Chirp! A Jess Blackstone Robin Carving Sold for… (Scroll Down and See)

A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969.

Update: The Jess Blackstone robin sold for $584.

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

Did Jess Blackstone live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

How prolific was Jess Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

What do we know about how Jess Blackstone worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

Where do collectors put Jess Blackstone bird carvings? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone bird carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

What is this Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

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

A William Henry Harrison Campaign Pitcher Could Sell for $30,000

A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign for president.

What you see: A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign for president. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $30,000.

The expert: Don Ackerman, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’s historical Americana & political department.

Who would have bought this pitcher in 1840? Or did Harrison make them to give away to his most ardent supporters? A lot of the campaign items from that period were utilitarian objects. In contrast to campaign buttons or ribbons that you wore to a rally, you’d display the pitcher in your home, and you could use it. I don’t think he gave it away. It was not cheap to produce. If you were a diehard supporter, you’d buy it and put it in your house. After the election, you didn’t throw it out. It had long-term value.

Was the ceramic pitcher a common form for campaign memorabilia in 1840? It was a fairly common form. Pitchers made of soft paste porcelain and china have a history. Before America became independent, there was a 1766 teapot that said ‘No Stamp Act’. That’s certainly one of the earliest political items. After the Revolutionary War, you’d often see Liverpool jugs, which were imported from England. America had very little in the way of pottery. Though England lost the war, they produced patriotic pitchers and tankards for the U.S. because there was demand for them.

William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office, so there’s little to collect from his time as president. I imagine there’s much more material from his days as a candidate? You get a lot of stuff for William Henry Harrison and practically nothing for his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Harrison had a highly organized campaign and it caught the public’s attention more than any other campaign before that time. 1840 stands out for a flourishing of political items and material, and probably 95 percent of it was for William Henry Harrison.

Why was that? Was Harrison a marketing and branding wizard, or was the demand for Harrison stuff that strong? I think there was demand for it. His was the first campaign with an icon–the log cabin and the hard cider barrel. Previously, you didn’t have symbols representing the candidates. Harrison came up with the log cabin and the hard cider barrel, and it caught fire.

We think that four or five of these ceramic pitchers survive, but do we have any idea how many might have been made? They probably made very few of them. It was made by an American pottery company.

So you get cross-competition for this pitcher from collectors of American ceramics? Yes. Pottery people really like it. This is the pinnacle of political pottery from 1840. There’s probably fewer than ten examples in existence. When these come up for auction, they consistently sell for a lot of money.

How do the decorations on the pitcher reflect William Henry Harrison’s campaign imagery? It’s got the log cabin and the hard cider barrel.

Where is the hard cider barrel? Below the window of the log cabin. It was a popular image because Harrison was meant to be a man of the people. Contrast that with Martin Van Buren, who was considered a New York elitist who’d sit in the White House and sip Champagne from a silver goblet. The hard cider barrel was originally a criticism of Harrison–that he was a country bumpkin, and if he was given a pension he’d be content to sit in a log cabin and sip hard cider. Of course by that time he was living in a mansion, but he presented himself as born in and lived in a log cabin, and an Ohio farmer, like Cincinnatus, going back to his farm after the war.

Does the pitcher have every element that a William Henry Harrison collector would want? No, it doesn’t, but it’s got the essentials. It doesn’t say “The Hero of Tippecanoe,” and it doesn’t show a canoe. [Yes, Harrison was the ‘Tippecanoe’ in ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,’ and that slogan is not on the pitcher, either.] He was sometimes called the “Farmer of North Bend.” Here he’s the “Ohio Farmer.” It lacks the symbol of the Whig party, which was the raccoon–

Wait, wait, wait. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon? What is it with American political parties choosing non-heroic animals to represent them? The raccoon goes with the rustic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type of thing. These guys were trappers. They trapped animals, sold the hides, and made stew out of the meat.

This pitcher was a functional object. Does it show any signs of use? Not really. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s got some discoloration on the inside, and it’s got a crack and a chip [which you can see on the spout of the pitcher]. Obviously, it was used. The crack and the chip can be restored, and the stains can be bleached out. Even with the defects, it’s probably the nicest one [of the surviving pitchers] I’ve seen. A lot of them have cracks and tend to be highly discolored.

Another example of the William Henry Harrison pitcher went to auction at Heritage in December 2016, selling for $37,500. But do you remember if and when one of these pitchers went to auction before then? This one and the one sold in 2016 are the only two I remember in political memorabilia auctions. I know of five examples, and I’ve been collecting for 54 years. They’re highly prized. I don’t think I’ve seen one sold for under $20,000, even going way, way back. This is the Cadillac. It’s got four portraits. It was made in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s big. It’s got great graphics. It’s rare. If you can afford it, it’s a great item to have.

How to bid: The William Henry Harrison ceramic pitcher is lot #43039 in the David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential & Political Americana, Part IV sale, which takes place on November 10 and 11 at Heritage 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.

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Earlier in 2018, Don Ackerman spoke to The Hot Bid about a William McKinley campaign poster, also from the David and Janice Frent Collection, which sold for $11,875.

Did you just realize that “William Henry Harrison” scans just like “Alexander Hamilton”? No need to write a Hamilton parody. Actor Jason Kravitz beat you to it.

Image is courtesy of Heritage 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.

Chirp! Skinner Has a Flock of Jess Blackstone Bird Carvings, Including a Robin That Could Fly Away With $500

1576Miniature birds “Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone”

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

Did Jess Blackstone live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

How prolific was Jess Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

What do we know about how Jess Blackstone worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

Where do collectors put Jess Blackstone bird carvings? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone bird carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

What is this Jess Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

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

A Snap Wyatt Sideshow Banner of a Headless Girl Could Sell for $2,000

A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion.

What you see: A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion. Potter & Potter estimates it at $1,500 to $2,000.

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

How rarely do sideshow banners painted by Snap Wyatt come to auction? I don’t know that it’s unusual. They’re out there. Remember, Wyatt said he could paint one banner per day.

Where does Snap Wyatt rank among the known sideshow banner painters? And is this the largest group of Snap Wyatt banners you’ve offered at the same time? He ranks in the top three, top five. And yes, it is the largest group. Usually we get them one or two at a time, if at all.

How does this Snap Wyatt banner compare to the other Snap Wyatt banners in the auction? It’s in better condition than some of the others. But it’s so hard to say–tastes vary widely. One banner in there shows a magician, and someone will want that who’s interested in magic. Some might be interested in the Headless Girl because they like a woman in a bikini.

Snap Wyatt signed this banner. Is that unusual? No, he usually put his stencil signature on them. There are many unsigned examples [of sideshow banners] but I think people like examples by known painters–Sigler, Johnson, Wyatt.

How do you know Wyatt painted this banner around 1965? It’s an educated guess based on its style and condition. It’s not an earlier banner because it’d be a lot rougher as far as condition. Johnny Meah gave me insight into when and how Wyatt worked.

Do sideshow banner collectors avoid banners that don’t show enough signs of having been on the road? I think something collectors look for are show-used banners–ones you can prove were used in a particular show at a particular time. That is to the good. I don’t know that that’s the case here.

Would people who paid to enter the sideshow in 1965 because this banner caught their eye have seen a headless girl illusion that looks like this? [Laughs] No. They would not have seen it in this way, no. It was the equivalent of a line illustration in the Johnson Smith catalog. The difference between imagination and reality is pretty stark.

How far off would it be from what we see on the banner? It’d be different in that she wouldn’t be sitting sideways, she wouldn’t be in a bikini, and a thing would be attached to her head in place of her head, like the apparatus we’re selling in lot 646. This is very casual-looking, as if she’ll get up and walk around. In a ten-in-one [a sideshow that offered ten acts in one venue for one price], she’d sit in a chair, and there’d be someone next to her, the demonstrator of the attraction, fiddling with knobs on a blinking control board or pouring fluid into tubes leading to her neck, explaining how she survives. He might hand her things to prove she’s alive and not a robot. Since she’s not getting up out of the chair and can’t talk, she’s going to need some help.

Is the headless girl illusion a standard sideshow attraction? I would say it’s a classic,  a fairly common thing. It was exhibited at Coney Island for years.

Did the headless girl just sit there, or did she do things? She could have done any number of things. She definitely moved around to prove she was not a wax figure or a mannequin. She could have written on a blackboard, anything to prove she was alive.

How similar would the circa 1965 headless girl apparatus have been to the one you’re offering in lot 646? The method is basically unchanged. The way it works now is identical to the way it worked then. There would have been tubes or a metal apparatus coming out of her neck. Perhaps they dressed it up in different ways, with different headpieces, or different sets of tubes and a lot of things on the side to “keep her alive.”

So you can guess where the headless girl’s head is pretty easily. It depends on how careful the exhibitor is. The illusion can be quite good. It’s up to them to set it up correctly. A lot of show operators didn’t care in the sense that they’d gotten your money. You can still buy the workshop plans from Abbott Magic in Michigan, if you want, and build your own. I think the plans are $5. [He remembered correctly. The plans are $5 as of October 2018.]

And the illusion doesn’t look like the banner. They all have something sticking out of her head. It’s not simply a headless woman.

How much would the banner be worth if the artist was anonymous? The banner market is not what it used to be, but I don’t think it would change it tremendously. If it’s anonymous, it’s a 20 to 30 percent difference.

What does the Johnny Fox provenance add to the banner’s value? I think it adds a little bit to it. A lot of people are interested in Johnny Fox. If you look on Facebook, there are memorials to him. He had a lot of friends. He performed for 37 seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. They named a stage after him in tribute to him. A lot of people fondly remember Fox and his museum.

What are the odds that the same bidder buys the Headless Girl banner and the headless woman apparatus? About 50/50. I think there’s a good chance someone will buy the prop and use it. I think a collector will buy the banner.

How to bid: The Headless Girl sideshow banner is lot 8 in Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox, a sale that takes place November 10, 2018 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 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

A Bronze Model of The Vendôme Column Could Sell for $60,000

A French patinated bronze model of the Vendôme Column, made circa 1835 and standing just over five feet tall.

What you see: A French patinated bronze model of the Vendôme Column, made circa 1835 and standing just over five feet tall. Christie’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

The expert: David Weingarten, a partner in Piraneseum, the gallery that consigned the work. Piraneseum focuses on artwork and souvenirs of the Grand Tour, a trip through Europe that wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their educations in the 17th through 19th centuries.

Let’s start with Trajan’s Column and why Napoleon would want his own version of it. One emperor liked the way another emperor was remembered. [Laughs] There are other parallels of Napoleonic France to Imperial Rome, but Napoleon saw himself in the same light as Trajan, as an equal. The Vendôme Column is very closely modeled on Trajan’s Column. The initial statue of Napoleon at the column’s summit had him dressed in a toga, like a Roman emperor. The column was part of a much wider enthusiasm in this period for Roman architecture and art, which in Paris included the Arc de Triomphe, which was modeled on the Arch of Titus, and the Luxor obelisk, which was retrieved from Egypt, just as the Romans had. There are more ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome than in Egypt!

How did the artisans create such a precisely detailed replica of Trajan’s column around 1835, when they would have had to rely on sketches and engravings instead of photography? Rome wasn’t so terribly far away. They had very accurate records of it in the beginning of the 19th century. The Vendôme Column’s details are quite different, of course. Trajan’s Column depicts him humiliating the Dacians. The Vendôme Column shows Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, with French cannons and horses. Trajan had different actors and different weapons.

So this is an update? A refresh. Column 2.0. [Laughs]

Does the Napoleon statue on the top date-stamp it to 1835? One of the most interesting things about the Vendôme Column is how it’s changed dramatically over time. When it went up, there was no statue on the top. Then there was a fleur-de-lis, then a flag, then a statue of Napoleon in a toga. Then the people who were politically in charge, Napoleon’s family, didn’t care for the toga statue. That’s when Le Petit Corporal went up [the Napoleon statue on this model]. It lasted until the 1860s, when Napoleon’s grandchildren thought it was demeaning, and put up a new statue of Napoleon in a toga.

Was this a souvenir of the Grand Tour, the trip through Europe that rich young Englishmen took after they finished school, or was this a custom commission of some sort? It wasn’t like a souvenir that you go down to the souvenir shop and get. It certainly is the right period, and it’s a very grand sort of thing. You get the grandest of the Grand Tourists bringing this thing back.

Is it solid or hollow? And do we know why the finish looks black? The Vendôme Column isn’t black. The model is hollow-cast bronze, and is remarkably detailed and highly accurate. The model’s finish – a very dark, inky green – is typical of many French bronzes in this period. As you point out, this differs considerably from the monument’s green-oxidized bronze panels, which we see today. Whether this oxidized patina was original or intended, I don’t know.

How heavy is this thing? I wouldn’t say it was lightweight, but one person can lift it with no problem. You can put it on a table. It cohabitates nicely with other things of its period.

Do we know who made this model Vendôme Column? In the last 15 years, since the sale of a Vendôme Column at the Bill Blass Collection auction at Sotheby’s in 2003, there have been a half dozen or so of these offered at auction. All have shared the same general characteristics–patina, method of manufacture, topped by Le Petit Corporal, etc. And yet, there has been one intriguing difference–almost all are different heights, something very unexpected with pieces cast in a mold. This suggests there wasn’t a vendor in any conventional sense, but a foundry producing models on order, for a very limited clientele. I wish I knew the name of this foundry. Perhaps time will reveal it.

What is it like in person? The idea of a souvenir is to jog your memory, but this giant Vendôme Column inverts that idea. At the Place Vendôme, you don’t get very close to the column. The real thing is great, but you can’t see what’s going on. This column is tremendously well- and accurately detailed. You can get very close to it. The architectural experience of the model is more profound than the experience of the real thing.

How to bid: The circa 1835 Vendôme Column replica souvenir is lot 331 in The Collector: English and European 18th and 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on October 23, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! A Copy of Aurora Australis, the First Book Made in Antarctica, Fetched $97,500 at Bonhams

A copy of Aurora Australis, created by members of the 1908-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton. It is the first book to be written and produced on the continent of Antarctica.

Update: Bonhams sold the copy of Aurora Australis for $97,500.

What you see: A copy of Aurora Australis, created by members of the 1908-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton. It is the first book to be written and produced on the continent of Antarctica. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York.

So, how much of a pain in the ass was it for Shackleton and his crew to haul a printing press down to east Antarctica along with all the other stuff they needed for the 1908-1909 polar expedition? It was a small printing press, described as being the size of an oven–picture the size of a four-burner gas oven. It was a very heavy piece of equipment. And take into consideration that they brought the type and the paper and a special printing press to do etchings.

They brought two printing presses? Yes. You can’t do the printing and the etchings on the same press. The thing about Antarctic winters is they’re very dark and very cold. If you have a bunch of guys sitting in close quarters all winter, it’s great to have a project to occupy them. Shackleton, having been on previous expeditions, thought ahead and came up with an interesting project.

What challenges did the explorers face when producing the first book made in Antarctica? That was really one of the most difficult things. They were in very small quarters in extreme temperatures and dealing with poor lighting–it’s dark all winter long. They had to be incredibly careful when going about printing the thing. The type was metal, which freezes to your fingertips, and the ink congeals because of the cold. They used candles to heat up the ink, and they had to move the candle around to get the ink to the right temperature. They had to limit the number of types they brought with them, so the printer could only print two pages at a time. In addition to that, the floors were filthy and it was damp everywhere. They needed to keep the pages dry. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to produce a fair number of copies under those conditions.

The lot notes say there’s a blind-stamped penguin motif on the spine of Aurora Australis. What is blind-stamping, and how did the explorers apply the motif? Blind-stamping means there isn’t any color used. It’s just the impression of the stamp. They must have brought a hand tool with them to decorate the binding. Shackleton sent two or three crew members to a London print shop to apprentice for two or three weeks before the expedition. They probably arrived at a penguin as a printer’s device, which would have been metal on a wooden handle. They would have pressed it against the spine to bang it into the spine’s leather before it was bound.

How often have copies of Aurora Australis come up at auction? It’s an incredibly rare book that doesn’t come up often. The initial idea was they would print 100 copies of the book, but in a letter Shackleton wrote to Pierpont Morgan he says they bound 80 copies. A good third of them are in institutions. The others are very likely in private collections. I checked the auction records and seven copies have been offered in the U.S. and Europe in the last 20 years. This is the third copy that we have handled.

To make the covers of the copies, the explorers scavenged wood from their own expedition supply crates. The covers of this book have the word ‘OATMEAL’ stenciled on one side and ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’ on another. How does the presence of those words and partial words affect the book’s value? That is to be determined, but this copy in particular is great because it has the full word ‘OATMEAL’ on it and the truncated ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’. It’s incredibly beautiful and makes it attractive to have. Others just say ‘BUTTER’ or ‘BAKED BEANS’. Having the ‘OATMEAL’ and the extra bits on the back is very attractive. As a collector I’d definitely be drawn to a copy because of its stenciling and wording.

I take it more than one group of collectors will be interested in this copy of Aurora Australis. How many different constituencies will be in the hunt? Anyone who collects travel and exploration is interested. Then there are people who collect books on the Arctic and Antarctic. And I would say this is considered a high-spot publication because it was the first book printed on Antarctica. It’s a very cool book. There are collectors who go for the best of the best, and this book appeals to those collectors. People collecting limited editions would go after this as well. It’s not just the first book printed in Antarctica–the explorers looked after the aesthetic beauty of the book. If you look at the colophon page, the typography is beautiful, and it’s printed in two colors, red and black. It indicates the book was published as a fine press book.

What condition is this copy in? It’s in good condition. There’s some slight rubbing to the leather spine, which is kind of inevitable. The boards are perfect.

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about Aurora Australis as a book first and as symbol of Shackleton and polar exploration, but I haven’t heard much about its actual contents. Is Aurora Australis a good book? [Laughs] Well, I haven’t read through it. It’s fun. Many people who were on the expedition were published authors. There is some talent there, but there aren’t earth-shattering, amazing stories.

What’s the world auction record for a copy of Aurora Australis? It’s £122,500, ($185,894), set at the Franklin Brooke-Hitching sale at Sotheby’s in 2015. That collection was incredibly beautiful. Brooke-Hitching was one of those collectors who collected the absolute best copies he could get. Everything in that sale achieved enormous prices. Our copy is estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 and I would expect it to go in that range.

Why will this book stick in your memory? It’s about the whole discussion we had about producing something blindfolded, essentially. It’s incredible to have it bound on these boards. You feel like you’re close to the event. To have an object that was produced there, with materials there, the shipping crates–that’s one of a kind. I’ll never forget that.

How to bid: The copy of Aurora Australis, the first book made in Antarctica, is lot 55 in Bonhams‘s Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana sale scheduled for September 25, 2018.

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Ian Ehling spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo that ultimately sold for $17,500.

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SOLD! A Piano-playing Automaton Commanded $11,000 at Bertoia

A piano-playing automaton, created by Gustave Vichy between 1890 and 1910.

Update: The Gustave Vichy piano-playing automaton sold for $11,000.

What you see: A piano-playing automaton, created by Gustave Vichy between 1890 and 1910. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

What is an automaton? It’s a form of robot or proto-computer that’s designed to entertain. The machine executes a series of movements or acts in a specific order, such as performing a magic trick or riding a bicycle. Clock- and watchmakers naturally gravitate to building automata because many of them run on clockwork. If you have a cuckoo clock in your house, you own an automaton.

The expert: Jeanne Bertoia, proprietor of Bertoia Auctions.

This is described as a “Vichy” automaton because it was made by Gustave Vichy, a French designer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But why is it called a “Vichy Piano Watteau Automaton”? Is the “Watteau” a reference to the painter? The company catalog [which is in French] calls it “piano Watteau.” I suspect it probably has to do with the pastoral type of paintings Watteau was known for. If you look at the painting on the piano, the gold, it has a very Watteau feel.

And the figure kind of looks like a woman from a Watteau painting Yes, exactly. She’s very elaborate, with silk and lace and pearl jewelry. She has heeled shoes and stockings on. [Unfortunately, none of the photos of the lot show this.] She’s very elegant.

To when does the piano-playing automaton date? Probably 1890 to 1910, the turn of the last century. It was probably the later part of the 19th century. The peak of automata production was the mid-1800s into the 1900s. Automata were luxurious items. They had moving parts that were powered by clockwork, and they played only for about a minute.

How rarely do you find automata that have porcelain parts? It’s rarer, though it was done. There are others with porcelain parts, but most of them were papier-mâché. Some automata makers used parts from doll companies. You actually get a doll. This has a Jumeau porcelain head. Jumeau usually made French fashion dolls. The doll head is the most important part of the doll. The hands and the head are made of bisque porcelain.

Do we know how many other Vichy Watteau piano-playing automatons survive? Unfortunately, we don’t know. This is the first we’ve had the opportunity to handle, and we go back to 1986. There may be a few in some of the grander collections.

Does the piano-playing automaton have all the details and fittings it had when it was new? Can we know? We believe it’s all-original. It’s very well-taken-care-of and in generally excellent condition. It still works beautifully. The mechanism and the music functions well. In the [Vichy] catalog, it’s just a drawing. It looks the same. It has a different costume, but that doesn’t mean it was dressed differently. There was no mass-production clothing line then. A dress as elaborate as this would have been individually handmade.

Who would have been the audience for this piano-playing automaton? I’m guessing it wasn’t intended as a toy. It was probably for the newly rich. Again, it’s an elaborate, luxurious piece to own. It was not treated as a toy. It was treated as a piece of moving art.

What instrument is the figure playing? It’s a piano harp. I don’t know if it’s a real instrument. It looks pretty fanciful to me. I think those are original harp strings.

The lot notes for the automaton describe its condition as “excellent to pristine”. What does that mean in this context? It means that it’s all-original, the mechanism works, the music plays fine. Maybe there’s a little restoration to the clothing, which is very accepted.

Has it been restored, beyond touching up the dress? Not that we saw, no.

Will you post audio and video of the automaton playing the piano? Good question. We’ve been discussing it. We probably will put something on the website. We have at least a dozen different automata in the sale that are so unique.

The lot notes say that the music that the automaton plays “consists of four different ‘airs’,” which repeat. What are ‘airs’? And are any of the four pieces of music familiar to modern listeners? It’s a song, a tune, a piece of music. It’s French, it’s what they call it in the [Vichy] catalog. I don’t recognize the music. I can’t put a name to any of them.

How does the automaton move? Oh! The mechanism is fabulous! She has multiple movements. The hands gracefully move across the piano keys. Her chest breathes. The papier-mâché shoulder plate allows her to look like she’s breathing. She plays the piano, turns her head, puts her head up, and breathes in as if she’s breathing in beauty. Then she puts her head down and continues to play. That is her movement.

Have you seen other automata that simulate breathing? I haven’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others. We haven’t had such an elegant doll figure as the main part of an automaton. We have had automata with lots of movement–this is just a different style. It almost falls into the doll world. It’s a beautiful doll, gracefully playing the piano.

Was this automaton intended for girls and women? I don’t think so. It’s just an elegant piece for the times. In today’s marketplace, doll collectors are very excited to get an automaton that has such a great doll. It stands on its own as an elegant, beautiful piece. If you had a daughter who plays the piano, it’d be a fabulous gift.

How to bid: The Vichy piano Watteau automaton is lot 272 in Bertoia Auctions’s Signature Sale on September 22, 2018.

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RECORD! The Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr., Owner of Native Dancer, Sells for $100,000

A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

What you see: A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

How often do Triple Crown trophies come to auction? Infrequently, and for the Preakness, it’s even less frequently. What you normally see are Kentucky Derby Trophies. They’re highly prized by the families who win them. Kentucky Derby Trophies tend to be valuable. The race has name recognition and the trophy is made out of high-karat gold. The Preakness Trophy is made of silver. A Preakness trophy sold at Christie’s on January 17, 2008, won in 1970 by Personality, which was owned by Ethel D.Jacobs, a very notable horse owner, sort of on a par with Vanderbilt. [He later provided a link to a story that mentioned a third sale of a Preakness Trophy at SCP Auctions in November 2017. Scroll down for the mention.]

How much is this trophy worth simply as a Preakness Trophy, without factoring in the names of Vanderbilt and Native Dancer? Any winner of the Preakness would be a notable horse, bred and raised and trained by notable owners. You’ve got to go back a ways to find a no-name. The Preakness trophy was not available before 1953. The original trophy was the Woodlawn Vase, a pre-Civil War trophy made by Tiffany & Co. for a racecourse in Kentucky called Woodlawn. Not until the late 19th or the early 20th century did Pimlico host the Preakness–the vase was not made for Pimlico. It passed to the next winner until 1953, when Native Dancer won. Vanderbilt decided that the original trophy was too valuable, and should be safely held in the Baltimore Art Museum. 1953 was the first time a replica trophy was issued, and that’s what we sold. It’s notable in that it was the first one you could get. I think that helped its price in the end.

How did the Vanderbilt name affect the value of the 1953 Preakness trophy? Lots of people collect things related to prominent Vanderbilts. The cross-current of competition [with collectors of horse-racing memorabilia] helped drive the price up. This trophy belonged to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., and was sold [consigned] by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III. Vanderbilt Jr., was very influential in the history of American racing and particularly in Maryland.

And how did the Native Dancer name affect the value of the trophy? Native Dancer is one of a small group of horses that lost the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness. That’s the only mar on his record. He was a big favorite going into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. In 1953, the Preakness was shown on live television and got huge national attention. The country fell in love with Native Dancer.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $30,000? We matched the estimate on the trophy sold at Christie’s in 2008. That sold for $32,200. Ours really took off.

What is the 1953 Preakness trophy like in person? It wasn’t huge, but it was imposing, though. It had a very nice look to it, and it was in good condition. I think it was two-thirds the size of the original Woodlawn Vase. It’s a good, presentable size.

What was your role in the auction? Were you in the room? I acted as a specialist. I wrote the essay about the horse and its owner. The silver specialist cataloged it. And I was there, watching it sell. The whole thing took maybe two minutes. There was a pretty big pool of bidders that dropped down to two once it was over $60,000.

How long do you think the record will stand? I think this Preakness record should stand for a while. Probably none of the owners of horses that won the Preakness have the name recognition of the Vanderbilt family. It would probably have to belong to a horse that won the Triple Crown.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a major sports collectible, probably the highest-ranking sports collectible I’ve ever sold. It’s a case of a fantastic owner, Vanderbilt, with a fantastic horse, Native Dancer, and the Preakness. It’s hard to get trophies for major horses. That’s why it’s special. The trophy clearly spoke to a lot of people.

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Image is courtesy of Doyle.

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RECORD! Louis Eliasberg’s 1913 Liberty Head Nickel Sold for $4.5 Million

This Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.5 million, a world auction record for a coin made from a non-precious metal.

Update: The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.5 million, a world auction record for a coin made from a non-precious metal.

What you see: A 1913 Liberty Head nickel, one of five produced. Stack’s Bowers Galleries estimates it at $3 million to $5 million.

The expert: Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

I see here that five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were made–not that five survive. What do we know about how the nickels came to be? The history of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is a little murky and there’s a lot of lore to it. That’s one of the intriguing aspects of this coin. There’s no confirmed story, and there’s no U.S. Mint records surrounding the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. But there are a couple of theories. One is they were struck and exchanged with collectors for coins that were missing from the Mint’s collection. Another is they were privately struck at the Mint and they found their way onto the market, or they were struck for wealthy collectors. 1913 was the first year of the buffalo nickel. Because the buffalo design was not approved until late February of 1913, there was a two-month period in 1913 when the nickels could have been made.

And the Liberty Head design on the 1913 nickel is the same design that was on the nickel from 1883 to 1912? Yes, it’s the same. In 1913, the Mint switched to the buffalo nickel that everyone is so familiar with.

How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are in private hands? Two are permanently housed in museums–one is in the Smithsonian, and the other is in the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That leaves three in private hands.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

When was the last time a 1913 Liberty Head nickel went to auction? Two nickels were offered in 2014. They were two different specimens, and one of the two was previously offered in 2010. Prior to that, the last auction appearance was our coin in 1996. They do not come around very often.

When was this nickel graded? Was it encapsulated? It is encapsulated, and I do not have the date when it was graded. Our collector acquired it in 2007. I’m guessing it was around then.

Are the other two in private hands graded and encapsulated? And is it a tough call to seal the coin in plastic? You bring up a good point. There are a lot of benefits to certification and getting it sealed in a plastic holder. One, the coin is guaranteed to be authentic. If you’re spending a couple of million on something, an authenticity guarantee is important. Two, it’s protected. And most important of all, having it third party-graded and encapsulated is really the way the market accepts rare coins today. Everything we sell is encapsulated. It does feel a little more bit more distant because it’s in a plastic holder, but it’s really not a hard decision to have them graded.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

How does this Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel stand out from its four siblings? It’s pretty universally recognized that this is the finest of the five pieces. Ours is mirror-like, and very sharply struck. All the design shows up in the coin. It’s a 66 on a scale of 70. It’s nearly flawless. The other two in private hands have grades of 63 and 64. The others have more of a satiny finish, and other coins do show some signs of handling. The one in the ANA museum was owned by someone who carried it in his pocket, unprotected, with keys and change, and it shows significant signs of wear.

This nickel once belonged to Louis Eliasberg, a prominent American coin collector. Why was he such a big deal in the numismatic world? He was probably the most accomplished numismatist ever. Not only did he get examples of every [American] coin ever created, he got great pieces. Today, everything with an Eliasberg provenance trades at a premium.

How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels has Stack’s Bowers Galleries handled? We’ve handled four of the five. The one in the ANA museum never made it through our hands at any point.

What’s the world auction record for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel? What’s the likelihood that the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel will meet or beat that sum? In 2010, the nickel with the 64 grade sold for $3.7 million. It’s pretty likely to meet or beat the record. I’ll take the over if we’re betting. (Laughs.)

What has changed in the numismatic market between 2010 and now? The market is very strong right now. Given the fact that the coin has not been offered publicly since 1996 and may not be offered again in our lifetime, depending on who buys it, we expect a lot of competition for the coin and we expect it to do well.

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

Why will this Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel stick in your memory? It’s far and away the finest example of one of the greatest American rarities. It’s a piece of American history. It’s museum-worthy.

How to bid: The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel is lot 1096 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries‘s official auction at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money, taking place from August 14 through August 18, 2018.

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RECORD! A Deck Chair from the Titanic Sold for Almost $150,000

IMG_0162

What you see: A deck chair recovered from the ocean debris field of the Titanic after it sank in 1912. Henry Aldridge & Son sold it in April 2015 for just over £100,000, or about $150,000, setting a world auction record for a Titanic deck chair, and presumably any deck chair.

The expert: Andrew Aldridge, auctioneer.

I’m surprised that any deck chairs survived the wreck of the Titanic. How did it happen? It’s very straightforward. When any ship sinks, especially one that’s 46,000 tons and 883 feet long, there’s a lot of debris. The two main recovery ships were cable-layers that were redirected to pick up bodies. They also picked up a lot of flotsam and jetsam, not for souvenirs, but for recycling. The ship carpenter on the Mackay-Bennett would fashion something out of it [salvaged wood]. The Titanic would have had thousands of deck chairs, and they washed off the deck. They [the rescue ships] probably picked up 20 to 30 deck chairs. That small number narrows down to a handful today.

The Titanic did not have its own specific, distinctive deck chair. How do we know that this particular one was used on the Titanic and not another White Star Line vessel? They are generic deck chairs. What makes it is the provenance. [Period records show that the chair originally belonged to a French cable ship captain who was on board the Mackay-Bennett when it was diverted.] That’s one reason this chair is so desirable. To give you an example, the provenance package for this deck chair included a folder that stood an inch and a half high. You’re talking no more than a few deck chairs that could pass muster, in our opinion.

How many Titanic deck chairs have you handled? One. That shows you how rare they are.

Does the Titanic deck chair show evidence of having been in the water? There was some discoloration of the wood and oxidation of the fittings. Things like the fittings going green–you want to keep that. You don’t want to polish them to new. The conservator walked a tight line between keeping the patination and the age of it, but preserving it as well.

You’ve sold this Titanic deck chair twice, in 2001 and again in 2015. How do the two sales show how things have changed over time? In 2001 it sold for £33,500, which was then a record for a Titanic deck chair. It illustrates the difference in the market between 2001 and 2015. The one percent, the best of the best, the blue chip pieces have gone up.

When did the phrase ‘Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic‘ enter pop culture? Certainly not right after the sinking? Possibly in the 1950s. She sank in 1912 and by 1913, 1914, she was old news. People were not interested in her for decades and decades. Only in the 1950s, with A Night to Remember, did people get interested in her again. I guess it entered pop culture after that.

Did you sit on the Titanic deck chair? No. I’m 16 stone [224 pounds]. It’s not sensible. But if you’re lighter than me, yes, you could. If I was 8 stone [112 pounds] I’d happily sit on it.

What do you remember of the auction? It was 25,000 lots ago, but there was a hell of a lot of interest in it. It got to £50,000 to £60,000 quick. We opened bidding with a new record for a Titanic deck chair.

Why does the Titanic deck chair stick in your memory? We were talking before about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic–that’s your answer, really. You don’t see an object like that every day.

There were so many spectacular ocean liners, but material from the Titanic is far and away the most collectible. Why are we still fascinated with that ship? Most people don’t care how long the Titanic was or how many tons she weighed. People care about people. There were 2,200 people on that ship and every man, woman, and child had a story to tell. That’s why we still talk about it.

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Henry Aldridge & Son‘s October 22, 2018 auction will include a Titanic travel poster that touts a return voyage that never had a chance to happen.

Image is courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son.

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RECORD! A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning Sold for $929,000–a Record for Any Motorcycle at Auction

A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, one of 19 with full matching numbers [same numbers on both the frame and the engine]. Bonhams sold it in Las Vegas in January 2018 for $929,000--a record for any motorcycle at auction.

What you see: A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, one of 19 with full matching numbers [same numbers on both the frame and the engine]. Bonhams sold it in Las Vegas in January 2018 for $929,000–a record for any motorcycle at auction. (Also, scroll all the way down for news of another Vincent Black Lightning, estimated at $400,000 to $500,000, which Bonhams will offer in early October in Birmingham, Alabama.)

The expert: Ben Walker, international department director for collectors’ motorcycles at Bonhams.

Vincent Black Lightnings are rare–fewer than three dozen exist. How often do they come to auction? Before this, one came up in October 2008, a supercharged example, which was also at Bonhams. [It sold for £221,500, or about $294,149.]

Was that an auction record for a motorcycle? It was an auction record for a Vincent Black Lightning. Not overall.

The lot notes say that when this bike’s first owner offered it for sale for £500 in 1951, the sum would have bought “a couple of nice houses in Sydney at the time.” What did the buyer get for his money? He got the ultimate, the best that money could buy. If you look at the bike, this was based on the Vincent Black Shadow, which was the quickest thing you could buy. It must have been like something out of space. A sedan averaged 45 mph. The bike was capable of 150 mph. It’s phenomenal. The bike had ingenuity, it’s a beautiful object to look at, and it was extremely expensive. He got an incredible luxury product.

What did luxury mean in the context of buying the best motorcycle that 1951 had to offer? Power. Comfort. He got something that had suspension. The majority of bikes that got you to work were two-stroke things, very utilitarian. They were not designed with the ability to cover big distances at great speeds in comfort.

What makes the Vincent Black Lightning a holy grail for motorcycle collectors? Rarity, speed, and the fact that this was the fastest thing you could buy on two wheels. It was a competitive motorcycle, and people want to win. They don’t want to be at the back of the grid–they want to be at the front of the grid. This is a bike you could do that on.

The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle is described as being in “original condition.” Can you point to a specific detail on the bike that shows how original it is? The paint, the paint. I don’t want to see something that’s perfect. I want to see something that has a patina. That look is so exciting when you can find it, and so exciting when you see it. It’s as good as you can possibly get. There are Vincent Black Lightnings, and then there’s this bike. It’s high up purely on the basis of its condition. It’s not messed-with.

So it’s the best of the Vincent Black Lightnings? I have to place the Rollie Free [Vincent Black Shadow] above this. I have to. I know it’s not a Vincent Black Lightning, but it does get bracketed into the Black Lightning numbers. It’s the top of the tree, something extraordinarily special. [Free made his Black Shadow famous when he set an American land speed record on it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1948. This photo of him attempting the record while dressed in a Speedo-like bathing suit is regarded as the most famous image in all of motorcycling.] That bike sold privately in 2012 to an American collector for $1.2 million. Whether or not the bike is still worth that price or a bit more, I don’t know, but the market has changed dramatically since 2012.

But if we’re talking strictly about unambiguously counted Vincent Black Lightnings, is this one number one? It’s got to be top three. I know of other bikes. I’m fortunate enough to go to a lot of collections and see a lot of motorbikes, a lot of Vincent Black Lightnings. I can’t talk about them without betraying confidences. But this one is definitely up there.

What markings do I see on the side of the tank of the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning? It’s the Australian land speed record, which Jack Ehret set on this bike. I don’t think he held it for very long, but he had to make the point about making the Australian land speed record. [Ehret reached 141.5 mph on the motorcycle in January 1953. The inscription on the tank is visible in one of the many shots Bonhams included with the lot. You may have to scroll down to find it.] It’s a really cool little touch. To paint that bike would be sacrilege. It would be taking value off it, because it would take off the notation.

Have you ridden this 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle? Sadly not, but if you look online, on YouTube, for “Patrick Godett Vincent,” you can see a video of it being tested. It was ridden pretty extensively in the run-up to the auction.

This 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle has had five owners over 66 years. Is that an exceptionally low number of owners, or is that about what you’d expect? Does it matter? Few owners, traceable history–it’s a big benefit. You can have a vehicle with nine or ten or maybe more owners, and that makes tracing things harder. For this one, we have every owner on record up to the point of sale. It’s unusual. Each owner held the bike in high esteem.

It has fewer than 9,000 miles on its odometer. Is that unusual for a 66-year-old elite motorcycle? It’s unusually low, but maybe not for a racing bike. Racing bikes have a shelf life. They’re not really built to last more than two or three seasons, after which they’re not that competitive anymore. They become obsolete. Jack Ehret [its third owner] campaigned it for a long time and got results with it. It is low mileage, but you’re going to have limited use in racing. It’s [the low number is] not that unusual.

What was your role in the January 2018 auction of the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle? I wasn’t watching. I was on the phone to the vendor [the consigner], who could not be there. I relayed what was going on. He relayed a lot of expletives to me, but not in a bad way. [Laughs.] I’m not going to imitate a French accent–he said “sacre bleu!” but not “sacre bleu”, it was something else. The auction was quite exciting. I kept my cool. Malcolm Barber [Bonhams’s co-chair and CEO of Bonhams Asia] sold the bike. In the YouTube video, I’m pacing around in the background. [Walker is behind the Bonhams desk to the left of the stage.]

When did you know you had a new world auction record for a motorcycle? Only afterwards. You’re so focused on what’s going on. I was telling the client what was happening with the motorcycle. I was not surprised, to be honest. It deserves to be the record-holder, and it deserves to be beaten. I think there are bikes out there with potential.

What motorcycles are out there that could challenge the record? The Rollie Free Vincent Black Shadow? If it came up at auction, yes, it would, but I don’t think it will come up at auction. Thinking rare bikes again, I think Mike Hailwood’s comeback bike for the 1978 Isle of Man TT. Maybe a Lawrence of Arabia-owned Brough Superior. Two, possibly three of those survive. Steve McQueen adds value–he had some exceptional bikes. An AJS Porcupine from the mid-1950s is a potential world record. Steve McQueen’s Triumph from The Great Escape, if it ever came up. What would be interesting about that is the Triumph was used by a fictional character, versus a bike ridden by Lawrence of Arabia, who was not a fictional character.

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On October 6, 2018, Bonhams will offer an early Vincent Black Lightning at an auction scheduled during the Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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RECORD! Astronaut Dave Scott’s Apollo 17 Space-flown Robbins Medal Sells for $68,750

A space-flown Apollo 17 Robbins medal owned by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh man to walk on the moon. RR Auction sold it in September 2016 for $68,750--a record for a Robbins medal.

What you see: A space-flown Apollo 17 Robbins medal owned by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh man to walk on the moon. RR Auction sold it in September 2016 for $68,750–a record for a Robbins medal.

The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

How did Scott get this Apollo 17 Robbins medal? All astronauts had the opportunity to buy them. Dave Scott bought one for every Apollo mission, starting with Apollo 7. They’re a neat crossover between coin collecting and space flight memorabilia. These were meant for the astronauts–the general public couldn’t buy them. They had the mission logo on the front and their names [the names of the three crew members] struck on the back. They were great commemoratives.

Unlike stamps or flags, which are flat and light, silver medals have heft and weight. How did the Robbins company convince NASA to make room for several dozen medals on its Apollo spacecraft? I’m not familiar with the history of the decision. I do know it was a tradition of NASA to allow certain artifacts to be flown in space. NASA flew Robbins medals into the 1990s. It was a long tradition with the government and the astronauts.

What makes a Robbins medal valuable? Aside from being flown in space, having a letter of authenticity from an astronaut makes them extremely valuable. When Buzz Aldrin writes a letter saying, “I took this Robbins medal to the moon,” that adds value. The chain of custody matters.

If a space-flown Robbins medal lacks a letter of authenticity from an astronaut, is it still valuable? Yes. Each coin has a number stamped on its edge. We know which numbers flew [in space] and which did not. If it flew, it has value. With Dave, when he was on Apollo 15, he requested his to be number 15. Not only did he take a coin, he took a specific number because it related to the mission. I can’t imagine one more valuable.

How did Dave Scott snag the number 15 Robbins medal from the Apollo 17 series? Because he asked for it. Dave is a collector, so he understood what was neat and what made sense. These guys are engineers, they’re numbers guys.

That’s what I mean. There were two other guys on Apollo 15. How did Dave Scott claim the number 15 Apollo 17 Robbins medal for himself? Did he arm-wrestle them for it? Wrong. He was the mission commander. He outranked them. (Laughs)

How often do space-flown Robbins medals come up at auction? They appear at auction consistently, but the supply is limited and the price is going up. They’re becoming more commodified.

I understand the Robbins company struck 14-karat gold Robbins medals. How do they fit in here? They’re rarer and more desirable. They struck three to seven for each mission. All have serial numbers on them, and they were only available to the flight crew. They were made specifically to give to their wives.

Have any of the gold ones come to auction? One from Apollo 13 sold recently. We had one with a diamond in it from Apollo 11. They’re not giant coins–they’re smaller than a silver dollar, maybe a bit smaller. They’re beautiful.

Why are space-flown Apollo 17 medallions considered the most sought-after and difficult to obtain? Is it because of their limited numbers, or is it more than that? Only 80 Apollo 17 Robbins medals were flown. You can’t have a complete set of flown medals without Apollo 17. It was the last mission, and it’s rare. They come up once every couple of years, and we’re actively seeking them out. People are not willing to sell them.

This space-flown Robbins medal has a third-party grade of MS67. Did the high grade drive the medal’s record price? It was in great condition, but I don’t know if the grade made a difference to the person who bought it. He needed it for his collection.

Dave Scott is still alive. Could you talk about what prompted him to consign back in September 2016? Why did he sell the space-flown Robbins medal then? Most of the astronauts donated lots of material to universities, and a lot gave things to their children and grandchildren. There’s stuff left over that their families don’t want, and they want to get it into the hands of people who would want them. Dave Scott cares a lot. He’s got things that went to the moon, he’s in his eighties, and he’s a collector. He will write a whole dissertation about what it [a given piece he owned during his NASA career] meant. These things will be lost unless they’re documented and put in the hands of people. On a side note, Alan Shepard lived in Derry, New Hampshire. His family had a garage sale. Someone bought a bureau for $50, and in it was a letter he wrote to his parents, talking about being considered for the Mercury 7 selection program. We sold it for $106,000. These astronauts–if things are not documented and curated, they’ll be put on the curb, like [those countless mothers who infamously threw out their kids’] baseball cards. It happens! (Laughs)

What was the previous record for a space-flown Robbins medal? Was it an Apollo 11? We sold an Apollo 11 for $56,000. It was an interesting one, owned by a nephew of Neil Armstrong, but it wasn’t the previous record. In May 2013, we sold Gene Cernan’s Apollo 17 Robbins medal for $61,000. The Apollo 17, because it’s rarest, sold for more.

The September 2016 auction took place entirely online. When did you know you had a record for a space-flown Robbins medal? We realized it that night, and we put a press release out right away. We’re very proud every time we set a record.

How long do you think the record for a space-flown Robbins medal will stand? I don’t know, but records are made to be broken. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coming up, we may see a lot of excitement in the space collectibles market. The attention is going to be intense. I wouldn’t be surprised if we break the record in a year or two.

What else could challenge it? Maybe Neil Armstrong’s 14-karat gold Robbins medal?   I don’t know if that’s ever going to come to market. If it did, it would have a pretty high estimate. It would be incredibly valuable, and it would break the record.

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Image is courtesy of RR Auction.

Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cardini tuxedo did exceptionally well, selling for $72,000 against an estimate of $2,500 to $3,500, but almost everything in the 2013 Cardini auction did exceptionally well. You sold the last pair of gloves he wore on stage for $26,400 against an estimate of $800 to $900. You sold his monocle for $12,000 against an estimate of $1,200 to $1,500. You sold his bow tie for $10,800 after estimating it at $300 to $500. Why was the Cardini auction such a big hit? It was a big breakout sale for us. We had Cardini’s whole life. Trunks, costumes, books from his library, we had everything, and he was one of the most important magicians of the 20th century. We had people calling who we hadn’t heard from before. To present somebody’s life so completely is unusual.

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

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

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

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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RECORD! A 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi Sold for $76,000–an Auction Record for Any Single Production Action Figure

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

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

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

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

The lot notes say the card is ‘unpunched’. What does that mean, and why is that important? The hanger tab at the top of the card is intact. These tabs were to be punched out and the cards hung on the hooks of store displays. Any action figure that is unpunched commands a higher price.

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

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

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

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

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

The record-setting Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure with the double-telescoping lightsaber is from the Russell Branton Collection. Who is Branton, and how does his provenance add value? And is Branton the only person who has owned this toy? Russell Branton established himself as a serious Star Wars collector who assembled one of the best collections of vintage original trilogy Star Wars toys. It contained key pieces, rare variations, foreign issues, proof cards, prototypes, and high-grade examples. There’s no way of knowing if he was the only owner of any of the toys. They came from a variety of sources with no clear record of their history prior to his acquisition, in many cases.

What was the previous record for any singly-packaged production action figure? By how much did this Obi-Wan figure with the double-telescoping lightsaber exceed the record? I don’t have exact results, but there have been others in the $30,000 to $50,000 range at auction for single-figure carded production pieces. I’m not sure by how much, but it is established that no production action figure has ever sold for more at auction.

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

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

How many bidders were there initially? How long did it take for bidding on the Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure with the double-telescoping lightsaber to narrow to two people? We had eight bidders in total, including three once the figure reached the $50,000 range.

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

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

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

More Star Wars material from the collection of Russell Branton is in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles current auction, which opened online on June 19 and closes between July 10 and 12, 2018.

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

Image is courtesy of Hake’s.

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

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

A mid-nineteenth century glass column mystery clock by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to bid: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock is lot 28 in the David Baldwin Magic Collection II auction at Potter & Potter on June 16, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

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SOLD! A Purple Tunic Prince Wore in a 1998 BET Interview and a Famous GIF Sold for $16,000 at Julien’s Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998.

Update: The Prince-worn purple tunic with gold details sold for $16,000–double its high estimate.

What you see: A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $8,000.

Who was Prince? A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of musicians and showed musical talent at the tender age of seven. He burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1979 and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. His hits include 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go CrazyKiss, Raspberry Beret, U Got the Look, and heaps of others. Songs he wrote became hits for others: Nothing Compares 2 U put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and Manic Monday did the same for The Bangles. In 1984, at the peak of his Purple Rain fame, Prince became the first singer to simultaneously claim the number one album, single, and film on the charts and at the box office. He died in 2016 at the age of 57 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

This Prince-worn tunic is purple. Is it inherently worth more than a Prince-worn garment in a different color? Yes. It does have an impact. When people think of Prince, they think of purple. Prince has a huge fan base that wants to own something from his career. He created his own style and his own fashion statements. It’s iconic. It’s so Prince.

Was the Prince-worn tunic custom-made? Do we know what size it is? Most of Prince’s stage clothes were custom-made. There’s no label present in this one. He was a small guy, and a shy man, but on stage, he took on a whole other aura. If he liked a designer, he’d go back to that designer again and again. Prince himself was slight in build, but he wore items that could be loose-fitting and comfortable.

Have you tried it on? I have not. It’s on display in Ireland now [as of late April 2018]. A lot of people have come to see the exhibition. We’re really happy to bring the collection to the auction block. It’s going to be historic. It’s the greatest collection of Prince items to come to the auction block at one time. It comes soon after we sold a teal guitar of his, which was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $700,000–a world record for Prince.

Prince didn’t wear this tunic on stage, but he did wear this during a long, well-known 1998 interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET network. [Scroll down for a YouTube link to the interview, which lasts more than an hour.] How does that fact–he didn’t wear it on stage, but did wear it in a notable taped interview, which we can still watch today–affect it? The value of iconic items worn by a celebrity are determined by provenance, authenticity, and performance. Did he wear it on tour? Did he accept a Grammy while wearing it? Did he sit down with Oprah Winfrey or Tavis Smiley? Yes, that does affect the value. If you own the tunic personally as a fan, you can take it out during a dinner party, knowing that it’s Prince’s, and you can play the Smiley interview–it takes on a life of its own. It’s what collectors love.

Another interesting detail is the Smiley interview is the source of a popular Prince GIF, and Prince is clearly wearing this tunic in the GIF. [Pull up any list of Prince GIFs and it’ll be there, but you can also scroll down for a link.] How, if at all, does its Internet notoriety affect the Prince-worn tunic’s value? Because it’s so new, it’s hard to factor in the impact, but it certainly keeps his memory alive. This generation, sharing GIFs, will be curious to know who that is, and what it means, in years to come. It can be hard to quantify, but it celebrates Prince and keeps him current. That’s key to the value of a celebrity and what his items are worth.

Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife, consigned the tunic and several other Prince items  to the auction. Why is she selling now? There always comes a time when a window opens in a person’s life. It can be financial. It can be cathartic. It can be a downsizing move. I think she wants people to enjoy them. She’s storing these iconic objects, and that’s a burden. She’s letting them go knowing they’re going to go to museums and the homes of fans, where they’ll be cared for and appreciated for years to come. I think it’s what anybody would want, to share the life of an iconic celebrity as Prince.

Why will this Prince-worn tunic stick in your memory? If you see a sparkly glove, you know it’s Michael Jackson. You see it’s purple and you know it’s Prince and not anybody else. Not Kurt Cobain. Not Elvis. It’s Prince. And [compared to his stage costumes], this is almost understated, almost regal. He wore it for an important interview, at an important time in his life. It’s understated and totally Prince. Twenty years later, it’s a classic piece anyone can put on and wear, male or female. He was androgynous in his dress, and it’s comfortable.

How to bid: The purple tunic Prince wore during the BET interview is lot 135 in Music Icons: Property from the Life and Career of Prince, offered in New York by Julien’s Auctions on May 18, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

See the 1998 BET Prince interview, conducted by Tavis Smiley. It’s the source of that classic, peerless, eminently useful Prince GIF.

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RECORD! Original Art From Gary Larson’s The Far Side Sold for $31,070

An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As of April 26, 2018, the Gary Larson original Far Side art has been bid up to $3,000, and the auction is two weeks away from closing. Does that mean anything? Early bids are always a good sign. It shows that people out there are interested. When you have more bidders, it’s better in general. But it only takes two. The end is where the real frenzy lies.

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

How to bid: The original 1983 comic strip art for The Far Side is lot #91031 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on May 10 – 12, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

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

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

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

A 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray.

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

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

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

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to bid: The Keeps London Going poster is lot 76 in the Graphic Design sale at Swann Galleries on May 3, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

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

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YES! A Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy Sold for $11,000

A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

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SOLD! A Craniometer, Maybe the Only Surviving Example of Its Type, Commands $12,300 at Skinner–More Than Double Its High Estimate

A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman.

Update: The late 19th century lacquered brass craniometer sold for $12,300–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman. Skinner estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.

What’s a craniometer, and how was it used? As it looks, it was to measure skulls. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was once believed that the shape and size of the skull indicated knowledge. The belief was called craniology. It was a pseudoscience along the lines of phrenology. The craniometer tried to measure each little undulation in a skull. That’s why there’s so many of those spikes. They measure a quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch.

Craniology imputed moral character to the size of the skull? That’s a good way of putting it. A bigger skull was considered a better skull.

This tool was made in Germany. Was craniology most popular in Germany? I would not say that. Braunschweig, Germany was a well-known area for producing medical instruments. This might be the only surviving example. Many think there was a very limited run because of the quality.

Are the parts of the craniometer labeled in German? No.

So we don’t know what qualities the craniometer was supposed to measure? It is a mystery. It all depends on where you chose to put the skull.

Why does the craniometer look like this? Why are the pins the length that they are? I think the pins are of this length to accommodate different sizes of skull. And you have to have a skull. You could not put a person in this.

Does the skull rotate or spin within the brass rings? The skull itself does not rotate. But the brass column can be turned manually, 360 degrees.

How were craniometer measurements taken? Around both spheres, there are numerical engravings. Let’s say you’re using the pin through number 17. You measure, you mark, you pull out the pin, and that gives you a measurement for where the pin falls on the skull for number 17. Number 17 is some sort of moral aspect.

Are you auctioning it with or without a skull? The skull is for display. It’s a real skull, a human skull. It is part of the lot.

How many pins are there? I think there are 40 pins. Down below the turned column, on the brass plate mounted in the ebony base, there are holes to hold the pins.

What are the tips of the pins made from? Bone. Turned bone.

Why? That’s not an obvious choice. I think it’s where the quality of the piece surpasses the average piece. The quality of it takes it to a different level.

Have you seen other craniometers? How do they measure up to this one? I haven’t seen others in person, but I have seen them in my research. They’re very crude. They’re less intricate, less detail-oriented. With this one, the tolerances are so tight where the pins go through the uprights–that’s a mark of quality. The castings of the rings are very well done also.

Can we tell if it was made for someone in private practice, or as a teaching model? We cannot tell. In my research, I was not able to find the purpose for this. I don’t know if it’s for a doctor or a teaching tool.

How did the craniometer come to you? This, along with several of the lots in the sale–a few phrenology heads, a medical teaching model–came from a private collector in Massachusetts.

Why will this craniometer stick in your memory? The sculptural quality. That’s how I look at it. As a craftsman myself, the quality of the instrument says something to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever handle another piece like this.

How to bid: The craniometer is lot 560 in the Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments sale at Skinner on April 20, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Jonathan Dowling spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

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Wow! Pete Townshend Smashed A 1964 Fender Stratocaster On Stage. Its Wreckage Sold for $30,000

A 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster "smasher,"--a guitar played on stage and smashed by Pete Townshend of The Who--on December 1, 1967 at Long Island Arena in Commack, New York.

Update: The 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster smashed on stage by Pete Townshend sold for $30,000.

What you see: A 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster “smasher,”–a guitar played on stage and smashed by Pete Townshend of The Who–on December 1, 1967 at Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

Who is Pete Townshend? He’s the lead guitarist and lead songwriter for the legendary British rock band, The Who, which played its first concert in 1964. Townshend also first smashed a guitar on stage in that year. The band’s hits include My Generation, Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Magic Bus, and Pinball Wizard, a song from the 1969 rock opera, Tommy. Townshend will turn 73 in May 2018.

How rare are genuine stage-played 1960s-era smashed Pete Townshend guitars? “Very rare,” says Garry Shrum, director of entertainment and music memorabilia for Heritage Auctions. “Usually Pete smashed a guitar until it was in shreds. I know a couple of collectors who own multiple stage-played guitars. I know one guy who bought several smashers to make one whole guitar–he Frankensteined it together. But it’s very rare to find one from the 1960s. People didn’t keep them. If it was in the crowd, it was a dive-fest. People wanted a piece of that guitar.”

How many Townshend smashers have you handled? “Two, and I’ve been at Heritage for 14 years,” he says. “Before that, I had a shop for 30 years. People brought in smashers to share with me, but they wouldn’t let me buy them off them.”

Has anyone tried to document how many times Townshend smashed a guitar on stage? “There’s got to be something, somewhere. Someone might have tried to document it, but I have not seen it,” he says. “I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. But he smashed guitars hundreds of times.” [After we spoke, I found a heroic stab at a list on thewho.net. Scroll down for the link.]

I was going to ask if this smasher was worth less because it isn’t complete, but hearing you speak, I get the impression that it’s unusually complete. “Exactly. You have to get the neck and some pickups to make it complete, but you generally don’t get that chance at all,” he says. “It’s a great piece of music history. Over the years, other people have broken guitars on stage, but it was all spawned by Pete in the ’60s.”

Townshend smashed hundreds of guitars on stage? Didn’t that get expensive after a while? “In the early years, he used cheaper guitars, but it got expensive,” he says, noting that Fenders “were imported to the U.K., and the pound versus dollar exchange made it more expensive for him. Probably £400 to £700 for a guitar every time he picked one up.”

This smasher doesn’t have a neck, but it does have its neck plate, which contains the guitar’s serial number. Does that help prove that Townshend played it and smashed it on stage? “In most cases, you don’t see the neck plate. You see half of a guitar. Once he started breaking it, the plate went because of the neck,” he says. “Pete would throw the whole thing into the crowd, and people would rip it to pieces. Somebody got the plate, somebody got the pickups, somebody got the headstock, somebody got the strings. The neck plate helps date it. It’s a stronger provenance of the time period. But there’s no way to trace it back [to Townshend]. After two or three years, music stores threw out their paper receipts. There was no reason for them to keep them. Guitar-collecting didn’t get serious until the mid-1970s.”

Is it rare for a smasher to have accompanying documents, as this one does? [It comes with a ticket stub from the December 1, 1967 show and a two-page handwritten account of how the original owner caught it.] “That’s rare, and that’s so cool, because we can date it,” he says. “A lot of times it’s a hearsay story. When you have other pieces of paper, a paper trail, it’s more exciting to talk about. You can close your eyes and picture the whole thing happening.”

Are Townshend smashers worth more than stage-played guitars that he didn’t smash? “No. An original 1964 Fender Stratocaster is worth money on its own, without a Pete Townshend provenance,” he says. “They sell for $16,000 to $20,000, depending on condition. If Pete played it during that period, it’s easily over $100,000. This is broken. We hope it’s worth $15,000 to $20,000, maybe more. All it takes is two people to push it up.”

What’s the auction record for a Townshend smasher? Is it higher than the record for an intact Townshend-played guitar? The auction record for a smasher as well as an intact guitar appears to belong to a lot sold at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge in December 2015. It contained a pair of Rickenbachers–one whole and one destroyed on stage during The Who’s 25th anniversary tour in 1989, along with a signed November 2014 statement from Townshend about them both. The lot sold for £52,500, or $73,934.

You set the opening bid for this guitar at $10,000. Why? “The consigner hopes to get at least $10,000,” he says. “We wanted it in the auction because it was such a cool, rare piece. You can’t go on eBay and find it. That’s not gonna happen.”

Why will this Townshend smasher stick in your memory? “I have certain bands I admire. I had a shop, and I had the advantage of going backstage to meet people,” he says. “In 1970, I hung out with The Who on the fifth floor of the Hilton San Diego. My wife was 17, and I was 18. It was one of those time periods when I thought, ‘Is this really happening? I’ve spent three hours talking about music with John Entwhistle.’ Keith Moon was doing crazy stuff. Pete and Roger didn’t stick around. They had girls. Anything from The Who that comes in makes me think about the time I spent then. It’s part of my history with music, and with the band itself.”

How to bid: The Pete Townshend Fender Stratocaster smasher is lot #89636 in Heritage Auctions‘s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on April 15, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

By clicking through to the lot, you can also see a photograph of Townsend playing the guitar in classic windmill style on stage, as well as images of the handwritten account of the December 1967 concert.

The folks behind thewho.net have assembled a list of guitars that Pete Townshend smashed over the years. The guitar being auctioned at Heritage is included.

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SOLD! Batman’s 1939 Comic Book Debut Sold for Almost $570,000

A May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, which featured the debut of Batman. It has a Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) universal grade of 5.0.

Update: The May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the debut of Batman and holding a CGC universal grade of 5.0, sold for $569,273.61.

What you see: A May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, which featured the debut of Batman. It has a Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) universal grade of 5.0. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates the comic book’s value in excess of $500,000.

How often do copies of Detective Comics #27 come to auction? “Not often. The caveat is this is universal grade. It’s in its original state–no restoration, no conservation. When you factor that in, it appears even less often,” says Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. “Most copies are not in the original state.”

How many copies of Detective Comics #27 have a CGC grade higher than 5.0? “The CGC census has a total of 67 copies. Only 32 are universal. All the others have restoration,” he says. “Of the universals, there are 16 rated higher and 15 rated lower. 5.0 is mid-grade, but with the universal label, it’s a high grade. 5.0 is very acceptable for a book of this age with no restoration.” He also adds, “Batman is rarer as far as graded universal copies, and Batman is certainly more popular in movies than Superman. I think it’s only a matter of time before Detective Comics #27 eclipses Action Comics #1 [Superman’s debut]. It’s a rarer book.”

But we should say–not every copy of Detective Comics #27 is reflected the CGC census– just those that were sent to CGC for grading. “Yes, but CGC is the top of the mountain,” he says. “It’s the preferred grading company.”

Why are comic books that feature the debut of a major character the most sought-after by collectors? “For the same reason that rookie cards are popular,” he says. “People gravitate to where a star started. Typically, with the debut of a character, they don’t have established track record, so the print run is lower,” he says, noting, “Batman didn’t appear in Detective Comics #1. Whatever worked got its own book. When the popularity was there, Batman got his own title.”

Batman is on the cover of Detective Comics #27, which has a banner announcing that his adventures are “starting this issue.” Would the comic book’s value be affected if Batman was not on the cover? “Not much at all,” he says. “There are character debuts that are not touted on the cover. It certainly helps, but it doesn’t have any bearing. It’d still be the first appearance of Batman even if Batman wasn’t on the cover. And it wasn’t like he was on the cover of the next issue. The issue was created months ahead of its appearance on the newsstand. The creators would see if something worked, and then they’d take the next step.”

How rare is it to have a comic book consigned almost directly from the person who bought it off the rack as a little kid, decades ago? “Pretty rare. It didn’t come directly from that person. There was one middle-man in between. But it’s still fresh to market,” he says. “To have a new discovery like this is a rare opportunity. People are fairly excited about that.”

Is the original owner still alive? How old was he when he bought this comic book? Yes, he is, and we’re not sure. “He certainly was a child when the book came out,” he says. “Maybe he was 10 years old.”

Why does the comic book have a 5.0 rating from CGC? “It has cover blemishes,” he says, pointing out the fact that the original owner wrote “Vol. 3 No. 3” at the top of the cover. “There’s a split on the spine, some dust, some soiling, some age. It’s what you’d expect of a book that’s been read several times. But it wasn’t rolled up, and it wasn’t put in his back pocket. The colors are strong and bold, with no fading.”

How did you arrive at the presale estimate of “in excess of $500,000”? “We have set price ranges,” he says, referring to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “But it’s very subjective, especially for a comic book that turns up as infrequently as this one. It’s a very, very volatile market when you have something like this, where there’s a lot of people lined up and not enough copies for those people.” This particular copy is the first Detective Comics #27 that Hake’s has handled in its 51 years of existence.

Why will this comic book stick in your memory? “Because it’s so historic,” Winter says. “This is right up there. It’s like a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. It’s an iconic item that transcends collecting. It’s easily identifiable as a piece of pop culture, and you don’t have to be a comic book fan or a Batman fan to appreciate it. It’s rewarding to have a high-caliber piece like this, and it’s exciting that it’s fresh to market.”

How to bid: The copy of Detective Comics #27 is item 1152 in the Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sale that opens on February 20, 2018 and closes on March 15, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Hake’s.

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SOLD! The 1964 Bride of Frankenstein French Re-release Movie Poster, Estimated at $300 to $500, Commanded $250

A French poster for the 1964 re-release of the 1935 classic horror movie Bride of Frankenstein

Update: The French movie poster for the 1964 re-release of Bride of Frankenstein sold for $250.

What you see: A French poster for the 1964 re-release of the 1935 classic horror movie Bride of Frankenstein. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $300 to $500.

This Bride of Frankenstein poster was designed for the French market, and for a 1964 re-release of the film, which by then had a long reputation as a cinema classic. How does that affect the poster’s value? “Awareness of international designs is changing, and awareness of how scarce and rare they are is changing,” says consigner Neville Tuli, founder and chairman of the Osian group, which includes the Osianama Archives of world film memorabilia based in New Delhi, India. “I feel sad that the French design has not had its due. France is the home of posters. It’s difficult because the suppliers and distributors [of this re-release poster] didn’t keep archives in a historical manner.”

Some of the most expensive movie posters at auction have advertised 1930s horror movies. The world auction record belongs to a 1931 Dracula poster, sold in 2017 for more than $525,000, and 1930s horror movie posters have consistently fetched six-figure sums at auction. How might these strong sales influence the bidding for this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster? “Obviously, it will have a positive impact,” he says. “First releases of movie posters, you get them once in ten years, and they now sell for in excess of $300,000 and $400,000. Collectors are now looking for re-releases and posters from other countries.”

Why is this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster estimated at $300 to $500? “Everything is estimated very low, the way most auctions like to,” he says. “People like to think they’re getting a bargain. If it passes $3,000 to $4,000, that’s a fair price.”

Why are so many Bride of Frankenstein movie posters so visually strong? “The Bride of Frankenstein, even though she’s barely on the screen, captured the imagination of the world–the hairstyle, the whole look,” he says. “If you see post-1935 posters [for the movie], she’s given as much [visual] importance [as Frankenstein], sometimes even more. She has such a remarkable face. She naturally attracted the public when she appeared on publicity materials,” he says, noting that it was not just common but imperative for movie marketers to redesign and release new posters that capitalized on breakout stars. “If you see the original poster for Marilyn Monroe’s film, Asphalt Jungle,  she’s not there. [There are several poster designs for the 1950 film, and some show Monroe, but none showcase her.–Ed.] In the poster for the 1954 re-release, it’s all her. If the star captures the public’s imagination, they change the publicity material to give the star extra weight.”

Is there more than one version of this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster? “You always have four to six poster designs, but in this case, the main design is the same, and they just changed the color of the background,” he says. “I have another with a green background.”

How rare is this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster? “At auction, it rarely comes up,” he says. “For diehards who go searching [at public auction and in private sales], it comes up every six months. We’re talking about a handful.”

Was this poster on your shopping list for the Osianama Archives, or did it just pop up one day, and you grabbed it? “My shopping list is to build a history of world cinema,” he says. “My reasons for collecting are different from what collectors focus on. I’m building for a larger framework–India and the world, and India’s relationship to the world. I see the iconography [that Indian cultures] have created over 4,000 years, and it’s the greatest sci-fi and horror imagery you could imagine. I try to create understanding and show the links between Indian iconography and 100 years of cinema.”

Unlike earlier posters for the Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein and his bride are given the same visual weight here, and she seems to have a determined look on her face. Do you think that’s a deliberate statement by the designers, or is it just a matter of wanting to put a new spin on things? “Probably the story line got clearer by the 1960s,” he says. “Her scream led to his heartbreak, and the destruction of everything. I can’t say how the designers would have thought this up. I don’t know if it’s a feminine power statement or a statement of equality. But on the others, we don’t see the same equality. Here, they are equals on the poster. It’s open to conjecture.”

Why will this poster stick in your memory? “I have many different versions [of posters for the Bride of Frankenstein], and the French version has an austerity about it that’s unique,” he says. “So many versions of the Bride of Frankenstein show him carrying her in his arms, or show her in the laboratory. Here, there’s not much but magenta, black, and white. They pared it down to the essentials of the figures.”

Why are you selling this poster now? “Because I’m trying to become debt-free,” he says, laughing. “For 20 years, I tried to build a cultural network for the country without taking government funds or donations. I wanted to create it on its own terms. Financially, for the last five or six years, I’ve struggled with bank debt. I’m selling 500 pieces out of 200,000. I have to keep the integrity of everything else alive. I want to be debt-free. If I have to sell a few items to do that…”

You own an auction house. Why not use it to sell the 500 pieces? “There’s no interest in these things in India. The finest Indian movie poster can’t sell for $50 or $100,” he says. “We have a great love of cinema in India but not a great culture of cinema in India, and they are two different things.  It takes a long time for a cinematic culture to emerge, and it’s emerging, but there are so many steps and layers to creating it.”

How to bid: The La Fiancée de Frankenstein poster is lot 260 in the Osianama Archives auction scheduled for March 8, 2018 at Julien’s 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.

Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Julien’s is conducting a second, online-only auction from the Osianama Archives that concludes on March 19, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Also see the website for Osianama, Tuli’s impressive, ambitious 18-year-old arts endeavor.

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TIE! An Original Peanuts Sunday Comic Strip from 1958 Sold for $113,525, Tying the World Auction Record

An original Sunday Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles Schulz and dated 12-21-58.

Update: Well, this doesn’t happen often. Heritage sold the original Peanuts Sunday comic strip from 1958 for $113,525–tying the record it set in 2007 for original Sunday Peanuts comic art.

What you see: An original Peanuts Sunday comic strip, drawn by Charles Schulz and dated 12-21-58. Heritage Auctions believes it could sell for $100,000 or more.

Who was Charles Schulz? The Minnesota-born Schulz is one of the most influential cartoonists ever. His comic strip, Peanuts, ran from October 2, 1950 until February 13, 2000 and featured the enduring characters of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, his pet beagle. At its peak, Peanuts appeared in more than 2,500 newspapers and reached more than 350 million readers in 75 countries. The 1965 animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas became a hit that remains must-see holiday viewing today. Schulz died in 2000, one day before his final Peanuts strip was published. He was 77.

How rare are original Peanuts Sunday comic strips? “There are only so many Sundays between 1950 and when the strip ended,” says Weldon Adams, a comic book cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions. “Every time we get one, it’s cooler than the last one we saw.”

How does original Peanuts Sunday comic strip art manage to get to the market? Didn’t Schulz keep all his originals at his studio? “Charles Schulz was one of the most gracious and kind souls you could encounter. He was beloved by fans,” he says. “When a fan would write a really nice letter, he would autograph the art and send it to them. A lot were personalized to friends and fans, and he just gave them away.” This particular Sunday strip is not inscribed, however, and not every original strip left his studio as gifts. “Some of these were just sold,” Adams says.

Snoopy isn’t in this Peanuts strip. Does that affect its value? “Not necessarily,” he says. “There are so many recurring favorite themes in Peanuts–Lucy at the psychiatrists’s booth, baseball strips with Charlie Brown at the pitcher’s mound, Snoopy as a World War I flying ace, Charlie Brown with the kite-eating tree, Lucy with the football–running gags that are funny every time you see them. There are so many scenes, and fans go out to look for particular ones.”

This original Peanuts Sunday comic strip has a Christmas theme, but it appeared in 1958, well before the famous Christmas special. How unusual is that? “It’s extremely rare to have a Christmas-themed strip to market before the special in 1965. There are only 15 years predating the special, so there are limited opportunities in the first place,” he says. “It pushes it above and beyond. It’s specifically about a Christmas recital at school, which is an element of the special. Ironically, it has a different outcome from what happens in the TV special. Here, Linus can’t remember his line. In the special, he gives a wonderful, beautiful speech. This is the flip side of that.”

The strip has eight panels, and it shows nine Peanuts characters in each panel. How rare is that? “Very rare. It’s going to be a major driving factor [in its final price],” he says. “This is a huge collection of all the regular cast members at that point. There are only a few who are not there. And it’s unique to have so many characters in every single panel. I haven’t seen another one like it.”

And Schulz would have drawn all eight panels by hand, with no assistance? “This is old school. He drew it all,” he says. He also notes that Sunday strips were printed in color in 1958, but someone in production at United Features Syndicate, which distributed the Peanuts strip, would have handled that task.

As of February 3, bidding on this original Peanuts Sunday comic strip art had reached $26,000, and the auction is still weeks away. Are you surprised it’s risen so high, so fast?The record for an original Sunday Peanuts strip was $113,525. It had a baseball theme, it was from 1955, and it sold in 2007 at Heritage,” he says. “It was similar in that there were several characters in it, but not nearly as many as this one. Given that this has so many characters, and a Christmas theme before the Christmas special, I have a sneaking suspicion it might top the record. This is unique and it has a lot of good things going for it. It will be interesting to see the bidding at the end. I expect it will be fierce and fast.”

The original Peanuts Sunday comic strip art, which is in ink over graphite on Bristol board, is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? “It indicates that the Bristol board is intact, with no major stains or marks, and no pieces missing,” he says. “There’s a little bit of corner wear, but nothing that would affect the image area. It does allow for a certain amount of toning–discoloration in the paper due to aging. ‘Excellent’ is the highest grade we grant on an artwork. You don’t run into one in pristine condition.”

Why will this original Peanuts Sunday comic strip art stick in your memory?Peanuts is an American icon,” Adams says. “Charles Schulz tapped into something with that strip, a childlike wonder that crosses all boundaries. Having so many characters in the strip is phenomenal. It’s a unique collection of highly beloved characters.”

How to bid: The original 1958 Sunday Peanuts strip is lot #92220 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction on February 22 – 24, 2018, at Heritage 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.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

You can see more original Peanuts comic strip art at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. The Peanuts strip continues as reruns in newspapers and on the web, too.

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SOLD! A Chung Ling Soo Magic Poster Commanded $9,225 at Potter & Potter

A 1908 poster touting the talent of magician Chung Ling Soo and His Ten Assistants.

Update: The 1908 Chung Ling Soo magic poster sold for $9,225.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

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

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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An Abraham Lincoln Mallet Could Sell For Half a Million Dollars

A wooden bench mallet bearing the initials 'A.L.' and the date '1829', and made by Abraham Lincoln as a young man. It's one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Lincoln artifacts in private hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOLD! A Marlene Dietrich Short Snorter Sells For $5,250 at Swann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closeup of a Winchester 1873 "1 of 1000" rifle, serial number 6594.

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

What is the Winchester Model 1873 1 of 1000 rifle? It was one of the most popular 19th century firearms from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which touted the Model 1873 as “The gun that won the West”. Named for the year in which it debuted, Winchester produced well over 700,000 of them from 1873 until 1923.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to bid: The Winchester Model 1873 1 of 1000 Rifle is among the lots in the Extraordinary Firearms Auction at James D. Julia on October 31, November 1, and November 2, 2017.

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

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A Matched Set of Bull Mammoth Tusks Could Fetch $250,000

A pair of mammoth tusks from Alaska that date to the Pleistocene era (which spans about 11,700 years ago to 2.6 million years ago).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Bounty Hunter Dune Buggy Sold for $36,250 at LAMA

A Bounty Hunter dune buggy, completed in 1969. It has 45,000 miles on its odometer, and it has a manual transmission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also understand that the Bounty Hunter dune buggy 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 the Bounty Hunter dune buggy 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 Bounty Hunter 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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SOLD! A Life-Size Artist’s Mannequin Fetched $45,000

A life-size articulated wooden artist's mannequin, made in France, dating to around 1860, and measuring about 60 inches tall.

Update: The 19th century French life-size articulated wooden artist’s mannequin sold for $45,000.

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

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

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

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

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

Does the life-size artist’s 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 the life-size artist’s mannequin 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 life-size artist’s 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 life-size artist’s 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’s mannequin is lot 39 in the Curiouser and Curiouser auction on October 22 at Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! Rare René Lalique Vase Commands $25,000 at Rago

A Tortues (Turtles) vase by the French glass master and entrepreneur René Lalique, rendered in amber glass with a hand-applied white patina. It was designed in 1926 and produced between 1926 and 1945, when Lalique died.

Update: The Lalique Tortues vase sold for $25,000.

What you see: A Tortues (Turtles) vase by the French glass master and entrepreneur René Lalique, rendered in amber glass with a hand-applied white patina. It was designed in 1926 and produced between 1926 and 1945, when Lalique died. Rago Arts and Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

This Lalique vase was made from amber glass. Why does it look ruby red, then? “It does come across that way. Without light penetrating them, the colors on a Lalique vase can look different, definitely the darker colors,” says David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions. “My understanding is this is the best of them. You don’t see this color in many pieces to begin with. The patina brings out some of the detailing.”

How rare is this Lalique vase? Rago can only recall handling one other example, which was also a dark amber. His auction house sold it for $34,000 in 2006. While it was in production for almost 20 years, not many were made, probably because of the thickness of the glass and the unusual bulging shape.

How does its relatively large size (10 1/2 inches by 9 1/2 inches) enhance the Lalique vase’s value? “The larger vases were not made in great numbers. It’s not a massive piece, but it’s bigger than a lot of them,” says Rago. “It’s a statement piece of Lalique.”

What else makes this Lalique vase special? “Glass can be feminine by nature. I find this to be a fairly masculine piece in the form, the size, the weight of it, and the design,” says Rago. “It’s not a soft pink. It’s not a particularly pretty color. Instead of being fluid and curvilinear, this is heavy, large, and thick. Most of his vases tend not to have that type of strength. And it’s big, it’s rare, and it’s in perfect condition. If you have a checklist for a major molded piece of Lalique, you have it all.”

How to bid: The Lalique Tortues vase is lot 1000 in the Solana Collection of Lalique Glass auction, taking place May 20, 2017 at Rago.

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A 1936 Olympic Basketball Gold Medal Could Sell for $150,000

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.

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 the 1936 Olympic basketball gold medal 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 basketball gold medals 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 1936 Olympic basketball 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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RECORD: A Roberto Clemente Silver Bat Award Sells for $420,000

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.

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 Roberto 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 Roberto Clemente silver bat fetched $260,000, and the 1967 Roberto Clemente 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 Roberto Clemente silver bat 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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Image is courtesy of Hunt Auctions.

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RECORD! An Edward Burdett Scrimshaw Sells for $456,000

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.

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 consigner 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 Edward 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 Edward 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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Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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RECORD! A Babe Ruth Game-Worn Jersey Sold for $4.4 Million in 2012

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 then-record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

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 Babe Ruth game-worn jerseys 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 Babe Ruth game-worn 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 Babe Ruth game-worn 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 Babe Ruth game-worn 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 for the Babe Ruth game-worn jersey? “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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RECORD! A Lucie Rie Bowl Commands $212,500

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.

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 Lucie Rie bowl show off her 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 the Lucie Rie bowl 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 Lucie Rie bowl set a new auction record for the artist? “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 Lucie Rie bowl 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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RECORD! John Lennon’s Gibson Guitar Commands $2.4 Million at Julien’s

A 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar, owned and used by John Lennon. Julien's Auctions sold it in November 2015 for $2.4 million--a record for any guitar at auction.

What you see: A 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar, owned and used by John Lennon. Julien’s Auctions sold it in November 2015 for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

How rare are John Lennon-owned and -played guitars? “They’re very rare, and it’s especially rare for them to come to market. Yoko would have most of them, and he gave very few away,” says Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, who notes that the house has handled four Lennon guitars in the last 15 years. “This particular guitar was a lost guitar. There was intrigue about it. He and George Harrison bought two together in 1961. It cost $165 for each, and it took Lennon a whole year to pay his off.”

Your colleague, Darren Julien, describes this as a “Holy Grail Beatles instrument.” What makes it a Holy Grail Beatles instrument? “Because it came to John at a very important time, at an early stage of the Beatles,” Nolan says. “Paul and John were going to each others’ homes to write songs. Such important songs were written on it. Then it disappeared at a show and no one knew where it ended up. Lennon never saw it again.”

How did John Lennon’s Gibson guitar go missing? “What probably happened was–this was during some Christmas concerts in 1963 in the U.K. The Beatles were one of the acts performing. It was Christmas, and there was alcohol and other drugs involved. It could have been a completely innocent mistake, picked up by another band,” he says, adding that Lennon filed a police report when he realized his guitar was gone.

How do we know that Lennon used this instrument to write All My Loving, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Please, Please Me, and other Beatles hits? “We know when those songs were written, and we know John had this particular guitar,” he says. “He was a young guy. He didn’t have a massive amount of guitars [then]. He didn’t have endorsements from Fender and Gibson. And we have [period] photos from the living room of Paul.”

How did the consigner, John McCaw, end up with John Lennon’s Gibson guitar? Somehow it found its way to San Diego, where McCaw bought it in 1967 for $220. “He got 47 years of absolute enjoyment from it,” Nolan says. “He taught his kids to play guitar on it. He had no idea what it was. To see him standing in that massively crowded auction room, and to see the guitar go higher and higher–it was a life-changing event for him. He retired soon after, and he’s enjoying life.”

What was it like to be in that sale room when the John Lennon Gibson guitar reached the block? “We hoped it would be the guitar to break one million. That was our goal. When it broke two million, we were on the floor,” he says. “There was a frenzy of bidding. It was a moving moment, emotional for us and for John McCaw, to set the world record. I wish we could have those every day.”

How long do you think the record is going to stand? “I think it’s going to be a long time. It’s hard to think of a guitar that could smash that record,” he says. “The Bob Dylan guitar was a very historically important guitar, and it sold for $965,000. The John Lennon guitar sold for $2.4 million. It’ll be a long time before the record breaks.”

How does John Lennon’s Gibson guitar play? “It plays really well,” he says. “John McCaw himself played it at the exhibition [before the sale]. It’s a really nice guitar, in excellent condition.”

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Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch the YouTube video recap of the December 2015 Julien’s auction. The segment on the Lennon guitar begins around 2:50 and ends around 5:12.

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

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RECORD! R. Crumb’s Original Cover Art for Fritz the Cat Commands $717,000

R. Crumb's original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000--a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

What you see: R. Crumb’s original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000–a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

Who is R. Crumb? He is an American artist who led the underground comix movement. He co-founded Zap Comix and created one of the counterculture’s most enduring images with his Keep On Truckin’ single-page comic, which appeared in the first issue of Zap. Much of Crumb’s output is proudly NSFW, so Google at your own risk. In 2009, he published a graphic novel based on the Biblical Book of Genesis. He will turn 74 on August 30.

How rare are original pieces of Crumb comic art at auction? “We sell a lot of it. There’s been kind of a boom lately,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions. “Crumb has always been a staple of what we offer in our Comic and Comic Art sales, but we’ve never had the wealth and breadth up and down the line with what we’ve had in the last year and a half.”

This R. Crumb original cover art is the most valuable original comic art ever sold at auction, beating a 1990 cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #328 and a 1974 page from an Incredible Hulk comic that shows the debut of Wolverine. What’s the significance of that? “Put it this way. If you want to buy a Picasso pen-and-ink drawing, $717,000 will get you a really good pen-and-ink drawing,” he says. “You certainly could buy a more expensive Picasso drawing, but this is right there.”

Why has Crumb bested the more traditional superhero comic book artists? “What’s special about Crumb is he’s transcendental. He’s transcended his given media,” Jaster says. “There’s no comic book artist I can think of who’s had as many museum shows and international shows as he has. Crumb has been relevant ever since the hippie days and he’s never gone out of style.”

How long do you think these records will stand? “The original comic book art one, maybe not too long. Comic book art is incredibly popular,” he says. “Those two $657,000 sales were as pleasant a surprise as the Crumb art was. There are scores of things more desirable than them out there. It’s just a matter of them coming to the market. There’s probably an amazing thing out there that will get five or ten million, if it exists. As far as breaking the record for Crumb, I know the cover art for the Cheap Thrills record album is out there. The first Keep on Truckin’ or the cover of Zap Comics #1, a very small distribution comic, are the things that could sell for more.”

What else makes this piece of R. Crumb original comic book art special? “There’s some irony here in that Crumb is known for pushing the envelope with his subject matter and political views, but Fritz and his girlfriend are quite demure. It’s PG-13 for Crumb, who is known for adult material. It’s kind of a sweet thing,” he says. “And the book, Fritz the Cat, moved Crumb up in importance to be maybe the most famous cartoonist of his generation. It catapulted him from the guy who does sleazy, objectionable stuff to a guy who was really important, and this was the piece that did that.”

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

Graham Nash’s collection of original Crumb comic artworks is up for bid in Heritage Auction’s Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction in Dallas from August 10 to 12, 2018.

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SOLD! The Apollo 13 Flight Plan Sells for $275,000

A page from the flight plan used during the Apollo 13 lunar mission, showing a caricature of astronaut Jack Swigert.

Update: The Apollo 13 flown flight plan sold for $275,000–more than six times its high estimate.

What you see: A page from the flight plan used during the Apollo 13 lunar mission. Sotheby’s estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000.

What was Apollo 13? It was a 1970 moon voyage that never made it to the moon. An oxygen tank exploded 56 hours after liftoff, transforming the lunar mission into a rescue mission. The wounded vessel returned to Earth after four tense and terrifying days. The crew of three drank little, ate less, and slept even less than that. They arrived home on April 17, 1970, alive but collectively 31 and a half pounds lighter. The tale of Apollo 13 might be best known through the 1995 Academy Award-winning film that stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton.

Astronaut Fred Haise inscribed the Apollo 13 flight plan to “Bob.” Who is Bob? He is Robert “Bob” Lindsey, the lead flight planner for Apollo 13. “This plan contained all the steps they had to follow to get into space. Lindsey figured out everything that needed to be done. Of course, the spacecraft did not comply,” says Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “Though they didn’t make it to the moon, Lindsey was instrumental in getting them out there, and instrumental in getting them back.” His descendants consigned the flight plan to Sotheby’s.

Wait, so there was only one flight plan aboard Apollo 13? Was it a NASA tradition for Apollo crews to give the flown flight plan to the lead flight planner when they got back to Earth? “Yes, this is it,” Hatton says of the document, and adds that giving the flight plan to the lead planner was not routine: “It was just something the Apollo 13 crew decided to do as an extra thank-you to the people who saved their lives.”

Does the Apollo 13 flight plan contain handwritten notes from the astronauts after the oxygen tank exploded? Yes. The flight plan covers the voyage from liftoff to the point when astronauts Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell, and Haise abandoned the command module for the lunar lander, which they used as a lifeboat. The document also contains notes in red ink from Ken Mattingly, the original Apollo 13 command module pilot. He was removed from the crew days before the launch after fellow astronaut Charlie Duke unwittingly exposed him to German measles. Swigert replaced Mattingly.

What notes in the Apollo 13 flight plan show the reaction to the explosion? Page 3-38 corresponds to the time of the accident. Lovell, the mission commander, crossed out the typewritten plans and wrote new ones, which include leaving the main vessel for the lunar module (LM). Lovell observed the need to “insure proper 02 concentration in LM.” Maintaining oxygen levels in the LM did pose a challenge. NASA engineers later had to teach the astronauts to jerry-rig a carbon dioxide filter that would work in the LM with parts that the astronauts had on hand.

How do we know which astronaut wrote which notes? Hatton referenced the air-to-ground transcript that NASA took for Apollo 13. By matching the transcript against the flight plan, she was able to identify each author. “If you take the time to go through it and read it, page by page, and compare it to the transcript, it solidifies our perception of them as being heroes,” she says. “‘Ok, we have no heat, no water, no food, and we can’t get any sleep, but we’re not going to panic and we’re going to get home.’ My heart was pounding. It’s an incredible thing.”

Why are there cartoons in the Apollo 13 flight plan? NASA asked Johnson Space Centre artist Barbara Matelski to sketch caricatures of the crew in the flight plan before the launch as a jokey surprise for them to discover as they leafed through its pages. Shown here is the caricature of Swigert, who takes a ribbing over his political ambitions. He won the House of Representatives race for Colorado’s 6th district in November 1982, but died of bone cancer before he could be sworn in. He was 51 when he passed away. Lovell is now 89, Haise is 83, and Mattingly is 81.

The Apollo 13 flight plan’s presale estimate is $30,000 to $40,000. Isn’t that kind of low? “The estimate is very, very conservative. It is. I’m confident it will far exceed its estimate,” she says, adding that its closest analog is a document that was embroiled in controversy. In 2011, Lovell consigned the flown LM Apollo 13 checklist–which takes over where this flight plan leaves off–to auction. It sold for $388,375, but the transaction was voided when NASA objected. President Barack Obama subsequently signed a law that gives clear title to memorabilia received by astronauts during the course of their work with the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs. “It’s interesting to see what the impact of the new law will be,” she says. “It’s very clear about who the title lays with, so bidders can have confidence in this.”

How to bid: The flown Apollo 13 flight plan is lot 140 in Sotheby’s Space Exploration auction in New York, scheduled for–of course–July 20, 2017.

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Surprise! A Chinese Cloisonné Vase Fetches More Than $812,000

Chinese Cloissone vaseJPG(1)

What you see: A 10-inch-tall Chinese cloisonné bottle vase, initially believed to date to the 18th or 19th century, and estimated at $400 to $600. In April 2017 it sold for $812,500 at Quinn’s Auctions, via the iGavel online platform.

How did you arrive at the $400 to $600 estimate for the Chinese Cloisonné vase? “The first thing we did was look at the condition. It was heavily restored,” says Matthew Quinn, executive vice president of Quinn’s Auction Galleries. “We try always to have super-conservative estimates. We didn’t know the full extent until we watched it play out. We thought the vase might be 18th century. We didn’t know it was 14th century.”

Why did you describe the Chinese Cloisonné vase as dating to the 18th or 19th century? “It looked like it had sufficient age to fit that category. We were still wrong. That’s the beauty of the marketplace,” he says, laughing.

What marks the Chinese Cloisonné vase as being from the 14th century? “The form more than anything. The bottle form, and the colors of the enamels. We were told it’s from the late 14th or early 15th century. The bottle form was only done then, and it wasn’t copied until late in the 20th century. And the yellow and red–those particular colors were only used in that time frame,” he says.

Were you the auctioneer during the sale? “We sold it through iGavel, an online-only site,” he says. “Bidding comes in on iGavel every five minutes toward the end. It mimics what goes on in a sale room. With the five minute extensions, it took a long time to sell the vase–an hour, an hour and a half at least. It was fascinating to watch it go.”

Where were you as you watched the sale? “I was on the road. I expected it to do OK. A minute to close, it was at $12,000, then $15,000. I thought, ‘Eh, it’s doing OK.’ It got close to close. Then it was $30,000, and it went pretty handily up to $50,000. I called Lark [Mason, founder of iGavel] at that point. It kept going and going and going. It was wild. Bidders were taking two to three minutes to place each bid. They were taking their time, not like the high pace of an auction room, where the bids come in two or three seconds. I’m not sure if it was part of their strategy or not.”

Did the Chinese Cloisonné vase set an auction record? “We haven’t been able to find much [corroborating information],” Quinn says. “Lark thought it might have been in record territory for a bottle vase, but there are so few of them [reflected in auction archives] we weren’t able to find much. Rarity is not always a good thing. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable, but in this case, it was.”

What else makes this vase interesting? “Everybody wants to know how we find these treasures. You find them in the places you least expect. This vase was stuck up in a barn, in the back of the butler’s pantry,” he says, explaining he was called in to sort through the contents of a family farm to prepare it for sale.

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RECORD! A Houdini Poster is the Most Expensive Magic Poster Ever Sold

A 1912 poster touting Harry Houdini performing his famous water torture cell escape. It was printed in London one year after Houdini invented the trick, and it has a B+ condition rating. Potter & Potter sold it in February 2017 for $114,000--an auction record for any magic poster.

What you see: A 1912 poster touting Harry Houdini performing his famous water torture cell escape. It was printed in London one year after Houdini invented the trick, and it has a B+ condition rating. Potter & Potter sold it in February 2017 for $114,000–an auction record for any magic poster.

How rare is this Houdini poster? “There are three we know of,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, noting he has examined two of them.

How rare are Houdini posters, generally? “Rare is relative. Houdini had a lot of posters,” he says. “Some exist in only one copy. Some in 20 to 30.”

Is this the first time that Houdini’s water torture cell escape was depicted on a poster? “It’s possible,” Fajuri says, explaining that there is another 1912 poster that shows a closeup of Houdini’s face, upside down and under water, and it’s not clear which poster appeared first.

What was the bidding like for the Houdini poster? “We started at $25,000. There was active bidding in the room and on the phone from at least five phone bidders, including a few who were new to us,” he says. “There was active participation to $80,000 [around the sum of the previous magic poster record]. It was going to beat the record without a doubt, but I didn’t think it would go as high as it did. A few guys really wanted it. It sold to a phone bidder.”

Why did the Houdini poster do so well? Is it because it’s just one of three that exist? “That’s part of it, but it’s also from the Norm Nielsen collection, a very well-established if not legendary collection of posters. Everybody knows him and everybody knows his collection,” he says, adding that Potter & Potter will soon publish The Golden Age of Magic Posters, a limited-edition book based on the auction catalogue. “It’s Houdini. It’s one of his most famous, if not his most famous trick. It’s got all the elements that lead to success.”

How long do you think this auction record will stand? “This is the most expensive magic item sold with the exception of the water torture cell itself,” Fajuri says. “I would think it would stand for a while, but anything could happen. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones to break it.”

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An Original Song of the South Cel with Walt Disney’s Signature Gets Almost $9,000

An original production cel from Song of the South, a Disney film released in 1946. It pictures Br'er Rabbit, the lead character of the stories depicted in the film. Walt Disney signed it on its cream-colored mat.

Update: The production cel from Song of the South, signed by Walt Disney, sold for $8,962.50.

What you see: An original production cel from Song of the South, a Disney film released in 1946. It pictures Br’er Rabbit, the lead character of the stories depicted in the film. Walt Disney signed it on its cream-colored mat. Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions, says it could sell for as much as $5,000.

Are original Song of the South cels scarcer than original cels from other Disney movies? “There are fewer in that Song of the South wasn’t all animated. Some was live action,” Lentz says.

Are original Song of the South cels more sought-after than those from other Disney cels? “They’re considered highly desirable because they have an aura of the unknown,” he says. “Disney has not released the film in any format in the United States because of political incorrectness.” Set in the Reconstruction-era South, the film follows young Johnny’s visit to his grandfather’s plantation in Georgia, where he meets Uncle Remus, a plantation worker who tells the boy folk tales.

How rare is it to find an original Song of the South cel with a Walt Disney signature? “The thing about Walt Disney was he was a very, very busy man. A lot of Disney signatures were done by studio artists. Even secretaries did them. So when you get one done by Walt, that is rare,” Lentz says, noting that he has handled fewer than three Disney-signed original production cels from Song of the South.

How do we know that the Walt Disney signature is genuine? Lentz consulted another expert for verification. “I sent it to someone in the business who specializes,” he says.

According to the lot notes, this original Song of the South cel has an ‘original Courvoisier cel setup’ and is in its ‘original Courvoisier mat.’ What does that mean, and why is that good? In the 1930s and 1940s, Disney worked with Gustav Courvoisier to sell animation cels through the latter’s San Francisco gallery. “The studio thought it was a great way to promote the films,” Lentz says. Disney studio artists painted backgrounds for cels offered through Courvoisier. These cels usually have a cream-colored mat and notations in tiny script that identify which films they brought to life. Courvoisier died around the time Song of the South came out.

How does this cel stack up to other original Song of the South cels you’ve handled? “It’s one of the few I’ve seen with a Walt Disney signature and a happy Br’er Rabbit, who is the star of the show,” he says. “It’s a great, great piece. This is as good as it gets.”

How to bid: The Disney-signed Song of the South cel is lot #95187 in the Animation Art sale Heritage Auctions will hold in Dallas on July 1-2.

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SOLD! A Bobby Orr Hockey Card Scored $6,600

1967 Topps Bobby Orr #92 PSA Mint 9

Update: The 1967 Topps Bobby Orr hockey card sold for $6,600.

What you see: A 1967 Topps Bobby Orr hockey card with a PSA Mint 9 grade. Only three other 1967 Topps Orr cards have a higher PSA grade. Heritage Auctions has (coincidentally) estimated it at $4,000 and up.

Who is Bobby Orr? Also known as “Number 4,” he is considered one of the best hockey players ever. Born in Canada, Orr spent his professional career as a defenseman for the Boston Bruins. An iconic shot of him leaping, full-bodied, into the air after scoring the sudden death overtime goal that won his team the 1970 Stanley Cup is immortalized in bronze at the TD Garden, where the Bruins play. Orr turned 69 in March.

Let’s back up a step. When did hockey cards become a thing? “They go back to the early 20th century, the 1909-1911 era, when baseball cards exploded,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon, explaining that Topps entered the hockey card market in 1954.

How popular are hockey cards? “They’re pretty popular. They’ve been popular in Canada for a long time and their popularity is growing in the states,” he says. “What really drives it is rookie cards of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.” He adds that the top four names in the hockey card realm are Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr, and Gordie Howe.

Are 1960s hockey cards more rare than 1960s baseball cards? Yes. “No other sport matches baseball [for collectibility], but it’s very hard to find high-grade hockey cards,” he says. “The availability is not there, not to the same extent as baseball cards.”

This Bobby Orr hockey card is from 1967–his second year in the pros. Does that make it desirable? In addition to its high grade–PSA gave it a 9 on a scale that goes to 10–it represents a sweet bargain of sorts. “Rookie cards are like rookie Mickey Mantle cards–outside the budget of most collectors,” Calderon says. “This is really early in his career, but it’s a little more affordable to most people.” He notes that Heritage sold another 1967 Topps Orr card that had a PSA Gem Mint 10 grade for $9,560 in May 2014.

It’s a nice-looking card, too. “The production values are just as high and just as well-done as baseball cards,” he says.

But the Bobby Orr hockey card is only partially photographic–the background is illustrated and colored pink, presumably because it contrasts nicely with the black and gold of his uniform. Why would Topps design it that way? “To make it a more interesting card, I imagine,” he says. “The atmosphere you see hockey players in…the walls are white, the ice is white. There’s nothing exciting about that.”

How to bid: The 1967 Bobby Orr hockey card is lot #80694 in Heritage Auctions’ Premium Sportscard Catalog Auction on June 29, 2017 in Dallas.

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SOLD! A Beatles Signed Photo from the Set of A Hard Day’s Night Fetches Almost $9,000

An 8-by-10-inch black-and-white publicity photograph of the Beatles, shot on March 24, 1964 by Dezo Hoffman and signed in blue pen by all four band members.

Update: The Beatles signed photo sold for £6,875, or $8,774.

What you see: An 8-by-10-inch black-and-white publicity photograph of the Beatles, shot on March 24, 1964 by Dezo Hoffman and signed in blue pen by all four band members. Bonhams estimates it at £4,000 to £6,000 ($5,200 to $6,500).

How rare is it to see a print of this photo, signed by all the Beatles? “It’s not particularly rare, but to see it signed by all four on the front is unusual,” says Katherine Schofield, head of entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams. “Sometimes they signed it on the back, but it’s more desirable to have the signatures on the front.”

How rare is it to have anything that was signed by all of the Beatles? “Not that rare. They signed a hell of a lot–autograph books, fan club cards, albums, pieces of paper–Beatles signatures are not scarce,” she says. “A good set is still pretty common, and the market is discerning about what it wants. If it’s in good condition and more unusual, it bears stronger prices. Collectors tend to aim for signed albums, signed photos, and autograph pages. It’s tiered like that, but there’s a lot of things in between.”

What do you mean by “more unusual”? Schofield cited a piece of Buckingham Palace stationery, signed by the four in October 1965. It’s lot 165 in the same auction, estimated at £8,000 to £10,000 ($10,000 to $13,000). “I have seen another, but only one other,” Schofield says. She also mentioned a lot from the December 2016 Entertainment Memorabilia sale that was a plain British standard sheet of paper from 1963 on which each Beatle had drawn a caricature with their signatures. It commanded £21,250 ($27,425).

Are Beatles signatures from early in the band’s career worth more than signatures written later in the band’s career? “Very, very early signatures and later signature are sought after,” she says. “At the start of their career, not many signatures were asked for, and not many were kept. As the Beatles became less accessible in 1965 and definitely in 1966 and 1967, signatures are very sought after.”

This particular copy of the photo has tape marks, clipped corners, and other blemishes. Does that affect its value? “It’s a shame. It would be nicer if it was a cleaner image,” Schofield says. “But the damage does not affect the body of the photo. It’s visible, and the signatures are clear.”

This Beatles signed photo is fresh to market, going straight from the woman who received it as a preteen to Bonhams. How does that affect the value? “Provenance is important,” she says, explaining that the consigner’s father had been a vendor at the Scala Theatre when the Beatles filmed scenes for A Hard Day’s Night there. “She got onto the set and was given mementos, and this was one of the items she was given. She treasured it, and thought long and hard about selling it. We expect it to do well. The fact that it’s not dedicated [it’s not inscribed to a specific, named person] makes it more desirable. Normally the Beatles would put, ‘To (Someone),’ and most people wanted them to do that. It’s nice that the photo has not been dedicated.”

How to bid: The Beatles signed photo is lot 162 in Bonhams’s Entertainment Memorabilia sale on June 28, 2017 in London.

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SOLD! A Bonnie and Clyde Ring Commands $25,000

A silver-toned three-headed snake ring with red and green gemstones, made by Clyde Barrow during a prison stay at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas and later given to Bonnie Parker.

Update: The Bonnie and Clyde ring sold for $25,000.

What you see: A silver-toned three-headed snake ring with red and green gemstones, made by Clyde Barrow during a prison stay at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas and later given to Bonnie Parker. RR Auction estimates it at more than $40,000.

Who were Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker? Better known as Bonnie and Clyde, the couple were notorious Depression-era bank robbers who were romanticized in the press. They died in a police ambush in Louisiana in May 1934 in which officers fired 130 rounds at their car. Barrow was 25. Parker was 23.

How do we know that Bonnie Parker wore this ring, and how do we know that Clyde Barrow made it for her? Barrow left a maker’s mark on the ring: A B-note with an arrow. “When I sat next to the jeweler and he deciphered the logo, it was like, ‘Eureka!’,” says Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction. “Things like that happen only a few times in a career. It was one of the most incredible finds I’ve ever had.” We don’t know when Barrow gave the ring to Parker, but we do know he made a belt with a snake motif during the same prison stay and mailed it to his sister.

How did Parker lose the ring? She left it behind when she and Barrow fled their stolen 1933 Ford Model B on November 22, 1933, near Sowers, Texas. Sheriff Smoot Schmid, who led the raid, recovered the ring from the bullet-strafed car, noting it in his inventory as “Bonnie Parker Ring (3 Silver Snakes with Tiny Jewels).” Schmid’s heirs consigned it to RR Auctions.

Why did Schmid keep the Bonnie and Clyde ring? “It was very common for Bonnie and Clyde to abandon property,” Livingston says. “The police didn’t get paid a lot. Bonnie and Clyde were infamous. They took these things as souvenirs, and were known to.”

What size is the Bonnie and Clyde ring? “I think it’s a size four. Bonnie was very small,” Livingston says. “I looked at it under a high-powered microscope. It’s worn, for sure, but you would not want to wear it. We expect it to sell for a lot of money, and expect it to be curated as an artifact and never worn again.”

Is the Bonnie and Clyde ring well-made? “It’s pretty nice. It’s not by an amateur,” Livingston says. “He was talented. It’s not crude at all.”

What else makes this Bonnie and Clyde ring special? “This is the closest thing Bonnie and Clyde had to a wedding ring,” he says, adding that Parker was wearing a wedding ring when she died (she married a fellow high school student at 16, but was estranged from her husband and had never sought a divorce). “It’s one of the few pieces made by Clyde and given to Bonnie, and she wore it. To me, the ring represents the deep love they had for each other.”

How to bid: Bonnie Parker’s promise ring is lot 2039 in the Gangsters, Outlaws, and Lawmen sale at RR Auction. Online pre-bidding takes place from June 16 through June 23; the live auction takes place June 24, 2017 in Boston.

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Willie Stargell’s Bronze MLB Lifetime Passes Get $4,555 at SCP Auctions

The Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum lifetime passes that belonged to Willie Stargell.

What you see: The Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum lifetime passes that belonged to Willie Stargell. SCP Auctions estimates the group, which includes a personalized leather carrying case, at $3,000 to $5,000.

Who was Willie Stargell? Wilver Dornell “Willie” Stargell was a legendary left fielder and first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared on two World Series-winning Pirates teams, in 1971 and 1979. He holds the distinction of being the only baseball player to win the Major League Baseball  Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, the League Championship Series MVP award, and the World Series MVP award in the same year, and he did it at the age of 39. He was 25 home runs shy of the magical threshold of 500 when he retired from baseball in 1982. He died in 2001, at 61, two days before the Pirates unveiled a statue of him at PNC Park.

When did Stargell receive these bronze MLB lifetime passes? It’s not clear, but he might have received the MLB lifetime pass on or around his retirement, and he probably earned the Cooperstown pass in 1988, after he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Are those passes made of gold? Nope, they’re bronze. “They’re solid metal, but both are about as thick as a credit card,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

Did Stargell have the personalized leather case made to hold them both? “The case was issued with the Hall of Fame pass,” says Imler. “It does accommodate two passes. He obviously got them separately. They happen to fit perfectly in this particular case.”

Did Stargell actually carry the bronze MLB lifetime passes on his person and use them? “It’s interesting,” Imler says. “We know he got the case with the Hall of Fame pass. The pass itself shows less wear than the MLB pass. There’s minor general wear on the case itself. It definitely has the appearance of having used the passes, but it’s hard to know how frequently.”

How often do you see bronze MLB lifetime passes kept together as a pair, as these have been? “I can’t recall ever receiving them together in a case,” Imler says. “They could be sold independently, but we feel like Willie Stargell viewed them as mates, and they were viewed as mates by the family. We want to keep the presentation as it was kept by him.”

How to bid: The bronze MLB lifetime passes given to Stargell are lot 145 in SCP Auctions’s Spring Premier Auction, which opens on May 24 and ends on June 10, 2017.

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Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick Commands $1,560

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.

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.”

Rockwell Kent’s 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 of Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick 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.”

M35763-7 002

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 Rockwell Kent’s 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: Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13, 2017.

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An Original Woodstock Concert Poster Could Command $2,500

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.

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 concert 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 original Woodstock concert 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 original Woodstock concert 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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A Ty Cobb Baseball Postcard That He Used and Mailed Sold for $84,000

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.

UPDATE: The 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 Ty Cobb baseball postcard? “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 Ty Cobb 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 Ty Cobb baseball 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 baseball postcard is lot #80708 in the May 11-13 Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction at Heritage.

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.

Images are courtesy of Heritage 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.