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

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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.

 

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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! Heritage Sold a 1964 Fender Stratocaster Destroyed On Stage by Pete Townshend for $30,000

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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.

 

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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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! The Original Owner Paid 10 Cents for Batman’s 1939 Comic Book Debut. Hake’s Sold It for Almost $570,000

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

 

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

 

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

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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 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 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 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.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original Sunday Christmas-Themed Peanuts Strip from 1958 for $113,525, Tying the World Auction Record

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Update: Well, this doesn’t happen often. Heritage sold the original Sunday Peanuts 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 Sunday Peanuts 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 Sunday Peanuts 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 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 Sunday Peanuts 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 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 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 Peanuts strip 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.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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! That Scarce 1908 Chung Ling Soo Magic Poster Commanded $9,225 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The 1908 Chung Ling Soo 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 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 and His Ten Assistants’ 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.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

 

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Young Abraham Lincoln Made This Wooden Mallet. Christie’s Could Sell It For Half a Million Dollars.

Lincoln_mallet_v1

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

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