RECORD! Prop Store Sold a Wooden Clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws for More Than $109,000

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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 wooden 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, 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 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 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.

 

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

 

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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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WHOA! That Elmer Crowell Preening Black Duck Decoy Flew Away With $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The circa 1912 A. Elmer Crowell Phillips rig preening black duck decoy sold for $600,000—double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

 

Who was A. Elmer Crowell? Born in 1862 in East Harwich, Massachusetts, he’s the king of American duck decoy carvers. Initially, he carved in the course of his work at duck-hunting camps, but over time, his magnificent wooden birds won fans who loved them as decorative objects. His decoys have sold at auction for six-figure sums, and two sold privately for more than $1 million each. Crowell died in 1952, at the age of 89.

 

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but is this preening black duck a hen or a drake? Black ducks get a pass on being hens or drakes. 99 percent of the time, they’re just black ducks. This is just a black duck, with no clear designation on being one or the other.

 

It’s also described as being a “rig mate” to other duck decoys that belonged to the late Dr. Phillips. What does it mean for a decoy to be a rig mate? A rig is a group of birds [decoys] owned by and hunted over by one person. It doesn’t always mean the decoys are exactly alike, or made side by side. There can be a lot of variation, depending on how they were made and used. In the context of the Phillips rig, a decoy can be anything out of that group of rig mates. There are Phillips rig mates that look nothing like Crowell’s work.

 

Crowell carved and painted hundreds of decoys that depicted black ducks. Where does this one rank among his lifetime output? It’s among his very finest. As you mention, he did hundreds of them. This bird is as good as they come, in my personal opinion.

 

Did he carve the decoy from a single piece of wood? The bird is made of two pieces, one for the body and one for the head. One thing that makes the bird so strong is the masterful sculpture of the duck in a preening position. It’s not easy to capture well, and Crowell did it nearly perfectly. The finer details of the carving show Crowell’s tremendous effort to do his best work for his best patron. We see him coming into a sweet spot in his career–he was as good a carver as he would be, and this was on the early side of showing his command of his wet-on-wet painting technique, which gives a natural, soft look to the feathers.

 

This looks gorgeous enough to have been destined for a mantle, but the lot notes say it shows evidence of being used on a hunt… It’s a working decoy, and at the same time, it represents one of the best carved decoys in a decorative sense. The bird was hardly used. It was probably retired early because of an appreciation of its aesthetic qualities. I suspect the patron deemed it too precious to hunt over. What’s interesting about the Phillips rig is Crowell didn’t just make this decoy for Phillips, he was his stand manager. He created the decoys, and decided where they would be hunted, and how they would be hunted over. Crowell knew he was going to be involved with handling the decoy after it left his workshop. He wasn’t handing it over to a hunter who might break it. It’s unknowable, but it’s possible because of the relationship Crowell and Phillips had.

 

Do we know when Crowell made this decoy? He used a hot brand [on his decoys]. We can date his birds to some extent on the quality of the brand. Every time a brand is heated, it corrodes a little. Over the years, a brand can be seen burning out, leaving a softer and softer impression. It’s a great dating tool that Crowell inadvertently left behind. This has a perfectly crisp oval brand, which suggests it was 1912.

 

Carving the duck’s head to make it hover in a natural-looking way over the body seems difficult. Is it harder to carve a preening duck? You can think of a preener as the decoy maker’s deluxe model. It’s harder to carve and harder to paint. But it adds variety to the rig, making it look more lifelike as a group. An additional benefit is they’re less breakable because the body can protect the head. We have a 200-year-old decoy in the sale with an intact bill because it’s protected by the body in the preening pose.

 

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? When I look at this bird, the first thing it does is hold together as a phenomenal piece of sculpture. You can go from tip to tail picking out fine details that were expertly executed, but the bird is better than any one single detail.

 

What is it like to hold the decoy? [Laughs] Being in the presence of the decoy before handling it is a real pleasure. It’s excellent from every angle. And it feels just right in the hand. It’s full, robust, and you can feel the finer subtleties in the carving details. I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

To explain what a big deal it is to auction Donal C. O’Brien, Jr.’s collection of decoys and sporting art, can you draw an analogy to other notable auctions of lots consigned by great collectors? It would be somewhat like the Rockefeller collection or the Yves St. Laurent collection in its breadth and quality, and that’s been reflected in the market response to the birds so far.

 

Why will this Crowell preening black duck decoy stick in your memory? Crowell is a quintessential representative of great American bird carving. He was self-taught. He started making decoys because he needed to, and his working decoys led to the birth of American decorative bird carving. This bird is at the nexus of his carving career, where his working decoys became so good, they’re indistinguishable from decorative carving. He’s one of the best makers, making his best effort, carving one of his favorite species for his most important client. It fires on all cylinders from a historic standpoint and an aesthetic standpoint.

 

How to bid: The Crowell preening black duck is lot 14 in the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys, Session III, taking place July 19, 2018 at Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

 

Copley Fine Art Auctions appeared on The Hot Bid last summer in a post about a record-setting Gus Wilson duck decoy.

 

Quack!

 

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SOLD! A Striking Craniometer, Maybe the Only Surviving Example of Its Type, Commands $12,300 at Skinner–More Than Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The late 19th century lacquered brass craniometer sold for $12,300–more than double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman. Skinner estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.

 

What’s a craniometer, and how was it used? As it looks, it was to measure skulls. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was once believed that the shape and size of the skull indicated knowledge. The belief was called craniology. It was a pseudoscience along the lines of phrenology. The craniometer tried to measure each little undulation in a skull. That’s why there’s so many of those spikes. They measure a quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch.

 

Craniology imputed moral character to the size of the skull? That’s a good way of putting it. A bigger skull was considered a better skull.

 

This tool was made in Germany. Was craniology most popular in Germany? I would not say that. Braunschweig, Germany was a well-known area for producing medical instruments. This might be the only surviving example. Many think there was a very limited run because of the quality.

 

Are the parts of the craniometer labeled in German? No.

 

So we don’t know what qualities the craniometer was supposed to measure? It is a mystery. It all depends on where you chose to put the skull.

 

Why does the craniometer look like this? Why are the pins the length that they are? I think the pins are of this length to accommodate different sizes of skull. And you have to have a skull. You could not put a person in this.

 

Does the skull rotate or spin within the brass rings? The skull itself does not rotate. But the brass column can be turned manually, 360 degrees.

 

How were craniometer measurements taken? Around both spheres, there are numerical engravings. Let’s say you’re using the pin through number 17. You measure, you mark, you pull out the pin, and that gives you a measurement for where the pin falls on the skull for number 17. Number 17 is some sort of moral aspect.

 

Are you auctioning it with or without a skull? The skull is for display. It’s a real skull, a human skull. It is part of the lot.

 

How many pins are there? I think there are 40 pins. Down below the turned column, on the brass plate mounted in the ebony base, there are holes to hold the pins.

 

What are the tips of the pins made from? Bone. Turned bone.

 

Why? That’s not an obvious choice. I think it’s where the quality of the piece surpasses the average piece. The quality of it takes it to a different level.

 

Have you seen other craniometers? How do they measure up to this one? I haven’t seen others in person, but I have seen them in my research. They’re very crude. They’re less intricate, less detail-oriented. With this one, the tolerances are so tight where the pins go through the uprights–that’s a mark of quality. The castings of the rings are very well done also.

 

Can we tell if it was made for someone in private practice, or as a teaching model? We cannot tell. In my research, I was not able to find the purpose for this. I don’t know if it’s for a doctor or a teaching tool.

 

How did the craniometer come to you? This, along with several of the lots in the sale–a few phrenology heads, a medical teaching model–came from a private collector in Massachusetts.

 

Why will this craniometer stick in your memory? The sculptural quality. That’s how I look at it. As a craftsman myself, the quality of the instrument says something to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever handle another piece like this.

 

How to bid: The craniometer is lot 560 in the Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments sale at Skinner on April 20, 2018.

 

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You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Jonathan Dowling spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

 

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Wow! Heritage Sold a 1964 Fender Stratocaster Destroyed On Stage by Pete Townshend for $30,000

Pete_Townshend_guitar_Heritage_Auctions

 

Update: The 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster smashed on stage by Pete Townshend sold for $30,000.

 

What you see: A 1964 sonic blue Fender Stratocaster “smasher,”–a guitar played on stage and smashed by Pete Townshend of The Who–on December 1, 1967 at Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

 

Who is Pete Townshend? He’s the lead guitarist and lead songwriter for the legendary British rock band, The Who, which played its first concert in 1964. Townshend also first smashed a guitar on stage in that year. The band’s hits include My Generation, Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Magic Bus, and Pinball Wizard, a song from the 1969 rock opera, Tommy. Townshend will turn 73 in May 2018.

 

How rare are genuine stage-played 1960s-era smashed Pete Townshend guitars? “Very rare,” says Garry Shrum, director of entertainment and music memorabilia for Heritage Auctions. “Usually Pete smashed a guitar until it was in shreds. I know a couple of collectors who own multiple stage-played guitars. I know one guy who bought several smashers to make one whole guitar–he Frankensteined it together. But it’s very rare to find one from the 1960s. People didn’t keep them. If it was in the crowd, it was a dive-fest. People wanted a piece of that guitar.”

 

How many Townshend smashers have you handled? “Two, and I’ve been at Heritage for 14 years,” he says. “Before that, I had a shop for 30 years. People brought in smashers to share with me, but they wouldn’t let me buy them off them.”

 

Has anyone tried to document how many times Townshend smashed a guitar on stage? “There’s got to be something, somewhere. Someone might have tried to document it, but I have not seen it,” he says. “I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. But he smashed guitars hundreds of times.” [After we spoke, I found a heroic stab at a list on thewho.net. Scroll down for the link.]

 

I was going to ask if this smasher was worth less because it isn’t complete, but hearing you speak, I get the impression that it’s unusually complete. “Exactly. You have to get the neck and some pickups to make it complete, but you generally don’t get that chance at all,” he says. “It’s a great piece of music history. Over the years, other people have broken guitars on stage, but it was all spawned by Pete in the ’60s.”

 

Townshend smashed hundreds of guitars on stage? Didn’t that get expensive after a while? “In the early years, he used cheaper guitars, but it got expensive,” he says, noting that Fenders “were imported to the U.K., and the pound versus dollar exchange made it more expensive for him. Probably £400 to £700 for a guitar every time he picked one up.”

 

This smasher doesn’t have a neck, but it does have its neck plate, which contains the guitar’s serial number. Does that help prove that Townshend played it and smashed it on stage? “In most cases, you don’t see the neck plate. You see half of a guitar. Once he started breaking it, the plate went because of the neck,” he says. “Pete would throw the whole thing into the crowd, and people would rip it to pieces. Somebody got the plate, somebody got the pickups, somebody got the headstock, somebody got the strings. The neck plate helps date it. It’s a stronger provenance of the time period. But there’s no way to trace it back [to Townshend]. After two or three years, music stores threw out their paper receipts. There was no reason for them to keep them. Guitar-collecting didn’t get serious until the mid-1970s.”

 

Is it rare for a smasher to have accompanying documents, as this one does? [It comes with a ticket stub from the December 1, 1967 show and a two-page handwritten account of how the original owner caught it.] “That’s rare, and that’s so cool, because we can date it,” he says. “A lot of times it’s a hearsay story. When you have other pieces of paper, a paper trail, it’s more exciting to talk about. You can close your eyes and picture the whole thing happening.”

 

Are Townshend smashers worth more than stage-played guitars that he didn’t smash? “No. An original 1964 Fender Stratocaster is worth money on its own, without a Pete Townshend provenance,” he says. “They sell for $16,000 to $20,000, depending on condition. If Pete played it during that period, it’s easily over $100,000. This is broken. We hope it’s worth $15,000 to $20,000, maybe more. All it takes is two people to push it up.”

 

What’s the auction record for a Townshend smasher? Is it higher than the record for an intact Townshend-played guitar? The auction record for a smasher as well as an intact guitar appears to belong to a lot sold at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge in December 2015. It contained a pair of Rickenbachers–one whole and one destroyed on stage during The Who’s 25th anniversary tour in 1989, along with a signed November 2014 statement from Townshend about them both. The lot sold for £52,500, or $73,934.

 

You set the opening bid for this guitar at $10,000. Why? “The consigner hopes to get at least $10,000,” he says. “We wanted it in the auction because it was such a cool, rare piece. You can’t go on eBay and find it. That’s not gonna happen.”

 

Why will this Townshend smasher stick in your memory? “I have certain bands I admire. I had a shop, and I had the advantage of going backstage to meet people,” he says. “In 1970, I hung out with The Who on the fifth floor of the Hilton San Diego. My wife was 17, and I was 18. It was one of those time periods when I thought, ‘Is this really happening? I’ve spent three hours talking about music with John Entwhistle.’ Keith Moon was doing crazy stuff. Pete and Roger didn’t stick around. They had girls. Anything from The Who that comes in makes me think about the time I spent then. It’s part of my history with music, and with the band itself.”

 

How to bid: The Pete Townshend Fender Stratocaster smasher is lot #89636 in Heritage Auctions‘s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on April 15, 2018.

 

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Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

By clicking through to the lot, you can also see a photograph of Townsend playing the guitar in classic windmill style on stage, as well as images of the handwritten account of the December 1967 concert.

 

The folks behind thewho.net have assembled a list of guitars that Pete Townshend smashed over the years. The guitar being auctioned at Heritage is included.

 

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RECORD! Sotheby’s Sells the Henry Graves Jr. Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch for $24 Million

The Henry Graves Supercomplication - Siderial Time dial

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

 

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

 

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SOLD! The Kem Weber-Designed Walt Disney Animation Desk Fetched $13,145 at Heritage

Kem Weber Designed Disney Animation Desk and Eric Larson Pencil Tray (Wa...

Update: The Kem Weber-designed vintage Walt Disney animation desk sold for $13,145.

What you see: An animation desk designed by Kem Weber for the Walt Disney Company circa 1939 or 1940. It’s shown here decorated with the accoutrements of a working animator, but the lot consists solely of the desk, the bulletin board, and a pencil tray that once belonged to Eric Larson. Heritage Auctions estimates the desk at $20,000 to $25,000.

Who was Kem Weber? Karl Emanuel Martin Weber was a German designer who moved to the United States during World War I and became a citizen in 1924. He coined a new first name from his initials. Disney chose him as the main architect of his corporate headquarters in Burbank, California. Weber is best known for his airline armchair, a streamlined design that appears in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He died in 1963 at the age of 73 or 74.

How did Walt Disney come to hire Kem Weber as the architect and interior designer for his new facility? “Disney traveled in some high-end circles. He wanted the best of the best, a state-of-the-art facility,” says Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions. “Kem Weber designed nearly every aspect of the studio, even the font types on the building.”

How did Weber design the desk to meet the needs of Disney’s animators? “It’s made for these guys to animate,” he says. “It has all kinds of shelving and places to put paper and pencils.” One thing Weber didn’t include was an ashtray. Animators balanced their cigarettes on one of the metal bars on either side of the drawing surface. The circle you see in the center of the surface is an animation disc, which is lit from underneath and allows the artist to attach a piece of paper and rotate it horizontally or vertically.

Do we know how many animation desks Weber made, and how many survive? And do we know who at the Disney studio used it when it was new? “We don’t know. Only a handful of desks have ever come up for sale. They’re rare,” he says, adding that this is the first Kem Weber Walt Disney animation desk he has handled. As for who used it–Lentz believes that animator Hal Ambro is the likeliest choice, but he takes pains to stress that only the pencil tray belonged to Eric Larson, one of the supervising animators who formed the Disney group dubbed the Nine Old Men.

How did Disney animator David Pruiksma come to own this desk? “He got it for his home studio. Eric Larson was his mentor at Disney, and he gave him the pencil tray,” Lentz says, noting that Pruiksma animated the Disney characters Flounder from The Little Mermaid, Mrs. Potts and Chip from Beauty and the Beast, the Sultan from Aladdin, the gargoyles Victor and Hugo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more.

The animation desk is described as being in “good” condition. What does that mean? “That means it’s not falling apart,” he says, laughing. “Pruiksma used it in his home studio before deciding to sell it. He’s retired now. He did a lot of work at his home studio. It’s a working desk.”

What else makes the desk stand out? “It’s a beautiful piece of furniture that has quite a history,” he says. “This desk would have been used to make Peter Pan, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp. It’s amazing. It’s a piece of Walt Disney’s studio, it was a significant piece in creating all the films we talk about, and it was designed by one of the most famous furniture designers of the time.”

How to bid: The Kem Weber Walt Disney animation desk is lot #95012 in the Animation Art auction on December 9 – 10 at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills.

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The Animation Art sale includes related lots that might be of interest–a Kem Weber airline armchair; a modern Disney studios television animation desk, which was used when Duck Tales and Goof Troop were in production; and a modern Disney feature film animation desk which was used during the period that spans The Little Mermaid to Tarzan.

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

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