Visions of Rome: Christie’s Could Sell a Late 19th Century Grand Tour-era Micromosaic Tabletop for $80,000

A Large Roman Micromosaic

What you see: A large Roman micromosaic tabletop, dating to the last quarter of the 19th century. St. Peter’s Square is shown in the center, surrounded by scenes of Pantheon, the Arch of Titus, the Tomb of Caecillia Metella, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, Temple of Vesta, the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Capitoline Hill. Christie’s estimates it at $50,000 to $80,000.

 

The expert: Casey Rogers, specialist of 19th Century European furniture and decorative art at Christie’s.

 

Do we know what workshop made this tabletop? In the absence of a signature, no, but there were several workshops associated with the Vatican Mosaic Studio, as well as independent mosaic studios, who had established studios near Rome’s Spanish Steps. Names which come to mind are the studios of Luigi Gallandt or Cesare Roccheggiani. They were very well-known to create mosaics of this caliber.

 

Would this have been a Grand Tour souvenir? I believe so, and it’s a very lavish one at that, given its scale and intricacy. It’s nearly 40 inches in diameter. It would have been a very special piece to bring home from one’s travels and would have certainly a conversation piece.

 

Do the landmarks depicted on the tabletop show how the Grand Tour has changed over time? Are there sites depicted here that would not have been on the Grand Tour list in previous centuries? The question is very relevant to another question you asked–is it a commission, or is it on spec? Certainly some of the larger mosaic tabletops are likely to be tailor-made for a tourist who could choose sites to visit on the Grand Tour. In terms of how it has changed over time, I can’t say. That would require more research. But I think one could tailor it–“I’d love to see scenes depicted in the souvenir I take home.”

 

Is there anything notable about how the sites are portrayed, and the order in which they are portrayed? Not specifically. It links back to the point I was just making, that you could certainly chose the types of sites that were depicted. Quite playful images could be done, tailor-made to an experience on the Grand Tour. When we speak about the imagery on the tabletop, St. Peter’s Square tends to be the focal point. We often find St. Peter’s Square in the central roundel.

 

And I take it it’s fair to assume that these sites would be far more crowded in the late 19th century than they are depicted on this tabletop? [Laughs] Certainly, and they’re not as we know them today, in modern times. It [the lack of crowds in the images of the Roman landmarks] also speaks to the mosaic itself, and the difficulty of making it. We find some mosaics that are more heavily populated. It’s a testament to the mosaicists’ meticulous skill when there’s more people in the scene. The number of tourists shown would have been a mark of the expense and the skill of the work.

 

Is this a one-off, or have you seen other tables with tops that look like this? We certainly have sold and seen tables with very similar compositions to this. No two are alike. We have also seen a number of smaller scale.  Presently, this size was the largest known to be available.

 

Do the mosaicists rely on a template? There’s a template to it, but every mosaic’s size and scene is unique because of the craftsmanship. Each has its own nuances that sets it apart from the last, but the template is there.

 

Would it have been made on speculation or would it have been a commission? In this case, it’s very tough to say. The records aren’t there. I can say the mosaicists were very attuned to the tastes of their clients who came to Rome and to the sites on the Grand Tour. There were examples that could be acquired quickly, and others that were special commissions.

 

What can we know by looking how difficult the tabletop would have been to make? Micromosaics are a marvel of technique. What’s so incredible about the work is its painterly quality. As you stand back, you may mistake the surface as a painting, but as you delve more into the nuance and intricacy of the piece we can discern each glass piece (tessera) and understand that each was laid individually as one would do a paint-by-number.

 

The glass would be custom-colored? Absolutely, and hand-cut and hand-laid in the design created by the studio.

 

Do we know how many tesserae were used to make this tabletop? Thousands upon thousands, each individually hand cut and placed according to a specific design or vista.

 

How long might it have taken to make something like this? It is difficult to say work-to-work, but depending on the magnitude of a tabletop or panel, the work could have been executed over months and up to a year. In terms of technique, the mosaic workshops – such as those at the Vatican Mosaic Studio – originally used cubic tesserae, known as smalti, made from ground glass and baked in an oven like enamel. By the 1760s this art had been so perfected that it was possible to produce rods or threads of colored glass, called smalti filati, thin enough to be cut into the minute tesserae used on this table top. These tiny individual tesserae, in an almost limitless palette of as many as 28,000 colors, allowed truly painterly compositions.

 

Is there anything we can say about the borders and rings–the geometric border sandwiched by malachite, and the scalloped border between the center panel and the outer panels? Are these the sorts of designs that appear on tabletops such as these, or would they have had symbolic meanings? The neoclassical flourishes are nods to the antique and neoclassical trends that grew out of the discoveries of the sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the 18th century. They launched a revival of ancient styles. Another [reason to] make the decorations [is] to convey the mosaicist’s skill level and convey the luxury of expensive materials like malachite [the green stone that comprise the two outer rings of the tabletop].

 

Would it have come with a matching chair? I would say not. You’re probably bringing the tabletop itself home. It may be mounted to a very subdued ebonized base. It comes down to collectors and their aesthetics. We find a wide variety of table bases.

 

And the base would not have been made by the same studio? No. I think the studio could make them available.

 

Would this tabletop have been viewed as a piece of art or a piece of furniture? My hope is it functioned as a piece of art given the difficulties of how it was made. It continued to be treated as such by collectors and the market in general. In contemporary interiors, [you’d get] a glass top for the table if you chose to use the table to protect the mosaic itself. I absolutely think it was made as a work of art, a souvenir to take home to remember one’s experiences by. That’s why you see so many in great condition. They’ve been preserved as works of art.

 

What do we know about the provenance of this piece? It’s from a private family collection in the south. The family passed it from generation to generation. I don’t believe their relatives necessarily acquired it on the Grand Tour in the mid-19th century, but we know them to have had it in their possession by the early 20th century.

 

What condition is this tabletop in? This one has had a break or two to it. It’s been extremely well restored by a very well-versed conservator. It is not in perfect condition, but it’s in good condition considering it’s over 170 years old.

 

Is it heavy? Yes, very. [Laughs] It’s got weight to it. It’s several hundred pounds. It’s set into black marble surrounding a wood base. It’s very hefty. In terms of moving it safely, you’ll want professional art movers.

 

What is it like in person? What I love about micromosaics is they’re extremely photogenic. The catalogs in print and online give a good indication of the execution level of the mosaic. What you can’t get in the photo is being able to walk up to the glass and inspect the fine detail. In the Parthenon, you can see little flourishes that convey the carving in the friezes. Taking the time to inspect it is a real joy.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s the seemingly impossible craftsmanship and the magnitude of the work of creating it. I can view it several times over and I think I know every nuance, but I pick up something new when I come back to it 20 minutes later.

 

How to bid: The large Roman micromosaic tabletop is lot 101 in The Collector: English & European 18th & 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on April 9, 2019.

 

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.

 

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

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

 

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SOLD! Potter & Potter Sold the Circa 1880s Will & Finck Brass Sleeve Holdout Device for Cheating at Cards for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Will & Finck circa 1880s brass sleeve holdout sold for $9,000.

 

What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

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

 

Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.

 

How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.

 

It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]

 

And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]

 

Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.

 

Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.

 

Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?

 

Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.

 

Have you tried it on? No.

 

How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.

 

How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.

 

How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.

 

The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]

 

How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

 

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.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

SOLD! Summers Place Sold the Segment of the Berlin Wall For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The segment of the Berlin Wall offered by Summers Place in lot 22 sold for £15,000, or about $19,700. The smaller segment offered in lot 23 fetched £6,250, or about $8,200.

 

What you see: An original four-piece segment of the Berlin Wall, standing almost 12 feet high, almost eight feet deep, and spanning more than 15 feet (including the base slabs). It once belonged to the Parliament of Trees memorial in Berlin. The German phrase stencil-graffitied on the section, spoken by then-German president Richard von Weizsäcker, translates as: “To Unite Means to Learn to Share”. Summers Place Auctions estimates it at £12,000 to £18,000 ($15,600 to $23,400).

 

The expert: James Rylands, director of Summers Place.

 

For those who don’t remember the Berlin Wall, let’s talk about it–why did it go up? Why was it notorious? Why was its dismemberment celebrated? The Berlin Wall was one of the most defining things of the 20th century, from a physical and a psychological point of view. It went up in 1961, and a huge amount of East Germans fled to the west by the time it went up. Something like 20 percent of the population fled to the west. It was put up by the German Democratic Republic, which is an oxymoron–it was an Eastern Bloc Soviet state that restricted movement, and personal movement. Barbed wire went up overnight, and over 10 to 15 years, they refined the wall. It became more elaborate and secure. Literally overnight, families were divided.

 

How many people tried to breach the Berlin Wall? About 5,000 did. We don’t know [exactly] how many died [in their attempt to escape], but it was about 150.

 

Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? I remember it very well. I’m 60, and I remember it so clearly. Through the Cold War years, we thought we would all die in our beds [from a nuclear bomb dropped by the USSR]. Total obliteration. When the wall came down, it was just huge. Scenes of euphoria. The Berlin Wall was a very obvious physical manifestation of the regime. It went from people attacking it as a symbol of oppression to being attacked by souvenir hunters. It became an instrument of capitalism, people chipping off sections and selling souvenirs. In the news section of our site, we have a story about 16 places around the world where sections of the Berlin Wall ended up–South Korea, the Vatican, Schengan in Luxembourg–it’s worth reading. The Berlin Wall ran for 96 miles, and most of it was turned to rubble and used to build highways.

 

The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those ‘where were you when’ moments, but it’s unusual for being a happy moment. Most of those moments–Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11–are tragic. This isn’t. You’re right. It rarely gets concrete.

 

Literally! Exactly.

 

It must have been a heck of a party when the Berlin Wall came down. Can you imagine the hangovers after that?

 

I see in the lot notes that the Berlin Wall section in lot 22 stands almost 12 feet tall, but what does it weigh? It’s in four sections, and each bit weighs just under four tons. All together [with the base slabs] it’s about 15 tons, total.

 

The dimensions note that the section is more than 15 feet wide “overall.” What does that mean here? [In the photo ] you can see a bit that hasn’t been painted–

 

Like a stand? Yes. The same thing goes out on the other side. Front to back.

 

So the wall section sits on slabs? Yes. It’s not an easy thing to hop over, especially considering it [the vertical surface] would have been smooth, and it had things [deterrents] on the top as well. To get over that was quite a feat.

 

And this was once part of the Parliament of Trees monument in Berlin, but it was deaccessed? When? Artist Ben Wagin painted on it in 1990, when it became part of the Parliament of Trees. They [the stewards of the monument] built out at that stage and sold it or disposed of it [to reshape the monument]. The consigner acquired it literally after they sold it [later in 1990].

 

So the section was part of the Parliament of Trees very briefly, and then it was released? I think it was. With the Parliament of Trees, parts were moved because they were putting up other buildings on it [the site].

 

How did Wagin choose the von Weizsäcker quote–“To Unite Means to Learn to Share”–to stencil on this segment of the wall? Von Weizsäcker was then president of Germany, commenting on gathering and sharing. West Germany was one of the few countries that could afford to make that happen, to underwrite the whole of East Germany. It was only 45 years since World War II, and then it underwrote a whole new country.

 

Do you know how many other pieces of the Berlin Wall have gone to auction? I’ve been doing sales for 30 years. I started four years before the wall came down. This is the first time I’ve seen or been aware of a large section going up for sale.

 

How did you set the estimate? That was the most difficult thing of all. Most things in an auction have an intrinsic value. With something like this, I’m selling chunks of concrete. What price do you put on the provenance and the history? I think it’s a modest estimate. If it [and its consecutive sister lot] fetch £100,000, I’d be pleased and not surprised.

 

Were the two lots of Berlin Wall segments consigned by the same person? Yes.

 

What is the segment with the Von Weizsäcker quote on it like in person? It’s powerful. It’s got a real wow factor. We’ve got seven acres on the Summers Place grounds. We only managed to stand one section up. [They had crane issues.] A point I should make is it’s equally at home outside as inside. In a modern building, a corporate building, a museum with a glass atrium, it will look stunning. It really will. Brutalism and urban street art–it combines the two.

 

How will you sell the Berlin Wall segment on the day? I take it you won’t do the auction outdoors in England in March… Bear in mind that a lot of what we sell is very big. In the sale room, each lot will go up on a TV screen.

 

Who do you think is going to buy this? Who is the audience? In a way, that’s what makes it a rich man’s lot. It’s going to be an institution or someone with a sufficient indoor-outdoor space. And I don’t preclude selling this to the Russians. We sell quite a lot to Russians. I just pray, and this is me taking off my auctioneer hat here, I hope it ends up in a public institution.

 

What about an ex-East German? People who were young when it came down… Berlin is a rich city now. What a wonderful thing, to buy it back.

 

How to bid: The segment of the Berlin Wall is lot 22 in the Garden and Natural History sale on March 12, 2019 at Summers Place Auctions.

 

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.

 

Summers Place Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

 

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

Potter & Potter Has a Circa 1880s Will & Finck Brass Sleeve Holdout–A Device for Cheating at Cards–Which Could Sell for $6,000

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What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

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

 

Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.

 

How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.

 

It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]

 

And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]

 

Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.

 

Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.

 

Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?

 

Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.

 

Have you tried it on? No.

 

How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.

 

How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.

 

How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.

 

The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]

 

How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

 

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.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

SOLD! Bonhams Sold the Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Ruby Eagle Carving For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio ruby carving of a spread-winged eagle sold for $62,575.

 

What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

 

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

 

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

 

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

 

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

 

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

 

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

 

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

 

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

 

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

 

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

 

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

 

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

 

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

 

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

 

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

 

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

 

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

 

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

 

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

 

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

 

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

 

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

 

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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Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

 

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

 

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Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Carved This Eagle Sculpture from a Ruby. Yes, a Ruby. Bonhams Could Sell It for $35,000.

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What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

 

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

 

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

 

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

 

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

 

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

 

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

 

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

 

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

 

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

 

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

 

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

 

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

 

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

 

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

 

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

 

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

 

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

 

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

 

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

 

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

 

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

 

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

 

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.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

 

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

 

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

An Original Segment of the Berlin Wall Could Command More Than $23,000 at Summers Place

berlinwall_08a.300dpi

What you see: An original four-piece segment of the Berlin Wall, standing almost 12 feet high, almost eight feet deep, and spanning more than 15 feet (including the base slabs). It once belonged to the Parliament of Trees memorial in Berlin. The German phrase stencil-graffitied on the section, spoken by then-German president Richard von Weizsäcker, translates as: “To Unite Means to Learn to Share”. Summers Place Auctions estimates it at £12,000 to £18,000 ($15,600 to $23,400).

 

The expert: James Rylands, director of Summers Place.

 

For those who don’t remember the Berlin Wall, let’s talk about it–why did it go up? Why was it notorious? Why was its dismemberment celebrated? The Berlin Wall was one of the most defining things of the 20th century, from a physical and a psychological point of view. It went up in 1961, and a huge amount of East Germans fled to the west by the time it went up. Something like 20 percent of the population fled to the west. It was put up by the German Democratic Republic, which is an oxymoron–it was an Eastern Bloc Soviet state that restricted movement, and personal movement. Barbed wire went up overnight, and over 10 to 15 years, they refined the wall. It became more elaborate and secure. Literally overnight, families were divided.

 

How many people tried to breach the Berlin Wall? About 5,000 did. We don’t know [exactly] how many died [in their attempt to escape], but it was about 150.

 

Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? I remember it very well. I’m 60, and I remember it so clearly. Through the Cold War years, we thought we would all die in our beds [from a nuclear bomb dropped by the USSR]. Total obliteration. When the wall came down, it was just huge. Scenes of euphoria. The Berlin Wall was a very obvious physical manifestation of the regime. It went from people attacking it as a symbol of oppression to being attacked by souvenir hunters. It became an instrument of capitalism, people chipping off sections and selling souvenirs. In the news section of our site, we have a story about 16 places around the world where sections of the Berlin Wall ended up–South Korea, the Vatican, Schengan in Luxembourg–it’s worth reading. The Berlin Wall ran for 96 miles, and most of it was turned to rubble and used to build highways.

 

The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those ‘where were you when’ moments, but it’s unusual for being a happy moment. Most of those moments–Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11–are tragic. This isn’t. You’re right. It rarely gets concrete.

 

Literally! Exactly.

 

It must have been a heck of a party when the Berlin Wall came down. Can you imagine the hangovers after that?

 

I see in the lot notes that the Berlin Wall section in lot 22 stands almost 12 feet tall, but what does it weigh? It’s in four sections, and each bit weighs just under four tons. All together [with the base slabs] it’s about 15 tons, total.

 

The dimensions note that the section is more than 15 feet wide “overall.” What does that mean here? [In the photo ] you can see a bit that hasn’t been painted–

 

Like a stand? Yes. The same thing goes out on the other side. Front to back.

 

So the wall section sits on slabs? Yes. It’s not an easy thing to hop over, especially considering it [the vertical surface] would have been smooth, and it had things [deterrents] on the top as well. To get over that was quite a feat.

 

And this was once part of the Parliament of Trees monument in Berlin, but it was deaccessed? When? Artist Ben Wagin painted on it in 1990, when it became part of the Parliament of Trees. They [the stewards of the monument] built out at that stage and sold it or disposed of it [to reshape the monument]. The consigner acquired it literally after they sold it [later in 1990].

 

So the section was part of the Parliament of Trees very briefly, and then it was released? I think it was. With the Parliament of Trees, parts were moved because they were putting up other buildings on it [the site].

 

How did Wagin choose the von Weizsäcker quote–“To Unite Means to Learn to Share”–to stencil on this segment of the wall? Von Weizsäcker was then president of Germany, commenting on gathering and sharing. West Germany was one of the few countries that could afford to make that happen, to underwrite the whole of East Germany. It was only 45 years since World War II, and then it underwrote a whole new country.

 

Do you know how many other pieces of the Berlin Wall have gone to auction? I’ve been doing sales for 30 years. I started four years before the wall came down. This is the first time I’ve seen or been aware of a large section going up for sale.

 

How did you set the estimate? That was the most difficult thing of all. Most things in an auction have an intrinsic value. With something like this, I’m selling chunks of concrete. What price do you put on the provenance and the history? I think it’s a modest estimate. If it [and its consecutive sister lot] fetch £100,000, I’d be pleased and not surprised.

 

Were the two lots of Berlin Wall segments consigned by the same person? Yes.

 

What is the segment with the Von Weizsäcker quote on it like in person? It’s powerful. It’s got a real wow factor. We’ve got seven acres on the Summers Place grounds. We only managed to stand one section up. [They had crane issues.] A point I should make is it’s equally at home outside as inside. In a modern building, a corporate building, a museum with a glass atrium, it will look stunning. It really will. Brutalism and urban street art–it combines the two.

 

How will you sell the Berlin Wall segment on the day? I take it you won’t do the auction outdoors in England in March… Bear in mind that a lot of what we sell is very big. In the sale room, each lot will go up on a TV screen.

 

Who do you think is going to buy this? Who is the audience? In a way, that’s what makes it a rich man’s lot. It’s going to be an institution or someone with a sufficient indoor-outdoor space. And I don’t preclude selling this to the Russians. We sell quite a lot to Russians. I just pray, and this is me taking off my auctioneer hat here, I hope it ends up in a public institution.

 

What about an ex-East German? People who were young when it came down… Berlin is a rich city now. What a wonderful thing, to buy it back.

 

How to bid: The segment of the Berlin Wall is lot 22 in the Garden and Natural History sale on March 12, 2019 at Summers Place Auctions.

 

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.

 

Summers Place Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

 

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