RECORD! An Isamu Noguchi Dining Table Sold for $1.6 Million

A unique pink marble dining room table designed by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. and Mrs. Milton Greene.

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

What you see: A unique dining room table designed circa 1948 or 1949 by Isamu Noguchi for Mr. and Mrs. Milton Greene. Wright sold it in June 2018 for $1.6 million against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million, a record for a Noguchi dining table.

The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house.

How often did Noguchi accept commissions? He did do commissioned works. He did a relatively small amount of commissioned furniture. Definitely less than ten.

How unusual is it to have a commissioned Noguchi piece as well-documented as this one? [Milton Greene, who commissioned it, recorded the design and creation of the table and two other furnishings in a series of photos that are shown within the lot listing.] It’s pretty exceptional [laughs]. It’s not unusual to have documentation, but it’s unusual that it’s so prolific. Because it was commissioned by a photographer, we were able to find wonderful photo documentation. We have photos of Noguchi planning the installation, and on the installation day, reshaping the leg of a sofa.

Greene also commissioned what came to be called the Cloud sofa and Cloud ottoman from Noguchi. Were the three meant as a suite of furniture, or did they happen to be commissioned around the same time? The sofa and the ottoman were conceived together. Those elements directly relate. The dining table is unrelated, but aesthetically, it’s his work. They’re sympathetic to each other, but they’re not really designed for each other. [The sofa and ottoman went to auction at some point, but their whereabouts are unknown.]

The lot notes say, ‘in a letter, Noguchi wrote that Greene gave him a Leica camera in exchange for the designing of some furniture for him.’ Was that camera the extent of the payment that Noguchi accepted for the creation of the Cloud pieces and this table? It appears to be. That’s the only documentation we have. Financial records are not available. I don’t know if he gave him cash for the production. Leica cameras are not inexpensive, but they certainly haven’t appreciated in the same way [laughs].

How often did Noguchi use pink Georgia marble? He did a very famous sculpture that’s in the Met in the same stone. It’s in his vocabulary, especially at this time. There was something he liked about the expression of the marble–the color spoke to him. It was not widely used, but he used it before on a major sculpture.

What characteristics mark this as a Noguchi? First of all, the overall form of it–the three legs, the ovoid shape of the top, the sunken planter–but it’s really the overall shape and form of the table that identifies it as a Noguchi.

Is this table the first time he uses a hole or a depression in a piece of furniture? It’s a little hard to know for sure. His formal sculptures have voids. They became present in his sculpture before they were in his designed works. At the same time [as he was creating this table], he was developing a coffee table for Herman Miller that looks a bit like the dining table shrunk down. The bowl [the aluminum bowl in the center] is clever. You rotate it to lock it into place. You do it from under the table–seamless integration into the void. It was designed for flower arrangements in the Japanese tradition. It adds a tension point and a visual focus to the table.

The table’s legs do not match. Is that unusual for a Noguchi furnishing? It’s pretty unusual that all three are different–it may be the only time. It’s like he was thinking out the design as he was making it. If it was in production, he may not have articulated the legs individually.

How do the legs add to the appearance of the Isamu Noguchi dining table? It makes it visually light. It’s not a light table, but it adds visual dynamism and visual lightness that comes from having three legs versus four.

And how does the asymmetry of the top and the asymmetry in the placement of the legs of the Isamu Noguchi dining table add to its appeal? The subtle shape of the top versus the legs versus the void placement creates a composition I find dynamic and pleasing. That’s the artistry of it.

The Isamu Noguchi dining table stands 26 inches high, which is lower than most people would expect. Does that make it hard to use? It does. It requires you to use chairs that have a low seat. Standard height chairs make the table feel low. A standard height table is 29 inches. The consigner lived with this his whole life. He wasn’t six foot four, he was an average height. He never had an issue, never thought twice about the height of it. If the table was closer to a standard height, it might have had broader appeal, but it did just fine as it was.

A 1954 photograph included with the lot shows the table set and with three chairs around it. Did it come with chairs? They are Eames chairs, and that particular Eames design has a pretty low seat. Whether they were designed for the table or paired up with it, I don’t know.

How many people can the table seat? Comfortably, six. When we looked at it in the original house, five sat around it and had coffee and we could have had one more.

Has it been restored? No. It’s really in completely original condition, which is fantastic.

Is it heavy? Yup, it’s heavy. I don’t know its actual weight, but it’s probably 500 pounds. Not insignificant. It [the tabletop] is a serious piece of marble, and a single piece of marble.

Does it show signs of wear? Sure. It had a very nice patina. It’s hard to how polished the stone had been originally. There are small chips around the edge, and no significant stains. The surface had become very matte. The legs had nicks, vacuum cleaner marks. But it had been carefully used for 50 years. The presence of the patina, the feel of it is very organic, very honest.

What is the Isamu Noguchi dining table like in person? It has a real presence. It feels bigger in person. It has some qualities about it that are very hard to translate photographically, but I think [the lot photos] did a pretty good job.

What was your role in the auction? What do you remember of the sale? I was the auctioneer. We had multiple bidders. For us, it was a lot of money. As an auctioneer, it’s not often that I say “One million.” I had to practice my increments before, it was such a big dollar amount.

When did you know you had a record for an Isamu Noguchi dining table? I had a pretty good sense by the time we got over the lower estimate [$1 million]. By selling it, we set a record. It was pretty nerve-wracking. It would have been fine to sell it for $1 million but it was better to sell it for $1.4 million. It better reflected the importance and worth of the table. We worked very hard to present it and tell its full story. To sell it well is gratifying. A lot of thought and care went into this. It’s fun when it all works out.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s just going to always be one of the most special pieces I’ll ever handle. There are very few pieces that you come across and say, “Wow, that’s really special.” This checks all the boxes.

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Image is courtesy of Wright.

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RECORD! A Marcel Wanders Bon Bon Gold Chair Sells at Phillips for $81,250

A Marcel Wanders gold limited edition "Bon Bon" chair, fashioned from hand-crocheted rope impregnated with epoxy. It is light and ethereal-looking.

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

What you see: A “Bon Bon” gold limited edition chair by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, dating to 2010. It sold at Phillips New York in June 2019 for $81,250, a record for the designer.

The expert: Kimberly Sørensen, specialist at Phillips.

Is this the first example of this limited edition Bon Bon gold chair to go to auction? It’s not. We sold one in 2016 in our Time for Design benefit auction in London. Another was offered through Christie’s in 2012, but it didn’t sell.

Do we know how many entries there are in the Personal Editions series? Is it still ongoing? My understanding is the Personal Editions series represents an exclusive collection of his editioned work, beginning in 1996. It’s a broader category for certain types of work he’s doing. The Bon Bon gold chair falls under that series, but the series is ongoing.

How big is the Bon Bon gold limited edition? There are 20 examples plus two artist’s proofs.

Are there other versions of the chair? There’s a version in white that I think is a separate edition.

How is the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair made? It is crocheted by hand. Parts are stitched and impregnated with epoxy and secured. It’s a continuation of his knotted chair, which is made with similar technology.

Did he and his team use actual gold to make the Bon Bon gold chair? Whether it’s 14-karat or 18-karat, I’m not positive, but my understanding is it’s real gold in some percentage.

A Marcel Wanders gold limited edition "Bon Bon" chair, pictured on exhibit at Phillips with a small black side table and framed photographs on the wall behind it.

Did Wanders create the technique used to make this chair? He developed it for his knotted chair in 1996. Back then, he collaborated with Delft Technical University. The technique is closely associated with him.

When did the secondary market for works by Wanders begin? A total of 47 works by Wanders were offered at Artcurial in 2006. Later, in December 2006, we offered a knotted chair. The market’s been there for some time. We’ve sold 13 works by him.

What is the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair like in person? It’s striking. It has a sense of lightness because of the crocheting technique, and it casts a really interesting shadow because of the openwork. And it’s gold and glistening. It’s really a very beautiful object.

Is it fragile? It reminds me of a soap bubble. It really feels like that–light and ephemeral. Wanders worked to develop something that felt light, but is sturdy and works as a chair. It’s strong, and it’s meant to be used.

Have you sat in it? I have not. Much of the contemporary design we offer is used more for display, and comes to us in pristine condition. I tend not to try them out, as opposed to more traditional antiques.

Are there aspects of the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair that the camera does not pick up? Though it does look very beautiful and light in the photograph, that sense of lightness and glistening gold is even more strong in person. Jaime [Israni, a Phillips public relations person] were discussing yesterday that during the [pre-sale] exhibit, everyone was drawn to it.

What was your role during the auction? I was phone-bidding [working with a phone bidder] during the auction, but not for this particular lot.

What do you recall of the sale of the Marcel Wanders Bon Bon chair? Two phone bidders fought for it. It took a bit longer than most lots typically do.

What I find weird about this is the Bon Bon gold chair is still available in Marc Wanders’s online boutique for 40,000 Euros or so. That’s an interesting observation. I can’t speak to why this happened for this particular example. It is on the [Wanders] site, and it does affect desirability when the numbers [in a limited edition] dwindle. It does appear to be a case of auction magic.

What was the previous auction record for Wanders? It was a white limited edition crochet chair sold at Phillips London in 2010 for £43,250 [$66,000].

How long do you think this record will stand? What else is out there that could beat it? It depends how many versions of the edition are still available. As it becomes less available, it becomes more desirable. This was a really high, unexpected outcome. I do expect it to stand for some time.

Are there other Wanders pieces that could challenge it? Maybe his knotted chair? The knotted chair is pretty ubiquitous. I don’t think it will rival it, but I don’t have the answer at my fingertips.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? A couple of reasons. One, the phenomenal result we achieved for it. Two, it did look so beautiful and glistening in the exhibition. And another thing that’s interesting about the chair is it’s so conceptual, in that it was made with a crocheting technique, which has homespun connotations. And the actual form is an interpretation of Eero Aarnio’s Pastil chair, a 1960s glossy, fiberglass finished chair. He’s being witty by reinterpreting a candy-colored Pop form in an ephemeral, light way.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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RECORD! A Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese Robot Toy Sold at Morphy Auctions for $86,100

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

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

What you see: A tin lithographic Machine Man Japanese robot toy, circa 1960. Morphy Auctions sold it in March 2019 for $86,100–a record for this toy and for any “Gang of Five” Japanese robot toy.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

What is the “Gang of Five,” and what Japanese mid-century toy robots belong to the Gang of Five? They were all made between the late 1950s and early 1960s, by the same company, Masudaya. They’re kind of all uniform. They’re called “large skirt” robots because it looks like they’re wearing skirts. They’re all the same body type.

Is it the latest of the Gang of Five robots? Probably. It had to be ordered specifically. You could not buy it from a catalog. The other four, you could. It was fairly expensive for the time. It was probably over $10.

Do we have any notion why Masudaya made the Machine Man robot toy? Why would they make something oversize–it’s 15 inches tall–and not even put it in their catalog? Probably because the first four they made did sell well here. Maybe they figured this one would too. It would make logical sense. As for the catalog, maybe it was a test thing, to see how many people would want to get it.

How did the consigner receive the Machine Man robot toy? How old was he? He got it in 1960 on Christmas morning. He was nine. He doesn’t remember getting it with the box, which would be worth $40,000.

How did the consigner display the.. restraint needed to keep the toy in this good a condition? He didn’t play with it much. He took good care of it. He put it in a closet. And he was an American guy, too. They had to order it special for him. I don’t know how they did it in 1960, but they did. You had to be in the know.

Was his father a toy retailer or something? How did the adults in the consigner’s life know enough to get this for him? I talked to his dad, but I didn’t ask that question. Maybe he knew somebody who had a toy store 60 years ago.

Is this the only robot toy the consigner got? It was. He’s lucky he got the best one. It’s crazy. He kept it all these years. He’s probably 67 or 68 and decided to sell it now.

Do we have any notion how many Machine Man robot toys Masudaya made, and how many survive? I don’t know that, but as far as what’s out there, there are about one dozen, including two boxed ones. For the other four [in the Gang of Five] there are many, many more than that.

How did this example of the Machine Man robot toy come to you? A friend of mine who also deals in robots knew he was going to sell and talked him into selling at auction. I don’t know the guy personally, but he did.

So, how often does a Machine Man robot toy come up at auction? Every five to seven years? In 16 years, this is the second one we’ve had.

Is the Machine Man robot toy always red, or are there variations? They’re all red. You never see variations. With any Gang of Five robot, they’re all the same.

The lot notes described the toy as a “stunning example” and “Near Mint – Mint.” Could you elaborate? It’s one of the best ones known, and the best ones I’ve ever seen. It’s just about mint.

Does it work? It works. When you turn it on, it moves in a pattern. There’s a metal circle on the bottom with wheels and spins around in a little pattern.

Does it light up or make noise? It just moves.

Do its arms move independently? They do, but they kind of swing. They don’t move up and down.

Is it heavy? It’s not heavy. It’s all tin litho. It’s very well made for what it is. It’s actually quite beautiful. It’s almost like the weight of a baby. Most robots are half this size. Most are six to 12 inches.

A bright red tin lithographic Machine Man robot toy, circa 1960, the rarest of the Japanese robot toys known as the Gang of Five.

What is it like in person? It’s beautiful. It’s very red, very colorful, very vibrant colors. I can imagine being a kid, getting it, would be incredible.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with the winner. I’ve been friendly with them for ten years. They asked my advice. I said, “When are you going to get another one this nice?”

The Machine Man robot toy sold for $86,100. Did that surprise you? No, it didn’t surprise me at all. Personally, I thought it would bring $80,000. If it had had its box, it would have sold for $125,000. The box is incredibly important.

How long will this record stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? A few other really rare robots from the 1950s and 1960s I’ve never had at all might push the $100,000 barrier.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? We get a lot of stuff, but we don’t get a lot of things that are quite so special. If you approach $100,000, that’s a lot for a toy. The person who bought it is very, very happy, I can tell you that.

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Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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RECORD! Mavis Pusey’s Painting, “Nuvae”, Sold for $42,500 at Rago

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

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

What you see: Nuvae, a 1968 oil on burlap canvas by the late Jamaican-born artist Mavis Pusey. Rago Arts and Auctions sold it in May 2019 for $42,500, a world auction record for the artist.

The expert: Meredith Hilferty, fine art director at Rago Arts and Auctions.

Could we start by talking about Mavis… how do you pronounce her last name? Poo-SAY.

Can we talk about who she was, and her contributions to art? She was a Jamaican-born artist who came to New York at the age of 18. She decided to enroll with the Art Students League and fell into painting. She was firmly an abstract expressionist artist, which was unusual for a woman and for a black artist. She decided she was an abstract expressionist and she did not waver, though it wasn’t highly accepted. It was important that she did not waver. She didn’t let someone push her in a direction that she didn’t want to go.

Was she prolific? She was prolific, but not insanely prolific. This is the first work of hers we’ve ever handled, and I’ve been at Rago for 13 years. She painted a lot, but her work doesn’t come out on the market very often. I wouldn’t be surprised if more paintings come to market because of the recent sale.

Do collectors just love her work and hang onto it for decades? I think so. I think that’s one factor. Another is while she’s always had significant four- and five-figure prices, people weren’t faced with the decision, “Do I want to cash in on this?” A lot of times they love them as works of art, but there’s a personal connection there–they got it directly from the artist. Selling it was not necessarily on their minds.

Do we know why she named this painting Nuvae? We don’t know what it means. We certainly tried to figure it out, but we hit a dead end. She did title her work. We found other works with similar titles–one word, and they’re not words anyone would recognize. She also used titles that were very descriptive. She was inspired by urban landscapes, and some titles reflect that and are descriptive of that. This title doesn’t lead you in any particular direction. I kind of like that. [Laughs] It’s an abstract expressionist work of art in every sense of the word.

Is Nuvae part of a series, or is it a stand-alone work? I’d say it stands alone, but she did works in a similar style in the late 1960s. All stand-alone major paintings from that period relate to each other, but they’re not a series in that there’s no direct connection to each other.

She painted this on burlap. Is that typical for her? She did do quite a few paintings on burlap in this period, but she also painted on canvas. We don’t know why she used burlap. There’s not enough information to know the answer. It could have been that she’d run out of canvas, or it could have been that she wanted to try something else. It was purposeful. I think she was successful with it, and she used burlap for a good period of time.

Nuvae measures 30 inches by 40 inches. Is that a standard size for her? No, she actually would work bigger than this, oftentimes. It’s a big painting, but in the same period, she did 40 by 50, 50 by 60. The scale is significant, for sure.

Is Nuvae typical or atypical of her work? It’s very typical of her work from the late 1960s. A good part of her work is simply abstract and not representative. Others seem to reference urban landscapes, or the figures are much more direct. This has a more curving form that reminds the viewer of a figure..

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

Is that central blue passage meant to be a figure? It kind of looks like it has a leg and an arm… I don’t know. There’s certainly a suggestion of a figure there, but I think it’s very loose. I think she was more highly focused on shape and color. She’s not making a direct enough connection for us to say it’s a reclining figure.

Pusey included Nuvae in her application for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award, and she won it. Does that sort of thing affect a painting’s appeal to collectors? I think it does, absolutely. It’s a great honor for an artist to receive the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. The appeal to collectors is the artist thought enough of the painting to include it in her application, and she won the award based on that application. It’s hard to say how much it affects the value of the piece, but it appeals to buyers.

What condition is the painting in? For a painting from the late 1960s, it’s in good condition. The things it needs are easily fixed by a good conservator. It’s a little loose on its stretcher.

Would that have anything to do with the burlap canvas? It could be. I’m not a conservator, but burlap is a heavier fabric, and it would certainly put more tension on the stretchers. It’s not really a major issue, but if it’s going to be hung in a museum exhibit or a collector’s home, you’d want it to be at its best, and part of that is having the burlap brought back to a taut configuration.

What is the painting like in person? It goes back to scale. When you stand in front of it, the canvas pulls you in and takes up your vision. The shapes play off each other and almost vibrate. You get the impression of a subtle palette, and it keeps your eye moving around the composition.

What was the previous world auction record for a Mavis Pusey painting? It was the same painting, when it sold at Swann in October 2013 for $33,750. You can see very directly how her market has changed in five and a half years. Before that, her record was set a year before, also at Swann, by Recarte, a larger 1968 painting that sold for $31,200. Not only is her work more and more desirable, but her late 1960s work has held records. That’s what people want.

Mavis Pusey died on April 20, 2019, and the Rago auction took place on May 4, 2019. What role, if any, did the timing of her death play in the new world record? I couldn’t say that it didn’t play a role. Certainly there was a little bit more buzz. But there was serious interest before her death was announced. The catalog came out before that, it was in our advertising and press releases and marketing before that. People were interested in the painting. If [her death] pushed it over…I’m not really convinced it was a major factor. I think this [interest in Pusey] has been building up, and she’s been getting more attention. I don’t think there’s a direct connection there. I don’t think it broke the record because she had just died.

What was your role in the auction? Generally, I put these sales together. Typically, during the day of sale, I’m in my office, talking to buyers about bids. This particular lot had a lot of action. I was called out to the phone table [the table where the auction house manages phone bidders]. I got to watch from the floor and see it break the record. I was glad I was pulled from the office to come out. It was really exciting.

How long do you think this world auction record for Mavis Pusey will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? I think other paintings from the 1960s of the same quality [could do it]. She did also paint larger paintings, so, potentially, you could say they could sell for more, but they haven’t been on the market. We really have to wait and see. We find that when a record is set or an artist dies, more works come on the market. I think it really hinges on that.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I always like to see an artist who hasn’t gotten the recognition they deserve get recognition. I’ve handled works that have set records for many women artists. It’s a satisfying part of the job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images are courtesy of RR Auction.

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

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

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

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

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

(UPDATE) RECORD: A Game-Worn 1920 Babe Ruth Jersey Hit a Grand Slam at SCP Auctions in 2012

A circa 1920 gray flannel road jersey with the words New York across the front in blue, worn by Babe Ruth. It sold for $4.4 million in 2012.

Update: On June 15, 2019, Hunt Auctions sold a game-worn Babe Ruth jersey with the word “YANKEES” sewn across the chest for $5.64 million, setting a new record for any item of sports memorabilia.

What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more game-worn Babe Ruth uniforms saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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RECORD! A Studio Job Dressoir Sold for Almost $190,000 at Bonhams

A unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series, shown in full.

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

What you see: A unique “dressoir” made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series. Bonhams sold the dressoir in June 2019 for $187,575, a record for a Studio Job piece.

The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.

Could we talk about Studio Job–what it is, what it’s known for? They’re designers from the Netherlands, a man and a woman, Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel. They do furniture and lighting that blurs the line between contemporary art and design, and they’re very successful, very highly regarded. They’re proudly Dutch, and they’re still there now. They had a retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2016.

Was this piece in that show? It wasn’t, but it had pieces from the Perished series. When Perished came out in 2004 or 2005, a debate was going on about how global warming affected species, and the effect of man on nature. It was in the ether at the time. People were talking about the environment. This is a very clever statement in a piece of design.

Is this piece typical or atypical for Studio Job? One reason why it did so well [at auction] is it features the Perished design. The series was like this cabinet–dark wood inlaid with lighter wood. The pattern was animal skeletons. I very clearly remember when it came out. It was very shocking, very bold. No one has done anything like it. This combines two Studio Job patterns, Perished and Industry. It was commissioned by a friend of the designers.

What makes the piece so shocking and bold? Marquetry, obviously, goes back to the 1500s or 1600s. It’s a well-known historical medium that no one had used for a modern graphic. It’s a symmetric pattern of skeletons, objects, missiles. It’s like contemporary art, but using an old furniture technique. That’s why the series is so popular–it takes a traditional furniture-making technique and turns it on its head. That’s what great design does. There’s great skill in a designer making you look at something old-fashioned or tired and making it relevant again.

A detail of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series. It is tightly crowded with bird's eye maple images of skeletons, bombs, butterflies, and gas masks on a Macassar ebony background.

What do we know about how it was made? I don’t know the process, but I imagine it involves computer-assisted design. It’s a combination of modern and traditional in how it’s made. It’s a key piece of design from this period.

What is a “dressoir”? Is it a word that Studio Job coined, or is it an established term? They’re Dutch. “Dressoir” is Dutch for dresser. It’s like a sideboard.

Does the Perished series typically pair macassar ebony and bird’s eye maple? It either used rosewood or macassar ebony and paired it with bird’s eye maple. They all have the same aesthetic, dark to light. I like it because a lot of contemporary design doesn’t use natural materials. It’s nice to see natural materials being used in a modern way.

Did Studio Job invent any new motifs for this commissioned piece? No, it’s a combination of the two. They didn’t come up with anything new.

Detail shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job in 2006, showing two primate skeletons with twined tails above the first names of the family members for whom it was commissioned.

One of the photos Bonhams sent shows a pair of primate skeletons with entwined tails, and four names underneath. What is the significance of the names? The names are the family that commissioned it. It’s a dedication.

Did the family use it? They did.

How? For storing clothes.

And the commissioner consigned it, correct? Yes. Because Studio Job are contemporary designers, it [accepting commissions] happens quite often. It’s not unusual.

Studio Job wouldn’t do something like this on spec? Generally, an important piece like this would tend to be commissioned. You can’t go into a store and pick it off a shelf.

Another detail shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job, featuring bird's eye maple images of hand grenades, helicopters, fish, and submarines on a Macassar ebony background.

Studio Job launched in 1998. When did the secondary market for its works begin? I would say probably 2004, 2005, 2006 their works started appearing on the auction market. Studio Job are young designers. To do that well on the secondary market speaks to their skills. Few contemporary designers have that success on the secondary market. And they’re still very active. It’s going to be amazing to see what else they design over their career.

So their career has legs? In thirty or forty years’ time, they’ll be a name like Gio Ponti and Jacques Ruhlmann are names? I think so. They’re definitely not a flash in the pan. In 2004, 2005, 2006, there was an appetite for their work back then at auction. The fact that they’ve kept a level of attention, if not increased it, is pretty significant for a designer. They’ve kept consistently relevant, which is hard to do in art or design.

What’s your favorite detail of this piece? I like the sloth skeleton in the central panel, which is hanging upside down, positioned how a sloth would be. And I like that the skeleton is quite smiley. They’re friendly skeletons. It’s a joyful piece. It speaks to Studio Job’s talents. The way things are arranged in the pattern is quite captivating. I’ve been staring at this thing for a month now, and it’s impossible to get bored with it. There’s so much to look at. I’ve only just realized the sea creatures are on the bottom and the planes and dragonflies and birds are all at the top.

A full shot of the unique "dressoir" made by Studio Job, with the doors open to reveal details of bird's eye maple bone images inlaid on the edges of the shelves.

What is it like in person? The combination of those two woods has a great warmth to it. You can see the striations in the dark wood, and the bird’s-eye maple has a dappled effect. The dark striped wood with pale spotted wood has a great 3-D feel to it. In a way, it looks too clinical in the photos. It burns out all those details. You don’t see them unless it’s in natural light.

The dressoir measures 37 1/2 inches tall, 78 3/4 inches wide, and 13 3/4 inches deep. But how big does it seem to be in person? It’s hard to get a sense of its proportions [from the photo]. When you see it, it’s quite a small size. That’s not a negative. It’s quite accessible and usable, a very easy piece to have in a home. It’s elegant in its size and scale.

What was the estimate? $40,000 to $60,000.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone.

With the winner? No, with one of the underbidders. There was a huge amount of interest in it. It came down to two bidders who were absolutely passionate about it. It was a career highlight for me, and I’m personally very pleased for Studio Job as well. They deserve this kind of success in the secondary market. Their work is superb. Very few living contemporary designers command those prices.

How long do you think this record for a Studio Job piece will stand? What else could challenge it? I think it will stand for a long time. I was unaware of this because it was a private commission. It combines the two most popular Studio Job patterns. I don’t think it’s going to be topped for the next two or three years.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’ve spent a lot of time with it over the course of four, five, six months. Because I’m a design specialist, I see so many things all the time. It takes something special to hold my attention. This one holds my attention consistently. It’s like a piece of good art you never tire of. I look at it and see new things all the time. And in the design world, it checks so many boxes–it’s a beautiful object, it’s functional, it’s a good piece of design, it references historical techniques in furniture-making, and it makes intellectual references to the environmental issues we’re facing globally. It’s quite, quite major.

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Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Bonhams.

Studio Job has a website.

Dan Tolson appeared previously on The Hot Bid talking about a unique Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce ceiling light, created for the 1964 World’s Fair, which sold for $32,500.

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RECORD! The Rockefeller Emerald Sold for $5.5 Million, a Price-per-carat Record

Rockefeller emerald in ring shot from the side sold Christie's June 2017

What you see: The Rockefeller emerald, an 18.04-carat gem set in a platinum and diamond ring designed in 1948 by Raymond Carter Yard. Estimated at $4 million to $6 million, it sold at Christie’s New York in June 2017 for $5.5 million. It set a world auction record for a price-per-carat for an emerald.

The expert: Angelina Chen, senior vice president and senior specialist in Christie’s jewelry department.

I’d like to start by talking about Yard and the Rockefeller family. How did they help Yard? How does this emerald ring show how they trusted him and his artistry? We always run into people who have a personal jeweler, someone you like and trust and who shares your vision. Marcus & Co. was the firm that the Rockefellers started with. As Raymond Carter Yard moved up the ranks at Marcus, they realized he was very talented and had shared views. The emerald was in a Van Cleef & Arpels brooch originally. They [the Rockefeller family] took it apart and gave the largest [stone] to David [Rockefeller]. They could have given it back to Van Cleef & Arpels to remount, but they gave it to Yard to do it.

You said you were surprised that the Rockefellers didn’t ask Van Cleef & Arpels to remount the components of the brooch. What did you find surprising about that? Typically when you buy something from the original house and take it apart, you go back to the house and ask, “Can you refashion it for me?”

Were the Rockefellers taking a risk in bringing the stone to Yard rather than going back to Van Cleef & Arpels? In a way, but the Rockefellers wanted their own vision and their own design. Van Cleef & Arpels is a French company. Yard was much more American.

And Yard created this ring in 1948? Probably the early 1950s. It says 1948, but ultimately, it might be one or two years later.

Where was Yard in his career by that point? He had set up his store in 1922, so he was pretty established by then.

What marks this ring as a Yard design? Also, was it considered cutting-edge in its time? I wouldn’t call it cutting-edge. It’s very minimalist for its period in some ways. He toned down everything else and put the focus on the stone. The lines are very clean and very modest. The emerald is at the center of attention. It’s beautifully made. I love the fact that the side diamonds are trapezoidal in shape–so unromantic, but they flank the emerald beautifully. They slope down just right so the emerald pops up.

I see he used platinum for the setting metal. Was that a cutting-edge choice in 1948? No, not at all. Platinum was well-established. It’s the metal Yard always worked in. Anything white would be platinum.

How rarely does an emerald of this size–18.04 carats–come to auction? The size is not so rare. What makes it rare is the lack of treatment. You rarely see emeralds over 10 carats with no enhancement.

What does “treatment” mean when we’re talking about emeralds? Usually that means it’s oiled with cedar oil. It makes the emerald’s crystal structure shine a little bit better. That’s a tradition from eons ago. It’s quite a porous stone. Opticon is a man-made material [that accomplishes much of what cedar oil does].

Do these treatments make an emerald more stable and less likely to chip? It all adds to it, yes. Emeralds are more fragile than other gemstones, but still wearable.

How can you be sure the Rockefeller emerald wasn’t treated? We sent it to two labs because it’s such an important stone. The provenance chain is good, but we always send it to two labs to certify it. [This time it was] Gübelin and AGL [American Gemological Laboratories].

Do we know when the emerald came out of the ground? No, there’s no notation for that at all. AGL said it was a “classic Colombia”. When “classic” precedes a Colombian stone, it alludes to the fact that it’s from an old mine source. It’s probably early 20th century or so. I’d be uncomfortable calling it before 1900.

What condition is the Rockefeller emerald in? It was in great condition. It wasn’t worn every day. It wasn’t chipped or anything like that when we received it. There’s always some wear and tear, but that’s from normal wear.

What is the inherent value of the emerald? What would it be worth without the Rockefeller provenance? The stone itself is an important stone. It’s 18-plus carats and it’s very clean, a beautiful color, a classic Colombian–that’s important in and of itself. It would have gotten a page in in the catalog [without the provenance]. Rockefeller adds a premium to this. I don’t know what the multiplier is, but I saw the Rockefeller sale, and it sold extremely well.

On the inside of the ring I see something that looks like a brace. What is it? It’s a ring guard. A lot of times when you have a ring, it tends to roll around. This is a grip so it won’t roll around so much.

Did you try the Rockefeller emerald on? I did. [Laughs,] It’s wonderful to have a rare gem on your finger. It’s special. It’s stunning. Anything that’s rich in color like this, it’s very different. Color tends to elicit a different emotion for sure, and you can’t help but think of where this ring has been.

The size of the stone isn’t awkward on your hand? The rule of thumb is it’s never too big. Eighteen carats is not too big. It’s very wearable, not ostentatious.

What was the bidding like? It was definitely longer than a minute. Only a handful of collectors would be bidding at this level. The ones who were not prepared to go to that level left quite quickly. One of the bidders was in the room and another was on the phone. It was tense. The winning bidder was in the room.

The Harry Winston company revealed itself as the winner of the Rockefeller emerald. Do we know what its plans are for the ring? Harry Winston is famous for buying famous gems. If they got an offer they couldn’t refuse, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered it in a Winston setting.

How long do you think the price-per-carat record for an emerald will stand? What could challenge it? That’s the best part of my job. I discover things all the time. I never know what’s going to come up.

So you’re not aware of anything out there that could come forward and sell for more? Not that I know of, but you’ll be the first to know.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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See My New Column at “Art & Object” Magazine: “Sold!”

A&O decadent mancave whiskey Macallan.png

What you see: A bottle of Macallan 1926 60 Year-Old, handprinted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. It commanded £1.2 million ($1,530,484) at Christie’s London in late November, and it’s the lead story of my new column for Art & Object magazine.

 

Read my first Sold! column:

https://www.artandobject.com/articles/sold-items-majestic-mancave-auction

 

Follow Art & Object on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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RECORD! Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President Dress Sells for $4.8 Million at Julien’s

Marilyn Monroe's Happy Birthday Mr. President dress is flesh-colored and covered with 2,500 crystals that were hand-sewn on.

What you see: The gown that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 at a Democratic fundraiser that also marked his 45th birthday. Julien’s sold Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress in November 2016 for $4.8 million, a record for any dress sold at auction.

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

Looking at black-and-white tape of Monroe’s performance on YouTube, it seems that a dimension has been lost. Can you talk about why Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress made the crowd gasp, and why JFK joked that he could “retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to him in such a sweet and wholesome way”? First of all, she had agreed that she’d wear a conservative black dress. But she knew the power of voting, and knew the power of singing at Madison Square Garden, and it was just before her 36th birthday. She was so in tune with the importance of that event. She took her white stole off and stepped to the left of the podium because she didn’t want it to block her in anyway. There was an amazing reaction when the lights bounced off the crystals–15,000 gasps. It looked like she was wearing nothing. You and I are talking about it today, and 50 years from now, we’ll talk about that moment.

So the skin-tight, flesh-colored dress was her idea? She asked [costumier] Jean Louis to make her something that would wow the crowd. Bob Mackie, who was just out of college and 22 years old, drew the sketches for the dress. We sold them a few years ago. 2,500 crystals were hand-stitched onto the dress. Monroe paid for it herself and had matching shoes. We sold the receipt for the dress as well. She spent $6,000 on it [the outfit and related items] which is over $60,000 today–a huge amount of money, a huge investment. She didn’t think about the cost factor. She was thinking about the ‘Wow’ factor. She was very aware of the importance of the event.

Could you talk about what Monroe went through when she wore this dress? I understand that she was sewn into it. Also, in looking at the period tape, her movements are clearly restricted. At one point we see her jumping very vertically to rally the crowd to sing. Was the dress as uncomfortable as it looked? The dress was fragile and difficult to walk in. The stitching was done just below the zip line at the back of the dress. It took a few minutes for her to get from the dressing room to the stage. It was distant, and she could not run, because she was wearing heels. She shimmied her way on stage, wrapped in the cloak, and master of ceremonies Peter Lawford announced her as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Three months later, she was the late Marilyn Monroe. [She died on August 5, 1962.] Fox promised to fire her if she was late [she was filming Something’s Got to Give at the time, and the studio did not want her to travel across the country and potentially delay the shoot.] She risked it all to go to New York. When she got back, she was fired from the set.

Do we know where that white fur stole went? It got separated from the dress. Monroe passed away in August 1962. She had no family members. Attorneys for her estate put everything from her house into storage. The boxes got shipped back to Lee Strasberg [her  mentor and acting teacher], where they stayed until 1999. The dress was first uncovered for the Christie’s estate sale [in October 1999]. We have not found the fur stole, but believe me, I’m searching for it and the shoes.

How much more would the dress be worth if it were part of a complete stage-worn Marilyn Monroe outfit? It’d be hundreds of thousands extra if we found the shoes and the stole. It would be phenomenal to have them all together.

What condition is Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress in? It’s in perfect condition, absolutely perfect condition. The consigner [who won the Christie’s auction in 1999] enlisted experts to build a ‘conservative’ mannequin to preserve the shape of the dress. The knee is positioned out so it supports the weight of the dress. The special mannequin was in a special display case with UV-protective glass. Very clever. He [the winner] believed he’d sell it for a profit. The underbidder [in 1999] was Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When the dress came back to auction, Ripley’s was bound and determined not to let it get away.

Do we know how much the dress weighs? It would weigh several pounds. Place 2,500 crystals in a bag or a bowl–that’s a lot of weight right there.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $2 million to $3 million for Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress? We truly believed that if it fetched $1.27 million in 1999, there had to be a level of appreciation in the dress. It had to double its money. Its historic and political value, matched up with Hollywood history, affected the value of the dress. We felt it would sell for at least $2 million.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a museum. Everyone [who bid] had to be pre-qualified. It came down to two bidders in the room. The energy in the room was just phenomenal. Marilyn Monroe is beloved worldwide. She’s still relevant and still gets high prices.

Marilyn Monroe dominates the auction records for clothing, but it’s interesting that this dress, which she wore in real life, is now number one, ahead of a white dress she might have worn while standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. It’s definitely significant. She was not in character in a movie. This was purely Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK, a love affair made public. There was a lot of speculation and a lot of rumors about a romantic relationship between Monroe and JFK, and after this event, people realized there was something to the rumors [laughs]. She disregarded the 15,000 people in the room. It was just her and President Kennedy in those 90 seconds.

How long will this auction record stand? What else is out there that could beat Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress? I can’t think of anything else that would be so iconic.

Why will this dress stick in your memory? In 2005, I had a wish list. I said what I’d love to auction is Michael Jackson’s red jacket from Thriller, and that came true in 2011.  The next was Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress. Now I’m looking for a pair of ruby slippers [worn in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz]. That could potentially be $5 million, but there’s only one Happy Birthday dress. It’s presidential history and Hollywood mixed together.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses; a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction; and a purple tunic worn by Prince.

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RECORD! A Clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” Sold for Almost $110,000 (Updated December 2018)

A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Its clapper is shaped and painted to resemble a row of shark's teeth.

Update: The Jaws clapperboard sold again as lot 1423 in a Profiles in History auction in December 2018. PIH estimated it at $60,000 to $80,000, and reported on its Twitter account that it sold for $128,000.

What you see: A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Prop Store sold it in September 2016 for £84,000, or $109,000–a record for any filmset-used clapperboard at auction.

The expert: Stephen Lane, CEO and founder of Prop Store.

When did major film productions stop using wooden clapperboards and start using digital ones? That’s tough to answer. Probably in the early 1990s it started to happen. There are still productions today that use analog acrylic clapperboards. There’s still a crossover going on.

How often do set-used clapperboards from legendary films come to auction? I don’t know of any clapperboards sold at this level previously.

What was the previous auction record for a set-used clapperboard? Probably a second unit Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clapperboard, which sold for £27,500 a few years ago. Clapperboards are something that collectors locked onto within the last five years. The collectors we speak with aspire to collect objects that were used before the camera.

It strikes me that even before the collecting mentality became ingrained, set-used clapperboards were likely to have been saved because they say, ‘Hey! We made a film!’ Is that a fair assumption? It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of clapperboards come directly from crew members who worked on the films. A lot bring them home from every film they’ve ever worked on, and hang them on the wall and will never part with them. With some clapperboards, the information was taken off to rewrite it for the next film. I’ve seen clapperboards from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I’ve never seen one for Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. They probably finished the film, got the paint off it, and got the clapperboard ready for the next film. There was a huge amount of recycling.

Have you handled any other set-used clapperboards from Steven Spielberg films? We had a Raiders of the Lost Ark clapperboard in 2014, a small insert clapperboard. They make them in a variety of different sizes. For a shot on the top of a mountain in Lord of the Rings, they [the LOTR crew] made one that was 8 feet wide. I’ve seen other Indiana Jones ones but clapperboards are tough to pin down. There’s not a huge volume of those around and they don’t pop up very often.

What details on this clapperboard, aside from the obvious, prove that it is a genuine set-used clapperboard from the filming of Jaws? It’s incredibly distinctive. It’s very specific, with the cut teeth, which was hugely endearing to a number of collectors. And there’s a photo of Steven Spielberg holding the clapperboard on the set. It was not only used in Jaws and made for Jaws, Steven Spielberg held it on the set. That’s part of the huge appeal of this particular piece.

How big a deal is it to have this period photo of Spielberg holding the clapperboard? Would the clapperboard be worth less if the photo did not exist? Yes, I would say so. Because they were wiped and redetailed with chalk, it’s very unusual for final shot info to be retained on an individual clapperboard. A lot of these slates originated as rental items that productions used to hire. To get one with all the info on it and match it against a photo, it’s very tough.

Is it unique? No, I’ve had a couple of screen-matched boards in the past. But it’s rare, especially for a significant film.

Do we know how many clapperboards were made for Jaws and used on the set? There’s no record whatsoever. I can say quite comfortably that’s the only Jaws clapperboard that’s ever come to market.

As you mentioned before, the clapperboard is decorated with a line of shark teeth. If it lacked that cool little flourish, would it still have made a record price? Again it’s tough for me to speculate. I hadn’t seen a Jaws clapperboard before. I think it [the lack of the teeth detail] would have definitely impacted it, but I can’t say it’d be 20 percent less valuable. It is one of the most endearing features of the board.

How often do you see decorative flourishes like that on a clapperboard? Almost never. The most elaborate thing you get these days is the film logo laser etched on an acrylic clapperboard. You don’t see ones that are nearly as entertaining as this.

What was your role in the auction? I was in the room. I went and sat with the consigner. He wanted to be part of the experience of it selling. Because of the level of interest prior to the auction, we knew it was going to be an exciting moment. It got a massive amount of publicity. People loved it and the press ran with it. It was such an exciting moment for him and for me. He was over the moon, and I was over the moon with him.

Can you talk about how the consigner reacted? He got more and more excited. He looked at the screen, he looked at me, then back at the screen, and his jaw dropped a bit more. After it finished he had to leave the room, he was so excited. He had to have a drink to calm his nerves.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? By the time it got to £30,000. At that point, we were there.

How long do you think this record will stand? I haven’t seen anything that comes remotely close to this. Maybe if a Star Wars: A New Hope clapperboard came up, but it’s unlikely any survive. If a Wizard of Oz or a Gone With the Wind clapperboard came up, they’d be worth tens of thousands. This really was the perfect storm. An interesting-looking clapperboard, the most interesting film in Spielberg’s back catalog, brilliantly documented, and a huge amount of production use. It ticked all the boxes you want to tick.

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Prop Store’s September 20, 2018 auction will include Harrison Ford’s screen-worn Han Solo jacket from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Rose’s farewell note from Titanic, and also a Jaws lot with 40 storyboard pages and a crew t-shirt.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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NEW RECORD! A Sir Edwin Lutyens Clock, Designed for the Viceroy’s House in India, Sells for More Than $146,000

A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced "Letchens"] for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, circa 1930.

Update: Phillips sold the mantel clock that Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for the Viceroy’s House circa 1930 for £112,500, or more than $146,000–a new auction record for Lutyens.

What you see: A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced “Letchens”] for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, circa 1930. Phillips estimates it at £80,000 to £120,000 ($105,200 to $157,800).

The expert: Marcus McDonald, senior design specialist at Phillips.

How often do pieces designed by Lutyens for the Viceroy’s House come to market? To my knowledge I’m not aware of any. I tried all the search engines.

And how rare is it to have a Lutyens piece that’s fresh to market and consigned by a member of the Lutyens family? It’s exceptionally rare. It hasn’t happened before to my knowledge. It has an impeccable provenance.

What does that suggest about how this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock will do at auction? We’re about to find out. The Viceroy’s House was by far his largest commission and possibly his most important commission. We have high hopes.

I understand the clock is not unique, and that Lutyens sometimes had copies made of designs of his that he especially liked. How many of these clocks exist, and where are they? Lady Willingdon’s clock [the wife of the first Viceroy to live in the home], I don’t know what happened to hers. She would have brought it back to the U.K. She had no descendants. Mary Lutyens, his daughter or granddaughter, still has hers. The third clock is the one we have, from the Lutyens family. Lutyens had it made for himself, and it’s by descent to the current owner. The three clocks are identical as far as I’m aware.

Did Lutyens design other clocks? I found another Lutyens clock in a Sotheby’s auction  in 1987, and he designed a children’s clock for a nursery. I spoke to a horologist [about this clock]. The design is all Lutyens. The movement is a typical movement for the time, adapted to fit the oval face. The expanding hands are bespoke.

The body of the clock is painted mahogany. I’ve never encountered painted mahogany before. Did he use it often? It’s slightly peculiar. Pearwood is traditional for clocks. But you can see quite clearly when you remove the finial from the clock that it’s mahogany. I guess it weathered better in India. It seems like a sensible solution.

Why does it have expanding hands? Was that done because of India’s humidity? No, it’s because of the clock’s oval face. The minute hand has to expand to be in line with the Roman numerals. The hands are blued steel, to make them rustproof.

How is this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock an example of his “wit and vitality”? He always had jokes hidden within his work. Here, the pansy at the top of the clock is a key [the winding key]. Pansy is a pun on penser, the French word for “to think.” The play on words–pansy as in flower and the French word “to think”– is meant to be a reminder to wind the clock. We have a separate key-winder for it. It’s perfectly fine [to use the original key] but it’s [using the key-winder is] easier than using the one on the top of the clock.

Is the pansy pun one of his better puns? It depends on the observer, I suppose. But I think it’s a fairly good one.

What other details mark this clock as a Lutyens design? The truncated bun feet on the base. You see them in his furniture.

What is the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock like in person? It has a presence, certainly. When I first saw it in the client’s house, I was immediately drawn to it on the mantle.

What does it sound like? I haven’t heard it chime. I’ve only heard it ticking. You can hear it as you’re approaching. The sound of the ticking is lively and quite loud.

What’s the auction record for a piece of Lutyens-designed furniture? The highest at auction I’m aware of is a table that Sotheby’s sold in March 2014 for £62,500 ($104,500).

Why will this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock stick in your memory? It’s just such a captivating object. The provenance, the original location, and the designer are three elements that make it such an amazing work.

How to bid: The Lutyens clock is lot 91 in the Important Design sale at Phillips London on October 18, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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WHOA! That 1834 Ornithological Book Sold for $100,000

An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Pictured is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

Update: The 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz sold for $100,000–about five times what Heritage Auctions expected, and a record for this book at auction.

What you see: An 1834 first edition of Oiseaux brillans du Brésil by Jean Théodore Descourtilz. Heritage Auctions estimates it around $20,000. Featured above is the Red Curlew plate from the book.

The expert: James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions.

I see the quote in the lot notes from Rubens Borba de Moraes, the former director of the United Nations library in New York, saying, “This book is so rare that I had begun to doubt its existence,” but how many copies are there? Do we know? From what we can tell, we think this is the fifth known copy.

Can you talk about how the book came to be? Was Descourtilz the illustrator? He did illustrate it. It was toward the end of the color plate period, which ran from 1790 to 1830. It was fairly early for a hand-colored ornithological [bird] book. Audubon was contemporaneous in the 1830s. This book was never published. It was issued, and someone made lithographs that were then hand-colored, but it was never published, and never had a table of contents or text. The lithographic plates were put together in a book. I don’t know much about Descourtilz. I’d never heard of him before the book crossed my path. His dad was a botanist and a physician who did a book on the flora of the Antilles. Descourtilz did the illustrations for his father’s book. It’s better known because it was published.

The book is described as a first edition, but it was not published. Why might it have been made? It was probably a mockup, made to engender interest from publishers and get the money to be able to produce the book.

Was it intended to be sold by subscription, as Audubon’s Birds of America was?Maybe the [60] plates were issued in five groups of 12. That was the style then. Audubon published in parts. The reason they did it was so they could start reaping profits against their costs sooner.

The lot notes say the ornithological book has 60 plates. Does that mean it’s complete? I don’t know, but there’s no reason to think there were more. We call it complete. Other copies might have a similar number or a lesser number. Whether he envisioned an epic work like Audubon, we don’t know.

Are all the plates in the ornithological book as vibrant as the Red Curlew plate, shown above? Pretty much. I think it’s just a matter of [the book] being closed. We don’t know much about where it came from beyond being in the same family for decades. It probably was not handled very much over the almost 200 years since it was made.

The lot notes say the ornithological books illustrations are “heightened with gum arabic.” How did that detailing enhance the plates? Gum arabic is a clear sheen, almost a clear varnish. Lots of color plate books use it. You’d put it over the color in certain places so it created a sheen when you looked at it. It makes the plates look more vibrant, and it catches the light in different places. It would help make the plates stand out. [The effect is not visible in the photo shown.]

The book is French, but it has no text. Does that make it more appealing to American collectors, or does it not matter? It doesn’t matter in this case, because it wasn’t issued with text. The collector for this is someone who collects bird books or hand-colored plate books. Anyone sophisticated enough to spend tens of thousands on a book understands why it has no text.

And we don’t know why it wasn’t published? Descourtilz may never have found the backing. Maybe there were other reasons why it was never published. It was certainly publishable if the right circumstances existed. If there was a similar kind of thing for Audubon [Birds of America], where Audubon made lithographs and had them hand-colored to get the backing, get the money [to make it]–if that existed, it’d really be worth a lot, because it predated the book.

How did this ornithological book come to you? It came through another person on staff. She told me the family had had it for a long time, decades. The consigner had a connection to one of the people listed in the front of the book, which is why I think it sat for 80 to 100 years on a shelf. It didn’t get looked at by book fairs and dealers. They [the family] probably didn’t think about it for a long time.

How did you arrive at a value for this ornithological book? It hasn’t come on the auction market. There are so few copies around. Probably, other collectors and dealers have never seen it. There may be more copies we don’t know about that have never become public. If it sold for mid-five figures, we’d be satisfied.

What was it like to look at it for the first time? I didn’t see it until it had been researched by [Heritage Auctions] staff. We knew it was special, and we knew we wanted to use it in the advertising campaign [for the auction].

What is it like to leaf through it, and how does that experience compare to handling Audubon’s Birds of America? I’ve seen Audubon many times. Here, everything is a surprise, everything is new. Many of the plates are stunningly beautiful.

Why will it stick in your memory? How rare it is to see this book. There aren’t many around. Many more people have seen our catalog cover with the Red Curlew on it than have actually seen the book.

How to bidOiseaux brillans du Brésil is lot #45090 in the Rare Books & Maps Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

James Gannon has appeared three other times on The Hot Bid, speaking about the typewriters Larry McMurtry used to write Lonesome Dove; a British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that ultimately sold for a world auction record; and an inscribed presentation copy of Jack Keroauc’s On the Road.

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RECORD! Diego Rivera’s The Rivals Sells for $9.7 Million–A Record for Rivera and ANY Latin American Artwork

The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie's sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

What you see: The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie’s sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

First off, how rarely do Diego Rivera canvases of any kind come up for sale, let alone fresh-to-market works from the Rockefeller family? We get them from time to time. We actually just had a smaller canvas in the regular Latin American art sale. They are rare, but every now and then we do get some.

Have any other Diego Rivera canvases painted for members of the Rockefeller family come to auction? No, not directly from the Rockefeller family. The collection of David Rockefeller’s mother was bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and became part of their collection. MoMA deaccessed one in the 1960s, but it had been in the collection for decades. Technically the answer is no, no Diego Riveras for Rockefellers at auction.

Why is it called The Rivals? Do we see the rivals in the lower left corner? It’s actually the narrative of a festival in Oaxaca, Las Velas. Here, the confrontation goes on in the foreground. The third male [the man in the black hat] looks like he’s going to intervene, but we don’t know if they’re about to have a fight. That’s why it’s called The Rivals–the male characters.

The lot notes describes The Rivals as the ‘most important Rivera offered at auction in decades.’ What makes it so? A picture on this scale has not been seen for 20 years. The last great Diego Rivera was at auction in the 1990s, a much larger painting than ours, but similar subject matter. It was from the collection of IBM, and it sold at Sotheby’s.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $5 million to $7 million? We had some notion of  work that had transacted privately recently. $5 million to $7 million became the low estimate of what we had in mind. We thought it would be [would sell] closer to $10 million, which it did. Not that we expected that–it was a wonderful surprise. The estimate needed to be fair but with room to grow and create competition. Sometimes bidders are guarded. Everything came together in the last two days. Six to eight people were interested in the painting and pursued it to the end.

Can you talk a bit about the importance of its having been commissioned from Diego Rivera in 1931 by a member of the Rockefeller family? That is important. People like to know where things have been. Only the Rockefeller family owned it. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that 1931 is a prime year for the artist. He was much-celebrated in Mexico and globally. It made his relationship with America very fruitful and complicated. It [The Rivals] precedes the painting of the Detroit murals. In 1931, MoMA did a Rivera retrospective, and this painting was part of it. All those factors make it very special.

What is The Rivals like in person? Beautiful. The colors are vibrant and fresh. All we did was have a conservator superficially clean it. Some of the characters are very abstracted, especially the women in the background–just the idea of a face. It really draws you in, almost like you’re watching a movie. It’s very cinematic in that way.

What was your role in the auction? I had a phone [he represented a bidder on the phone], but I didn’t have the winning bid. It was a multi-departmental sale for Christie’s. It had pre-war material, American art, and Latin American art. It was very dynamic for that reason alone. It was one of my favorite sales. Not only was it important, but it felt so energetic and dynamic, and there were some surprises. Everything that sold that night, five or six parties were interested. People love to see that. It’s exciting.

Were you there when the previous world auction record for Latin American art was set in 2016? Yes, I was in the room. I didn’t have the winning bid that evening.

A work by Frida Kahlo was the previous Latin American art record-holder. Could you talk about the significance of Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, handing the honor off to him? The Frida Kahlo sold in 2016 for $8 million. The market for Diego Rivera had not really moved in the high end. We really wanted it to be at the level of Frida Kahlo. We sold it [The Rivals] and surpassed it. Now Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hold the top prices in Latin American art. I think it’s well-deserved.

How long do you think the records–for Diego Rivera at auction, and for any work of Latin American art–will stand? It’s really unpredictable. Obviously, every season you hope, but the reality is you don’t really know. I’d like to see other Latin American artists get Mexican prices [Rivera and Kahlo were both Mexican].

The Rivals is pretty hard to beat, though. What could challenge it? Would it have to wait until this artwork comes back to auction? No, no. It would have to be something from a private collection. A few Frida Kahlos remain in private hands in Mexico. There are no plans for them to be sold, but maybe someday they could be. A few Wifredo Lams in Europe could do it. But it’s unpredictable, that’s the thing.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Garza spoke to The Hot Bid earlier in 2018 about a Fernando Botero Circus painting.

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RECORD! A Near-complete Dodo Skeleton Sold for $430,000 in 2016

A nearly complete (95 percent) Dodo skeleton, assembled by a collector over the course of four decades. Maybe a dozen similarly complete Dodo skeletons exist, and all of them are in museums. In November 2016, Summers Place Auctions sold it for £280,000, or about $430,000, a world auction record for a Dodo skeleton.

What you see: A nearly complete (95 percent) Dodo skeleton, assembled by a collector over the course of four decades. Maybe a dozen similarly complete Dodo skeletons exist, and all of them are in museums. In November 2016, Summers Place Auctions sold it for £280,000, or about $430,000, a world auction record for a Dodo skeleton.

The expert: Rupert van der Werff, director of Summers Place Auctions.

How abundant are Dodo bones, generally? Are some harder to get than others, making it difficult to piece together a fuller skeleton? The way bones are found are by people walking through the swamp [on Mauritius]. Given that they come from one small swamp on one small island from one small species, they’ve never been particularly abundant.

When did Mauritius ban the export of Dodo bones? It became illegal in 2016, but it was generally considered unacceptable post-World War II.

Did the collector who consigned the skeleton set out to piece one together, or did he realize after several years that he had a nearly complete Dodo skeleton? He was a passionate collector of all things Dodo-related. He’d been acquiring bones as they popped up. He came to the realization that he may well have a skeleton, started piecing it together, and realized he did indeed have a skeleton.

How did the nearly complete Dodo skeleton come to you? We’ve sold a diplodocus, a mammoth, and an allosaurus–we’ve had some pretty fabulous star lots. The publicity and the prices we managed to achieve certainly alerted the person to us. In a way, it was natural for him to come to us.

But how did you learn of the Dodo skeleton’s existence and come to receive it? I got a call. He said what he had. It was so unlikely, but there was a chance it could actually be true. He was a few hours away. I popped in my car and went as soon as it was practicable. It was in his shed. He had mounted it. Even I, who wouldn’t pretend to be an expert, could see it was the real deal. I took pictures, talked to the owner, picked it up, and drove very carefully back to work to start the publicity rolling.

What do you do in a moment like that? I mean, he may as well have shown you a unicorn skeleton. Did you try to maintain a poker face? It is something of a Holy Grail in terms of natural history. If I’d tried to remain straight-faced, it wouldn’t have worked. It was quite extraordinary, not something I ever dreamed would happen.

How did you put an estimate on the nearly complete Dodo skeleton? There aren’t really Dodo comparables other than the skeleton that sold in 1914. I tried to negotiate with the owner for the lowest estimate he would consider acceptable and use the auction for what auctions can do–establish what something is worth on any one day.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a a pretty serious collector we’ve done a lot of business with in the past.

Were you surprised by the result? I was pleased it sold, of course. But when you find something as rare as this, as iconic as this, as exciting as this, you can’t help but getting a little carried away in your imagination and think it can go on and on.

In the material that Summers Place assembled to promote the Dodo, you noted that the last time a Dodo skeleton sold was in 1914. The Cardiff Museum paid £350 for it, but you estimate that because Britain was on the gold standard back then, the sum is equivalent to £5 million, or $6.5 million. Does this mean that the 2016 bidder got a bargain? I think so. As far as anyone knows, there’s only one in private hands. Any future discoveries belong to Mauritius. It’s unique. That word is used a lot in the art world, but it’s rarely true. In this case, it actually is. Frankly, it could have made anything [sold for anything].

And the only way this record will be beaten is if this particular Dodo skeleton returns to auction? Yes. There are no others unless a museum deaccessions, which isn’t going to happen. If it’s back to market, that’s the only chance there is.

Why are we still so fascinated by the Dodo, a bird that went extinct centuries ago? It’s clearly quite an unusual animal, and it does look a bit unfortunate. To think it existed on one little island in the Indian Ocean 300 years ago and man wiped it out, it’s incredibly sad. If it were a better-looking animal, it wouldn’t figure in the public consciousness. But it’s got a great name and an unfortunate look. Like a T-Rex, everyone has heard of one. And there are more relatively complete T-Rex skeletons than Dodo skeletons, which puts it into perspective, and shows you how special it is.

Why does this Dodo skeleton stick in your memory? Because I never considered… when I got the opportunity to include a diplodocus, I couldn’t believe it. Never in 100 years would I dream of handling a diplodocus skeleton. It’s right up there, one of the icons of natural history. If I handle a T-Rex, that’d also be incredible, and there’s probably more of a chance of getting a T-Rex than a Dodo. If anything, things like this almost transcend monetary value. It’s surprising that a private individual was able to secure it.

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Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

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RECORD! The Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr., Owner of Native Dancer, Sells for $100,000

A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

What you see: A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

How often do Triple Crown trophies come to auction? Infrequently, and for the Preakness, it’s even less frequently. What you normally see are Kentucky Derby Trophies. They’re highly prized by the families who win them. Kentucky Derby Trophies tend to be valuable. The race has name recognition and the trophy is made out of high-karat gold. The Preakness Trophy is made of silver. A Preakness trophy sold at Christie’s on January 17, 2008, won in 1970 by Personality, which was owned by Ethel D.Jacobs, a very notable horse owner, sort of on a par with Vanderbilt. [He later provided a link to a story that mentioned a third sale of a Preakness Trophy at SCP Auctions in November 2017. Scroll down for the mention.]

How much is this trophy worth simply as a Preakness Trophy, without factoring in the names of Vanderbilt and Native Dancer? Any winner of the Preakness would be a notable horse, bred and raised and trained by notable owners. You’ve got to go back a ways to find a no-name. The Preakness trophy was not available before 1953. The original trophy was the Woodlawn Vase, a pre-Civil War trophy made by Tiffany & Co. for a racecourse in Kentucky called Woodlawn. Not until the late 19th or the early 20th century did Pimlico host the Preakness–the vase was not made for Pimlico. It passed to the next winner until 1953, when Native Dancer won. Vanderbilt decided that the original trophy was too valuable, and should be safely held in the Baltimore Art Museum. 1953 was the first time a replica trophy was issued, and that’s what we sold. It’s notable in that it was the first one you could get. I think that helped its price in the end.

How did the Vanderbilt name affect the value of the 1953 Preakness trophy? Lots of people collect things related to prominent Vanderbilts. The cross-current of competition [with collectors of horse-racing memorabilia] helped drive the price up. This trophy belonged to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., and was sold [consigned] by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III. Vanderbilt Jr., was very influential in the history of American racing and particularly in Maryland.

And how did the Native Dancer name affect the value of the trophy? Native Dancer is one of a small group of horses that lost the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness. That’s the only mar on his record. He was a big favorite going into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. In 1953, the Preakness was shown on live television and got huge national attention. The country fell in love with Native Dancer.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $30,000? We matched the estimate on the trophy sold at Christie’s in 2008. That sold for $32,200. Ours really took off.

What is the 1953 Preakness trophy like in person? It wasn’t huge, but it was imposing, though. It had a very nice look to it, and it was in good condition. I think it was two-thirds the size of the original Woodlawn Vase. It’s a good, presentable size.

What was your role in the auction? Were you in the room? I acted as a specialist. I wrote the essay about the horse and its owner. The silver specialist cataloged it. And I was there, watching it sell. The whole thing took maybe two minutes. There was a pretty big pool of bidders that dropped down to two once it was over $60,000.

How long do you think the record will stand? I think this Preakness record should stand for a while. Probably none of the owners of horses that won the Preakness have the name recognition of the Vanderbilt family. It would probably have to belong to a horse that won the Triple Crown.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a major sports collectible, probably the highest-ranking sports collectible I’ve ever sold. It’s a case of a fantastic owner, Vanderbilt, with a fantastic horse, Native Dancer, and the Preakness. It’s hard to get trophies for major horses. That’s why it’s special. The trophy clearly spoke to a lot of people.

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Image is courtesy of Doyle.

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

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RECORD! A Walter Dorwin Teague Nocturne Radio Sold for $149,000

A Nocturne radio, model 1186, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for the Sparton Corporation in 1935.

What you see: A Nocturne radio, model 1186, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for the Sparton Corporation in 1935. Wright sold it in November 2015 for $149,000 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000–a record for any work by Teague.

The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house.

Sparton unveiled the Nocturne radio in 1935, during the Great Depression. It was priced at $350 to $375, which means it almost cost as much as a car. Who would have been the market for this high-end radio? It was always a Cadillac premium item, not intended for the masses. They didn’t sell a lot of them, but it was marketed to high-end posh interiors–hotels and similar venues. They did it as futuristic branding of the company as opposed to selling a lot of these.

I look at the Nocturne radio and to me, sitting here in the 21st century, it still seems futuristic. Do we know how the public reacted to the radio at the time? People looked at it and felt optimistic about the future. The fact that it came out at the depths of the Great Depression spoke to the idea that there was real hope and promise in technology. Things are different today, but the promise is out there that technology can make the world better. We still do that. Computers and technology products tend to be futuristic in design.

This represents an auction record for a work by Walter Dorwin Teague, but is it also an auction record for any radio? It seems to be, but I can’t verify that. There are auction databases, but you can’t just search on radios. Enigma machines have a radio component, but that’s a different category. For a straightforward radio, I do think it’s a record.

Could you explain what the yellow dial at the top does? I think it’s the frequency tuner. This radio works but we were very reluctant to plug it in. I didn’t play around with all the things it could do.

And the black box at the bottom is the speaker? Yes.

And the ladder structure and the blue glass–is it decorative or functional? Does the glass help amplify the sound? It’s purely aesthetic. There’s no functional aspect to that.

About two dozen Nocturne radios survive, and they pop up at auction every now and again. How does this one compare to the other examples? This was a particularly good one. It had been incredibly restored, and there had been a carefully documented restoration of it. There’s a relatively small number of buyers for these today. The best buyers for us for these have been museums.

What is the Nocturne radio like in person? It’s impressive. I think the reason it’s collected today is it’s a visually iconic symbol of industrial design and American Art Deco. To your point, it still looks very modern today and very pared down and pure in its expression. And it’s big, physically big. It was meant to be a real show-stopper. There was a tabletop version. I think it was called a Bluebird. There are many more of those, but it doesn’t at all have the presence of the Nocturne. This is bigger, and you can see yourself in it. It’s a pretty interesting experience to stand in front of it.

What does it sound like? I did hear it on. I didn’t play with it, didn’t tune it to different bands. It’s hard to gauge the sound quality. We’re pretty spoiled now [as far as expectations of sound quality]. It has a pretty big sound, but a mono speaker.

What drove the price of this Nocturne radio so high? There were five active bidders, which is significant at that level. I think it was a fantastic example, historically documented, we did a good job telling its story, and it had the nice element that part of the proceeds went to charity. If you were waiting to buy one, this was the one to buy, and people recognized that.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $90,000? It was based on comparables that existed. We’d handled Nocturnes before, and we knew this was a great one. The estimate was fairly aggressive. We did sell one in 2003 to the Dallas Museum of Art for over $100,000 on an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. The consigner was the widow of the radio enthusiast, but she had a good sense of the market. She also played a part [in the estimate]. She wanted to honor her husband’s legacy and wanted a significant price, for sure.

What was your role in the auction? I was the auctioneer. I don’t remember much. Auctioneering is very much a flow activity. You’re very concentrated. You try to respond with energy and try not to make a mistake and then you go to the next lot.

When did you know you had a record? Records are nice, but it wasn’t first and foremost in my mind. I didn’t go into it hoping to break a record, but I know the benchmarks. I handled the consignment myself.  It was her husband’s legacy, his favorite radio. I felt proud that I had told the story of the radio, put it online, linked to her husband’s blog, and got a great result. That’s the best of my work. I helped myself, I helped somebody, and I preserved history. I feel super-proud of that. And I want it [the lot listing] to be out there as a resource for people who find it.

What else is out there by Walter Dorwin Teague that could challenge this record? Teague designed a wide range of things. Nothing else would touch it in his oeuvre. It’d be another Nocturne. That’s the only thing that would get back up there.

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Wright is on Twitter and Instagram.

The Nocturne’s previous owner, the late Roger E. Dillon, created a website about the exquisite radio and how he restored it.

Image is courtesy of Wright.

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RECORD! A Harold Dunbar Cape Cod Scene Sold for $78,000

A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred's sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000--stomping the artist's previous auction record several times over.

What you see: A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred’s sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000–stomping the artist’s previous auction record several times over.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

First, let’s talk about the artist who made this work, Harold Dunbar. What can you tell me about him? There are two distinct parts of his career. When he was younger he lived in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a gifted Impressionist painter, and if he stayed that course, he might be better regarded than he is today. In the 1910s, he moved to Chatham, Massachusetts, and he started to work for the tourist trade. He could paint local scenes of Chatham fairly quickly, and he sold them to tourists and locals for a tidy sum. Lore says he had quite the alcohol issue. We see a real variety of quality in his later era–some paintings where he didn’t give his all, and others that are much better.

Did this work have a name when it came to you? No, it did not have a name. We applied the name.

This has been described as Harold Dunbar’s best work. What makes it so? Obviously it’s a very subjective thing to say. In my opinion it’s in the top five. It’s certainly the best we’ve ever handled. The thing that really grabs people is the woman. She’s looking right at you and she’s almost talking to you, like she’s trying to draw you into the painting. Her pose, the way her head is cocked, the way she’s looking toward the viewer, it’s really dramatic.

How do we know the landscape shows the Cape Cod town of Chatham? There’s a bit of debate about that now. Some feel it might be Truro instead. We can’t say it’s an exact point in Chatham. There’s a bit of a debate about exactly where it is on the Cape, but we’re fairly sure it’s Truro now.

Do we know if Harold Dunbar used models for this, and if so, do we know who the models were? I don’t know. I suspect he did. He didn’t do an awful lot of figurative work.

What makes this painting stand out among Harold Dunbar’s works? The prominent figures, the work is a fairly large size for him, and the quality is outstanding. He obviously puts a lot of time and effort into it. On the quality scale of his Cape Cod works, it’s a 10.

How many Dunbars have you handled? How have you seen his market change over time? We’ve handled probably 500 Dunbars. The market for him has been pretty steady. There’s always been pretty solid demand, particularly on the cape. They’re bright, cheerful, and fairly easy and popular sells.

How did the Harold Dunbar painting find its way to you? It came in to an art dealer in a shop in Denver, Colorado last summer. The dealer called us to refer the consigner, and shipped the painting out. It was not where you expect to find a Dunbar. My suspicion is someone who was probably here originally left the area. We didn’t see a public record of it being sold. None of the local dealers and collectors recalled seeing it on the market before.

Did that prompt a concern that it might be fake? Are fakes a problem with Dunbar’s work? That didn’t concern us at all. There actually have been a few fakes out there, but they’re pretty easy to spot. A lot of the “fakes” that we see are not intentionally faked, but people thinking, “If I put a signature on it, I can make a couple hundred bucks.”

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

What was it like to see the Harold Dunbar painting show up? It was exciting. We looked at it and said, “Wow, this is the best Dunbar we’ve ever seen.” It was a nice moment to unpack it. I put it on the cover of the catalog not thinking it would bring that kind of money, but because I thought it was a powerful image.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 for the Harold Dunbar painting? Estimates are always a tricky thing. As an auctioneer, you want the estimate to be fair but conservative. In this case, the Dunbar auction record up to that point was $5,000. It was a very nice harbor painting that we sold about 10 years before. Only about five percent of his works had broken the $3,000 barrier. Conservative estimates are better, but a lot of people get caught up in the moment and bid what they want to bid. I thought if they got caught up, on a great day, the Dunbar might sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

When did you get a notion that the Harold Dunbar painting might do better than $5,000? We had a preview two weeks before the sale, and it was very, very well-received. Dunbar collectors loved it. Even those who didn’t care about Dunbar loved it.

What was your role in the auction? I am one of the principal auctioneers, but I did not auction the Dunbar. I was a bystander.

What do you remember of the sale? I think it started around $5,000. There were two very active people in the room, and it quickly got around $15,000. After $15,000, there was one bidder on the phone and one in the room who bid it up to the final price. The person who bought it was in the room, and the underbidder was on the phone.

What was your reaction when you saw the Harold Dunbar painting glide past $15,000? I would have been pleased with $15,000. Once it got to $20,000, I was shocked. It was a surprise to everybody. Two people desperately had to have it, and it became a battle.

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

Why do you think they fought so hard for it? I think the painting just spoke to them. This is just my analysis of it–I haven’t spoken to either of them. This is a wonderful Cape Cod painting. Everyone was taken in by the female figure. It’s a pleasing painting, a relaxing painting. You can picture yourself walking on a Cape Cod evening and passing her. It was one of those moments. And there’s mystery around the painting, too. The man is much older. Is it her father? Her husband? People had fun figuring out what the story was. At one point, I thought it might be a commissioned work or an illustration for a story, but there’s no proof. That’s complete conjecture on my part.

How long do you think this record will stand? Could any other Harold Dunbar painting challenge it? I know of nothing out there that would be available for sale at any point that could challenge it. I know of some Dunbars in private hands, but they wouldn’t achieve close to this level. In my opinion, it will stand for a long time, potentially our lifetimes. It was lightning in a bottle.

Well, this painting pretty much appeared out of nowhere. Maybe lightning will strike twice? It certainly can. I’m not a gambler, and I wouldn’t bet on it, but part of the fun of what we do is we never know. Last summer, we sold a scrimshaw tooth that shattered the record, and it was bought at a gun show. There’s always that next wonderful thing out there. That’s part of what keeps us going.

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Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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RECORD! Paul Newman’s Own Paul Newman Rolex Daytona Sold for $17.7 Million–a Record for Any Wristwatch

A 1968 Rolex Daytona "Paul Newman," reference 6239 and owned by the late actor Paul Newman. Purchased for him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, she engraved the back of the case with the words, "DRIVE CAREFULLY ME." Estimated in excess of $1 million, Phillips sold it in New York in October 2017 for $17.7 million, a world auction record for any wristwatch.

What you see: A 1968 Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman,” reference 6239 and owned by the late actor Paul Newman. Purchased for him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, she engraved the back of the case with the words, “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” Estimated in excess of $1 million, Phillips sold it in New York in October 2017 for $17.7 million, a world auction record for any wristwatch.

The expert: Paul Boutros, head of watches for the Americas for Phillips.

How rare are these mid-century Rolex Daytonas with the “exotic” dial that was later nicknamed for Paul Newman? Not especially rare, in the grand scheme of things. The thing with this type of Daytona is they’re really sought-after. There’s far greater demand than supply. The regular Daytona appeared in 1963. The version with the exotic dial, aka the Paul Newman dial, appeared on the market in 1966.

For a long time this Paul Newman watch was considered “lost.” How did you find it? Did the consigner come to you, or did you sleuth it out? It came to us. The consigner, James Cox, had had it in his possession since 1984. [Newman spontaneously gave it to Cox, who was dating Newman’s daughter, Nell, at the time, after he idly mentioned that he did not own a watch.] In 2016, he decided it was time to sell it for a good cause, Nell Newman’s charity. He reached out to his attorney and asked how to sell it. The attorney said he didn’t know, but he had a client with a world-class watch collection, and would ask him. The attorney called the collector and asked, “What would you think if I had Paul Newman’s Paul Newman?” The man said “$100,000 to $150,000.” The attorney said, “No no no, the Paul Newman watch worn by Paul Newman.” The collector replied, “Whoa. You have to go to Phillips.”

Did John Cox know what he had? And did he know that the Paul Newman watch was thought to be missing? He didn’t know its importance initially. He wore it casually. Once he was in Japan, and someone came up to him and said, “Paul Newman! Paul Newman!” and he thought, “Wow, how did they know I have Paul Newman’s Daytona?” He didn’t know the watch was called a Paul Newman until he did some research. Then he understood it was an important watch. He placed it in a safe deposit box in the early 1990s. Maybe he didn’t know collectors were hunting for it.

The Paul Newman Daytona was the top lot in Phillips’s first New York auction of watches. Did you hold and schedule the Paul Newman expressly for this sale, or did it happen to come to you at the right time? We always knew we would launch watch sales in New York, but the time had to be right. We felt that a great way to launch New York, and the best thing for the Paul Newman, was to sell it in New York. It was a great alignment of the stars.

You estimated the Paul Newman Daytona in excess of $1 million. The previous record for any wristwatch was $11 million, set at Phillips Geneva in November 2016 by a 1943 Patek Philippe, ref. 1518. When you set the estimate for the Paul Newman, did you have any notion that it could break the record? No. We did not. We were as surprised as anyone. We took in the watch in 2016. Before that, the most expensive Rolex at auction sold for $2.4 million. While the Paul Newman was in our possession, a Rolex sold for $3.4 million and another sold for $5 million. We thought it had a chance of beating the $5 million record for a Rolex. We didn’t know it would beat the record for any wristwatch.

Phillips sold those two record Rolexes in the same May 2017 Geneva auction. But you didn’t change the $1 million-plus estimate on the Paul Newman. Why not? We were still unsure. And once we agree upon an estimate and a contract is in place, we don’t like to change it unless we have to. We kept the estimate conservative.

Have other Paul Newman-owned watches gone to auction? How did they do? There was a modern 1990s Daytona associated with him that sold at a charity auction in 1995. It was one of many watches in the auction. It probably sold for $30,000. That’s it. He donated it for charity.

How do auction records of charity sales affect how you prepare an estimate for a similar item? There’s a little art and science behind an estimate. We ask, “How much would we pay for this watch if it was presented to us?” Another thing we consider is the price of a standard Paul Newman. In 2016, it was $150,000. With a Paul Newman provenance, it’s maybe eight to ten times that.

What factors drove the Paul Newman watch to such a staggeringly high record price? It’s an iconic watch from an iconic brand. By itself, without the Paul Newman provenance, it was $180,000 to $200,000, maximum. Factor in the Paul Newman provenance, and it’s $17.7 million. That portion above the $200,000 is directly associated with the provenance.

To what extent, if at all, did the charity angle–the fact that the Nell Newman Foundation and the Newman’s Own Foundation would benefit from the sale–help push the Paul Newman watch to its record price? It’s impossible to quantify. But if there was no charity aspect, I don’t think it would have sold as high.

What condition was the Paul Newman watch in? It was all-original. It was worn and enjoyed but it never experienced a polishing. It had its original factory finish, and the engraving was perfectly preserved. Its originality really helped it fly.

Does it work? Oh yes. We only sell watches that work. If it hadn’t worked, we would have sent it to a watchmaker to make it work. It’s a minor cost.

Did you try on the Paul Newman Daytona? Of course, yeah. It was very emotional. Your first time seeing it, looking at it, handling it–it’s the moment many wait for for their collecting careers. It was a breathtaking moment for me.

How long did you wear it? Not too long. I took a couple of wrist shots for my Instagram account.

When you announced Phillips would sell the Paul Newman Daytona, did you have bidders signing up who you’d never worked with before? Yes, many people were new to us. For a typical top lot, we have maybe five qualified people interested in bidding. The Paul Newman was above average. We had 34 registered to bid on Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, and all of them were qualified. All 34 had to show their bank statements.

You sold the watch in a traditional way–no online bids allowed. Why? We always accept online bids, except for this one. We wanted no potential sabotage of the lot. We accepted phone, absentee, and in-room bids. Online bids were turned off.

What was your role during the sale? I was on the phone with a potential bidder. Aurel [Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer, from the consulting firm Bachs & Russo] started the lot with a commission bid of $1 million, and then Tiffany [Tiffany To, a Phillips watches specialist from the Hong Kong office who was representing another phone bidder] interrupted to say “10 million!”

Have you ever seen anything like that happen before at an auction–the auctioneer barely finishes relaying the initial seven-digit bid, and it’s almost instantly trounced by an exponentially larger one? No. It was an incredible jump bid. It decapitated many bidders. My phone bidder, they said they were out. The person who bid $10 million was the underbidder in the end. [Phillips taped the whole thing, and you can see it on YouTube, from the opening promotional film to the final fall of the hammer.]

Was the record acknowledged at the time? I think Aurel knew at $10 million [that it was going to stomp the $11 million record]. He was shocked like the rest of the room, taken aback. [Bachs announces the opening $1 million bid around the 2:06 mark, and Tiffany jumps in soon after. When he realizes that she’s confirming a $10 million bid, he is indeed speechless for a few seconds.] He regained his composure. He knew, but I don’t recall him saying it was a new record [at that moment]. [Around the 10:00 mark, Aurel remarks, “I don’t need to say what this watch does in terms of records. It does everything.”]

How did you feel after the final gavel strike? It was… Wow. We were really shocked. Very happy, of course. Elated for Elinor Newman, for James Cox, and for collectors of watches. It was a great moment for the hobby, for someone to pay so much for an important timepiece. For me, it was the ultimate wristwatch. One thing to note is the fact that it took place in New York. Not Geneva, New York. It was great for the market.

How long do you think this record will stand? What else could challenge it? The watch was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s going to be tough to break, this record. I don’t think it will stand forever. I always hope something new will be unearthed that will give it a run for its money.

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Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram. Paul Boutros is on Twitter and  Instagram also.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Read Phillips’s own story about the Paul Newman watch, which includes period photos of Newman wearing it.

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An Alma Thomas Painting Sells for Almost $400,000

Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Editor’s Note: Today is the first anniversary of The Hot Bid. To celebrate, I’m reposting the first entry–a piece on an Alma Thomas painting at LAMA that ultimately sold for a record sum.

Update: Thomas’s Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. sold for $387,500 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on Sunday, March 5, 2017–well above its $125,000 to $175,000 estimate. It also represents a world record at auction for the artist.

What you see: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Who was Alma Thomas? She was a member of the Washington Color School, a mid-20th century abstract art movement based in Washington, D.C. that also included Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland. Thomas was under-appreciated during her lifetime, but she was not unknown; in 1972, she became the first African-American woman to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thomas died in 1978, at the age of 86. Her art gained fresh attention when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama displayed her works in the White House. Resurrection, a 1966 Thomas canvas that the Obamas chose for the White House family dining room, shares a mandala-like motif in common with Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C.

Why is the Alma Thomas painting so compelling? “It has an intimacy that you only get when you contemplate a solitary blossom,” says Peter Loughrey, director of modern design and fine art at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). “There’s something Zen and eastern about it. The progression of color draws you in to the center of the work. It really lends itself to a one-on-one, personal interaction.”

How does the Alma Thomas painting call to mind Washington, D.C.? “It’s extremely abstracted, but it does reference the cherry blossoms that bloom every spring,” says Loughrey, who grew up in the nation’s capital. “It’s inescapable, that pinkish color in the background. It’s what you remember and walk away with.”

Why is the Alma Thomas painting estimated at $125,000 to $175,000? Thomas wasn’t as prolific as other Washington Color School artists, and today’s collectors are keen to own her works. Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. has never gone to auction before; the consigner’s father bought it directly from the artist in 1969. He was a medical student at the time, and he paid her in installments. The lot includes a handwritten letter from Thomas to the proud young owner, telling him,”I hope you will love the painting. So many of my friends wanted to buy it.”

How to bid: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. is lot 323 in the Modern Art & Design Auction that takes place on March 5, 2017 at LAMA in Van Nuys, Calif.

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Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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RECORD: Jesse Owens’s Olympic Gold Medal Sells for $1.46 Million at SCP Auctions

A 1936 Olympic gold medal, one of four earned by Jesse Owens during the Berlin games. SCP Auctions sold it in 2013 for $1.46 million, a world auction record for any piece of Olympic memorabilia.

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

What you see: A 1936 Olympic gold medal, one of four earned by Jesse Owens during the Berlin games. SCP Auctions sold it in 2013 for $1.46 million, a world auction record for any piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Who was Jesse Owens? He was an African-American athlete who put the lie to Adolf Hitler’s racist Nazi policies when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin in track and field events: the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and the 4 x 100 relay. Sadly, his glory was cut short by American sports officials, who took away his amateur status and killed his career after he accepted endorsement deals. He struggled thereafter, resorting more than once to running against racehorses (and beating them). He died of lung cancer in 1980 at the age of 66.

How did you come up with an estimate for Jesse Owens’s Olympic gold medal? “Estimates are always educated guesses,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions. “Nothing is directly comparable to Jesse Owens’s medal. We had the estimate at half a million and up, and we far exceeded our estimate.”

Do we know when Jesse Owens gave the medal to his friend, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson? “We can’t pinpoint the moment when Owens gave it to him, but their relationship is well-documented,” he says.

What was your role in the auction of Jesse Owens’s Olympic gold medal? “The bidding was all done online,” he says, noting that he dealt with prospective bidders and promoted the lot. “To be honest with you, when we’re in the final stage of bidding, most of our work is done. There’s a tremendous amount of research and marketing leading up to that point.”

When did the online bidding enter crunch time? “On the final day, at 5 pm PST, we went into extended bidding. The hours between 5 pm and 8 pm PST are when people make their moves and really competitive bidding, bidding wars, occur,” he says. “We entered extended bidding on the Owens medal at $447,000. It rose to $1.4 million over a period of three hours. I can’t say exactly how many people were bidding, for privacy reasons, but there were definitely more than two.”

When did you know you had a world auction record? “We weren’t really focused on setting a record,” he says. “We were more focused on getting a result that was worthy of the item. We were very pleased to see it pass the seven-figure mark, but we were not surprised.”

What do you remember most about the auction of the Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal? “The exciting part for us was having the validation of people recognizing the historic significance and value of the item. It was nice to see it go for a figure commensurate with its importance,” he says. “We’ve sold items for more than this sold for, but I’m not sure we’ve sold anything more important from a cultural standpoint. It goes so far beyond the realm of sports memorabilia. Given what it represents, it’s very difficult to put a price on it. In my opinion, it’s worth more today than it was in 2013. If it sold again today, it would bring a higher price.”

Why do you think the Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal would sell for more than $1.4 million if it was consigned again today? “There are several factors,” he says. “The high-end collectible sports memorabilia market has advanced significantly in the last four years. Also, in that time, a major motion picture about Jesse Owens, Race, further raised his profile and raised awareness of what he accomplished. The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian recently opened an African-American sports exhibit. It wasn’t in place at the time the medal sold, but I can’t imagine a greater centerpiece for it. I think the medal’s magnitude has grown for all those reasons.”

Jesse Owens won three other gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, but they appear to be missing. If any of them turned up, along with ironclad documentation that proves they belonged to Owens, how might they do at auction? “If another two or three could be verified, none would be worth less than what we sold ours for, and they could sell for substantially more,” he says.

What was it like to hold Jesse Owens’s Olympic gold medal? “We’re in the business of handling historic artifacts on a daily basis. You can get numb to it. We really felt we were in a privileged position to be handling this,” Imler says. “After 20 years in the business, you don’t get goose bumps that often. This raises goose bumps. It’s very special.”

Why will the Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal stick in your memory? “It’s the ultimate symbol of triumph, and not just in the athletic realm,” he says. “It’s symbolic of civil rights, athletic greatness, courage, fortitude–it’s so far beyond sports, so far beyond anything we’ve handled in our company history. It will stand the test of time and provide inspiration for many generations to come.”

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.

SCP Auctions will offer the Jesse Owens Estate Collection in its 2018 Spring Auction, which takes place between March 7 and March 24, 2018. Lots will include the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to Owens by President Gerald Ford in 1976 (estimated at $250,000-plus); the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously awarded to Owens by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 (estimated at $150,000-plus); and two of the four First Place Olympic Winner Diplomas he received for his performances in the Long Jump and the 200 Meter race at the 1936 Berlin games (estimate pending).

Jesse Owens has an official web site.

Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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

RECORD: A Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture Sells for $10.3 Million

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.

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 Roy 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 Roy 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 Roy Lichtenstein 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 Roy Lichtenstein 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 Roy Lichtenstein sculpture 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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Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

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

RECORD! The Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch Sells for $24 Million

The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication pocket watch, commissioned by Graves from Patek Philippe. The Swiss company finished the timepiece in 1932 and delivered it in 1933. It is the most valuable timepiece of any kind sold at auction, and has been for almost two decades. It fetched a then-record $11 million at Sotheby's in 1999, and commanded $24 million at Sotheby's in 2014.

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

What you see: The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication pocket watch, commissioned by Graves from Patek Philippe. The Swiss company finished the timepiece in 1932 and delivered it in 1933. It is the most valuable timepiece of any kind sold at auction, and has been for almost two decades. It fetched a then-record $11 million at Sotheby’s in 1999, and commanded $24 million at Sotheby’s in 2014.

So American banker Henry Graves Jr., approaches Patek Philippe to create this timepiece in 1925. How serious a challenge is this project? Is it akin to the moon shot–America devoting itself to sending astronauts to the moon in the 1960s? “In the watch world, yes,” says Daryn Schnipper, chairman of Sotheby’s international watch division. “Patek Philippe would not do it again until 1989.”

Why did Patek Philippe wait until 1989 to do something like this again, with the Calibre 89? “Probably, they didn’t have a commission,” she says. “1989 was an anniversary year for Patek Philippe. They were talking about how to celebrate a very important anniversary [Patek Philippe’s 150th]. They decided to replicate the Graves, but then said, ‘Let’s not stop there, let’s surpass it.’ The people involved said it was not possible. They used computer assistance. One reason the Graves couldn’t be replicated was those who worked on it were dead by 1989.”

Didn’t the people who worked on the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch leave behind technical drawings of the timepiece? “When they developed a one-off, it was in the watchmaker’s head,” she says, noting that a team of twelve was assembled for the Henry Graves Supercomplication project, and they worked on it for seven years. “I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t see a drawing [for it] except what was done afterward.”

How does the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch differ from the Calibre 89? “The Graves had 24 complications and was 74 mm (almost three inches) in diameter. It was never done before. When they did the Calibre 89, [which had 33 complications], it was significantly bigger. It almost didn’t seem like a watch,” she says. “The Graves is not crazy big like the Calibre 89, which weighs almost two and a half pounds. The Graves is one pound, three ounces. They [the Calibre 89 team] couldn’t come close at all. The Graves is a tour-de-force. I think it shows you really can’t replace people with machines.”

Did Henry Graves require Patek Philippe to include any specific complications? “He probably asked for the night-time sky,” she says. “The timepiece that Patek Philippe made for James Ward Packard [Graves’s rival in watch-commissioning] had the night-time sky over Cleveland. Graves wanted one with the sky over New York. At that time, you only saw it on three watches. The Graves timepiece shows the night sky with the Milky Way and various stars. It’s mesmerizing, and it’s done to the latitude and longitude of Henry Graves’s home near Central Park at 834 5th Avenue.”

What was the hardest complication for the Patek Philippe team to integrate? “Making sure they [the 24 complications] worked with each other. Just to sync everything together and make sure it works accurately,” she says, noting that the Graves timepiece is less than an inch and a half thick. “It’s organic. It works together as a system. It’s very complex. If it doesn’t all sync together and work accurately, it’s a failed idea.”

Why do watch-heads love the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch? “Because it’s everything. It’s a technical tour-de-force,” she says. “It’s the fact that it’s the Supercomplication, the whole ball of wax, and the fact that it was entirely handmade–no use of any computer technology.”

The Henry Graves Supercomplication set a world auction record when it sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $11 million. When Sotheby’s sold it again in 2014, it set the record anew by fetching $24 million. You were present for both records. Could you talk about what they were like? “The first time, we didn’t know what to expect, because it had never sold at auction before,” she says, noting that Sotheby’s put an unusually high $3 million to $4 million estimate on the Henry Graves Supercomplication in 1999. “The second time, there was a lot more writing on it. ‘Will it break the record?’ ‘Will it find a buyer?’ I knew the consigner was sad to sell it but wanted to pass it along. There was a lot of emotion involved. It was a roller coaster, those few days. There was so much more emphasis on it. It was a big, big deal.”

How did you experience both auctions? “The first time, I was in a state of shock as it exceeded five million. It was very exciting, and I remember holding my breath until the hammer went down,” she says. “The second time, it was exciting because it was all in the room. It came down to two people. It was still exciting for me to watch, it was just a different environment.”

What is the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch like in person? “It feels good. It feels right. It feels high-quality. It’s a perfect kind of watch,” she says, and launches into a memory that compares aspects of the two auctions. “In 1999, we hand-carried it from Rockford, Illinois, to Sotheby’s in New York City. [We thought] If it sold for $3 million to $5 million, that’s a lot. Once it went for $11 million and beyond–we had estimated it [the second time] at $17 million to $20 million–we no longer hand-carried it. We had armed guards. We were still handling it, but yeah. As important as it was the first time, it was that much more important the second time. Its value was greater, and its fame was greater.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “I don’t know. So far, it’s been three years,” she says. “Aside from something like the Paul Newman wristwatch, which was about provenance, you know, records are meant to be broken. The fact that it held the record from 1999 to 2014 was something, but with that Paul Newman bringing $18 million, who knows? It’s kind of hard to speculate. Anything’s possible.”

Might one of the four Calibre 89 timepieces challenge it? “Not even close,” Schnipper says. “The Calibre 89 is very important, but it’s not the same. They made more, they had engineers, they had computer-assisted design–it’s just different.” [Editor’s note: The yellow-gold version of the Calibre 89 was consigned to Christie’s in 2016 for $11 million and went unsold. Sotheby’s offered it in May 2017 with an estimate of about $6.4 million to $9.9 million, and it went unsold again. Also, Vacheron Constantin has since claimed the ‘most complicated watch ever made’ title with the 2015 release of the Reference 57260. It measured almost four inches across, weighed just over two pounds, and boasted 57 complications.]

Why will the Henry Graves Supercomplication stick in your memory? “It was the most important watch known in private hands at that time [1933], and it’s still in private hands,” she says. “It’s like selling the Mona Lisa. How do you get your head around that? That’s kind of where it is for me.”

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

You can watch Daryn Schnipper talk about the Henry Graves Supercomplication in this 2014 Sotheby’s video.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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

RECORD: An Ed Ruscha Print Sold for More Than $200,000 in 2014

Double Standard, a 1969 screenprint by Ed Ruscha. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) set a record for a print by the artist in October 2014 when it sold for $206,250 against an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.

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

What you see: Double Standard, a 1969 screenprint by Ed Ruscha. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) set a record for a print by the artist in October 2014 when it sold for $206,250 against an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.

Who is Ed Ruscha? Edward Joseph Ruscha IV is an Oklahoma-born artist who embraced California and became part of the Pop Art movement. He works in several media–printmaking is just one of them. He might be most famous for his paintings that showcase single words or phrases. He is 79.

Where does Double Standard fit in the pantheon of Ed Ruscha images? “The Standard series is one of his most iconic. Double Standard is a little tongue-in-cheek, as is a lot of his work,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “He infuses humor and irony into a lot of his work, along with pop art sensibilities.”

Is this a depiction of a real Standard gas station, or is it an invention of Ruscha? “I don’t think this is an actual representation. I think it’s a combination of things,” he says. “In 1961, Dennis Hopper took a picture of a station with two Standard signs, like this [print has]. Ruscha would certainly have been aware of that. It’s very similar to Ruscha’s imagery. I can only assume Ed used that as part of his process as well as the stations he saw on his Kerouac-like travels from Oklahoma to get to Los Angeles.”

The print is signed by Ed Ruscha and also Mason Williams. Who is Williams, and what was his contribution to Double Standard? Williams is a musician, writer, and comedian who worked on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Saturday Night Live. He’s a friend of Ruscha’s, who goes back to his Oklahoma days. “A lot of the humor and wry snarky sensibility had to do with Mason,” he says. “Mason’s ability to satirize a subject is fairly important to this. It was more conceptual. It was more about bringing to Ed’s attention that Standard was too serious, and Double Standard took some air out of it.”

What sort of condition is this Double Standard print in? “It’s in pristine condition, which is why it sold for so much,” he says. “I met an original owner who said they paid $180 for it. When you pay $180 for a print, you don’t go to dramatic lengths to frame it and preserve it and prevent archival issues in the future. The fact that these were not that expensive when new led a lot to be ultimately mishandled in ways that we can identify. It’s clear that this example was treated as a work of art from the beginning. The rarity of a survivor in this condition drove a lot of the interest.”

Double Standard was printed in an edition of 40. How often does it come up at auction? “Mine was the last one, in 2014. About 18 months before that, another sold for $182,500. Before that, one sold in 2008,” he says.

Why did this Double Standard do so well? Was it purely its exceptional condition? “The condition drove a lot of the aggression, but there are a lot of external factors that you can never really quantify,” Loughrey says. “Dennis Hopper came to one of my auctions and bought a piece on his birthday. He paid four or five times what was expected. I said, ‘I can’t believe you paid so much for it.’ Hopper said, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s my birthday, and I want it.”

What was your role in the sale of the Ed Ruscha print? “I was the auctioneer. It was very exciting,” he says. “The room was aware and burst into applause. They knew the record for his [print] work could be broken. The gasps and sighs of relief are expected and fun in the moment. The [winning] bidder was in the room. You could see determination from the bidder–‘This opportunity is not going to get away from me.’

How long did the auction of the Ed Ruscha print last? “When you start at $50,000 and end at $206,000, it does take a while,” he says. “I don’t remember how long it took. I remember the person on the phone [the eventual underbidder] took time. I saw the anxiety on the face of the person in the room–‘Sell it already!’ It did take a while, but it was probably less than five minutes. That is an extremely long time on an auction block. I usually sell a lot every 45 seconds. Five minutes is an eternity when you’re up there.”

How long do you think this record for an Ed Ruscha print will last? “If someone came along with another [Double Standard print] that’s as good, or a Standard print that’s as good–a Standard print with a bright red sky–it’s ready to fall. I have people who are interested [in both]. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes over $250,000,” he says, adding, “Consider the perspective of the seller. He agreed to let me sell it for as little as $50,000. If the universe didn’t align, it could have sold as low as $50,000. He was a bit nervous, but he took a leap of faith. He knew the venue [LAMA] attracted Ed Ruscha people more than any other venue. This is an artist we focus on and specialize in.”

Do you think another print will come to market soon? “Believe me, I’m on it,” he says. “I’m conversing with original owners who’ve had it [a Double Standard print] since 1970. I’ve tried to cajole them, but they’re not interested in selling.”

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

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

Ed Ruscha maintains an online catalogue raisonné.

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

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.

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.”

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.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

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.

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

RECORD! A Faith Ringgold Story Quilt Commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Dr. Maya Angelou Sold for $461,000 at Swann

Maya's Quilt of Life, a 1989 narrative quilt by artist Faith Ringgold, who Oprah Winfrey commissioned to make it as a birthday gift for Dr. Maya Angelou. At Swann Auction Galleries in 2015, it sold for $461,000--a record for a narrative quilt by the artist.

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

What you see: Maya’s Quilt of Life, a 1989 narrative quilt by artist Faith Ringgold, who Oprah Winfrey commissioned to make it as a birthday gift for Dr. Maya Angelou. At Swann Auction Galleries in 2015, it sold for $461,000–a record for a narrative quilt by the artist.

Who is Faith Ringgold? Born Faith Willi Jones, she is an African-American artist who has worked in several media but is best known for her paintings and textile works of art. She grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and is an activist who fights sexism and racism. She began creating narrative quilts in 1980, in part because she had trouble interesting publishers in her autobiography. To date, she has created almost 100 narrative quilts. Ringgold is 87.

What makes Maya’s Quilt of Life a strong example of Ringgold’s work? “It has all the elements she incorporates in her story quilts. They’re called story quilts because they tell a story–they have a narrative,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department. “This scene has text taken from Maya Angelou’s writings. It’s an unusual work, but it’s instantly recognizable as Faith Ringgold’s work. It’s a special piece for a special occasion.”

It looks like Ringgold used the Angelou texts like columns that frame the painting. Is that typical of her work? “That’s not the only way she does it. They could be at the top, or the sides. Sometimes they wrap around,” he says. “The important thing is it’s Angelou’s writing. It’s not just the visual creativity of the artist, it’s the voice of the artist and the women involved.”

It strikes me that with Maya’s Quilt of Life, we have an extraordinary black woman, Oprah Winfrey, commissioning a second extraordinary black woman, Faith Ringgold, to commemorate a third extraordinary black woman, Dr. Maya Angelou. Are you aware of anything other artwork that’s quite like this? “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says. “It’s a great testament to the fiercely independent spirit of Maya Angelou, and a testament to what she inspires in people, and in artists like Faith Ringgold and cultural figures like Oprah Winfrey. It was an affinity between all three women, a great coming-together. It was a birthday present [for Angelou], and it was the prize piece in her art collection.”

This was the first Faith Ringgold story quilt to come to auction. Why was it consigned? “Because Dr. Angelou died [in 2014], it was consigned as part of a single-owner sale. It came from Dr. Angelou’s estate,” he says. “This is the way the family wanted to distribute a large part of her estate.”

How did you arrive at the estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 for the Faith Ringgold story quilt? “Ringgold narrative quilts are very precious, and owners don’t give them up easily. They’re certainly prized objects,” he says. “Many artists we handle don’t have auction records. We looked at gallery prices and what would be a fair market value. Of course we had to know how to factor in the specialness of the piece, but enough was out there to be able to make a reasonable estimate. Like a lot of contemporary artists, Ringgold’s market is just developing. We had to start somewhere. We were just fortunate to start with a really fantastic one that sets the bar high.”

Were you in the sale room for the auction? “It was a packed room. It was almost the perfect auction. Only one piece didn’t sell,” he says. “It was a moment to savor. I was in the back of the room. People applauded when things went high. And Faith Ringgold was there! She and I posed in front of the quilt. It was quite an event. Everyone left happy.”

Were you surprised that the Faith Ringgold story quilt sold for $461,000? “Yes, because it was uncharted territory,” Freeman says. “We knew we had something really wonderful. She’s an important American artist. Her work is in a lot of museums already. But you never know on a given day how the market will respond. We knew it would do well. We didn’t know how well.”

Do we know who bought Maya’s Quilt of Life? “It ended up going to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas,” he says. “They made it public shortly after the sale. Faith Ringgold gave a talk there subsequently. That’s always a terrific outcome. It was a win-win-win.”

How long do you think the auction record for a Faith Ringgold story quilt will stand? “It’ll stand for a good while. It was a really great piece, and Faith Ringgold is a great artist,” he says. “If one of her early large canvases–a significant part of her work [came to auction]–that could give this record a run for the money. But you don’t see many at auction. I’m going to enjoy it while it’s a record. It’s a wonderful piece, and the story behind it is great.”

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Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman is on Twitter. Faith Ringgold has her own website.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, an exhibit that originated at the Tate Modern in London, features the work of 60 black artists, including Ringgold. It will appear at Crystal Bridges from February 3 to April 23, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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RECORD! A Gus Wilson Duck Decoy Sold for $330,000

A red-breasted merganser drake duck decoy, carved circa 1900 by Augustus "Gus" Wilson. It had been described as the finest Wilson decoy ever offered at auction. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2014 for $330,000, achieving an auction record for the artist.

The Hot Bid is on Thanksgiving vacation today. I haven’t got anything turkey-related, so I’m celebrating by reposting a story on a record-breaking duck decoy. 

What you see: A red-breasted merganser drake duck decoy, carved circa 1900 by Augustus “Gus” Wilson. It had been described as the finest Wilson decoy ever offered at auction. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2014 for $330,000, achieving an auction record for the artist.

Who was Gus Wilson? He was a Maine native, boat builder, lighthouse keeper, and carver. He took up carving in his teens, probably learning the art from family members, and he remained active for most of his life. He died in 1950 at the age of 85 or 86.

How often do you see a Gus Wilson duck decoy carved with an open bill, as this one is? “It’s very infrequent,” says Stephen B. O’Brien Jr., owner of Copley Fine Art Auctions in Boston, Mass. “There’s less than a handful, and many of those [beaks] are broken off and replaced. The fact that this one is intact makes it a real survivor.”

What makes this Gus Wilson duck decoy exceptional? “It’s a big, bold carving. Wilson regularly produced larger, almost oversize carvings,” he says, alluding to the decoy’s generous measurements: seven inches wide, seven inches high, and more than 16 inches long. “It’s got a wonderful sense of sculpture. Combine that with the open bill, which is almost never seen, and it makes it a pinnacle work.

This is described as a “hunted” or “hunt-used” decoy, which means that a hunter actually put it out on the water to lure ducks. Are most Wilson decoys hunt-used? And do collectors prefer hunt-used decoys? “The vast majority of Gus Wilsons found were actually hunted,” O’Brien says. As for hunt-used versus pristine, he says, “It’s a very personal choice. It almost comes down to, in the art world, how some people are attracted to the real world and some people are attached to abstraction. I’m a hunter. I come at it from that perspective. I love a utility decoy that’s been hunted over, that has some wear that shows it was put to its intended use. But you don’t want it to have too much. With replaced heads, tail chips, and shot scars, it starts to take on some negatives. But you can miss out if all you want is pristine birds. They’re pretty hard to find.”

The decoy was carved around 1900. Where was Wilson in his career then? “It places him at about age 35. What’s nice about this merganser is the artist is at the height of his craft. There are subtleties that take more time to create,” he says, explaining that decoy carvers sometimes go through a period when they feel free to indulge in artistic flourishes that transcend the standard shape of the duck decoy–open beaks, fan tails, slightly extended wings–and abruptly stop when they see how their hand-carved treasures suffer nicks and breaks in the field.

How long do you think this auction record for a Gus Wilson duck decoy will stand? “It’s hard to say. As with any market, if the right piece came up and two people wanted it, the record could easily fall,” O’Brien says. “The decoy market has held up strong over the last 10 years relative to other [categories] in the antiques market. It wouldn’t shock me if it fell. Looking at it from the standpoint of being a great Gus Wilson, it’s probably a bargain price for what it went for.”

Are there any other Gus Wilson duck decoys that rival this one? “For me, I haven’t really seen it,” he says. “That’s why we put a heavy estimate on it. [The presale estimate was $350,000 to $450,000]. “He’s a pretty colorful, proud, bright bird. He had all the bells and whistles that collectors look for–the open bill, the cocked-back head, nice original paint, the paddle tail, and the original rigging [the weight on the bottom that lets the decoy float upright]. I can’t think of a better Gus Wilson decoy. If you asked me to own one Gus Wilson decoy, this would be it.”

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Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its 2017 Sporting Sale on July 27 and 28 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Quack!

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SOLD! The First Published Account of a Successful Wright Brothers Flight Commands $5,000 at Swann

The cover of the January 1, 1905 issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture, from an early 20th-century group of 14 issues of the specialist magazine.

What you see: The cover of the January 1, 1905 issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture, from an early 20th-century group of 14 issues of the specialist magazine. Swann estimates the group at $1,500 to $2,500.

What is Gleanings in Bee Culture, and why is it important? It is a specialist magazine, founded in 1869 by Amos Ives Root, a god of the beekeeping world. It published the first eyewitness account of a successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers. Root died in 1923, but his magazine still publishes under the name Bee Culture.

Wait, back up. The first published account of a successful Wright Brothers flight was in a beekeeping journal? Yes. Yes, it was.

How did that happen? Root was a fan of technology, and the Wright brothers’ experiments in aviation represented the cutting edge of technology at the turn of the 20th century. Root befriended the brothers, who were fellow Ohioans, and he witnessed a successful flight in September, 1904 at Huffman Prairie in Ohio (he was not present for the first successful flight, which happened on December 17, 1903). Protective of their invention and stung by a badly garbled press account of a previous test, the brothers did not invite any reporters to watch them work. But they were comfortable with Root writing about the first flight for Our Homes, a column he included in Gleanings in Bee Culture. “They probably recognized Root as a kindred spirit, and felt he wouldn’t leak anything they didn’t want leaked,” says Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann.

How skilled an observer was Root? “He was an extremely curious and interested amateur. He did his best to understand the mechanism and asked a bunch of questions,” says Stattler, who adds that Root was 65 at the time of the September 1904 flight. “He understood about five percent of what they said. My impression is he probably understood it better than I’d have been able to.”

How many times did Root write about the flight that he saw? Twice. The first article ran more than three pages and had no illustrations. The second, which appeared two weeks later, was shorter and included a photograph of a Wright plane without its engine. “I suspect they didn’t want him publishing a picture of the full machine,” Stattler says. “I don’t get the impression that his account was instantly recognized as important around the world. Gleanings in Bee Culture had a very small, specialized readership. I get the impression that it was not taken especially seriously.”

How often do these issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture, which contain the first published account of a successful Wright Brothers flight, come up at auction? This offering at Swann is the first. Stattler reports that Sotheby’s offered a group of issues in 1968, but it did not include the columns that describe the flight.

Why offer 14 issues? Why not offer just the ones with the columns that talk about the flight? Stattler explains that the issues come from a home that had several years’ worth of Gleanings in Bee Culture squirreled away.  “I thought it would be interesting to have a few issues from before the columns and after, as context,” he says. Stattler describes the Our Homes column as being an Andy Rooney-style celebration of the quirks of the world, but Root definitely realized he’d seen something world-changing. “He strongly emphasized it. He realized he was privileged to witness an extremely important event, and he recognized that his platform was not the typical for disseminating that information.”

Do you have any favorite passages from the columns? Stattler cited this paragraph from the January 1, 1905 entry:  ‘Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminum. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you, friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.’

These issues have never come to auction before, so they’re guaranteed to set a record when they sell. What do you think will happen? “I’ve got interest from clients already,” he says. “It’s such a quirky publication. It will probably go beyond its estimate, but how far beyond, I don’t know.”

How to bid: The group of issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture is lot 42 in the Printed & Manuscript Americana sale at Swann Auction Galleries on September 28, 2017.

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You can follow Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram. Bee Culture is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Root Candles, another entity founded by Root that survives to this day, devotes a page on its website to Ames Root and the Wright Brothers. And you can read the full text of all of Root’s writings on the Wright brothers’ flight courtesy of the website for the PBS program NOVA.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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RECORD: A Roberto Clemente Silver Bat Award Sells for $420,000

A National League Championship Silver Bat award, given to Roberto Clemente in 1967. Hunt Auctions sold it in July 2017, during the All-Star festivities in Miami, for $420,000--a record for a silver bat award at auction.

What you see: A National League Championship Silver Bat award, given to Roberto Clemente in 1967. Hunt Auctions sold it in July 2017, during the All-Star festivities in Miami, for $420,000–a record for a silver bat award at auction.

Who was Roberto Clemente? He was a Puerto Rican right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He won the Gold Glove every year from 1961 through 1972, won the National League batting title four times, and played in two World Series. When Clemente died in a plane crash on the last day of 1972, the stewards of the Baseball Hall of Fame changed the rules to allow any player who has been dead for at least six months to gain eligibility to enter. Clemente was chosen for the hall within months of the change, becoming the first player with Latin and Caribbean heritage to earn the honor. He was 38 when he died.

How often do these silver bat awards come to auction? “It’s extremely rare for one to come to auction, especially one from someone of Clemente’s stature,” says Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions, who notes that he’s handled about 10 of the awards over the last 25 years. “They’re inherently scarce.”

This is a full-size bat? And it’s made from solid sterling silver? Yes and yes. The 1967 Clemente silver bat weighs 55.6 Troy ounces, which equates to 3.8 pounds–more than twice as much as a standard wooden Louisville Slugger, which weighs 1.6 pounds. “It’s heavy,” Hunt says, laughing. “It’s a very, very significant presentational piece, which it should be. It was given to some of the greatest athletes in the world. You don’t want to hand them something that’s any less than the quality level you’d expect.”

Clemente earned four silver bats during his career, in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967. Where are the other three? The 1964 bat was sold alongside the 1967 bat in the July 2017 auction. They were subsequent lots–569 and 570. The Clemente family has the third silver bat, and the fourth, which Clemente gave to Pirates manager Joe Brown, was later sold and is now in private hands.

So the 1964 and the 1967 Roberto Clemente silver bats both came to market for the first time in the July 2017 Hunt Auctions sale? Yes. Both came directly from the Clemente family, both in the same good condition, both had the same estimate ($100,000 to $200,000). The only difference between the bats was the dates.

The 1964 Roberto Clemente silver bat fetched $260,000, and the 1967 Roberto Clemente silver bat sold for $420,000. Why did the 1967 bat do so much better?1967, statistically, is Roberto Clemente’s finest year as a hitter,” Hunt says. “That’s why this is considered the best one, and why it brought the most money.”

This Roberto Clemente silver bat set a record for any silver bat award at auction. What makes this achievement such a big deal? “To give you a sense of the significance, Mickey Mantle is one of the benchmarks, he’s on the Mount Rushmore of baseball, and it wasn’t even close. The Clemente bat sold for at least $100,000 more,” Hunt says. (Mantle’s 1956 silver bat sold for $270,000 in 2003.)

When did you know you had a record? How long do you think it will stand? “When the hammer came down, I was confident it was a record, but I had to check to make sure,” he says. “The number of players on the level of Ted Williams, Clemente, and Mantle, who won silver bats and can eclipse the Clemente bat… it’s tiny. There’s a handful [of comparable silver bats] out there, and I mean a scant handful, less than [the fingers on]one hand, that might have a chance.”

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Image is courtesy of Hunt Auctions.

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RECORD! An Edward Burdett Scrimshaw Sells for $456,000

A scrimshaw whale's tooth by Edward Burdett, made in the early 1830s and inscribed, in block letters, "Engraved by Edward Burdett of Nantucket Onboard the Ship William Tell." It shows a scene of the William Tell capturing a whale while another ship, the George and Susan, floats nearby. On the back, it shows another whaleship, the William Thomson, sailing near a coastline.

What you see: A scrimshaw whale’s tooth by Edward Burdett, made in the early 1830s and inscribed, in block letters, “Engraved by Edward Burdett of Nantucket Onboard the Ship William Tell.” It shows a scene of the William Tell capturing a whale while another ship, the George and Susan, floats nearby. On the back, it shows another whaleship, the William Thomson, sailing near a coastline. Eldred’s sold it in July 2017 for $456,000, an auction record for any piece of scrimshaw.

Who was Edward Burdett? He was a Nantucket native and whaleman who was among the earliest to take up scrimshaw–carving or engraving images into the teeth or jawbones of whales. He ranks among the best scrimshanders to practice the art. He’s believed to have made between 20 and 30 pieces, and signed about six. He died while serving as a first officer aboard the Nantucket whale ship Montano. While his team chased a harpooned whale, Burdett became tangled in the line and was pulled overboard. His body was never found. He was 27 years old.

How many pieces of scrimshaw have sold for six figures at auction? “About 11, all in the 21st century. But if there’s 10 over six figures, there’s another 10 that are unreported,” says Bill Bourne, vice president and head of the marine art department at Eldred’s. “Some auction houses just don’t report scrimshaw sales to sites.”

This piece is fresh to market–never auctioned before. Fakes have been an issue with scrimshaw, as they have been in every collecting field. How do you know this is by Burdett? “As far as scrimshaw goes, I have a really good background in it,” Bourne says, noting that his father founded the maritime collectibles field in 1963 and he literally grew up in it. In addition, the consigner drove to New Bedford in May 2012, where a scrimshaw symposium was being held, and had the leading experts look it over. “The tooth itself, and the work done on the tooth is unmistakably his hand,” he says.

You described the Edward Burdett scrimshaw as “a masterpiece.” What makes it a masterpiece? “The tooth just has everything,” he says. “He uses the whole surface of the tooth, and it has the smallest of details. The William Tell has a wonderful blowing flag. On the obverse side, in the central mast of the William Thomson, there’s a watch–a man up there. And there’s a shoreline with a lighthouse with a rooster weathervane. Not many teeth have everything, like this. They might have a whaleship with a flag, but just the ship–no land, no whaling scene.”

How did the auction go, and what was it like as you approached the old auction record for scrimshaw? “I was the auctioneer. I started at $100,000 and five or six hands went up instantly and drove it to $210,000 to $220,000. It came down to two people,” Bourne says. “I focused on the two bidders at that point. I kept it at $10,000 raises. Both bidders were pretty firm in going after it. Until it hit $380,000, there wasn’t any hesitation at all. When you’ve got two bidders like that, you don’t look at anyone else. You focus on those two bidders. The underbidder dropped out, I looked around the room, bang, and a round of applause. It was over in four minutes. It was a lot of fun. It was wonderful to see active bidding throughout the whole auction and on this tooth. It was like being back in 1985.”

How long do you think the record will last? “It’s so hard to tell. I’m not aware of something that could come up and challenge it,” he says. “All it takes is another piece coming out of a blanket box in Connecticut, or a few 45 to 50-year-old collectors coming in with unlimited funds.”

What else makes this Edward Burdett scrimshaw special? “I’ve seen spectacular pieces at my dad’s, and here, and at other auction houses. If you google ‘antique scrimshaw,’ put in ‘Edward Burdett’ and you look at what’s there, you’ll realize this is something special compared to the others,” Bourne says. “Novice collectors can see this is something special compared to the others. When you look at this tooth, you can see that it’s a cut above.”

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Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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RECORD! A Frederic Remington Bronze Sells For $11.2 Million

A 1906 cast of Coming Through the Rye, a bronze by Frederic Remington. Christie's sold it in May 2017 for $11.2 million against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. It set a world record for the artist at auction as well as a record for an American sculpture that predates World War II.

What you see: A 1906 cast of Coming Through the Rye, a bronze by Frederic Remington. Christie’s sold it in May 2017 for $11.2 million against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. It set a world record for the artist at auction as well as a record for an American sculpture that predates World War II.

Who was Frederic Remington? He was an American artist who excelled at scenes of the West, in both painting and sculpture. The Evolution of the Cowpuncher, a piece he co-created for Harper’s Monthly in September 1893, kindled the romantic legend of the cowboy. Remington came to sculpting in 1895, well after he had earned a reputation as a master of two-dimensional art. He died of peritonitis in 1909, at the age of 48.

How many casts of Coming Through the Rye are there? “What makes it so desirable is it exists in limited quantities. There are 17 known examples,” says William Haydock, head of Christie’s American art department. “The real challenge with Remington is was it cast during his lifetime? If not, was it estate-authorized, or is it posthumous without estate approval?”

To which group does this cast belong? “Of the 17, nine were made in his lifetime. The one we handled was one of those nine,” he says, noting that it carries the number three.

When did Remington break the molds? “Famously with this example, Frederic Remington himself broke the mold on Coming Through the Rye because it was his most complex sculpture. He took a metal bar to it, and he thoroughly destroyed it,” Haydock says. “That day got the best of him, but he quickly designed another [mold].”

Why did he find Coming Through the Rye so frustrating? “The bulk of his bronzes are isolated to a single figure,” he says. “This, by far, is his most complex and challenging bronze, and many view it as his grand masterwork in the arena of sculpture.”

The Frederic Remington bronze seems to have a lot of delicate dangly bits that could break or snap off easily. “In these examples, because they were so prized and well-regarded, they were treated reasonably well,” Haydock says, noting that this one might have had a repair to one of the figures on the left.

How often does this Frederic Remington bronze go to market? “Very infrequently. Before this, it was 1998,” he says. “Of the 17, ten are in institutions, one is destined for an institution, and the one we just handled is likely to follow the same path. Numbers five and six are missing. [The May sale] represented more or less the last chance to buy a lifetime example from the artist. That was the perception in the marketplace, and I think it’s why you saw huge prices.”

How long do you think the Frederic Remington bronze auction record will stand? “Probably the only scenario is a truly phenomenal Remington painting coming on the market in the next 10 years. The only way it’s going to be eclipsed is with a painting,” he says.

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

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RECORD! A Babe Ruth Game-Worn Jersey Sold for $4.4 Million in 2012

A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a then-record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

What you see: A road gray, game-worn New York Yankees jersey that was worn by Babe Ruth. SCP Auctions sold it for $4.4 million in May 2012, setting a record for any item of sports memorabilia at auction.

How rare are game-worn Babe Ruth baseball uniforms? “If you count them all, it’s ten. If you’re talking Yankees, it’s less than half a dozen,” says SCP Vice President Dan Imler, adding that SCP has handled five of the ten.

Ruth was recognized as a superstar in his time. Why weren’t more Babe Ruth game-worn jerseys saved, even as mementoes? “In his era, even the Yankees were fairly frugal,” he says. “It was typical to issue only two home uniforms and two road uniforms for the entire season, and they were considered to be disposable. [Once the season was over,] they would send them to the minor leagues as a cost-saving measure. That’s how a lot of [pre-1970 game-worn baseball uniforms] come to market–a player in the minors is issued a major-league jersey and doesn’t go on to a career, but he keeps his jersey.”

I understand that SCP Auctions uncovered some information that made the Babe Ruth game-worn jersey even more valuable? “There was an undiscovered element to the jersey,” Imler says. “Before it came to us, we knew it was a Babe Ruth Yankees road uniform in all-original condition, but it was not dated until it reached us. We were able to date it to 1920, which elevated it quite a bit.”

How did you pinpoint the Babe Ruth game-worn jersey’s date to 1920? “Through photo-matching. Also, it has cut sleeves [shorter sleeves than standard issue]. We were able to find images of Ruth with cut sleeves from that period,” he says.

Your colleague, SCP President David Kohler, called the Ruth road jersey “The finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history.” Do you agree? “I absolutely agree with that. It’s arguably the finest piece of baseball memorabilia to surface anywhere,” Imler says. “You have to start with Ruth. Ruth is on a level all his own. When it comes to baseball memorabilia, he is the king. There’s nothing more coveted than a jersey or a uniform he work on his back in the most critical period of baseball history. Any Ruth uniform would be paramount, but he wore it in the earliest part of his career, when he transformed and resurrected the game. It checks all the boxes. It has everything you could ask for.”

Well, maybe not everything. Would it have sold for even more if it was a home jersey–if it had the famous Yankees pinstripes? “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone looked at it as if it was lacking anything,” he says. “I don’t think anyone was wanting more from it.”

SCP estimated the Babe Ruth game-worn jersey at $2 million and up. Was it difficult to arrive at that estimate?  “Any sports object in seven figures is very uncommon. Multiple seven figures is very rare territory,” he says. “It was a lofty estimate at the time, but the market spoke and it sold for more than double that estimate. It validated the quality we believed it possessed.”

What factors drove the record price for the Babe Ruth game-worn jersey? “It was the best of the best in every category,” Imler says. “It was Babe Ruth. The quality was off the charts. It was completely original. It was from the most pivotal point in his career. And the fact that so few Ruth-worn jerseys come up–it was a huge call to action for high-end clients. When an item like this presents itself, you never know when you’re going to get another shot.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “Certainly this same jersey, if it was ever offered again, would surpass the previous sale price. I could see the record being topped in the next five years if something comparable surfaced,” Imler says, adding that he is not aware of another item, aside from the jersey itself, that could beat the auction record.

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Image is courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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RECORD! A Lucie Rie Bowl Commands $212,500

A flaring footed bowl made by Lucie Rie around 1978. It sold at Phillips New York in December 2016 for $212,500 against an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000--a record for the artist.

What you see: A flaring footed bowl made by Lucie Rie around 1978. It sold at Phillips New York in December 2016 for $212,500 against an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000–a record for the artist.

Who was Lucie Rie? She was an Austrian-born Jewish artist who moved to England in 1938 to escape the approach of the Nazis. There, she gained a reputation as a ceramicist, though she insisted on modestly calling herself a potter. She died in 1995 at the age of 93, a few years after she retired.

How early does this shape show up in her work? “It appears much earlier, but we associate this bowl form with the late 70s and early 80s,” says Cordelia Lembo, a design specialist at Phillips. “There was no particular exhibit or moment in 1978. The late 70s and early 80s were an important time for her. When you think about it, it’s still so impressive she developed her career in this way at that age.”

How does this Lucie Rie bowl show off her strengths as an artist? “What sets Rie apart from her contemporaries is her ability to create pottery that speaks to larger themes,” she says. “It’s a truly incredible work. You can see it in the photo, but with this bowl in particular, you’re able to understand it when you hold it in your hand.”

How does it feel to hold the Lucie Rie bowl in your hands? “It’s a soft matte. Not like sandpaper,” Lembo says. “It’s extraordinarily lightweight and extremely delicate. You can feel its fragility. You understand the level of skill she would have needed to create such a delicate vessel.”

The blue-on-white motif brings to mind Asian ceramics and European ones, too. “The bowl is certainly in dialogue with the tradition of blue and white ceramics in the U.K., Japan, and China,” she says. “This is a worldwide ceramic type that she speaks to in a refined and simplified manner.”

Did Rie intend the bowl to be a functional object, or is it purely aesthetic? “It has a matte glaze, but you want to be careful what you put in it,” Lembo says. “She was able to distinguish between functional works and very special, often unique pieces. You could use them in a tea ceremony, but it wasn’t necessarily the intention.”

Were you surprised when this Lucie Rie bowl set a new auction record for the artist? “We were very curious to see how it would perform,” she says. “Because it was early in the auction–it was the fourth lot–it was a great way to begin the sale.”

The auction record for Rie has broken four times in the last two years, with three of the records taking place at Phillips. A unique piece in the December 2016 sale fell $13,000 short of breaking the record a second time in the same auction. To what do you attribute the rising interest in Rie’s work? “Ceramics are a subject of great interest at the moment. The secondary market and gallery shows are broadening interest in ceramic artists,” she says. “We were lucky to offer real masterpieces by Lucie Rie. There are a group of educated buyers who are able to pursue them when they arise.”

Given how volatile the Rie auction record has been, how long do you think this one will stand? “The flaring footed bowl was an exceptional example of the artist’s output, so I think it will hold the title for a bit. However, it is always exciting to see what consignments appear on the horizon for upcoming seasons and to see what lots appeal most to collectors,” Lembo says. “We are delighted to have seen such a strong market for Lucie Rie’s work and are optimistic that the demand for her highest quality pieces will continue to rise.”

What else makes this Lucie Rie bowl stand out? “I personally love Lucie Rie. I’ve been an admirer of her work for so long. This piece is just extraordinary. It’s striking in person. Its minimalist quality really speaks to Lucie Rie’s ability.”

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

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RECORD! John Lennon’s Gibson Guitar Commands $2.4 Million at Julien’s

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.

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 John Lennon’s Gibson 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 John Lennon’s Gibson 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 John Lennon Gibson 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 John Lennon’s Gibson 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.

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

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RECORD! R. Crumb’s Original Cover Art for Fritz the Cat Commands $717,000

R. Crumb's original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000--a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

What you see: R. Crumb’s original cover art for the best-selling 1969 book Fritz the Cat. Heritage Auctions sold it in May 2017 for $717,000–a record for Crumb, and a record for any original piece of American comic art.

Who is R. Crumb? He is an American artist who led the underground comix movement. He co-founded Zap Comix and created one of the counterculture’s most enduring images with his Keep On Truckin’ single-page comic, which appeared in the first issue of Zap. Much of Crumb’s output is proudly NSFW, so Google at your own risk. In 2009, he published a graphic novel based on the Biblical Book of Genesis. He will turn 74 on August 30.

How rare are original pieces of Crumb comic art at auction? “We sell a lot of it. There’s been kind of a boom lately,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions. “Crumb has always been a staple of what we offer in our Comic and Comic Art sales, but we’ve never had the wealth and breadth up and down the line with what we’ve had in the last year and a half.”

This R. Crumb original cover art is the most valuable original comic art ever sold at auction, beating a 1990 cover from the Amazing Spider-Man #328 and a 1974 page from an Incredible Hulk comic that shows the debut of Wolverine. What’s the significance of that? “Put it this way. If you want to buy a Picasso pen-and-ink drawing, $717,000 will get you a really good pen-and-ink drawing,” he says. “You certainly could buy a more expensive Picasso drawing, but this is right there.”

Why has Crumb bested the more traditional superhero comic book artists? “What’s special about Crumb is he’s transcendental. He’s transcended his given media,” Jaster says. “There’s no comic book artist I can think of who’s had as many museum shows and international shows as he has. Crumb has been relevant ever since the hippie days and he’s never gone out of style.”

How long do you think these records will stand? “The original comic book art one, maybe not too long. Comic book art is incredibly popular,” he says. “Those two $657,000 sales were as pleasant a surprise as the Crumb art was. There are scores of things more desirable than them out there. It’s just a matter of them coming to the market. There’s probably an amazing thing out there that will get five or ten million, if it exists. As far as breaking the record for Crumb, I know the cover art for the Cheap Thrills record album is out there. The first Keep on Truckin’ or the cover of Zap Comics #1, a very small distribution comic, are the things that could sell for more.”

What else makes this piece of R. Crumb original comic book art special? “There’s some irony here in that Crumb is known for pushing the envelope with his subject matter and political views, but Fritz and his girlfriend are quite demure. It’s PG-13 for Crumb, who is known for adult material. It’s kind of a sweet thing,” he says. “And the book, Fritz the Cat, moved Crumb up in importance to be maybe the most famous cartoonist of his generation. It catapulted him from the guy who does sleazy, objectionable stuff to a guy who was really important, and this was the piece that did that.”

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

Graham Nash’s collection of original Crumb comic artworks is up for bid in Heritage Auction’s Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction in Dallas from August 10 to 12, 2018.

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RECORD! A Ben Enwonwu Bronze Fetches $461,000

Anyanwu, a 1956 sculpture by Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, better known as Ben Enwonwu. It set an auction record for a bronze by the late Nigerian artist, selling for £353,000, or $461,066, at Bonhams London in February 2017.

What you see: Anyanwu, a 1956 sculpture by Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, better known as Ben Enwonwu. It set an auction record for a bronze by the late Nigerian artist, selling for £353,000, or $461,066, at Bonhams London in February 2017.

Who is Ben Enwonwu? He was a Nigerian artist, and arguably, THE Nigerian artist of the 20th century. He embraced traditional Western art media, most notably painting and sculpture. He sculpted a portrait bronze of Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) two years later. A crater on the planet Mercury is named for him. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.

Why is Anyanwu regarded as his masterpiece? “One of the reasons is it garnered the greatest publicity,” says Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams. “In the 1960s, a version of it was gifted from the Nigerian state to the United Nations for its new headquarters. For Nigeria to choose this image by this artist confirms him as one of the most important artists to come out of 20th century Nigeria.”

How many Anyanwu sculptures exist? “He produced quite a few variants, but he wasn’t a good record-keeper,” Peppiatt says. “If someone said they wanted one, then he had one cast.” He estimates there might be between half a dozen and a dozen castings at most of the largest version of Anyanwu, which is shown here and stands about seven and a half feet tall. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear there are another three or four out there,” he says. “They were expensive at the time. I can’t believe there are 30 of them.”

How does Anyanwu show Enwonwu’s strengths? “In conception, it is a very intelligent and clever piece. It refers back to Nigerian mythology, and the figure wears a traditional Nigerian headpiece. It obviously struck a chord when it was produced,” he says. “The execution is brilliant. The photo doesn’t capture the crispness of the bronze. The detailing of its features are superb.”

Anyanwu sold for £353,000, or $458,612. Is that a record for a Ben Enwonwu bronze at auction, or a record for an Enwonwu sculpture at auction? “For a single piece, it’s a record. I think the record for a sculpture was set four years ago,” Peppiatt says, referencing a group of wooden Enwonwu sculptures sold for £361,250 ($469,300) at Bonhams in 2013. The final prices on the two lots are close enough to be affected by currency fluctuations.

You were the auctioneer for the sale that included Anyanwu. When did you know you had a record for a a Ben Enwonwu bronze? “As soon as I hammered it down, I knew,” he says. “As the price went up, I was willing it to get to a record. I don’t think we expected it to perform as well as it did. The auction world is full of pleasant surprises.”

How long do you think the record for a a Ben Enwonwu bronze will stand? “I think it will stand for a bit, and I’ll tell you why. You only get one debut, and this was it,” Peppiatt says. “If another [large] cast went to auction, it would probably fetch less. A bronze is almost like a print. It’s unusual for someone to want two of the same. That person won’t bid the next time it comes up. But the market changes, and new buyers come in, and you can never be sure.”

What else makes the Ben Enwonwu bronze special? “When you stand in front of it, you look it in the eye. It’s an amazing piece of sculpture. I was delighted it did well. It deserved every penny,” he says.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Enwonwu paintings and sculptures will appear in Bonhams’s October 5, 2017 sale Africa Now in London.

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RECORD: The Pink Star Diamond Commands $71.2 Million

The Pink Star (mounted)(1)The Pink Star, a 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut fancy vivid pink internally flawless diamond. It sold for HK $553 million, or $71.2 million, at Sotheby's Hong Kong in April 2017--a world auction record for any diamond or jewel. The winning bidder revealed himself as jeweler Chow Tai Fook. In keeping with traditions that allow owners of great diamonds to name the stone, the Pink Star is now known as the CTF Pink Star.

What you see: The Pink Star, a 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut fancy vivid pink internally flawless diamond. It sold for HK $553 million, or $71.2 million, at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2017–a world auction record for any diamond or jewel. The winning bidder revealed himself as jeweler Chow Tai Fook. In keeping with traditions that allow owners of great diamonds to name the stone, the Pink Star is now known as the CTF Pink Star.

This diamond is described as being “fancy vivid pink.” What does that mean? “Colored diamonds are graded on what’s called a ‘fancy’ color scale,” says Quig Bruning, New York jewelry specialist for Sotheby’s. “Any colored diamond is rare. ‘Fancy’ is the first determinant. [It denotes] not having a lot of color to having a predominance of that color. Once it’s more saturated, it’s ‘fancy intense.’ The highest amount of saturation is ‘fancy vivid.’ That’s how the color scale scales up. ‘Fancy vivid’ means it’s as pink as it could possibly be on the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) scale. It’s the best pink diamond that exists.”

It’s also described as being “internally flawless.” What does that mean? “There are absolutely no inclusions in the diamond. There are no imperfections or fractures inside the stone whatsoever,” he says.

The Pink Star diamond is cut into an oval shape. What does that say about the diamond? “That shape, for whatever reason, is very much desired on the international market,” Bruning says. “Other colored diamonds tend to be modified brilliant cuts, which are square or rectangular. Oval, you tend not to see very often. It doesn’t do the color many favors. When [the jewelers who cut it] were plotting out how the polished stone would look, they must have been thrilled to find they could develop an oval cut.”

Sotheby’s offered the Pink Star diamond in Geneva in November 2013. What happened, and why did you wait four years to offer it again? “It did sell in 2013 [for $83.1 million], and the buyer defaulted on the diamond. At the time, it had a guarantee on it, so it became Sotheby’s inventory,” he says. “Whenever you have a piece like this, you want to wait a little bit before putting it back on the market.”

Have you held the Pink Star diamond? “I handled it in 2013. It’s one of those experiences that make you smile about where you work,” he says. “It has a softness and a beauty to it. It’s odd to say that a $71 million object is charming, but it’s the kind of stone that you hold in your hands and you forget what it’s worth and you lose yourself looking at the diamond.”

How heavy is the Pink Star diamond? “It certainly has a weight to it, but not so much that it drags your hand down. It suits,” he says.

The photos make the stone look like it’s bubblegum pink. Does the camera capture it accurately? “It does depict the true color. ‘Bubblegum’ is the word I’d use to describe it,” he says, adding, “Not that many vivid pink diamonds come up for auction. A year ago at Geneva, we had a 15-carat vivid pink that just screamed pink. It had extraordinary saturation. Before that, we had the Graff Pink, which had more of a softness. Of those three [pinks], this is the Goldilocks one, right in the middle.”

For about a decade or so, the world auction record for a diamond has passed from one colored diamond to another. Why? “Colored diamonds are very, very rare. It may not seem that way because you see them at auction frequently, but they represent a fraction of the total graded by the GIA,” Bruning says. “When you find a really spectacular colored diamond, you find a lot of people chasing after them.”

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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RECORD! A Houdini Poster is the Most Expensive Magic Poster Ever Sold

A 1912 poster touting Harry Houdini performing his famous water torture cell escape. It was printed in London one year after Houdini invented the trick, and it has a B+ condition rating. Potter & Potter sold it in February 2017 for $114,000--an auction record for any magic poster.

What you see: A 1912 poster touting Harry Houdini performing his famous water torture cell escape. It was printed in London one year after Houdini invented the trick, and it has a B+ condition rating. Potter & Potter sold it in February 2017 for $114,000–an auction record for any magic poster.

How rare is this Houdini poster? “There are three we know of,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, noting he has examined two of them.

How rare are Houdini posters, generally? “Rare is relative. Houdini had a lot of posters,” he says. “Some exist in only one copy. Some in 20 to 30.”

Is this the first time that Houdini’s water torture cell escape was depicted on a poster? “It’s possible,” Fajuri says, explaining that there is another 1912 poster that shows a closeup of Houdini’s face, upside down and under water, and it’s not clear which poster appeared first.

What was the bidding like for the Houdini poster? “We started at $25,000. There was active bidding in the room and on the phone from at least five phone bidders, including a few who were new to us,” he says. “There was active participation to $80,000 [around the sum of the previous magic poster record]. It was going to beat the record without a doubt, but I didn’t think it would go as high as it did. A few guys really wanted it. It sold to a phone bidder.”

Why did the Houdini poster do so well? Is it because it’s just one of three that exist? “That’s part of it, but it’s also from the Norm Nielsen collection, a very well-established if not legendary collection of posters. Everybody knows him and everybody knows his collection,” he says, adding that Potter & Potter will soon publish The Golden Age of Magic Posters, a limited-edition book based on the auction catalogue. “It’s Houdini. It’s one of his most famous, if not his most famous trick. It’s got all the elements that lead to success.”

How long do you think this auction record will stand? “This is the most expensive magic item sold with the exception of the water torture cell itself,” Fajuri says. “I would think it would stand for a while, but anything could happen. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones to break it.”

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Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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A David Jagger Self Portrait Fetched More Than $281,000

A self-portrait by David Jagger, painted in 1928.

NEW RECORD FOR THE ARTIST AT AUCTION: The David Jagger self-portrait sold for £221,000 ($281,570)–a new record for Jagger at auction, beating the previous record by more than £100,000.

What you see: A self-portrait by David Jagger, painted in 1928. Bonhams estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $26,000 to $39,000.

Who is David Jagger? He’s a 20th century British painter who specialized in portraits of aristocrats. Winston Churchill, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, and several members of the British royal family sat for him. It’s unclear if or how he might be related to Mick Jagger. He died in 1958, at the age of 66 or 67.

Do we know any more about David Jagger? “There’s been very little written about David Jagger. Right now, there’s a catalogue raisonne being written, and will be published at the end of the year. That’s going to fill an art-historical gap in the appreciation of the artist,” says Matthew Bradbury, director of modern British and Irish art at Bonhams. “He came from an artistic family. He’s always been a respected artist, but for many years he’s been in the shadow of his brother, Charles, a very reputable and talented sculptor.”

What changed for David Jagger? “Prior to 2008 or so, many of his works had been to auction and made unspectacular prices. We set the record for a David Jagger society portrait, Olga, in 2006, which sold for £46,800 ($60,158),” Bradbury says. “It was a far-and-away record for the artist, and it set the ball rolling, really. It flushed a few other paintings out that made even higher prices.”

But why did Jagger paintings take off all of a sudden? “Why in the last 10 years those prices started to develop is a little difficult to pinpoint,” Bradbury says. “It comes down to one or two collectors taking it upon themselves to collect the artist and having the deep pockets to do so.”

Is this David Jagger self portrait unique? “If you google David Jagger and look at Wikipedia, there’s a self portrait in black and white that I believe is a larger version of the same one. Where it is, I don’t know,” he says. “It’s almost identical in how the shoulders are eradicated so that it’s a suspended face on a black background. It’s very similar in style.”

What makes this David Jagger self portrait so strong? “It has an incredibly modern feel about it,” Bradbury says. “It stands apart from his traditional society portraits. You can’t escape his gaze at all. It follows you. It’s absolutely intense, and very powerful when you stand in front of it, for sure. The two record portraits that sold previously had the same feel about them.”

How to bid: The David Jagger self portrait is lot 25 in Bonhams’s Modern British and Irish Art auction scheduled for June 14 at London, New Bond Street.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait Sells for $1.3 Million

Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

Update: Heritage sold Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 million–a record for a Rockwell study at auction.

What you see: Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Heritage Auctions estimates the study at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was Norman Rockwell? He was the best-known and most-loved American illustrator of the 20th century. He created 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post as well as many works for Look magazine, calendar companies, and the Boy Scouts of America. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.

How many studies did Rockwell make for Triple Self Portrait, and how many have come to auction? It’s unclear, but according to Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, Rockwell typically made between five and 10 studies or preliminary works for a Post cover. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only study for Triple Self Portrait that exists in private hands,” Jaster says. The finished Triple Self Portrait cover art belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Where was Rockwell in his career in 1960? Jaster points to the language that appeared on that February 1960 Post cover, which dubbed Rockwell “America’s Best Loved Artist,” and adds, “In the eyes of museum curators and critics, not so much. Rockwell, in his lifetime, never got true recognition as a painter, and never as a fine art painter. He didn’t ascend to major museums until well after his death.”

How close is this Norman Rockwell Study for Triple Self Portrait to the final version? “It’s a nice, tight color study with a fair amount of work put into it,” says Jaster, noting that the differences between the two are few–the final places pipes in all three Rockwell mouths, adds sketches of Rockwell’s head to the left of the easel and changes the Picasso clipped to the right of the easel. Rockwell’s signature also appears on the lower right of the canvas-in-progress, but that’s about it. “This is close to the final composition, and it works as a painting.”

Who is Henry Strawn, the person to whom Rockwell inscribed the study? We don’t know, and we don’t know when he would have received it from Rockwell. We do know that the artist freely bestowed his originals on models, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. “He was a generous guy who didn’t take himself seriously,” says Jaster. “We see a lot of [Rockwells] come out from the families of sitters. One consigner [not Strawn–ed.] was a truck driver who traded him cider and cheese from Vermont.”

What makes Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait special? “Rockwell is almost certainly the most famous illustrator and maybe the greatest illustrator who ever lived,” says Jaster. “Triple Self Portrait is a top 10 painting. It’s a tight study, it doesn’t have a long auction history, and it’s fresh to market. That all makes it wonderful. I hope you can hear the smile in my voice.”

How to bid: Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait is lot #68139 in Heritage Auctions’s American Art Signature Auction on May 3, 2017 in Dallas.

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Image is courtesy of  Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

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Untitled (Negro Mother) by Sargent Johnson Sells for $100,000

Sargent Johnson's Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

Update: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother) sold for $100,000–a record for the artist at auction.

What you see: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

Who is Sargent Johnson? He was a 20th century African-American artist who spent most of his career in San Francisco, and worked in a wide range of artistic media. He earned a national profile with his compelling, sensitive images of African-American subjects. “He worked to convey a more positive view of African-American femininity and womanhood in a time when the images were racist stereotypes,” says Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American fine art department at Swann Galleries. Johnson died in 1967.

What makes Untitled (Negro Mother) so intriguing? It’s one of perhaps ten copper repoussé masks that Johnson made, and most of those are in museum collections. Untitled (Negro Mother) is only the second Johnson mask to come to auction. Swann Galleries sold the first, a 1933 work simply called Mask, for $67,200 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 in 2010. The consigner owned it for 50-odd years, having bought it as an unattributed mask and learning later who created it: “Somebody just sold it as a mask, and the owner discovered the signature on the back and discovered who Sargent Johnson was,” says Freeman.

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What else makes Untitled (Negro Mother) a powerful work of art? “It has the character, stature, and dignity that all Johnson’s figures have,” says Freeman. “It’s beautifully proportioned, and you get a sense of the artist being very careful to have everything perfectly balanced. At the same time, you have a strong human presence. That’s what makes his work stand out.”

How to bid: Untitled (Negro Mother) is lot 13 in Swann Auction Galleries’s African-American Fine Art auction on April 6, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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