RECORD! Summers Place Auctions Sold a Near-complete Dodo Skeleton–Yes, a Dodo Skeleton–For $430,000 in 2016

Dodo white

What you see: A near-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 was most of the way to a complete Dodo? 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 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 its 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 it? 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

 

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RECORD! Doyle Sells the 1953 Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr, Owner of Native Dancer, for $100,000

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

 

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

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RECORD! Wright Sold A High-end 1935 Walter Dorwin Teague Radio (Yes, That’s a Radio) in 2015 for $149,000

Teague Radio

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 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 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 Nocturnes 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 this 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 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.

 

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

 

 

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RECORD! Eldred’s Sold a Charming Cape Cod Scene by Harold Dunbar for a Jaw-dropping $78,000

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

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 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 he 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 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 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.”

 

What was it like to see it 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? 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 Dunbar 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 it 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.

 

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 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.

 

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

 

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

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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 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 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 it 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 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 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 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 watch? 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.

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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: WORLD RECORD AT AUCTION FOR ALMA THOMAS: LAMA’s Fresh-to-Market Canvas by African-American Artist Alma Thomas Sells for Almost $400,000

almathomas

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 Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. 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 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 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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RECORD: Jesse Owens’s 1936 Olympic Gold Medal Sells for $1.46 Million at SCP Auctions

Owens Medal front

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 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? “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 that auction? “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.”

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.”

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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.

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

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