RECORD! The Bulova Chronograph that Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott Wore on the Moon Sold for $1.6 Million at RR Auction in 2015

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. RR Auction sold it in October 2015 for $1.6 million against an estimate of $750,000. It set a then-record for an Apollo item, a record for an item owned and directly consigned by an astronaut, a record for a timepiece used on the lunar surface, a record for any Bulova watch, and a RR Auction house record for the most expensive lot that it has handled.

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

The Apollo astronauts relied on government-issued Omega Speedmaster chronographs. How did Scott convince NASA to let him use the Bulova instead? He didn’t. Scott and the others are engineers, responsible for the lives of their crews. They brought backups. Bulova gave him the watch and a stopwatch, which we also sold. The company was U.S.-owned at the time. They tried very hard to get the chronograph contract from NASA. Bulova’s then-boss, Omar Bradley, had said, “How can we put boys on the moon wearing foreign-made watches?” During the second EVA [A NASA acronym that stands for “extravehicular activity,” which describes anything an astronaut does outside a spacecraft that has left the Earth], he noticed that the crystal on his Omega Speedmaster was gone. We don’t know why [it went missing] but the heat emanating from the sun may have heated to a temperature that had it pop off. Scott took the Omega off the strap and replaced it with the Bulova. It was a prototype watch. He brought it as a backup, with no promises to the Bulova company that he would use it.

The Bulova was a prototype? It was the prototype they made to pitch to NASA on the contract that Omega got. They developed it to go to the moon, but it was never put into production. Only Dave, the [spacecraft] commander, had a Bulova backup. I don’t think the others [his two crewmates] were approached by the Bulova company.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

Could you talk for a bit about why the astronauts needed these watches, and how they relied on them? They all needed wristwatches. Dave basically used it to keep track of the elapsed time on the consumables used. We included a quote from Scott in the catalog: “Time is of the essence during human lunar expeditions–and exploration time on the surface is limited by the oxygen and water (for cooling) we can carry in our backpacks… knowledge of precise time remaining was essential.”

How long did Scott wear the Bulova on the lunar surface? The third EVA was four hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds. [Livingston relayed these numbers from memory, with complete fluency.] What was really cool about the watch was he drove the lunar rover while wearing it. He was the first to drive on the moon, and the watch stood up to that, obviously. It was very much exposed to lunar material. You can see the scratches on the bezel.

Closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. Moon dust is visible on the face of the wristwatch.

Was Scott wearing the watch when he repeated Galileo’s experiment on the lunar surface, dropping the hammer and the feather and proving they’d hit the ground at the same time? Yes, but he didn’t actually use the watch. Each arm was holding out an item, and he didn’t need the timer to see them hit the surface. They hit at the same time. It was apparent. [Laughs] But he wore the watch when he did it. The significance of this particular watch on his arm when he did it was profound to us.

Did the watch and the strap have lunar dust on it? It certainly had remnants of lunar material when I saw it, and obvious damage to the crystal from the lunar surface.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full, with the fuzzy side of the velcro strap visible.

The strap as well? Yes, it was apparent that lunar material was on it when I got it. There are shots of Dave wearing the watch during splashdown [the term for when a spacecraft makes its return landing in the ocean; the astronauts disembark into a dinghy], so it may have been in the ocean. [RR Auction created a dedicated catalog for Scott’s Bulova. You can see a period photo of a post-splashdown Scott, his watch clearly visible on his wrist, on pages 14-15.] There is a bit of rust on the watch. I saw lunar dust on it. It wasn’t covered. There wasn’t tons of it. But it certainly had it.

What did Scott do with the watch after the Apollo 15 mission? He put it into a baggie and kept it in storage for 40 years until he sent it to us.

Does the watch have inherent value? Would it be worth something even if it hadn’t gone to the moon on Scott’s wrist? It sounds like it might, given that it was a prototype designed to win a NASA contract. Even if it never went to the moon, it has collectible value. Interestingly, when I approached Bulova and said I had Dave’s Bulova, which he wore on the moon, they didn’t believe me.

How did you convince Bulova of your claim? Dave had retained documents from Bulova. I had source material that didn’t exist in their archives of Omar Bradley talking about the watch and getting the contract. Then they believed me. [Laughs]

You set an estimate of $750,000. How did you come up with that number? We based it on other artifacts that we had sold for Dave Scott. We sold his rotational hand controller for a similar price, $610,000, and we sold his cuff checklist for $364,000. We felt it was the most important thing that he had in his collection. We recognized that it was the only watch that’s been on the lunar surface that you could own. The government still retains all of the Omega watches. Anything that’s been on the lunar surface has immense value because it’s critical to the mission. This certainly was.

I imagine there was cross-competition for this between watch collectors and space memorabilia collectors. That was exactly what happened. As it got higher, we had dueling collectors of Apollo [material] and watches. They understood the significance of the item. Not only was it on the surface, it was a watch. It crossed over, certainly.

 Did you try it on? I did not. The lunar strap had to fit on the space suit, so it was quite long. I used gloves to handle it. I do own a Bulova chronograph replica because it is my favorite thing.

Closeup of part of the velcro strap on the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

Do you wear the Bulova replica every day? Yeah! [laughs]

How did you convince Scott to consign the watch? We knew it existed. It was rumored in the collecting community that he wore it on the EVA. Once he became a client, it did take some effort for him to consign it, but he’s glad he did. It wasn’t the first thing out of storage. We built a relationship with him, and then he said, “I have this watch…”

Does the watch still work? From the time I got it to the time I sold it, it had a little life in it. Somehow, it showed us it still worked. [Between Scott taking the scouting photos of the watch and Livingston receiving the watch, the hands advanced, but it’s not clear when they briefly winked to life.] I wouldn’t wind it. Usually with a watch, you clean it. This watch, you don’t want to clean it. It’s just too important.

A closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

What was the auction like? We sold it live at our gallery in Boston. All of us worked really hard on the auction. It was a really intense moment, adrenalin pumping. When we exceeded our client’s expectations, it was unbelievable. If I recall correctly, there were five initial bidders. The lot took eight or nine minutes.

Was Scott there in the sale room? No, but he was listening through a computer. We got his reaction at the time. He was very generous and kind to everyone who worked on the auction. He made it about our staff and the auction. I think he understood the importance of getting the object in the hands of a collector who will take care of it. I think that’s what he cares about.

Were you surprised that it sold for $1.6 million? You know, our expectations were $750,000. It was thrilling for it to get to a $1 million bid and keep going [laughs loudly]. That was unbelievable. It was an achievement for us. We don’t sell fine art. We don’t have Banksy shredding his work on our walls. [laughs]

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It crosses so many lines. It’s history. It was important to the mission. It’s a great story. There’s incredible photographic provenance [evidence]. It comes right from him. It tells so many stories of the mission. It has an emotional resonance with me on so many levels. And it went to the moon! [laughs] And came back!

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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 RR Auction.

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to the digital version of the dedicated catalog that RR Auctions produced for the Bulova chronograph.

And in case you missed it above, here’s video of Dave Scott performing Galileo’s gravity experiment on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

And here’s a short video segment on the sale of the watch.

Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid previously about Dave Scott’s Apollo 17-flown Robbins medal and spoke in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

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

SOLD! A Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

Update: The Civil War flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the USCT sold for $196,800.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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 Morphy 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.

A Unique Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Might Find Glory at Morphy Auctions

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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 Morphy 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.

WHOA! An Andrew Clemens Patriotic Sand Bottle Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

Andrew Clemens created this example of bottled sand art in 1887. It has a patriotic theme that showcases a flying eagle and a streaming American flag. Clemens developed his own techniques for arranging the layers and sections of colored sand to create elaborate, distinct imagery.

Update: The 1887 Andrew Clemens bottle sold for $102,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: A patriotic-themed sand bottle by Andrew Clemens, dated 1887. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $35,000 to $45,000.

The expert: Wes Cowan, founder, Cowan’s Auctions.

Did Clemens invent this form of sand art? We don’t know entirely, but near McGregor, Iowa, there’s what is now a state park, Pikes Peak State Park. There’s a sandstone formation where different colored sand is exposed in layers. At some point, some enterprising person in McGregor collected sand and put it into bottles. I don’t think Clemens was the guy who invented it, but he took it to a level others could only dream of. Once Clemens started to do it, others imitated him.

So the artistic sand bottles made before Clemens appeared were what, just stacked colors of sand? I think so. The McGregor Historical Society has examples of bottles made by other folks–stacked colors or very simple geometric designs. They don’t look anything like Andrew Clemens bottles.

How did Clemens make these artistic bottles of sand? I think a large part of Clemens’ genius was he spent a lot of time preparing the sand–sorting it, sifting it, and he may have ground it so it could be packed. The sand granules coming out of the deposit are not the same size. It’s an advantage to make it as uniform as you can to arrange it in the bottle.

What tools did he use to arrange the grains of sand? He’d use tiny scoops to add sand to the bottle where he wanted it to be. He’d manipulate the colors with what looked like little hooks. And he would pack the sand–imagine a wooden tamping tool inside the bottle to pack the sand.

Did he or anyone else document his methods in detail? There are contemporary accounts that describe the process, but they’re not detailed enough to provide information on it. The bottom line is he practiced and practiced and became expert at doing this. That’s the secret of his work.

What challenges did he face in creating these artistic bottles? It was not physically difficult to do at all. Obviously, it was mentally challenging. The fact that he was deaf [means he] had no outside distractions. [Clemens came down with encephalitis at the age of five, and lost the ability to speak as well.] That’s part of the genius of this guy. [His deafness] allowed for intense levels of focus or concentration. By the end of his career, he could make them with relative ease. An upside-down bottle took him two days to make. He came up with techniques to make bottles faster and more efficiently.

Did he sell the bottles? Apparently, he got so good, and was recognized as such, that he printed a price list. He said he could do any design inside a bottle. I’ve seen a piano, an angel, a horse’s head, and a house. This is a standard spread-wing eagle with an urn and flowers on the other side. There are trains and steamboats, but the eagle [motif] is most common.

The other side of the bottle is dated. Is that typical? I wouldn’t say it’s typical. I would say sometimes the side with the floral urn would have a presentation: “To Clara, 1873.” He’d do anything you wanted. Sometimes it’s block letters, sometimes it’s script. [The third photo in the series of images below the main lot shows the other side of the bottle.]

Did he work alone, or did he train others to help him? Newspaper accounts from the time suggest his brother helped by going to Pikes Peak to get sand. But he did it by himself. He didn’t train anyone else. There are no pictures of himself in his studio with his bottles, and there are no pictures of him working. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means no one has come up with any so far.

So when he died, the knowledge went with him? I don’t know that you could teach anybody [how to do what he did]. He was a self-taught genius. He mastered the technique and no one ever came close.

And he didn’t use any glue when making these bottles? Zero. It’s all hand-packed sand.

Where did he get the bottles? An apothecary supplier? I’m sure he ordered apothecary bottles eventually. He had a thriving business. McGregor is a town on the Mississippi River. There was no problem shipping to McGregor.

Because they were alive at the same time, I should ask–was Andrew Clemens related to the author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)? No, he was not related to Samuel Clemens.

How was Clemens’s work received in his day? He was incredibly well-regarded. He was recognized as a genius then and now. Anyone who holds a bottle in their hands is flabbergasted.

How did he choose his subject matter? His earliest bottles were strictly geometric, block shapes. I don’t know how he was inspired to create the spread-winged eagle, but it could have had to do with the centennial. But he wasn’t making these things up. He saw things in brochures and copied them. Eighty percent of them [the bottles] are eagles with flags and floral urns.

Do we have a notion of how many bottles he made? If he kept records, we don’t know where they are. He worked for 15, 16 years. Assuming he could make a bottle once every two days, or three to four a week, my guess is he made between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles. Maybe 150 are known to exist today, and they keep popping up. People curated these because they recognized the genius needed to make them, and how fragile they are. I’ve handled about 40, publicly and privately. I think I played a role in rediscovering the bottles when taping an episode of Antiques Roadshow in Hot Springs, Arkansas 17 years ago. It was the first seen outside of McGregor. People in Iowa knew who he was. No one had really done too much research on him.

What was that experience like, 17 years ago, when you saw that Clemens bottle? As an auctioneer, it’s rare to see something that you’ve absolutely never seen before. I think I was at the folk art table with representatives from Christie’s and Sotheby’s, thinking, “What? Where did this come from? How have we never heard of this?” It was pretty fun. I was able to Google his name and find a very primitive website where there were a few bottles and a bio. I thought, “Oh, he’s not unknown, he’s just unknown to us.” I think we [Cowan’s] were the first auction house to promote him nationally. The first bottle brought $11,000 or $12,000 and I think I estimated it at $3,500 to $4,500. It’s gone up and up since then.

How does this bottle compare to other bottles of his that you’ve handled? It’s an outstanding example of his late period work, but he didn’t make any crappy examples [laughs]. The only thing that happens is if they’re put out in the sun, the color might fade a bit. This one is very vibrant.

This bottle has an 1887 date. Clemens died in 1894. Do collectors prefer specific periods or eras of his work? No. The collectors I know are happy to get one.

What’s the world auction record for a Clemens sand bottle? And was it similar to this bottle? It was $132,000. It’s on the site. [The record was set at Cowan’s Auctions in October 2018]. It was a typical eagle. There just happened to be two people who really wanted it. That’s all that was.

What’s it like to hold the bottle in your hands? Is it substantial? It probably weighs about a pound, a pound and a half. The bigger they are, the more substantial they get. This is not by any means the biggest bottle he made. That’s in the State Historical Museum of Iowa. It took him two years to make, and he made it for his mom. It’s remarkable. [Scroll down a bit to see both sides of that bottle.]

And what’s it like to hold it in your hands and examine it? You hold one of these bottles and just marvel at the genius who made it. That’s the real reward. But the real story here is not necessarily the genius of the guy, It’s about a guy who had a disability in the 19th century [Clemens was a deaf-mute] who found a way to make a living.

How to bid: The Andrew Clemens 1887 sand bottle is lot 815 in the Fine and Decorative Art, Including Americana auction on February 23, 2019 at Cowan’s.

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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Speaking of Antiques RoadshowSeason 22 began in January 2019 and continues through late May. I’m one of several who live-tweet new episodes of the show with the #antiquesroadshow hash tag at 8 pm EST. See you there on Twitter?

Image is courtesy of Cowan’s.

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SOLD! The Dr. Mary Edwards Walker Tintype Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

In this circa 1865 tintype, American physician Mary Edwards Walker wears her Medal of Honor. It appears on the upper left of her chest. She wears matching trousers under her black dress. She's depicted in three-quarter view, looking to the right, with her hands clasped.

Update: The circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor sold for $9,375.

What you see: A circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker, taken in the year she received the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

How often was Walker photographed around this time, and during her life? Do we know how many photos of her exist, tintype or otherwise? There are several known photos of her from all periods of her life, but fewer than ten, I’d say.

Do we have a more precise date on the tintype than 1865? I’m wondering if this is the first portrait of her wearing her Medal of Honor. No. I wish we did. There’s no way for us to pinpoint a more specific date. It’s dated primarily on the presence of the medal, which she won in 1865, and the overall appearance.

Could we talk a bit about Walker’s life story? I did not know about her until I spotted this lot in the Swann catalog. I also didn’t know about her until we received the object. She was an extraordinary person. It’s amazing she’s not more widely appreciated for who she was.

Her parents were progressive. They encouraged her education and encouraged her to dress how she wanted. She went to Syracuse Medical College and graduated as a doctor. She married [a fellow medical student] and privately practiced together. As far as I understand, trusting female doctors was not something patients found easy to do [so the practice struggled]. From her youth, she wore uncommon dress. In some ways, that was the most radical thing she did. She carried on, progressively getting more masculine [in her choice of clothing], but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. She didn’t wear corsets and was really outspoken about it. It caused a lot of backlash.

Let’s talk about her work during the Civil War, which led to her becoming the first, and so far, only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. When war broke out, she volunteered her services as a doctor. She crossed enemy lines [to tend to patients]. I think she believed powerfully in the ability to serve, and she was proud of her service. She wore her Medal of Honor in almost every photo taken of her after the war, and she refused to relinquish it. She was very proud of it, and deservedly so. After the war, she became a vocal proponent of women’s rights.

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How did she win the Medal of Honor? As far as I understand, she attempted to retroactively receive a commission from the Army, partly to receive benefits. People didn’t know what to do with her. I think the medal was a way for them to give her recognition without giving her formal status as a veteran, which she was asking for. It was the first time a woman was awarded the medal. She believed she earned it for her bravery. She was very brave. She traveled in the south, and she was taken as a prisoner of war. [She was captured in April 1864 and released in a prisoner exchange four months later.]

The government rescinded the medal in 1917, two years before she died. But her medal was NOT taken away because she was an outspoken activist for women’s rights, correct? I do think her being a woman was an element, but it was not because of that. [The government of the time] questioned how the Medal of Honor was awarded in the past. Many others had theirs retroactively rescinded. [More than 900 recipients suffered the same fate as Walker. Some were removed because they were not technically members of the military when they earned the honor.] She got it back after her death. [President Jimmy Carter restored the honor to Walker in 1977.]

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The tintype shows her wearing pants. Was it a brave act for a woman to pose for a photo in 1865 while wearing pants? Absolutely. There are women willing to record themselves wearing pants–women in bloomers, and women who served in the army and dressed as men to do that. But I don’t think they dressed that way as a matter of course through their lives. What sets Walker apart is her commitment. She dressed this way throughout her life. [She felt] women should not be forced to wear clothing that impacted their health and denied them the range of possibilities that men had. There was another level on which she was very brave. There are anecdotal stories of her wearing pants and being chased or having objects thrown at her, and she was arrested at least once for dressing this way. But she was very sure of herself. An appealing aspect to her personality was that she was so confident and articulate about her choices.

Would she have worn an outfit like this on the battlefield, or are these more formal clothes? The outfit in the tintype, I’d say, is certainly more formal than what she wore during the war. She would have dressed in a more casual manner. I understand that she styled herself a uniform like the Army uniform.

Is there any information recorded on the tintype itself? There is not, which is typical for tintypes of the period. Tintypes were an incredibly popular medium for doing portraits. There were studios, and there were itinerant tintypists. They were accessible and quick to produce. You see a lot of soldiers commemorating their own service or giving them to family members while they are away.

Can we tell by looking why Walker might have had this tintype made–whether she did it for herself, or for someone else, or to promote herself? It’s impossible to know for sure, given that tintypes are unique objects by definition. It’s possible to imagine she made it for herself or someone close to her.

What’s that light-colored thing that’s behind her in the picture? It looks like a studio prop. It could be a partially obscured portrait stand, which was used to position your body so you don’t make a move during the exposure and make a blurry image.

How did this tintype come to you? Was Walker identified as the sitter when it was consigned, or did you identify her? It came from a consigner we have a relationship with, who has a lot of expertise in the period and its images. He came to us with the attribution, and we did additional research. We were not able to find a previous publication of the piece, and we believe it’s unique and undocumented.

How did the tintype manage to go unpublished until now? Anything I could say would be guessing. It probably descended through family members. It was not part of her estate when she died. We do see this all the time–things appear out of nowhere, and we’re able to rediscover them.

I imagine Walker would have been easy to identify regardless, given that she’s wearing pants and a Medal of Honor. The object is small, but an aspect of tintypes is the detail. The medal is really quite clear when you look at it with magnification. It’s incredible to see that.

Have any other images of Walker gone to auction? What did they fetch? Records for Walker are very scarce. Christie’s sold a signed 1877 photograph of her in April 1996 for $4,370.

I imagine you’ll get cross-competition for this from several groups–tintype collectors, fans of early photographs, medical historians, military history fans, people interested in women’s rights… We expect that, certainly. It touches a lot of aspects of history in America, and it appeals to a wide audience. The conversations happening in the country now are relevant to the conversations that happened in Walker’s lifetime–what she could wear, could women vote, how we respond to women who have strong opinions. I see the line of conversation through history. Has it changed or not changed? She’s clearly still relevant. Her passion and her strength resonates strongly, and I hope collectors will feel that.

What condition is the tintype in? The image itself has not faded. I do see handling issues that are common with this piece, but the details retained in the image are incredible. I was looking at it yesterday. Her hands are clasped, and under the loupe, you can see the veins in her hands. The tintype format allows us to retain a sense of immediacy. I felt her presence strongly in the image. Paper images of the period don’t retain detail at the same level.

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When I saw this lot, I felt angry, because I had never heard about Walker before, and this is how I learned about her–not in school, but by leafing through an online auction catalog. Do you understand what I mean? Exactly. I felt some of the things you’re describing. I feel lucky to be able to offer the image and expose her more. She was a bit of a difficult person, so opinionated, so strong, and so unable to cede to the [women’s rights] movement around her. It had an impact on how she’s remembered today. It’s unfortunate. She should be remembered for her foresight and her contributions. History is not written by women. That’s not new, but we can change that. She’s the only female Medal of Honor winner. She’s one of the first female doctors in the country. She’s incredible, and I hope we’ll be able to reenter her in our history.

How to bid: The circa 1865 tintype of Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor is lot 15 in the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture auction at Swann, taking place February 21, 2019.

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This Civil War-era Quilt Has a Heartbreaking Backstory. Skinner Could Sell It for $60,000

A stunning pieced and appliquéd cotton memorial quilt, created circa 1863 by Mary (aka Polly) Bell Shawvan. Its background is a warm yellow, almost a school bus yellow. At its center is a spread-winged eagle with an American shield on its chest. It is surrounded by blooming branches and vines in a winding but symmetrical pattern. Several small birds with black wings perch on the branches. Unlike most quilt-makers, Shawvan treated the quilt as a large canvas to spread her imagery upon, rather than stitching blocks together.

What you see: A pieced and appliquéd cotton memorial quilt, created circa 1863 by Mary (aka Polly) Bell Shawvan. Skinner estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

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

How do we know that Mary Shawvan made this quilt around 1863? The answer to both is family tradition. [The family] consigned it in 2003, and it was well-enough documented when it was made to know it was 1863, more or less. He [John, Mary’s husband] died later in 1863. The supposition is she finished it in 1863, then he died. We found no reason to argue. The family always thought that she finished it before he died.

And the family showed it in quilt competitions after John’s death? They showed it because Mary was proud of her work, and it was a symbol of lamentation in the family. It was meant to be a homecoming gift for John [who was fighting for the Union in the Civil War when he was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga]. It was put away after his death. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pure distillation of folk quiltwork. Mary Shawvan shows herself at her most artistic. She didn’t follow a pattern. This is a fully freehand design.

How often do you see 19th century quilts designed like this–as if the entire thing is a single canvas? Not often. Certainly not to this degree. Quilts with one overarching design throughout are not unprecedented, but they’re rare.

What challenges did she face in making this quilt? To distill an image across 84 by 81 1/2 inches is difficult. It would require a lot of planning and effort. It’s easier to lay out 36 blocks. That’s why you don’t see many done like this.

Would she have worked alone on this quilt, or might her children have helped? Traditionally, this kind of thing was done by one person. There’s no reason to believe she had help. Certainly, she would have worked it over the course of several months. She was essentially a single mother when he was at war, and they had six children. She probably put hundreds of hours into it unless she was really good and really fast.

I was going to ask if she was inspired to make the quilt after learning that he died at the Battle of Chickamauga, but it sounds like he died after or around the time she finished it. We term it a memorial quilt, but it’s a memorial quilt by circumstance. It was not intentional. It imbues the whole thing with a sense of melancholy, but it doesn’t diminish its beauty.

Is it unusual to see a 19th century quilt with a yellow background? That is a lot of yellow. It is. You probably can’t see it, but there’s a pattern to it. It’s printed. It’s a very subtle pattern in the color itself. It’s not sewn on. It gives the background color of the quilt a bit more life.

Are there other details that don’t quite show up on camera? Every single bird is done by what’s called stuffed work. It’s cotton batting that gives them a three-dimensionality. It’s very unusual in quilt-making. The kind of stuffed work you see on this quilt is especially difficult work, requiring an incredibly talented hand to do it.

Are the birds and the flowers there just because they look nice, or is there an iconography to the quilt? Do the birds represent John, Mary, and the kids, for example? As far as I can tell, the only real symbol is the eagle, which denotes patriotism. It [any iconographic significance] was possibly known to Mary, but it was not passed down in the family. What you’re looking at are choices of design and color. There’s no memorial imagery here.

The quilt measures 84 by 81 1/2 inches. Is that a typical size for a 19th century American quilt? It’s about the typical size. The smallest dimensions you see are six feet, or 72 inches, and maybe they go up to 100 inches. It’s no bigger or smaller than typical quilts of the period.

Do we know how the Shawvans used the quilt? All we know is what we were told from family lore. John was such a beloved husband and father that [the quilt] represented melancholy, and it was put away and not used. Because it was not used, it remained as vibrant as the day it was made when it was consigned to us 130 years later. That’s unusual for a quilt of any kind, never mind a folk art masterpiece like this one. Usually, the reds and pinks have a tendency to go light brown quicker than others, or lose their vitality. The fact that they’re as vibrant as they are speaks to it not seeing the light of day for a century and a half. In addition, I think the birds’ wings use silk, which has a tendency to shatter in place, and shred. “Shatter” is a word used to describe what happens to silk when it loses its integrity. It shatters like glass, but it doesn’t come out of where it is. The black silk [on the birds’ wings] is totally intact.

Skinner first sold the quilt in 2003. How did it perform then? We offered it at $50,000 to $75,000 at the time, and it sold for $149,000. It was purchased by a private collector in the Boston area who knew the story, and knew it was put away in melancholy circumstances. He put it away in the same plastic bag that the family consigned it in. This is undoubtedly the best quilt we’ve ever sold.

Really? What makes it the best quilt Skinner has ever sold? All the different ways a piece of folk art can be valuable, this is [valuable]. It has a great story, it has great artistry, it has a charming and whimsical approach to composition, and the condition is as good as any quilt can be.

How many different types of collectors will compete for this quilt? Certainly quilt and textile people. Also, folk art people, which can include quilt people. The person who bought it in 2003 was not a quilt collector, but a folk art collector. And lovers of history, and American history, specifically. John Shawvan was a color sergeant and a father of six. He enlisted when he didn’t have to, for a cause he believed in. There’s a huge group of collectors of American historical items who appreciate it when you can identify specific persons and families [connected to the item].

How do we know he believed in the Union cause? He enlisted in October of 1861 though he had substantial family obligations. That implies to me that he believed so strongly in the cause he was almost compelled to leave his family. What other reason could there be?

Were you at Skinner when the quilt sold the first time? No. I was here in 2003, but it predates my tenure by about seven months.

Why will this quilt stick in your memory? I will never forget it because it’s so rare to have this confluence of characteristics. It’s a fully realized folk masterpiece of a quilt, with a full family history, a compelling story, and impeccable condition.

How to bid: The Shawvan memorial quilt is lot 65 in the American Furniture & Decorative Arts sale scheduled at Skinner on March 2, 2019.

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

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid last year about a Jess Blackstone robin and in February 2017 about an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

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A Patriotic Sand Art Bottle by Andrew Clemens Could Command $45,000


Andrew Clemens created this example of bottled sand art in 1887. It has a patriotic theme that showcases a flying eagle and a streaming American flag. Clemens developed his own techniques for arranging the layers and sections of colored sand to create elaborate, distinct imagery.

What you see: A patriotic-themed sand bottle by Andrew Clemens, dated 1887. Cowan’s Auctions estimates it at $35,000 to $45,000.

The expert: Wes Cowan, founder, Cowan’s Auctions.

Did Clemens invent this form of sand art? We don’t know entirely, but near McGregor, Iowa, there’s what is now a state park, Pikes Peak State Park. There’s a sandstone formation where different colored sand is exposed in layers. At some point, some enterprising person in McGregor collected sand and put it into bottles. I don’t think Clemens was the guy who invented it, but he took it to a level others could only dream of. Once Clemens started to do it, others imitated him.

So the artistic sand bottles made before Clemens appeared were what, just stacked colors of sand? I think so. The McGregor Historical Society has examples of bottles made by other folks–stacked colors or very simple geometric designs. They don’t look anything like Andrew Clemens bottles.

How did Clemens make these artistic bottles of sand? I think a large part of Clemens’ genius was he spent a lot of time preparing the sand–sorting it, sifting it, and he may have ground it so it could be packed. The sand granules coming out of the deposit are not the same size. It’s an advantage to make it as uniform as you can to arrange it in the bottle.

What tools did he use to arrange the grains of sand? He’d use tiny scoops to add sand to the bottle where he wanted it to be. He’d manipulate the colors with what looked like little hooks. And he would pack the sand–imagine a wooden tamping tool inside the bottle to pack the sand.

Did he or anyone else document his methods in detail? There are contemporary accounts that describe the process, but they’re not detailed enough to provide information on it. The bottom line is he practiced and practiced and became expert at doing this. That’s the secret of his work.

What challenges did he face in creating these artistic bottles? It was not physically difficult to do at all. Obviously, it was mentally challenging. The fact that he was deaf [means he] had no outside distractions. [Clemens came down with encephalitis at the age of five, and lost the ability to speak as well.] That’s part of the genius of this guy. [His deafness] allowed for intense levels of focus or concentration. By the end of his career, he could make them with relative ease. An upside-down bottle took him two days to make. He came up with techniques to make bottles faster and more efficiently.

Did he sell the bottles? Apparently, he got so good, and was recognized as such, that he printed a price list. He said he could do any design inside a bottle. I’ve seen a piano, an angel, a horse’s head, and a house. This is a standard spread-wing eagle with an urn and flowers on the other side. There are trains and steamboats, but the eagle [motif] is most common.

The other side of the bottle is dated. Is that typical? I wouldn’t say it’s typical. I would say sometimes the side with the floral urn would have a presentation: “To Clara, 1873.” He’d do anything you wanted. Sometimes it’s block letters, sometimes it’s script. [The third photo in the series of images below the main lot shows the other side of the bottle.]

Did he work alone, or did he train others to help him? Newspaper accounts from the time suggest his brother helped by going to Pikes Peak to get sand. But he did it by himself. He didn’t train anyone else. There are no pictures of himself in his studio with his bottles, and there are no pictures of him working. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means no one has come up with any so far.

So when he died, the knowledge went with him? I don’t know that you could teach anybody [how to do what he did]. He was a self-taught genius. He mastered the technique and no one ever came close.

And he didn’t use any glue when making these bottles? Zero. It’s all hand-packed sand.

Where did he get the bottles? An apothecary supplier? I’m sure he ordered apothecary bottles eventually. He had a thriving business. McGregor is a town on the Mississippi River. There was no problem shipping to McGregor.

Because they were alive at the same time, I should ask–was Andrew Clemens related to the author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)? No, he was not related to Samuel Clemens.

How was Clemens’s work received in his day? He was incredibly well-regarded. He was recognized as a genius then and now. Anyone who holds a bottle in their hands is flabbergasted.

How did he choose his subject matter? His earliest bottles were strictly geometric, block shapes. I don’t know how he was inspired to create the spread-winged eagle, but it could have had to do with the centennial. But he wasn’t making these things up. He saw things in brochures and copied them. Eighty percent of them [the bottles] are eagles with flags and floral urns.

Do we have a notion of how many bottles he made? If he kept records, we don’t know where they are. He worked for 15, 16 years. Assuming he could make a bottle once every two days, or three to four a week, my guess is he made between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles. Maybe 150 are known to exist today, and they keep popping up. People curated these because they recognized the genius needed to make them, and how fragile they are. I’ve handled about 40, publicly and privately. I think I played a role in rediscovering the bottles when taping an episode of Antiques Roadshow in Hot Springs, Arkansas 17 years ago. It was the first seen outside of McGregor. People in Iowa knew who he was. No one had really done too much research on him.

What was that experience like, 17 years ago, when you saw that Clemens bottle? As an auctioneer, it’s rare to see something that you’ve absolutely never seen before. I think I was at the folk art table with representatives from Christie’s and Sotheby’s, thinking, “What? Where did this come from? How have we never heard of this?” It was pretty fun. I was able to Google his name and find a very primitive website where there were a few bottles and a bio. I thought, “Oh, he’s not unknown, he’s just unknown to us.” I think we [Cowan’s] were the first auction house to promote him nationally. The first bottle brought $11,000 or $12,000 and I think I estimated it at $3,500 to $4,500. It’s gone up and up since then.

How does this bottle compare to other bottles of his that you’ve handled? It’s an outstanding example of his late period work, but he didn’t make any crappy examples [laughs]. The only thing that happens is if they’re put out in the sun, the color might fade a bit. This one is very vibrant.

This bottle has an 1887 date. Clemens died in 1894. Do collectors prefer specific periods or eras of his work? No. The collectors I know are happy to get one.

What’s the world auction record for a Clemens sand bottle? And was it similar to this bottle? It was $132,000. It’s on the site. [The record was set at Cowan’s Auctions in October 2018]. It was a typical eagle. There just happened to be two people who really wanted it. That’s all that was.

What’s it like to hold the bottle in your hands? Is it substantial? It probably weighs about a pound, a pound and a half. The bigger they are, the more substantial they get. This is not by any means the biggest bottle he made. That’s in the State Historical Museum of Iowa. It took him two years to make, and he made it for his mom. It’s remarkable. [Scroll down a bit to see both sides of that bottle.]

And what’s it like to hold it in your hands and examine it? You hold one of these bottles and just marvel at the genius who made it. That’s the real reward. But the real story here is not necessarily the genius of the guy, It’s about a guy who had a disability in the 19th century [Clemens was a deaf-mute] who found a way to make a living.

How to bid: The Andrew Clemens 1887 sand bottle is lot 815 in the Fine and Decorative Art, Including Americana auction on February 23, 2019 at Cowan’s.

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.

Cowan’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Speaking of Antiques RoadshowSeason 22 began in January 2019 and continues through late May. I’m one of several who live-tweet new episodes of the show with the #antiquesroadshow hash tag at 8 pm EST. See you there on Twitter?

Image is courtesy of Cowan’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 Tintype of Mary Edwards Walker–the First and, So Far, Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient– for $9,000

In this circa 1865 tintype, American physician Mary Edwards Walker wears her Medal of Honor. It appears on the upper left of her chest. She wears matching trousers under her black dress. She's depicted in three-quarter view, looking to the right, with her hands clasped.

What you see: A circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker, taken in the year she received the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

How often was Walker photographed around this time, and during her life? Do we know how many photos of her exist, tintype or otherwise? There are several known photos of her from all periods of her life, but fewer than ten, I’d say.

Do we have a more precise date on the tintype than 1865? I’m wondering if this is the first portrait of her wearing her Medal of Honor. No. I wish we did. There’s no way for us to pinpoint a more specific date. It’s dated primarily on the presence of the medal, which she won in 1865, and the overall appearance.

Could we talk a bit about Walker’s life story? I did not know about her until I spotted this lot in the Swann catalog. I also didn’t know about her until we received the object. She was an extraordinary person. It’s amazing she’s not more widely appreciated for who she was.

Her parents were progressive. They encouraged her education and encouraged her to dress how she wanted. She went to Syracuse Medical College and graduated as a doctor. She married [a fellow medical student] and privately practiced together. As far as I understand, trusting female doctors was not something patients found easy to do [so the practice struggled]. From her youth, she wore uncommon dress. In some ways, that was the most radical thing she did. She carried on, progressively getting more masculine [in her choice of clothing], but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. She didn’t wear corsets and was really outspoken about it. It caused a lot of backlash.

Let’s talk about her work during the Civil War, which led to her becoming the first, and so far, only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. When war broke out, she volunteered her services as a doctor. She crossed enemy lines [to tend to patients]. I think she believed powerfully in the ability to serve, and she was proud of her service. She wore her Medal of Honor in almost every photo taken of her after the war, and she refused to relinquish it. She was very proud of it, and deservedly so. After the war, she became a vocal proponent of women’s rights.

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How did she win the Medal of Honor? As far as I understand, she attempted to retroactively receive a commission from the Army, partly to receive benefits. People didn’t know what to do with her. I think the medal was a way for them to give her recognition without giving her formal status as a veteran, which she was asking for. It was the first time a woman was awarded the medal. She believed she earned it for her bravery. She was very brave. She traveled in the south, and she was taken as a prisoner of war. [She was captured in April 1864 and released in a prisoner exchange four months later.]

The government rescinded the medal in 1917, two years before she died. But her medal was NOT taken away because she was an outspoken activist for women’s rights, correct? I do think her being a woman was an element, but it was not because of that. [The government of the time] questioned how the Medal of Honor was awarded in the past. Many others had theirs retroactively rescinded. [More than 900 recipients suffered the same fate as Walker. Some were removed because they were not technically members of the military when they earned the honor.] She got it back after her death. [President Jimmy Carter restored the honor to Walker in 1977.]

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The tintype shows her wearing pants. Was it a brave act for a woman to pose for a photo in 1865 while wearing pants? Absolutely. There are women willing to record themselves wearing pants–women in bloomers, and women who served in the army and dressed as men to do that. But I don’t think they dressed that way as a matter of course through their lives. What sets Walker apart is her commitment. She dressed this way throughout her life. [She felt] women should not be forced to wear clothing that impacted their health and denied them the range of possibilities that men had. There was another level on which she was very brave. There are anecdotal stories of her wearing pants and being chased or having objects thrown at her, and she was arrested at least once for dressing this way. But she was very sure of herself. An appealing aspect to her personality was that she was so confident and articulate about her choices.

Would she have worn an outfit like this on the battlefield, or are these more formal clothes? The outfit in the tintype, I’d say, is certainly more formal than what she wore during the war. She would have dressed in a more casual manner. I understand that she styled herself a uniform like the Army uniform.

Is there any information recorded on the tintype itself? There is not, which is typical for tintypes of the period. Tintypes were an incredibly popular medium for doing portraits. There were studios, and there were itinerant tintypists. They were accessible and quick to produce. You see a lot of soldiers commemorating their own service or giving them to family members while they are away.

Can we tell by looking why Walker might have had this tintype made–whether she did it for herself, or for someone else, or to promote herself? It’s impossible to know for sure, given that tintypes are unique objects by definition. It’s possible to imagine she made it for herself or someone close to her.

What’s that light-colored thing that’s behind her in the picture? It looks like a studio prop. It could be a partially obscured portrait stand, which was used to position your body so you don’t make a move during the exposure and make a blurry image.

How did this tintype come to you? Was Walker identified as the sitter when it was consigned, or did you identify her? It came from a consigner we have a relationship with, who has a lot of expertise in the period and its images. He came to us with the attribution, and we did additional research. We were not able to find a previous publication of the piece, and we believe it’s unique and undocumented.

How did the tintype manage to go unpublished until now? Anything I could say would be guessing. It probably descended through family members. It was not part of her estate when she died. We do see this all the time–things appear out of nowhere, and we’re able to rediscover them.

I imagine Walker would have been easy to identify regardless, given that she’s wearing pants and a Medal of Honor. The object is small, but an aspect of tintypes is the detail. The medal is really quite clear when you look at it with magnification. It’s incredible to see that.

Have any other images of Walker gone to auction? What did they fetch? Records for Walker are very scarce. Christie’s sold a signed 1877 photograph of her in April 1996 for $4,370.

I imagine you’ll get cross-competition for this from several groups–tintype collectors, fans of early photographs, medical historians, military history fans, people interested in women’s rights… We expect that, certainly. It touches a lot of aspects of history in America, and it appeals to a wide audience. The conversations happening in the country now are relevant to the conversations that happened in Walker’s lifetime–what she could wear, could women vote, how we respond to women who have strong opinions. I see the line of conversation through history. Has it changed or not changed? She’s clearly still relevant. Her passion and her strength resonates strongly, and I hope collectors will feel that.

What condition is the tintype in? The image itself has not faded. I do see handling issues that are common with this piece, but the details retained in the image are incredible. I was looking at it yesterday. Her hands are clasped, and under the loupe, you can see the veins in her hands. The tintype format allows us to retain a sense of immediacy. I felt her presence strongly in the image. Paper images of the period don’t retain detail at the same level.

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When I saw this lot, I felt angry, because I had never heard about Walker before, and this is how I learned about her–not in school, but by leafing through an online auction catalog. Do you understand what I mean? Exactly. I felt some of the things you’re describing. I feel lucky to be able to offer the image and expose her more. She was a bit of a difficult person, so opinionated, so strong, and so unable to cede to the [women’s rights] movement around her. It had an impact on how she’s remembered today. It’s unfortunate. She should be remembered for her foresight and her contributions. History is not written by women. That’s not new, but we can change that. She’s the only female Medal of Honor winner. She’s one of the first female doctors in the country. She’s incredible, and I hope we’ll be able to reenter her in our history.

How to bid: The circa 1865 tintype of Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor is lot 15 in the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture auction at Swann, taking place February 21, 2019.

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SOLD! Frank Sinatra’s Copy of the 1961 Inauguration Program for John F. Kennedy Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

Frank Sinatra's copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Update: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy sold for $1,250.

What you see: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Sotheby’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

What is this deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program worth without the Sinatra provenance? It’s probably something like $700 to $1,000, but maybe that’s a bit aggressive–$600 to $800 for a deluxe limited edition that went to no one of consequence except being a big donor.

How big was the press run? When they don’t state a limitation, my assumption is it’s fairly high. Checking results at auction, the highest-number copy was in the 700s. If I had to speculate, I’d say 1,000 [were printed].

How often does the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program come to auction? Every couple of seasons, but it could come up at sales of political memorabilia, which is a separate area [from books and manuscripts]. There’s probably one available every 18 months.

What makes this version deluxe? The standard version would have been what you or I could obtain if we attended the Kennedy inaugural in 1961. This was made for presentation for donors to the inaugural event, which Sinatra certainly was, or to donors to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign. This was for VIPs, essentially.

How did Kennedy and Sinatra become friends? I don’t know that it’s known when they met, but it’s generally acknowledged that they met through Peter Lawford, being the senator’s brother-in-law and an associate member of the Rat Pack. Both were stars: Sinatra in entertainment, and Kennedy a rising star in politics. Both were charismatic, and both were the sort of people other people want to be around. There was mutual admiration. Sinatra was a New Deal FDR Democrat. He was probably excited to see a younger version of that.

Seems that Sinatra went all-in on Kennedy. He retooled High Hopes as a campaign song… I think Sammy Cahn wrote new lyrics for High Hopes as a campaign song. I think Sinatra saw a winner in Kennedy. He wanted to associate with that, and he believed in him. I think he felt he was a better choice for the country and he tried to convey that through campaigning. Sinatra had several peaks in his career. He could have made a lot of money singing anywhere, and he spent some of those nights on campaign appearances.

Does the 1961 inauguration of Kennedy represent the peak of the friendship of Kennedy and Sinatra? I think it has to, because the inaugural balls, the entertainment, Sinatra was put in charge of that. He chose not to treat that as an honorary position. He worked the telephone, strong-armed people, and turned out an amazing cavalcade of stars to perform. The president thanked him for his work. It had to be the pinnacle for Sinatra [who probably thought]: “I helped put him in the White House, and he acknowledged me.”

Can you talk about how the relationship between Kennedy and Sinatra ended? Sinatra, for all his charisma and bravado and his tough-guy exterior, did not like to be disappointed. He anticipated hosting President Kennedy, as he had hosted Senator Kennedy, at his Palm Springs estate in 1962. At the last minute, after making lots of preparations for Kennedy and the Secret Service to be there, he was informed that Kennedy would not stay at his property, but would stay with Bing Crosby instead. It was particularly irksome because Crosby was a Republican.

Why would Kennedy have chosen to stay with a Republican rather than another prominent Democrat in Palm Springs? Crosby may have been seen as safer than Sinatra, who was seen as a bad boy, and who was in the tabloids in a way that Crosby was not. The association [with Sinatra] could prove embarrassing in a way that associating with Crosby would not be.

The end of the friendship of Kennedy and Sinatra is tragic, but I don’t see how it could have been avoided. Kennedy had chosen his brother, Bobby, for attorney general, and was rightly getting heat for that, even though Bobby proved capable. One of Bobby’s main tasks was targeting the mob, and if Sinatra didn’t have mob ties, many believed he had them… This is pure speculation, but maybe Kennedy tried to get a message to Sinatra to the effect of “Look, if it was solely my choice, I’d be with you, but I’ve been advised I can’t do that.” It’s speculation that the president tried to explain it that way. I think it stung Sinatra very deeply. I do think he came to realize that President Kennedy didn’t really have an open choice to stay with him.

Sinatra was clearly hurt by the snub, but he hung onto this program and he mourned Kennedy’s death, even though he went on to campaign for Republicans… People do change their politics. Sinatra did campaign for Ronald Reagan, who was also a former New Deal FDR Democrat. I think that progression–as people get older, the move from one party to another is not unusual. It could be his political choices were based on the man rather than the platform. Just as he found Jack Kennedy more convivial than Richard Nixon, he may have found Ronald Reagan more convivial than Jimmy Carter. I do think the continuing involvement–he found in it something similar to the adrenalin rush he could get from performing. If you’re Frank Sinatra, you’re a pretty important guy, but you’re not the president.

But Sinatra kept the program until he died, despite how things ended between him and Kennedy. I think he recognized it was a great moment for him and a great friendship. Some friendships don’t last, but the memory does last. The assassination of Kennedy the following year may have contributed to him keeping this. There are other Kennedy items in the sale. I think he regretted that the friendship blew up or ended, but I don’t know that he regretted the friendship.

The condition of Frank Sinatra’s copy of the program is described as “extremities just rubbed, a bit shaken”. Could you elaborate? Any book, if you put it on a shelf, the corners especially tend to get rubbed or worn in something 60 years old. “Just rubbed” means a bit of wear and tear, maybe at the top of the spine where you put a finger to pull it off the shelf. It’s fairly straightforward. “Shaken” is related to the pages, the substance of the book itself, to the binding. It was printed to be a paperback and inserted into the binding to delineate it as a limited edition. The binding is not always the best quality. Literally, if you hold it in your hand and shake it, you’d see the pages were moving. Nothing is sewn into the binding, but nothing is loose.

What does the wear say about Frank Sinatra’s copy of the program, and what does it say about how often Sinatra or his wife might have taken it down from the shelf to look at it or show it to friends? I think it [the wear] is partly that, and partly–I don’t want to be harsh about it–though it was coveted at the time, it was not of the highest quality of manufacture. [The condition reflects] the quality of heavy use and mid-quality manufacture. Let’s put it that way.

The estimate on Sinatra’s deluxe limited edition copy of the 1961 inaugural program is $3,000 to $5,000. That strikes me as a little low. How did you choose that sum? It’s higher than any copy we’re aware of that has sold. Whenever you have a celebrity–and we learned this with the Jackie O estate auction–when there’s special interest with the provenance, it’s best not to build it into the estimate. It’s best to let the marketplace determine where it goes. We say the fact that it was Sinatra’s should increase the value three- or four-fold. In the event of a sale, it may see an increase of more than that.

Are there any notations or inscriptions in Frank Sinatra’s copy of the book? There are no notations, but I also think it’s a matter of… during the inauguration, you want to be seen as listening, not taking notes. And it’s pretty chock-a-block. It’s dense. There’s not a lot of space left for notes.

What’s the world auction record for one of these deluxe 1961 inaugural programs? Our estimate is already higher than the highest price. We’re saying that of the copies that have been for sale, this is worth more than any of them. The current record, and this is not quite a one-to-one comparison because it included other material from the 1961 inauguration, such as invitations, it was copy 776, signed by Mr. Foley as chairman of the commission and given to Edward J. Sullivan. It sold at another house for $2,745. Obviously, what we want when people look at the catalog [is to think] “That’s low, I can get it.” We want to pitch the estimate so it’s appealing and will create competition among bidders.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a huge Sinatra fan. I’ve listened to Sinatra for four decades. And I love association copies–something that underlines a friendship in a tangible way, This is tangible evidence of friendship between two of the greatest figures of 20th century America. It’s really evidence of the culmination of the friendship and probably a highlight for both of them. Kennedy got into the White House, and Sinatra was acknowledged as very important in achieving that goal.

How to bid: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program is lot 109 in Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra, a sale that takes place at Sotheby’s New York on December 6, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick 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.

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Sotheby’s Has High Hopes for Frank Sinatra’s Copy of the 1961 Inauguration Program for John F. Kennedy, Estimated at $3,000 to $5,000

Frank Sinatra's copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

What you see: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Sotheby’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

What is this deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program worth without the Sinatra provenance? It’s probably something like $700 to $1,000, but maybe that’s a bit aggressive–$600 to $800 for a deluxe limited edition that went to no one of consequence except being a big donor.

How big was the press run? When they don’t state a limitation, my assumption is it’s fairly high. Checking results at auction, the highest-number copy was in the 700s. If I had to speculate, I’d say 1,000 [were printed].

How often does the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program come to auction? Every couple of seasons, but it could come up at sales of political memorabilia, which is a separate area [from books and manuscripts]. There’s probably one available every 18 months.

What makes this version deluxe? The standard version would have been what you or I could obtain if we attended the Kennedy inaugural in 1961. This was made for presentation for donors to the inaugural event, which Sinatra certainly was, or to donors to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign. This was for VIPs, essentially.

How did Kennedy and Sinatra become friends? I don’t know that it’s known when they met, but it’s generally acknowledged that they met through Peter Lawford, being the senator’s brother-in-law and an associate member of the Rat Pack. Both were stars: Sinatra in entertainment, and Kennedy a rising star in politics. Both were charismatic, and both were the sort of people other people want to be around. There was mutual admiration. Sinatra was a New Deal FDR Democrat. He was probably excited to see a younger version of that.

Seems that Sinatra went all-in on Kennedy. He retooled High Hopes as a campaign song… I think Sammy Cahn wrote new lyrics for High Hopes as a campaign song. I think Sinatra saw a winner in Kennedy. He wanted to associate with that, and he believed in him. I think he felt he was a better choice for the country and he tried to convey that through campaigning. Sinatra had several peaks in his career. He could have made a lot of money singing anywhere, and he spent some of those nights on campaign appearances.

Does the 1961 inauguration of Kennedy represent the peak of the Kennedy-Sinatra friendship? I think it has to, because the inaugural balls, the entertainment, Sinatra was put in charge of that. He chose not to treat that as an honorary position. He worked the telephone, strong-armed people, and turned out an amazing cavalcade of stars to perform. The president thanked him for his work. It had to be the pinnacle for Sinatra [who probably thought]: “I helped put him in the White House, and he acknowledged me.”

Can you talk about how their relationship ended? Sinatra, for all his charisma and bravado and his tough-guy exterior, did not like to be disappointed. He anticipated hosting President Kennedy, as he had hosted Senator Kennedy, at his Palm Springs estate in 1962. At the last minute, after making lots of preparations for Kennedy and the Secret Service to be there, he was informed that Kennedy would not stay at his property, but would stay with Bing Crosby instead. It was particularly irksome because Crosby was a Republican.

Why would Kennedy have chosen to stay with a Republican rather than another prominent Democrat in Palm Springs? Crosby may have been seen as safer than Sinatra, who was seen as a bad boy, and who was in the tabloids in a way that Crosby was not. The association [with Sinatra] could prove embarrassing in a way that associating with Crosby would not be.

The end of the friendship is tragic, but I don’t see how it could have been avoided. Kennedy had chosen his brother, Bobby, for attorney general, and was rightly getting heat for that, even though Bobby proved capable. One of Bobby’s main tasks was targeting the mob, and if Sinatra didn’t have mob ties, many believed he had them… This is pure speculation, but maybe Kennedy tried to get a message to Sinatra to the effect of “Look, if it was solely my choice, I’d be with you, but I’ve been advised I can’t do that.” It’s speculation that the president tried to explain it that way. I think it stung Sinatra very deeply. I do think he came to realize that President Kennedy didn’t really have an open choice to stay with him.

Sinatra was clearly hurt by the snub, but he hung onto this program and he mourned Kennedy’s death, even though he went on to campaign for Republicans… People do change their politics. Sinatra did campaign for Ronald Reagan, who was also a former New Deal FDR Democrat. I think that progression–as people get older, the move from one party to another is not unusual. It could be his political choices were based on the man rather than the platform. Just as he found Jack Kennedy more convivial than Richard Nixon, he may have found Ronald Reagan more convivial than Jimmy Carter. I do think the continuing involvement–he found in it something similar to the adrenalin rush he could get from performing. If you’re Frank Sinatra, you’re a pretty important guy, but you’re not the president.

But Sinatra kept the program until he died, despite how things ended between him and Kennedy. I think he recognized it was a great moment for him and a great friendship. Some friendships don’t last, but the memory does last. The assassination of Kennedy the following year may have contributed to him keeping this. There are other Kennedy items in the sale. I think he regretted that the friendship blew up or ended, but I don’t know that he regretted the friendship.

The condition of Frank Sinatra’s copy is described as “extremities just rubbed, a bit shaken”. Could you elaborate? Any book, if you put it on a shelf, the corners especially tend to get rubbed or worn in something 60 years old. “Just rubbed” means a bit of wear and tear, maybe at the top of the spine where you put a finger to pull it off the shelf. It’s fairly straightforward. “Shaken” is related to the pages, the substance of the book itself, to the binding. It was printed to be a paperback and inserted into the binding to delineate it as a limited edition. The binding is not always the best quality. Literally, if you hold it in your hand and shake it, you’d see the pages were moving. Nothing is sewn into the binding, but nothing is loose.

What does the wear say about Frank Sinatra’s copy of the book, and what does it say about how often Sinatra or his wife might have taken it down from the shelf to look at it or show it to friends? I think it [the wear] is partly that, and partly–I don’t want to be harsh about it–though it was coveted at the time, it was not of the highest quality of manufacture. [The condition reflects] the quality of heavy use and mid-quality manufacture. Let’s put it that way.

The estimate on Sinatra’s deluxe limited edition copy of the 1961 inaugural program is $3,000 to $5,000. That strikes me as a little low. How did you choose that sum? It’s higher than any copy we’re aware of that has sold. Whenever you have a celebrity–and we learned this with the Jackie O estate auction–when there’s special interest with the provenance, it’s best not to build it into the estimate. It’s best to let the marketplace determine where it goes. We say the fact that it was Sinatra’s should increase the value three- or four-fold. In the event of a sale, it may see an increase of more than that.

Are there any notations or inscriptions in Frank Sinatra’s copy the book? There are no notations, but I also think it’s a matter of… during the inauguration, you want to be seen as listening, not taking notes. And it’s pretty chock-a-block. It’s dense. There’s not a lot of space left for notes.

What’s the world auction record for one of these deluxe 1961 inaugural programs? Our estimate is already higher than the highest price. We’re saying that of the copies that have been for sale, this is worth more than any of them. The current record, and this is not quite a one-to-one comparison because it included other material from the 1961 inauguration, such as invitations, it was copy 776, signed by Mr. Foley as chairman of the commission and given to Edward J. Sullivan. It sold at another house for $2,745. Obviously, what we want when people look at the catalog [is to think] “That’s low, I can get it.” We want to pitch the estimate so it’s appealing and will create competition among bidders.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a huge Sinatra fan. I’ve listened to Sinatra for four decades. And I love association copies–something that underlines a friendship in a tangible way, This is tangible evidence of friendship between two of the greatest figures of 20th century America. It’s really evidence of the culmination of the friendship and probably a highlight for both of them. Kennedy got into the White House, and Sinatra was acknowledged as very important in achieving that goal.

How to bid: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program is lot 109 in Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra, a sale that takes place at Sotheby’s New York on December 6, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick 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.

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Cassandra Hatton on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

SOLD! A William Henry Harrison Ceramic Campaign Pitcher from 1840 Sold For… (Scroll Down to See)

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

Update: The William Henry Harrison 1840 campaign pitcher sold for $18,750.

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 William Henry 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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

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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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

WHOA! That Elmer Crowell Preening Black Duck Decoy Flew Away With $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips.

Update: The circa 1912 A. Elmer Crowell Phillips rig preening black duck decoy sold for $600,000—double its high estimate.

What you see: A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

Who was A. Elmer Crowell? Born in 1862 in East Harwich, Massachusetts, he’s the king of American duck decoy carvers. Initially, he carved in the course of his work at duck-hunting camps, but over time, his magnificent wooden birds won fans who loved them as decorative objects. His decoys have sold at auction for six-figure sums, and two sold privately for more than $1 million each. Crowell died in 1952, at the age of 89.

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but is this Crowell preening black duck decoy a hen or a drake? Black ducks get a pass on being hens or drakes. 99 percent of the time, they’re just black ducks. This is just a black duck, with no clear designation on being one or the other.

The Crowell preening black duck decoy is also described as being a “rig mate” to other duck decoys that belonged to the late Dr. Phillips. What does it mean for a decoy to be a rig mate? A rig is a group of birds [decoys] owned by and hunted over by one person. It doesn’t always mean the decoys are exactly alike, or made side by side. There can be a lot of variation, depending on how they were made and used. In the context of the Phillips rig, a decoy can be anything out of that group of rig mates. There are Phillips rig mates that look nothing like Crowell’s work.

Crowell carved and painted hundreds of decoys that depicted black ducks. Where does this one rank among his lifetime output? It’s among his very finest. As you mention, he did hundreds of them. This bird is as good as they come, in my personal opinion.

Did he carve the decoy from a single piece of wood? The bird is made of two pieces, one for the body and one for the head. One thing that makes the bird so strong is the masterful sculpture of the duck in a preening position. It’s not easy to capture well, and Crowell did it nearly perfectly. The finer details of the carving show Crowell’s tremendous effort to do his best work for his best patron. We see him coming into a sweet spot in his career–he was as good a carver as he would be, and this was on the early side of showing his command of his wet-on-wet painting technique, which gives a natural, soft look to the feathers.

This Crowell duck decoy looks gorgeous enough to have been destined for a mantle, but the lot notes say it shows evidence of being used on a hunt… It’s a working decoy, and at the same time, it represents one of the best carved decoys in a decorative sense. The bird was hardly used. It was probably retired early because of an appreciation of its aesthetic qualities. I suspect the patron deemed it too precious to hunt over. What’s interesting about the Phillips rig is Crowell didn’t just make this decoy for Phillips, he was his stand manager. He created the decoys, and decided where they would be hunted, and how they would be hunted over. Crowell knew he was going to be involved with handling the decoy after it left his workshop. He wasn’t handing it over to a hunter who might break it. It’s unknowable, but it’s possible because of the relationship Crowell and Phillips had.

Do we know when Crowell made this decoy? He used a hot brand [on his decoys]. We can date his birds to some extent on the quality of the brand. Every time a brand is heated, it corrodes a little. Over the years, a brand can be seen burning out, leaving a softer and softer impression. It’s a great dating tool that Crowell inadvertently left behind. This has a perfectly crisp oval brand, which suggests it was 1912.

Carving the duck’s head to make it hover in a natural-looking way over the body seems difficult. Is it harder to carve a preening duck? You can think of a preener as the decoy maker’s deluxe model. It’s harder to carve and harder to paint. But it adds variety to the rig, making it look more lifelike as a group. An additional benefit is they’re less breakable because the body can protect the head. We have a 200-year-old decoy in the sale with an intact bill because it’s protected by the body in the preening pose.

What is your favorite detail on this Crowell duck decoy? When I look at this bird, the first thing it does is hold together as a phenomenal piece of sculpture. You can go from tip to tail picking out fine details that were expertly executed, but the bird is better than any one single detail.

What is it like to hold the Crowell duck decoy? [Laughs] Being in the presence of the decoy before handling it is a real pleasure. It’s excellent from every angle. And it feels just right in the hand. It’s full, robust, and you can feel the finer subtleties in the carving details. I wouldn’t change a thing.

To explain what a big deal it is to auction Donal C. O’Brien, Jr.’s collection of decoys and sporting art, can you draw an analogy to other notable auctions of lots consigned by great collectors? It would be somewhat like the Rockefeller collection or the Yves St. Laurent collection in its breadth and quality, and that’s been reflected in the market response to the birds so far.

Why will this Crowell preening black duck decoy stick in your memory? Crowell is a quintessential representative of great American bird carving. He was self-taught. He started making decoys because he needed to, and his working decoys led to the birth of American decorative bird carving. This bird is at the nexus of his carving career, where his working decoys became so good, they’re indistinguishable from decorative carving. He’s one of the best makers, making his best effort, carving one of his favorite species for his most important client. It fires on all cylinders from a historic standpoint and an aesthetic standpoint.

How to bid: The Crowell preening black duck decoy is lot 14 in the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys, Session III, taking place July 19, 2018 at Copley Fine Art 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.

Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions appeared on The Hot Bid last summer in a post about a record-setting Gus Wilson duck decoy.

Quack!

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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.

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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 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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SOLD! Sam Doyle, a Self-Taught African-American Artist, Drums Up $17,000 with Penn Drummer Boy at Slotin Folk Art

Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle.

Update: Penn Drummer Boy sold for $17,000.

What you see: Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

Who was Sam Doyle? He was an African-American self-taught artist who painted images of people and events in the Gullah community of Saint Helena Island in South Carolina. He made his art with what he could scavenge. Born in 1906, he began painting in 1944 and displayed his works outside his home. Eventually, it evolved into the Saint Helena Out Door Art Gallery. Doyle gained fame after he was included in a groundbreaking 1982 show, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He died in 1985, at the age of 79.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

How prolific was Sam Doyle? Do we know? There probably is a finite number of works because he was producing for quite a few years and decorating his environment with images. When he got discovered, collectors bought them and he replaced them. There’s at least a thousand works, or it’s in the thousands.

Penn Drummer Boy is undated. Can we narrow down when he might have painted it? The family who owned it bought it directly from his environment. This is 1983 or just right after the Corcoran exhibit. The painting could have been in the yard for a year or two, or he could have just made it.

How often did he paint on metal? The majority of his works are painted on old, used roofing tin. Discarded roofing and discarded house paint was almost free material.

Is Penn Drummer Boy from his Penn series? This image was repeated. That wasn’t uncommon. It’s an image he’d already done, and when it was bought, he made another, and another, and another. When you’re extremely poor and white people come to your community and say, ‘I want one of those,’ you’re going to make one of those. If you wanted a Penn Drummer Boy, he’d make you a Penn Drummer Boy. His paintings reported what went on in his community. He painted people he knew. No one else was documenting what was going on in his community except for him. He would record people of importance, such as the first black butcher. You get a lot of history in his paintings, but you don’t necessarily realize it.

How many Penn Drummer Boy paintings are there? No one knows, but we’ve seen three or four in the last 25 years we’ve been doing this, and we’ve handled two or three.

How similar are they? Pretty much everything is similar to the one before it.  If it’s a midwife holding a baby, it’s the same midwife holding a baby. There’s not a lot of variation.

Sam Doyle attended the Penn school when he was young, and later he became a father. Is there any chance that Penn Drummer Boy is a self-portrait, or maybe a portrait of one of his kids? I would not know that. I’ve studied this guy and what he looks like, and it’s probably not the same person. It could be a very young version of him, but I wouldn’t even go there. There’s no indication. It didn’t occur to me that it would ever be a self-portrait. He may have done one or two self-portraits [in his career].

Was Penn Drummer Boy ever displayed at the outdoor gallery? Everything was displayed in his yard until someone bought it. If you found him and walked onto his property, you could buy it. Nothing was there just for looksies. That was his gallery.

Did Sam Doyle call it a gallery? Who knows what he called it. Everything was nailed to the outside of the walls. It was really an all-outdoor environment. Paintings were leaning against each other. It was not what me and you would say is a gallery.

How rare is it for a Sam Doyle to come to auction? We’ve been really lucky. We get one or two pieces in every sale, which happens every six months. We’ve certainly sold more than anybody else. We have a really good track record of getting the highest prices for our sellers and for the buyers, making sure what we have is correct. We do a really good job of vetting.

Are fakes a problem with Sam Doyle works? There were a few times people tried to pass things off as Sam Doyles, but they’re really quick and easy to spot. We won’t accept those pieces. Anytime money is involved, somebody will try to capitalize and make a quick buck.

So faking a Sam Doyle piece is harder than it looks? Right. A trained artist who mimics folk, self-taught, and outsider art still has training in art. After 25 years of doing this we’re pretty aware of what to look for.

Penn Drummer Boy is fresh to market–it went from Doyle to the consigner to Slotin. Is that rare? For Sam Doyle and for most of the works in the auction, that’s not rare at all. During the period of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, collectors were visiting artists and buying directly from them. The original buyers have started getting older and need to figure out what to do with their art. If the children don’t want it, they sell it. We get a lot of stuff that’s never been sold or offered before.

As of April 6, 2018, about three weeks before the auction, Penn Drummer Boy has been bid up to $3,700. Does that mean anything? What you see online is basically lookie-loos. Most of the action on the piece will be in-house, online, or on the phone. The second that piece hits the auction block, and it’s on the block for 40 seconds to a minute, lots of hands in the auction will bid it up. $3,700 is nothing. It will hit the highest price in-house. That’s where it will go to $15,000, $20,000, $30,000.

What condition is it in? Self-taught artists, especially Sam Doyle, work with found material. This has rust, and holes for nails–that’s expected. You want to see that in a piece. You know it’s real. The colors are strong. It didn’t sit in the environment that long. It’s a pristine piece.

Why will Penn Drummer Boy stick in your memory? This is a really strong piece, in great condition. Those who bought it bought it right from the environment. I like everything it has going on. Everything you want to see in a Sam Doyle is there. It’s got the history. It’s got the colors. It’s easy on the eyes. It’s an all-around nice piece.

How to bid: Sam Doyle’s Penn Drummer Boy is lot 0132 in the Self Taught, Outsider & Folk Art sale on April 28 and 29, 2018 at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

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

Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

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SOLD! A William McKinley Campaign Poster from 1900 Fetched $11,875 at Heritage Auctions

A circa 1900 28-inch-by-42-inch near-mint condition campaign poster for President William McKinley, who was running for a second term.

Update: The William McKinley campaign poster from circa 1900 sold for $11,875.

What you see: A circa 1900 28-inch-by-42-inch near-mint condition campaign poster for President William McKinley, who was running for a second term. Heritage Auctions believes that the poster could sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was William McKinley? He was the 25th president of the United States. He was a Republican and a Civil War veteran who defended the gold standard and led the country through the Spanish-American War, in which America gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines (this last eventually became independent). He also annexed Hawaii. His vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, went on to become president in his own right. An assassin shot McKinley in September 1901 and he succumbed to his wounds about a week later. He was 58.

Do we know how this William McKinley campaign poster came to be? And did the campaign know they had a winner on their hands with this image? No, and probably not. “The two times he ran for president, McKinley stayed home in Canton, Ohio, and delegations came to visit him,” says Don Ackerman, consignment director for historical Americana and political material at Heritage Auctions. “Millionaire Mark Hanna financed the entire campaign. Most campaign materials were purchased and used by local Republican clubs and organizations. They didn’t have to be authorized by the national Republican clubs. Posters like this may have been custom-ordered, or may have been produced for Republican clubs.”

What details in this circa 1900 poster might be lost on 21st century viewers? “The word ‘Civilization’ is an unusual usage. It ties in with the expansionism of 1898 and the war with Spain. Republicans supported imperialism and justified that by saying they were bringing civilization to backward peoples,” he says, laughing. “Part of that is you see factories belching smoke. That was considered a higher level of civilization over people who fished and farmed. The large gold coin says ‘Sound Money’ on it, and refers to the gold standard. It was a big issue in 1896 and 1900. McKinley’s opponent, William Jennings Bryan, advocated greater use of silver. Republicans said that would devalue the currency and cause inflation, and if we stuck to the gold standard, it would maintain its value.”

What other details stand out? “The glowing sunrise in the background. Sort of like ‘Morning in America.’ Everything is bright,” he says. “And you have shipping on the left hand side and factories on the right–business is booming, we’re selling overseas, factories are at capacity. McKinley is shown with the flag, in an appeal to patriotism and showing America as a dominant world power. He’s supported by a group of men from all aspects of society. The man in the blue suit is a sailor. One on the left is a soldier, there to appeal to people who served in the armed forces and the Civil War–McKinley served in the Civil War. The man with the silk top hat is a banker or an industrialist. The guy in the center might be a waiter–they usually don’t wear hats. The man in the pale green shirt is a workman. McKinley is appealing to all segments of the voting population.”

I can’t help but notice that everyone shown in the William McKinley campaign poster is a white man. Is that deliberate? “Except for Wyoming and Colorado, women couldn’t vote [in 1900],” he says. “This [poster] is not necessarily a snub of minority voters. There were ‘Colored Republican Clubs’. The Democrats were associated with the south, and with slaveholders. Blacks were loyal Republican voters from the time of Ulysses S. Grant to FDR or later. I think the Republican Party figured that black voters who were permitted to vote were going to vote for them anyway.”

Where were these posters displayed in 1900? “They were in local Republican headquarters or in store windows,” he said. “The owners weren’t afraid to offend their customers. If they liked the Republican candidate, they’d put the Republican poster in the window.”

Maybe ten of these posters exist. How might this one have managed to survive? “If somebody liked it and thought it was nice, they would fold it and put it away,” he says, noting that this example has folding creases in it. “That’s how they got saved. If it’s properly stored and the paper is good, the colors will still be bright. This has a minor chip, but nothing that affects the image.”

The colors on this William McKinley campaign poster really pop, particularly the red and blue of the flag, and the yellow of the coin. How close are they to the colors that the poster would have had when it was fresh off the stone lithographic press? “Pretty close. They’re not faded or anything,” he says. “The ink they used doesn’t fade naturally. As long as it’s not exposed to sunlight, the colors are going to be as vibrant as in 1900.”

How often does this William McKinley campaign poster appear at auction? “We’ve sold three of them in the past, for prices ranging from $10,000 to $17,000,” he says. “The one that sold for $17,925 probably is the record for this poster, but I can’t say definitively.”

Why will this William McKinley campaign poster stick in your memory? “It’s a masterpiece of graphic political Americana, and probably the best McKinley poster, for sure,” Ackerman says. “It’s head and shoulders above most of the stuff we see from the period. This really grabs you. Political posters of this quality were only issued between 1900 and 1904, and of the different designs known, this is the most appealing. It’s got all the great elements you want to see on a poster. It tells a story, it refers to policies that were prominent then, and it reflects the exuberance that people felt for the political process. It was a new century, a new age, and people really felt good about themselves.”

How to bid: The circa 1900 William McKinley campaign poster is lot #43382 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Political & Presidential Americana, Part 2, taking place at Heritage Auctions on February 24, 2018.

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SOLD! A Gold Freedom Box Given to Commodore Stephen Decatur Fetches $70,000

A 18-karat gold freedom box awarded to Commodore Stephen Decatur by the City of New York in 1812.

Update: The 18-karat gold Commodore Stephen Decatur freedom box sold for $70,000.

What you see: A 18-karat gold freedom box awarded to Commodore Stephen Decatur by the City of New York in 1812. The James D. Julia auction house estimates it at $125,000 to $175,000.

Who was Stephen Decatur? Born to a seagoing American family, Stephen Decatur became the young country’s first great naval hero by fighting the Barbary states–Mediterranean countries whose pirates had a nasty habit of capturing American vessels and ransoming their crews. (Do you remember the line from the U.S. Marines hymn, ‘From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli’? Tripoli is a reference to the Barbary Wars.) Decatur also distinguished himself in the War of 1812. He died in 1820 from a gunshot wound suffered in a duel with Commodore James Barron. Decatur was 41.

How did the custom of giving heroic people a gold freedom box get started? “The way it originated was the gold or silver box held the key to the city,” says John Sexton, senior consultant and sales representative in James D. Julia’s firearms division. “The ‘freedom box’ terminology comes from giving them ‘the freedom of the city.’ By this time [1812], they were just giving them the boxes.”

Why did the City of New York give Commodore Stephen Decatur this gold freedom box? During an October 1812 battle, he captured the HMS Macedonian, a 38-gun British frigate, saved it from sinking, and towed it to New York to be refitted and made part of America’s naval fleet. “It was the most important naval battle ever fought to that point,” he says. “Decatur was a household name in 1812. He was such a hero.”

How often do gold freedom boxes come up at auction? “The last one I could find was one awarded to John Jay and sold at Sotheby’s in 1991,” he says. “They’re beautiful boxes, exceptionally ornate. There’s another one in the sale from the Civil War that’s just as elaborate. They quit using the term ‘freedom box’ in the mid-19th century.”

Were the gold freedom boxes meant to be used to hold anything, such as snuff? Or were they just meant to be beautiful boxes? “It was just the box, but they were snuff box-size,” he says.

The Commodore Stephen Decatur gold freedom box also has its red leather presentation case. Is that unusual? “It’s probably unique,” he says.

And the box is entirely made of gold? “It’s all gold, including the hinge,” he says. “There’s not a part that’s not.”

How does it feel to hold the gold freedom box in your hand? “It’s quite heavy! It weighs 100 grams. It’s a nice, heavy little box,” he says. “Whoever did the engraving had a lot of skill. The engraving style is fantastic, beautiful–a lost art.”

How did you put an estimate on the Commodore Stephen Decatur gold freedom box? “We made a conservative estimate,” he says. “We expect it to bring several hundred thousand dollars. Compared to John Jay, Stephen Decatur is probably more of a household name. But I don’t know what it will bring at auction.”

Decatur’s descendants have passed the box from generation to generation. Why are they consigning it now? “There are about 80 lots from the same family,” Sexton says, noting that the lots include the carnelian and gold signet ring that the Bey of Tunis surrendered to Decatur in 1805. It appears the current owner within the family thought it wiser to consign the material rather than try to split it among seven or eight heirs. “Decatur was a very important person in his day. The treasures he had were phenomenal,” he says. “It’s amazing that the family retained them.”

Why will this gold freedom box stick in your memory? “There are so few objects associated with someone as important as Stephen Decatur. There are 25 states that have cities named after him,” he says. “This is a piece of history. You just know it’s a gem. It’s something so unique and wonderful.”

How to bid: The Commodore Stephen Decatur gold freedom box is lot 2068 in James D. Julia’s Fine Art, Asian, & Antiques Winter 2018 sale, taking place February 8 and 9, 2018.

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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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An I Want You Poster Sold for $14,300–$101 Shy of a Record

A 1917 American recruiting poster for World War I, illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg.

Update: Swann sold the 1917 I Want You World War I recruiting poster for $14,300–a strong result, and just $101 short of a new world auction record for the poster.

What you see: A 1917 American recruiting poster for World War I, illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $7,000 to $10,000.

Who was James Montgomery Flagg? He was an American artist and illustrator. Unquestionably, his illustration for this poster is his most famous work. While he did not create the concept of Uncle Sam–credit for that goes to cartoonist Thomas Nast–Flagg codified the costume and appearance of America’s avatar with this image. He didn’t draw  a finger-pointing Uncle Sam expressly for the poster; he did it in 1916 as cover art for Leslie magazine and repurposed it. Flagg also unintentionally immortalized himself by using a self-portrait for Uncle Sam. Flagg died in 1960 at the age of 82.

Why was this I Want You poster such a huge hit during World War I? “It trips all the bells and whistles–psychology, guilt, alpha male power, patriotism. And it’s an attractive image,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

It looks like there’s a direct relationship between Flagg’s illustration and a 1914 British WWI recruiting poster featuring Lord Kitchener “There’s arguably more than a direct relationship. He lifted the premise straight from it,” Lowry says. “But it’s so different from the Kitchener poster. And can you copyright a gesture? There are World War I posters from Italy, Canada, and Germany that have the same motif, calling you out, putting you on the spot. The Kitchener is rare as hell and not nearly as attractive as this one [Flagg’s take].”

How many I Want You posters were printed in America in 1917? “It was THE most printed poster during the war,” says Lowry, adding that an estimated four million were produced. “It instantly resonated. Everybody who saw it was gripped by it.”

Flagg’s I Want You poster was so famous that it was re-issued during World War II. How many were printed for World War II? And how do you tell the two versions apart? Lowry says about 400,000 were printed for World War II, and the later version isn’t nearly as valuable as the 1917, though there are fewer of them. Swann has sold the WWII-era poster for as much as $3,600, but it sold the 1917 original for $14,400 in 2013–a world auction record. Fortunately, telling them apart is easy. “They’re very different,” Lowry says, noting that the 1917 original is bigger, and the slogan on the World War II version rephrased the slogan to add a “the,” making it less grammatically awkward.

How has the I Want You poster performed at auction over time? “The August 6, 2003 Swann poster auction was the year of the Iraq war,” says Lowry, explaining that the sale contained a 1917 Flagg poster with an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000. “We put it on the cover not because it was a rare poster, and not because it hasn’t been seen, but because America was at war. The poster resonates somehow. It sold for $12,650 in 2003. From that point on, the poster has brought dramatic prices, and the prices are even bigger when the poster shows up in really good condition.”

M34396-4 003

The particular poster in the August 2017 sale has a grade of A–the top grade of the condition scale–and house records show that Swann has never before handled a grade A example of this poster. What are the odds that it sets a new record at auction? “It’s in as good a position to break the world record as any,” he says. “It’s so famous, it belies conventional collecting norms.”

How to bid: The ‘I Want You for U.S. Army’ poster is lot 141 in Swann Auction Galleries’s Vintage Posters sale on August 2.

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A Sculpture by Ab the Flag Man Fetches $1,200

An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a "Medium Size American Flag."

Update: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man sold for $1,200.

What you see: An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a “Medium Size American Flag.” Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $600 to $900, plus $75 for shipping.

Who is Ab the Flag Man? “He has a real name, but no one ever calls him by it,” says Steve Slotin, of Slotin Folk Art Auction, an auctioneer in Buford, Ga., that specializes in self-taught, outsider, and folk art. Ab the Flag Man was born with the name Roger Lee Ivens in Tennessee in 1964. He picked up the nickname “Abstract” during his school days, after asking his teacher about abstract art. It got shortened to “Ab” by co-workers on construction sites. He traces his interest in flags to the age of seven, when he witnessed the military funeral of his father. The sight of his casket covered with a flag never left him.

How long has Ab the Flag Man been an artist? He quit carpentry in 1995 to make art full-time, but it’s unclear precisely when he began–it could have been the late 1980s or early 1990s. He was discovered in a parking lot in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, where he had set up alongside another folk artist to sell his works. “Specific dates in folk art are hard to come by. It’s not like he came out of art school and we tracked his progress,” says Slotin. “With Ab, people liked his stuff, and it was immediately popular.”

How prolific is he? “We’ve been doing auctions for 25 years, and since we began, we’ve had a few in each auction,” says Slotin. “There’s got to be a thousand pieces out there.”

Does Ab the Flag Man work alone, or does he have assistants? “That’s the thing with folk artists. There’s no team behind them, and no staff that prepares [materials],” Slotin says. “Typically, it’s all them.”

Wait, are there chair legs in there? “You see furniture legs in a lot of his stuff,” Slotin says. “Furniture legs, blocks, parts of house moldings, discards, it varies. It’s all scraps.”

What are the dimensions of this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man? It’s 35 inches long, 21 inches high, and four inches deep. “It really pops out at you,” Slotin says. “It has a lot of movement to it, like it’s waving at you. Most of his pieces have movement, like they’re waving in the wind.”

What else makes this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man special? “The great thing about almost all of our artists is they’re untrained and unschooled. They don’t have art school or European influences,” Slotin says. “A kid out of art school, who’s trained on what is and isn’t art, makes art that’s pretty homogenized. With Ab, his background is in construction, and his dad passed away–you see his experience in his work. And no one saw it [Ab’s style of flag-themed art] till he started doing it. That’s what I like. What he’s doing is original.”

How to bid: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man is Lot 322 in Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Masterpiece sale, taking place April 29 and 30, 2017 in Buford.

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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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