SOLD! Rockwell Kent’s Spellbinding 1930 Version of Moby Dick Commands $1,560 at Swann

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What you see: One of the 280 pen-and-ink illustrations that Rockwell Kent did for a three-volume 1930 limited edition release of Moby Dick. This particular copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

Who was Rockwell Kent? He was one of the best-known American artists of the first half of the 20th century. He was noted for his landscapes and seascapes before making his name as an illustrator. People mixed him up with Norman Rockwell so often that it became a running joke between the two men. Kent died in 1971 at the age of 88.

How did the limited edition printing of Moby Dick come about? Publisher R.R. Donnelley approached Kent in 1926 to do a version of Two Years Before the Mast, and he suggested doing the Melville novel instead. “Kent loved the sea, and the water. He was a master of painting light, and was able to capture that, even in his woodcuts,” says Christine von der Linn, specialist at Swann. “Moby Dick was originally slated to be a one-volume book, and it grew to three.”

Kent’s illustrated Moby Dick came out in 1930, during the Great Depression. How well did it sell? “It was so popular, the limited edition of 1,000 sold out,” she says. “It launched Kent’s name, and caused a revival of interest in Moby Dick. It was so popular that a one-volume trade edition was put out.”

This copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Does that affect its value? Yes. It’d be worth one-third to one-half more if it came with the slipcase, von der Linn says, noting that the Kent limited edition was jokingly referred to as ‘Moby Dick in a can.’

That image of the whale diving deep into the ocean with the boat in its mouth looks cinematic. Was Kent influenced by the movies at all? “He was certainly aware of the current culture and would have seen movies, but he was not thinking in a cinematic way,” she says. “He loved black and white, and he tried to distill the most dramatic details out of a scene. He was always thinking about reaching the reader in the most visually direct way possible.”

But that drawing, tho. “That image is phenomenal. You can’t look at that and not get chills,” she says. “You understand everything about the novel. It’s incredible.”

What else makes Kent’s version of Moby Dick so spectacular? “It blows you away with the overall beauty of it,” she says. “As you flip through the pages, you feel it come to life through Kent’s illustrations. That’s the mark of a successful illustrated book–if you can make the words leap off the page and spring to life.”

How to bid: The limited edition Rockwell Kent-illustrated Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13, 2017.

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

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An Extra-Rare Original Woodstock Concert Poster Could Command $2,500 at Heritage Auctions

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What you see: An original 1969 Woodstock concert poster that shows just the artwork–no small text–and is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. It’s in Very Good Plus condition and is estimated at $2,500.

How rare are original Woodstock concert posters in general, and how rare is it to find one that lacks the band names, the concert dates, and other small text? “Woodstock concert posters are rare, and this one is unusual,” says Giles Moon, consignment director of entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, adding, “I think that purist concert poster collectors want the version used to advertise the concert.”

The lot just before this one in the sale is a signed original Woodstock poster that has the small text. Its starting bid is $1,000, but the starting bid for this poster is $1,250. Why? “That’s intriguing. I’m not certain why that is,” he says, noting that this is the first artwork-only original Woodstock poster that he has handled. “This one might be more unusual, and that might be why there’s a higher starting bid on it.”

The poster is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. Does that add to its value? “It adds several hundred dollars to the poster,” he says. “It doesn’t double the value, but it adds 20 to 30 percent. It’s difficult to say how many original Woodstock concert posters he signed. The majority of the originals have not been signed. In 2009, we sold one for $1,000, and I would expect the price to have jumped a bit since then.”

Were Woodstock posters collected at the time of the concert, or only later on? “It’s nearly always the case that they’re collected later on. That’s why the posters are so rare,” Moon says. “No one imagined they’d become collectible or valuable. They were just discarded. People who saved them were keeping them for aesthetic reasons.”

What makes this poster so successful? “It’s a simple, strong image that gets across the concept of what the festival was,” he says. “And it was a departure from the psychedelia as well. Lots of posters were trippy, intricate and complicated. This is simplistic.”

How to bid: The artwork-only original Woodstock concert poster is lot #89705 in Heritage Auctions’s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on June 17 and 18 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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

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SOLD! Heritage Sold the 1907 Ty Cobb Baseball Postcard That Cobb Used and Mailed for $84,000–Seven Times Its Estimate

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UPDATE: The 1907 Ty Cobb baseball postcard, which Cobb used and mailed just before playing his first World Series game, commanded $84,000–seven times its estimate.

What you see: A 1907 Seamless Steel Tubes postcard picturing Ty Cobb in his rookie year. Cobb wrote a message on it and mailed it from Chicago on October 7, 1907, the day before he played in the World Series against the Cubs, who ultimately won in four games. Heritage Auctions estimates the postcard at $10,000 plus.

What Cobb wrote on the postcard: “Well, we have won the pennant and here for world series. I led in hitting, stolen bases 60, assists, and second 100 runs, hit 355 unofficially – hope you lots of luck, will be glad to hear at any time. Royston GA., have an offer to go with all-Americans out to California. Excuse this advertising card.”

So, just how rare is this? “The card itself, without writing, is $3,500 to $5,000 because a handful of them are known,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon. “A note on a vintage card is extremely hard to find, and a message from a player is very, very rare.”

This 1907 baseball postcard was commissioned by a Detroit factory that made exhaust systems for steam locomotives–not a tobacco company or a gum manufacturer. Why would a company like that want to offer something like this? “It was based out of Detroit, and using players was common,” says Calderon. “Considering how rare the card is, it probably wasn’t produced in large numbers. It may have been just a giveaway [in Detroit] by the company.”

Who did Cobb send this to? Tom Bird, who was a teammate of his when he was playing in the minor leagues with the Augusta Tourists. The postcard has descended in Bird’s family and comes directly to Heritage from them. “He probably had it sitting around and wanted to send a note. That’s one of the neat things about it,” says Calderon. “Cobb had a reputation of being a dirty player, but he signs it ‘Tyrus,’ like he’s signing a Christmas card, and he says, ‘Excuse this advertising card.’ It shows the humbler and humane side of him, which he is not known for.”

The Cobb postcard has an estimate of $10,000 and up, but as of April 24, the high bid was $28,000–$33,600 with buyer’s premium. Where do you think it is headed? “It could go to $40,000, $50,000–who knows?” says Calderon. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a used postcard like this. It’s one of a kind. On every level, it has everything. It’s Ty Cobb. It’s a full message. It’s about baseball. It’s everything a collector could want.”

How to bid: The Ty Cobb rookie postcard is lot #80708 in the May 11-13 Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction at Heritage.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD! Potter & Potter’s Genuine 19th Century Gambler’s Case Fetches $6,765

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Update: The 19th century gambler’s case sold for $6,765.

What you see: A circa 1880 American-made gambler’s case, with several sets of mother-of-pearl chips, a pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle, a full set of playing cards, a cigar cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle, a two-bladed pocket knife with a scrimshawed ivory handle, an ivory dice cup, and miscellaneous dice. Potter & Potter estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

Why would a gambler need a case with all this gear? Why not rely on house equipment? “You don’t want to miss an opportunity for a game,” says Gabe Fajuri of Potter & Potter. “You’ve got your deck of cards, your chips. Put in your ante, and let’s go.”

The lot description says this is ‘one of the few gambler’s boxes we have seen composed of apparently all-original material.’ What does that mean? “The problem is, a lot of gambler’s cases end up being put together. Collectors call those ‘fantasy pieces.’ I don’t think that’s true here,” Fajuri says. “Can I prove the dice are original to it? No. Can I prove the cigar cutter, the knife, the gun are original to it? No. But the pieces fit together. The style fits together. They all have the same age and wear. It’s what an antiques dealer would call ‘right.'”

How complete is this gambler’s case? “It’s hard to say. It’s not like this was a catalog item,” he says. “My guess is [the gambler who commissioned it] said, ‘Please make this to my specifications’ around the gun or the chips.”

Is anything in the case gaffed or altered? “There’s nothing crooked about any of this stuff,” he says. “If you find real cheating devices in a case, you almost have to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not a magician’s case. It’s not hidden away.”

Ivory and mother-of-pearl are luxury materials. Does this mean the gambler who owned this case was successful? “It could be to intimidate [other players] or put them at ease, depending on what he was going for,” he says. “Or maybe he shot somebody and took his stuff. I don’t know.”

Have you had a genuine gambler’s case before at Potter & Potter? “One or two. This is nicer,” Fajuri says. “Again, the feel, the fit, the material used to make it has a quality and an authenticity that makes me feel good about it.”

How to bid: The gambler’s case is lot 978 in Potter & Potter’s Gambling Memorabilia Auction on May 6 and 7, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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SOLD At Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: The Ringling Bros Joan of Arc Poster Collects $469

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Update: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster sold for $439.

What you see: A 1913 poster by Ringling Brothers, featuring Joan of Arc and promising a ‘Magnificent 1200 Character Spectacle.’ It’s from the Richard Bennett Collection of Circus Memorabilia. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers estimates the poster at $400 to $600.

Why is Joan of Arc on this Ringling Brothers poster? Where are the tigers, elephants, and clowns? “Circuses were not seen as the most classical or tasteful form of entertainment. To drum up business and legitimize the circus, the performers would parade through the streets dressed as classical Romans or knights with Joan of Arc,” says Nicholas Coombs, associate specialist at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “This spectacle was the first encounter the town would have with the circus, and it was a free parade down the main street.”

Why build a parade around Joan of Arc? Why would that be a draw in 1913? “Joan of Arc was a character who would have been known to a large slice of the population,” he says. “Ringling Brothers tried to appeal to as many people as possible. Joan of Arc certainly had that sort of cache among everyday, average Americans.”

What would the parade-goers have seen? “It would have been a fully-costumed production,” he says. “They probably tried to have as large a French army as possible, dressed up as knights. They tried to depict a mighty spectacle to get people to go to the circus later. They would have showed some animals as well.”

What other forms of entertainment was Ringling Brothers competing against in 1913? “It really didn’t have much competition,” Coombs says. “The circus was its own form of entertainment. A production this large, with thousands of people coming to your town–it was an event. Everyone came out to see it for miles around.”

The poster trumpets a 1200-person spectacle, but it only shows Joan of Arc and her horse. Is that unusual? “From the ones we’ve encountered, they try to sell the cast of a thousand characters aspect,” he says. “This stands out for its visual strength and its simplicity.”

How to bid: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster is lot 427 in the Documenting History: Science, Exploration sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on May 4, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

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SOLD! The One-of-a-Kind Mid-Century Model Airplane Soared to $11,070 at Skinner

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Update: The unique 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane fetched $11,070.

What you see: A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine. Skinner estimates the unique model plane at $6,000 to $8,000.

Who was Ernest Burke? Born in New York City in 1921, he’s best known as a Western artist, having made more than 2,500 paintings and 80 sculptures with frontier themes. His works are in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum of the American Indian, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, among others. Burke’s parents recognized his artistic talent early, and supported his pursuits. Model-making was a boyhood hobby. He would scavenge wood from fruit crates from markets around the city. Burke died in 2010.

Have you ever seen anything like this? “No, we haven’t!” says Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner. “Nothing like this–the scale, the detail, nothing like this in other auctions. We haven’t.”

What challenges did Burke face when making this model P-47 plane? “He had to do some serious legwork on trying to find the scale, and drop the scale down,” says Dowling, explaining that Burke wrote to the Republic Aviation Company to obtain blueprints of the World War II-era fighter plane. “He was almost an engineer at heart. He took his time to do research before he even attempted to create this.”

Just how faithful is this 1/12 scale model to the original? “The accuracy is incomprehensible, down to the detail of the cockpit,” Dowling says, noting that Burke worked alone over the course of nine years to complete it. His efforts paid off with a first place prize at a model plane enthusiasts’ meeting in Chicago in 1964. He retired his masterpiece after that, and never flew it again.

Does it still fly? “We have not tested it, but I would not see why it wouldn’t,” says Dowling, while pointing out that the U-control, which is a forerunner to the remote control, is not included in the lot (Burke’s heirs couldn’t find it).

What else makes it special? “I have never seen anything this accurate, this well-preserved, and this off-the-wall odd,” says Dowling. “I saw the pictures, and it didn’t do it for me. When it came through the door, it sparked my interest. They [the heirs] brought it to the lobby and we were all amazed.”

How to bid: Ernest Berke’s Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane is lot 414 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments auction at Skinner on April 28, 2017.

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

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SOLD! That Splendid 19th Century Franklin Fire Company Hat Commands $18,750 at Freeman’s

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Update: The Franklin Fire Company parade hat sold for $18,750.

What you see: A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter. Freeman’s estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

What was the Franklin Fire Company? It was one of several volunteer fire-fighting companies in pre-Civil War America. “It was kind of a club, but you didn’t just get together as a fraternity–you did something. You saved property, you saved lives. You were heroes,” says Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s. “Fires were an everyday terror in 18th and 19th century America. Heating, cooking, and lighting were all hazardous. Volunteer fire-fighters had a hugely important role to play. The company was a great melting pot. You could have laborers, lawyers, and doctors. You were selected by ballot, and not everybody got in.”

Why did someone in the Franklin Fire Company need a parade hat? “This was for special occasions, such as celebrations and competitive events. The hats emphasized their group, their fraternity,” Cain says. “It shows your affiliation. It advertised your fire department, and your membership in it.”

Who in the Franklin Fire Company would have worn this hat? Everyone would have worn matching red parade hats with Franklin’s face on the front. “These guys would have proudly gathered and marched in their groups,” she says, noting that the initials ‘W.G.’ are lettered on the crown of the hat in black and gilded paint. “They had capes, too, but fewer of those survive.”

Who painted the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the same artisan who made the hat. “It’s beautifully done,” Cain says, adding that it’s the first hat of its type with a Benjamin Franklin image to come to auction. “This particular hat has Franklin, but others had Washington, or Lafayette, or eagles, or classical figures, or scantily clad ladies in the 19th century sense.”

How rare are fire company parade hats? “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had five,” she says. “I love this hat. It’s been cleaned, but it’s in very fine shape. And Philadelphia and Franklin are a perfect pair.”

How to bid: The Franklin Fire Company parade hat is lot 148 in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on April 26, 2017.

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

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