SOLD! A George Nelson Ball Wall Clock Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

George Nelson's ball wall clock is a mid-century design icon. It resembles a sun with rays streaming from it. Each of the twelve "rays" ends with a ball that represents an hour. This particular version featured balls that had different colors: black, green, yellow, white, and orange.

Update: The George Nelson ball wall clock sold for $704.

What you see: A George Nelson ball wall clock, designed for the Howard Miller company and dating to 1949. Rago Arts and Auctions estimates it at $250 to $450.

The expert: Michael Ingham, Rago’s COO and director of its Unreserved department.

The Howard Miller company produced the ball wall Clock from 1948 to 1969. Do we know how many it made? There are no records that I know of. They made them for 21 years. That shows you how much people liked them. They were very popular and remain so today.

So the clock was a hit from day one? From the day it arrived on the market. 1948 was right at the beginning of the atomic age. The Trinity test was July of 1945, and by August 1946, we dropped Little Boy at Hiroshima. Americans were feeling pretty powerful at that point.

Why was it such a hit right away? It was the end of the war and the beginning of a great boom in America. It was considered radically modern–it was the first clock not to have numbers on the face. That was a big departure. And it looked perfect on a kitchen wall.

Howard Miller offered the clock in six different versions. How popular is the multi-color example coming up for sale at Rago? I call it polychrome. They were, in my opinion, the most popular model, and the one we’ve seen the most of.  The runner up is the black ball version, which looks a bit sleeker. The polychrome version is the epitome of the design, and it’s what people look for. [Vitra creates reproductions of all six versions of the clock.]

George Nelson didn’t personally design everything that bears his name. Did he design this clock, or did someone else in his studio do it? Nelson was not the designer of this. Nelson felt it was important, as a branding thing, that he get the credit in the public arena. He would name the designers in technical journals. That’s how Nelson chose to run his firm. It was not a secret that others made the designs, it just wasn’t out for public consumption. Irving Harper designed this. He was a famous guy in his own right.

Officially, the name of this timepieces is “Clock 4755.” A quick glance makes clear why people call it “The Ball Clock,” but do we know when and how it got its popular name? The model number is the driest name possible. I don’t know how it got the name “The Ball Clock.” It was possibly a savvy marketer at Howard Miller. But in my 20 years here, no one has referred to it as anything but.

The original run of this clock was long, and while we don’t know exactly how many were made, we know there had to be a whole honking lot of them. What does it take for a mass-produced object to remain popular enough to command a three-figure auction estimate seventy years after it left the factory? Most of the 20th century design market was made for mass production, but good design is always good design. Fifty years ago, it was a good design, and now, it’s still a good design.

The ball clock is definitely of its era, and yet it manages not to look old. How does it pull off that neat little trick? It definitely references a specific period in history, and I think people like that. Speaking as an older guy, I can remember them hanging on the walls of parents’ houses as a kid. It’s a very clean, modern design. It is radically modern in its way. It’s so clean, you can project what you want onto it. And it’s small. It’s not a big commitment. It’s not like buying a giant sofa. It’s like buying a throw pillow, in the design world.

What condition is it in? And do collectors tend to be fussy about these clocks, given that there’s so many from the original run still out there? People can be very fussy. This one is not in the greatest of condition. The hands are a little bit loose. The enamel on the body of the clock got stained and chipped over time. The enameling on the balls is pretty good, and these are good colors. This particular one is electric, and is meant to plug into a wall.

What condition issues do you tend to see with the Ball wall clocks? The hands often are a bit bent because [the metal] is very thin and very soft. The balls can often be repainted. Most auction houses don’t sell them guaranteed to function. I’ve never plugged it in, so I don’t know if it functions.

How often do original-run George Nelson Ball wall clocks come up at auction? We’ve handled at least one for every year I’ve worked here. Probably closer to 25.

How did you arrive at the estimate? It’s a pretty standard item for us. This particular model, in this particular condition, should go in the $250 to $300 range. A really, really pristine one would get $600 to $800. The dirty little secret of auctions is that estimates should be a little bit enticing, they should be a tad lower. If I can get you to raise your hand once, I can get you to raise your hand again.

What’s the auction record for a George Nelson Ball wall clock? The early 2000s were the hottest moment for these things. The record was $1,527 at at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) in June 2004.

When I think of George Nelson, I think of his marshmallow sofa, and this clock. Why has it come to symbolize his work? It was right at the beginning of his career. It was considered radically modern at the time, and it summed up a period of time [in America]. A lot of what Nelson did was square, with clean lines. And Nelson designs are clever. Not that they’re funny, but they make you smile. This clock has that same sort of feeling to it.

How to bid: The George Nelson Ball Wall clock is lot 1530 in the Rago Unreserved auction at Rago on February 24, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

Special thanks to Shannon Loughrey at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) for digging into auction records that aren’t online to confirm the record sale price for the ball clock.

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Contemporary Artist Pae White’s Widow of a King Could Command $25,000 at Heritage Auctions

Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White

What you see: Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Is this piece unique, or part of a limited edition? From what we understand, three versions were made, and each of those is unique.

How do the other two differ? From a few images I’ve seen, they’re very similar, but slightly different in the design of the faux carving.

Do we know why Pae White named this piece Widow of a King? I don’t know the story on that. I think she uses an evocative title to suggest a background for it that could not be immediately obvious. This is very atypical of her oeuvre. Pae White is an artist in the true sense of the word. She is not a designer. She typically does not make functional objects.

Do we know why Pae White made Widow of a King predominantly white? The material she used, Corian, is produced in various colors, but its primary color is white. She’s been quoted as saying she wanted to source blue Corian, but it wasn’t available, so she used white. She worked up the conceptual side of the piece in white, and she has said, “I wanted the “look” of something that might have been carved in the Black Forest but by an albino alien and I think we came pretty darn close.” If you look at it from a distance, it looks like it may be a traditional four-poster bed that’s carved and may be painted white. As you approach, you see the way it’s carved is different. The carving itself is off and almost degraded. You can tell there’s something else going on with the piece once you begin to examine it.

Why is one of the headboard posts taller than the other? It’s part of what I described of her intentionality. It [the work] is an object that has an inherent unbalance. She talked about wanting to subvert the viewers’ relationship with everyday objects.

Do the symbols on the footboard have any particular meaning? Not to my knowledge.

Do we know why Pae White used Corian? And how involved was she in its creation–did she do the physical work of producing the bed, or did she delegate it? I didn’t see anything [that explained why she used Corian]. She’s a mixed-media artist who doesn’t typically work in this manner. I’m not aware of other works in Corian. Everything was done under her watchful eye. It was made with the assistance of sophisticated machinery.

Widow of a King is an actual bed, but what size is it? And did the consigner use it as a bed? I think it’s a king-size. And yeah, the owner did use it as a bed.

Widow of a King has signs of use. Will that matter? No. I think that any of that can be conserved quite easily.

Is Widow of a King among the earlier pieces by Pae White to reach the secondary market? Not a great deal of her work has come to auction. I count 25 auction records on Artnet, with the record being $20,000 in 2013, sold at Christie’s, and titled Skygazing #6: Blue Nebula. It’s a large cotton and polyester work.

Is that record work anything like Widow of a King? No. Nothing like this by Pae White has sold at auction.

What is Widow of a King like in person? It’s incredible. It’s extraordinary, it’s complex, it’s multi-layered, and it has extraordinary physical presence.

We’re seeing the work as an incomplete bed frame, with no mattresses or sheets. Does the artist have any recommendations for finishing it? I don’t think there are any, but it was created to be a functional bed. Its impact would be complete when it’s installed in a domestic setting.

Are there details that don’t show up well in the photo? The fine carving on the posts. I think there is an intangible quality to the carving on the headboard and the footboard.

How does the carving hold your attention? It’s beguiling. It’s beautiful, but in an unexpected way. As I explained earlier, when you first come upon it, it’s traditional. As you approach it, you look for the carving techniques you’re accustomed to. When you get up close, the carving may be sharper and more asymmetrical where you would expect a more balanced pattern. It throws you off balance, but allows you to enjoy the object itself.

Widow of a King is a work of contemporary art, but you decided to put it in a design sale. Was that a tough call? There was debate, but in the end we felt it was pretty clear-cut where this piece should be positioned. Pae White is an artist who doesn’t make design objects and is not known for making functional objects. Because of the functionality, it may have a stronger market in design than in contemporary art, where you normally see her work. From time to time, contemporary artists make works that have a functional aspect, like this bed. Sometimes they’re successful from a design standpoint, and sometimes they’re less successful. I think this is very successful. The quality of the material used and its production is very high, but the intentionality that’s prevalent in it clearly comes from the place of the artist. It’s what makes this piece stand apart. It’s an accomplished piece of furniture, but you can look at it as a work of art.

How to bid: Pae White’s Widow of a King is lot 79038 in the Design Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on October 21, 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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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