SOLD! A 1930 Howard Cook Print of the Chrysler Building Commanded $10,625 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The Howard Cook print featuring the Chrysler Building sold for $10,625.

 

What you see: Chrysler Building, a print by Howard Cook. Swann estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Howard Cook? Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cook created watercolors and WPA murals but is best known for his prints. He earned Guggenheim Fellowships twice, in 1932 and 1934, and his works are in the collections of the British Museum, the Smithsonian Art Museum, Harvard University, the Whitney, and the Met, among others. Though he was enamored of the American southwest and ultimately settled there, he spent the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City. He died in 1980 at the age of 78.

 

How popular is Cook among collectors, and how prolific was he? “He’s very popular. When it comes to those who collect 20th century prints and American views, he’s one of the top artists. That’s been true since American prints began to flourish at auction 25 years ago,” says Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings. “He made over 225 different prints in all media–woodcuts, lithographs, etching. He was prolific compared to Grant Wood, who made 20 lithographs, and Edward Hopper, who made maybe 50 different etchings.”

 

How sought-after are Cook’s New York images? “Very. They’re the top of his market,” he says. “His views are either panoramic views or singular buildings.”

 

How does Cook’s choice of subject matter–the Chrysler Building–affect the value of this print? “It’s great. It’s an iconic building. The print dates from the year of the completion of the building [1930]. It’s just what collectors want,” he says. “It’s from the Art Deco period, so it’s less static than the Empire State Building.”

 

Is Chrysler Building a stand-alone print, or is it part of a series? “Of the 225 images he printed in his career, he did 30 views of New York,” he says. “All were stand-alone. Cook was not a serial printmaker.”

 

What would he have based this print upon? Did Cook take a photograph of the Chrysler Building from this angle? Did he stand on the street and make sketches? “We don’t know of him as a photographer,” he says. “My thinking is he sketched it in person, and he knew it from photographs. But he was not known for working from photographs.”

 

Is this Cook’s only depiction of the Chrysler Building? Yes. “He did other skyscrapers in New York more generally,” he says. “We have another one in the sale, the lot before this one, of Wall Street, and there are skyscrapers in it, but it’s not the sort of grand, isolated building view [like the Chrysler Building].”

 

How involved was he in the creation of his prints? Did he pull them himself, or did he oversee the work of professional printmakers? “Cook was very much involved in making his prints, from start to finish,” he says, noting that the only time he relied on others was when he created lithographs. “He would come up with the idea for the print, he etched it, and he pulled it on his own press.”

 

The lot notes for the print say this was an ‘edition of 50 (from an intended edition of 75),’ and also that it is ‘numbered ’75’ in pencil.’ I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here. Could you explain? “When he worked on editions himself through his gallery, the Weyhe Gallery in New York, he would propose an edition number, and would print them in batches of maybe ten or 20 at a time and deliver them to be sold on his behalf,” he says. “Over a period of a couple of years, he was able to sell only so many. He never reached his printing goal of 75. We know this through the artist’s notes and gallery sales records.”

 

So what does the number ’75’ actually mean here? “That was what he hoped the edition would be,” he says. “These prints were not numbered in the traditional sense. He would intend for an overall edition at the start of the process and would deliver batches at a time to the gallery. It’s not like they were sequentially numbered. Chrysler Building was going to be an edition of 75 until he couldn’t sell more than 50 or so. We know it wasn’t 75.”

 

Sometimes, when there’s a large press run of an art print, the early ones look better and crisper than the later ones. Does the batch printing approach that Cook took with Chrysler Building affect the quality of the prints? Is their quality consistently high? “Each was printed more or less identically,” he says. “It’s not like number one is more or lesser than number twenty. Because they’re smaller editions, there’s such attention to detail and quality. He didn’t let anything of lesser quality out to the gallery.”

 

How often does this print come to auction? “It’s a scarce one. We’ve seen less than ten at auction in the last 30 years,” he says, noting that the number might not represent ten individual prints–the same print could have gone to auction twice or more in that time. He adds that the auction record for Chrysler Building was set at Swann in November 2015 when one sold for $17,500, and four of Cook’s top ten most-expensive lots at auction have been Chrysler Building prints; first place belongs to a 1930 panoramic New York City scene called Harbor Skyline.

 

Was Chrysler Building a tricky print to make? “If you look at the imaging, look at the lines, they’re very detailed, almost hairline in the shadows,” he says. “That requires great attention to detail, and it [the ink] would have been hand-applied to the block. To have the blacks as rich as they are in the shadow areas, with no breaks or wear, is stunning. It looks like photographic perfection when you see it.”

 

What makes this print stick in your memory? “You can see the craft in it,” he says. “It has such a precision to it, on such a small scale–it’s only 10 1/8 inches by 6 3/4 inches–but he’s able to show the grandeur of the city. You really get the sense of a soaring city in such a small format.”

 

How to bid: Howard Cook’s Chrysler Building is lot 195 in Swann‘s 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings auction on March 13, 2018.

 

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

 

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

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Update: The French movie poster for the 1964 re-release of Bride of Frankenstein sold for $250.

 

What you see: A French poster for the 1964 re-release of the 1935 classic horror movie Bride of Frankenstein. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $300 to $500.

 

This Bride of Frankenstein poster was designed for the French market, and for a 1964 re-release of the film, which by then had a long reputation as a cinema classic. How does that affect the poster’s value? “Awareness of international designs is changing, and awareness of how scarce and rare they are is changing,” says consigner Neville Tuli, founder and chairman of the Osian group, which includes the Osianama Archives of world film memorabilia based in New Delhi, India. “I feel sad that the French design has not had its due. France is the home of posters. It’s difficult because the suppliers and distributors [of this re-release poster] didn’t keep archives in a historical manner.”

 

Some of the most expensive movie posters at auction have advertised 1930s horror movies. The world auction record belongs to a 1931 Dracula poster, sold in 2017 for more than $525,000, and 1930s horror movie posters have consistently fetched six-figure sums at auction. How might these strong sales influence the bidding for this French re-release poster? “Obviously, it will have a positive impact,” he says. “First releases of movie posters, you get them once in ten years, and they now sell for in excess of $300,000 and $400,000. Collectors are now looking for re-releases and posters from other countries.”

 

Why is this poster estimated at $300 to $500? “Everything is estimated very low, the way most auctions like to,” he says. “People like to think they’re getting a bargain. If it passes $3,000 to $4,000, that’s a fair price.”

 

Why are so many Bride of Frankenstein movie posters so visually strong? “The Bride of Frankenstein, even though she’s barely on the screen, captured the imagination of the world–the hairstyle, the whole look,” he says. “If you see post-1935 posters [for the movie], she’s given as much [visual] importance [as Frankenstein], sometimes even more. She has such a remarkable face. She naturally attracted the public when she appeared on publicity materials,” he says, noting that it was not just common but imperative for movie marketers to redesign and release new posters that capitalized on breakout stars. “If you see the original poster for Marilyn Monroe’s film, Asphalt Jungle,  she’s not there. [There are several poster designs for the 1950 film, and some show Monroe, but none showcase her.–Ed.] In the poster for the 1954 re-release, it’s all her. If the star captures the public’s imagination, they change the publicity material to give the star extra weight.”

 

Is there more than one version of this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster? “You always have four to six poster designs, but in this case, the main design is the same, and they just changed the color of the background,” he says. “I have another with a green background.”

 

How rare is this poster? “At auction, it rarely comes up,” he says. “For diehards who go searching [at public auction and in private sales], it comes up every six months. We’re talking about a handful.”

 

Was this poster on your shopping list for the Osianama Archives, or did it just pop up one day, and you grabbed it? “My shopping list is to build a history of world cinema,” he says. “My reasons for collecting are different from what collectors focus on. I’m building for a larger framework–India and the world, and India’s relationship to the world. I see the iconography [that Indian cultures] have created over 4,000 years, and it’s the greatest sci-fi and horror imagery you could imagine. I try to create understanding and show the links between Indian iconography and 100 years of cinema.”

 

Unlike earlier posters for the Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein and his bride are given the same visual weight here, and she seems to have a determined look on her face. Do you think that’s a deliberate statement by the designers, or is it just a matter of wanting to put a new spin on things? “Probably the story line got clearer by the 1960s,” he says. “Her scream led to his heartbreak, and the destruction of everything. I can’t say how the designers would have thought this up. I don’t know if it’s a feminine power statement or a statement of equality. But on the others, we don’t see the same equality. Here, they are equals on the poster. It’s open to conjecture.”

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? “I have many different versions [of posters for the Bride of Frankenstein], and the French version has an austerity about it that’s unique,” he says. “So many versions of the Bride of Frankenstein show him carrying her in his arms, or show her in the laboratory. Here, there’s not much but magenta, black, and white. They pared it down to the essentials of the figures.”

 

Why are you selling this poster now? “Because I’m trying to become debt-free,” he says, laughing. “For 20 years, I tried to build a cultural network for the country without taking government funds or donations. I wanted to create it on its own terms. Financially, for the last five or six years, I’ve struggled with bank debt. I’m selling 500 pieces out of 200,000. I have to keep the integrity of everything else alive. I want to be debt-free. If I have to sell a few items to do that…”

 

You own an auction house. Why not use it to sell the 500 pieces? “There’s no interest in these things in India. The finest Indian movie poster can’t sell for $50 or $100,” he says. “We have a great love of cinema in India but not a great culture of cinema in India, and they are two different things.  It takes a long time for a cinematic culture to emerge, and it’s emerging, but there are so many steps and layers to creating it.”

 

How to bid: The La Fiancée de Frankenstein poster is lot 260 in the Osianama Archives auction scheduled for March 8, 2018 at Julien’s Auctions.

 

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

 

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Julien’s is conducting a second, online-only auction from the Osianama Archives that concludes on March 19, 2018.

 

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

 

Also see the website for Osianama, Tuli’s impressive, ambitious 18-year-old arts endeavor.

 

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SOLD! The Inscribed 1957 Presentation Copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Fetched $7,500 at Heritage Auctions

Jack Kerouac. On the Road. New York The Viking Press, 1957 credit Herita...

 

 

Update: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road sold for $7,500.

 

What you see: A 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Heritage Auctions anticipates selling it for as much as $8,000.

 

Who was Jack Kerouac? Born Jean-Louis Kérouac in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, he became a star of the mid-20th century Beat Generation of poets and authors. On the Road, a fictionalized tale of the cross-country travels of himself and his friends, published in 1957, is widely regarded as his greatest, most influential work. Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47.

 

Do we know how big the press run was for the first edition of On the Road? “I can’t find any reliable information about this, just that Viking published an unknown number of hard-cover copies in dust jackets on September 5, 1957,” says James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions. “It sold well enough that it required a second printing on September 20 and a third not long after that.” [This copy is from the second printing.]

 

Did Viking Press have any notion of what they had with On the Road? Was it like Ulysses, where there was some anticipation and awareness that the book might be great? “Some sections of On the Road were published in literary magazines, and were well received so that the publisher announced that the complete first edition book was ‘a publishing event of no small interest.’,” he says. “This was Kerouac’s second novel, but the literary approach was completely fresh and new.”

 

Do we know how many inscribed presentation copies of On the Road are out there, and how often they come to auction? “Kerouac is known not to have inscribed a lot of copies of this title,” he says. “I only note about eight or 10 copies through the auction rooms in the last 20 years or so, of course getting premium prices.”

 

The woman to whom this book is inscribed, Mimi, and her daughter, Francesca, are not characters in On the Road, but Lucien Carr, husband to Francesca and son-in-law to Mimi, is in the book [the character based on him is named Damion]. How does that affect this copy’s value? Are inscribed presentation copies of On the Road worth more if they are inscribed to people who appear in the book as fictionalized characters?  “I think this twice-removed relationship limits the importance and desirability of the inscribed copy,” he says. “It is still a great book, but would be a vastly different thing if it was inscribed to Lucien Carr himself.”

 

What is the auction record for a first edition copy of On the Road? Does it belong to an inscribed presentation copy? If so, to whom did Kerouac sign it?  “Aside from the original scroll of On the Road, the highest price I saw for an inscribed first was to his paramour, Joyce Johnson, and included a drawing,” he says. “Joyce Johnson also inscribed the book. It sold for $185,000 in 2002. The lot also included an autograph letter from Kerouac, and an inscribed copy of Johnson’s book about her relationship with Kerouac.”

 

What is the estimate on this copy of On the Road, and could you talk about why bidding will open at $4,000?  “The estimate is $8,000, and we open bidding at half of the estimate,” he says. “We hope the estimate is conservative and the book will sell for more than $8,000.”

 

Could you talk about the condition of the book and its dust jacket? Does it have the wear that you’d expect of a book that’s about 60 years old? Or is it in better shape?  “The book is fairly nice, without major restoration which would really detract from the value,” he says. “A book like this, with a black dust jacket that shows flaws easily and is popular enough to be read over and over by various readers, typically shows much more wear. This is in better shape than what we see typically, but really nice copies in jacket are out there and get a premium price.”

 

Do collectors of first-edition Kerouac books, and early copies of On the Road, differ from book collectors in general? “Not in my experience, though sometimes a buyer of On the Road will be specifically a beat literature collector,” he says. “Usually this is included in collections of high-spot literature collectors, who want great books by a variety of modern writers.”

 

Why will this copy of the book stick in your memory? “The Carr association, though a little removed, being inscribed to his mother-in-law, still adds a layer of interest that might encourage a bidder to go some extra increments, or a retail buyer to pay a little more,” Gannon says. “The ‘pride of ownership’ aspect is enhanced if you can share an interesting story when showing the book to friends and colleagues.”

 

How to bid: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is lot #45062 in Heritage AuctionsRare Books Signature Auction on March 7, 2018.

 

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

 

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TIE! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original Sunday Christmas-Themed Peanuts Strip from 1958 for $113,525, Tying the World Auction Record

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Update: Well, this doesn’t happen often. Heritage sold the original Sunday Peanuts comic strip from 1958 for $113,525–tying the record it set in 2007 for original Sunday Peanuts comic art.

What you see: An original Sunday Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles Schulz and dated 12-21-58. Heritage Auctions believes it could sell for $100,000 or more.

Who was Charles Schulz? The Minnesota-born Schulz is one of the most influential cartoonists ever. His comic strip, Peanuts, ran from October 2, 1950 until February 13, 2000 and featured the enduring characters of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, his pet beagle. At its peak, Peanuts appeared in more than 2,500 newspapers and reached more than 350 million readers in 75 countries. The 1965 animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas became a hit that remains must-see holiday viewing today. Schulz died in 2000, one day before his final Peanuts strip was published. He was 77.

How rare are original Sunday Peanuts comic strips? “There are only so many Sundays between 1950 and when the strip ended,” says Weldon Adams, a comic book cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions. “Every time we get one, it’s cooler than the last one we saw.”

How does original Peanuts comic strip art manage to get to the market? Didn’t Schulz keep all his originals at his studio? “Charles Schulz was one of the most gracious and kind souls you could encounter. He was beloved by fans,” he says. “When a fan would write a really nice letter, he would autograph the art and send it to them. A lot were personalized to friends and fans, and he just gave them away.” This particular Sunday strip is not inscribed, however, and not every original strip left his studio as gifts. “Some of these were just sold,” Adams says.

Snoopy isn’t in this Peanuts strip. Does that affect its value? “Not necessarily,” he says. “There are so many recurring favorite themes in Peanuts–Lucy at the psychiatrists’s booth, baseball strips with Charlie Brown at the pitcher’s mound, Snoopy as a World War I flying ace, Charlie Brown with the kite-eating tree, Lucy with the football–running gags that are funny every time you see them. There are so many scenes, and fans go out to look for particular ones.”

This Sunday Peanuts strip has a Christmas theme, but it appeared in 1958, well before the famous Christmas special. How unusual is that? “It’s extremely rare to have a Christmas-themed strip to market before the special in 1965. There are only 15 years predating the special, so there are limited opportunities in the first place,” he says. “It pushes it above and beyond. It’s specifically about a Christmas recital at school, which is an element of the special. Ironically, it has a different outcome from what happens in the TV special. Here, Linus can’t remember his line. In the special, he gives a wonderful, beautiful speech. This is the flip side of that.”

The strip has eight panels, and it shows nine Peanuts characters in each panel. How rare is that? “Very rare. It’s going to be a major driving factor [in its final price],” he says. “This is a huge collection of all the regular cast members at that point. There are only a few who are not there. And it’s unique to have so many characters in every single panel. I haven’t seen another one like it.”

And Schulz would have drawn all eight panels by hand, with no assistance? “This is old school. He drew it all,” he says. He also notes that Sunday strips were printed in color in 1958, but someone in production at United Features Syndicate, which distributed the Peanuts strip, would have handled that task.

As of February 3, bidding on this original Peanuts comic strip art had reached $26,000, and the auction is still weeks away. Are you surprised it’s risen so high, so fast?The record for an original Sunday Peanuts strip was $113,525. It had a baseball theme, it was from 1955, and it sold in 2007 at Heritage,” he says. “It was similar in that there were several characters in it, but not nearly as many as this one. Given that this has so many characters, and a Christmas theme before the Christmas special, I have a sneaking suspicion it might top the record. This is unique and it has a lot of good things going for it. It will be interesting to see the bidding at the end. I expect it will be fierce and fast.”

The comic strip art, which is in ink over graphite on Bristol board, is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? “It indicates that the Bristol board is intact, with no major stains or marks, and no pieces missing,” he says. “There’s a little bit of corner wear, but nothing that would affect the image area. It does allow for a certain amount of toning–discoloration in the paper due to aging. ‘Excellent’ is the highest grade we grant on an artwork. You don’t run into one in pristine condition.”

Why will this Peanuts strip stick in your memory?Peanuts is an American icon,” Adams says. “Charles Schulz tapped into something with that strip, a childlike wonder that crosses all boundaries. Having so many characters in the strip is phenomenal. It’s a unique collection of highly beloved characters.”

How to bid: The original 1958 Sunday Peanuts strip is lot #92220 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction on February 22 – 24, 2018, at Heritage Auctions.

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

You can see more original Peanuts comic strip art at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. The Peanuts strip continues as reruns in newspapers and on the web, too.

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RECORD: Phillips Sells a Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture for $10.3 Million

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Editor’s note: With the arrival of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, a 1996 limited edition painted and patinated bronze sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. Phillips New York sold it in May 2017 for $10.3 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.

Who was Roy Lichtenstein? He was an American pop artist who rose to prominence on the strength of his brightly colored comic book-style works. While Lichtenstein sculpted several dozen pieces during his five-decade career, he is probably best known for his paintings. In January 2017, collector Agnes Gund consigned his 1962 oil on canvas, Masterpiece, to raise money for her criminal justice reform efforts; the painting made headlines when it sold for $165 million. Lichtenstein died in 1997, at the age of 73.

Before I saw this piece, I hadn’t thought of Lichtenstein as a sculptor. How prolific was he? “Sculpture was a big part of his practice from the very beginning. He started in the early to mid-1960s,” says Scott Nussbaum, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art in New York. “If you go to the website of his foundation, you can see year by year what his production was, in all media, shapes, and sizes.”

Why did Lichtenstein make Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight? “He painted it first–it was an element within a painting that he did in 1995, called Nude with Bust,” he says. “He created it after the original painting was done.”

The sculpture focuses on a female subject. Do Lichtenstein works that feature women do better at auction? “Yes, but I think that’s true of every artist,” he says. “The female form is the most commercial form. If it’s what most people would consider a sensual form, it’ll sell better. That’s true across the board.”

Lichtenstein himself actually owned this piece. How did that that fact enhance its value? “I think it added value in the sense that the provenance on this is excellent, coming directly from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, and the fact that he held it and did not sell it adds to its allure,” he says. “People want to know that art was owned by great collectors, or institutions. The excellent provenance added to its reception in the market.”

What is Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight like in person? “It has an incredible presence to it,” he says. “You really feel you are near a significant work of art. The more time you spend with it, the more you appreciate it. It’s not just a depiction of a beautiful woman, it’s a beautiful moment–two moments, one in sunlight and one in moonlight. Our audience fell in love with it, and it drew people into the gallery just to see it.”

Why did the sculpture do so well? “It was a fantastic result that shattered the auction record for a sculpture by Lichtenstein,” he says. “It’s a very rare object. Though it’s an edition, it’s very closely held. All are in good homes, and it’s unclear if another example will appear on the market anytime soon.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “It’s impossible to say. With this market, it’s difficult to predict anything,” he says. “I think this sculpture is one of his best, if not the best. I think only if another from the series [comes up], or one of a handful of really monumental sculptures that he produced in the 1960s could exceed that price. I think it will stand for a while.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Also, if you scroll down on the webpage for the Phillips lot notes on Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, you can see a video that shows both sides of the sculpture.

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RECORD! Robby the Robot, Star of Forbidden Planet, Fetches $5.3 Million at Bonhams

Robby the Robot

Editor’s note: With the arrival of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

 

What you see: The original Robby the Robot suit, created for the 1956 MGM sci-fi film Forbidden Planet. It was offered along with a jeep used in the film. It sold in November 2017 for $5.3 million–a world auction record for a screen-used prop.

 

I understand that the MGM designers built only one Robby the Robot suit. Is that unusual? “It’s unusual, but it cost so much money they couldn’t afford a backup,” says Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams. “He’s well-built, and he wasn’t just in Forbidden Planet. MGM made one more movie with him, and he had other appearances, too.”

 

How much of a special effects advance was Robby the Robot? “He’s sort of amazing. He’s a technological wonder. He works whether someone’s inside him or not,” she says. “Artistically, he really encapsulates what we thought the future would look like, and what we thought robots would do for us. In the movie, anything that needs to be done on the planet can be done by Robby.”

 

It seems like Robby the Robot survived as a remarkably complete prop. Is that unusual? “That’s pretty miraculous, too,” she says. “It was built by MGM, and it was on the lot until the big liquidation prop and costume sale in the 1970s. It was not sold in that sale, but it sold privately in 1970. That guy [the first private owner] bought everything that belonged to Robby. Bill [William Malone, the consigner] wanted all of that, too. Bill was pretty young, in his early 20s, when he bought it.”

 

What restorations did William Malone perform on Robby the Robot? “The owner between the studio and Bill had not been as careful a steward,” she says. “Robby’s hands were foam rubber, and they had disintegrated. Bill had to recast the hands. The dome has been replaced, but the original plexiglass does still exist. It yellowed over time. Bill had the paint touched up, and bulbs needed to be replaced. The restoration took a long time. Bill was a young man, and he didn’t have a lot of resources. He sought guys at MGM who worked on Robby before he did one lick of restoration to be sure it was consistent with the original.”

 

What was the estimate on Robby the Robot? How did you place a value on the lot? “It had a low to mid-seven figure estimate, and we blew past it,” she says. “In the last five years, we’ve sold a bunch of high-profile pieces of movie memorabilia for seven figures–The Maltese Falcon, the Cowardly Lion costume, the piano from Casablanca, and a Dorothy dress worn by Judy Garland. Top, top, top hero props from top, top, top movies can command that kind of price. Robby is up there with those things.”

 

What puts Robby the Robot up there with those film artifacts? “First of all, the original movie itself has to be universally admired and celebrated. It has to be a film that is still current in the marketplace of ideas. Wizard of Oz is in there, Casablanca is in there, Forbidden Planet is in there,” she says. ‘Two, the thing needs to be not just a hero prop, but a central plot device. In Wizard of Oz, it’s the ruby slippers. The Casablanca piano is not just recognizable, it’s where Rick hides the transit papers. Robby is a central character and a plot device. He’s on the poster–not the spaceship or any of the actors–it’s Robby.”

 

Is Robby the Robot a costume or a prop? “He is so much more than a costume. He is so much more than a prop,” she says.

 

I notice that you haven’t called Robby the Robot an ‘it.’ You’ve only said ‘he’. “To me, he’s a he,” she says. “They do ask him in the movie if he’s a he or a she, and he says, ‘Neither of those terms apply.'”

 

A screen-used jeep comes with Robby the Robot. Is it functional? “It could be made drivable,” she says. “It originally had a golf cart motor that was obviously cannibalized for some other project. Robby rides in front. The seats and the plexiglass dome are for the humans. I’m not even sure how they steered it.”

 

What is Robby the Robot like in person? “He’s amazing,” she says. “He’s seven feet tall, and he lights up–he’s got all these little gears and keys that spin and convey motion and intelligence, which is what they wanted in the movie.”

 

Did you try on Robby the Robot? “I didn’t try it on, but Bill has a friend who is the right height. You’ve got to be slim, short, and strong enough. Robby the Robot weighs north of 200 pounds,” she says, adding, “When the guy gets out, he’s dripping with sweat even if he’s only been in it for ten minutes.”

 

What was your role in the auction? “I was on the podium. I had the gavel,” she says. “Going into it we had four people registered and interested in it. They were all eager and they bid quickly. It was exciting. Most lots sell in under a minute. This was more like five to ten minutes. We got all the way up to $4.5 million, and the underbidder asked for a minute [to consider] going for another bid. There was a bit of tension. Then they did not [bid], and it hammered at $4.5 million.”

 

When did you know you had a world auction record? “I don’t think I knew until I got off the podium,” she says. ” I know I sold the Maltese Falcon [hero prop] for $3 million, so it passed the company [house] record. I didn’t know it beat everything else until I looked it up.”

 

How long do you think the record will stand? “It depends on what shakes out,” she says. “I think there’s one more pair of ruby slippers in private hands. That might challenge it. There probably are other things out there that are still attracting attention.”

 

Why will Robby the Robot stick in your memory? “Of all the things we’ve sold, he’s pretty special,” she says. “The way people respond to him–it’s amazing. Robby the Robot is just as magical in person as he is on screen.”

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

The Hot Bid featured another piece from the same November 2017 Bonhams auction–the original poster artwork for the Italian release of Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

 

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SOLD! That Scarce 1908 Chung Ling Soo Magic Poster Commanded $9,225 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The 1908 Chung Ling Soo poster sold for $9,225.

 

What you see: A 1908 poster touting the talent of magician Chung Ling Soo. Potter & Potter estimates it at $5,000 to $6,000.

 

Who was Chung Ling Soo? Born William Ellsworth Robinson in Westchester County, New York in 1861, he was a behind-the-scenes designer of magic tricks for headliners Harry Keller and Alexander Herrmann before he struck out on his own. Around 1900, while in Europe, he adopted the Chung Ling Soo persona. He went to great lengths to preserve the illusion, limiting his speech on stage to the occasional bit of broken English and relying on an interpreter to talk to journalists. He died in 1918 at the age of 56.

 

Are vintage posters featuring Chung Ling Soo rare in general? “Yes, I would say they’re uncommon or scarce,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “The one we’re talking about is a bit harder to find than the others.”

 

This is one of eight different Chung Ling Soo posters in the auction. Did they all come from the same consigner? One comes from one consigner, and the rest come from a second.

 

Other famous magic posters of the era show the magician receiving supernatural help. Here, Chung Ling Soo shows what he purports to be the source of his magical talent–his own hands. No supernatural help required. Is this an unusual theme for a vintage magic poster? “There are plenty of portraits [on magic posters],” he says. “We have sold other posters of magicians showing their hands and doing maneuvers, but they’re not as artful as saying ‘My Ten Assistants.’ It got reworked by Ricky Jay into ‘My 52 Assistants.’ It’s not the only example of a magician showing sleight of hand on a poster or referring to sleight of hand, or how they accomplish their tricks.”

 

Is Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the first person to move from a backstage magic designer role to an on-stage magician role? “He was the great secret weapon for these guys. He was designing and inventing illusions,” he says. “In any professional situation, someone will say, ‘Oh yeah, my boss doesn’t know what he’s doing. I can do a better job.’ He proved he could do as good a job. It took work, and a different persona, but his success is pretty significant.”

 

Would you talk about how Robinson/Soo died? “He was performing a bullet catch trick in London, England. It was one of the big theatrical showpieces of his performance,” Fajuri says. “I wrote a long time ago that instead of catching the bullet on a plate, he caught the bullet in his chest. They brought the curtain down, and he died not long after.”

 

Was he the first magician to die doing the bullet catch trick? No. “It wasn’t a new trick. It had been around for decades [by 1918, when Robinson/Soo died], and it had killed people,” he says. “Keller advised Houdini against it in a very famous letter. Robinson did have experience backstage with the trick, and he was familiar with other ways of performing the feat. There’s controversy surrounding what happened. Not thoroughly checking his props led to his demise. It’s a tragic story. He was at the top of his game.”

 

How rare is the ‘Chung Ling Soo and His Ten Assistants’ poster? “I haven’t had one before in ten years of auctioning magic memorabilia,” he says, adding that he’s aware of at least six copies. “This one was owned by a magician in England. He died years ago, and his family consigned it. It’s in A- condition. Very little was done to it. You’re not going to get much better than this.”

 

What else makes this Chung Ling Soo poster special? “This is more scarce. The image is realistic. The turn of phrase is nice, and the colors are not garish,” he says. “It has a lot going for it by way of aesthetics, the story, and the man it depicts. It has a little bit of everything.”

 

How to bid: The ‘Chung Ling Soo and His Ten Assistants’ poster is lot 10 in Potter & Potter‘s Winter Magic Auction on December 16.

 

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

 

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If you’re intrigued by the story of Chung Ling Soo, you need to read The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, The ‘Marvelous Chinese Conjuror,‘ by Jim Steinmeyer. Really, you ought to read everything Jim Steinmeyer has ever written, but start there, and please buy your copy from an independent bookstore.

 

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

 

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