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

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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 it 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 the 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 the 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? 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 it? 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.

 

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

 

Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

SOLD! A Maurice Sendak-designed Crocodile Costume from the Opera “Goose of Cairo” Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Sendak-designed complete crocodile costume for Goose of Cairo sold for $3,750.

 

What you see: A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L’Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rago Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

 

The expert: Justin G. Schiller, a specialist in rare and collectible children’s books. He co-created the corporation that consigned the costume to Rago Auctions.

 

So, how many operas did Sendak design for? Altogether I believe he did 15 operas and ballets. He began in 1980, with The Magic Flute, and his career went through to 2004 or 2005, with Brundibar. He was very interested in the experience of developing not only the sets and costumes, but trying to make the characters interactive.

 

Was this character the only crocodile character in Goose of Cairo, or was it one of several crocodiles? I think there was only one involved in the production. This is one of the few Sendak costumes that is complete. The head and feet are the main parts of those costumes. The bodysuits were painted to fit, but the crocodile costume was so specific, they kept everything.

 

Why is this costume described in the lot heading as being “After Maurice Sendak” rather than designed by Maurice Sendak? Maurice would have done the design on paper. The costume was created by the seamstresses, the people who make the costumes. In some cases, you see Maurice fix up the costume once it’s on the actor or the actress. He did the pictures, they did the physical production.

 

So he wouldn’t have been involved with making sure the costume was comfortable for the actor to wear? Yes, but if there was any problem with the fitting, he would have been consulted.

 

What do we know about Sendak’s approach to costume design? He took it very seriously. For example, when he was doing Hansel and Gretel, he went to German forests and studied the landscaping. It took him seven years to create.

 

Apparently it’s rare for a Sendak costume to survive intact, as this one does. How did it manage to do that? The production for Goose of Cairo was very short-lived. They [the few Goose of Cairo items that were found] were in a separate storage unit. It’s one of only two pieces of the production that survive. The other is a mechanical goose of Cairo that gets wheeled onstage, which Richard Michelson has. Goose of Cairo was never considered a main production, because it was an unfinished opera by Mozart. It’s usually presented as an interlude. It ran for about half an hour, and something else would have come with it. Maybe that’s why there weren’t many costumes.

 

Why are Sendak-designed costumes so scarce, compared to Sendak-designed sets? Probably because sets get rolled on stage or lowered on stage, and when they’re not on stage, they’re protected. Costumes get handled and used constantly. The condition of the crocodile is unusually good. It’s a simpler costume: bodysuit, head, gloves, foot coverings.

 

Is this crocodile costume a good representative of his opera costume design work? I would think it’s a very good example. The head is probably papier-mâché molded on top of a helmet so it fits on the head of an actor. From there, they’d build out the rest of the head, the body suit, the painted fabric. Several of the costumes we had would have the names of actors inside them and the names of the production companies.

 

Is that true here? No. I believe the crocodile had only one actor. When you have multiple figures wearing the same cluster of costumes, like in The Love for Three Oranges, different actors play the roles, and they all need to be fitted. Having names on them makes it much simpler.

 

And the provenance for this costume–it went from the New York City Opera to you to Rago Auctions? Yes, exactly. We specialize in Sendak.

 

How did you come to own the costume? The New York City Opera decided to sell all [the sets and costumes] they didn’t plan to put into sequence again [in 2013]. We decided to acquire as much as we could from productions they still had examples of.

 

How many costumes did you acquire? It didn’t seem like a lot. We purchased ten or twelve.

 

How many complete Sendak-designed costumes survive? I don’t really know. There were a few major ones. There was a fabulous one with a very grand lady who was a pig, and a bear dressed up like a lord, [both] for a different opera, and they went for $4,000 to $6,000 each, as the hammer price [the price before the premium and other fees are applied]. I talked to the collector afterward. She was a very serious collector of opera and theater costumes. It was a unique opportunity to acquire a costume by Sendak.

 

When Sendak created book illustrations, he worked in two dimensions. When he created opera costumes, he had to think, to some extent, in three dimensions. How did he handle this challenge? Sometimes it’s the costume people, but Maurice’s drawings often show a profile, how it looks from the side. But sets are one thing, costumes are another. The catalog only shows side views of the crocodile head. Head on, it’s fantastic.

 

What details on the crocodile costume mark it as a Sendak design? Maybe with certain specific styles, you can look at it and say that’s a David Hockney or that’s a Picasso. With Sendak, I would say basically the [sense of] fantasy, of playfulness. His ogress would be friendly, even if the character was not.

 

What jumped out and me and said “Sendak” was the crocodile’s eyes, and the snout. It certainly was the eyes that got us. They’re wonderful, almost yolk-colored eyes. The snout–most artists would draw it as menacing. Sendak’s snout is friendly instead of menacing, despite all the teeth.

 

The condition report states that the costume has “wear commensurate with theatrical use.” What does that mean in this context? It’s got scuffs or scrapes on the bottom of the tail and the foot coverings? That [the language] is mostly so people don’t think it’s brand new. The bodysuit may have a tear in the stitching, but overall, it’s quite good, and very dramatic.

 

Have you or your gallery partner or anyone at Rago Auctions tried on the costume? You need a slim body [to wear it]. We told Rago they’d need some kind of body form [to display it and photograph it]. They were able to find a person on staff who could do the pictures. We were surprised and pleased that they were able to do that.

 

How does the wearer see? There are eyeholes in the neck.

 

Do you know what size the costume is? I don’t. Dennis [Dennis David, Schiller’s gallery partner] is suggesting it’s probably more of a medium. Maybe that’s why the crocodile is not looking too hungry.

 

Is the head attached to the tail, or are they separate pieces? The head is certainly separate. The tail is attached with button snaps to the back of the bodysuit. The gloves are part of the bodysuit. The head, in itself, is very decorative.

 

What’s the auction record for a Sendak-designed costume? The only auction I know of is from the New York City Opera sale, three costumes that were very elaborate in themselves. We were the underbidder. They were probably from The Love of Three Oranges. Those sold for between $4,000 and $6,000 each.

 

How to bid: The Sendak-designed crocodile costume is lot 1141 in the Curiouser and Curiouser sale at Rago Auctions on December 1, 2018.

 

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

 

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Justin G. Schiller has a website. Two, actually.

 

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

 

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A Maurice Sendak-designed Crocodile Costume from the Opera “Goose of Cairo” Could Fetch $5,000 at Rago

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What you see: A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L’Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rago Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

 

The expert: Justin G. Schiller, a specialist in rare and collectible children’s books. He co-created the corporation that consigned the costume to Rago Auctions.

 

So, how many operas did Sendak design for? Altogether I believe he did 15 operas and ballets. He began in 1980, with The Magic Flute, and his career went through to 2004 or 2005, with Brundibar. He was very interested in the experience of developing not only the sets and costumes, but trying to make the characters interactive.

 

Was this character the only crocodile character in Goose of Cairo, or was it one of several crocodiles? I think there was only one involved in the production. This is one of the few Sendak costumes that is complete. The head and feet are the main parts of those costumes. The bodysuits were painted to fit, but the crocodile costume was so specific, they kept everything.

 

Why is this costume described in the lot heading as being “After Maurice Sendak” rather than designed by Maurice Sendak? Maurice would have done the design on paper. The costume was created by the seamstresses, the people who make the costumes. In some cases, you see Maurice fix up the costume once it’s on the actor or the actress. He did the pictures, they did the physical production.

 

So he wouldn’t have been involved with making sure the costume was comfortable for the actor to wear? Yes, but if there was any problem with the fitting, he would have been consulted.

 

What do we know about Sendak’s approach to costume design? He took it very seriously. For example, when he was doing Hansel and Gretel, he went to German forests and studied the landscaping. It took him seven years to create.

 

Apparently it’s rare for a Sendak costume to survive intact, as this one does. How did it manage to do that? The production for Goose of Cairo was very short-lived. They [the few Goose of Cairo items that were found] were in a separate storage unit. It’s one of only two pieces of the production that survive. The other is a mechanical goose of Cairo that gets wheeled onstage, which Richard Michelson has. Goose of Cairo was never considered a main production, because it was an unfinished opera by Mozart. It’s usually presented as an interlude. It ran for about half an hour, and something else would have come with it. Maybe that’s why there weren’t many costumes.

 

Why are Sendak-designed costumes so scarce, compared to Sendak-designed sets? Probably because sets get rolled on stage or lowered on stage, and when they’re not on stage, they’re protected. Costumes get handled and used constantly. The condition of the crocodile is unusually good. It’s a simpler costume: bodysuit, head, gloves, foot coverings.

 

Is this crocodile costume a good representative of his opera costume design work? I would think it’s a very good example. The head is probably papier-mâché molded on top of a helmet so it fits on the head of an actor. From there, they’d build out the rest of the head, the body suit, the painted fabric. Several of the costumes we had would have the names of actors inside them and the names of the production companies.

 

Is that true here? No. I believe the crocodile had only one actor. When you have multiple figures wearing the same cluster of costumes, like in The Love for Three Oranges, different actors play the roles, and they all need to be fitted. Having names on them makes it much simpler.

 

And the provenance for this costume–it went from the New York City Opera to you to Rago Auctions? Yes, exactly. We specialize in Sendak.

 

How did you come to own the costume? The New York City Opera decided to sell all [the sets and costumes] they didn’t plan to put into sequence again [in 2013]. We decided to acquire as much as we could from productions they still had examples of.

 

How many costumes did you acquire? It didn’t seem like a lot. We purchased ten or twelve.

 

How many complete Sendak-designed costumes survive? I don’t really know. There were a few major ones. There was a fabulous one with a very grand lady who was a pig, and a bear dressed up like a lord, [both] for a different opera, and they went for $4,000 to $6,000 each, as the hammer price [the price before the premium and other fees are applied]. I talked to the collector afterward. She was a very serious collector of opera and theater costumes. It was a unique opportunity to acquire a costume by Sendak.

 

When Sendak created book illustrations, he worked in two dimensions. When he created opera costumes, he had to think, to some extent, in three dimensions. How did he handle this challenge? Sometimes it’s the costume people, but Maurice’s drawings often show a profile, how it looks from the side. But sets are one thing, costumes are another. The catalog only shows side views of the crocodile head. Head on, it’s fantastic.

 

What details on the crocodile costume mark it as a Sendak design? Maybe with certain specific styles, you can look at it and say that’s a David Hockney or that’s a Picasso. With Sendak, I would say basically the [sense of] fantasy, of playfulness. His ogress would be friendly, even if the character was not.

 

What jumped out and me and said “Sendak” was the crocodile’s eyes, and the snout. It certainly was the eyes that got us. They’re wonderful, almost yolk-colored eyes. The snout–most artists would draw it as menacing. Sendak’s snout is friendly instead of menacing, despite all the teeth.

 

The condition report states that the costume has “wear commensurate with theatrical use.” What does that mean in this context? It’s got scuffs or scrapes on the bottom of the tail and the foot coverings? That [the language] is mostly so people don’t think it’s brand new. The bodysuit may have a tear in the stitching, but overall, it’s quite good, and very dramatic.

 

Have you or your gallery partner or anyone at Rago Auctions tried on the costume? You need a slim body [to wear it]. We told Rago they’d need some kind of body form [to display it and photograph it]. They were able to find a person on staff who could do the pictures. We were surprised and pleased that they were able to do that.

 

How does the wearer see? There are eyeholes in the neck.

 

Do you know what size the costume is? I don’t. Dennis [Dennis David, Schiller’s gallery partner] is suggesting it’s probably more of a medium. Maybe that’s why the crocodile is not looking too hungry.

 

Is the head attached to the tail, or are they separate pieces? The head is certainly separate. The tail is attached with button snaps to the back of the bodysuit. The gloves are part of the bodysuit. The head, in itself, is very decorative.

 

What’s the auction record for a Sendak-designed costume? The only auction I know of is from the New York City Opera sale, three costumes that were very elaborate in themselves. We were the underbidder. They were probably from The Love of Three Oranges. Those sold for between $4,000 and $6,000 each.

 

How to bid: The Sendak-designed crocodile costume is lot 1141 in the Curiouser and Curiouser sale at Rago Auctions on December 1, 2018.

 

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

 

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Justin G. Schiller has a website. Two, actually.

 

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

SOLD! Hunt Auctions Sold the Circa 1968 Mickey Mantle Game-worn Yankees Cap for $58,750

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Update: The circa 1968 Mickey Mantle game-worn Yankees cap sold for $58,750.

 

What you see: A game-worn Mickey Mantle Yankees baseball cap, circa 1968, size 7 3/4, inscribed by Mantle to his teammate, Tom Tresh. It also comes with a letter of provenance from Tresh, who died in 2008. Hunt Auctions estimates the cap at $50,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions.

 

How rare is it to see any authentic game-worn garments from Mickey Mantle at auction, hats or otherwise? Game-used, game-worn, there’s different terminology used in our industry. Jerseys and uniforms come first, and that’s understandable, because [prior to the 1970s or so] there were a few sets issued per year [players got a home uniform and a road uniform each season], and few are in private hands. Then there’s hats and bats and the like. Hats are rare specifically because [provenance] is so hard. If you take a magic marker and write ‘7’ inside the hat, it could be attributed to Mantle. Here, the provenance is buttoned up. It’s so special. I’ve had two or three Mantle hats of any type over the last 26 years, and this is clearly the best one I’ve offered.

 

What makes this Mantle cap the best one you’ve offered? In today’s [Major League Baseball] world, everything is formally witnessed. It’s just different from the 1960s. You’ve got to get as close to the primary source as you can. To the degree that you can, this cap has every attribute that can be corroborated. You have “Mick 7” written underneath the bill with the inscription, “To Tom My Best Wishes, Your Friend Mickey Mantle.” You have a letter of provenance from Tom Tresh, his teammate.

 

Is it rare to have an inscribed game-worn hat from any well-known baseball player? I would say it’s unusual. You do see them.

 

How hard is it to document a period game-worn baseball cap? Fewer hats are documentable to the degree that meets [accepted third-party graders’] guidelines. We’ve had plenty of hats that could well be significant, but don’t have the documentation to prove it. We have one in the auction, a game-worn Brooklyn Dodgers hat with insertion plates [which were needed] because teams were beaning Jackie Robinson. A Brooklyn Dodgers employee gave it to his neighbor–we locked that up [that aspect of the provenance]. But there’s no 42 in it, and the size is off from Jackie Robinson’s hat size. [The lot notes state that the cap is 6 3/4, while Robinson’s documented hat size is 7.] It’s a beautiful hat, a rare hat with insertion plates. It may sell for $3,000 to $4,000, but if it had a 42 in it, it could be a quarter million plus. We clearly point out the inconsistencies that say that its not [not necessarily worn by Robinson]. That’s how to represent it.

 

How generous was Mantle with his game-worn hats? Did he give them away often? I don’t know. You do see, with a player of Mantle’s caliber, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays–they were the most popular people in the world. People sought them out and had access to the players and the field that we don’t have today. You could wait by their cars. Hats weren’t worth a lot then. It was a different world.

 

And Mantle gave this hat to Tresh because they were teammates? As far as we can tell. They clearly were teammates, they played during the same era, and they had a lot of chances to interact. What’s nice is there’s a personal letter from Tom [explaining how and when Mantle gave him the hat].

 

How do you know the hat dates to circa 1968? Yankee hats still are so stylistically similar to what they wear [now] that you go by tagging [period tags sewn inside the hat]. We had the advantage here of Tresh himself noting in the letter of provenance when he recalled getting it. The 1968 date is consistent with the tagging, model, and style. With the Tresh attribution, we feel comfortable in saying it’s circa 1968.

 

Game-worn clothes present a weird situation to collectors: you want them to show some wear, but not too much. What condition is the Mantle cap in? It’s very fine. It’s excellent. It’s not abused in any way, shape, or form. It does have cracking to the bill, which is normal. It has perspiration wear, but not abusively so. The top of the hat is navy blue in color, but muted. Why? Because of the sun. It’s a nice mix of honest use and the wear you want to see, but not with the condition issues that might hold the value down.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? It was actually a bit difficult. Mantle game-worn jerseys bring from a quarter of a million to $750,000. There are so few hats at this level that this hat–it’s tough. You could argue it’s $20,000 to $30,000. You could argue it’s $100,000 to $150,000. If it was a jersey, it would be one of the better jerseys.

 

Have you tried on the hat? No. Nope. (Laughs.) People have asked me that before with jerseys and hats, and I can honestly say in 26 years I don’t think I ever wore one. Not once.

 

How have you avoided the temptation? I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with wearing them, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s baseball superstition. Maybe it’s reverence. Maybe it’s coincidence. But I don’t know.

 

As of July 6, 2018, bids on the Mantle cap have passed $15,000, with the close of the auction more than a week away. Does that mean anything? It really doesn’t. You can go through the auction and see things that are three times higher than the estimate already. It could sell for past that, or not any further. I wouldn’t say it’s completely irrelevant. It can be. But it’s by no means indicative of how it will end up.

 

Why will this Mantle cap stick in your memory? I’m a fan of the pieces of professional model equipment that have incredible provenance. When you have something so well-sourced, it not only does better at auction, you can go to the client and stand behind it and say this is the one to go for. On this piece, it’s the combination–it’s not just the “Mick 7,” or the inscription, or the size and the style being consistent with other Mantle hats, or the letter–it’s all of those things. It has all those boxes checked to make it one of the better pieces.

 

How to bid: The inscribed Mickey Mantle game-worn Yankees cap is lot 895 in Hunt Auctions‘s 2018 Live Auction at the MLB All-Star FanFest on July 16 and 17, 2018.

 

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

 

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

 

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RECORD! Potter & Potter Sold Cardini’s Stage-worn Tux for $72,000, a Record for Any Magician’s Costume

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What you see: A tuxedo outfit worn on stage by Cardini, including spats, bow tie, vest, white dress shirt, pocket handkerchief, fake flower, and top hat. It sold at Potter & Potter in April 2013 for $72,000 [with premium], a world auction record for a magician’s costume at auction.

 

Who was Cardini? Born Richard Valentine Pitchford in 1895 in Swansea, England, he was a magician who patterned his stage name after Harry Houdini. He practiced card tricks in the trenches while serving in World War I, and the harsh conditions forced him to master the sleights with his gloves on. After the war he traveled the world performing his magic act and ultimately rose to the top of his profession. His wife, Swan Walker, joined him onstage as his assistant. Pitchford died in 1973 at the age of 77.

 

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

 

How often do you receive stage-worn costumes from any prominent magician, period? We have not had many. Cardini wore many tuxedos over his life. We’ve never had anything Houdini wore before, except for a straitjacket. We sold a Harry Blackstone Sr. tuxedo last year for a lot of money [$45,600 with buyer’s premium]. They’re not like magic books or tricks, which we get on a daily basis.

 

How many tuxedos would Cardini have traveled with? He had to have had more than one, yes? He had at least two. He’d need to have fresh clothes because he’d do multiple shows a day. He came up in vaudeville, doing five to seven shows a day at its peak. Then he transitioned to nightclubs and hotels. He was working.

 

Do you know when he would have worn and used this tuxedo? What span of time? We don’t know, but I’d guess later. It came directly from his daughter, and she got it from her mother [Swan Walker, Cardini’s wife and stage assistant].

 

The lot notes say the tuxedo is “custom-tailored”. Did Cardini have anything done to the suit to help him with his act? There might have been one or two things. Most of the things he added to the tux are literally added to the tux, not sewn in. There’s folklore that Cardini’s extra-long tails inspired Fred Astaire to add long tails [to his tuxedo coat] for his dance moves, but there’s no proof. But they [Cardini and Astaire] certainly came up through the ranks at the same time.

 

The lot notes say this outfit is “perhaps the most iconic costume of the most imitated magic act of the twentieth century”. Could you elaborate? Cardini and his wife did a 12-minute act for four decades. He became the archetype of nightclub and vaudeville magic. He didn’t invent the card trick, but he was what everyone aspired to because his technique was perfect and he did it wearing gloves. He had a character, a slightly tipsy gentleman, who people could recognize. He had a monocle, a top hat, a cigarette holder–he had a brand, essentially. You look at Cardini and think, ‘Isn’t that how magicians dress?’ Yes, and it’s because of this guy.

 

He didn’t wear the outfit to look like a magician–he wore it to look like a gentleman arriving at his club. Or leaving his club. Watch the video. His character is not exactly surefooted. He’s using the monocle as a way to register surprise. He had a little story to tell within the span of the act. It was all part of the story.

 

Just how badass is it that Cardini did his card tricks while wearing gloves? It’s really hard. I’ve tried it. It’s hard enough to do what he’s doing without wearing gloves. That’s the thing–his technique is flawless.

 

Have any other magicians tried to perform card tricks with gloves on? People have done it since. How well is a matter of debate.

 

The Cardini tuxedo did exceptionally well, selling for $72,000 against an estimate of $2,500 to $3,500, but almost everything in the 2013 Cardini auction did exceptionally well. You sold the last pair of gloves he wore on stage for $26,400 against an estimate of $800 to $900. You sold his monocle for $12,000 against an estimate of $1,200 to $1,500. You sold his bow tie for $10,800 after estimating it at $300 to $500. Why was the Cardini auction such a big hit? It was a big breakout sale for us. We had Cardini’s whole life. Trunks, costumes, books from his library, we had everything, and he was one of the most important magicians of the 20th century. We had people calling who we hadn’t heard from before. To present somebody’s life so completely is unusual.

 

Was Cardini a magician’s magician? He was, but at the same time, he had incredible real-world success. He was the top of the heap. He combined great artistic presentation with impeccable technical skill and melded it into an incredible act.

 

What was the experience of selling the Cardini tuxedo like? Anticipation was high in advance of the sale. There were ten or fifteen lots in there that we knew would be off the charts. His daughter [who consigned the material] said she didn’t want to watch the stuff sell. She stayed at the back for the first three, four, five lots. They started to go, and she never left. I’ll never forget going out with her family after the auction. She told me that despite all the work [her parents did] they didn’t have money. They spent every dollar they had. They never really saved anything, so she never got an inheritance. After the auction, she said her parents did finally give her a gift.

 

Did the sale of the Cardini tuxedo stand out? I think at that point it was the most expensive thing we’d ever sold. I think the monocle came up before that. I don’t think anybody thought it would get there. I remember the day before the auction thinking we wouldn’t sell the tux. (Laughs.) There was not a lot of advance interest in that item. I don’t think we had any absentee bids on it until the day before the auction.

 

Why does the tuxedo stick in your memory? It was well-used. I remember the lapels showing they’d been worn down a bit. It’s not like he was going out to dinner parties–he was out working. He wore a tux to work. What I would say in reflecting on it is it sold for more than many Hollywood costumes from the same era. It sold for more than a pair of Laurel and Hardy costumes auctioned at Profiles in History. People probably know Laurel and Hardy more than Cardini. That struck me.

 

What’s out there that could challenge the record set by the Cardini stage-worn tuxedo? There are at least two Cardini tuxes out there, but I don’t think it [one of those tuxes] can do it again, no. A Houdini tuxedo, if it ever shows up. We had a Houdini thing come close. A brooch worn by Bess Houdini sold for $72,000 last year. Outside of Houdini, I doubt it. We sold Harry Blackstone Senior’s tux for a lot of money, more than I expected. It was a huge price, and Harry Blackstone was a great magician. And still, Cardini beat him.

 

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

 

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If you didn’t click on the link to the 1957 Cardini performance–the only one known–do yourself a favor and watch it now.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

 

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

 

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SOLD! U Got The Look! The Purple Tunic Prince Wore in a 1998 BET Interview and a Famous GIF Sold for $16,000 at Julien’s Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The Prince-worn purple tunic with gold details sold for $16,000–double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $8,000.

 

Who was Prince? A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of musicians and showed musical talent at the tender age of seven. He burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1979 and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. His hits include 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go CrazyKiss, Raspberry Beret, U Got the Look, and heaps of others. Songs he wrote became hits for others: Nothing Compares 2 U put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and Manic Monday did the same for The Bangles. In 1984, at the peak of his Purple Rain fame, Prince became the first singer to simultaneously claim the number one album, single, and film on the charts and at the box office. He died in 2016 at the age of 57 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.

 

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

 

This Prince-worn tunic is purple. Is it inherently worth more than a Prince-worn garment in a different color? Yes. It does have an impact. When people think of Prince, they think of purple. Prince has a huge fan base that wants to own something from his career. He created his own style and his own fashion statements. It’s iconic. It’s so Prince.

 

Was it custom-made? Do we know what size it is? Most of Prince’s stage clothes were custom-made. There’s no label present in this one. He was a small guy, and a shy man, but on stage, he took on a whole other aura. If he liked a designer, he’d go back to that designer again and again. Prince himself was slight in build, but he wore items that could be loose-fitting and comfortable.

 

Have you tried it on? I have not. It’s on display in Ireland now [as of late April 2018]. A lot of people have come to see the exhibition. We’re really happy to bring the collection to the auction block. It’s going to be historic. It’s the greatest collection of Prince items to come to the auction block at one time. It comes soon after we sold a teal guitar of his, which was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $700,000–a world record for Prince.

 

Prince didn’t wear this tunic on stage, but he did wear this during a long, well-known 1998 interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET network. [Scroll down for a YouTube link to the interview, which lasts more than an hour.] How does that fact–he didn’t wear it on stage, but did wear it in a notable taped interview, which we can still watch today–affect it? The value of iconic items worn by a celebrity are determined by provenance, authenticity, and performance. Did he wear it on tour? Did he accept a Grammy while wearing it? Did he sit down with Oprah Winfrey or Tavis Smiley? Yes, that does affect the value. If you own the tunic personally as a fan, you can take it out during a dinner party, knowing that it’s Prince’s, and you can play the Smiley interview–it takes on a life of its own. It’s what collectors love.

 

Another interesting detail is the Smiley interview is the source of a popular Prince GIF, and Prince is clearly wearing this tunic in the GIF. [Pull up any list of Prince GIFs and it’ll be there, but you can also scroll down for a link.] How, if at all, does its Internet notoriety affect its value? Because it’s so new, it’s hard to factor in the impact, but it certainly keeps his memory alive. This generation, sharing GIFs, will be curious to know who that is, and what it means, in years to come. It can be hard to quantify, but it celebrates Prince and keeps him current. That’s key to the value of a celebrity and what his items are worth.

 

Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife, consigned the tunic and several other Prince items  to the auction. Why is she selling now? There always comes a time when a window opens in a person’s life. It can be financial. It can be cathartic. It can be a downsizing move. I think she wants people to enjoy them. She’s storing these iconic objects, and that’s a burden. She’s letting them go knowing they’re going to go to museums and the homes of fans, where they’ll be cared for and appreciated for years to come. I think it’s what anybody would want, to share the life of an iconic celebrity as Prince.

 

Why will this purple Prince tunic stick in your memory? If you see a sparkly glove, you know it’s Michael Jackson. You see it’s purple and you know it’s Prince and not anybody else. Not Kurt Cobain. Not Elvis. It’s Prince. And [compared to his stage costumes], this is almost understated, almost regal. He wore it for an important interview, at an important time in his life. It’s understated and totally Prince. Twenty years later, it’s a classic piece anyone can put on and wear, male or female. He was androgynous in his dress, and it’s comfortable.

 

How to bid: The purple tunic Prince wore during the BET interview is lot 135 in Music Icons: Property from the Life and Career of Prince, offered in New York by Julien’s Auctions on May 18, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

 

See the 1998 BET Prince interview, conducted by Tavis Smiley. It’s the source of that classic, peerless, eminently useful Prince GIF.

 

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SOLD! A Pair of Mittens Belonging to Antarctic Explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard Fetches a Cool $10,435 at Bonhams–Well Above The High Estimate

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Update: The lambskin mittens belonging to Apsley Cherry-Garrard sold for £7,500, or about $10,435–well above their high estimate.

What you see: A pair of lambskin inner mittens with cotton drawstrings, which belonged to British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Bonhams estimates them at £1,500 to £2,000 ($2,000 to $2,700).

Who was Apsley Cherry-Garrard? He was the second-youngest member of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910-1913) to Antarctica. He and two fellow explorers embarked on a five-week journey to collect Emperor penguin eggs in the dark depths of winter. (It had to be winter, because that’s when the penguins lay their eggs.) Cherry-Garrard chattered his teeth to bits in the punishingly cold weather. He was lucky; unlike Scott or his companions on the penguin egg quest, he lived to tell the tale in the aptly-named 1922 adventure travel classic, The Worst Journey in the World. Cherry-Garrard died in 1959 at the age of 63.

So, Cherry-Garrard wore at least two sets of mittens in Antarctica, yes? “I’m not a mitten specialist, but as far as I can tell, these are inner mittens,” says Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams. “If you see the pictures, they [the explorers] are usually wearing rabbit or fox fur [on their hands]. I think these are the liners.”

And did these lambskin inner mittens represent the apex of cold weather gear circa 1910? “They were about as technically advanced as it got,” he says.

The Terra Nova explorers had to choose between mittens or gloves, and they went with mittens. How did that affect the expedition? “They knew mittens were warmer, but it must have been difficult to manipulate the sledges and do scientific experiments,” he says. “It added to the misery of a nightmarish environment. Cherry-Garrard made a very long sledge trek in Antarctic winter, which is our summer. The temperatures fell below – 77 Fahrenheit, or – 60 Celsius.”

How well did these mittens work for him? Cherry-Garrard didn’t comment on the performance of his lambskin mittens, but the Bonhams lot notes quote a passage from page 238 of The Worst Journey in the World: “My clothing had frozen hard as I stood… For four hours I had to pull with my head stuck up, and from that time we all took care to bend down into a pulling position before being frozen in. By now we had realized that we must reverse the usual sledging routine and do everything slowly, wearing when possible the fur mitts which fitted over our woollen mitts, and always stopping whatever we were doing, directly we felt that any part of us was getting frozen, until the circulation was restored.”

Cherry-Garrard and his two companions bore five Emperor penguin eggs back to the base camp wrapped in their mittens. Do we know if he used these mittens to carry any eggs? “I don’t know whether we can say it was exactly this pair,” he says. “But he did have this pair with him, and he gathered Emperor penguin eggs, and he wrapped them in his mittens to stop them from freezing. He managed to get three back to London.”

How do we know these are Cherry-Garrard’s mittens from the Terra Nova expedition? “They were originally consigned by members of his family at a previous auction,” he says. “They were acquired by the current owner from there.”

Are these the only Cherry-Garrard expedition-used artifacts that might have come in direct contact with the penguins? “It’s difficult to say for definite, but [the penguin backstory] gives a bit more color to it,” he says, adding that Bonhams sold a pair of woolen mittens worn by Terra Nova expedition member George Levick in 2014 for £625 ($846).

How desirable are Cherry-Garrard artifacts among polar collectors? Who, other than Scott, would be more sought-after than him? “Probably any of the people who died in the tent,” says Haley, referring to Captain Lawrence Oates, Petty Officer Edgar Evans, Doctor Edward Wilson, and Lieutenant Henry Bowers. “It’s kind of grisly, but if you died on the expedition, you became more mythological than those who didn’t. In 2012, we sold a 1912 letter that was found on Scott’s body for £163,250 ($221,228). You don’t get much better than that.”

One of the mittens has a few “rust marks.” What are rust marks? He says they’re literally marks caused by rust. The mitten must have rested against a rusty bit of metal at some point.

Have you tried the mittens on? How big are they? “I haven’t, actually, because they’re framed,” he says. “They’re quite large, almost 12 inches long. They had to cover the wrists as well.”

What else makes these mittens special? “There’s something a little light and amusing about mittens,” he says. “You think of a toddler with them dangling from ribbons on their sleeves. It’s the combination of the sweet idea of the mittens in your head with the grim reality of what Cherry-Garrard had to deal with.”

How to bid: The Cherry-Garrard mittens are lot 136 in the Travel & Exploration sale at Bonhams London on February 7, 2018.

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

Purchase a copy of The Worst Journey in the World through the Strand Bookstore in New York City.

In 2012, the Natural History Museum, London, placed one of the Emperor penguin eggs retrieved by Cherry-Garrard on display and created a web page about its treasure.

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