A 19th Century Gambler’s Case Fetches $6,765

A circa 1880 American-made gambler's case, with several sets of mother-of-pearl chips, a pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle, a full set of playing cards, a cigar cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle, a two-bladed pocket knife with a scrimshawed ivory handle, an ivory dice cup, and miscellaneous dice.
A circa 1880 American-made gambler's case, with several sets of mother-of-pearl chips, a pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle, a full set of playing cards, a cigar cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle, a two-bladed pocket knife with a scrimshawed ivory handle, an ivory dice cup, and miscellaneous dice.

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

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

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

The lot description says this 19th century gambler’s case is ‘one of the few gambler’s boxes we have seen composed of apparently all-original material.’ What does that mean? “The problem is, a lot of gambler’s cases end up being put together. Collectors call those ‘fantasy pieces.’ I don’t think that’s true here,” Fajuri says. “Can I prove the dice are original to it? No. Can I prove the cigar cutter, the knife, the gun are original to it? No. But the pieces fit together. The style fits together. They all have the same age and wear. It’s what an antiques dealer would call ‘right.'”

How complete is this 19th century gambler’s case? “It’s hard to say. It’s not like this was a catalog item,” he says. “My guess is [the gambler who commissioned it] said, ‘Please make this to my specifications’ around the gun or the chips.”

Is anything in the 19th century gambler’s case gaffed or altered? “There’s nothing crooked about any of this stuff,” he says. “If you find real cheating devices in a case, you almost have to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not a magician’s case. It’s not hidden away.”

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

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

How to bid: The 19th century gambler’s case is lot 978 in Potter & Potter’s Gambling Memorabilia Auction on May 6 and 7, 2017.

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Images are courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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A Ringling Bros Joan of Arc Poster Collects $469

A 1913 poster by Ringling Brothers, featuring Joan of Arc and promising a 'Magnificent 1200 Character Spectacle.' It's from the Richard Bennett Collection of Circus Memorabilia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

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A Unique Model Airplane by Ernest Burke Soared to $11,070

A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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A Franklin Fire Company Hat Commands $18,750

A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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A Thousand-Year-Old Astrolabe Fetched More Than $781,000

A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection.

Update: The thousand-year-old astrolabe sold for more than $781,000.

What you see: A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $372,900 to $621,000.

What is an astrolabe? “Basically, it’s an ancient astronomical computer,” says Benedict Carter, head of auction sales of Middle East and Indian art at Sotheby’s. “It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional celestial sphere. Typical uses were for finding the time during the day or night, and figuring out the times of sunrise or sunset.”

What makes this astrolabe special? “It’s a thousand-year-old astrolabe, and it’s very rare as it’s signed and dated,” he says. “This period [between the ninth and fourteenth centuries] has an awful lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from collectors from the Middle East. Buyers and collectors globally want to buy into the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.”

Who would have used this astrolabe? “It was probably a princely commission. A lot of time went into making it,” Carter says, noting that it is the first of three signed astrolabes produced by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar over the course of 10 years. “It was a very niche, courtly thing. Not just any old person would have one. That’s why there’s not so many out there, and most are in museums.”

Is the thousand-year-old astrolabe entirely original? No. The pierced face of the astrolabe, which is known as a rete, was replaced in Turkey sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. “It is a functional replacement,” Carter says. “Five hundred years after it was made, it was a valuable tool, still being used. That tells us a lot.”

How soon did you know that you had something special with this? “The moment I saw this, I knew it was pretty exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was signed or dated, but I immediately realized it looked early and important. You always hope something like this will show up, and one day, it does.”

How to bid: The thousand-year-old astrolabe is lot 170 in Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World auction, which takes place in London on April 26, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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An I Dream of Jeannie Original Prop Bottle Will Sell at Julien’s

The original prop bottle from the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It's hand-painted and stands 14 inches tall.

What you see: The original prop bottle from the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It’s hand-painted and stands 14 inches tall. Julien’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

How do we know this is an I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle? It comes directly to Julien’s from the estate of Gene Nelson, who directed six episodes of the show’s first season, including the pilot, titled The Lady in the Bottle. At some point, Nelson obtained a letter of authenticity from Barbara Eden, who played the title character, Jeannie. Nelson died in 1996. Eden will turn 86 in August.

Did Nelson create the I Dream of Jeannie bottle? Nelson has the strongest claim on its origin story. He was hunting for something that didn’t look like Aladdin’s lamp, spotted a Jim Beam decanter in a liquor store window, snapped it up, and handed it over to the folks in the prop department, who peeled the labels off the glass and decorated it with paint. “There’s something unique in the fact that he saw this,” says Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien’s Auctions. “He was scouting around, found the bottle, and had the vision to paint it. He was a good visionary.”

Was the I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle used on the set? Almost certainly, but coming up with a precise photo match is tough, given that the prop bottles were painted to look identical. But according to Julien, the animators would have referenced photos of this bottle when creating the opening credit sequence, and it’s safe to say it was shown in the early episodes that Nelson directed. He left I Dream of Jeannie after repeated clashes with Larry Hagman, who played astronaut Tony Nelson on the show.

How rare is the I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle? “It’s very rare. We have not handled one before. Not many survive, and nobody back then would have saved anything like that,” says Julien, adding, “It’s the Holy Grail of the series to have. It’s what the show is about. Provenance is king, and it has such a solid history. It’s an iconic piece that’s going to sell for a lot more than our estimate.”

So, does it come with Barbara Eden? No, but it does include the letter of authentication that she wrote for Nelson. The bottle’s interior is also unfurnished and long since emptied of its whiskey. And neither Julien’s nor The Hot Bid is responsible for the I Dream of Jeannie theme song getting stuck in your head.

Damn you! #SorryNotSorry

How to bid: The I Dream of Jeannie original prop bottle is lot 486 in the Property from the Estate of Patrick Swayze and Hollywood Legends 2017 auction on April 28 at Julien’s.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadadada. BadadaDA!

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A Thousand-Year-Old Brass Astrolabe Could Sell For More Than $600,000

A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection.

What you see: A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $372,900 to $621,000.

What is an astrolabe? “Basically, it’s an ancient astronomical computer,” says Benedict Carter, head of auction sales of Middle East and Indian art at Sotheby’s. “It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional celestial sphere. Typical uses were for finding the time during the day or night, and figuring out the times of sunrise or sunset.”

What makes this brass astrolabe special? “It’s a thousand-year-old astrolabe, and it’s very rare as it’s signed and dated,” he says. “This period [between the ninth and fourteenth centuries] has an awful lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from collectors from the Middle East. Buyers and collectors globally want to buy into the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.”

Who would have used this brass astrolabe? “It was probably a princely commission. A lot of time went into making it,” Carter says, noting that it is the first of three signed astrolabes produced by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar over the course of 10 years. “It was a very niche, courtly thing. Not just any old person would have one. That’s why there’s not so many out there, and most are in museums.”

Is the brass astrolabe entirely original? No. The pierced face of the astrolabe, which is known as a rete, was replaced in Turkey sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. “It is a functional replacement,” Carter says. “Five hundred years after it was made, it was a valuable tool, still being used. That tells us a lot.”

How soon did you know that you had something special with this? “The moment I saw this, I knew it was pretty exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was signed or dated, but I immediately realized it looked early and important. You always hope something like this will show up, and one day, it does.”

How to bid: The brass astrolabe is lot 170 in Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World auction, which takes place in London on April 26, 2017.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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 19th Century Fire Company Parade Hat Could Sell For $12,000

A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Freeman’s.

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Children of the Sun, a Nudist Film Poster, Offered at Heritage Auctions

A movie poster for the 1934 nudist film Children of the Sun, which Heritage Auctions estimates at $400 to $800.

What you see: A movie poster for the 1934 nudist film Children of the Sun, which Heritage Auctions estimates at $400 to $800.

Who made this movie? Samuel Cummins, an exploitation film impresario who launched his career with the silent 1919 opus The Solitary Sin and went on to release Wild Oats, Trial Marriage, and Unguarded Girls, among others. He died in New York City sometime in the 1960s.

Would this nudist film poster have been displayed in public? In 1934? Where? At an independent or second-run movie house. The blank area at the top of the poster would have been printed with the venue name and maybe the screening dates. “Most theaters wouldn’t touch films such as these,” says Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage. “A lot of these low-budget indie films had very eye-catching posters. I love the tagline–‘Nature in the raw.'”

Why risk printing a poster at all? Why not rely on word-of-mouth to lure people to the theater? “Your poster was the biggest selling tool you had,” says Smith. “You want to make it semi-tasteful, but just explicit enough to pique one’s interest.”

How racy was the nudist film poster for its time? “It is surprisingly up front. I can imagine a family passing this poster and the mother being outraged that the theater displayed something like this,” Smith says, adding, “In some areas, the theater owner might have taken some poster paint and painted a dress on her.”

What makes this nudist film poster special? Smith has not handled another Children of the Sun poster, save for a different version that was consigned along with this one. It has survived in relatively excellent shape, with its navy blues and butter yellows intact and its paper unfolded. “It’s a good poster for a taboo subject from an earlier period,” he says.

How to bid: The Children of the Sun poster is lot 86694 in Heritage Auctions’s Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction in Dallas, which takes place March 25 and 26, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

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An Alphonse Mucha Poster of Sarah Bernhardt Commanded $8,750

A poster that advertises Sarah Bernhardt's 1896 American Tour. Alphonse Mucha designed it.

Update: The Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt sold for $8,750.

What you see: A poster that advertises Sarah Bernhardt’s 1896 American Tour. Alphonse Mucha designed it.

Who is Sarah Bernhardt? The French actress was the world’s first superstar. Dubbed “The Divine Sarah” by her fans, she dominated the stage and later acted on film, posthumously earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Who is Alphonse Mucha? He was a Czech-born artist whose distinctive, alluring style shaped the visuals of the Art Nouveau movement.

What makes this Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt special? “This was the image that was used for the very first Bernhardt poster. It catapulted Mucha to international recognition and stardom,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries’ vintage poster department. The poster’s origin story sounds like a fairy tale. In December 1894, Bernhardt contacted the Paris print shop where he worked to commission an image to advertise her new play, Gismonda. The city was shutting down for Christmas, so the task fell to Mucha. “He was the only employee there, the poor lonely expat. He was the only one who could possibly help, and he does so.” He produced a long, slim design that was bracingly fresh and new. Bernhardt, overjoyed, demanded to see Mucha, reportedly telling him, “You have made me immortal.”

Why is the Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt estimated at $7,000 to $10,000? The poster boasts the image that made Mucha famous, and it debuts motifs that would define Mucha’s style–the halo around Bernhardt’s head, and the mosaic-inspired details. It’s definitely valuable, but it lags behind the $12,000 to $18,000 sum typically asked for an original 1894 Gismonda poster. It was printed in 1896, in America; it’s seven inches shorter, probably due to removing the word ‘Gismonda’ from the top of the design; and the text at the bottom is different. “The Gismonda is more collectible, mostly because it’s his first big poster,” says Lowry.

How to bid: The Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt is lot 286 in Swann Galleries’ Vintage Posters sale on March 16, 2017.

To subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

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

Photo is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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A Ming Dynasty Peony Dish Sells for $2.1 Million

An exceptionally rare and large fine blue-and-white reserve decorated peony dish, estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

Update: The Ming Dynasty Peony dish sold for $2.1 million.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and large fine blue-and-white reserve decorated peony dish, estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

When was the Xuande Period? It lasted from 1426 to 1435. Though it was brief, it was a productive and important period for Ming dynasty porcelain. “Everything came together,” says Angela McAteer, vice president and head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department. “There was widespread use of the imperial reign mark, the dragon became symbolic of the court, and the court really took control of the kiln production,” she says, explaining that it focused the Chinese porcelain works on its own needs rather than creating its greatest prizes as diplomatic gifts.

How was this Ming Dynasty Peony dish made? With skill and difficulty. “In this period, even firing something of this elegance, form, and size is challenging,” says McAteer, who notes how “well-potted” it is. “Getting a uniformity to the blue color is a challenge. Getting a realistic, crisp outline on the floral decorations is a challenge. There were various points where they could have been tripped up in making something like this.”

What makes the Ming Dynasty Peony dish exceptionally rare? Only three others like it are known. As visually striking as its reserve decoration is–rendering in blue what would normally be in white, and vice-versa–it was technically difficult and far more expensive to make. “Cost is primarily the thing. It involved more layers of production, and more steps,” McAteer says, stating that the cobalt needed for the blue color probably was imported. “It’s a large dish, and the cobalt covers the inside and the outside. It would have required a huge amount of raw material.”

Was the Ming Dynasty Peony dish ever used? “Absolutely, it would have been used to furnish the court, presumably for banqueting,” says McAteer, while adding that we cannot be sure of exactly how the Chinese court used it. Its most recent European owner refrained from putting it to work. “It has a wonderful, brilliant glaze that is remarkably unscuffed,” she says. “It would have had a wall mount. That’s why it’s so wonderfully well-preserved. It wasn’t used to hold keys.”

How to bid: The Ming Dynasty Peony dish is lot 6 in the Ming: The Intervention of Imperial Taste auction at Sotheby’s New York on March 14, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A Strike-a-Light, the Ancestor of the Zippo Lighter, Fetched Almost $1,400 at Bonhams

A brass and steel tinder pistol, also known as a table "strike-a-light", probably made in Germany around 1650. Bonhams has estimated it at £1,000 to £1,500, or $1,200 to $1,800. "It's like a small gun, really," says Bonhams specialist David Houlston. "You pull the trigger, like you do on a gun, and it ignites for you."

Update: The German strike-a-light sold for £1,125 ($1,390).

What you see: A brass and steel tinder pistol, also known as a table “strike-a-light”, probably made in Germany around 1650. Bonhams has estimated it at £1,000 to £1,500, or $1,200 to $1,800. “It’s like a small gun, really,” says Bonhams specialist David Houlston. “You pull the trigger, like you do on a gun, and it ignites for you.”

So it’s not a steampunk insect? No. It’s the great-great-great grandparent of the Zippo lighter. “It’s an ancestor of it,” Houlston says. “It works the same way.”

How does the strike-a-light work? First, load a small, sharp piece of flint in the tiny vice that sticks up from the device, and tighten the jaws to fix the flint firmly in place. Next, take the curved piece of metal that sticks up from the device and pull it forward, toward the end that looks like it has a beak and front legs. Load the pan with gunpowder. Now you’re ready to pull the trigger–the thing that looks like a back foot. The flint will strike the metal and the resulting sparks will fall into the pan, lighting the gunpowder. Voila! You have a light. Now you’re ready to use matches or sticks (stored in the body of the device; the door of the compartment is not visible in the photo) to transfer the flame to a candle or a pipe.

What made this strike-a-light a nifty piece of technology in mid-17th century Europe? Before the arrival of the strike-a-light, people were obliged to bang a flint against metal repeatedly to create sparks for a fire. The strike-a-light took the tedium out of that chore. “It was engineered to make sure [to release] the right amount of force to create a spark each time,” says Houlston.

Does the strike-a-light still work? It’s not clear. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work,” says Houlston, explaining that he and his colleagues won’t risk testing it on the small but real chance that it might possibly break. “If it doesn’t work now, I think very little would need to be done to make it work. It shouldn’t take much.”

How to bid: The German strike-a-light is lot 14 in The Oak Interior, an auction that Bonhams London will hold at its New Bond Street venue on March 15, 2017.

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Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Typewriters Sell for $37,500

A pair of pale green Hermes 3000 typewriters, made between 1963-1970, which belonged to Larry McMurtry.

Update: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove typewriters sold for $37,500 on March 8, 2017.

What you see: A pair of pale green Hermes 3000 typewriters, made between 1963-1970, which belonged to Larry McMurtry.

Who is Larry McMurtry? He operates Booked Up, a used bookstore in Archer City, Texas, but he’s probably better known as the author of Lonesome DoveThe Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment. All three books became movies or miniseries; Lonesome Dove won a Pulitzer Prize, and films based on McMurtry’s books have won 10 Academy Awards. He and a co-writer won three more Oscars for their adaption of the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.

Why are these typewriters special? McMurtry used them to write Lonesome Dove, his masterpiece about Texas rangers on a cattle drive, which was published in 1985. The author is particular about his tools; even now, at age 80, he has no interest in switching to a computer.

Why are there two Lonesome Dove typewriters? McMurtry kept one typewriter in Archer City, Texas, and the other in Washington, D.C., the site of the original Booked Up store (it has since closed). Each weighs 16 pounds. It made more sense for McMurtry to keep a typewriter in Texas and another in D.C. rather than lug one machine between both places.

How do we know that McMurtry definitely wrote Lonesome Dove on them? “Larry McMurtry gave them to me and said, ‘I wrote Lonesome Dove on them,” says James Gannon, director of Rare Books for Heritage Auctions of Dallas, who collected the typewriters from the author on November 1 of last year. Gannon is obtaining a letter of provenance from McMurtry.

Why do the Lonesome Dove typewriters carry an estimate of $10,000? Typewriters that can be linked to prominent authors are rare; typewriters that were unquestionably and exclusively used to write legendary books are even rarer. The Lettera 32 Olivetti typewriter that author Cormac McCarthy relied on to write The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses sold at Christie’s in 2009 for $254,500–well above its $20,000 estimate. “It’s like owning one of Dickens’s pens or one of Shakespeare’s quills,” says Gannon. “A typewriter is the focus of a writer’s day-in, day-out existence. That seems to resonate with collectors.”

How to bid: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove typewriters are lot #45314 in Heritage Auction’s Rare Books Signature Auction on March 8, 2017 in New York.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

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