ability.”

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Of course, Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.