SOLD! Marlene Dietrich’s World War II Autograph Collection Sells For $5,250 at Swann

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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.”

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 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 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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SOLD! Yo, Adrian! This Rocky Balboa Statue Commanded More Than $403,000 At SCP Auctions

Rocky Balboa Statue

Update: SCP Auctions sold the Rocky Balboa statue for $403,657.

What you see: A limited edition monumental bronze statue of Rocky Balboa, commissioned from sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg for the 1982 film Rocky III. SCP Auctions estimates it at $500,000-plus.

Who is Rocky Balboa? He is the fictional star of the Rocky series of films, which are about an Italian-American boxer who climbed from the bottom to the absolute top. The first Rocky appeared in 1976 and propelled its writer-lead, Sylvester Stallone, to Hollywood fame. Stallone has played the Rocky Balboa character in six sequels, including the most recent, Creed, released in 2015. The Rocky films have collectively earned more than $675 million in ticket sales alone.

How did this statue come to be? The producers of Rocky III commissioned the statue for the film. It commemorates the famous scene in the original film in which the boxer runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was placed at the top of the steps for filming, but now stands at the bottom right of the steps. The statue and the steps rival Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as the most popular tourist attractions in Philadelphia.

Who is A. Thomas Schomberg, and how was he chosen to sculpt the Rocky statue? By the early 1980s, the Colorado-based sculptor was well-known for his sports-themed works. Stallone owned a few of his boxing-related pieces and called him for the Rocky III job, which took a year. The actor sat for a plaster life mask to assist Schomberg in creating the bronze.

How many Rocky statues are there? Only three of the monumental-size statues exist. Two, including this one, were cast at the same time in the early 1980s, and the third was cast in 2006. The statue consigned to SCP Auctions had been on loan to the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum until recently. The later-cast statue is still with Schomberg.

And this is an exact replica of the one that’s outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art? “Correct, and it was made simultaneously, to the same specifications. They’re virtually identical,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions. “The one on display in Philadelphia and the one we have are twins.”

How often do you have sports-themed art in your auctions? Is it something you seek? “We’ve had our fair share over the years. It’s a take-it-as-it-comes scenario,” he says. “The Rocky statue fits many categories. It’s a monumental piece of art. It’s sports art, but you can see it as movie memorabilia. And it’s an iconic piece of Americana. It transcends categories. It’s many things. It should appeal to a cross-section of bidders.”

This statue stands eight feet, six inches tall and weighs 2,000 pounds. What should bidders hold in mind when they consider this piece? “It’s not ideally suited for your average living room. You won’t put it on your mantle or your coffee table. But I think it’s going to appeal to different people,” he says. “It has a lot of commercial value. You could display it at a public venue, or a business, or privately as well. We know from the example in Philadelphia that it was made to be displayed outdoors, or it can be put indoors, as it was in San Diego.”

I’ve never seen the Rocky statue in person. How did it affect you? “It’s breathtaking, first of all, for its sheer size,” Imler says. “Second of all is its sheer artistry. It’s incredibly well done, a beautiful work of art that conveys its ultimate intention, which is inspiration. It’s a very inspiring piece. Anyone who has seen the Rocky movies immediately thinks of the rags-to-riches story. This is an ideal representation of that.”

Why will this lot stick in your memory? “I was always an enormous fan of the Rocky movies,” he says. “If I’m flipping the channels and I happen upon any one of them, it’s hard to turn away. I remember being very moved by the original Rocky film. This statue embodies that story–the overcoming-the-odds, blue-collar, never-give-up mentality. It’s a very inspiring piece. We hope it lands in a place like its brother in Philadelphia, to be appreciated by as many people as possible.”

How to bid: The Rocky Balboa statue is among the lots in SCP Auctions‘ Fall Premier sale, which takes place from October 18 through November 4.

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.

SCP Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram as well. A. Thomas Schomberg has a website with a page that is dedicated to the Rocky statue. The statue also has its own website.

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

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SOLD! Warhol Sent Soup to the Doctor Who Saved His Life (Well, Prints of Campbell’s Cans). Christie’s Sold Each For Up To $37,500

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Update: All ten prints from the Campbell’s Soup II set that Warhol gave to Dr. Rossi sold in the Christie’s auction. Lots 1 through 4 (lot 4 is shown above) and lots 6 through 8 each sold for $37,500. Lot 5 sold for $35,000. Lots 9 and 10, which were more faded, sold for $16,250 and $23,750, respectively.

What you see: A screenprint from Campbell’s Soup II, a limited edition series of 250 that Andy Warhol created in 1969. Warhol also made 26 artist’s proofs–sets reserved for his own use–and marked each with a letter. This print is from the ‘B’ set and it is lot 4 in an upcoming Christie’s sale. The auction house estimates it and seven others from the complete ‘B’ set at $18,000 to $25,000; two more from the same group are estimated at $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was Andy Warhol? Born as Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he is one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century. Like Picasso, he refused to confine himself to a single medium, taking on painting, printmaking, film,  photography, rock band management, and creating books and magazines. The scene that evolved around his Manhattan studio, which he dubbed The Factory, became famous in its own right. A 1968 exhibition program for his work contained the words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” a phrase that has become more prophetic over time. On June 3 of that year, Valerie Solanas, an outlier member of The Factory scene, attacked the artist at his studio, shooting him and a visiting art critic. Both survived, but Warhol nearly didn’t, having suffered injuries to several organs. Warhol lived for 19 more years, succumbing in 1987 in Manhattan after gallbladder surgery. He was 58.

Warhol created a lot of iconic images–the Mao portrait, the Brillo box, the Marilyn silkscreen–but his Campbell’s Soup can images might be the best-remembered of his works. Why? “It really gets back to the origin of Pop Art,” says Lindsay Griffith, specialist and head of sale for prints for Christie’s. “He played with the idea of what you already knew. You were so conditioned to see them [the soup cans] in a different context. You did not expect to see them in a gallery. He toggled back and forth between high and low constantly. He changed the nature of image production in the fine-art sense. It’s the purest expression of that.”

I was aware that Warhol had been shot in 1968, and I had seen the photos of him displaying his scar, but I had no idea how badly he was hurt. What happened? “He was actually declared clinically dead. Three bullets entered his chest and stomach. He lost a tremendous amount of blood,” she says. “Dr. Giuseppe Rossi was a chest and thoracic surgeon. He had handled quite a few gunshot victims because of what the neighborhood [of Columbus hospital, whose emergency room received Warhol,] was. He was talented with gunshot surgeries. Every account I have read shows, truly, he saved Warhol’s life. In reading his diaries, that’s how Warhol felt. The damage was incredibly extensive, and he was in pain for the rest of his life.”

It seems that Warhol could have done better with handling the bills that Dr. Rossi sent. The doctor wrote “Pay up you blowhard” on the outside of one of them. And a story that Christie’s wrote on the ten lots includes an image of a check Warhol wrote to the doctor for $1,000, which bounced (scroll down to see it). Did the artist send the Campbell’s Soup II set of prints as payment for his treatment? “Rossi also became Warhol’s doctor for the rest of his life. That bill [the one Dr. Rossi wrote his message on] is potentially related to that,” she says, describing an ongoing relationship between the artist and the family that included Warhol sending Christmas gifts and sitting for an interview with Dr. Rossi’s young son for his middle school newspaper. “A number of people received the prints as gifts. They were really a gift, a gesture of gratitude,” Griffith says, and adds that Warhol asked for Rossi when he entered the hospital in 1987, but the family was vacationing out of the country. Warhol died before they came back. Dr. Rossi died in 2016.

The family consigned the full set of 10 prints to Christie’s, but you are selling them individually. Why? “We felt that was how they would perform best commercially,” she says, explaining that the Rossis stored eight of the prints in a box under a bed and displayed two. If you compare lots 9 and 10 to lots 1 through 8, which stayed in the dark from 1968 to now (scroll down a little to see the 10 lots as a group), you’ll spot the difference that UV light can make. “We wanted to emphasize the condition of those eight. Their colors are in exceptionally wonderful condition.”

Do the estimates for the ten prints reflect the value of the story of Warhol and Dr. Rossi? “We priced them because they are wonderful objects. We did not take the provenance into account at all,” she says. “But provenance is always an interesting X-factor at auction.”

Why will these lots stick in your memory? “This is one of my favorite stories from the last few years of being here at Christie’s,” Griffith says. “Rossi is directly responsible for continuing a tremendous career in 20th century art. It’s a story we’re privileged to be a part of, and we encourage everyone to come and see the prints. They look absolutely amazing in our gallery. They’re meant to be looked at.”

How to bid: The set of Campbell’s Soup II prints given by Warhol to Dr. Rossi are lots 1 through 10 in the Prints and Multiples sale at Christie’s New York on October 24 and 25.

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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. Christie’s also wrote a story about the lot that contains interviews with Dr. Rossi’s widow, Gemma, and his son, Roberto.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s / © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Beep Beep, Beep Beep, SOLD! An Exceptional 1969 Dune Buggy Drives Away with $36,250 at LAMA

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also understand that the car is street-legal, while most dune buggies are not? “Because he’s a professional builder and wanted to build the ultimate dune buggy, he wanted to drive it to the dunes and drive it back [instead of towing it],” he says. “He had the headlamps built into the body. The turn signals and rear lamps are from a 1964 Corvette body. He never liked the Jeep-style windshield on other dune buggies, so he took the windshield from a 1964 Renault. He knew every detail was going to make a good, fun vehicle to drive.”

This car is described as being ‘mint.’ What does that mean in this context? “Maybe that’s not the right word. It’s more like a flawless survivor,” he says, explaining that the only parts that aren’t original are the radio and a set of speakers that were installed in the 1980s. “It shows very little wear. The original [fiber] glass body was gel-coated. It has its original gel coat. It has all-original pin-striping that hasn’t been touched since 1968. He [its creator] knew it was a special car, and not a daily driver. It was a work of art, always.”

Is it drivable? Have you driven it? Yes, and no. “These things have to be usable,” he says. “A Picasso vase–you can use it. I won’t, but I can use it. An Eames chair–you can sit on it. If you say oh, it’s not functional anymore, you cut out a large reason for buying it.” But Loughrey had yet to drive the dune buggy during the week that he did this interview–the brakes were being replaced. “If I sell it to a museum, I’ll be the last one to drive it,” he says.

What else stands out about the dune buggy? “Anytime we have a car, it always stands out. The little kid in me loves that we’ve got a dune buggy in our showroom,” he says. “People have asked me for years what our next car will be, and I’d said, ‘maybe a dune buggy.’ I’ve been beating the bushes for several years. When I saw it, it was love at first sight. It was exactly what I wanted–not restored, not repainted. It was 100 percent original.”

How to bid: The Bounty Hunter dune buggy is lot 93 in LAMA‘s 25th anniversary Modern Art & Design Auction on October 22, 2017.

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.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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Yes, Vivien Leigh’s Charm Bracelet Is Worth More Than $2,000–Sotheby’s Sold It for $45,300

Lot 315 Vivien's Charm Bracelet

Update: Sotheby’s sold Vivien Leigh’s charm bracelet for £33,750, or more than $45,000.

What you see: A charm bracelet that belonged to actress Vivien Leigh. Sotheby’s estimates it at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,359 to $2,038).

Who was Vivien Leigh? She was a British actress who became a silver screen legend when she played Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind. She also played Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, both in the 1951 film and on stage in London. She married actor Laurence Olivier in 1940, and they stayed together for 20 years, often appearing alongside each other in plays. Leigh died of tuberculosis in 1967. She was 53.

When did Leigh get this charm bracelet? She seems to have acquired it sometime in the 1940s. We don’t know if she bought it for herself, or if Olivier or someone else gave it to her. David MacDonald, director and English and Continental senior specialist at Sotheby’s, cites a quote from a 1960 newspaper interview that showed why the bracelet was important to her: “I like good-luck charms and I am superstitious about some things.” The charms include a miniature book that says ‘Gone With the Wind’ on its cover and opens to reveal the words ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on its inner pages, as well as an oval locket that contains a George Romney portrait of Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson, and a photograph of Leigh in the same pose from her role in the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman.

What did each charm represent? “We know what the Gone With the Wind script means, but sometimes, they’re a complete mystery. There’s no hint about the other four,” says Macdonald, speaking of the two chalcedony drops, the jadeite pendant, and the charm that shows a boat against a sunset. “Each must have had some meaning. I know someone out there must have the missing little snippet of information that would explain why they’re there.”

Did she wear this bracelet every day? “We have a few pictures of her wearing it. You don’t see her wearing it at premieres,” he says. “She loved bracelets. This was something that was very personal. It was very much an intimate thing.”

Leigh died 50 years ago. Why is her family selling now? Leigh’s daughter, Suzanne Farrington, passed away last year. When Susan’s family dealt with her effects, they found themselves handling many things that she had inherited from her famous mother. The charm bracelet had been sitting in a bank in London since Leigh’s death, along with the rest of her jewelry, inside a crocodile skin Asprey case that she received on the opening night of the London theatrical run of A Streetcar Named Desire. That case is in the sale, along with the many treasures that it contained. “Susan was a deeply practical woman,” Macdonald says. “I suspect, with her, that her mother’s jewelry–she wasn’t going to sell it, but it wasn’t relevant to her life. It was special to her, but she kept it locked away.”

This bracelet isn’t dripping with gems. It’s valuable because it’s so personal to Vivien Leigh. How do you put an estimate on something like this? “It’s so hard,” he says. “The values we put on things are only a guide. It’s what it’s worth in real terms, without the provenance. What it will do at auction is impossible to say. It could make a lot of money, though, because it is so clearly hers. It has such a strong link to her.”

Why does this bracelet stand out from the rest of Leigh’s jewelry? “Its value lies in what it tells us about her as a person. It’s very biographical,” he says. “It’s not loaded with diamonds, but the imagery of Gone With the Wind and the portrait from That Hamilton Woman are almost worth their weight in diamonds. Other jewels are pretty, but this is absolutely hers, and it’s absolutely magical.”

How to bid: The charm bracelet is lot 315 in Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection, which takes place at Sotheby’s London on September 26, 2017.

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

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

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SOLD! Julien’s Sells the Original Prop Bottle from I Dream of Jeannie for $34,375

486.00

Update: The I Dream of Jeannie prop bottle sold for $34,375.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn you! #SorryNotSorry

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

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

Julien’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

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RECORD! John Lennon’s Long-Lost 1962 Gibson Commands $2.4 Million at Julien’s

Lennon Guitar

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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