SOLD! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport Poster Fetched the Way Out Price of $149,000 at Swann

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Update: The Man Ray 1938 London Underground poster did indeed sell for a way out price–$149,000.

 

What you see: A 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray. Swann Galleries estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who was Man Ray? Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitsky,  Man Ray was vital to the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. He was wildly creative in several media, especially photography and film-making. His art appeared in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925, alongside that of Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst. Man Ray befriended Marcel Duchamp and worked with him often. He died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 86.

 

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

 

How was Man Ray chosen for this London Transport poster commission? Hard to say exactly. Man Ray was living in Paris at the time. One school of thought is he went through London on his way back to the United States because of the war, but he may have designed the poster earlier than that, in 1936. He was chosen because Frank Pick, the head of London Transport advertising, was a real visionary. He employed a lot of fabulous artists and he pushed the envelope. He worked with László Moholy-Nagy, and probably through those connections, Pick became acquainted with Man Ray.

 

This looks like it’s one poster of a set of two. The second has the same image and asymmetric border structure. It’s meant to be a pair. This one says “Keeps London Going.” The other says “London Transport.

 

Does the other poster survive? It survives, but to the best of my knowledge, none have ever come up for public auction.

 

Apparently the design of the poster recalls Man Ray’s rayographs? A rayograph was Man Ray’s personal spin on the photogram. Objects are placed on paper, light is turned on, and shapes are left on the paper. The poster is more nuanced than a rayograph, which would not have had shades of gray.

 

And people enjoy debating what the poster might mean? A lot have surmised what it could mean, but to my mind, it’s pretty straightforward. My interpretation is, basically, he’s comparing the London Transport system to the solar system. The image at the top is the London Transport logo, which is called a roundel. On the bottom is Saturn. The way the planets move around the solar system is the way that London Transport moves you around London.

 

The lot notes call this poster ‘rare.’ I was under the impression it was unique? Unique means one of a kind. Salvator Mundi is unique. It’s an original work of art. Posters are never unique. Between 1,000 and 2,000 [copies of the Man Ray poster] were printed.

 

How often has the Man Ray London Transport poster been offered at auction? There are four auction records since 1994. One sold at Sotheby’s, and the other three sold at Christie’s. I think we have the one that Christie’s sold in 1994 for $39,800. The high-water mark was in June 2007 at Christie’s, when one sold for $100,906.

 

How much of that $100,906 auction record for a London Transport poster was driven by the fact that Man Ray designed the poster? I think it’s almost entirely [driven by Man Ray]. No other London Transport poster has commanded that kind of money. The qualities of a poster that make it valuable are image, artist, condition, and rarity, not necessarily in that order. László Moholy-Nagy is a super-famous artist. We have a poster he designed as lot 75 in this sale–

 

…I got the impression that Moholy-Nagy’s London Transport posters weren’t all that spectacular. The consensus [on lot 75, which is for Imperial Airways] is it’s a rare poster, but not that great an image. Here [with the Man Ray] you have a famous artist and an extraordinary image. He put all his technique and his creativity into the design. It’s rare, and its condition is fine.

 

If you lined up the ten best London Transport posters and asked me to pick the one that holds the world auction record, I doubt I’d pick the Man Ray because it’s black and white, and I think of great posters as being colorful… That’s a slight misconception on your part. You’re right, great posters have great color, but great posters are supposed to catch your eye, and there’s no methodology on how to do that. This catches your eye. The imagery makes you think about what’s going on. It’s a good advertisement because it makes you think. And it might have stood out [in its time] because it was black and white.

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? Because for many years, it was the most expensive travel poster ever sold. That travel poster record was beaten by us in 2012 when we sold an A.M. Cassandre poster for British Rail for $162,500. In the poster world, you deal in $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 posters. It’s wonderful, out of this world, that it [the Man Ray London Transport poster] would sell for $100,000. From that point of view, it sticks in my mind as exceptional.

 

How to bid: The Keeps London Going poster is lot 76 in the Graphic Design sale at Swann Galleries on May 3, 2018.

 

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

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

 

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

 

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about a trio of Mont Blanc posters from 1928, a mid-1930s German travel poster featuring the Hindenburg, a 1968 MoMA poster by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo, an I Want You 1917 World War I recruiting poster that introduced the modern concept of Uncle Sam, and an Alphonse Mucha poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt.

 

In case you missed it above, the London Transport Museum has the other poster from the pair in its online collection, and it includes a link to a period photo of the posters on display outside St. Paul’s station in London.

 

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SOLD! A Unique 1954 Japanese Movie Poster for Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai Fetched $22,705 at Heritage Auctions

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Update: The 1954 Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai sold for $22,705.

 

What you see: A 1954 Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai). It is the only known example of its type. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $20,000 to $50,000. The kanji on the poster translate to: “The dream awaited by 70 million finally has come true! A massive spectacular samurai drama which is created, for the first time, by the fighting spirit of the Maestro!”

 

Do we know how this Japanese movie poster for Seven Samurai was discovered? Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions, says it came to him via a friend who knew the owner. The poster had been in Japan from 1954 until three or four months ago. “I’d never seen it before,” he says. “I’m not aware of another copy.”

 

The poster is 21 inches by 58 inches–long and skinny. I’m wondering if this is a standard size for a Japanese movie poster, or if the poster was made at this size to imitate a Japanese scroll or painting. “You would think it might, but it was a commonly used size in Japan,” he says, adding that it’s comprised of two panels that are stacked on top of each other. Look for the samurai dressed in a green top and brown pants at the center of the poster, and you’ll see the join. (The samurai’s left hand doesn’t quite line up with his wrist.)

 

Is the design of the Seven Samurai poster typical for Japan in 1954? “I’ve always admired Japanese movie posters from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s,” he says. “They were ahead of their time in photo montage work, they really were. America just wasn’t as interested in movie posters then, and you can see it. All the interest was in television by then. Compare it [the Seven Samurai poster] to Cat Ballouthat poster is totally lackluster.”

 

I’m pleasantly surprised that women appear on the Seven Samurai poster. I was under the impression it was a manly-man type of movie. “It had romantic elements, but it was a male-dominated film about war,” he says, adding that featuring women on posters was not unusual in Japan in 1954: “On Japanese posters from the ’50s and ’60s, 85 percent of the time, there’s a female lead on it.”

 

What condition is it in? Heritage Auctions calls it Very Fine – (Minus), which Smith deems “A pretty good grade. It was folded. Most Japanese posters were. It has little nicks and dings in it. But it doesn’t need to be archivally restored. You could frame it like it is.” He also explains that in Japan, theatre owners sometimes stuck a snipe–a piece of paper that listed specific screening dates–to the bottom of a poster. Posters can suffer damage if someone tries to remove the snipe, but it doesn’t look like a snipe was applied to this Seven Samurai example.

 

We’re talking on March 20, 2018, and this poster already has a bid of $10,000 on it. The auction is almost three weeks away. How do you think the poster will do? “I hope it will be north of $25,000 or $30,000, but we just don’t know,” he says. “I think the estimate was $20,000 to $50,000. I’ll be disappointed if it sold for under $20,000.”

 

Do you know what the auction record is for a Japanese movie poster for a Japanese film? “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say specifically, but in 2005 at Heritage Auctions, I sold a 1954 Godzilla poster for $21,850,” he says.

 

What will make this Seven Samurai poster stick in your memory? “I’m excited about it because it’s never been seen before,” he says. “Personally, I always love to get new items into auction.”

 

How to bid: The 1954 Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai is lot #86137 in the Movie Posters Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 7 and 8, 2018.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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SOLD! This Trio of 1928 Mont Blanc Posters Fetched $13,750 at Swann

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Update: The 1928 trio of Mont Blanc posters sold for $13,750.

What you see: Vers le Mont – Blanc, a group of three posters dating from 1928 and designed by Georges Dorival. Swann Auction Galleries is offering them as a single lot, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who was Georges Dorival? Justin Marie Georges Dorival was born in Paris in 1879 and died in Louveciennes in 1968 and… that’s about all we know about him. “He was a very prolific artist who wasn’t remembered by history,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “The poster world is littered with artists who don’t amount to much outside their world.”

Were the Vers le Mont – Blanc posters his crowning achievement? “This is his most famous image,” he says. “If you type Dorival’s name into the search engine on the Swann web site, you’ll see his others are beautiful, but not remarkable in any way. These three are remarkable. What’s special and unique about this is it’s done as a tryptic.”

Do we know why Dorival did Vers le Mont – Blanc as a tryptic? “I just think it was an inspired idea,” he says. “The three separate posters can work individually, or as a tryptic.”

Do I see the mountain depicted in daylight, dusk, and night? “Yes. It’s like a time-lapse, graphic photo,” he says. “One clearly has stars in the sky. Day, dusk, night. Everything below the black V of the mountain is identical. The top third changes.”

How often were these posters displayed together, as a tryptic? “There’s no record of that. I’ve never seen any actual photo documentation of these three up,” he says. “I assume if they could put all three up together, they would, just because it makes a powerful statement.”

Do they tend to come to auction as a tryptic as well? Generally, yes. Six sets have appeared at auction as a single lot since 2008; this will be the seventh. Sometimes, however, they appear in the same sale as three individual lots. Swann set the auction record for a set of three in November 2010 that sold as one lot for $18,000 against an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

What makes the poster image so strong? “There’s a conceptual reason and an actual reason,” he says. “The actual reason is the way he lays out the art. It’s almost as if someone is unzipping the scene. Your eye is quite literally drawn to the center of the poster. It’s simple and it’s genius. And the concept of the same poster at different times of day–it’s astonishingly simple and had never been done before. In a way, it’s like watching the sun set over the mountains. Each of these is like a color still.”

These posters come from the estate of Gail Chisholm, a Manhattan poster dealer who died in 2017. Was she a friend? “I’ve known her since 1996. She had a gallery seven blocks away from Swann,” he says. “She was an early adopter in the world of posters, and she had a very European attitude. I knew I had to visit her between noon and three, when she’d be having her three-hour lunch. She became a friend and colleague. It’s a small community. We all know each other. … She was very creative. She knew how to market posters. I think I picked that up from her, too. She lived her life according to her own rules. She unabashedly did what she wanted.”

About 130 posters are in the Chisholm sale, and the proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood of New York. What’s the total presale estimate? Between $166,000 and $241,000, so as much as a quarter-million dollars could go to Chisholm’s favorite charity thanks to this auction.

What else makes this trio of Dorival posters stand out? “In the world of posters, which are, by definition, a visual medium, these stand out for their unique cinematic quality,” he says. “They’re strong individually and stronger as a tryptic. These are really outliers, so different from the rest of his work.”

How to bid: Dorival’s Vers le Mont – Blanc is lot 29 in the Vintage Posters sale that Swann Auction Galleries will hold on March 1.

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

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

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

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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 consignor, 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.

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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.

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Fact: Billie Holiday Is The Greatest Female Jazz Singer. Also Fact: This Scarce 1949 Concert Poster Sold For $13,750 At Heritage Auctions

Billie Holiday Sacramento Auditorium Concert Poster (Joe Glaser Presents...

Update: The vintage 1949 Billie Holiday poster sold for $13,750.

What you see: A vintage 1949 concert poster for jazz singer Billie Holiday. Heritage Auctions doesn’t explicitly give estimates on vintage concert posters, but officials confirmed it at $10,000, or double its opening bid.

Who was Billie Holiday? Born Eleanora Fagan, Billie Holiday is arguably the best female jazz singer who ever stepped before a microphone. Born to a teenage single mother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Holiday had a hair-raising childhood. By the time she was discovered in a Harlem nightclub at age 18, she had done a stint in reform school, dropped out of school entirely, fought off a rapist, took work as a prostitute, and served time in a workhouse. She sang with the bands of Count Basie and Artie Shaw. She gravitated toward men who beat her and exploited her, and in her later years, she struggled with drug addiction. She died in 1959 at the age of 44, succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver.

How rare was it to show a black woman performer’s photo on a concert poster in 1949? “It was fairly common to see photos on concert posters by 1949, but it was less common for a female artist, and virtually unknown for Billie Holiday,” says Giles Moon, consignment director of entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, adding that the poster shown above is one of two copies that are known.

Where was Billie Holiday in her career by 1949? “She was a big enough star at that point to be a huge draw,” he says. “She didn’t have to have a huge band. She was a star in her own right. She was continuing to have legal problems and continuing to have drug problems, which didn’t help, but she was very successful by this point and would continue [to be] through the 1950s.”

By 1949, she had lost her cabaret license–Harry Anslinger, then the head of the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency, made Holiday a prime target. Might that be why she played the Sacramento Auditorium? She would not have needed a cabaret license for that venue? Moon agrees and points out that the name of the city is spelled incorrectly on the poster. “It’s a common trait with a lot of posters from this period,” he says. “Maybe they didn’t have time to reprint it.”

Last year, Heritage sold the first known example of this poster, which happens to advertise the same show at the same place, for $35,000. Did the owner of this poster come forward as a direct result of that spectacular sale? “Yes, it did come because [of the 2016 auction], and that is often the case,” he says, explaining that it was consigned by the descendants of someone who distributed the poster to record stores and other public places ahead of the 1949 show. “It got a lot of attention when it sold for $35,000. We believe this is only the second.”

What tends to happen at auction when a second copy of a multiple that has only appeared once before goes to the block? “It could go one of two ways. It might not sell for as much because the person who was in the first auction won’t bid for a second copy, because he’s already got one. But it could go the other way,” Moon says. “Those who weren’t in on the bidding at the time, or who were shy [could jump in] and it could reach that level again. Though original concert posters have been around for a while, only in the past two or three years have people started to understand their rarity. Paying $35,000 for a poster–ten or 15 years ago, that would have been unheard of. Many of the lots in this sale are the only known copies, or are extremely rare. People are beginning to realize that if you miss out, the chances are it won’t appear again.”

Are Billie Holiday posters rare, whether they show her face or not? Yes. More than once, posters for concerts that featured her didn’t even mention her name, odd as that might seem. Elsewhere in the same lineup, Heritage is offering an original concert poster for the first Newport Jazz Festival, which took place in 1954. It’s the only known copy of the poster. Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald both appeared at the Rhode Island show, but neither woman is named, and nor are any other artists who performed. “It’s very, very hard to find anything related to Billie Holiday,” Moon says, noting that the situation extends to memorabilia, too. “If it has her signature on it, it can get $2,000 to $4,000. Few if any jazz artists can rival that. Maybe Charlie Parker.”

What else makes this Billie Holiday poster special? “I’ve seen many original concert posters. I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years now. This one and the one last year are the first [examples] that I have seen. It’s a really rare and really striking poster,” he says. “It’s interesting. She’s one of the most enduring jazz artists of the period. The market for jazz is still strong for the top artists. But it’s not generally the strongest market. It doesn’t compare to rock ‘n roll or R & B. But because she has such star power, such star quality, this is the most desirable poster in the sale.”

How to bid: The Billie Holiday poster is lot #89114 in the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on November 11.

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

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