RECORD! A Schlüsselgerät 41, Successor to the Enigma Machine, Commands More Than $137,000 at Hermann Historica

The Schlüsselgerät 41 cryptographic machine, shown in full. It looks kind of like a typewriter, and it has a handle crank on its right side.

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

What you see: A Schlüsselgerät 41 (SG 41) encryption machine, dating from World War II. Hermann Historica sold it for €122,500, or about $137,000, a world auction record for this rare machine.

The expert: Bernhard Pacher, executive managing director of Hermann Historica.

What does “Schlüsselgerät” mean in English? It’s a very simple technical term. Schlüssel means key, or cipher. Gerät is a piece of hardware. It literally means “cypher machine” or “encryption machine”.

How did it improve on the Enigma encryption machine that the German military relied on in World War II? If you look at the layout, the standard Enigma machine used by all but the German navy used three wheels. Three wheels gives you a certain number of combinations. The navy had Enigmas with four wheels. The Schlüsselgerät 41, from the beginning, had five wheels, and the top wheel, a sixth wheel, performed “not” operations. If it expected a certain operation [a particular pattern of encryption] based on the five wheels, the sixth wheel could say, “not going to do that.” The sixth wheel added extreme irregularity, making decryption very hard. Also, the Enigma, when it encoded an “A”, it could never be [it could never stand for] an “A”. On the SG 41, an “A” could be an “A.” It could be anything.

Were the Germans aware that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code when it started work on the Schlüsselgerät 41 in 1941? No. Their own encryption guys analyzed the Enigma for flaws in its design. When it was designed, it had way more options [for encryption] than the final, simplified one. [They saw the] inherent problem that an “A” can never be an “A”. [They realized] if you really analyzed that thing, you could come up with a chance to decipher it, and they needed something new. The Germans thought, even with the flaws, it would take the Allies three or four weeks to decipher the messages, and by then, who cares? They could not imagine the British could come up with a machine that goes through all the permutations in 30 minutes. They still somehow convinced themselves that the Enigma would be enough. Somehow the Schlüsselgerät 41 wasn’t given the priority it should have had.

Did the Schlüsselgerät 41 really weigh 13 kilos (28.6 pounds)? Yes, it did, and that’s the problem. This one doesn’t have a cover. Without it, it’s 11 kilos [24.2 pounds]. For that, it was considered too heavy for front-line use. It’s a bit crazy, because the Enigma was almost the same weight.

I understand the Schlüsselgerät 41 was made of steel. Was that an issue that might have delayed its production? Steel was one of the few materials that was not really in short supply [during World War II]. It came from all over the Reich. What should have made it lighter–aluminum, magnesium–was in short supply, and that was needed for the aircraft industry.

What did the crank on the right-hand side of the SG 41 do? That crank did what the motor did in the Enigma. You pushed a key, turned the crank, and got a result. It was a one by one by one operation. There was no battery needed, no electrics, but it slowed things down a bit. If the Schlüsselgerät 41 had an electric motor and a battery, taking over the job of the crank, that would add, easily, three kilos to the machine, and it really would have gotten out of hand. And it’s a delicate machine. You can’t push the crank full speed. You have to go fairly slowly.

The Enigma was more sturdy? Yes. It was all-electric. It was much quicker and much easier.

The lot notes say about 500 SG 41 units were built. Do we know how many survive? In April and May 1945, the order to destroy them went out. A total of 10 survived the war in operable condition.

How did this one survive? We can only trace it back to 1955, when the previous owner purchased it from a private collector. The speculation is the guy was supposed to destroy it [but] took it back home. For 30 years, it was given to a Swiss military museum as a loan. It was there until last year, when it was retrieved.

And this is the first one to go to auction? Yes. There was one on eBay 10 years ago at a fairly high price, which didn’t sell. It was in way worse condition than the one we had.

How did you set the estimate of €75,000 [$84,300]? Did you look at Enigma auction results? That was the minimum the consigner said they’d expect to receive. I personally would have given it a six-digit estimate. I was very, very disappointed it didn’t make €100,000 as the hammer price. We’ve sold Enigmas for €150,000, €160,000. A Schlüsselgerät 41 in perfect working condition should get at least what an Enigma gets.

It was in perfect condition? There were a few little pieces missing. That’s it. It’s not tampered with. There are no nicks, no dings, no scratches. The only thing missing is the cover.

A closer shot of the Schlüsselgerät 41, with its keyboard visible. The bottom door is open, showing a spool of white paper.

How did you describe its condition? I actually said it was almost “as new” with very few traces of wear and tear. It was built at the end of 1944. It didn’t see much operation. It probably sat in an office for five months. Then the guy got his hands on it in 1945, and we’re pretty sure that guy hid the machine. By 1955, he was probably happy to get rid of it.

Why not give an estimate range? We never give a range. How do you give a range for an object that’s absolutely unique? It’s another reason the result is damaging. If another Schlüsselgerät 41 pops up, [people will think] “Ah, that’s what it’s worth.” Wrong! That’s not what it’s worth. It’s what the top bidder was willing to pay, and no one was willing to bid higher than that. It should have been a bit higher than Enigmas we’ve sold, not just because of the rarity, but its complexity. It’s on a different level than the Enigma ever was. And to achieve that with moving parts is astonishing. It took until the 1960s to have a similar encryption in software. That thing was really good.

What does it sound like? It has a really nice mechanical sound. [You can hear some of its native audio around the 1:09 mark in this video that Hermann Historica made about the Schlüsselgerät 41.]

Were you in the sale room when the SG 41 came to the auction block? Emotionally, I was so tied to it, I needed to auction it myself. It didn’t quite work as I planned.

What do you recall of the actual sale? There were two people on the phone, bidding against each other, and I had a written bid. I had to disclose the highest written bid. The man on the phone went one step higher, and it was his. I tried to stimulate the Internet–there were so many bidders logged in, I was sure someone would bid. I was very disappointed it didn’t get past an Enigma machine. It didn’t come close.

Did the Schlüsselgerät 41 have any effect on World War II, at all? It would have changed the war if it was available in 1941. By then, the blitzkrieg strategy was working. By the time the units were delivered, the Manhattan Project was underway. We should be happy they weren’t deployed in larger numbers. It would have cost many more lives by not doing any good. It wouldn’t be a game-changer. It would be a war-extender. It would make the war last long enough to drop Fat Man and Little Boy on Berlin.

Why will the Schlüsselgerät 41 stick in your memory? Technical fascination. I have a background of 15 years in the computer business. Seeing binary code when no one was yet thinking in binary code–a living piece of mechanical software–is fascinating. That’s why I like it. It’s fascinating not just for its accuracy, it allows [for] translating binary thinking into mechanical action.

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Hermann Historica is on Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Hermann Historica.

In case you missed it above, here’s the video that Hermann Historica created about the Schlüsselgerät 41.

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Wow! Apollo 11 Moon Walk Videotapes from NASA Sold at Sotheby’s for (Scroll Down to See)

A trio of original, first-generation NASA videotapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20, 2019.

Update: The trio of original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million.

What you see: Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimates the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million.

The expert: Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

How do we know these are the only surviving first-generation recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk? Let me add a word in there: only surviving first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk. That’s important. The way these tapes were created was the images were sent from the moon and captured in California and Australia, and those images were recorded onto slow-scan tapes that took up 45 reels. The information on the 45 reels were scanned onto two-inch AMPEX reels, of which there are only three. What was seen at Houston and NASA mission control is what is on those tapes. NASA was the first place to receive the images [from ground stations in Australia and California], and they were then sent to various television stations around the world. With each subsequent bounce from station to station, [the images] degraded each time. What you saw live on TV was a lower quality than what was on these tapes.

So it–the TV images of the moon walk–were like a photocopy of a photocopy? Kind of, yeah. How we know these are the only surviving original first-generation NASA tapes is they were sold at a government surplus auction in 1976. The selling body was NASA. Many years later, when NASA searched for the slow-scan tapes, the 45 reels couldn’t be found. Then they discovered, unfortunately, that they had been erased and recorded over. The slow-scan tapes were the best tapes until the moment they were recorded over. Then the ones we’re selling became the best-surviving tapes because they’re the only NASA recording left.

Do we know when the 45 reels of slow-scan tapes were erased and recorded over? Nobody knows, but it’s safe to assume NASA had not discovered that, or had not erased the tapes when they sold [this set of three tapes] in a government auction. My guess is they would not have sold them if they realized [the slow-scan tapes] were erased or would be erased.

So it was safe for NASA to sell the trio of tapes in 1976 because they had, or reasonably believed they had, the slow-scan tapes? Yes. It was not a negative for NASA to sell them, because they had a superior copy.

When did NASA discover that the slow-scan tapes had been erased? In 2008 or 2009, around the time of the 40th moon walk anniversary.

That must have been a gut punch, to realize the slow-scan tapes of the first moon walk were gone. I’m sure it was because of budget cuts. Around the period of the [1970s] energy crisis, federal buildings were required to turn the air-conditioning off if there were no employees there on the weekend. The tapes in one building in Texas were found covered in mold [as a result of the energy conservation directive]. I’m sure it spurred the sale of the tapes. They couldn’t store them properly, so sell them and get some money out of them or throw them in the trash.

The press release also describes the tapes as “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered.” Does that mean that other period tapes of the moon walk have suffered that fate? Yes. When NASA discovered the slow-scan tapes had been erased, they decided to use other footage for the 40th anniversary. That footage was made sharper, crisper, more viewable. But once you restore something, you change it. It’s no longer in its original condition, and that has an impact from an artifactual and a value standpoint. Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.

One of the three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, shown with its red and black storage case.

Ok, so we’ve established that NASA had no reason to believe they were giving away a gem when they consigned these tapes to auction, but this isn’t the first time that the government has unwittingly or accidentally sold a priceless artifact of the space race. Why does this keep happening? You’ve got to remember what NASA is and what its purpose is. They’re engineers. Not archivists. Not librarians. If you want archivists, there’s a specific degree and training you need. They have done their best to archive material, but after all, it’s a government agency, and it’s not funded as much as it could be. They’re not a museum. They’re a space agency. If they hired someone to oversee all their artifacts before they go into a GSA auction, that’d be great.

But they’d need more than one person to do that… They’d have to have an army. People make a living out of paying attention to these sales. It’s impossible to go over every item to make sure it’s not super-valuable. The amount of research we did on this…

How long did it take you to research this lot? Days? I couldn’t even quantify it in days.

Because you’re picking it up and putting it down… And discussing, and reading books and articles, and watching videos, and talking to colleagues, and scratching my head. It does take quite a lot of time. We put quite a lot of thought into it. It’s very much a team effort.

So Gary George bought the lot, which contained over 1,000 videotapes, for $217.77 in 1976, and he could have sold any one of those tapes for $200 at the time. That was exactly what he was doing. He was an intern at NASA, and a lot of interns, for fun, would go to government surplus auctions. George said he bought himself a sports car with the money he made. They were guys in their twenties, being entrepreneurial. He hit the jackpot, but he didn’t realize it at first.

When did George find the trio of tapes within the larger group? He filled three U-Haul trucks [with tapes] and stored them in his parents’ garage. He sold them as quickly as he could. It was his dad who said, “Those tapes say ‘Apollo 11 EVA July 20 1969’ on them. Maybe you should keep them.” His dad really saved those tapes. George was a young guy. He was going to resell them.

A stack of three AMPEX tape boxes containing original, first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk.

I guess George thought NASA couldn’t have done something so silly as to sell tapes that record the first moon walk? Yeah. At that point, he held onto them, close to when he bought them. It was not until 2006 or 2007, when NASA was hunting for the slow-scan tapes, that he saw them and thought, “Gee, maybe I have something that’s important.”

When did you and your colleagues at Sotheby’s learn about the tapes? George reached out to us recently, in 2018.

I’ve heard tell of badly stored nitrate films from the silent era bursting into flame. Do these tapes pose a similar risk? Luckily, that’s not an issue here. I think post-1965, most were recorded using safety film. It will eventually degrade, but it is in remarkable condition. [When I brought it to an engineer who owned a device that could play it,] I didn’t tell them what it was. They spontaneously said, “Wow.” They kept remarking on the quality and how sharp the image was. Just by looking, they were able to tell me the tape was an original–I didn’t tell them it was an original. I was just a weird lady who came into the office with tapes she wanted to play.

Will the winning bidder need to hunt down a period AMPEX videotape device to watch these reels? No. They’ve been digitized in a super-high-resolution manner and saved onto a one-terabyte hard drive and a thumb drive. You can watch the hard drive or the thumb drive and keep the reels as artifacts. It’s kind of like having the manuscript, a first edition, and a paperback of the same book. You read the paperback, and the manuscript and the first edition stay on the shelf. I always bring it back to books…

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did NASA shoot these videos in black and white? Not that that makes much difference on the lunar surface, which is pretty close to black-and-white as it is. They’re in both. In the opening footage, you see engineers in mission control, and that’s in color. On the lunar surface, it’s black and white. [It might have been] because they didn’t have the capability to broadcast color from the moon, and because most people had black and white televisions [in 1969].

And to clarify–these are NOT three reels from the missing 45. These are separate and different yes? They are not three from the 45, but they represent what’s on the 45 reels. This is the complete EVA [extra-vehicular activity]. I can only imagine what the quality would have been if they’d taken up the 45 reels. Maybe there was a little extra, but who knows? The 45 reels have been erased. But the content should be the same.

Again, apologies for what might be a silly question, but I feel I should clarify–the winner gets the physical things in the lot, and does not receive copyright or control over the images shown on the three reels, yes? We’re just selling the tapes themselves as artifacts. The content is in the public domain. There is no copyright. If you want to make and sell t-shirts [with these images], you’ve got to ask permission [from NASA].

Is there anything about these tapes that doesn’t come across in the photos? For example, how heavy are they? They are very heavy. Each reel weighs about 15 pounds. They were too heavy for one person to carry all three on the airline.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you had to fly the tapes to New York. How did that work? It was complicated to get them on the plane. At security, they could have been demagnetized, because they’re magnetic tapes. We had to flag them for special screening, so they weren’t brought anywhere near magnetic machines. I viewed them on the East coast to be sure they didn’t get erased between the West coast and getting here.

It must have been a relief to watch the tapes and realize they’d arrived safely. It was a tense moment, watching the engineer spool it up on the machine. It was nerve-wracking. But I realized what a nerd I really am–it started, and I narrated it. I really know this mission!

The three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk, each shown on top of their red and black boxes.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.

How to bid: The trio of Apollo 11 videotape recordings is lot 104 in the Space Exploration sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on July 20, 2019 (of course).

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize and an Apollo 13 flight plan.

In a NASA story about the search for the slow-scan tapes that mentions this trio of videotapes, the agency states, “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

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RECORD! An Earnest-Gregory Dovetailed Goose Commands $810,000 and Several Auction Records at Copley

A full profile view of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

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

What you see: The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose, a decoy that dates to circa 1870 and bears the name of two of its past owners as its creator is unknown. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2018 for $810,000, setting a record for a goose decoy and a record for a decoy by an anonymous maker.

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

Ok, I’m starting with what might be an impudent question. The decoy depicts a Canada goose. In the 21st century, I know these birds as pests. Why did hunters in the late 19th century go after them? Were they pests then, too? Did they eat them? Was it both? Geese are good table fare. There’s a lot of meat on each bird. They’re great sporting game and they’re fun to hunt. The modern frustrations with the geese are just that–trouble with residential geese. Historically, geese were held in high regard and decoy-makers held them in high regard. Top goose-makers had fun with the head positions. You get a tremendous amount of variation from top goose makers. Geese are still celebrated by sportsmen and hunters today.

The goose decoy is named in part for Adele Earnest, the collector who sourced it and its two sibling decoys in 1954. Did she leave any notes about how she discovered the trio? She mentioned that she got them in Columbia, Pennsylvania. If there were details, they weren’t particularly telling on who made them and what the circumstances were. The fact that she remembered the town and the year is above the standard then in terms of collecting. And in collecting communities, there’s a lot of confidentiality about where something is sourced. A lot of times, collectors don’t divulge all the details of their finds.

Have any other decoys by this anonymous maker turned up? There are three geese known by this maker. Adding to that are a number of shorebirds that have the dovetail construction. Some of them were found in Massachusetts, and some believe the geese are from Massachusetts because of the shorebird find. Not until they were X-rayed could we be sure they were made by the same maker. The intricate techniques and specific materials used in construction identify them as being by the same maker.

No one else uses dovetail construction on their decoys? The dovetail construction is virtually unseen in any other decoy.

The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy, with its head removed from the neck slot to show the unusual dovetail construction.

And the trail on the trio of decoys is completely cold? They were made as tools, and as such, were not signed as works of art. As tools, their value sunk to almost zero when plastic decoys entered the field. Only when they were recontextualized as found art did they have value again. When they were tools without a job, no one kept notes. It’s not uncommon for decoys to lose their entire history. At this point, the trail is cold unless the history is contained within the objects themselves.

Collector Stewart Gregory bought two of the three decoys from Earnest. Where is the third? Number three is in the Jerry Lauren collection. He has the other one.

Why did Gregory buy only two of the three? We don’t know the specifics, but it is unusual for collectors to acquire duplicates, of geese especially. Gregory was actually breaking with collecting norms by acquiring two geese with the same head position. It’s a testimony to his incredible excitement. With duck decoys, you have hens and drakes. Sexual dimorphism encourages collecting them in pairs. Shorebirds are small enough to keep two or three together. The exception is to have two geese in identical form.

Adele Earnest said the trio of goose decoys prompted her “subsequent devotion to the decoy as an art.” Donal C. O’Brien Jr., who had dozens of elite decoys, considered this one “the finest bird in his collection,” and “the best of the two” Gregory geese. What makes this decoy so great? This decoy strikes me as a complete object, purely from a visual sense. It will satisfy you from 100 yards away and when you have it in your hand. As a complete work of art in craftsmanship, it leaves virtually no room for improvement. I would add that as a decoy, it has impeccable provenance, and what I consider a perfect amount of gunning wear.

Gunning wear means it was “shot over”? Hunters fired their guns over the decoy in pursuit of live birds? Yes. As a tool for attracting birds, it was used in the water. It was used and abused as any decoy would be over [hunting] seasons.

What can we infer about the maker of this decoy by looking at it? When I see a piece like this, I see an incredibly talented craftsman who has a few audiences. Number one is the birds he’s trying to attract. Number two is the customer. Number three is their own standards and the ideas they may have about creating objects that live up to the talents they’re endowed with and should share. Some of these makers had a work ethic that was tied to their religion. They felt they had a duty to make the best object they could with their hands. They see themselves as having god-given talents they’re obliged to use to the fullest. That’s the idea. It’s evidenced when you look at the parts that are not seen by the bird or the hunter.

Detail of the carved tail of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

You mean details that only show up on X-rays–a technology that did not exist when we think this decoy was made? I’ve looked at a thousand decoy X-rays. There’s a strong connection between the level of craftsmanship on the outside of the bird and the level of craftsmanship on the inside. There’s an almost perfect correlation, makers holding their own personal standards.

What other things can you tell about the maker? Looking at its surface alone, I can identify half a dozen different painting techniques, which is unusual for decoys. You’re looking at a competent, well-trained artisan who paints well. He doesn’t labor over it. And that’s just the paint. The hollow body is meticulously hollowed, and the decoy has one of the most sophisticated head-to-neck transitions of any decoy. It has a nice finish, which is more challenging, but also can be more rewarding to the viewer and [can] show the most competent craftsmen at work. You can sand out a lot of mistakes. This person left it clean and crisp because he got it right the first time. The competence of the carving has led people to believe or wonder if it was made by a professional carousel carver, but nobody has lined up a carousel carving with this particular bird.

And we can be confident that the anonymous 19th-century maker is male? It’s far outside of precedent to be a woman. There are no documented female carvers [from that era, but you have to] consider that it possibly could have been a female painter. There’s a lot of collaborative effort in decoys.

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? My favorite thing about the bird is its totality. There’s no other decoy as satisfying from so many perspectives as this one, to me. But it’s probably the way the bird is hollowed out very intricately by hand to create the most stable, lightweight, and durable decoy possible. He’s doing work that no one is going to see.

It’s only going to show up on an X-ray? Only you at Copley will see it? [Laughs] Yes. The only people who’ll see it are the people at Copley, the clients, and the people who come to my X-ray talks.

Does the dovetail base on this goose decoy offer the hunter an advantage? The dovetail joint from the neck into the body offers a great advantage to a hunter. It allows the hunter to take the bird apart and transport it much more easily, with less chance of breakage. It’s understood, from a collecting standpoint, that goose heads [on decoys] crack or break off entirely. This bird is of durable construction, with a removable head. That’s no small part of why it’s in the condition it’s in, and why it has an unbroken neck today.

Detail shot of the Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy to show the head in place, but slightly slid out of the dovetail join.

Were you surprised it sold for $810,000? It was not a surprise that it went at that level. It was worth every penny. In terms of records, this is the third-highest price for any decoy at auction. It’s also a record for any goose decoy at auction, and an auction record for any unknown [decoy] maker.

How long might this record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? There are several goose decoys that could break this number. The first to come to mind are by Elmer Crowell, one of which used to hold the world record for any decoy. Others sit very close to the top of the list. I see the high-end decoy market continuing to expand and grow. I expect a significant amount of turnover in price at the very top.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This specific decoy, before I ever saw it, was my favorite in the entire field of American waterfowl. The more time I spent with it, the better it got. I was so fortunate to be part of offering it for sale.

What was it like to hold it in your hands? It was a little scary. Let me rephrase that–it made you very aware you were holding a tremendously valuable object. It was also very satisfying. It’s a commanding and engaging object. It could dominate any space you put it in. Those are traits that only the greatest objects I’ve handled have.

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Images are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its Sporting Sale 2019 on July 25 at Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Top lots include the Harmon “Dust Jacket” Plover trio, a group of shorebirds carved by Elmer Crowell, estimated at $730,000 to $1.1 million.

Colin McNair spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about a preening black duck by Elmer Crowell from the same auction that ultimately sold for $600,000.

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Yes, I filed this story under “Quack” even though the decoy depicts a goose. #SorryNotSorry

Apollo 11 Moon Walk Videotape from NASA Could Command $2 Million at Sotheby’s

A trio of original, first-generation NASA videotapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20, 2019.

What you see: Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimates the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million.

The expert: Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s.

How do we know these are the only surviving first-generation recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk? Let me add a word in there: only surviving first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk. That’s important. The way these tapes were created was the images were sent from the moon and captured in California and Australia, and those images were recorded onto slow-scan tapes that took up 45 reels. The information on the 45 reels were scanned onto two-inch AMPEX reels, of which there are only three. What was seen at Houston and NASA mission control is what is on those tapes. NASA was the first place to receive the images [from ground stations in Australia and California], and they were then sent to various television stations around the world. With each subsequent bounce from station to station, [the images] degraded each time. What you saw live on TV was a lower quality than what was on these tapes.

So it–the TV images of the moon walk–were like a photocopy of a photocopy? Kind of, yeah. How we know these are the only surviving original first-generation NASA tapes is they were sold at a government surplus auction in 1976. The selling body was NASA. Many years later, when NASA searched for the slow-scan tapes, the 45 reels couldn’t be found. Then they discovered, unfortunately, that they had been erased and recorded over. The slow-scan tapes were the best tapes until the moment they were recorded over. Then the ones we’re selling became the best-surviving tapes because they’re the only NASA recording left.

Do we know when the 45 reels of slow-scan tapes were erased and recorded over? Nobody knows, but it’s safe to assume NASA had not discovered that, or had not erased the tapes when they sold [this set of three tapes] in a government auction. My guess is they would not have sold them if they realized [the slow-scan tapes] were erased or would be erased.

So it was safe for NASA to sell the trio of tapes in 1976 because they had, or reasonably believed they had, the slow-scan tapes? Yes. It was not a negative for NASA to sell them, because they had a superior copy.

When did NASA discover that the slow-scan tapes had been erased? In 2008 or 2009, around the time of the 40th moon walk anniversary.

That must have been a gut punch, to realize the slow-scan tapes of the first moon walk were gone. I’m sure it was because of budget cuts. Around the period of the [1970s] energy crisis, federal buildings were required to turn the air-conditioning off if there were no employees there on the weekend. The tapes in one building in Texas were found covered in mold [as a result of the energy conservation directive]. I’m sure it spurred the sale of the tapes. They couldn’t store them properly, so sell them and get some money out of them or throw them in the trash.

The press release also describes the tapes as “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered.” Does that mean that other period tapes of the moon walk have suffered that fate? Yes. When NASA discovered the slow-scan tapes had been erased, they decided to use other footage for the 40th anniversary. That footage was made sharper, crisper, more viewable. But once you restore something, you change it. It’s no longer in its original condition, and that has an impact from an artifactual and a value standpoint. Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.

One of the three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, shown with its red and black storage case.

Ok, so we’ve established that NASA had no reason to believe they were giving away a gem when they consigned these tapes to auction, but this isn’t the first time that the government has unwittingly or accidentally sold a priceless artifact of the space race. Why does this keep happening? You’ve got to remember what NASA is and what its purpose is. They’re engineers. Not archivists. Not librarians. If you want archivists, there’s a specific degree and training you need. They have done their best to archive material, but after all, it’s a government agency, and it’s not funded as much as it could be. They’re not a museum. They’re a space agency. If they hired someone to oversee all their artifacts before they go into a GSA auction, that’d be great.

But they’d need more than one person to do that… They’d have to have an army. People make a living out of paying attention to these sales. It’s impossible to go over every item to make sure it’s not super-valuable. The amount of research we did on this…

How long did it take you to research this lot? Days? I couldn’t even quantify it in days.

Because you’re picking it up and putting it down… And discussing, and reading books and articles, and watching videos, and talking to colleagues, and scratching my head. It does take quite a lot of time. We put quite a lot of thought into it. It’s very much a team effort.

So Gary George bought the lot, which contained over 1,000 videotapes, for $217.77 in 1976, and he could have sold any one of those tapes for $200 at the time. That was exactly what he was doing. He was an intern at NASA, and a lot of interns, for fun, would go to government surplus auctions. George said he bought himself a sports car with the money he made. They were guys in their twenties, being entrepreneurial. He hit the jackpot, but he didn’t realize it at first.

When did George find the trio of tapes within the larger group? He filled three U-Haul trucks [with tapes] and stored them in his parents’ garage. He sold them as quickly as he could. It was his dad who said, “Those tapes say ‘Apollo 11 EVA July 20 1969’ on them. Maybe you should keep them.” His dad really saved those tapes. George was a young guy. He was going to resell them.

A stack of three AMPEX tape boxes containing original, first-generation NASA recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk.

I guess George thought NASA couldn’t have done something so silly as to sell tapes that record the first moon walk? Yeah. At that point, he held onto them, close to when he bought them. It was not until 2006 or 2007, when NASA was hunting for the slow-scan tapes, that he saw them and thought, “Gee, maybe I have something that’s important.”

When did you and your colleagues at Sotheby’s learn about the tapes? George reached out to us recently, in 2018.

I’ve heard tell of badly stored nitrate films from the silent era bursting into flame. Do these tapes pose a similar risk? Luckily, that’s not an issue here. I think post-1965, most were recorded using safety film. It will eventually degrade, but it is in remarkable condition. [When I brought it to an engineer who owned a device that could play it,] I didn’t tell them what it was. They spontaneously said, “Wow.” They kept remarking on the quality and how sharp the image was. Just by looking, they were able to tell me the tape was an original–I didn’t tell them it was an original. I was just a weird lady who came into the office with tapes she wanted to play.

Will the winning bidder need to hunt down a period AMPEX videotape device to watch these reels? No. They’ve been digitized in a super-high-resolution manner and saved onto a one-terabyte hard drive and a thumb drive. You can watch the hard drive or the thumb drive and keep the reels as artifacts. It’s kind of like having the manuscript, a first edition, and a paperback of the same book. You read the paperback, and the manuscript and the first edition stay on the shelf. I always bring it back to books…

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did NASA shoot these videos in black and white? Not that that makes much difference on the lunar surface, which is pretty close to black-and-white as it is. They’re in both. In the opening footage, you see engineers in mission control, and that’s in color. On the lunar surface, it’s black and white. [It might have been] because they didn’t have the capability to broadcast color from the moon, and because most people had black and white televisions [in 1969].

And to clarify–these are NOT three reels from the missing 45. These are separate and different yes? They are not three from the 45, but they represent what’s on the 45 reels. This is the complete EVA [extra-vehicular activity]. I can only imagine what the quality would have been if they’d taken up the 45 reels. Maybe there was a little extra, but who knows? The 45 reels have been erased. But the content should be the same.

Again, apologies for what might be a silly question, but I feel I should clarify–the winner gets the physical things in the lot, and does not receive copyright or control over the images shown on the three reels, yes? We’re just selling the tapes themselves as artifacts. The content is in the public domain. There is no copyright. If you want to make and sell t-shirts [with these images], you’ve got to ask permission [from NASA].

Is there anything about these tapes that doesn’t come across in the photos? For example, how heavy are they? They are very heavy. Each reel weighs about 15 pounds. They were too heavy for one person to carry all three on the airline.

It hadn’t occurred to me that you had to fly the tapes to New York. How did that work? It was complicated to get them on the plane. At security, they could have been demagnetized, because they’re magnetic tapes. We had to flag them for special screening, so they weren’t brought anywhere near magnetic machines. I viewed them on the East coast to be sure they didn’t get erased between the West coast and getting here.

It must have been a relief to watch the tapes and realize they’d arrived safely. It was a tense moment, watching the engineer spool it up on the machine. It was nerve-wracking. But I realized what a nerd I really am–it started, and I narrated it. I really know this mission!

The three AMPEX tapes of the Apollo 11 moon walk, each shown on top of their red and black boxes.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? When I watched the tapes, I was surprised, because I started tearing up. The engineer spooling the tapes started tearing up. His wife started tearing up. It has such an impact on people. I’ve sold a lot of cool things that flew to the moon, but this represents what all that effort was for. This is the primary witness to the moment we worked for. It really is representative of man’s greatest achievement. It’s the original artifact from the agency that made it possible. It all comes back to the moments captured on these tapes.

How to bid: The trio of Apollo 11 videotape recordings is lot 104 in the Space Exploration sale taking place at Sotheby’s New York on July 20, 2019 (of course).

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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Images are courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize and an Apollo 13 flight plan.

In a NASA story about the search for the slow-scan tapes that mentions this trio of videotapes, the agency states, “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn’t been preserved at NASA.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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.

Images are courtesy of RR Auction.

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

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

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

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

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

SOLD! The First Lady Jackie Kennedy-Oleg Cassini Archive Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Fashion drawing done for First Lady Jackie Kennedy by a member of the House of Cassini.

Update: The Oleg Cassini-First Lady Jackie Kennedy archive sold for $3,125.

What you see: An image from an archive of more than 40 original drawings, letters, clippings, and other materials from the early 1960s that show how designer Oleg Cassini and his team developed fashions for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Doyle estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

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 rare is it for something like this archive to survive? Is there anything similar between the First Lady and another fashion designer that dates to the White House years? It’s hard for me to say. It is a special archive. It’s Oleg Cassini’s workroom archive, and it shows a working relationship. It was ephemeral then, and it’s ephemeral now. The clothes were the final goal. This was how they did it in the analog age, by drawing everything out. They sat with Mrs. Kennedy and homed in on what she needed for her appearances and her events. Cassini made over 300 pieces for Mrs. Kennedy.

Wow, so he was really her go-to guy. Yes.

How did this archive survive? The archives usually remain with the fashion houses if they’re not discarded. This is a rare opportunity because material like this is seldom on the market.

What does this archive reveal about the working relationship between the First Lady and Cassini’s team? Mrs. Kennedy was highly involved in the process. She provided ideas and made her own drawings. She went through fashion magazines and newspapers and noted what she liked and didn’t like, and they would react to it. She would draw [fashion sketches] and write little comments on fabrics she liked and didn’t like. And she would comment on accessories–this needs a bag or a coat to match. The lot includes contact sheets–Cassini had models that wore Mrs. Kennedy’s size. She would annotate the pictures of the models. She’s very honest in her comments to him and very forthcoming. She felt very comfortable in the relationship and felt it went very well.

Fashion drawings done in blue ink the early 1960s by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, showing six figures in long dresses.
Fashion drawings by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, from lot 22 in the Doyle auction.

Are you aware of any other archive that’s come to auction that contains fashion drawings in Mrs. Kennedy’s own hand? We sold a similar fashion archive a few years ago. [It sold in November 2017 for $11,875.] It’s related to the same workshop, from the same period, and was retained by one of the workshop employees at the time. This is similar.

And Cassini stored it all this time? It comes directly from his estate. It was in his home in Oyster Bay, New York.

What was Jacqueline Kennedy’s relationship with Oleg Cassini like? It was extremely intimate. He was the one putting clothes on her back when she was the most-photographed woman on the planet. It has to be considered a collaboration with a wonderful public figure who embraced and acknowledged her role. I think that’s what we see with Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy.

And we know this archive stops in 1962 because… that’s the latest-dated item in it? I have something equally of note in the sale, but selling separately: Lot 14, a detailed workroom ledger of the Kennedy White House years. I know the record book starts in 1961. Page 14 is dated March 1963. The last entry before the assassination is November 13, 1963. There’s something somewhat ominous [mentioned in the ledger]–a pink costume dress and jacket. I think it’s poignant that the last entry before the assassination ends with a pink item.

What condition is the archive in? I think it’s in very good condition from the time of use until now. In the time it was used, it was handled, folded, mailed, and written on. There are some handling creases and torn corners, but it’s very well-preserved overall. The handling is original with its use.

Fashion drawing, with handwritten notes, done by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s. It shows three headless figures.
Another fashion drawing by the First Lady, with handwritten annotations.

What is it like to handle this material? It puts you in the moment with them. You feel like you’re in the room–that’s been my experience. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re in a workroom with Oleg Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy as they produced clothing that became iconic. The designs really became emblematic of the beginning of the 1960s–the Jet Set era, the Jackie look.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? Because it’s highly primary material. It’s a rare opportunity to engage with high-quality First Lady material, let alone the White House years known as Camelot, which doesn’t seem to recede from memory at all. It’s remarkable to view these items. That’s why they’ll stick with me.

How to bid: The Cassini-Kennedy archive is lot 22 in The Estate of Oleg Cassini, a sale taking place at Doyle on June 27, 2019.

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Images are courtesy of Doyle.

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

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SOLD! The Steinlen Cat Poster with Two Progressive Prints Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

The completed version of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It features a calico cat and a black cat, both seated.

Update: The 1894 Steinlen cat poster, offered with two progressive prints, sold for $5,000.

What you see: An 1894 poster by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, advertising a show of his work at the Bodiniére gallery. It also includes two progressive prints of the lithographic poster (scroll down to see them). Rennert’s Gallery estimates the group at $14,000 to $17,000.

The expert: Jack Rennert of Rennert’s Gallery.

I realize to some extent that all posters are advertisements for an artist’s skills, but how unusual is it to see a poster as literal as this one, which advertises Steinlen’s first gallery show in Paris? He did this for an exhibition at Bodiniére. It’s not a reproduction of a poster or a painting [in the show]. It’s an actual design, integrated with text, and he designed the text. It’s completely his poster.

What does it say about him that when choosing the image for this poster–which is intended to lure people to the gallery to buy his artworks–he chose to depict cats? Cats are one of his most iconic and popular images. He loved cats, and had a house full of them. People say you could tell where he lived within five blocks of his house.

The lot notes describe the pair shown on the poster as “his cats.” Might we know which of his cats modeled for this? Did they have names? Or were these imaginary cats? He had dozens of stray cats that he brought into his home in Paris. He didn’t need to imagine them. He had his models right there in his home. Lot 450, the following lot, is maybe his most famous poster of all, and it has his daughter, Colette, and three cats. It was for sterilized milk. She’s testing it before she gives it to them. Of the three cats, the two at the front could be the same two in the Bodiniére exhibit poster. He did them two years apart.

Are the cats in the Bodiniére exhibition poster shown at around life size? The poster is 32 inches wide by 23 inches high, so yeah, pretty much life size. They take up half the entire image of the poster.

The poster is horizontal. Is that unusual for this era? Yes. Ninety percent of the posters of the 1890s were vertical posters, meant to go on vertical spaces, like hoardings. It could have been that this Bodiniére exhibit poster was never meant to be an outdoor advertisement. It could have been in store windows.

Do I sense Japanese influence here? It kind of reminds me of Japanese woodcuts. Japanese art was very popular and influential with many artists in the 1890s, especially in Paris. You can see some of that in the treatment here, especially in the coloring of the cats. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. This is Steinlen and his way of drawing.

Do we have any notion of how many of these posters were printed, and how many survive? We don’t know, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find out. I would guess that since it was a one-time exhibit, for one month, in one place and one city, I don’t think he would have had more than 200 or 300 copies made. There was no need for more.

This example of the poster comes with two progressive prints of the design, which show lithographic color passes. How do the prints give insight into how the poster was made? It’s stone lithography, so first, they’d do just the gray area, then overprint it with black in a few areas, giving it a solid, deep black look. The third color plate is red, which gives a nice color to the cat and the lettering. It’s unusual to show the final product and how it was arrived at.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the gray areas of the image.

Do we have any idea how this example of the poster survived with two related progressive prints? I’d say it’s more likely that it came from the archive of Charles Verneau, his favorite printer. There’s no reason for someone outside of a printing plant to have them. Every now and then you do see progressive prints for a poster, and inevitably, they come from printers’ storage. They’re rare.

How many times have you handled the Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster? Over the last 50 years, I’ve handled it ten to 12 times.

And how rare is it to see any poster with progressive prints, never mind a poster as iconic as this Steinlen? It’s extremely rare. Only real passionate poster collectors care enough to even want it. There’s nothing pretty about them. They’re incomplete works. But they appreciate seeing what went into the final [lithographic] stone.

In your 50 years in the business, how often have you seen a poster with progressive prints come up? I’ve probably had a couple dozen instances of that. Once every two or three years, I get a series.

So the Steinlen plus progressive prints will be of more interest to a museum or an institution? Absolutely. I expect museums, galleries, and foundations to have a special interest in them.

How did the presence of the progressive prints affect the estimate? It obviously increases it, but not by a hell of a lot. The poster often sells for $10,000. I estimated this in the $14,000 to $17,000 range because of the prints.

A progressive print of the 1894 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster, advertising his first gallery show. It focuses on the black areas of the image.

What’s the world auction record for this Steinlen poster? Was it set with you? The highest at our auctions was $9,200 in 2006. [This seems to be the world record, not just a house record.]

What makes this a successful poster? Why does it still sell for thousands of dollars more than a century after it was printed? It’s very appealing. It catches your attention. Cat people have an additional reason to be enamored of it. It’s one of the favorite posters by one of the most famous poster artists of the period. It was an important exhibition for him. It established him in the artistic community.

So the 1894 show did well? It was a successful show for him. He sold all his works. I won’t say it was because of the poster, but maybe it takes some of the credit.

How to bid: The 1894 Steinlen Bodiniére Exposition poster is lot 449 in the PAI-LXXVIII: Rare Posters auction taking place at Rennert’s Gallery on June 23, 2019.

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WOW! An Abraham Lincoln Parade Lantern Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

This rare circa 1860s parade lantern features an image of Abraham Lincoln on one panel and a spread-winged eagle sitting on a shield with the word "union" on it.

Update: Heritage Auctions sold the Abraham Lincoln parade lantern for $22,500.

What you see: A glass and tin Abraham Lincoln parade lantern, dating to the 1860s. While Heritage Auctions has not given it an official estimate, bidding opened at $7,500.

The expert: Tom Slater, director of Americana auctions for Heritage Auctions.

How popular were political torchlight parades in the 19th century? In the 19th century, obviously, they didn’t have the communications media we have today. It was important to promote candidates, and torchlight parades were a popular way to do that. They were big events, and integral to politics from 1830 to about 1880 or 1890.

And they fade away after electricity begins to spread? Sure. It’s not coincidental that you see them until the 1890s.

How rare are these lanterns, period, never mind those that depict Abraham Lincoln? I’ve only seen one, two, or three examples of each type. It’s hard to say how many of them there were.

How many people in a parade would have had a lantern as fancy as this one? Multiple people carried torches on the ends of poles. Something like this, there would have been fewer to begin with. They’re really, really rare. We don’t really have evidence if [paraders carried] multiples of this exact type. They heyday of tin and glass lamps is from 1850 to 1872.

So, one person might have had the privilege of carrying this lantern, and the rest might have had more mundane lanterns? It could very well be. It would have been like with a candle. There’s a fitting in the bottom for one.

Is the pole original? It’s the original tin pole. It would have extended a couple of inches beyond what you see in the pictures to fit into a wooden pole.

What’s that thing on the top that looks like an upside-down cupcake wrapper? It’s a vent. Heat would vent from the candle.

Are the printed paper Lincoln and eagle-with-shield images sandwiched between clear glass? The glass is outside, protecting the paper, which adheres to the reverse of the glass. There’s deterioration around the perimeter, which is not that surprising.

Yes, what kind of condition is the lantern in? And what does it mean to talk about condition when maybe three examples survive? You could use the term “excellent” if you wanted to. It’s all there–all four glass panels, and the image is strong. It’s all there. There’s as much as you could ask for from a lantern.

So it has the ideal amount of wear? If it looked like it was made yesterday, it wouldn’t be interesting to me. This has the perfect look. You can see immediately that it’s old. You can relate it to something that happened 150 years ago.

The rare circa 1860s campaign parade lantern for Abraham Lincoln, showing the other two sides of the four-sided object. One is entirely blue, and the other is entirely red.

Why are two of the four panels colored red and blue? To make it colorful, and make a better, colorful display. There’s no symbolic significance. You see red and blue in a lot of political material.

Have you tried putting an LED light in it to get a notion of what it looked like all lit up? That would be ideal. There’s always a risk that a candle could fall over and set the paper on fire. Some have to be backlit [to get a notion of what they’re like] but in this case, as long as there’s daylight, you can see the image very clearly. You don’t need a light inside to make it present better.

Do we know what company might have made the lantern? We don’t.

But it wasn’t made by an enthusiastic individual? It’s definitely manufactured, with paper inserts sized to fit that particular lantern. It’s a complete manufactured unit. It was almost certainly made in New England.

Would Lincoln’s campaign have provided the lantern to paraders? We’re sure it didn’t come from a central source. Political parties were much more local in those days. There was probably a company you could order it from, but it was not provided from above.

How on earth did something this fragile survive so well for so long? The vast majority of lanterns did not survive. People didn’t think they were important to save. Generally, these were disposable, not made as souvenirs to be kept. They served a purpose. But there’s no specific information on how, when, and where [this one survived].

Have you seen the other two surviving Lincoln lanterns? How does this one compare to them? We’re just guessing there might be three. Personally, I’ve never seen another. I can guarantee there’s not five.

This lantern is shown on page 274 of Arthur Schlessinger Jr.’s book Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images 1789-1896. How, if at all, does that affect the lantern’s value? It definitely adds something. It’s considered one of the definitive reference books on political memorabilia. Being chosen to illustrate the book adds cachet. I’m not sure it adds dollar value, but it adds cachet.

What is it like in person? It’s arresting. It communicates the flavor of the times. It’s a very evocative piece, very pleasing to look at.

Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a particularly rare and desirable type of item. You don’t see it very often. And it’s Lincoln. Everybody loves Lincoln. Lincoln is magic because of his historic nature–a wartime president, maybe the greatest president, and he was assassinated at the end of the war. We get bids on Lincoln items from people who aren’t political collectors.

How to bid: The Lincoln lantern is lot #36163 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential and Political Americana, Part V, taking place at Heritage Auctions June 22 and June 23, 2019.

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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Oleg Cassini’s Archive of White House-era Jacqueline Kennedy Material Could Command $6,000 at Doyle

Fashion drawing done for First Lady Jackie Kennedy by a member of the House of Cassini.

What you see: An image from an archive of more than 40 original drawings, letters, clippings, and other materials from the early 1960s that show how designer Oleg Cassini and his team developed fashions for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Doyle estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

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 rare is it for something like this archive to survive? Is there anything similar between the First Lady and another fashion designer that dates to the White House years? It’s hard for me to say. It is a special archive. It’s Oleg Cassini’s workroom archive, and it shows a working relationship. It was ephemeral then, and it’s ephemeral now. The clothes were the final goal. This was how they did it in the analog age, by drawing everything out. They sat with Mrs. Kennedy and homed in on what she needed for her appearances and her events. Cassini made over 300 pieces for Mrs. Kennedy.

Wow, so he was really her go-to guy. Yes.

How did this archive survive? The archives usually remain with the fashion houses if they’re not discarded. This is a rare opportunity because material like this is seldom on the market.

What does this archive reveal about the working relationship between the First Lady and Cassini’s team? Mrs. Kennedy was highly involved in the process. She provided ideas and made her own drawings. She went through fashion magazines and newspapers and noted what she liked and didn’t like, and they would react to it. She would draw [fashion sketches] and write little comments on fabrics she liked and didn’t like. And she would comment on accessories–this needs a bag or a coat to match. The lot includes contact sheets–Cassini had models that wore Mrs. Kennedy’s size. She would annotate the pictures of the models. She’s very honest in her comments to him and very forthcoming. She felt very comfortable in the relationship and felt it went very well.

Fashion drawings by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, from lot 22 in the Doyle auction.

Are you aware of any other archive that’s come to auction that contains fashion drawings in Mrs. Kennedy’s own hand? We sold a similar fashion archive a few years ago. [It sold in November 2017 for $11,875.] It’s related to the same workshop, from the same period, and was retained by one of the workshop employees at the time. This is similar.

And Cassini stored it all this time? It comes directly from his estate. It was in his home in Oyster Bay, New York.

What was Jacqueline Kennedy’s relationship with Oleg Cassini like? It was extremely intimate. He was the one putting clothes on her back when she was the most-photographed woman on the planet. It has to be considered a collaboration with a wonderful public figure who embraced and acknowledged her role. I think that’s what we see with Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy.

And we know this archive stops in 1962 because… that’s the latest-dated item in it? I have something equally of note in the sale, but selling separately: Lot 14, a detailed workroom ledger of the Kennedy White House years. I know the record book starts in 1961. Page 14 is dated March 1963. The last entry before the assassination is November 13, 1963. There’s something somewhat ominous [mentioned in the ledger]–a pink costume dress and jacket. I think it’s poignant that the last entry before the assassination ends with a pink item.

What condition is the archive in? I think it’s in very good condition from the time of use until now. In the time it was used, it was handled, folded, mailed, and written on. There are some handling creases and torn corners, but it’s very well-preserved overall. The handling is original with its use.

Fashion drawing, with handwritten notes, done by First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the early 1960s. It shows three headless figures.
Another fashion drawing by the First Lady, with handwritten annotations.

What is it like to handle this material? It puts you in the moment with them. You feel like you’re in the room–that’s been my experience. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re in a workroom with Oleg Cassini and Mrs. Kennedy as they produced clothing that became iconic. The designs really became emblematic of the beginning of the 1960s–the Jet Set era, the Jackie look.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? Because it’s highly primary material. It’s a rare opportunity to engage with high-quality First Lady material, let alone the White House years known as Camelot, which doesn’t seem to recede from memory at all. It’s remarkable to view these items. That’s why they’ll stick with me.

How to bid: The Cassini-Kennedy archive is lot 22 in The Estate of Oleg Cassini, a sale taking place at Doyle on June 27, 2019.

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.

Images are courtesy of Doyle.

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Will An Abraham Lincoln Lantern Burn Brightly at Heritage Auctions?

This rare circa 1860s parade lantern features an image of Abraham Lincoln on one panel and a spread-winged eagle sitting on a shield with the word "union" on it.

What you see: A glass and tin Abraham Lincoln parade lantern, dating to the 1860s. While Heritage Auctions has not given it an official estimate, bidding opened at $7,500.

The expert: Tom Slater, director of Americana auctions for Heritage Auctions.

How popular were political torchlight parades in the 19th century? In the 19th century, obviously, they didn’t have the communications media we have today. It was important to promote candidates, and torchlight parades were a popular way to do that. They were big events, and integral to politics from 1830 to about 1880 or 1890.

And they fade away after electricity begins to spread? Sure. It’s not coincidental that you see them until the 1890s.

How rare are these lanterns, period, never mind those that depict Abraham Lincoln? I’ve only seen one, two, or three examples of each type. It’s hard to say how many of them there were.

How many people in a parade would have had a lantern as fancy as this one? Multiple people carried torches on the ends of poles. Something like this, there would have been fewer to begin with. They’re really, really rare. We don’t really have evidence if [paraders carried] multiples of this exact type. They heyday of tin and glass lamps is from 1850 to 1872.

So, one person might have had the privilege of carrying this lantern, and the rest might have had more mundane lanterns? It could very well be. It would have been like with a candle. There’s a fitting in the bottom for one.

Is the pole original? It’s the original tin pole. It would have extended a couple of inches beyond what you see in the pictures to fit into a wooden pole.

What’s that thing on the top that looks like an upside-down cupcake wrapper? It’s a vent. Heat would vent from the candle.

Are the printed paper Lincoln and eagle-with-shield images sandwiched between clear glass? The glass is outside, protecting the paper, which adheres to the reverse of the glass. There’s deterioration around the perimeter, which is not that surprising.

Yes, what kind of condition is the lantern in? And what does it mean to talk about condition when maybe three examples survive? You could use the term “excellent” if you wanted to. It’s all there–all four glass panels, and the image is strong. It’s all there. There’s as much as you could ask for from a lantern.

So it has the ideal amount of wear? If it looked like it was made yesterday, it wouldn’t be interesting to me. This has the perfect look. You can see immediately that it’s old. You can relate it to something that happened 150 years ago.

The rare circa 1860s campaign parade lantern for Abraham Lincoln, showing the other two sides of the four-sided object. One is entirely blue, and the other is entirely red.

Why are two of the four panels colored red and blue? To make it colorful, and make a better, colorful display. There’s no symbolic significance. You see red and blue in a lot of political material.

Have you tried putting an LED light in it to get a notion of what it looked like all lit up? That would be ideal. There’s always a risk that a candle could fall over and set the paper on fire. Some have to be backlit [to get a notion of what they’re like] but in this case, as long as there’s daylight, you can see the image very clearly. You don’t need a light inside to make it present better.

Do we know what company might have made the lantern? We don’t.

But it wasn’t made by an enthusiastic individual? It’s definitely manufactured, with paper inserts sized to fit that particular lantern. It’s a complete manufactured unit. It was almost certainly made in New England.

Would Lincoln’s campaign have provided the lantern to paraders? We’re sure it didn’t come from a central source. Political parties were much more local in those days. There was probably a company you could order it from, but it was not provided from above.

How on earth did something this fragile survive so well for so long? The vast majority of lanterns did not survive. People didn’t think they were important to save. Generally, these were disposable, not made as souvenirs to be kept. They served a purpose. But there’s no specific information on how, when, and where [this one survived].

Have you seen the other two surviving Lincoln lanterns? How does this one compare to them? We’re just guessing there might be three. Personally, I’ve never seen another. I can guarantee there’s not five.

This lantern is shown on page 274 of Arthur Schlessinger Jr.’s book Running for President: The Candidates and Their Images 1789-1896. How, if at all, does that affect the lantern’s value? It definitely adds something. It’s considered one of the definitive reference books on political memorabilia. Being chosen to illustrate the book adds cachet. I’m not sure it adds dollar value, but it adds cachet.

What is it like in person? It’s arresting. It communicates the flavor of the times. It’s a very evocative piece, very pleasing to look at.

Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a particularly rare and desirable type of item. You don’t see it very often. And it’s Lincoln. Everybody loves Lincoln. Lincoln is magic because of his historic nature–a wartime president, maybe the greatest president, and he was assassinated at the end of the war. We get bids on Lincoln items from people who aren’t political collectors.

How to bid: The Lincoln lantern is lot #36163 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential and Political Americana, Part V, taking place at Heritage Auctions June 22 and June 23, 2019.

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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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD! A Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

Update: The Civil War flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the USCT sold for $196,800.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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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SOLD! A Louis Vuitton Brass Explorer Trunk Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

An 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front. It is gold in color and features impressive buckles and locks.

Update: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk sold for HKD $1.25 million, or about $159,200.

What you see: A rare Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, dating to 1888. Christie’s estimates it at HKD $1 million to $1.5 million, or $128,000 to $192,000.

The expert: Winsy Tsang, vice president and head of sale, handbags and accessories, Christie’s Asia Pacific.

This trunk is described as “rare.” What does that mean in this context? Do we know how many brass Explorer trunks of this size that Louis Vuitton made in the 19th century? We don’t know exactly how many were made. All we know is that we haven’t seen another one like this on the market, and only very few in other sizes and models. This is, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for buyers, which is why it warrants the “rare” classification.

Do we know how long Vuitton made the Explorer line? Do we know how many sizes of trunk were offered in brass? Our understanding is that this special line of trunks was only produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. The materials used were highly expensive and difficult to work with at that time–this was long before the technological advances of today that have made brass a common material. There were three or four different sizes and models in the Explorer line, as well as some custom pieces, but it’s difficult to know which were produced in brass, as the production of all versions was extremely low, and very few remain.

Was the brass finish the most popular of the four? It depends if you mean at the time or today. At the time, these pieces were highly utilitarian. The metals being used were designed for adventurers traveling to the most exotic locations who required light-weight and waterproofing–at any cost. Today, arguably, the brass version is the most popular as it is the most eye-catching because of its gold color.

Do we have a notion of how many brass-finish Explorer trunks survive? Also, how many have you handled at Christie’s Hong Kong? This is the first brass version at international auction, so very few still survive. A handful of others remain in private hands, but this is the first of this size and model that we have seen.

Is it fair to assume that when this trunk was originally purchased, it was part of a suite or group of matching Vuitton luggage? If so, how often do you find that suites of Vuitton luggage are broken up over time? It is unlikely that an adventurer would have only needed one trunk, so it is likely that it was originally part of a set. Over time, we often see these collections broken up due to their size–they are difficult to store. In addition, now that most travelers do not use hard-sided luggage. They may only need a handful for interior decoration, not a whole collection.

An 1888  brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front, with its lid open to show the Louis Vuitton label. Though the paneling is made from brass, it has acquired a golden color over the years.

What is your favorite detail on this trunk, and how does that detail speak to the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton? My favorite thing about this trunk is certainly the brass paneling–this is what makes the piece truly stand out. But, one detail on this trunk that I really love is the interior Louis Vuitton logo with the serial number written in beautiful script. The last number –“1”– is a bit smudged and makes you imagine the craftsman who oversaw the creation of this incredible piece.

What do we know about how this trunk would have been made? Also, was this off the rack, or was it custom? The trunk would have been too expensive to have been produced without a client. It almost certainly would have been ordered by one of the most prominent adventurers of the day. It would have been made entirely by hand.

What do we know about the provenance of this trunk? Do we know anything about where and when it might have traveled over its lifetime? The trunk has changed hands a few times in its long life. As is often the case, at some point the trunk was forgotten about and re-discovered by a discerning buyer. It is currently being sold by a private collector.

Could you talk a bit about how the buyer would have used it–what sorts of things they would have put in it, and where would they have taken it? These trunks were produced only for the top explorers of the day who had the ambition and the means to adventure to the furthest corners of the earth. At the time, and the reason Louis Vuitton became as well-known and respected as it did, was because of its many technological advancements–the flat-topped trunk for easy stacking, special clasps, etc. This particular model, because of its small size, would have likely held its owner’s valuables and personal items. The trunk would have likely stayed with or near its owner.

What condition is it in? How original is it? What issues do you tend to see with brass-finished Explorer trunks, and does this one show any signs of having those issues? This trunk underwent a full restoration in 2015, so it looks quite like it would have in the 1800s. Over time, brass trunks can darken and become tarnished and oxidized. There are only a handful of restorers in the world who know how to handle these trunks – these restorations are extensive and timely, sometimes taking 100+ hours.

Are there signs of wear that can enhance the value of a vintage Vuitton trunk? When buying a vintage trunk, buyers want them to be “travelled”–if they wanted a brand new one, they would get it at Louis Vuitton! We love to see dings, dents, and scrapes that show the piece was really used. This mystery lets us imagine to what exotic locations the trunk may have travelled and who the explorer was who owned it.

How much does it weigh? The trunk is nearly as light as the more-common canvas version. The metal is quite thin and designed to protect the wooden architecture of the trunk from moisture and insects of exotic and humid locations.

The lot notes say it dates to 1888. How do we know this for sure? We were able to narrow the production to just a few years based on the material and model, and Louis Vuitton confirmed that a brass trunk with this serial number was sold in 1888.

The lot notes say it has a key. Would it be the original key? If so, how rare is it for a Vuitton trunk of this type to survive with its original key? Most trunk owners know to keep their keys safe–but after 131 years, you can imagine they might get lost. 20th century trunks often have their original keys, but it is quite rare for one of this age. The key with this trunk is a replacement.

How have you seen the market for Louis Vuitton vintage luggage change over time? Was there ever a point when something like this would just have been an old trunk, or were these Vuitton pieces always kept, valued, and collected? The market for Louis Vuitton trunks has been steadily growing for the last 20 to 30 years. People began to use them for interiors and collect them due to their mysterious histories around that time, which is why the value began to increase. A large canvas steamer with interesting travel stickers and markings can be very valuable.

What is the world auction record for a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, and what is the record for a piece from the Vuitton Explorer line? The world record and the Explorer line record is the aluminum Explorer Trunk sold for £162,500 [about $205,000] in London last December. Although aluminum was equally rare to brass, the aesthetics of this one make it stand out–and a potential record-breaker. [Christie’s also did a 5 Minutes With… piece about the aluminum trunk ahead of its sale, which you can read here.]

How do modern collectors of vintage Vuitton luggage use their pieces? Or do they treat them as functional art? They are now most often used as interior decoration by collectors of rare art and sculptures, or by collectors of travel and trunks.

What is the trunk like in person? Are there aspects of it that don’t quite come through in the photographs? The brass itself is what makes this piece so precious and that is difficult to capture in an image. It is a bright, true gold color that is extremely eye-catching. The patina around the edges and the wooden trim give it an amazing vintage look and feel as well.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This trunk is unforgettable–none of us will see one like it again.

How to bid: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass explorer trunk is lot 3888 in the Handbags & Accessories auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 29, 2019.

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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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

A Louis Vuitton Brass Explorer Trunk from 1888 Could Sell for $192,000

An 1888 Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front. It is gold in color and features impressive buckles and locks.

What you see: A rare Louis Vuitton brass Explorer trunk, dating to 1888. Christie’s estimates it at HKD $1 million to $1.5 million, or $128,000 to $192,000.

The expert: Winsy Tsang, vice president and head of sale, handbags and accessories, Christie’s Asia Pacific.

This trunk is described as “rare.” What does that mean in this context? Do we know how many brass Explorer trunks of this size that Louis Vuitton made in the 19th century? We don’t know exactly how many were made. All we know is that we haven’t seen another one like this on the market, and only very few in other sizes and models. This is, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for buyers, which is why it warrants the “rare” classification.

Do we know how long Vuitton made the Explorer line? Do we know how many sizes of trunk were offered in brass? Our understanding is that this special line of trunks was only produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. The materials used were highly expensive and difficult to work with at that time–this was long before the technological advances of today that have made brass a common material. There were three or four different sizes and models in the Explorer line, as well as some custom pieces, but it’s difficult to know which were produced in brass, as the production of all versions was extremely low, and very few remain.

Was the brass finish the most popular of the four? It depends if you mean at the time or today. At the time, these pieces were highly utilitarian. The metals being used were designed for adventurers traveling to the most exotic locations who required light-weight and waterproofing–at any cost. Today, arguably, the brass version is the most popular as it is the most eye-catching because of its gold color.

Do we have a notion of how many brass-finish Explorer trunks survive? Also, how many have you handled at Christie’s Hong Kong? This is the first brass version at international auction, so very few still survive. A handful of others remain in private hands, but this is the first of this size and model that we have seen.

Is it fair to assume that when this trunk was originally purchased, it was part of a suite or group of matching Vuitton luggage? If so, how often do you find that suites of Vuitton luggage are broken up over time? It is unlikely that an adventurer would have only needed one trunk, so it is likely that it was originally part of a set. Over time, we often see these collections broken up due to their size–they are difficult to store. In addition, now that most travelers do not use hard-sided luggage. They may only need a handful for interior decoration, not a whole collection.

An 1888 brass Explorer trunk, shown in full, from the front, with its lid open to show the Louis Vuitton label. Though the paneling is made from brass, it has acquired a golden color over the years.

What is your favorite detail on this trunk, and how does that detail speak to the craftsmanship of Louis Vuitton? My favorite thing about this trunk is certainly the brass paneling–this is what makes the piece truly stand out. But, one detail on this trunk that I really love is the interior Louis Vuitton logo with the serial number written in beautiful script. The last number –“1”– is a bit smudged and makes you imagine the craftsman who oversaw the creation of this incredible piece.

What do we know about how this trunk would have been made? Also, was this off the rack, or was it custom? The trunk would have been too expensive to have been produced without a client. It almost certainly would have been ordered by one of the most prominent adventurers of the day. It would have been made entirely by hand.

What do we know about the provenance of this trunk? Do we know anything about where and when it might have traveled over its lifetime? The trunk has changed hands a few times in its long life. As is often the case, at some point the trunk was forgotten about and re-discovered by a discerning buyer. It is currently being sold by a private collector.

Could you talk a bit about how the buyer would have used it–what sorts of things they would have put in it, and where would they have taken it? These trunks were produced only for the top explorers of the day who had the ambition and the means to adventure to the furthest corners of the earth. At the time, and the reason Louis Vuitton became as well-known and respected as it did, was because of its many technological advancements–the flat-topped trunk for easy stacking, special clasps, etc. This particular model, because of its small size, would have likely held its owner’s valuables and personal items. The trunk would have likely stayed with or near its owner.

What condition is it in? How original is it? What issues do you tend to see with brass-finished Explorer trunks, and does this one show any signs of having those issues? This trunk underwent a full restoration in 2015, so it looks quite like it would have in the 1800s. Over time, brass trunks can darken and become tarnished and oxidized. There are only a handful of restorers in the world who know how to handle these trunks – these restorations are extensive and timely, sometimes taking 100+ hours.

Are there signs of wear that can enhance the value of a vintage Vuitton trunk? When buying a vintage trunk, buyers want them to be “travelled”–if they wanted a brand new one, they would get it at Louis Vuitton! We love to see dings, dents, and scrapes that show the piece was really used. This mystery lets us imagine to what exotic locations the trunk may have travelled and who the explorer was who owned it.

How much does it weigh? The trunk is nearly as light as the more-common canvas version. The metal is quite thin and designed to protect the wooden architecture of the trunk from moisture and insects of exotic and humid locations.

The lot notes say it dates to 1888. How do we know this for sure? We were able to narrow the production to just a few years based on the material and model, and Louis Vuitton confirmed that a brass trunk with this serial number was sold in 1888.

The lot notes say it has a key. Would it be the original key? If so, how rare is it for a Vuitton trunk of this type to survive with its original key? Most trunk owners know to keep their keys safe–but after 131 years, you can imagine they might get lost. 20th century trunks often have their original keys, but it is quite rare for one of this age. The key with this trunk is a replacement.

How have you seen the market for Louis Vuitton vintage luggage change over time? Was there ever a point when something like this would just have been an old trunk, or were these Vuitton pieces always kept, valued, and collected? The market for Louis Vuitton trunks has been steadily growing for the last 20 to 30 years. People began to use them for interiors and collect them due to their mysterious histories around that time, which is why the value began to increase. A large canvas steamer with interesting travel stickers and markings can be very valuable.

What is the world auction record for a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, and what is the record for a piece from the Vuitton Explorer line? The world record and the Explorer line record is the aluminum Explorer Trunk sold for £162,500 [about $205,000] in London last December. Although aluminum was equally rare to brass, the aesthetics of this one make it stand out–and a potential record-breaker. [Christie’s also did a 5 Minutes With… piece about the aluminum trunk ahead of its sale, which you can read here.]

How do modern collectors of vintage Vuitton luggage use their pieces? Or do they treat them as functional art? They are now most often used as interior decoration by collectors of rare art and sculptures, or by collectors of travel and trunks.

What is the trunk like in person? Are there aspects of it that don’t quite come through in the photographs? The brass itself is what makes this piece so precious and that is difficult to capture in an image. It is a bright, true gold color that is extremely eye-catching. The patina around the edges and the wooden trim give it an amazing vintage look and feel as well.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This trunk is unforgettable–none of us will see one like it again.

How to bid: The 1888 Louis Vuitton brass explorer trunk is lot 3888 in the Handbags & Accessories auction at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 29, 2019.

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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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

SOLD! The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” An Example of the First Commercial Typewriter, Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in three-quarter view. Its semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

Update: The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball” sold for €100,000, or about $111,600.

What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in profile.

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

An angle on a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the undersides of several of its keys.

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

An overhead view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter. The semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

A side view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the keyboard pulled up and away from its curved typing surface.

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

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.

Auction Team Breker has a website.

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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

A Unique Civil War Battle Flag, Carried by African-American Union Troops and Painted by David Bustill Bowser, Might Find Glory at Morphy Auctions

A Civil War-era flag carried by the 127th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops and painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser. It shows a black Union soldier and Columbia, the female personification of America. She has pale skin and dark hair and she carries the American flag. The image is bordered by gold laurel leaves. Above it we see the motto that reads, "We Will Prove Ourselves Men". The blue cloth of the flag is ragged in places.

What you see: The battle flag of the 127th Regiment of the USCT (United States Colored Troops), from Pennsylvania, which fought in the Civil War in 1864 and 1865. It was painted by African-American artist David Bustill Bowser.

The expert: Craig D. Womeldorf, chief executive officer, Morphy Auctions.

How rare are battle-used Civil War regiment flags of any kind? It’s such a wide range. There are battle flags from many regiments, Union and Confederate. They had to have flags in battle to identify the regiment. As you can imagine, they were used heavily. Some got lost and destroyed. They’re very rare.

How rare are United States Colored Troops (USCT) flags, and how rare are USCT flags made by an African-American artist? There were eleven African-American regiments raised in Pennsylvania, and there was one flag per regiment. Of the eleven, this is the only one left. Seven [of the other ten] are known from photographic images. USCT flags were not issued by state or federal governments. They were created by supporters. After the war, [military officials] didn’t need to send them back to government entities. They went back to the USCT. Several went to the archives at West Point in 1906, and they were removed and destroyed in 1942. This one happened to go back to the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans] and survived.

And it went back to the artist, David Bustill Bowser, after the war? It’s believed, but not confirmed, that Commander Louis Wagner of Camp William Penn transferred the flag to Bowser after the war. [Camp William Penn, in what is now LaMott, Pennsylvania, was the state’s training camp for African-American Civil War soldiers.] Bowser transferred it to GAR Post 2, which is where we got it.

And that GAR post collection, which morphed into the GAR Civil War Museum and Library, is deaccessing the flag? What is your definition of deaccessing?

A museum releasing objects from its inventory by selling them or giving them to another institution. Yes. They went through the first stage of restoring the flag. We took it to the next step. We took it to someone who specialized in antique flag restoration, preserving it for posterity forever.

How prolific was David Bustill Bowser? We think he was prolific in certain commercial categories, but his paintings and Civil War banners are rare and unique.

Do we know how Bowser was chosen for the Pennsylvania USCT flag commission? He was a prominent Philadelphia artist. We didn’t research how he was chosen, but we know there was opposition, and how it was pushed back. [From the lot notes: When opposition to the choice of Bowser as the artist to paint the flags developed within the Supervisory Committee of the camp, Bowser persuaded John Forney, a powerful Republican Philadelphia politician and newspaper owner, to argue that “he is a poor man, and certainly professes very remarkable talent. He has been active in the cause and is himself a colored man, and it seems to me there would be peculiar hardship in taking away this little job from him and giving it to a wealthy house.”]

Did Bowser fight in the Civil War? He did not.

Could you talk a bit about Bowser’s importance to African-American art history? He studied with the best artists of the era, and he inspired Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the best African-American artists of the 19th century.

Could you discuss what the 127th Regiment did during the war? The lot notes say that it was “in battle once” at Deep Bottom, Virginia, a week before General Robert E. Lee surrendered, but the notes also say the regiment “saw action” at several points in 1864 and 1865. What does “saw action” mean here, and how is it distinct from formally being in battle? “Action” can mean additional activity in battle and campaign support. Most battles are a logistical supply chain issue. Bringing up food, water, rifles, and material is as critical to the battle as the actual battle.

How does this flag match the iconography of other Civil War battle flags, and how does it depart from it? UCST regimental flags generally had a similar motif, usually involving a soldier and Columbia [a female personification of America], but with different text. Each had its own motto. This one says “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It’s different from other [Union] regimental flags, which are variations on the American flag. You find variations, different orientations of the stars, the eagle, the stripes, the regimental number, but you don’t see pictorial representations.

Would the makers of USCT flags have had more freedom with their designs because they weren’t government-issued? I don’t know about regimental flag distribution, but they [the UCST regiments] were not considered regular troops. Maybe they had more latitude, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know.

And is the phrase “We Will Prove Ourselves Men” unique to this flag? It’s unique in the Pennsylvania group.

The flag depicts a black male soldier with a white woman, Columbia, who symbolizes America. Would this have been a controversial image in mid-1860s America? Clearly the flag depicts race consciousness, and we can imagine it would have had an element of controversy at the time, although we have no specific indications or stories associated with any controversy. Battle flags needed to be an identifiable for their purpose. If you’ve seen a Civil War reenactment or a movie, it’s smoky, it’s mayhem. A lot of regimental battle flags are similar and can be confused [in the heat of battle], but this would stand out. And it shows the pride of the unit–We Will Prove Ourselves Men. You don’t see that on other flags. We can imagine the uniquely-painted, colorful banner met it intentions well.

What condition is the flag in? Does it show signs of having been in battle? It shows signs of wear, for sure, because it was in pieces and had to be restored. It was probably worn from use in battle, and at the end of the war, [veterans from the regiment] took pieces as souvenirs.

I think I see a hole near the word “Men” in the motto, and I think I see paler blue spots at the lower left, which might be thin spots. Is that, in fact, what I see? If you blow up the image so that the word “Men” is in the middle of the screen, you’ll see fine mesh netting and lots and lots of tiny stitches that match the color of blue. [Click on the main shot of the lot and then click the area once or twice.] They were extremely meticulous about that. Those are original sections and restored sections attached to a support net, and that is attached to an acid-free cotton batting. And that is inside a UV-protected enclosure.

How did you arrive at an estimate for this, especially with it being the only survivor of the eleven Bowser Pennsylvania regimental flags, which has never gone to auction before? We got a team of experts together. We looked at other flags…

Did you look at other works by Bowser? There’s nothing like this that survives, so there’s nothing else to compare it to. In the last Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale, we had a North Carolina [Confederate] battle flag, a pretty basic flag, captured on the retreat from Gettysburg. It sold for $96,000. It was not as pictorial, with a different legacy, a different significance, a whole different genre of flag. We believe this, in many ways, is more significant and rare.

How many different audiences of collectors will fight for this flag? Military historians, art historians, African-American, Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic enthusiasts–a pretty wide group. We hope it will generate a lot of interest.

What is the flag like in person? I’m kind of a Civil War buff. I look at it, and to me, it’s suspended in time because it’s preserved so well. If you’ve been to Gettysburg or the museums in Virginia, you get a weighty feeling. Emotionally, it’s intense, but somber at the same time, because you know what these people dealt with.

What’s the auction record for a UCST flag, and for any Civil War battle flag? I don’t know about UCST. I looked, but couldn’t find any. The most expensive flag I could find was Confederate general JEB Stuart’s personal battle flag. It sold for $956,000 in December 2006. But I think this has the opportunity to be more important than that. It’s got a different combination of factors. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it’s worth at least the estimate.

Why will this flag stick in your memory? It connects to so many elements of the Civil War and American history. It’s astounding and unique. I haven’t seen or heard of anything like it. People say something is unique–this is the definition of unique.

How to bid: The 127th Regiment USCT flag is lot 2161 in the Edged Weapon, Armor, and Militaria sale taking place June 12 and 13 at Morphy Auctions. It will come to the block on the second day of the sale.

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.

Image is courtesy of Morphy 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.

A Seriously Steampunk Writing Ball, the First Commercially Produced Typewriter, Could Command $100,000 at Auction Team Breker

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in three-quarter view. Its semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What you see: A Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball,” the first commercially produced typewriter, circa the 1870s or so. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €70,000 to €90,000, or $78,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Nick Hawkins, U.K. representative for Auction Team Breker, on behalf of founder Uwe Breker.

Who was Rasmus Malling-Hansen and how did he come to create the Writing Ball? Was he an inventor, or is this the only thing he made? He was a Danish pastor and also the director of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Copenhagen. He didn’t have an inventor’s background. He designed it with his students in mind, to help them “speak with their fingers.” That was the objective of making the Writing Ball.

A Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, shown in profile.

The lot notes say Malling-Hansen claimed those who used the Writing Ball could achieve a speed “easily two to three times as fast as normal,” presumably meaning “normal” was handwriting speed. Was the device able to do that? I’m not sure about it compared to handwriting, but compared to other machines that came later, yes, and for two reasons. One, its spherical shape made the positioning of the fingers easier and more natural. Two, the placement of the keys, with the vowels at the left hand and the consonants at the right, made the schematics of the machine easier to grasp. And it was a relatively compact machine compared to typewriters that came later. It also had spring-loaded keys, so the pressure needed to type was less–you didn’t have to work as hard.

What innovations did the Writing Ball introduce that became standard features on later typewriters? The main ones were the automatic carriage return, the space bar, the bell to signal the end of the line, carbon copies, and visible writing–when you lift the hemisphere away from the curvature [the beige-colored curved piece below the keyboard] you can see what you wrote on the paper.

Did the Writing Ball debut all these features, or was it the first to bring them together? It was the first one to put them together. His machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.

An angle on a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the undersides of several of its keys.

How many Writing Balls were made? Do we know? And is the serial number on this one, 103, a clue that helps us figure out how many were made? Yes, it is a clue. Mr. Breker estimates 180 were produced, and 35 survive.

Do we know how long the production run was? In the space of ten to 12 years, and they were all made to order. You couldn’t walk into a shop and buy one.  It took a while [to make one]. Friedrich Nietzche’s, I think, took nine months to be delivered. He ordered his quite late in the production cycle. He was a famous customer, but not a satisfied customer. There’s an article about how his was damaged on a trip to Geneva. He blamed the machine, but it was probably the roads or rails of the time.

How many Writing Balls has Auction Team Breker handled? Our electronic records start in 1999. Since then, we have sold six. Mr. Breker thinks that before 1999, we sold another six.

What’s the auction record for a Writing Ball? Was it set at Auction Team Breker? Yes. The highest result was around €150,000 [roughly $168,000].

Does this Writing Ball work? It does, yes. I haven’t used this particular machine, but I have used another.

An overhead view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter. The semi-circular keyboard appears above its curved typing surface.

What does it sound like when in use? Does it sound like the typewriters we’re familiar with from 20th-century movies and TV shows? It has a softer sound than the classic typewriter because the materials are lighter. Brass is softer than steel. I’d say it’s more mellow than the classic clacking of typewriter keys.

And it’s been in the family of the original recipient until now? As far as we know, it’s been in the family since it was originally owned.

How often do Writing Balls come up at auction? It seems like they appear every two to three years. I would say so. They are very rare, but they’ve made some big prices in the last two to three years. That’s brought more to market.

What is it like in person? I think one of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys. The things you see in person are the complexity of the appearance, combined with the function. And it has a beautiful patina. It has a very soft look, like the lacquer you see on an antique microscope or telephone. And it’s not been restored, which you really appreciate it when you look at it. All the keys are original as well. This is all-original.

So, no parts have been replaced? As far as we know, it’s all-original and functional.

Is that unusual? It’s quite unusual, and it’s probably [survived so well] because it’s been in one family. When something comes to market from one family or collection, the condition is usually very good.

A side view of a Malling-Hansen "Writing Ball", an early typewriter, that shows the keyboard pulled up and away from its curved typing surface.

The lot notes describe the Writing Ball as being in “excellent general condition.” What does that mean here? Auction Team Breker uses a coding system. Mr. Breker coded this as a 2-2. The first 2 means very good, one step down from mint. I don’t think any antique typewriter is mint. The other 2 means it’s in fully functional condition. If you’re inclined, you can write a letter on it. It’s better if it doesn’t need to be restored. In reality, most Malling-Hansen Writing Balls are in museums or advanced private collections. Another element with antique metal is the brass lacquer. The original patina is very sensitive to touch. To preserve it in good condition, you shouldn’t type–maybe a once-a-year special demonstration is enough.

Why will this Writing Ball stick in your memory? They’re all special. This one has a nice family history, which makes it stand out, but they’re all special in their own way. They all have something different about them.

Anything else you’d like to point out about this piece? In the catalog description is a translation of a sonnet that Nietzsche wrote about the machine in frustration: “The writing ball is a thing like me:/ Made of iron yet easily twisted on journeys/Patience and tact are required in abundance/As well as fine fingers to use us.” It was nice to include.

It’s funny to see that Nietzche got frustrated by his typewriter in the 19th century. Machines seem to possess a life of their own. They don’t do what we want when we need them the most. The great philosopher had similar problems as we have today with our laptops and iPhones. Modern technology and being alienated from technology probably goes back as long as people have had machines.

How to bid: The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball is lot 0076 in the 150th Science & Technology, Mechanical Music, and Toys auction taking place May 18, 2019 at Auction Team Breker in Koeln, Germany.

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.

Auction Team Breker has a website.

There’s also a society devoted to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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 Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

This circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham has a shell-shaped spoon that truly resembles a cockle shell. The interior of the spoon is gold. The stem of the ladle is festooned with with seaweed, fish, and grains of sand. The top of the handle resembles an oyster shell.

Update: The circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham sold for $16,250.

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

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.

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.

A Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern Could Command $15,000

This circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham has a shell-shaped spoon that truly resembles a cockle shell. The interior of the spoon is gold. The stem of the ladle is festooned with with seaweed, fish, and grains of sand. The top of the handle resembles an oyster shell.

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

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.

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! A Brass Sleeve Holdout Device for Cheating at Cards Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

This brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s, allowed the wearer to cheat at cards. When the player received a valuable card they wanted to save for a later hand, they'd touch the button that extends the device, surreptitiously tuck the choice card into the gripper, and then hit another button that pulled the card back up their sleeve. The card cheat would wear the device strapped to the underside of an arm, hidden beneath clothing. The photograph shows the device upside down.

Update: The Will & Finck circa 1880s brass sleeve holdout sold for $9,000.

What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

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

Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.

How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.

It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]

And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]

Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.

Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.

Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?

Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.

Have you tried it on? No.

How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.

How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.

How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.

The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]

How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

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.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

A Brass Sleeve Holdout–A Device for Cheating at Cards–Could Sell for $6,000

This brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s, allowed the wearer to cheat at cards. When the player received a valuable card they wanted to save for a later hand, they'd touch the button that extends the device, surreptitiously tuck the choice card into the gripper, and then hit another button that pulled the card back up their sleeve. The card cheat would wear the device strapped to the underside of an arm, hidden beneath clothing. The photograph shows the device upside down.

What you see: A brass sleeve holdout device by Will & Finck, dating to the 1880s. Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

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

Are Will and Finck real people, or are they made-up names, seeing as the company made gear for gamblers who want to cheat? And did the company make straightforward products, too? I assume they are [real people]. It was a pretty well-known business in San Francisco. They were best known as knife-makers.

How does a sleeve holdout work? Let’s say you play a hand and you see a card that will be useful down the line. The clip [shown above, holding the King of Spades card], which is called a thief, you pop it out of your sleeve with pressure on the lever [in the photo above, it is attached to the cuff and has a cross-hatch pattern on one end] and take it for later. You put it in the thief and it goes back in your sleeve. Let’s say you need the card. You put pressure on the lever. It will activate the device, and the tongs will come out of your sleeve. The knobs are where you attach the elastic [which eases the movement of the device]. One is directly behind the lever, and one is on the tongs themselves.

It looks uncomfortable to wear. Was it? It certainly required some getting used to. I imagine it might be like wearing an artificial leg–you strap a metal device to yourself with a tether under your clothes. In a way, it’s like a third hand. In some instances later in the 20th century, the sleeve holdout is called a third hand. I think we have an example in the auction. [Yes indeed, Potter & Potter have a circa 1960 holdout in the sale lineup.]

And the user would wear the device under his forearm? It depended on what you were wearing. It’s tough if you wear a shirt that has buttons on it [on the cuff]. You have to have clear passage out of your shirt. It’d have to be a bare arm under a jacket, or, and I don’t know anyone who did this, a shirt under a jacket. [Later Fajuri clarified: There were plenty of people who wore them over a shirt and under a jacket, but they had strategies to get the device to clear the cuff of the shirt or the opening of their sleeve.] It’s got to move swiftly and silently without hanging up or you’re a dead man, literally. [To point out something that might not be inherently clear–the photograph shows the device upside down.]

Did people use holdouts during card games? Yes. In many ways, it takes more guts and skill to use a holdout than to deal from the bottom of the deck. If you’re caught with a holdout, you have no defense. You literally have no defense.

Did anyone actually get caught using a holdout, for real? Plenty of people have used them. The technology has improved somewhat from what you see here. There are plenty of books filled with gambling lore, and stories of people being caught in the act of using a holdout are numerous. I saw a guy who did it professionally, and it took my breath away. If you’re skilled at using one of these things, it’s a miracle. Personally, I think you’ve got to have nerves of steel.

Did anyone running a card game pat players down before dealing? Seldom does the man exist who has the guts to use one of these things. If someone was particularly suspicious, yeah, you could do that. But anyone who takes the time and effort to use one of these things would take the time and effort to sneak it into a game. The amount of energy people expend to beat the system, cheating at cards, dice, et cetera–it boggles the mind. The ingenuity is considerable. Isn’t there an easier way to make a buck?

Are people using holdouts to cheat at cards today, right now? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Absolutely. I guy I knew once said, “I have to commit three felonies a week to keep my family fed.” He was an expert when it came to using a holdout.

Have you tried it on? No.

How long has the concept of the sleeve holdout been around? Does it predate the 1880s? I believe it does, but I’m not a subject matter expert. I’d have to defer to someone else. I don’t have an exact date in mind when something like this existed. Lot 151 in the auction, a rare book by F. R. Ritter, is the first to show a Jacob’s ladder-style sleeve holdout [like the one pictured above]. The book has sold for as much as $19,000. And it doesn’t hurt that all of these cheating strategies have been mythologized by movies set in the old West. Hollywood has done its part in creating the stories around dodges and subterfuges.

How rarely do antique sleeve holdouts appear at auction? We do them on the regular, but that doesn’t mean they’re common. Once you cross the 1900 mark, they’re slightly more available, which is not to say that any of it is easy to find. In our auctions, they appear about once a year, generally speaking.

How unusual is it to find one of this vintage that’s original and intact, as this one is? Is it rare? We sold a Will & Finck holdout last year for $10,000. [It was lot 249 in the May 19, 2018 auction.] In all our years of gambling auctions, it was the first Will & Finck we’ve sold. Their name is like sterling on silver–the highest quality. I’ve seen one or two others in personal collections.

The lot notes say this sleeve holdout was pictured in the section on cheaters in Time-Life’s 1978 Old West series of books, on page 124. How does that affect its value? A hardcore collector has that book and has ogled it for how long now? We’ve been fortunate to sell [items] from the book. It’s a lot of fun seeing things you’ve been dreaming of for decades and being the one to bring it back to market after all that time. [This is as close as I was able to get to finding a reproduction of page 124 online.]

How to bid: The Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout is lot 448 in Gambling Memorabilia: Featuring the Collection of Tom Blue, taking place March 30, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

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.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

My Latest “Sold!” Column for Art & Object Showcases Gorgeous Tableware

Meissen Monteiths Sold! column.png

My February 2019 “Sold!” column for Art & Object magazine features gorgeous tableware: Meissen Swan service porcelain, an 1870 American silver ice bowl with a polar theme, a ridiculously complete mid-century Georg Jensen flatware set in a custom case; and a Gustav Stickley copper charger.

https://www.artandobject.com/articles/sold-highlights-auction-block-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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! The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Update: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone sold for $9,375.

What you see: The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Prop Store estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: James Comisar, president of the Comisar collection. He’s also the consigner.

Let’s start by talking about the place in the culture that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse holds. What makes it a good television show, and why does it endure? It continues to resonate because it was loved by schoolkids, college kids, and adults. It was the perfect mix of everything, and it appealed to everybody. Just as Mr. Rogers is getting his due, I think Paul Reubens [creator of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the actor who played the main character, Pee-Wee Herman], in 20 years, will get his due. He created an amazing, organic, joyful world where kids could be kids. He spoke down to nobody, and it was incredibly inclusive. It’s one of the most perfect pieces of television in the last 70 years. I think the secret sauce was its authenticity, and the main character was positive. That never goes out of style.

Why did you want to acquire the Picturephone Booth? What made it important enough for you to pursue? I should back up. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is situated in Puppetland. Pee-Wee is sequestered in his own fantasy world. His conduit to the world is this Picturephone Booth. In that way, it’s very special. And in the 80s [the show ran on CBS from 1986 through 1990] the idea of a video phone booth was interesting. Reubens gave it his own spin. He had his own sensibility for everything.

Is the Picturephone Booth well-built? It’s built to look great on camera. As a general rule, pieces look better on camera than they do in person. When a show is in production and a prop is being used, it has an economic value to the production. It’s cared for well. After the show ends production, there’s a mad dash to get it off the stage so a new show can come in and the studio can continue to earn revenue. It’s an indelicate process. When we first received these pieces, they were in studio storage and they had a bit of wear. There was damage to the paint. There were cracks.

Did you have to restore or conserve it? First, we had to stabilize it. It’s a pretty strong and durable piece, but it had been banged around a bit after production [after the show ended]. Once we dealt with the structural issues… No professional archivist wants to take a historic piece and make it look fresh and pretty again. The goal is to get rid of any damaging influences. When pieces live in studio storage, it’s not a climate-controlled facility. It’s on the outskirts of town, 65 cents a foot. It’s 35 degrees in winter and 110 degrees in summer. Bad things happen in studio storage rather quickly. They shove it into a warehouse, and shove stuff around it, and on top of it. [With the Picturephone,] there was nothing catastrophic to be sure, but it still took over a year to accomplish the intake. It required a textile conservator to come in. Then you have wood, and leather, and foam, which is worse than any material, certain to deteriorate. We went slowly and cautiously. Our job was to do the minimum, not the maximum.

I see that only one name is in the provenance, and it’s Paul Reubens. How did you acquire this from him? I believe the initial contact was around 1992, a year after the show had gone off the air. I had numerous conversations with his business manager before I met Paul. The way I found this stuff was I was [in a studio storage warehouse] working for another client, and I found a recognizable puppet for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I thought, “No, could it be?” Once Paul’s team was made aware of what was going on, he wanted the pieces to have a more appropriate configuration than studio dead storage.

Did Reubens take some of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props back? Absolutely, absolutely. But even if you have a 15,000-square-foot home, you have space limitations. The reality eventually sets in that you cannot keep everything. Paul Rubens kept a lot from the show, and it’s evident that the pieces meant a lot to him. It wasn’t just stuff. It sprung from his brain. It’s still influencing people decades later. It was painful to decide what to save and what to give to another archive.

Well, the Picturephone is furniture, isn’t it? It’s furniture, but it’s an amazing, sculptural piece of artwork. It was created with an almost avant-garde sensibility. It’s almost like folk art in the way it’s put together.

How original is the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone? It’s two percent restored to 98 percent original. A couple of the dowels that form the eyelashes were broken or missing and had to be replaced. There was paint [the paint required touching up], and surface cleaning. The curtain, which extends across the front for privacy, is original. The textile conservator carefully cleaned it. Even the rings that attach the curtain to the front are original, scrubbed by hand.

Sounds like a lot of work went into it. If this piece sells for $10,000 to $15,000, oh, my dear god in heaven, we spent so much more than that restoring it and caring for it for 25 years. Whoever gets that, if they get it for $10,000, that represents a loss to us. But you can’t keep everything. A piece like that takes up a lot of room on the floor, and you can’t stack anything in it or on it. If you can tell the story of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with three smaller objects [rather] than one that will take up real estate, you’re going to do it.

It’s amazing it survived so well. I believe the universe put me where I needed to be to advocate for these pieces. The puppet head was poking out, I know, so I could see it and advocate for it. This is much more than a job to me. It’s what I do. I don’t question it. I’m grateful I was there at a time when I could rescue it. [I asked him if he remembered which Pee-Wee’s Playhouse puppet caught his eye that day in the early 1990s; he could not say for sure.]

How did you get what you managed to get from the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props? When I met Paul at the warehouse, he was very passionate, but a very practical man. There was a Paul pile, a Goodwill pile, with appliances from the set and toys that someone else could use, and a Dump pile. A studio truck was hired to take the discarded pieces to the landfill. That was the end of the road for those things. There was no James pile. My job was to convince him to give me what pieces I could get from the Paul pile and the Dump pile. It was difficult for him to part with any of them, which I respected.

What’s the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone like in person? Monumental. This is a big, hulking piece, but it’s got a joyful character. It’s got eyes, and pouty lips that open up like saloon doors. It’s colorful, joyful, and recognizable. It’s a home run in every way.

How many people can fit inside the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone booth? One, comfortably. I think it’s meant for one person. We don’t normally sit in the pieces. I think it was made just for him.

So you haven’t sat inside it? Absolutely not. It would be sacrilege, treacherous. It’s a piece of history and art. It’s not for me to degrade it by sitting in it.

Ok, I’ve gotta ask. Where is Chairry? Did Paul Reubens claim Chairry? That falls into the area of client privilege. I’m not able to say what he did and didn’t do. Rest assured the iconic pieces from the show are in his collection or an archival collection. Don’t worry. Chairry is cherished.

How to bid: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Booth is lot 156 in Prop Store‘s TV Treasures auction 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.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

Comisar is also the president of the Museum of Television.

The Picturephone appears at three or four points in the background in the opening credits of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. And that’s an uncredited Cyndi Lauper singing the theme song.

Yes, there is a Pee-Wee Wiki. Here’s the entry for the Picturephone.

Also! Google “Technology’s Greatest Visionary,” on Google Images, and take in the top row of images that the search engine spits back at you.

Image is courtesy of Prop Store.

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)

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.

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 Sendak 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 Sendak 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 Sendak 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 Sendak-designed 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 Sendak-designed 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 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.

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.

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

1141A 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.

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 Sendak-designed 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 Sendak-designed 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 Sendak-designed 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 Sendak-designed 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 Sendak-designed 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.

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.

Become Technology’s Greatest Visionary! Prop Store Has the Picturephone from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Which Could Sell for $15,000

The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

What you see: The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Prop Store estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: James Comisar, president of the Comisar collection. He’s also the consigner.

Let’s start by talking about the place in the culture that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse holds. What makes it a good television show, and why does it endure? It continues to resonate because it was loved by schoolkids, college kids, and adults. It was the perfect mix of everything, and it appealed to everybody. Just as Mr. Rogers is getting his due, I think Paul Reubens [creator of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the actor who played the main character, Pee-Wee Herman], in 20 years, will get his due. He created an amazing, organic, joyful world where kids could be kids. He spoke down to nobody, and it was incredibly inclusive. It’s one of the most perfect pieces of television in the last 70 years. I think the secret sauce was its authenticity, and the main character was positive. That never goes out of style.

Why did you want to acquire the Picture Phonebooth? What made it important enough for you to pursue? I should back up. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is situated in Puppetland. Pee-Wee is sequestered in his own fantasy world. His conduit to the world is this Picturephone Booth. In that way, it’s very special. And in the 80s [the show ran on CBS from 1986 through 1990] the idea of a video phone booth was interesting. Reubens gave it his own spin. He had his own sensibility for everything.

Is the Picturephone Booth well-built? It’s built to look great on camera. As a general rule, pieces look better on camera than they do in person. When a show is in production and a prop is being used, it has an economic value to the production. It’s cared for well. After the show ends production, there’s a mad dash to get it off the stage so a new show can come in and the studio can continue to earn revenue. It’s an indelicate process. When we first received these pieces, they were in studio storage and they had a bit of wear. There was damage to the paint. There were cracks.

Did you have to restore or conserve it? First, we had to stabilize it. It’s a pretty strong and durable piece, but it had been banged around a bit after production [after the show ended]. Once we dealt with the structural issues… No professional archivist wants to take a historic piece and make it look fresh and pretty again. The goal is to get rid of any damaging influences. When pieces live in studio storage, it’s not a climate-controlled facility. It’s on the outskirts of town, 65 cents a foot. It’s 35 degrees in winter and 110 degrees in summer. Bad things happen in studio storage rather quickly. They shove it into a warehouse, and shove stuff around it, and on top of it. [With the Picturephone,] there was nothing catastrophic to be sure, but it still took over a year to accomplish the intake. It required a textile conservator to come in. Then you have wood, and leather, and foam, which is worse than any material, certain to deteriorate. We went slowly and cautiously. Our job was to do the minimum, not the maximum.

I see that only one name is in the provenance, and it’s Paul Reubens. How did you acquire this from him? I believe the initial contact was around 1992, a year after the show had gone off the air. I had numerous conversations with his business manager before I met Paul. The way I found this stuff was I was [in a studio storage warehouse] working for another client, and I found a recognizable puppet for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I thought, “No, could it be?” Once Paul’s team was made aware of what was going on, he wanted the pieces to have a more appropriate configuration than studio dead storage.

Did Reubens take some of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props back? Absolutely, absolutely. But even if you have a 15,000-square-foot home, you have space limitations. The reality eventually sets in that you cannot keep everything. Paul Rubens kept a lot from the show, and it’s evident that the pieces meant a lot to him. It wasn’t just stuff. It sprung from his brain. It’s still influencing people decades later. It was painful to decide what to save and what to give to another archive.

Well, the Picturephone is furniture, isn’t it? It’s furniture, but it’s an amazing, sculptural piece of artwork. It was created with an almost avant-garde sensibility. It’s almost like folk art in the way it’s put together.

How original is it? It’s two percent restored to 98 percent original. A couple of the dowels that form the eyelashes were broken or missing and had to be replaced. There was paint [the paint required touching up], and surface cleaning. The curtain, which extends across the front for privacy, is original. The textile conservator carefully cleaned it. Even the rings that attach the curtain to the front are original, scrubbed by hand.

Sounds like a lot of work went into it. If this piece sells for $10,000 to $15,000, oh, my dear god in heaven, we spent so much more than that restoring it and caring for it for 25 years. Whoever gets that, if they get it for $10,000, that represents a loss to us. But you can’t keep everything. A piece like that takes up a lot of room on the floor, and you can’t stack anything in it or on it. If you can tell the story of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with three smaller objects [rather] than one that will take up real estate, you’re going to do it.

It’s amazing it survived so well. I believe the universe put me where I needed to be to advocate for these pieces. The puppet head was poking out, I know, so I could see it and advocate for it. This is much more than a job to me. It’s what I do. I don’t question it. I’m grateful I was there at a time when I could rescue it. [I asked him if he remembered which Pee-Wee’s Playhouse puppet caught his eye that day in the early 1990s; he could not say for sure.]

How did you get what you managed to get from the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props? When I met Paul at the warehouse, he was very passionate, but a very practical man. There was a Paul pile, a Goodwill pile, with appliances from the set and toys that someone else could use, and a Dump pile. A studio truck was hired to take the discarded pieces to the landfill. That was the end of the road for those things. There was no James pile. My job was to convince him to give me what pieces I could get from the Paul pile and the Dump pile. It was difficult for him to part with any of them, which I respected.

What’s the Picturephone like in person? Monumental. This is a big, hulking piece, but it’s got a joyful character. It’s got eyes, and pouty lips that open up like saloon doors. It’s colorful, joyful, and recognizable. It’s a home run in every way.

How many people can fit inside? One, comfortably. I think it’s meant for one person. We don’t normally sit in the pieces. I think it was made just for him.

So you haven’t sat inside it? Absolutely not. It would be sacrilege, treacherous. It’s a piece of history and art. It’s not for me to degrade it by sitting in it.

Ok, I’ve gotta ask. Where is Chairry? Did Paul Reubens claim Chairry? That falls into the area of client privilege. I’m not able to say what he did and didn’t do. Rest assured the iconic pieces from the show are in his collection or an archival collection. Don’t worry. Chairry is cherished.

How to bid: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Booth is lot 156 in Prop Store‘s TV Treasures auction 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.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

Comisar is also the president of the Museum of Television.

The Picturephone appears at three or four points in the background in the opening credits of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. And that’s an uncredited Cyndi Lauper singing the theme song.

Yes, there is a Pee-Wee Wiki. Here’s the entry for the Picturephone.

Also! Google “Technology’s Greatest Visionary,” on Google Images, and take in the top row of images that the search engine spits back at you.

Image is courtesy of Prop Store.

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 Snap Wyatt Sideshow Banner of a Headless Girl Sold For… (Scroll Down)

A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion.

Update: The Snap Wyatt Headless Girl sideshow banner sold for $4,000–double its high estimate. Also, the headless woman illusion apparatus sold for $3,200, well above its $500 to $1,000 estimate.

What you see: A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion. Potter & Potter estimates it at $1,500 to $2,000.

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

How rarely do sideshow banners painted by Snap Wyatt come to auction? I don’t know that it’s unusual. They’re out there. Remember, Wyatt said he could paint one banner per day.

Where does Snap Wyatt rank among the known sideshow banner painters? And is this the largest group of Snap Wyatt banners you’ve offered at the same time? He ranks in the top three, top five. And yes, it is the largest group. Usually we get them one or two at a time, if at all.

How does this Snap Wyatt sideshow banner compare to the other Snap Wyatt banners in the auction? It’s in better condition than some of the others. But it’s so hard to say–tastes vary widely. One banner in there shows a magician, and someone will want that who’s interested in magic. Some might be interested in the Headless Girl because they like a woman in a bikini.

Snap Wyatt signed this sideshow banner. Is that unusual? No, he usually put his stencil signature on them. There are many unsigned examples [of sideshow banners] but I think people like examples by known painters–Sigler, Johnson, Wyatt.

How do you know Snap Wyatt painted this sideshow banner around 1965? It’s an educated guess based on its style and condition. It’s not an earlier banner because it’d be a lot rougher as far as condition. Johnny Meah gave me insight into when and how Wyatt worked.

Do sideshow banner collectors avoid banners that don’t show enough signs of having been on the road? I think something collectors look for are show-used banners–ones you can prove were used in a particular show at a particular time. That is to the good. I don’t know that that’s the case here.

Would people who paid to enter the sideshow in 1965 because this banner caught their eye have seen a headless girl illusion that looks like this? [Laughs] No. They would not have seen it in this way, no. It was the equivalent of a line illustration in the Johnson Smith catalog. The difference between imagination and reality is pretty stark.

How far off would it be from what we see on the sideshow banner? It’d be different in that she wouldn’t be sitting sideways, she wouldn’t be in a bikini, and a thing would be attached to her head in place of her head, like the apparatus we’re selling in lot 646. This is very casual-looking, as if she’ll get up and walk around. In a ten-in-one [a sideshow that offered ten acts in one venue for one price], she’d sit in a chair, and there’d be someone next to her, the demonstrator of the attraction, fiddling with knobs on a blinking control board or pouring fluid into tubes leading to her neck, explaining how she survives. He might hand her things to prove she’s alive and not a robot. Since she’s not getting up out of the chair and can’t talk, she’s going to need some help.

Is the headless girl illusion a standard sideshow attraction? I would say it’s a classic,  a fairly common thing. It was exhibited at Coney Island for years.

Did the headless girl just sit there, or did she do things? She could have done any number of things. She definitely moved around to prove she was not a wax figure or a mannequin. She could have written on a blackboard, anything to prove she was alive.

How similar would the circa 1965 headless girl apparatus have been to the one you’re offering in lot 646? The method is basically unchanged. The way it works now is identical to the way it worked then. There would have been tubes or a metal apparatus coming out of her neck. Perhaps they dressed it up in different ways, with different headpieces, or different sets of tubes and a lot of things on the side to “keep her alive.”

So you can guess where the headless girl’s head is pretty easily. It depends on how careful the exhibitor is. The illusion can be quite good. It’s up to them to set it up correctly. A lot of show operators didn’t care in the sense that they’d gotten your money. You can still buy the workshop plans from Abbott Magic in Michigan, if you want, and build your own. I think the plans are $5. [He remembered correctly. The plans are $5 as of October 2018.]

And the illusion doesn’t look like the sideshow banner. They all have something sticking out of her head. It’s not simply a headless woman.

How much would the headless girl illusion banner be worth if the artist was anonymous? The banner market is not what it used to be, but I don’t think it would change it tremendously. If it’s anonymous, it’s a 20 to 30 percent difference.

What does the Johnny Fox provenance add to the sideshow banner’s value? I think it adds a little bit to it. A lot of people are interested in Johnny Fox. If you look on Facebook, there are memorials to him. He had a lot of friends. He performed for 37 seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. They named a stage after him in tribute to him. A lot of people fondly remember Fox and his museum.

What are the odds that the same bidder buys the Headless Girl sideshow banner and the headless woman apparatus? About 50/50. I think there’s a good chance someone will buy the prop and use it. I think a collector will buy the banner.

How to bid: The Headless Girl sideshow banner is lot 8 in Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox, a sale that takes place November 10, 2018 at Potter & Potter.

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.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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 William Henry Harrison Ceramic Campaign Pitcher from 1840 Sold For… (Scroll Down to See)

A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign for president.

Update: The William Henry Harrison 1840 campaign pitcher sold for $18,750.

What you see: A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign for president. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $30,000.

The expert: Don Ackerman, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’s historical Americana & political department.

Who would have bought this pitcher in 1840? Or did William Henry Harrison make them to give away to his most ardent supporters? A lot of the campaign items from that period were utilitarian objects. In contrast to campaign buttons or ribbons that you wore to a rally, you’d display the pitcher in your home, and you could use it. I don’t think he gave it away. It was not cheap to produce. If you were a diehard supporter, you’d buy it and put it in your house. After the election, you didn’t throw it out. It had long-term value.

Was the ceramic pitcher a common form for campaign memorabilia in 1840? It was a fairly common form. Pitchers made of soft paste porcelain and china have a history. Before America became independent, there was a 1766 teapot that said ‘No Stamp Act’. That’s certainly one of the earliest political items. After the Revolutionary War, you’d often see Liverpool jugs, which were imported from England. America had very little in the way of pottery. Though England lost the war, they produced patriotic pitchers and tankards for the U.S. because there was demand for them.

William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office, so there’s little to collect from his time as president. I imagine there’s much more material from his days as a candidate? You get a lot of stuff for William Henry Harrison and practically nothing for his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Harrison had a highly organized campaign and it caught the public’s attention more than any other campaign before that time. 1840 stands out for a flourishing of political items and material, and probably 95 percent of it was for William Henry Harrison.

Why was that? Was Harrison a marketing and branding wizard, or was the demand for Harrison stuff that strong? I think there was demand for it. His was the first campaign with an icon–the log cabin and the hard cider barrel. Previously, you didn’t have symbols representing the candidates. Harrison came up with the log cabin and the hard cider barrel, and it caught fire.

We think that four or five of these ceramic pitchers survive, but do we have any idea how many might have been made? They probably made very few of them. It was made by an American pottery company.

So you get cross-competition for this pitcher from collectors of American ceramics? Yes. Pottery people really like it. This is the pinnacle of political pottery from 1840. There’s probably fewer than ten examples in existence. When these come up for auction, they consistently sell for a lot of money.

How do the decorations on the pitcher reflect William Henry Harrison’s campaign imagery? It’s got the log cabin and the hard cider barrel.

Where is the hard cider barrel? Below the window of the log cabin. It was a popular image because Harrison was meant to be a man of the people. Contrast that with Martin Van Buren, who was considered a New York elitist who’d sit in the White House and sip Champagne from a silver goblet. The hard cider barrel was originally a criticism of Harrison–that he was a country bumpkin, and if he was given a pension he’d be content to sit in a log cabin and sip hard cider. Of course by that time he was living in a mansion, but he presented himself as born in and lived in a log cabin, and an Ohio farmer, like Cincinnatus, going back to his farm after the war.

Does the pitcher have every element that a William Henry Harrison collector would want? No, it doesn’t, but it’s got the essentials. It doesn’t say “The Hero of Tippecanoe,” and it doesn’t show a canoe. [Yes, Harrison was the ‘Tippecanoe’ in ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,’ and that slogan is not on the pitcher, either.] He was sometimes called the “Farmer of North Bend.” Here he’s the “Ohio Farmer.” It lacks the symbol of the Whig party, which was the raccoon–

Wait, wait, wait. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon? What is it with American political parties choosing non-heroic animals to represent them? The raccoon goes with the rustic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type of thing. These guys were trappers. They trapped animals, sold the hides, and made stew out of the meat.

This pitcher was a functional object. Does it show any signs of use? Not really. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s got some discoloration on the inside, and it’s got a crack and a chip [which you can see on the spout of the pitcher]. Obviously, it was used. The crack and the chip can be restored, and the stains can be bleached out. Even with the defects, it’s probably the nicest one [of the surviving pitchers] I’ve seen. A lot of them have cracks and tend to be highly discolored.

Another example of the William Henry Harrison pitcher went to auction at Heritage in December 2016, selling for $37,500. But do you remember if and when one of these pitchers went to auction before then? This one and the one sold in 2016 are the only two I remember in political memorabilia auctions. I know of five examples, and I’ve been collecting for 54 years. They’re highly prized. I don’t think I’ve seen one sold for under $20,000, even going way, way back. This is the Cadillac. It’s got four portraits. It was made in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s big. It’s got great graphics. It’s rare. If you can afford it, it’s a great item to have.

How to bid: The William Henry Harrison ceramic pitcher is lot #43039 in the David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential & Political Americana, Part IV sale, which takes place on November 10 and 11 at Heritage Auctions.

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

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Earlier in 2018, Don Ackerman spoke to The Hot Bid about a William McKinley campaign poster, also from the David and Janice Frent Collection, which sold for $11,875.

Did you just realize that “William Henry Harrison” scans just like “Alexander Hamilton”? No need to write a Hamilton parody. Actor Jason Kravitz beat you to it.

Image is courtesy of Heritage 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.

A William Henry Harrison Campaign Pitcher Could Sell for $30,000

A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign for president.

What you see: A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign for president. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $30,000.

The expert: Don Ackerman, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’s historical Americana & political department.

Who would have bought this pitcher in 1840? Or did Harrison make them to give away to his most ardent supporters? A lot of the campaign items from that period were utilitarian objects. In contrast to campaign buttons or ribbons that you wore to a rally, you’d display the pitcher in your home, and you could use it. I don’t think he gave it away. It was not cheap to produce. If you were a diehard supporter, you’d buy it and put it in your house. After the election, you didn’t throw it out. It had long-term value.

Was the ceramic pitcher a common form for campaign memorabilia in 1840? It was a fairly common form. Pitchers made of soft paste porcelain and china have a history. Before America became independent, there was a 1766 teapot that said ‘No Stamp Act’. That’s certainly one of the earliest political items. After the Revolutionary War, you’d often see Liverpool jugs, which were imported from England. America had very little in the way of pottery. Though England lost the war, they produced patriotic pitchers and tankards for the U.S. because there was demand for them.

William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office, so there’s little to collect from his time as president. I imagine there’s much more material from his days as a candidate? You get a lot of stuff for William Henry Harrison and practically nothing for his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Harrison had a highly organized campaign and it caught the public’s attention more than any other campaign before that time. 1840 stands out for a flourishing of political items and material, and probably 95 percent of it was for William Henry Harrison.

Why was that? Was Harrison a marketing and branding wizard, or was the demand for Harrison stuff that strong? I think there was demand for it. His was the first campaign with an icon–the log cabin and the hard cider barrel. Previously, you didn’t have symbols representing the candidates. Harrison came up with the log cabin and the hard cider barrel, and it caught fire.

We think that four or five of these ceramic pitchers survive, but do we have any idea how many might have been made? They probably made very few of them. It was made by an American pottery company.

So you get cross-competition for this pitcher from collectors of American ceramics? Yes. Pottery people really like it. This is the pinnacle of political pottery from 1840. There’s probably fewer than ten examples in existence. When these come up for auction, they consistently sell for a lot of money.

How do the decorations on the pitcher reflect William Henry Harrison’s campaign imagery? It’s got the log cabin and the hard cider barrel.

Where is the hard cider barrel? Below the window of the log cabin. It was a popular image because Harrison was meant to be a man of the people. Contrast that with Martin Van Buren, who was considered a New York elitist who’d sit in the White House and sip Champagne from a silver goblet. The hard cider barrel was originally a criticism of Harrison–that he was a country bumpkin, and if he was given a pension he’d be content to sit in a log cabin and sip hard cider. Of course by that time he was living in a mansion, but he presented himself as born in and lived in a log cabin, and an Ohio farmer, like Cincinnatus, going back to his farm after the war.

Does the pitcher have every element that a William Henry Harrison collector would want? No, it doesn’t, but it’s got the essentials. It doesn’t say “The Hero of Tippecanoe,” and it doesn’t show a canoe. [Yes, Harrison was the ‘Tippecanoe’ in ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,’ and that slogan is not on the pitcher, either.] He was sometimes called the “Farmer of North Bend.” Here he’s the “Ohio Farmer.” It lacks the symbol of the Whig party, which was the raccoon–

Wait, wait, wait. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon? What is it with American political parties choosing non-heroic animals to represent them? The raccoon goes with the rustic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type of thing. These guys were trappers. They trapped animals, sold the hides, and made stew out of the meat.

This pitcher was a functional object. Does it show any signs of use? Not really. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s got some discoloration on the inside, and it’s got a crack and a chip [which you can see on the spout of the pitcher]. Obviously, it was used. The crack and the chip can be restored, and the stains can be bleached out. Even with the defects, it’s probably the nicest one [of the surviving pitchers] I’ve seen. A lot of them have cracks and tend to be highly discolored.

Another example of the William Henry Harrison pitcher went to auction at Heritage in December 2016, selling for $37,500. But do you remember if and when one of these pitchers went to auction before then? This one and the one sold in 2016 are the only two I remember in political memorabilia auctions. I know of five examples, and I’ve been collecting for 54 years. They’re highly prized. I don’t think I’ve seen one sold for under $20,000, even going way, way back. This is the Cadillac. It’s got four portraits. It was made in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s big. It’s got great graphics. It’s rare. If you can afford it, it’s a great item to have.

How to bid: The William Henry Harrison ceramic pitcher is lot #43039 in the David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential & Political Americana, Part IV sale, which takes place on November 10 and 11 at Heritage Auctions.

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

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Earlier in 2018, Don Ackerman spoke to The Hot Bid about a William McKinley campaign poster, also from the David and Janice Frent Collection, which sold for $11,875.

Did you just realize that “William Henry Harrison” scans just like “Alexander Hamilton”? No need to write a Hamilton parody. Actor Jason Kravitz beat you to it.

Image is courtesy of Heritage 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.

A Snap Wyatt Sideshow Banner of a Headless Girl Could Sell for $2,000

A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion.

What you see: A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion. Potter & Potter estimates it at $1,500 to $2,000.

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

How rarely do sideshow banners painted by Snap Wyatt come to auction? I don’t know that it’s unusual. They’re out there. Remember, Wyatt said he could paint one banner per day.

Where does Snap Wyatt rank among the known sideshow banner painters? And is this the largest group of Snap Wyatt banners you’ve offered at the same time? He ranks in the top three, top five. And yes, it is the largest group. Usually we get them one or two at a time, if at all.

How does this Snap Wyatt banner compare to the other Snap Wyatt banners in the auction? It’s in better condition than some of the others. But it’s so hard to say–tastes vary widely. One banner in there shows a magician, and someone will want that who’s interested in magic. Some might be interested in the Headless Girl because they like a woman in a bikini.

Snap Wyatt signed this banner. Is that unusual? No, he usually put his stencil signature on them. There are many unsigned examples [of sideshow banners] but I think people like examples by known painters–Sigler, Johnson, Wyatt.

How do you know Wyatt painted this banner around 1965? It’s an educated guess based on its style and condition. It’s not an earlier banner because it’d be a lot rougher as far as condition. Johnny Meah gave me insight into when and how Wyatt worked.

Do sideshow banner collectors avoid banners that don’t show enough signs of having been on the road? I think something collectors look for are show-used banners–ones you can prove were used in a particular show at a particular time. That is to the good. I don’t know that that’s the case here.

Would people who paid to enter the sideshow in 1965 because this banner caught their eye have seen a headless girl illusion that looks like this? [Laughs] No. They would not have seen it in this way, no. It was the equivalent of a line illustration in the Johnson Smith catalog. The difference between imagination and reality is pretty stark.

How far off would it be from what we see on the banner? It’d be different in that she wouldn’t be sitting sideways, she wouldn’t be in a bikini, and a thing would be attached to her head in place of her head, like the apparatus we’re selling in lot 646. This is very casual-looking, as if she’ll get up and walk around. In a ten-in-one [a sideshow that offered ten acts in one venue for one price], she’d sit in a chair, and there’d be someone next to her, the demonstrator of the attraction, fiddling with knobs on a blinking control board or pouring fluid into tubes leading to her neck, explaining how she survives. He might hand her things to prove she’s alive and not a robot. Since she’s not getting up out of the chair and can’t talk, she’s going to need some help.

Is the headless girl illusion a standard sideshow attraction? I would say it’s a classic,  a fairly common thing. It was exhibited at Coney Island for years.

Did the headless girl just sit there, or did she do things? She could have done any number of things. She definitely moved around to prove she was not a wax figure or a mannequin. She could have written on a blackboard, anything to prove she was alive.

How similar would the circa 1965 headless girl apparatus have been to the one you’re offering in lot 646? The method is basically unchanged. The way it works now is identical to the way it worked then. There would have been tubes or a metal apparatus coming out of her neck. Perhaps they dressed it up in different ways, with different headpieces, or different sets of tubes and a lot of things on the side to “keep her alive.”

So you can guess where the headless girl’s head is pretty easily. It depends on how careful the exhibitor is. The illusion can be quite good. It’s up to them to set it up correctly. A lot of show operators didn’t care in the sense that they’d gotten your money. You can still buy the workshop plans from Abbott Magic in Michigan, if you want, and build your own. I think the plans are $5. [He remembered correctly. The plans are $5 as of October 2018.]

And the illusion doesn’t look like the banner. They all have something sticking out of her head. It’s not simply a headless woman.

How much would the banner be worth if the artist was anonymous? The banner market is not what it used to be, but I don’t think it would change it tremendously. If it’s anonymous, it’s a 20 to 30 percent difference.

What does the Johnny Fox provenance add to the banner’s value? I think it adds a little bit to it. A lot of people are interested in Johnny Fox. If you look on Facebook, there are memorials to him. He had a lot of friends. He performed for 37 seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. They named a stage after him in tribute to him. A lot of people fondly remember Fox and his museum.

What are the odds that the same bidder buys the Headless Girl banner and the headless woman apparatus? About 50/50. I think there’s a good chance someone will buy the prop and use it. I think a collector will buy the banner.

How to bid: The Headless Girl sideshow banner is lot 8 in Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox, a sale that takes place November 10, 2018 at Potter & Potter.

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Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wright is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Image is courtesy of Wright.

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

A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips.

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 Crowell preening black duck decoy 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.

The Crowell preening black duck decoy is 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 Crowell duck decoy 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 Crowell duck 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 Crowell duck 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 decoy 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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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 Craniometer, Maybe the Only Surviving Example of Its Type, Commands $12,300 at Skinner–More Than Double Its High Estimate

A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman.

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! Pete Townshend Smashed A 1964 Fender Stratocaster On Stage. Its Wreckage Sold for $30,000

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOLD! A Kem Weber Walt Disney Animation Desk Fetched $13,145 at Heritage

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.

Update: The Kem Weber 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 Kem 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 Kem 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 Kem Weber Walt Disney 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 Kem Weber Walt Disney animation 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.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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An Abraham Lincoln Mallet Could Sell For Half a Million Dollars

A wooden bench mallet bearing the initials 'A.L.' and the date '1829', and made by Abraham Lincoln as a young man. It's one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Lincoln artifacts in private hands.

What you see: A wooden bench mallet bearing the initials ‘A.L.’ and the date ‘1829’, and made by Abraham Lincoln as a young man. It’s one of the earliest, if not the earliest, Lincoln artifacts in private hands. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who was Abraham Lincoln? He was the 16th president of the United States, and second only to George Washington in the pantheon of great presidents. He steered the country through the crisis of the Civil War, ultimately holding the union together and defeating the system of slavery. He was fatally shot on April 14, 1865 by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and died the following day. He was 56.

So, this mallet is made entirely of wood? Yes. “The top part is the burl of a cherry tree, which is where two branches come together–it’s a nice, dense piece of wood–and the handle is hickory,” says Peter Klarnet, senior specialist in Americana, books, and manuscripts at Christie’s.

Would Lincoln and his neighbors on the Indiana frontier have used it like a hammer? “Not exactly,” he says. “Most housing at that time (the 1820s), when they were constructing the frame of a house, they wouldn’t use nails. They’d use wooden pegs, because they’d breathe with the frame of the house. An iron hammer on a wooden peg is just too much force [so they used a wooden mallet instead].”

Why would Lincoln have put his initials on the wooden mallet? To make sure no one else would take it? “That, and it was also a mark of pride–‘I made this,'” he says. “His father was a cabinet-maker, and he would have learned the [mallet-making] skills from his father.”

Why would Lincoln have put the date on the mallet? Did he initial and date it at the same time? “He probably marked it ‘1829’ because it was 1829. He was 20 years old, and he was becoming a man,” he says. “We can’t determine if he initialed and dated it at the same time, but all the materials would have been available to him at the time.”

And a wooden mallet would have been a must-have on the frontier back then? “Absolutely. This was a necessary tool for any frontier farm to have,” Klarnet says, adding that it explains why Lincoln might have given it to his neighbor, Barnabas Carter, Jr., as a wedding gift–it was the sort of thing that a newlywed young man needed. Carter married in January 1830, around the time when Lincoln moved to Illinois, and was giving away possessions ahead of the move. “It’s conjecture, but it makes a lot of sense for [Lincoln to give the mallet to] someone establishing a household,” he says.

How did the Lincolns and the Carters know each other? “We know from the historical record that they were neighbors,” he says. “Family tradition shows that Barnabas Carter, Jr., was the original owner of the mallet, and Lincoln gave it to him around 1829. In examining census records and church records, we see that they went to the same church and voted in the same place.”

When did the Abraham Lincoln mallet stop being a tool and start being a relic? “Not until 1858, with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, when he rose to national prominence,” he says. “After Abraham Lincoln was famous, the family actually hid the mallet away, in a basement, and kept it out of sight.” In the late 20th century, Carter’s descendants displayed the mallet on the family hearth (scroll down to see the picture), and one of them brought it to show-and-tell when she was a child of five.

Does the Abraham Lincoln mallet show signs of wear? Yes. “You can see where it’s been pulverized by repeated strokes,” he says. “It was used for maybe 20 years [after Carter received it from Lincoln], then it stopped.”

The mallet head was scavenged from the remains of a broken rail-splitting maul. Do any other artifacts that reflect Lincoln’s image as a rail-splitter survive? The National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. has an iron wedge for splitting wood that features Abraham Lincoln’s initials on one side. According to legend, Lincoln applied the letters to the wedge himself when the blacksmith shied away from the task.

What else convinces you that Abraham Lincoln personally made this mallet? “Those people decided to keep quiet, which makes me more confident in its authenticity,” he says. “It had a more special meaning to them. They didn’t want publicity.”

Why is the family selling the Abraham Lincoln mallet now? “I don’t know the specific motivation. In every generation, it went to one person. This time, it went to two. That might be behind it,” he says, adding, “And they wanted to share it with the world. They think it belongs in a major museum collection, as do I. It’s very evocative of an early period of Lincoln’s life.”

How did you put an estimate on the Abraham Lincoln mallet? Klarnet laughs heartily, then says, “To a certain extent, it’s an educated guess. In terms of manuscripts, we had his 1864 victory speech and his last speech as president, and both brought in excess of $3 million. It was based on those high points and other material that sold in excess of $1 million. We hedged our bets. We thought $300,000 to $500,000 was a relatively conservative estimate that underscores its importance to the Lincoln story.”

How does it feel to hold the Abraham Lincoln mallet in your hand? “I’m not going to swing it!” he says, laughing. “I held it very, very gingerly. But it felt pretty cool. To think that it’s a tool that was actually used by Lincoln… I’ve handled letters by George Washington, by Lincoln, by FDR, by Teddy Roosevelt. It still gives you goosebumps when you’re given the opportunity to handle something like this.”

What else makes the Abraham Lincoln mallet special? “I have never had anything quite like this before,” he says. “It offers a view of a not-well-documented portion of Lincoln’s life. To have something that was his from this period, which is so difficult to source–that’s why it will always stick with me.”

How to bid: Abraham Lincoln’s wooden bench mallet is lot 67 in the December 5 auction of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana at Christie’s New York.

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SOLD! A Life-Size Artist’s Mannequin Fetched $45,000

A life-size articulated wooden artist's mannequin, made in France, dating to around 1860, and measuring about 60 inches tall.

Update: The 19th century French life-size articulated wooden artist’s mannequin sold for $45,000.

What you see: A life-size articulated wooden artist’s mannequin, made in France, dating to around 1860, and measuring about 60 inches tall. Rago Auctions estimates it at $20,000 to $25,000.

If you were an artist in the 19th century and could afford a life-size articulated wooden mannequin, couldn’t you afford to hire a live model instead? “Possibly, but live models were not always available. And a mannequin can hold a pose forever. It’s almost more posable than a real person,” says Marion Harris, a specialist in antique mannequins and curator of the Curiouser and Curiouser sale for Rago. “Life-size artist’s mannequins were expensive, and they were valued in their own right. They became something of worth in an artist’s inventory. Mannequins were often listed in the estates of artists when they died.”

How many life-size artist’s mannequins have you dealt with? How many are known? Harris says she has handled 15 to 20 over the last quarter-century. She suspects that maybe as many as 100 were made between the 16th and 19th centuries, and as many as half might survive. “They’re just about always androgynous,” she says. “I’ve looked at the same one and seen it as male, then seen it as female.”

Would one artisan have carved the face, and other artisans have carved the rest of the body? “I don’t know how they did it, but it’s likely. Four or five ateliers were known for carving them. Even the bad mannequins are very good. It’s so hard to do,” she says. “This mannequin has a particular sensitivity to the carving. It’s so lifelike.”

Ribs were carved into the mannequin’s torso. Why? “That’s another sign of quality, when the ribs are evident,” she says. “You do want to see the ribs, if you can. It lets the piece look more realistic. Without the ribs, it looks more puppet-like. Anything that gives the mannequin a more realistic human quality to its features makes it more efficient and effective for the artist.”

Does the life-size artist’s mannequin have a patina? “It has a brilliant patina–not just from being handled, but from age. It glows with pride as well as age, I like to say,” she says.

How much does the life-size artist’s mannequin weigh? About 100 pounds. “I could almost carry it. But it would have been on a stand. Once it’s on a stand, it’s completely posable,” she says. “It’s almost like a real person.”

People might know the life-size artist’s mannequin from the Manhattan shop window of Ann-Morris. How did you convince the shop’s owners to consign it? “Everybody wanted to buy it. They would rent it to films, but they would never sell it. Now that the son has taken over the business, I finally got him to part with it,” she says. “It’s a fitting way to part with it. They wanted to give it a rather grand farewell. They’ve had others, but this one was always the queen.” (Harris later confirmed that though the mannequin had appeared in the window since the 1970s, the family never gave it a name, surprising as that might seem.)

What else makes the life-size artist’s mannequin special? “I’ve seen other mannequins. This one almost calls out to you to say, ‘Touch me, love me, hold me, pose me, care for me. I’m here for you and you’re here for me,'” she says. “Even people who’ve never seen it before stop in their tracks. And a number of people would have seen it and looked at it adoringly [when it was in the Ann-Morris window].”

How to bid: The life-size articulated artist’s mannequin is lot 39 in the Curiouser and Curiouser auction on October 22 at Rago Auctions.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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