An Alexander: The Man Who Knows Poster Could Command $1,500

Alexander: The Man Who Knows, an eight-sheet vintage poster printed circa 1915 to tout the act of Alexander, an American performer who claimed to read minds.

What you see: A circa 1915 poster touting Alexander, The Man Who Knows. It measures 108 inches by 80 1/2 inches. Potter & Potter estimates the oversize vintage poster at $1,000 to $1,500.

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

Let’s start by talking about Alexander–who he was, where he performed, and where he was in his career around 1915, when this poster was printed. He was at the peak of his powers. He was an American, no real city of birth, but a west coaster. I don’t believe he ever performed outside the U.S., but he certainly traveled across the U.S. over his career.

I understand that Alexander was a mentalist. Could you explain the difference between a magician and a mentalist? He did also do magic tricks. The thing that set him apart from other people was his ability to apparently read minds in such a believable way. He would answer questions people would write down and seal in an envelope–some deeply personal, some frivolous. It set him apart from other people who did the same kinds of tricks.

And the turban Alexander wears in the poster was part of his costume? It was also integral to his act. It was built for him for his mentalism routine. There were mechanical devices in the turban that he used to communicate with his assistants offstage. It was a way for backstage assistants to whisper in his ear. This was in the teens, the 20s, probably back a little further than that. It was pre-radio, a combination of induction coils and telephone technology. David Copperfield has the turban now on display in his place in Las Vegas. [While it doesn’t show the Alexander turban, this video gives a decent overview of Copperfield’s private museum.]

So Alexander was best known for answering questions from his audience? Hence “Alexander: The Man Who Knows”? The Q & A was one of his trademark routines. A dozen or a hundred people would write a question they were seeking an answer to. Without opening and reading the envelope, Alexander would answer the question and reveal personal details of the people in the audience. He’d give their names, the number of children they had, their address, and he’d answer the question in the envelope. [Only after we spoke did it occur to me that Johnny Carson must have been riffing off of Alexander with his “Carnac the Magnificent” routine on The Tonight Show.]

And I take it Alexander relied on his assistants to relay that information through the devices in the turban? It was more complicated than that. He used everything in his arsenal to acquire and deliver information. The material he was best known for made people believe he could actually read your mind.

Did Alexander use cold reading and hot reading? Yes, I would say that’s fair. I imagine there was a combination of the two. Probably a lot of hot reading.

I read the Wikipedia entry on Alexander and it seems pretty outlandish–killing four men? Marrying between seven to fourteen times? Escapes from jail? What information do we have about him that can be trusted? There’s a wonderful biography written by a man named David Charvet that draws on sources including diaries. David’s book is the final word on Alexander’s story. Killing four men… I’m not sure that’s ever been proven. Tax evasion, there are public records as far as that kind of thing. Polyamorous lifestyle, there’s not much doubt about that. Certainly his theatrical successes are provable. His is a tantalizing story and a lot is verifiable. Can I prove he murdered people? No. Can I prove he was an opportunist? Yeah.

Why is Alexander: The Man Who Knows such a powerful poster? I think it’s the striking simplicity of the design. His eyes follow you. It leaves open a lot of room for interpretation. It’s tantalizing as a stand-alone object. It grabs your attention. It’s still doing its job more than 100 years later.

And I take it Alexander is best known today for these Alexander: The Man Who Knows posters, and not the substance of his act? 100 percent. No one knows who this guy was in the real world. His biography is great, but it was never on the best-seller list.

How involved would he have been in the design of this Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster? He was probably intimately involved. If he was so involved as to modify the name of the printer to something more theatrical, he was probably involved in the design.

The “Av Yaga Bombay” tag is in the lower right corner of the poster.

Alexander modified the name of the printer to something more theatrical? All his posters bear the mark of Av Yaga, a phony printing company in Bombay. No one has been able to determine who printed the poster. He did it [invented Av Yaga] to deliberately create a mystic aura of the east around him.

To extend the illusion? Yeah. He’s a gringo, but he’s wearing a turban and pretending to be privy to the secrets of the ages. This guy’s life should be a movie.

This Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster is big–108 inches by 80 1/2 inches. Where would it have been displayed? On the side of a building. Probably more than one poster if the bill poster had space. I’ve often wanted to buy one of these to put it up on the side of a building.

I don’t see a blank band on the top or the bottom of the Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster to tell people the venue and the dates of his performance. How did local promoters tell people when and where Alexander would appear? Occasionally they would overprint the theater and the date on posters like this one. Or the theater and the date would be posted adjacent to it.

Usually, with desirable vintage posters, only a few examples survive in varying states of condition. I understand that’s not the case with Alexander posters. Could you explain what happened? When Alexander retired, he was still a relatively young man. He sold his entire show to a man, Robert Nelson. A truck showed up at Nelson’s house and he thought it was a done deal. Then a second truck showed up with unused posters. Reportedly, there were several tons of paper. For years, he was selling posters, and eventually, they found their way into the hands of poster dealers.

Was there only this red background style of Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, or were there others? There were many different varieties. There were probably more of the red one-sheet size than most others.

The one we’re discussing is the red eight-sheet version. How rare is that? It’s less common. I’ve only had two or three in 12 years.

What condition is it in? A. About as good as it gets for a poster this size.

Is it in better condition than the other examples you’ve handled? Actually, yes.

What’s the world auction record for an Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster? For a one-sheet, I don’t remember. We sold a unique signed window card in December 2017 for $15,600. I think, because of its size, most collectors will stay away from it [this example], but I hope I’m proven wrong.

What is the Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster like in person? Almost overwhelming. Definitely hard to avoid. It’d be great in a bowling alley or a restaurant that has vibrant ambience. It’s kind of a traffic stopper.

Why will this poster stick in your memory? His life should be a movie. He was a bootlegger, a tax-evader, a bigamist, a mentalist, the list goes on and on. And it’s a great poster with a great aesthetic. Alexander understood how to sell the sizzle and the steak.

How to bid: The oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster is lot 538 in the Vintage Posters sale taking place at Potter & Potter on January 25, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter. 

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200,  a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a 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.

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Afghan Girl, an Iconic Photograph by Steve McCurry, Could Sell for $9,000

Afghan Girl (Sharbat Gula), a portrait of a young refugee shot in 1985 by Steve McCurry for National Geographic. A large print of the iconic image could sell at Skinner for $9,000.

What you see: Afghan Girl, an image shot by American photographer Steve McCurry in 1984 of a 12- or 13-year-old girl later identified as Sharbat Gula. It appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine. Skinner estimates a photographic print of the image at $7,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Robin S. R. Starr, director of American and European Works of Art at Skinner.

So let’s begin by talking about how this photo came to be–who shot it, how the photographer got the opportunity to shoot it, etc. Steve McCurry started out as a documentary photographer and a photojournalist. In the late 1970s, he was certainly known, but not with an uppercase K, for becoming the go-to guy photographing in the region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And this particular photo arose from one of those assignments? In 1984, National Geographic wanted to put together a feature article on the growing number of refugees in the camps on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and they approached him to do it. In the process of touring one camp, Nasir Bagh, he was looking for a subject and overheard voices in a tent that was set up as a girls’ school. Sitting in the tent was a stunning girl with amazing green eyes. She was the oldest [student], off by herself, and shy. She was 12 years old.

How did Steve McCurry get the shot? He came into the tent, spoke to the teacher, and asked for permission to photograph the students. He wanted the girl because of her green eyes, which were so amazing, but he started with other students in hopes she would loosen up. The kids had never seen a camera before. It was all new to them.

Did McCurry know right away what he had, or did he only realize it later? He knew that intense look was something he was looking for, but it wasn’t until he went through the images back home that he realized how striking and amazing the photograph was.

And I understand that National Geographic nearly went with a different McCurry shot of the same sitter? National Geographic went back and forth on which shot to use–you can see the other, which is her holding her veil in front of her face. They realized this was so much more striking, they went with it instead on the cover.

Might part of the reason that Afghan Girl is so compelling is the sitter did not grow up with a camera, and had never seen a camera before? Sure, that was part of it. I certainly suspect she hadn’t seen a lot of white guys, and she was of an age when she [as a Muslim] was supposed to be covering up in front of strangers. She might have been uncomfortable uncovering for a foreigner with a strange contraption.

Steve McCurry has shot countless photographs. Is it fair to say that Afghan Girl is his best-known image? Absolutely. Absolutely. You may not know Steve McCurry, but you know this image.

Afghan Girl has been described as the “most recognized image” ever published by National Geographic. Can you talk about why that’s such a big deal? I mean, it’s the last survivor among the photo-driven magazines of the 20th century, such as Look and LifeThat’s huge. I’m a big fan of National Geographic. I love the articles, and love learning about new places, new cultures, new things, but it’s the images. They’ve had some really phenomenal photographs over the years. They’re timeless.

Did McCurry make note of the sitter’s name at the time? No, he did not know her name. I don’t think he was in the tent for more than an hour.

How did he and National Geographic figure out who the Afghan girl was? After the September 11 attacks, National Geographic wanted to send a TV crew to find her.

Wait, how are the September 11 attacks relevant to National Geographic wanting to find her? Wouldn’t they have gotten enough questions from people asking who she was and them having to say “no idea” that they were moved to try to track her down? I think it was some of both. They wanted to know who she was, and Afghanistan was in the news again–do we attack? Do we not attack?

So National Geographic wanted to cover Afghanistan, and they saw the search for the Afghan girl as a way to approach the story. Exactly. In finding her, they could see what the Afghan people had been through.

How did they find her? McCurry knew which camp she had been in, and some of the camps were still there. Nasir Bagh still existed in 2002, but it was due to be demolished. The film crew went around with her picture, asking, “Do you know her?” A lot of people claimed to know her, and some claimed to be her. Finally somebody who had been associated with the camp said, “I know her brother.” They put the film crew in touch with the brother, who united them.

What happened when the National Geographic crew met the sitter, who we now know is Sharbat Gula? She remembered being photographed, but had never seen the picture. She had no idea it was world famous. They had another photo shoot, very quick, and she agreed to uncover. She was wearing a purple burka and held a copy of the original magazine in her hands.

How did the Afghan Girl photo change the life of Steve McCurry? It put him on the map. I can’t imagine how it changed his life in terms of jobs, grants, and funding. Anybody can take a picture of the downtrodden, but to take it well, with humanity and dignity–that’s hard. Steve McCurry can do it. Not many people can.

How did the Afghan Girl photo change the life of Sharbat Gula? It didn’t affect her life much at all until she was told, 20 years later, that the image was world-famous. Then, all of a sudden, it changed her life. In the aftermath of the second meeting, Steve McCurry wanted to help her family. She lived in a really dangerous area on the Afghan-Pakistani border. He and National Geographic got medication for her, her husband, and her children, and paid for her and her husband to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. National Geographic also created a fund, the Afghan Girls Fund, that provided education to girls and women. Later it was changed to the Afghan Children’s Fund. I think it still exists.

When was the Afghan Girl image released as a fine photographic print? It’s an open edition [this means Afghan Girl prints are available now, and there’s no explicit limit on the total number that may be produced during McCurry’s lifetime]. I know some were printed in the late 1980s or early 1990s. There have been lots of printings.

So it appears fairly often at auction? If it doesn’t come up today, wait until tomorrow. I think Artnet has 115 results. It’s not rare, and it’s not getting more rare.

What’s the world auction record for an Afghan Girl print? It was a unique dye-bleach print made in 2012, measuring 33 by 22 inches–quite large. It was sold in 2012 at a Christie’s auction called The National Geographic Collection: The Art of Exploration. It brought $178,900.

Steve McCurry signed the Afghan Girl print you’re offering for sale. Does that matter? I would be concerned if it didn’t have a signature. It doesn’t make it more valuable, it makes it valid.

What’s the image like in person? Are there aspects of the photograph that don’t come across on a screen? And I imagine it has to be different from seeing it on a magazine cover. One thing is the scale, obviously. Looking at it at 20 inches tall is different than looking at it on a phone or a computer screen. It’s life size. When someone life size is staring directly at you, it’s compelling. You pick up on the flecks of white in her scarf, and get a sense of the depth of her hair. Also, some people who claimed to be her didn’t have the scar–she has a dark mark down the middle of her nose. [If you’re not looking at a large print of the image,] You don’t pick up on that otherwise.

In January 2019, Skinner sold an Afghan Girl print of the same size for $19,680 against an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. How does this example compare to that one? It’s very similar. They’re the same size, and both were signed on the back. More specifically, the provenance to it [the 2019 example] was from the Howard Greenberg Gallery. Outside of that, there’s not a lot of difference.

What makes Afghan Girl such a strong image? It’s such a perfect picture of a refugee. Her clothes are ragged, and there’s no obvious Hollywood smudge of dirt on her face, but she doesn’t look airbrushed. There’s a lot within those young eyes–her gaze is direct and unflinching, and a little frightened and curious. It’s such a riveting face. How could it not attract the attention of those who want to know what’s going on with the Afghan people? …No one image can sum up a moment. Some get pretty damn close. This is one of them. It’s beautiful and so striking. That’s why it speaks to so many people.

In particular, what makes Afghan Girl such a strong photographic portrait? There are so many emotions in her face. I think that’s it, in a nutshell. We don’t look at that face and say, “She’s angry, end of story”, or “she’s happy” or “she’s innocent”. That complexity of emotions is what makes people human and real. That striking, perceptive gaze makes her so present, and so real.

How to bid: The Afghan Girl photograph is lot 135 in the American & European Works of Art sale at Skinner on January 23, 2020.

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.

Robin S. R. Starr first appeared on The Hot Bid discussing a record-setting painting by Florine Stettheimer.

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Steve McCurry has a website. He’s also on Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Skinner.

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A Bill Traylor Work at Christie’s Could Set a Record for the Artist–THB Bonus from Art & Object

A double-sided work by the late Outsider artist, Bill Traylor. Above is Man on White, Woman on Red, and below is Man with Black Dog. The unusual piece could set a new world auction record for the artist in January 2020.

See my piece in Art & Object on an unusually large double-sided work by Bill Traylor that might set a new world auction record for the late Outsider artist. Christie’s will offer it on January 17 in New York with an estimate of $200,000 to $400,000.

Director Steven Spielberg gave it to Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, after he completed a film based on the book.

Art & Object is on Twitter and Instagram.


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The Future of Auctions, a THB Bonus from the January 2020 Issue of Robb Report

The January 2020 issue of Robb Report includes a story by me on the future of auctions.

Today’s collectors are more likely to experience the rush of their first auction win in front of a screen or holding a phone instead of raising a paddle in a sale room.

What does that mean for the auction world?

Is the sale room doomed?

And could a digital-only auction house someday dethrone Christie’s or Sotheby’s?

See what I have to say.

Robb Report is the premier luxury lifestyle magazine. I encourage you to subscribe.

Robb Report is, of course, on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Two Pedro Friedeberg Hand Chairs Could Each Sell for $9,000

What you see: A Hand chair, covered in silver leaf and designed by Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg. Shown further along in this story is a second Hand chair in unadorned mahogany. Both chairs date to circa 1965, both will be offered at Rago in the same auction, and each carries an estimate of $7,000 to $9,000.

The expert: Richard Wright, president of Wright auction house. [Rago and Wright merged in 2019.]

Who is Pedro Friedeberg, and why is his work still collected today? He’s a self-styled eccentric and a surrealist. I should say–I’ve never met him, and I’m not an expert on Pedro Friedeberg, but I’ve handled a good bit of his work and referenced his website and his statements. He comes off as a 21st century Dalí. He’s proudly eccentric. That seems to be his brand.

Would the Hand chair be Friedeberg’s best-known work? I think that’s fair to say. It’s his most widely produced.

Do we know how he came up with the idea of the Hand chair? I don’t know that, but to me, his art is all about… if you look at Surrealism, Salvador Dalí does the Lips sofa in the 1930s and reintroduces it in the 1960s. A bit of a Pop sensibility comes to Surrealism in the 1960s. There’s a body consciousness. The Hand is evocative. It draws on motifs that appear earlier in his work. You can make an art-historical case that there’s threads of it in Mexican fine art, in Frida Kahlo, and Catholic iconography.

Yeah, the Hand chair strikes me as having a sort of retablo feel to it. Exactly. I’m sure Friedeberg would tell a fantastical story of how the Hand chair came to be. He could be an unreliable narrator.

You said the Hand chair draws on motifs that appear earlier in Friedeberg’s work. Could you elaborate? He has a fine art practice [as well as his design work]. The same surrealistic elements are in his painting–hands that point. I’m sure he was working with the motif in two-dimensional art before it manifested as a chair.

A Pedro Friedeberg Hand chair in unadorned mahogany, dating to circa 1965. It, too, could sell for $9,000 or more at Rago.

How is the Hand chair produced? Is it mass-produced, or is it created in a more artisanal manner, like studio furniture? It’s all studio-produced in Mexico. It’s not widely distributed, but he’s worked within the art gallery system. It’s not true production furniture. [Hand chairs produced] while he is alive are considered original Pedro Friedeberg furniture.

On the Wikipedia page for Pedro Friedeberg, there’s a reference to maybe 5,000 Hand chairs having been produced since the design debuted in 1962. Is that accurate? I can’t imagine there are 5,000 of them. In reading things that he writes, you have to take everything with a large grain of salt.

Even throwing in the Hand-Foot variants, we don’t get to 5,000? Even so, I think, based on what comes up in a year, 5,000 is a lot to be circulating.

What number do you think is more likely, based on your gut feeling? I would say–and there are a lot of variations–half that number.

How many variations of the Hand chair are there? And is the Hand-Foot chair considered a Hand chair? It’s considered a form of the Hand chair. There’s the Hand chair in natural wood, and with silver or gold leaf. There are at least two Hand-Foot variations: a single foot, and a cluster of feet.

Do collectors clearly prefer any one variation over the others? I don’t think it’s that rigorous a collecting mentality. They buy them because they’re cool, and they make a statement in a room, rather than buying them as a significant investment in a serious work of art. I don’t know if there’s a clear hierarchy. Gold and silver leaf is an upgrade from the standard wood–that feels true to me. Visually, I think the silver and the gold are nicest. The silver is rarer than the gold. It’s up to you which one you find more interesting.

Both these chairs are undated, but both have a circa date of 1965. What clues point to a relatively early date for the two Hand chairs? There’s not a ton of info out there. You can’t just send them [Pedro Friedeberg and his studio] infomation. There’s not an archivist to help you. These dates are based on facts that come from the consigners.

From the look of his website, having an archivist would be antithetical to Pedro Friedeberg’s brand… That seems to be apparent to me. [Laughs] He’s a fine artist who doesn’t want to work within the system. Friedeberg’s work floats outside of that.

And these two Hand chairs are from two different consigners? Yes.

Why does it make sense to have two versions of the same chair, made around the same time? Is it because they’re just different enough from each other? That was the thinking. There’s enough depth and interest in the market to have two, a wood and a silver. And they are opposing–a left-handed example and a right-handed example. You can take the two and put them next to each other to form a settee.

The silver leaf Hand chair is signed by Friedeberg and the plain mahogany one is not. Does that matter at all? Again, it comes down to… people are not approaching it as a fine art purchase, but as a decorative art purchase. The wood one is unsigned, but we have the provenance, which guarantees it’s original. The silver is signed. Obviously, it’s nice to have it signed.

Why do the two different Hand chairs have the same estimate? The silver variation is the better chair. In giving them a $7,000 to $9,000 estimate, we didn’t bother making the distinction to say that the silver chair is slightly rarer, and signed. It’s a more pragmatic decision, to think of it as a Hand chair.

What condition are the Hand chairs in? And what issues do you tend to see with vintage Hand chairs? Both are in good condition, and in general, they actually tend to be in good condition. The worst that happens, with the leaf examples, is scratching to the leaf. Hand chairs are lightly used, and if they’re cared for at all, they’re in good shape.

Have you sat in a Hand chair? What is that like? The seat is deeply carved. It does have a contour to make it practical to sit in. It’s great for the Instagram era. It’s theatrical. It’s not uncomfortable to sit in, but I wouldn’t put a suite of Hand chairs around a conference table to conduct meetings. [Laughs]

So, comfortable, but only just? They’re functional chairs, but you don’t sit in them often, or for very long. You may perch on one to put on your shoes, but you won’t watch a movie in a Hand chair.

What’s the world auction record for a Hand chair? It’s a gold, single Hand chair sold at Rago in September 2018 for $28,750 on a $6,000 to $8,000 estimate.

Is there any chance that the silver leaf Hand chair might take off like that record-setting gold leaf one did a little while ago? People buy these because they’re looking for a cool chair to make a statement. When Hand chairs do well, they’re bought by decorators or clients who use it as a punctuation mark in a room. [Whether a chair takes off at auction is] really driven by are there two people who really want that chair?

Has the Hand chair always been sought-after, or was there a time when it was considered unfashionable? It’s always been a chair that would garner your attention. It’s never been a chair that there’s no interest in. It’s pretty cool, but I think his market has risen and it looks better than it was in the 1990s. Friedeberg is well overdue for a proper retrospective. I’d love to see that happen while he’s alive, but I think it will be in the future. He fits in in an interesting way with the Surrealist Pop sensibility, and with motifs from Mexico. I think there’s a real story there.

So, right now, the Hand chairs are regarded as decorative art, not fine art. Is it possible in the years to come that general opinion might morph, and they might be seen as fine art? And if so, have you seen that sort of shift–first seen as decorative art, now seen as fine art–happen with other furnishings or fittings? I do believe Friedeberg’s work will be reassessed at some future date. As he is a fine artist, the chairs may be seen in that context, but as they also serve a function, they will always be in a middle ground. The sculptor Franz West made decorative art works that sit in that middle ground, and they are viewed in both ways. Scott Burton is another example. Future curators and scholars will decide.

Why does Pedro Friedeberg’s Hand chair design endure? How has it avoided being dated or dismissed as kitsch to remain collectible in the 21st century? I just think it’s visually cool. In its classic configuration with the pedestal base, it’s chic. You can mix it with several different types of decoration, and it fits in. It seems to accomplish walking the line between weird and chic.

How to bid: The silver leaf version of the Hand chair, which is left-handed, is lot 663 in Rago‘s Modern Design sale, scheduled for January 19, 2020. The right-handed mahogany version is lot 641.

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.

Richard Wright has appeared on The Hot Bid previously, discussing a record-setting Walter Dorwin Teague-designed Nocturne radio, a record-setting Isamu Noguchi table, and an Isamu Noguchi sculpture.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram, and Wright is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Pedro Friedeberg has a website.

Images are courtesy of Rago.

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Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems In Flea-Market America (THB: Shelf Life)

killer stuff and tons of money cover

What you seeKiller Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems In Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton. $17.00 (paperback), Penguin Books.

Does it fit in my purse? Yes.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.

I like Curt Avery, though I haven’t met him. Or maybe I have, and I didn’t know it; Curt Avery is not his name. (He asked the author for anonymity, and she granted it.)

Avery is the center, the linchpin, the load-bearing wall of Killer Stuff. If Stanton chose wrong, the book would fall apart.

Stanton did not choose wrong. Killer Stuff kills.

It does this despite its obviously neutered title (it’s drawn from a quote by Avery that appears on page 257, and he didn’t say “stuff”) and despite tackling a topic the uninitiated regard as bloodless–the world of antiques.

By putting an exceptional human being at the center of her book, Stanton gets at the endless, grinding challenge of the hunt for killer stuff in a visceral way.

Having Avery as the focus allows her to weave in the obligatory bits of historical information and industry-specific terms into his story, seamlessly and painlessly.

We see Avery tested and challenged out in the wild, in auction sale rooms and antiques fairs, sometimes winning and sometimes not.

She shows how winning in the world of antiques is not just spotting a prize that others have overlooked, or getting to the right booth at the right time. It means passing on the golden-looking thing that you sense, in your gut, is not on the up-and-up.

She also manages to include Antiques Roadshow, the San Diego Comic-con, and the Brimfield Flea Market.

The great test comes at the end, when we say goodbye to Curt Avery, newly 50, in the year 2010. Do you want to know what happened next? I know I did. I still wonder about Curt Avery, and I still hope he’ll find the score of a lifetime.

Worth buying new, at full price.

How to buy Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Please purchase it from an independent bookstore near you.

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 Penguin Books.

Maureen Stanton has a website. She’s also on Twitter and Instagram.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money was originally published in 2011.

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RECORD! A Phillip Lloyd Powell Fireplace Sold for $96,000 at Rago

A black walnut fireplace, measuring seven and a half feet tall, created by Phillip Lloyd Powell in the mid-1950s. It set a world auction record for the artist at Rago in 2008.

What you see: A carved and sculpted black walnut fireplace, created circa 1956 and 1958 by Phillip Lloyd Powell. It set a record for any piece by Powell when it sold for $96,000 against an estimate of $25,000 to $45,000 at Rago in April 2008.


The expert
: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

Let’s start by discussing Phillip Lloyd Powell and why his work still speaks to us. It’s a complicated answer. The first is he’s part of the New Hope school, and the New Hope school is considered a very relevant school of design, which includes George Nakashima and Paul Evans. Two, Powell is really good. His idea of furniture design is singular. Three, he was very hands-on. Paul Evans made 35,000 pieces. George Nakashima, 35,000 to 40,000. Phillip Lloyd Powell, maybe 1,000. Of the three of them, it works to his detriment. It’s hard to create a market if there’s not much there. But when you buy a piece by Phillip Lloyd Powell, you buy something he had his hands on. With Powell, it was personal.

In what ways is this Powell fireplace typical of his output, and in what ways is it unusual? Powell’s gift with wood was to draw out drama in grain flow, knots, and the overall organic form and feel. He did this by carefully choosing where in the grain carving and shaping would occur. He started with an overall vision and worked a piece down to creating contrasts between honed and chipped carved surfaces, often on the very same board. That’s what’s typical here. What’s unusual here is the grandness of the gesture.

The grandness of the gesture? What I’d say is the scale of it. It’s big and imposing. It almost imitates the flames of the fire in the way he treats the wood.

Is this the only fireplace Powell made? He did stuff for fireplaces, such as mantels. A sculpted wall like this–it’s the only one I’ve seen.

What’s the story behind the Powell fireplace? Did he create it on commission, or did he make it on spec as a showpiece for his New Hope showroom? My understanding is it was an on-spec piece for the showroom, probably to show his chops as an artist.

The Powell fireplace looks very powerful to me. Almost masculine. It is, but the treatment of the wood is more delicate. It’s like a fire licking a fireplace. It’s more organic. It certainly defines the New Hope school of woodworking. George Nakashima let the wood speak. Phil had more of a hand in letting it talk.

What, if anything, do we know about how the Powell fireplace was made–how it was carved and sculpted? If Powell left no notes, what can we tell, just by looking, how challenging this would have been to make? From living artists that worked with Phil, such as Dorsey Reading and Charles Tiffany, we know that his most important tools were custom-made pneumatic chisels. An automotive-use air chisel was modified and specially shaped to make deep gauges in small areas. To finish off roughly chiseled surfaces, semi-flexible shapes of rubber and foam were cut out of larger sheets and used as backing for sanding wood smooth.

Is this Powell fireplace made from a single piece of wood, or is it made from several pieces that have been joined? It’s made from a number of slabs of American black walnut. There was a few sources for the lumber. Traveling salesmen would sell lumber to artists like George Nakashima. Powell would get the pieces most others didn’t buy or want because they were too irregular for conventional use. Powell also used to source similar boards from a mill in Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania.

How did Powell fireproof the fireplace? I’m guessing that the fire itself is set far enough back. It was in fabulous condition–no indication even of it being dried out by fire.

How does the Powell fireplace show his mastery? He used wood, and he used great wood. The scale of the piece shows his capacity to sculpt. This is on a grand scale and gives him a lot of room to roam with his particular talents and his particular eye. You can see it as mirroring the fire in the fireplace, the sensuous, organic movement to it.

I see that the Powell fireplace lacks a mantel, or a shelf to put things on. I suspect this was a deliberate choice by the artist… Exactly. We can only guess, but why interrupt that? Leave it alone. Just leave it be.

I realize you last handled the Powell fireplace in 2008, but could you tell me what it was like in person? Are there aspects of the piece that the image doesn’t quite get across? I can remember what it looks like in person because it’s out on display at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It has a presence to it. I’ve seen hundreds of pieces of his work. Powell was on that day. Though it is large, it’s more captivating than imposing, like the scale is ameliorated by the treatment of the wood and the overall design, curvaceous sculpting that unifies all the elements of it.

The provenance of the Powell fireplace includes Dorsey Reading, a noted craftsman who worked with Paul Evans. How did that enhance its interest to collectors? It’s nice to know it was a bench-made piece, made to spec to show off his chops, but the authorship was never in doubt. Pieces like this are so self-explanatory. If you understand organic mid-century woodworking–if you’re into that–this thing’ll talk to you.

What do you recall of the auction? We knew the piece was going to do well. We knew there was institutional interest [interest from museums]. There was a buzz before the sale.

The sale took place in April 2008. Powell passed away in March 2008. Might the timing of his death have helped push the fireplace to a record auction result? It’s certainly possible, though I think the fireplace stood on its own merits well enough. The Michener Art Museum needed a stellar example of his work, and I’m confident they’d have chased it in any case. 

Were you surprised that the Powell fireplace set a world auction record for the artist? I think I was a bit surprised, but that says more about my lack of knowledge of the material at the time. And fireplaces are not easy to sell. It’s a site-specific object. They usually don’t go well.

Are you surprised the Powell fireplace still holds the record, eleven years later? No. No. Of the thousand or so things he made, I’ve personally seen 400 or 500. I’ve had others that are special. This is the best of them. My guess is if it sold now, it would bring more.

Even though it’s a fireplace, and comes with the issues fireplaces pose? Yes.

Do pieces that Powell made to wow people in his showroom tend to sell better at auction than those he did on commission? I don’t know. I don’t know how many he made on spec for the showroom. I would say it’s a small percentage. I didn’t know the fireplace was on spec until I got it from Dorsey Reading, who was there at the time. But those guys didn’t keep records. The showroom was open on Saturdays from 9 pm to midnight, after the Bucks County Playhouse got out. They were artists during the 1960s. They were having fun, doing their thing. It was very slapdash.

Why does this Powell fireplace stick in your memory? I’m something of an expert on Phillip Lloyd Powell. I’ve been selling Powell’s work since the 1990s, and I’ve handled many pieces. I really do think I’ve seen more of Powell’s work than anybody. This is the best I’ve come across. It’s not one of the best, it’s the one.

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 is on Twitter and Instagram.

David Rago has appeared on The Hot Bid several times before, speaking about a George Ohr vase,  a super-tall Wally Birda record-setting unique ceramic tile by Frederick Hurten Rheada Paul Evans cabinet, and a René Lalique vase.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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RECORD! An Hermès Birkin Sets the Record for Any Handbag at Christie’s Hong Kong

A 2011 Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Hermès Birkin 30 handbag with 18k white gold and diamond hardware. As of November 2019, it holds the world auction record for any handbag.

What you see: A 2011 Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Hermès Birkin 30 handbag with 18k white gold and diamond hardware. Christie’s Hong Kong sold it in November 2017 for HKD $2.9 million, or roughly $382,000, a world auction record for any handbag.

The expert: Caitlin Donovan, vice president, head of sale auction and private sales for handbags and accessories at Christie’s New York.

Why does Hermès dominate the secondary market for handbags? Hermès dominates the market because they created supply and demand, based on how difficult it is to get pieces on the primary market. People have to come to the secondary market to buy bags because they can’t walk into a store and buy them.

And why, among Hermès handbags, does the Birkin dominate so completely? The Hermès Birkin and the Hermès Kelly, both those two are in the lead. Again, it has to do with exclusivity. They’re released in limited numbers. The Kelly sells for a little bit less on the retail market, but both are exclusive and sell for comparable premiums on the secondary market.

How many Hermès Birkins does Hermès make in a given year? There are no definitive numbers.

How often does Hermès make the particular type of Birkin that holds the world auction record? Again, there are no definitive numbers. I, as a handbag specialist, might see a couple a year.

The record-breaking Hermès Birkin is described as being matte white in color. The two previous record-holders were also matte white. Is that a coincidence? If not, why are collectors so keen on matte white Hermès Birkins? They’re matte white, but they’re Himalaya. It’s [the subtle matte white coloration of the bag requires] a technical dyeing process that only very skilled craftspeople can produce. It’s dyed in degrees that most resemble the [colors of the] top of the Himalaya mountains. It’s the rarest, most exclusive bag, and Hermès is said to be not producing it anymore. If you want it, you have to go to the secondary market.

So, Hermès might have stopped making the matte white Himalaya Birkins? It could also be that Hermès is very controlled in its release of inventory. They pride themselves on [creating] wearable works of art. They make sure not to flood the market with pieces.

What does “Niloticus” mean in this context? Does it describe the type of crocodile leather used for the record-breaking Hermès Birkin? Yes, it’s the crocodile skin used to make it. Up to now, Hermès uses Niloticus or Porosos crocodile skin, but the finest is Niloticus.

Why is Niloticus considered the finer of the two? It probably has something to do with the dyeing process. Porosos has holes in the scales, little breathing holes that are noticeable. Niloticus scales are more even in size and symmetric.

The record-breaking Hermès Birkin has a “30” in its description. What does the number mean in this context? It indicates the size. Common sizes are 25, 30, 35, and 40. Smaller pieces are on trend. Collectors in Asia and the Far East favor smaller pieces.

How did the presence of 18k white gold and diamond hardware affect the auction performance of the record-breaking Hermès Birkin? Majorly, as you can imagine. They make the piece more elusive and valuable.

The lot notes for the record-breaking Hermès Birkin say it earned Condition Grade 1. What does that mean here? Our bags are graded on a scale of one to five. At auction, most fall within the range of one to three. One is exactly the same condition as if it was purchased from the store. Collectors want this condition. They don’t want signs of use.

So an Hermès Birkin that earns Condition Grade 1 is still in its original box, with all its accoutrements, and the packaging still in place? Correct.

And if an otherwise great Hermès Birkin was missing any of its accoutrements…? It would be affected, but it depends on the preferences of the person who buys it.

Since 2015, the world auction record for a handbag has broken several times, and each time, it broke at Christie’s. Why is that the case? Major collectors of handbags are comfortable with Christie’s, and we have the top offerings globally. That plays a role in breaking records.

Have you seen the record-breaking Hermès Birkin in person? Yes. I was there in Hong Kong for both [the May 2017 record and the November 2017 record]. It’s beautiful. You understand the craftsmanship in the bag when you see it in person.

And the only difference between the Hermès Birkin Himalaya that broke the record in May 2017 and the Hermès Birkin Himalaya that broke the record in November 2017 is the years in which each was made? Yes, that’s the only difference.

What was it like to see the auction handbag record break twice in the space of a year? In Hong Kong, the energy in the room is fabulous. Handbags are a new collecting category, and setting records is integral to building the category. It’s exciting and emotional to see records broken.

Does the Hong Kong saleroom have its own unique energy? Yes. New York, Geneva, and London have different energy. That said, a full sale room is a full sale room. There are different types of collectors in each area.

Why do you think the world auction record for a handbag broke twice in 2017? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we started the department in 2014 and it took a few years for it to get established at Christie’s. By 2017, we were three years into auctions, and we’d built a client base.

What was your role in the November 2017 record-breaking Hermès Birkin auction? Were you on the phone with a client? Yes.

Was the winning bidder in the room? I can’t say who the buyer was, but there was definitely competitive bidding in the room.

Since November 2017, the auction record for a handbag has remained stable after a few years during which it turned over fairly constantly. Why do you think things are seemingly less intense now? A bag hasn’t come up to this degree [a bag that rivals the record-holder], but I wouldn’t be surprised if something comes up this season. The record is ready to be broken at any time.

When do you think we’ll see a Hermès Kelly become the most expensive handbag at auction? I’d love to see our record get challenged. A Kelly or another could break the record. I would love that, to be honest.

Would a potential record-breaking Hermès Kelly have to be similar in style to the record-breaking Hermès Birkin, do you think? A Hermès Kelly in 18k gold and diamond hardware in Himalaya white could break the record. I don’t know if it exists, but if it does, it could break the record.

Why does this record-breaking Hermès Birkin stick in your memory? These pieces are wearable works of art. Even when you see bags all day long, when you’re around a piece as beautiful as this, you appreciate it.


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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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The Ten Most Popular Stories on The Hot Bid in 2019 (THB: Year in Review)

The Malling-Hansen "writing ball" was the eighth most popular story on The Hot Bid in 2019.
The Malling-Hansen “Writing Ball” was the eighth most popular story on The Hot Bid in 2019.

Which stories did readers of The Hot Bid enjoy and share the most in 2019? Counting down, from ten to one, they are…

A story on cover art created by Edward Gorey for The New Yorker was the tenth most popular post on The Hot Bid in 2019.

10. Cat Fancy, an original piece of Edward Gorey cover art for The New Yorker. Offered at Swann Auction Galleries with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000, it sold for $16,250. Christine von der Linn, Swann’s specialist in art books and original illustration, said, “It draws you in… Part of its enchantment is that you find yourself, like the cats, getting lost in that big, soft bed.”

The ninth most popular story on The Hot Bid in 2019 featured a patriotic sand bottle created by Andrew Clemens.

9. An Andrew Clemens sand bottle with a patriotic theme. Created in 1887, the bottle rocketed past its estimate of $35,000 to $45,000 to sell for $102,000 at Cowan’s Auctions. Auction house founder Wes Cowan called it “an outstanding example of [Clemens’s] late period work, but he didn’t make any crappy examples… He was recognized as a genius then and now. Anyone who holds a bottle in their hands is flabbergasted.”

8. A Malling-Hansen writing ball, an example of the first commercial typewriter. Auction Team Breker assigned this circa 1870s device, created by Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen, an estimate of €70,000 to €90,000 ($78,000 to $100,000) and sold it for €100,000 (about $111,600). Nick Hawkins, speaking on behalf of auction house founder Uwe Breker, said, “One of the things that’s remarkable about the design is it’s very organic, the curvature of the top and the keys… [Malling-Hansen’s] machine was really revolutionary when you look back on it now. It was almost too modern for its time.”

Ranking seventh on the list of the ten most popular stories on The Hot Bid for 2019 is a post about a circa 1880 Narragansett punch ladle.

7. A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, made circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimated it at $10,000 to $15,000 and sold it for $16,250. Specialist Jenny Pitman described the experience of holding the ladle: “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.”

Coming in as the sixth most popular post of 2019 on The Hot Bid is a piece on an exquisite talking skull automaton offered at Potter & Potter.

6. A Willmann talking skull automaton, made circa 1930 in Germany by designer John Willmann. Potter & Potter estimated it at $6,000 to $9,000, and sold it for $13,200. Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter, summed up its appeal: “It combines the aesthetics and mechanics into a shining example of what [Willmann] was capable of. It’s a combination of art and science. And you know it’s a real human skull.”

An Ammi Phillips portrait that went on to set a record for the artist claims fifth place on the list of most popular posts on The Hot Bid in 2019.

5. Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a portrait painted by American folk artist Ammi Phillips circa 1830-1835. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for $1.69 million and a new world auction record for Phillips. John Hays, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas, said of the painting, “It captures the essence of what folk art collectors want and what they look for. It’s hard to define it in words, but it has a universality to it. It’s just riveting, and kind of mesmerizing. You say, ‘God, he gets it.’”

This story on a piece of original art from Neil Gaiman's comic book masterpiece The Sandman comes in as the fourth most popular post on The Hot Bid in 2019.

4. Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Hake’s estimated it at $5,000 to $10,000. It ultimately sold for $14,278 and a new world auction record for artwork from the original series of The Sandman. “As much as The Sandman was about the writing, the artwork is spectacular,” said Hake’s President Alex Winter. “With comic books, sometimes the art is great but the story is just ok, or the art is just ok but the story is great. With this, all 75 issues plus the special are great. It never jumped the shark. I’m a lifelong comic book geek. If someone came in and asked me, ‘What should I read?’ I’d hand them The Sandman.”

Readers loved this story about Edgar Allan Poe's pocket watch, pushing it to third on the list of the most popular stories on The Hot Bid in 2019.

3. An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s gave it an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000 and sold it for the stunning price of $250,000. Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York, talked about what it was like to hold the watch: “I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.”

Two Star Wars Boba Fett prototypes set world auction records in 2019, enough to win second place on the list of The Hot Bid's most popular stories of the year.

2. A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration. It broke the world auction record for any Star Wars action figure when it sold at Hake’s for $112,926. Five months later, a different, fully painted Boba Fett prototype soared to $185,850. The two results are the latest in a series of record-breaking auctions of Star Wars action figures, all of which occurred at Hake’s. The auction house’s president, Alex Winter, said of the historic string of sales, “Five years ago, it [the Boba Fett prototype] was a $25,000 figure. Star Wars collectors are serious, and a lot are of the age where they have disposable income. It’s in the last five years or so that it’s been elevated to the level that it is.”

The Mirror of Paradise Golconda diamond enchanted readers of The Hot Bid in 2019. It tops the list of the most popular stories of the year.

1.The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring.  It carried an estimate of $7 million to $10 million and sold for $6.5 million at Christie’s New York. Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, enjoyed the privilege of wearing the ring. “It was a bit breathtaking to try it on. It’s an exceptional stone,” she said, adding, “One of the perks, or requirements, of the job is actually trying jewelry on, because a lot of clients aren’t able to see it in person. Being able to handle and interact with the pieces gives a better sense of what they’re like. They’re not just objects–they’re worn.”

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.

Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Swann Auction Galleries, for the Edward Gorey Cat Fancy art.

Cowan’s Auctions, for the Andrew Clemens sand bottle.

Auction Team Breker, for the Malling-Hansen “writing ball”.

Rago Auctions, for the Narragansett pattern punch ladle.

Potter & Potter, for the talking skull automaton.

Christie’s, for the Ammi Phillips portrait, the Edgar Allan Poe pocket watch, and the Mirror of Paradise Golconda diamond.

Hake’s, for the original art from The Sandman and for the Boba Fett prototype.

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

The Ten Most Expensive Lots on The Hot Bid in 2019 (THB: Year in Review)

Kenneth Noland's Songs: Yesterdays was the sixth most expensive lot featured on The Hot Bid in 2019.
Kenneth Noland’s Songs: Yesterdays was the seventh most expensive lot featured on The Hot Bid in 2019.

Most lots chosen to appear on The Hot Bid go on to find buyers. Here are the ten that commanded the highest sums in 2019.

Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo sold for $425,075, good enough to earn ninth place on the list of the most expensive lots featured on The Hot Bid in 2019.

10. Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimated it at $300,000 to $500,000 and sold it for $425,075. In discussing Howard Terpning’s appeal, Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department, said, “It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.”

A charming portrait of John Singer Sargent, rendered by Boldini, is the eighth most expensive lot showcased on The Hot Bid in 2019.

9. An oil on panel portrait of the artist John Singer Sargent, painted by Giovanni Boldini in 1890. It carried an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000 ($261,800 to $391,200), and fetched £371,250, or about $494,000, at Christie’s London. Veronica Scarpati, specialist at Christie’s London, said of the work, “What I love about it is you can see the board [the panel] coming through, especially on the edges. It doesn’t appear to be a commission, or a study. It’s an artist at play, looking up to and admiring [his friend]. That’s why it’s so special. It’s frank and intimate.”

8. Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas from the late Kenneth Noland. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimated the painting at $100,000 to $150,000 and sold it for $550,000. “It’s vibrant. It’s really quite impressive. It’s in flawless condition, which is always nice,” said Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA, adding, “It almost vibrates right in front of your eyes. It’s not subtle like some of his chevrons. This is really bold, and pops out.”

A first edition of Copernicus's masterwork earned sixth place on the list of most expensive lots on The Hot Bid in 2019.

7. A 1543 copy of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri V [On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres], by Nicolaus Copernicus, the first scientific work to place the sun at the center of the heavens, rather than the Earth. Estimated at £500,000 to £700,000, or $633,000 to $886,200, it sold at Christie’s London for £587,250, or roughly $734,569. Barbara Scalvini, expert specialist in the book and manuscript department at Christie’s, spoke of the sensation of handling the landmark book: “To me, one of the most affecting parts of the book is the illustration of the concentric circles of the planets around the sun. You can see the earth, a little dot emphasized with a circle, that says we humans are not the center of the universe, but an accident on the periphery.”

A unique ceramic tile created for a bathroom in a St. Moritz penthouse  is the fifth most expensive lot to appear on The Hot Bid in 2019.

6. COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down, which is how the person who commissioned it displayed it in his home.] Sotheby’s estimated it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. It commanded $1.28 million, just a bit more than its high estimate. “It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in,” said Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s day auctions of Contemporary art in New York, adding, “Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.”

This magnificent portrait by American folk artist Ammi Phillips is the fourth most expensive lot featured on The Hot Bid in 2019.

5. Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a circa 1830-1835 portrait by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for $1.69 million and a new world auction record for the artist. In explaining why Phillips’s portraits of children fetch the highest prices for the artist at auction, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.”

First-generation NASA videotapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk sold for $1.8 million in 2019--enough to earn third place on the list of the most expensive lots showcased on The Hot Bid this year.

4. Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million. They sold for $1.8 million. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, viewed the tapes in the process of preparing them for sale, and was surprised by the emotions that the familiar images evoked. “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.”

The Mirror of Paradise Golconda diamond was bound to make the list of the most expensive lots on The Hot Bid in 2019. The only surprise is it ranked in second place.

3. The Mirror of Paradise, a 52.58-carat Golconda diamond set in a ring. Estimated at $7 million to $10 million, it commanded $6.5 million at Christie’s New York. In discussing why the precious stone has a rectangular cut, Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas, said, “The rough would have dictated what shape it is. You can find Golcondas in all shapes. The cut of the Mirror of Paradise is so spectacular. It gives it a brilliance you don’t often find in an emerald cut.”

The American flamingo plate from the double elephant folio version of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, which ranks third on the list of the most expensive lots featured on The Hot Bid in 2019.

2. A double elephant folio version of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Sotheby’s estimated the copy of the legendary book at $6 million to $8 million. It sold for $6.6 million in a single-lot auction. Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York, said of the American flamingo plate shown above, “It’s the encapsulation of Audubon’s achievement in a single plate. He took an enormous, wonderful scarlet bird and gets it in there without looking unnatural or awkward. And he throws in anatomical details at the top, which he very seldom does. It’s a great combination of artistry, science, and the personal observation behind the artistry.”

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun's majestic portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan sold for almost $7.2 million and ranks as the most expensive lot showcased on The Hot Bid in 2019.

1. Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s New York estimated it at $4 million to $6 million. It sold for almost $7.2 million–a record for the artist, and a record for any female artist of the pre-modern era. “[Vigée Le Brun] was a brilliant painter and a brilliant portraitist, able to capture the subject with a sense of knowing them,” said Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, adding, “I think her early training as a pastelist shows a sense of softness and light that comes from the pastel medium. Her social skills were advanced, and she used them to her advantage to get the sittings she got and to draw out her sitters. She studied them and knew who they were, and she focused on them.”


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.

Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Bonhams, for the Glinda the Good Witch test wand and the Howard Terpning painting.

Christie’s, for the Copernicus, the Boldini portrait of Sargent, the Ammi Phillips portrait, and the Mirror of Paradise Golconda diamond.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), for the Kenneth Noland painting.

Sotheby’s, for the Lichtenstein ceramic panel, the Apollo 11 moon walk tapes, and the Le Brun portrait.

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

Every Lot Featured on The Hot Bid in 2019 That Went On to Set a World Auction Record (THB: Year in Review)

Seated Woman, a 1962 mahogany sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, is one of several lots featured on The Hot Bid in 2019 that went on to sell for a world auction record.
Seated Woman, a 1962 mahogany sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, was among the many lots featured on The Hot Bid that went on to set a world auction record.

Most lots showcased on The Hot Bid do well at auction. Some perform exceptionally well. Here are all the lots featured on The Hot Bid that went on to set a world auction record in 2019.

A charming 1830s portrait of a child by Ammi Phillips set a record for the artist at auction at Christie's in 2019.

Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, painted between 1830 and 1835 by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for just under $1.7 million and a world auction record for the artist. In explaining what makes the winsome portrait distinctly American, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.”

Perhaps the only fearsome portrait Vigée Le Brun ever did sold at Sotheby's in 2019 to set a world auction record for the artist.

Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s estimated it at $4 million to $6 million, and it sold for almost $7.2 million. It set two world auction records: One for Vigée Le Brun, and another for any female artist of the pre-modern era. In discussing how Vigée Le Brun captured the sitter’s ferocity, Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, said, “It’s the look on his face, but a lot of it is the pose. It’s amazing to me, the masculine power–“Let me hold a large sharp sword”–but the sword has beautiful detailed carving. It’s a work of art in itself. There’s a balance to the sense of power that comes from the sword, the pose, and the look.”

Emma Amos's vibrant mixed-media work, Let Me Off Uptown, set a world auction record for the artist at Swann Auction Galleries in 2019.

Let Me Off Uptown, an 80 inch by 78 7/8 inch work by African-American artist Emma Amos that incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, it sold at Swann Auction Galleries for $125,000 and a world auction record for Amos. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, said of the piece, “It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.”

John Lennon's personal copy of the Beatles' notorious "Butcher" cover album set a record at Julien's Auctions in 2019.

A U.S first state “Butcher” album prototype, stereo example, of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, which was owned by John Lennon, who inscribed and dated it and drew a sketch on the back cover. A subsequent owner of the album obtained signatures from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Julien’s Auctions estimated it at $160,000 to $180,000. It fetched $234,400–a record for a Beatles “Butcher” album. It left Lennon’s possession when he traded it for a Beatles bootleg. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, explained why the exchange made sense to the musician: “Lennon surely thought that getting his hands on the recording was more important to him at the time. He could get another album cover on his wall if he still needed it. Morrell [Dave Morrell, the other party involved in the swap] was not interested in monetary value. He in turn got something he wanted.”

Demas Nwoko's Children on Cycles lurked under a bed in Boston for five decades before it emerged to set a record at Bonhams in 2019.

Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Estimated at $70,000 to $100,000, it sold for $225,075 at Bonhams New York–a new world auction record for Demas Nwoko, and more than double his previous record. The painting had been purchased in Nigeria and had been stashed under a bed in Boston for five decades when Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams, learned of its existence. “I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed,” he says, recalling. “We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, ‘What about this, is it special?’ I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.”

A remarkably crisp and clearly printed 1935 Negro League broadside set a record at Hake's in 2019.

A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimated it at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold it for $8,850, a world auction record for this particular piece of baseball ephemera. Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant, talking about what the piece is like in person, said, “It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.”

A page of original art from a 1990 issue of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman set a record at Hake's in 2019.

Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Hake’s estimated it at $5,000 to $10,000. It commanded $14,278 and a new record for artwork from the original series of the legendary comic book. “The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate,” says Alex Winter, president of Hake’s, adding, “It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as ‘Batman beats Superman.’ With The Sandman, you can’t say that.”

A trio of ex-NASA Apollo 11 moon walk tapes sold for a record $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20, 2019.

Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million, and sold them for $1.8 million, a record for vintage videotape. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said of the group, “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.”

Elizabeth Catlett's 1962 mahogany sculpture, Seated Woman, set a record for the artist at Swann Auction Galleries in 2019.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, Swann Auction Galleries sold it for $389,000 and a world auction record for the artist. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, described the sculpture as having “a beautiful surface. It is a thing people want to handle. It stands about two feet tall. It’s larger than its size–it’s got a bigger presence. It’s got a certain heft and weight to it. You’re drawn to it. It’s very attractive.”

This unpainted Boba Fett prototype set an auction record at Hake's in 2019, and was bested five months later by a different Boba Fett prototype offered by Hake's.

This is a two-fer of sorts. An unpainted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype crossed the six-figure threshold at Hake’s in July 2019, setting a new world auction record for any Star Wars action figure. Five months later, a fully painted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype sold for $185,850. In explaining why the Kenner toy company fabricated more than one Boba Fett prototype, Hake’s President Alex Winter said, “Prototypes for action figures are much more layered than for other things. They go through various stages, various color treatments. That’s why there’s so many Boba Fett prototypes. Only a handful have been at auction. It’s still fairly uncommon for them to come up. We happen to have had the luxury of two back to back [in March 2018 and July 2019], and one coming up [in November 2019].”

Oscar Howe's Medicine Man set a record for the artist at Santa Fe Art Auction in 2019.

Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimated it at $25,000 to $35,000 and sold it for $25,000, which represents a world auction record for Howe. Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction, said, “It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. [Howe] rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.”

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.

Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:

Swann Auction Galleries, for the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture and the Emma Amos mixed-media work.

Bonhams, for the Demas Nwoko painting.

Christie’s, for the Ammi Phillips portrait.

Santa Fe Art Auction, for the Oscar Howe painting.

Sotheby’s, for the Apollo 11 moon walk tapes and the portrait by Vigée Le Brun.

Julien’s Auctions, for John Lennon’s personal “Butcher” cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album.

Hake’s, for the original art from The Sandman, the 1935 Negro Leagues broadside, and the Boba Fett prototype.

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

Audubon's The Birds of America Could Sell for $8 Million or More at Sotheby's (Updated December 19)

A plate from John James Audubon's The Birds of America, featuring the American flamingo.

Update: The double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America sold in a single-lot auction for $6.6 million.

What you see: The American flamingo plate from the double elephant folio version of The Birds of America by John James Audubon. Sotheby’s estimates the copy of the legendary book at $6 million to $8 million.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

First, let’s talk about who Audubon was, and what he went through to create this book. Audubon was initially a nature lover and in particular, a bird lover. As a boy growing up in France and as an older teen in the United States, he loved seeing birds, and he loved drawing birds. But he didn’t have the sense of that as his profession. He ran a shop, and worked in a museum for a while, but he kept being drawn back to nature.

I understand that Alexander Wilson paid a visit to Audubon’s shop, and that proved to be something of a turning point? Wilson showed him his portfolio of drawings for his own book of American birds. Audubon was polite, but he recognized that his [drawings] were far superior to Wilson’s. He was hit with the idea of making drawings and sharing them with a wider audience.

The Carolina Parrot plate from the double elephant folio version of John James Audubon's The Birds of America. Sadly, the bird has since gone extinct.

Was Audubon the first person to show the birds at full size in the pages of a book? Audubon hit upon the idea of depicting the birds at actual size, which had never been done before. For wrens and robins, that’s easily done. For big water birds, that presents a challenge. Because he spent so much time outside, he understood their habits informed what they did. He was not looking at stuffed, taxidermied birds. He was out in the field, appreciating them in natural poses in their own environment. He devoted years of his life to tramping around the United States, and tried to present them as living creatures, not stuffed portraits.

What talents did Audubon need to have to make The Birds of America a reality? He was an artist, but he was also an entrepreneur, a promoter, and an organizer. It was the work of one person, but he had a large support system. He needed to find a paper manufacturer who could fulfill his vision to depict the birds at life size and found one in England. One of the ironies of The Birds of America is to find a craftsman capable of producing the book, he had to go to Great Britain. He had to find engravers who could fully translate [his images] into print. He needed colorists to translate the vividness of his watercolors. And he had to find subscribers to pay for it.

Yes, can we talk about how Audubon’s The Birds of America isn’t like books sold today–you couldn’t walk into a bookstore and buy a complete copy, you had to subscribe to it? It took eleven years to complete, and it was issued by subscription and in parts. By getting subscribers to support the book, Audubon had some capital to begin with. The Birds of America was issued in monthly parts of five engravings: one large bird, one medium-size bird, and three smaller birds. It was not issued taxonomically. You didn’t get all the owls or all the songbirds at once. You had to wait for 20 parts to be completed and then you got an engraved title page for volume one, to have it bound. It was a long process for Audubon and for the people who subscribed to his work. But once people saw the engravings and the quality of them, I’m sure they got excited waiting for the next installment to come, and I’m sure there was sadness after the last title page arrived.

And I understand that 119 complete copies of the double elephant folio version of Audubon’s The Birds of America were produced? Audubon got at least 161 subscriptions, and I think he printed additional copies. The best guess is 175 to 200 full sets were completed. The most recent census we have is 119 complete or essentially complete copies, mostly in university libraries or museums. Approximately 60 sets were lost, or more likely, taken apart and sold plate by plate.

The Snowy Owl plate from John James Audubon's legendary book, The Birds of America.

Audubon produced several versions of The Birds of America. Why is the double elephant folio version the most desirable of them all? As in all book-collecting, it’s king because it’s first. You want the first edition, you don’t want the tenth edition. And it’s the only edition that depicts the birds at life size. Even in the 19th century, it was an expensive book. Only the wealthy and institutions could afford it.

How is the octavo version different from the double elephant folio version of The Birds of America? It’s a reduced-size version. With a few exceptions, the birds are not depicted at life size. It’s still a very beautiful edition, and the plates are colored by hand. But the difference between them is like seeing the Statue of Liberty and picking up a souvenir of the Statue of Liberty at a New York gift shop. It’s a difference in scale.

I understand that The Birds of America devotes a separate volume to its text, and the volumes with the plates are just that–volumes with plates. Why did Audubon design the book in that way? He did it deliberately, and not just because it was difficult to read pages of that size. He was required to give two copies of books with text to the United Kingdom [a rule that then applied to every book printed in the country]. He avoided that by printing the plates separately and [satisfying the law by] giving the text volume.

Do the text volumes that go with the double elephant folio version of The Birds of America tend to survive alongside the plates-only volumes, or do they tend to part ways? They’re often found separated. The text is a wonderful account, a great story of Western exploration. The sad fact is–and I don’t know if this is a sad fact or not–when we think of The Birds of America, we think of the plates. Many copies don’t have text, or they don’t have the text that was issued with it. In the larger scheme of things, it’s not considered a significant flaw if a copy lacks the text. Because it was published separately, it’s not integral to the book.

The 435 plates in Audubon’s The Birds of America were colored by hand. How did that work? It was actually fairly efficient, and certainly meticulously done. It was intricate work. There was a roomful of colorists, mostly women, but some men and some children. They worked from a pattern plate that was probably colored by Audubon himself. It was an assembly line. One colorist would do all the green areas and pass it to someone else to do the yellow areas. The most skilled colorists would do the birds themselves. We’re very fortunate that this copy benefits from being overseen by very talented colorists.

The overview for this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America on the Sotheby’s website notes that the “plates are in a very early state”. Could you elaborate? What does that say about this copy of the book? It goes back to the standards of book-collecting. You want the earliest. Primacy is important. If there’s a misprint on the title page of the book, and it’s discovered and corrected after 100 copies are printed, book collectors want the one with the error.

The overview also describes this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America as being ‘unusually large and brilliantly colored’. Again, could you elaborate? And is it more ‘brilliantly colored’ than other examples of the same book? Any bound set that’s remained bound and not overly displayed is more brightly colored than a book that’s been broken up and the plates framed. With this book, The Birds of America, there are so many large images it’s important they’re not cut down, because some of the birds take up almost the whole page. If you shave it, you could shave a feather or a beak. This is a set that hasn’t been trimmed very much at all. There’s very little loss of any images and it’s had the luck to go through the hands of a master colorist, so the images are brilliant.

What else helped preserved the colors of the plates of this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America? The subscriber was an institution, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. It was not in the open library. It could not be checked out. It’s a combination of it being colored very well and preserved well over the centuries.

What makes Audubon’s The Birds of America such a great and desirable book? Several reasons. One, birds still cast a spell. It goes back to Audubon’s fascination with them. As a species, they’re beautiful. There are many bird-watching societies. People enjoy birds. Second is the book itself. It was highly unusual at the time, and it was unprecedented to produce a book of this size. If you go to a library where it’s on view, or an auction house that’s selling it, you can see the monumental size of it. Third is the whole notion of one man’s obsession to get the book to completion. And frankly, I would not discount the value part of the equation. A book that could sell for five, six, seven, eight million dollars–that’s exciting.

Sotheby’s sent over high-resolution images of some of the key plates from the book, and I’d like to discuss each of them. Could we start with the Carolina parrots? Why is this such a strong image? It goes back to the idea of observing birds in the wild and knowing how they behave. A few decades before Audubon, birds were shown absolutely still, in profile, on a branch. That’d be it. Here, he’s showing a flock, or portion of a flock. He shows males, females, and one juvenile at the bottom with his green head. He shows them in the tree they live in. They interact with each other in a variety of poses. He shows action and activity and fills the page, showing them in 360 degrees. You don’t feel like you’re looking at an engraving–you feel like you’re looking at a tree full of birds. And it’s an interesting plate as well because it’s one of the birds Audubon depicts that’s extinct.

Next we have the American flamingo, which bowls me over because in lesser hands, this could have been a mess, but it looks perfectly natural. It’s the encapsulation of Audubon’s achievement in a single plate. He took an enormous, wonderful scarlet bird and gets it in there without looking unnatural or awkward. And he throws in anatomical details at the top, which he very seldom does. It’s a great combination of artistry, science, and the personal observation behind the artistry.

And we have a night scene with the Snowy Owls. Which is very rare. I think there are only two other night scenes out of the other 435 plates. You’re drawn to the birds and initially, you don’t understand that it’s a night scene. But he uses the night scene to make the white of the bird really pop out. They’re up a tree on a mountain, a very dramatic setting and a very powerful image.

How many double elephant folio copies of Audubon’s The Birds of America have you handled? I think this will be the fifth copy I’m involved with selling. I have appraised other copies. Probably, in all, I’ve seen the better part of 20 different copies.

The copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America that holds the world auction record sold at Sotheby’s London in December 2010. Were you present for that sale? Yes.

How does this copy compare to the record-setting copy you sold ten years ago? They’re very similar, but one principal difference is the 2010 copy, the Hesketh copy, was in a more elaborate binding. This has a less expensive binding appropriate for the [subscribing] institution, and just as appropriate for the work. The Hesketh is one of the finest copies ever sold. If I had to rank them, Hesketh is 1, and this is 1A. It was in an institution and it did have more handling than the Hesketh copy had. I’d give a slight edge to the Hesketh, but that in no way diminishes the fine condition of this copy.

Does it edge out the Hesketh on the quality of the hand-coloration of its plates? That is harder to remember. I’d say the very best plates of this copy are as good as or better than the Hesketh. They are very comparable. The best plates here are luminous and saturated with color.

What is the book like in person? It has nuance of color and amazing gradation. A bird from across the way looks blue or brown or black. Up close, you appreciate the differences of shade and you see the detail in the flowers, the blades of grass, and the animals in the background. The luminosity is just stunning. And to see it in person–wow, the book really is almost four feet high. We aren’t used to seeing a bound work of this size.

It’s tricky to do now. Absolutely, and in some ways, it’s not practical. What would you do with it? This came with a George IV oak cabinet [to store it in], so that part is solved.

Sotheby’s is selling this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America in a single-lot auction. Is this the first time Sotheby’s has done that for an Audubon double elephant folio? I think it might be. We don’t do single-lot catalogs very often. When we do, they go on to set records. It not only says something about the regard the book is held in, but its potential to reach a high price as well.

Why will this copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America stick in your memory? The coloring, and the fact that it’s the second time I’ve been involved in selling it. In 1990, I went to London to assist in the cataloging [the last time Sotheby’s sold it]. I’ve been here a long time. To see the book come back almost 30 years later is very gratifying and exciting.

How to bid: Audubon’s The Birds of America features in a single-lot auction taking place at Sotheby’s New York on December 18, 2019.

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

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Selby Kiffer appeared once before on The Hot Bid, discussing Frank Sinatra’s personal copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

You can see all 435 plates of Audubon’s The Birds of America online at the website of the National Audubon Society.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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

An Alfred Munnings Painting of the Start of a Horse Race Could Sell for More Than $770,000 (Updated December 12)

A Start at Newmarket, a circa 1937 painting by Sir Alfred Munnings.

Update: The Munnings painting sold for £419,250, or about $552,000.

What you see: A Start at Newmarket, a circa 1937 painting by Sir Alfred Munnings. Christie’s estimates it at £400,000 to £600,000, or $514,400 to $771,600.

The expert: Brandon Lindberg, senior specialist and head of British Impressionism at Christie’s London.

Let’s start by talking about who Munnings was, and when and how he became enchanted with horses. He was born in East Anglia in 1878, the son of a miller. He had a precocious talent for art. He was always drawing from an early age, and he grew up with horses around him. He was born at a time when horses were the main source of transit. They were part of daily life in rural England. He went to the Norwich School of Art, and as a young man, a patron paid for him to go to Paris. His palette had been very brown and rich, but after Paris, his coloring became a lot lighter, brighter, and fresher.

Did he own and ride horses? He would have been around horses, and his family and friends would have had horses. Very early on, probably when he was in his early twenties, Munnings was buying horses and using them to carry his canvases around.

Munnings suffered an accident when he was 20 that blinded him in one eye. How, if at all, did that affect his approach to painting? I think his dog got caught in a hedge and in trying to get it out, he got a thorn in his eye. In his memoirs, he talked about not painting for a while. He found depth tricky without binocular vision. The story is he’d put brushes through the canvas [because he couldn’t judge the depth]. But his personality was so strong that he got over that and battled through.

How prolific was he? I understand that an Alfred Munnings catalogue raisonné is in progress, but do we have a notion of how many works he made during his life? He was incredibly prolific. To give you a guide, a hundred artworks have sold in the last three years alone. There are several thousand works out there. I can’t be more specific than that. Munnings was an inveterate sketcher. He sketched on anything and everything. In the Munnings Art Museum, they have the wall of a stable block. When the plaster was wet, he couldn’t resist drawing horses in it.

Where does Munnings rank among artists who specialize in horses? I would say Munnings is arguably one of the greatest equestrian artists of all time, ranking alongside George Stubbs.

What do we know about the story behind A Start at Newmarket? I take it he is trying to capture as precisely as possible the instant that the horses are released? Exactly. He’s trying to capture that moment when the jockeys are all focused, the split second before the start. You get a sense of the pent-up energy when they’re just about to set off.

What do we know about how the Munnings painting was created? He would have approached it in a number of ways. He was given free reign on the course at Newmarket. He would have been allowed to drive his car onto the course, and he would have been allowed to loiter and capture the moment when they start. And he was given a rubbing-down house–a windowless small stable where they rub a horse down after a race–as a little studio. For a start, he would use pencil sketches, because he had to capture the moment in a few seconds. He also had a dressing-up box of jockey silks, and had one of his grooms don silks and sit on an abandoned block to do for [simulate] a horse for an oil sketch. The work looks effortless, but it’s a complex fusing of various different techniques–sketches, studio studies, and plein air [painting or sketching outdoors].

Did he ever rely on photographs to create his paintings? No. It’s interesting. It reminds me of the only painting he did of the finish of a race. A patron’s horse, Saucy Sue, won the Oaks [a significant English horse race]. He did that painting from a photo, and it doesn’t have the life and energy of the start pictures.

But Munnings would have known of the running horse pictures taken by Eadweard Muybridge for Leland Stanford, yes? He would have known of them, but he didn’t use cameras to take pictures of a start.

Was Munnings aware of the horse-racing paintings done by Edgar Degas? We think he would have been. Munnings had an interesting relationship with avant-garde art. He didn’t like abstract or non-representational art, but he experimented with color and movement. I would love to know if his library had books on Impressionism. It’s most likely that he saw exhibitions of modern French art when he was there in 1905.

Do Munnings paintings of horse races, and this particular painting, reflect any influence from Degas? I think so, in the sense of the way he captures a cluster of jockeys, and the way the light falls on their silks. A Start at Newmarket has a sense of realism, with the horses jostling each other. It infuses impressions of color, light, and realism with a classical frieze–banks of horses recessing into the distance behind you.

This Munnings painting measures 17 and 5/8 inches by 21 and 1/2 inches. Is that a typical size for him, or is it smaller than usual? He painted on every size and every scale. He seemed to love 20 inches by 24 inches. Those are the ones you see the most of. But he painted in every size. This painting is probably on the smaller side. It’s quite practical to take onto a course and paint.

How does this Munnings painting show his mastery? To me, I think it shows him capturing different lights, and how it reflects off different surfaces. I love the interplay of color, light, and movement. Because it’s a plein air painting, it’s got a sense of movement and spontenaiety.

This Munnings painting is cropped. Do we know what inspired him to crop the compositions of some of his paintings? Munnings did crop things quite regularly. He was not adverse to it. It was a device he used a lot. It gives the painting a very immediate effect, and a slightly photographic feel.

That makes me more surprised that he didn’t rely on photographs. Because he was such an inveterate sketcher, he reached for the pencil instead of the camera.

Did he routinely crop his images of race starts, to amplify the sense of movement? Not really. There are starts that are centered. I think he uses it to great effect here. There are some like examples we’ve had over the years, but some are cropped, and some are not.

Do all Munnings paintings feature horses, or did he paint other subjects? I suppose probably about 30 or 40 percent [of his output], one way or another, are racehorses, whether they’re racing or are portraits. But he was a landscape painter. He loved the English landscape, and he painted a wonderful series of river landscapes. He also spent one year on the Western front in World War I, painting horses, men, and cavalry. Horses are a predominant theme in his work, but it’s not the only one.

Many of Munnings’s most dramatic sporting images are set at Newmarket. How does that affect the value of those works? Are collectors more interested in Munnings paintings that show Newmarket? Not necessarily, no. There are more Newmarkets out there and he produced more great pictures at Newmarket than any other [venue]. And Newmarket is seen as the home of British horse racing. But I think collectors respond to great racing pictures.

What is this Munnings painting like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think there are. What strikes me is it has a lovely painterly quality to it. He’s not one of these artists who tries to hide every brush stroke. It’s got thick impasto and thin washes that give the painting an added level that you don’t get in the photo at all.

Why will this Munnings painting stick in your memory? Because it’s a lovely fusion. It’s painted like an oil sketch, with spontaneity and capturing the moment, but it’s a complete painting. You really get a strong sense of his design.

How to bid: The Munnings painting is lot 15 in the Christie‘s London sale titled In The Field – An Important Private Collection of Sporting Art, taking place on December 12, 2019.


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Glinda the Good Witch's Wand, Created for the 1939 Classic The Wizard of Oz, Goes to Auction (Updated December 11)

A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Update: The Glinda wand sold for $400,075.

What you see: A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Bonhams declines to give a numerical figure for the hero prop, instructing bidders to “refer to department for estimate”.

The expert: Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams.

Why would MGM have felt the need to build a test wand for Glinda the Good Witch? Did they only do that for what we now call “hero” props, or would the MGM prop department have built test versions of pretty much everything visible on screen during The Wizard of Oz to make sure it would look good in Technicolor? They certainly did it with all the costumes. It’s probably more helpful to think of the wand as part of Glinda’s costume, rather than like the hourglass or one of the trees. There was a lot of testing and tweaking in preproduction on The Wizard of Oz. They went through several iterations for the pinafore Dorothy wears, and the same with her hair. The wand would have been tested as part of of Glinda’s overall look.

L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, specified that Dorothy’s slippers were silver. They were changed to ruby slippers for the movie because red looked better against the yellow brick road. Did Baum say anything about Glinda’s appearance that would have given guidance to the prop masters when making the test wand? I don’t know the answer to that, but in general, they tried to stay true to what they knew about what was there. By bringing in Gilbert Adrian, one of the visionary, edgier costume designers, they wanted to put their stamp on the story. Glinda’s wand was a subset of her costume, so it came under that umbrella, as did the ruby slippers.

What’s the difference between the Glinda test wand and the Glinda wand that was used on screen? The first version had clear rhinestones. Because they wanted even more glitz and sparkle on camera, they designed wands with clear and colored stones. Because they were shooting in Technicolor, the colored stones give that much more of a flash on screen. And the wand had to stand up to the rest of Glinda’s costume, which is also pretty spectacular.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the Glinda wand was to make? I suspect it wasn’t that hard. Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s a long staff, a fabricated piece of white metal with a finial on the bottom. The star is another finial that screws in [to the top of the staff]. I’m assuming the rhinestones were done by hand.

Two Glinda wands with colored rhinestones were made for on-screen use. Where are they now? They’re gone. The context for when all this stuff was released in the world is the MGM liquidation sale held in 1970. The two wands with colored stones were bought by people in North Carolina who opened a theme park, The Land of Oz, which had a museum portion. They bought a ton of stuff. They had Munchkin costumes and a Dorothy dress. It was active from the early 1970s to 1980. Then a fire broke out and all the property was destroyed. So this is it. This is the only one. [Editor’s note: The Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina has been revived on a smaller scale and offers events during the summer and early fall.]

No test photos survive that show Billie Burke, who played Glinda, holding the wand, but she had an MGM photographer take a shot of herself in costume, with this particular wand. How did that image come about? I don’t think it was rogue or off the book. It was a promotional shot for the film, and it would have been shot anyway, but Burke had some control over who shot it and how it looked. She liked it so much, she ordered copies of the photo, and she incorporated a sketch of it into her holiday card.

A period publicity shot of Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch, holding the test wand that is now up for auction.

Why would Burke and the photographer have wanted the test version of the Glinda wand for this image? It’s more flattering for black and white. The colored stones wouldn’t have looked as good. They would have looked grey, which is not what you want.

The Glinda wand measures 56.50 inches. That’s long–almost five feet long. Why did the movie producers want it to be this length? Did it help Billie Burke move in a more restrained and regal way? That’s a good question. Maybe Billie Burke is taller than we think. It doesn’t dwarf her when she carries it. Maybe it’s that long because that’s how Glinda does her magic–she does it with a wand, and they wanted it to have substance. Its length does make it harder for the actress to move on screen, but it looks more powerful.

I guess the Glinda wand also has to compete to be seen against the backdrop of the pink poufty Good Witch dress, and the colors of Munchkinland… I didn’t realize it was this size. I never thought about how long it was until it came to us. It’s possible they wanted it to be noticeable. It is thicker than a smaller wand would be. Maybe it’s that long to show up against the bling of the Glinda dress. Or maybe for it to be proportional, it had to be that long.

Speaking of which, what is the Glinda wand like in person? Sometimes, when you see props from famous movies, you notice things about them that you never notice on the screen. But what you really take away from it is the magic it creates on screen. With a touch of the wand, Glinda can send you to Kansas. It is magical what they do with a prosaic piece of metal.

When you get right down to it, it’s just a stick. [Laughs] And the shoes are just shoes.

Have you held the Glinda wand? I have not held it. My colleague and the photographer have held it. I’ve tried to minimize contact with it because I don’t want people knocking the rhinestones off. But it’s sturdy. I guess it’s probably two or three pounds altogether. You don’t need two hands–you can hold it with one.

How many hero props from The Wizard of Oz has Bonhams handled? In 2014, we sold the Cowardly Lion costume for just over $3 million. I think that was the most expensive Oz costume. The next year, we had a Dorothy dress that sold for $1.5 million.

Did you look to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress as comparable lots to consider when setting the estimate for the Glinda wand? We’re not publishing the estimate at the client’s request, but I can tell you it’s in the low six figures. But those were comparables.

How does the Glinda wand compare to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress? They’re very different, but one of the things that’s nice about the wand is it’s portable and easy to display. I can tell you it was on exhibit at the Smithsonian recently, next to the ruby slippers, for a fairly long period of time. The Smithsonian could fit it fairly easily into their exhibition space. It’s not as fragile as a dress [or other textiles].

What condition is the Glinda wand in? There’s some paint loss and there’s a patina to it. I think it’s missing a few rhinestones. Otherwise, I think it’s pretty good, considering it’s 80 years old.

The sale that includes the Glinda wand is called TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year. Did you receive this piece on consignment and view it as a tentpole for a 1939-themed sale, or did you come up with the 1939 idea and then go out looking for 1939 material? It did sort of start almost a year ago with the wand. The consigner approached us with this pretty early. Then I realized that 2019 was the 80th anniversary of 1939, and reached out to get 1939 material.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This is the first thing I’ve ever sold that was once on exhibit at the Smithsonian, which is pretty great. And it’s not the central plot device of the film, but it’s the second most important one. A lot of things depend on Glinda waving her wand. It moves the ruby slippers to Dorothy’s feet, and it’s behind her head in the resolution of the film. For one prop to do those two things is amazing.

How to bid: The Glinda wand is lot 1089 in TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year, a sale taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on December 10, 2019.

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Images are courtesy of Bonhams.

Dr. Catherine Williamson has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about the record-setting auction of Robby the Robot and discussing the original poster artwork for the Italian release of Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

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SOLD! The Silver Pomander from 17th Century England Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

An Elizabeth I-era silver pomander, early 17th century, featuring six engraved royal portraits. The woman in the center was initially identified as Queen Elizabeth I. Scholars now think she is either Anne of Denmark (wife of James I, who is shown on the right) or a queen of Bohemia. The bearded man on the left is believed to be King Charles I depicted as the Prince of Wales.

Update: The Elizabeth I silver pomander fetched £22,500, or slightly more than $29,000.

What you see: An Elizabeth I silver pomander, engraved with portraits of royals and dating to the early 17th century. Christie’s estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $25,900 to $38,850.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, International Head of Silver at Christie’s.

Was the pomander a common household object in 17th century England, or was it purely used by nobles and wealthy merchants? I think it was really people of wealth–rich merchants and aristocratic ladies would have had them. They tend to be in silver and rarely in gold.

A fair number of people like to think that previous ages were smellier or stinkier than our own. Is that accurate, and is the silver pomander evidence that bad odors were a common hazard in 17th century England? Yes, very much so. There was no plumbing, and there were open ditches in the street where people threw the contents of their chamber pots. And there was the miasmic theory of disease, the belief that odor itself could give you a disease. The pomander was a way to banish evil smells and evil humors and keep yourself healthy.

Why would a woman have been the likely original owner of this silver pomander? In contemporary portraits [of the period] you see ladies wearing them.

A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.
A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.

If 17th century Englishmen didn’t carry pomanders, what did they carry instead that served the same purpose? People had scented gloves and scented handkerchiefs. The pomander developed as a form of adornment for women, and it had practical use.

And pomanders usually take the shape of an orb, or sphere? They tend to. Early pomanders were a ball of a scented substance–wax with scents impregnated in them. The form it usually takes is a circular foot with a central stem that has a number of hinged segments. It opens like the petals of a flower.

How would the silver pomander’s owner have used it–to perfume herself, to shield her nose from unpleasant smells, or both? She would hold it up to her nose, like a nosegay or a viniagrette, which is a box that had a sponge with smelling salts or scented waters.

So it’s kind of like us putting Vicks VapoRub under our nostrils today? Exactly.

Would she have worn the silver pomander every day, or did she only wear it on fancy occasions, or at court? It could be everyday. She didn’t necessarily wear it around the house, but it denotes status. It’s a costly object. Certainly, if she went out around town in her finest dress, she’d wear it.

What sorts of nice-smelling things might she have put in the silver pomander? And would she put the same thing in each of its six compartments, or would she put different, complementary things in the compartments? I think it’s each to their own. She might want rosemary for this, or lavender for that. Each scent had certain properties and beliefs about what they would help with. She could put the same thing [in every compartment] or a cocktail. There’s no difference to aromatherapy today–if you’re stressed, try lavender, if you need invigoration, try lemon verbena.

This side of the silver pomander shows a man wearing a ruff and hat. It's believed to be a portrait of King James I. The man on the right with orb and scepter could be King Henry VIII, and the woman on the right is now believed to be Anne of Denmark, James's wife, or possibly a queen of Bohemia.

The silver pomander features several portraits of people who are believed to be royals: King James I, King Charles I (as Prince of Wales), King Henry VII, King Henry VIII, and a woman who could be Anne of Denmark (James I’s wife) or Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. How do we know these are the people depicted? They’re really [after] engravings by the de Passe family, a Dutch family that specializes in head-and-shoulder portraits. They’re not exact matches, but similar ones match up. They’re known engravings of members of the Tudor and Stuart royal family. Anne of Denmark was originally attributed as Elizabeth I.

Would the silver pomander have advertised the political leanings of the wearer? Would she have taken a risk if she went out in public with this hanging from her chatelaine? All the royals [depicted on the pomander] are Protestant monarchs. You’ll find by this time (early 17th century), Britain was established as a Protestant nation. Under the reign of Queen Mary I, the owner wouldn’t have wanted to wear the pomander, but it postdates that. At the time, the monarch was Protestant and the country was 90 percent Protestant.

The silver pomander, shown open to display all six of its segments. Its user would have placed pleasant-smelling items such as rosemary or lavender in the compartments through the rectangular-shaped holes.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the silver pomander was to make? You’ve got six little segments. It’s difficult to make sure they’re all the same size and have the same curve so they come together to form an orb. It’s got a carefully milled thread, so you can screw the top down [and hold the six segments closed and in place]. And it’s been heavily engraved with shield shapes ornamenting the tops of the segments, the medallion portraits, and so on.

What is the silver pomander like in person? Is it heavy? It’s about two inches high. It fits in the palm of the hand. If you make an “OK” sign with your middle finger and your thumb, it’s that sort of size. It feels heavy in the hand.

What condition is it in? When you see it open, [you can see that] the not-quite-rectangular openings in each segment have been squeezed over the years. But really, it’s survived in surprisingly good condition.

I understand that little early English silver survives because various groups sought it to melt it and turn it into money. I realize we don’t know exactly how this silver pomander survived, but what are some plausible theories? In Civil War England, Royalist and Parlimentarian forces were desperate to pay their armies. Silver was the coinage of the day. If you melted a cup and struck coins, you got money. Two silver plates from the Armada service are in the sale. The service was buried in a barn and not rediscovered until 1827. It was almost certainly hidden to avoid being seized by Parlimentarian forces. But this pomander is a small object [which would yield] an ounce and a half of silver, not a huge amount. And it’s easily hidden away. You could stick it in the back of a drawer and if you weren’t really searching for it, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. A silver cup is less easily hidden.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think number one, it being English. It’s unmarked [it lacks hallmarks that would identify the silversmith], but it would be very strange for it to be anything else than English, and to have portraits on it is rare. Pomanders are more likely to have scrolling foliage on them, that sort of thing. And it’s a gem of an object in an amazing collection of objects that survived all the intervening years. It’s a lovely personal object, beautifully decorated in great detail, and it [represents an] extraordinary survival.

How to bid: The Elizabeth I silver pomander is lot 101 in The David Little Collection of Early English Silver, taking place at Christie’s London on December 3, 2019.

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Harry Williams-Bulkeley features in a piece on the Christie’s website in which he talks about the David Little collection, and the forces that make early English silver so rare.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Charles Addams Cartoon About Edgar Allan Poe for The New Yorker Could Sell for $12,000 (Updated December 11)

Original artwork for Nevermore, a Charles Addams cartoon about Edgar Allan Poe, which was published in The New Yorker in 1973.

Update: The original art for the Charles Addams Poe cartoon sold for the healthy sum of $22,500.

What you see: Original artwork for Nevermore, a cartoon drawn by Charles Addams and published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1973. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

Let’s start by discussing who Charles Addams was, and why we’re still talking about his work today. First, I think we can all agree that Addams’s style was like no other. No one else married gloom, death, and danger with humor, often tempered with tenderness and charm, like he did. He could break down humanity to its basest nature. The New Yorker writer and critic Wolcott Gibbs once described his work as “essentially a denial of all spiritual and physical evolution in the human race.” Ask any cartoonist who their main influence was, and they’ll surely name him. 

How prolific was he? His output was astounding. He submitted his first work to The New Yorker when he was 21 and continued until his death [in 1988, at the age of 76]. He worked for over 60 years and produced thousands of cartoons and 15 anthologies, which have been translated into numerous languages.

Where is most of Addams’s original artwork now? A large portion resides at the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation in Sagaponack, New York. Tee [Addams’s widow] gave a large portion to the New York Public Library. For many years, they had a dedicated rotating gallery for those works.

Where was Addams in his career in 1973, when this was published? He was 61, and still working for The New Yorker.

How did this Addams Poe cartoon come about? I understand the joke was not Charles Addams’s idea—someone else came up with it, and he was asked to illustrate it? Nevermore was, in fact, the first idea that cartoonist Jack Ziegler sold to The New Yorker. At that time, The New Yorker had mostly phased out the editorial practice of having staff cartoonists illustrate caption and concept submissions by other contributors, but it still occurred sometimes. Cartoon editor James Geraghty brilliantly tasked Addams with this one. It was only later that year, when Lee Lorenz joined The New Yorker and invited Ziegler to contribute his own work, that he became a regular cartoonist.

Could we deconstruct this Addams Poe cartoon? It strikes me that it’s much more intelligible and straightforward than other cartoons from The New Yorker I hesitate to answer this because I feel like the more you analyze a cartoon, the less funny it becomes, but I’ll take the bait. [Laughs.] Ziegler and Addams knew that Poe’s The Raven is one of the most famous poems ever written. Its tagline is seared in everyone’s brain, and Poe’s likeness is well known. Therefore, it would have immediate recognition and wide appeal, especially to a cultured readership like The New Yorker‘s. We imagine famous authors to be confident in their work, and, in fact, Poe wrote about the creation of The Raven a year later in his essay, The Philosophy of Composition, explaining that he went about it very methodically and logically. So we can’t possibly imagine that Poe had a moment of doubt or ever considered any creature other than the now-iconic foreboding black harbinger of his spiraling descent into madness. Marry that with Addams’s inimitable skill at depicting anxiety and torment, and there’s the core of the genius. Then you look at the hilariously unsuitable choices Addams showed the exhausted poet contemplating–a basic farmyard pig, a giant, ungainly moose, and a morbid, gormless looking turtle–and it becomes the most hysterically funny thing.

How does the Addams Poe cartoon testify to Addams’s skills as an illustrator, and his skills as an illustrator of gothic images? He was a genius with the details. I love the crumpled up piece of paper on the spare table and floor–what animal choices they contained, we can only imagine. His fingers barely grasping the quill pen from his limp arm resting on his thigh, and the totally dejected look on Poe’s face, are priceless. I also like how something as simple as his excluding the exclamation point after “nevermore” drives home the failure of its delivery. Addams also loved combining animals with gothic themes. He married his last wife, Marilyn, who was known as “Tee”, in a pet cemetery at their home and that is where their ashes are both interred, along with those of all their pets. And Addams was known to be an impeccable draftsman. His editors all remarked that he often handed in his cartoons in a perfect, finished state, with no edits needed. He nailed it nearly every time.

Is this the only instance in which Addams depicted Edgar Allan Poe in a cartoon for The New Yorker, or any cartoon? No. While this is the best known of them, he created three more iterations of The Raven titled Occasionally, Once Again, and the last, in 1983, a lengthier riff on the bird’s refrain, Carnivore, either-or, blood & gore…etc. He likely considered Poe a kindred spirit of the macabre.

I have to admit, when I saw this Addams Poe cartoon in the catalog, I stopped dead, my jaw dropped, and I think I even pointed at the screen. Was that your reaction when you first learned of its existence? I’m so glad you jumped on this, like you jumped on the Gorey cat. It’s a famous Addams piece, so my first thought, which happens with similar iconic Addams cartoon submissions, is that it may be one in a series of reproductions that were printed on watercolor paper with Epson Ultrachrome ink. If someone sends a low-resolution JPEG [of a piece of Addams cartoon art] and does not give dimensions, they can fool you on first glance. I had the same reaction when a consigner approached us with the famous Movie Scream cartoon that we sold in 2017, which brought $31,200.

What condition is the Addams Poe cartoon in, knowing it was created as a piece of functional art, and not to hang on a wall? Quite excellent, really. It was lovingly cared for, framed early on to protect it, and was never exposed to direct light, so the ink is strong. The back has some abraded paper and its The New Yorker stamp is a bit yellowed and frayed, but that adds to its charm, I think.    

What is the provenance of the Addams Poe cartoon? It belonged to Dona Guimaraes, who was a New York Times Magazine home section editor, an executive editor of Mademoiselle magazine, and a friend of Addams, who bequeathed it to current owner, a close friend of hers. It has never been on the market.

What is the Addams Poe cartoon art like in person? Are there details or aspects that the camera doesn’t quite catch? The size of it is impressive– 20 inches by 13 inches, which is on the larger side of some of his work. You can also see the brush work on the board, and the care he took with the areas of shading through ink and wash. When you face a work like that in person, head on, it comes at you with even more force. I’m always encouraging people to collect original cartoons because even though the caption and image are digested at first sight, seeing the medium on the surface and picturing the illustrator creating it adds a special element that connects a person to the artwork. That experience isn’t unique to engaging with fine art. 

How often do original Charles Addams cartoons for The New Yorker come to auction? I’d say about a dozen, on average. These generally consist of cartoons, doodled autographs, and covers for The New Yorker.

Does original Charles Addams cartoon art done for The New Yorker carry a premium? Yes, absolutely.

Could you quantify it? I’d say 50 percent or more. To be specific about it, cartoons for other publications that contain characters that resemble the Addams family tend to bring more. Cartoons that don’t contain them don’t bring as much.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Addams Poe cartoon? What did you look to as comparables? I looked at the results for other large-scale cartoons for The New Yorker that were also among his most recognizable. I also considered the condition, the provenance, and the fact that it had never come up before. I am generally conservative in my estimates, believing that the auction process will allow works to find their level. I like to attract, not prohibit participation. I’d love to see this reach the level of Movie Scream, though I doubt it may reach the record price set by Sad Movie, a 1946 cartoon for The New Yorker that sold for $40,630 in 2012.

Why will this Addams Poe cartoon stick in your memory? Because it’s a perfect example of Addams’s genius. I had taken a bunch of close-up images of it for a condition report on it for a client. I was at my computer screen, looking at an enlarged, high resolution image of the pig’s face for about the 200th time, with the classic Addams deadpan dot eyes, and I started trembling with laughter, for the 200th time. And because books are fundamental to Swann’s founding and history, an Addams cartoon with a literary theme just gets me where I live. 

How to bid: The Charles Addams Poe cartoon is lot 244 in the Illustration Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on December 10, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about original Edward Gorey New Yorker cover art featuring tuxedo catsa spellbinding 1938 Wanda Gág illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsan Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The Tee & Charles Addams Foundation has a website.

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SOLD! The Howard Terpning Painting Commanded… (Scroll Down to See)

Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 painting by contemporary Western artist Howard Terpning.

Update: The Howard Terpning painting sold for $425,075.

What you see: Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department.

Let’s start by talking about who Howard Terpning is, and what makes him interesting to collectors. I tried to think of another living artist who isn’t a mainstream contemporary artist, but whose works still sell for six or seven figures on the secondary market, and I couldn’t come up with one… Howard Terpning is a fascinating character, and a titan of contemporary Western art. Like many in this space, he has a background in illustration. He did it for a couple of decades before wandering over to this side of the fence. Pleasing an art director and working to a deadline carried over into his self-defined artistic practice. He’s one of if not the most decorated artists in this space. I don’t want to bore your readers, but it would take pages to list them all. He won the National Academy of Western Art’s Prix de West. It’s a big deal to win it once. He won it twice. He’s won the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for exceptional artistic merit [given at the annual Masters art exhibition and sale held at the Autry Museum of the American West] twelve times, including eleven straight between 2005 and 2016. He is immensely recognized in his field. Anyone in this space knows who he is.

What makes Howard Terpning paintings so exceptional? It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.

How prolific is he? I’m sure the family has it [a total count for his body of work] but it’s not public. Big finished works take him a couple of months. I don’t know how many he might work on simultaneously.

Is he still painting, or has he retired? As of two years ago, when he was 90, he was still painting. He’s going to die with a pencil in his hand. If he can’t paint oils, he’s going to draw. I can’t see him ever stopping.

Howard Terpning has been painting Western art since the late 1970s. Are there periods or phases within his work that collectors prefer, or has his work been scarce enough that they can’t be that choosy? It’s a somewhat complicated answer. What we see for the top ten [for him] on the auction market is in a fairly narrow period for production in the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Is that indicative of what the market thinks is most valuable? Some of that is those are the works that are available. Maybe there’s a great late 1990s work out there that will blow us away if it comes to auction. I think this work [which dates to 1988] is in the sweet spot, but I don’t know if the sweet spot is real.

Finding the Buffalo measures 36 inches by 32 inches. Is that a typical size for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s sort of middle of the pack as far as scale goes. He does paint larger, and he does paint smaller. But he’s stretching his own canvases. He makes them any size he wants. The finished drawing he does [in the lead-up to creating the painting] always informs the size and proportions of the canvas.

What do we know about how he works, and how he might have made Finding the Buffalo? His technique is pretty well-documented. He starts with a series of sketches leading to a finished drawing. The drawing informs the size of the canvas. It’s traced and essentially transferred to the canvas, which is not a blank canvas. There’s one tone brushed onto the whole canvas. The drawing is transferred on, then he begins. There are videos of him doing this. [Jump to the 4:20 mark to watch Terpning embark on the first step of creating a painting.] Lights and darks are applied over the midtone. He can quickly define the whole composition.

Then he finishes it? That’s where the real time is spent.

So the drawing, the scaling-up for the canvas, and the transfer of the drawing–that’s a kind of scaffolding for creating the finished painting? Yes. I think it’s a rigorous approach he gets from his background in illustration.

How might he have arrived at the content and composition of the image we see in Finding the Buffalo? He has a huge archive of reference images. The rocks in the background could be a combination of images of a few different rocks. And he has a huge archive of objects. He’d have a quiver as a historic reference, but he’ll modify it to make it historically accurate to [the quiver of] a Comanche scout.

How often do Howard Terpning paintings feature the Comanche people, as we see in Finding the Buffalo? He always has a specific tribe in mind. Comanche, I hesitate to give a percentage, but he’s painted them many times. I don’t know if they’re a favorite per se. It’s the Plains peoples who are his fascination.

And the Comanches are among the Plains peoples? Yes. Terpning has a deep connection with and fascination with the nomadic style of life these people led.

Detail shot of the horned lizard from Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

How rare is it for Terpning to place an animal front-and-center in his works, as he does here with the horned lizard? I don’t know another work like it. It’s very unusual. The lizard is front and center, but it’s not the center point. You look at the scouts, look at what they’re looking at, and–oh. Everything is centered on the lizard, but the lizard is more like one of the rocks, and he puts the focus on the Comanche. Terpning is ultimately a figure painter, and Finding the Buffalo is no different. I think it’s a really neat painting in that it’s a subtle painting. In another Terpning painting in the sale, My Medicine Is Strong, the medicine man is on a rock and he’s clearly having a religious moment. Here, it’s a little quieter compared to some of the narratives Terpning likes to convey.

What’s going on in Finding the Buffalo? What’s the story? This is from Terpning himself: Comanche scouts believe that if they ask the horned lizard where the buffalo are, whatever direction he runs in is where the buffalo are. If he breaks left, go left. They’re watching the lizard very intently, especially the scout in the back–his anxiety is piqued. And I love that even the horses are staring at the lizard. [Laughs]

What’s your favorite detail of this Howard Terpning painting? There’s a splash of blue beadwork right at the very center of the painting. There are a few other touches where he uses bright blue, but this is the only spot where you get that color, and he does it right in the center of the painting. I love it as contrast. I look at the painting and it feels hot and oppressive under the bright sun, washed out. The splash of blue yanks your eye to the middle of the painting. Then you look down, and there’s the lizard. It’s so restrained, and it speaks to how valuable the beads would have been.

Detail shot of the blue beadwork dangling down the side of a Comanche scout's horse in Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

What is the Howard Terpning painting like in person? It’s more subtle in person. When you have a painting with large patches in the same tonal family, your eye is better at appreciating the subtle tonal shift than the camera is. The lizard blends into the rocks even a little more. The background behind the scouts is very rich, and I don’t think you get that in the reproduction. And the camera doesn’t capture the thickness of the paint. Terpning is reliant on impasto [the buildup of paint on the surface of a canvas], and it casts shadows. Not a big shadow, but a tiny ridge of paint can cast a tiny shadow. The camera can’t capture the change in physical height–that texture–but the eye can perceive it. He uses it to give the rocks a real three-dimensionality.

The back side of Howard Terpning's painting Finding the Buffalo, which shows the artist's notations.

On the webpage devoted to the lot, you at Bonhams have included a photograph of the back of the painting. Could you talk about the information Terpning put on the back of the painting, and how him bothering to do that helps collectors, dealers, and specialists like yourself? I would say this is true almost universally among art buyers–there’s going to be interest in the back of a painting. In this case, we have information from Terpning. He signs it, puts the title on the back, and says how big it is in his own handwriting. He signs it in two different places and reminds you that he retains the reproduction rights [laughs]. And there’s a brief narrative [that explains the scene] affixed to the back of the painting. It’s a printed label, but it is his language, his words. And there’s a CAA (Cowboy Artists of America) label still on the back [from when the painting was first shown and sold in 1988] that says $60,000.

How many Howard Terpning paintings have you handled? In the last five years, we’ve sold six. There aren’t a ton that circulate. At all the auction houses put together, ten or 15 go up at auction every year.

Is it unusual to have three Howard Terpning paintings in the same auction, as you do here? It’s only happened to us once before. [Laughs]. But it’s not unheard of. We’ve just been very lucky recently.

What’s the world auction record for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s $1.9 million, set in 2012 at the Scottsdale Art Auction. Its name was The Captured Ponies, and it’s not an outlier. Nine Howard Terpning paintings have sold for more than $1 million since 2006. We had one in 2019 that sold for just shy of $1.4 million.

Why will this Howard Terpning painting stick in your memory? There’s a real subtlety to this one. I like how quiet it is. It’s a painting that rewards you for looking at it longer. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but as you look at it, there’s a lot going on. It’s a sophisticated picture in terms of how it was painted and the narrative it conveys.

How to bid: The Howard Terpning painting Finding the Buffalo is lot 41 in The Eddie Basha Collection: A Selection of Western American Art, a sale taking place November 25, 2019, at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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SOLD! The Know Nothing Flag Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. It features an image of George Washington in the space where the canton would go.

Update: The Know Nothing flag sold for $25,000.

What you see: A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. Freeman’s estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s.

Let’s start by talking about who the Know Nothings were. They were founded in 1849, and were a nativist party–anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, largely due to Irish immigration. Ireland experienced a famine, and there were no jobs, so they moved to American cities. It was an anti-immigration movement, sadly not unlike today.

Funny how some things never seem to change. There’s an interesting letter from Abraham Lincoln about the Know Nothings. It’s from 1855, and it reads: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” The Know Nothings were a well-enough known party, though they kept it kind of secret. If anyone asked about their agenda, their members would say, “I know nothing.” [Hence the name.] They didn’t want new people, people who had different faiths. They didn’t want to change.

How would the Know Nothings have used this flag in the late 1850s? I don’t know for sure. I think maybe it was made for group meetings, secret meetings, or for someone’s personal use. But it’s small, a very small thing–only 19 inches by 23 1/4 inches. It looks like it was pinned up on something. It was not hung on a building. It was rather discreet. Nobody wants to stand up and say, “I hate people.”

The Know Nothing flag is small enough to tuck inside a coat? It’s small. It’s not something to be raised on a pole.

Detail shot of the Know Nothing flag, focused on the George Washington portrait that replaces the canton.

Here in the 21st century, we think of the design of the American flag as being fixed and inviolate. I get the impression that wasn’t the case in the 19th century, when this Know Nothing flag was made. The makers have clearly taken liberties with the basic American flag design–they’ve replaced the canton [the blue field that appears in the upper left] with an image of George Washington… This whole patch [with Washington on it] was cut out of a length of printed fabric and appliqued on the stripes. It functions as the canton, and it serves its purpose beautifully.

There are 13 embroidered stars above the eagle’s head on this Know Nothing flag. Is that meant to be a reference to the original 13 colonies? Yeah, I think they’re envisioning some sort of purer time that never was. Again, it’s comparable to the present–longing for some idyllic past that was not idyllic for everyone and not as idyllic as it seemed.

Redesigning the look of the American flag would not have been offensive in 1858? Not until 1912 was there a flag act that started to regulate things–48 stars and 13 stripes. This… I don’t think it’s a public piece. It’s private, or for a small group of like-thinking individuals.

The Know Nothing flag has 17 stripes. Does the number of stripes have any special significance to the group or its ideology? Or does it just happen to have 17 stripes for reasons known only to the person who stitched it? Very interesting. I don’t know why. I don’t know if that meant something to the Know Nothings.

The Know Nothings put a portrait of George Washington on the flag. Why did they hold Washington, of all the founders, in such high esteem? According to legendary flag collector Boleslaw Mastai, the Know Nothing Party “professed a veritable cult for George Washington”. They took partial quotes from a Washington letter of April 30, 1777, which he wrote in the wake of an assassination plot involving members of his own guard: “You will therefore send me none but Natives, & Men of some property, if you have them- I must insist that in that in making this Choice you give no intimation of my preference of Natives, as I do not want to create any invidious Distinction between them & Foreigner….”    

George Washington is shown with his hand on the hilt of a sword. Did that have particular meaning to the Know Nothings, or is that just how the company who printed the textile wanted Washington to look? You often get that, even in formal portraits. It’s not uncommon for portraits of the 18th century and the early 19th century to show [leaders] with swords to allude to their military past.

The Know Nothing flag, shown in full inside a frame.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how the Know Nothing flag was made? It’s all hand-sewn. They cut out a patch from a length of printed fabric, and appliquéd it onto the stripes.

The initials “JWL” are embroidered on the Know Nothing flag. Do we have any idea who JWL is? We don’t.

The flag also has a date on it–December 1858. Is it unusual to see a dated flag? Yes, it is unusual. We do have a couple of flags in the sale that were made by or presented to people and often, there are inscriptions on them. It’s a little different to embroider [the date], but it’s not unknown.

Does the December 1858 date have any special meaning to the Know Nothings? I don’t think so. I think it’s just when they made it [the flag].

I see what looks like scorch marks in places on the flag. What are they? There could be a number of things that cause that. Sometimes it happens if it’s folded for a long time. Something could have been spilled on it. Perhaps it was nailed to something metal and rust transferred onto the fabric.

How rare is this Know Nothing flag? I don’t know of any others. It comes from a very important flag collection, the Mastai Collection.

Have any others appeared at auction? The first Know Nothing flag at auction was this one, in 2002, when the Mastai collection sold at Sotheby’s. It was passed [it failed to sell at auction] and was sold later, within a year of the auction.

What is the Know Nothing flag like in person? It’s very colorful and bright. The reds are very vibrant. The Washington patch is a trifle faded, but not horribly. It makes an impact.

Why will the Know Nothing flag stick in your memory? Because I’ve never seen anything like it. Everybody heard about the Know Nothings in history class, but I’ve never seen a living, breathing artifact associated with the group. It’s a reminder that history repeats itself. Anti-immigration–we have that going on today.

How to bid: The Know Nothing flag is lot 39 in A Grand Old Flag: The Stars and Stripes Collection of Dr. Peter J. Keim, taking place November 24. 2019 at Freeman’s.

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SOLD! The Battleship Potemkin Poster Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

Update: The Battleship Potemkin poster sold for $108,000.

What you see: A 1929 Russian movie poster for the noted Russian film Battleship Potemkin. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $50,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions.

First, could we talk about Battleship Potemkin–what it’s about, why it’s considered such an effective propaganda film, why film scholars still study it? What I know is it’s considered one of the greatest foreign films in history. It was about a mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, and it was made for the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the [Bolshevik] revolution. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a proponent of the montage theory in film–juxtaposition of images to create emotion. Every scene within the film took a different angle. It was very exploratory for the age. When it was released in Russia [in 1925], it didn’t do very well. Only on overseas distribution did people go, “Whoa, this is quite a propaganda piece.”

Why was Battleship Potemkin re-released in Russia in 1929 if it did so poorly in the country its original run? This is purely a guess but I think it had something to do with the advent of sound. I would almost bet that the 1929 re-release had a sound element. [The 1925 version was a silent film.] I do not know that, and I can’t find evidence of it, but 1929 was when the change was being made. Also, the film governing body, Goskino, wanted to push it out again domestically after the overseas response, to see if it would get a better response.

Do we have any notion of why the Stenberg brothers, Vladimir and Georgii, were chosen to design the 1929 re-release Battleship Potemkin poster? I don’t think we’ll ever know beyond [the fact that] they were so well-known in this period, the late 1920s. They were the premier Constructivist artists. They did 300 posters in total in their ten-year career.

What makes this Battleship Potemkin poster design successful? The feel of movement. It’s about expressionist movement in an image. As far as Battleship Potemkin is concerned, it shows the turrets crossing each other in a regimented, militaristic fashion, and the two people are almost in flight. It expressed Czarist oppression. That was the whole reason for the Bolshevik revolution.

What’s going on in the poster? Is this image abstract, or does it show characters from the movie? One sailor is on a turret and the other is an officer being thrown overboard. That’s what they [the mutinying sailors] did–threw them overboard. Throwing the officer overboard is the essence of it. It’s very evocative of the film. It’s a moment in the film, but not literally. They [the Stenberg brothers] used the element of the crossed turrets to create tension.

The first two gun turrets on the Battleship Potemkin poster give the name of the movie in Cyrillic. What does the third turret say? It says “Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Cameraman Eduard Tisse.”

I also see a logo in the lower right. What does it stand for? It’s the logo for the Soviet distributor, the state-run film production company [Mosfilm]. Russians put the print run on every poster. In the lower left of the poster, in Cyrillic, it says 10,000. You can imagine how many they discarded. Of the Constructivist posters, less than a handful [of each are] surviving.

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

This poster design is horizontal. Is that unusual for a Russian movie poster, as it would be in most other countries? It was fairly common, yeah. There’s a suggestion that the format styles [for Russian movie posters] were a good bit broader than in the U.S. There was a great lot of liberty given to those artists. Some of the images are really incredible. In this instance, [the design] totally lends itself to a horizontal image.

Would Russian movie posters have gone up in the same sorts of places movie posters went up in other countries–movie house lobbies, boards outside construction sites, and the like? I think they had the ability to post anywhere. The story was that U.S. films did much better in the post-Revolutionary era than Russian films. Russians wanted to see light-hearted comedies. Most Russian productions were propaganda pieces. Films with less political undertones were more popular and made a lot more money than Russian productions. It could be one of the reasons why Battleship Potemkin and Ten Days that Shook the World didn’t have that big of a demand.

How many Battleship Potemkin posters from the 1929 re-release survive? I know there are fewer than four copies.

Are Russian movie posters more rare than posters from other countries? They were very much put up, then taken down and thrown away. I’m pretty sure Russia had a paper shortage. I think in World War II, the decimation in that country–so much paper was burned to stay warm, or just destroyed. The Nazis were brutal, as you know.

Were Russian movie posters recycled as well? Local theaters would print things on the back, and local grocers would use them [the backs of posters] to advertise on.

A 1929 Battleship Potemkin poster went to auction at a different house in 2012 and sold for $164,725. Is this the same poster? What do we know about its provenance? I don’t know if this is the same one. It could be the same one, but I don’t know, and if I did, I would tell you. There’s no reason not to. It’s another thing that proves how scarce the item is. Both this and the Ten Days that Shook the World poster [another great Constructivist poster, but not by the Stenberg brothers] came from a private collection. I can’t say much about it beyond it’s in great shape.

What condition is the Battleship Potemkin poster in? Incredible condition, incredible. It was folded at one point, and there were tiny chips. But it’s really incredible. When I first got it, I put it on a light table and it was hard to see it was folded.

Do we have any idea when and how the Battleship Potemkin poster left Russia, and how it survived so well? Maybe it came out after the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe it was carried out by somebody visiting there. Who knows? I find it hard to believe that anyone in government, if someone picked it up and put it in their suitcase, would know what it was. It would not have been noted in the 1960s. If it was folded, that would explain it–with folding, there’s a greater chance of traveling without damage. This one is paper-backed. Once it was conserved on paper, it looked brilliant. Also, the Russians used better paper than France, certainly South America, and Mexico. Lower-quality paper gets what collectors call “fold burns”–browning at the folds. That’s not a problem with Soviet paper [of this vintage].

What is the Battleship Potemkin poster like in person? Striking. It’s striking. The colors are really brilliant. It’s really sort of 3-D when you stand and look at it. It’s incredible, it really is. It makes me excited and makes me want to sell more Constructivist posters. No book can give you a real feel for them.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? When you deal with things like this, you have no idea where it’s going to go. But you’ve got to get it out there at a reasonable price. It’s the only way to get people to participate. If you don’t have underbidders, you don’t have an auction. It’s important we try to price these things to move.

As we speak on November 14, the Battleship Potemkin poster has already drawn a bid of $25,000. Is that meaningful? That’s a good sign that it’s piqued other collectors’ interest. But I don’t think anything is meaningful per se a week before the auction or more.

Why will this Battleship Potemkin poster stick in your memory? It’s an often-used phrase, but it’s such an iconic piece. I’ve been truly fortunate through the years to get great posters. I remember unique posters well because it’s exciting for me. It’s so much fun to get rare pieces in.

How to bid: The Battleship Potemkin poster is lot #86286 in the Movie Posters Signature Internet Auction offered by Heritage Auctions on November 23 and November 24, 2019.


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Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid three other times, talking about a lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks,  a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun

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A Silver Pomander from 17th Century England Could Sell for More Than $38,000

An Elizabeth I-era silver pomander, early 17th century, featuring six engraved royal portraits. The woman in the center was initially identified as Queen Elizabeth I. Scholars now think she is either Anne of Denmark (wife of James I, who is shown on the right) or a queen of Bohemia. The bearded man on the left is believed to be King Charles I depicted as the Prince of Wales.

What you see: An Elizabeth I silver pomander, engraved with portraits of royals and dating to the early 17th century. Christie’s estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $25,900 to $38,850.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, International Head of Silver at Christie’s.

Was the pomander a common household object in 17th century England, or was it purely used by nobles and wealthy merchants? I think it was really people of wealth–rich merchants and aristocratic ladies would have had them. They tend to be in silver and rarely in gold.

A fair number of people like to think that previous ages were smellier or stinkier than our own. Is that accurate, and is the silver pomander evidence that bad odors were a common hazard in 17th century England? Yes, very much so. There was no plumbing, and there were open ditches in the street where people threw the contents of their chamber pots. And there was the miasmic theory of disease, the belief that odor itself could give you a disease. The pomander was a way to banish evil smells and evil humors and keep yourself healthy.

Why would a woman have been the likely original owner of this silver pomander? In contemporary portraits [of the period] you see ladies wearing them.

A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.
A Dutch period full-length portrait of a woman wearing a pomander on a chatelaine.

If 17th century Englishmen didn’t carry pomanders, what did they carry instead that served the same purpose? People had scented gloves and scented handkerchiefs. The pomander developed as a form of adornment for women, and it had practical use.

And pomanders usually take the shape of an orb, or sphere? They tend to. Early pomanders were a ball of a scented substance–wax with scents impregnated in them. The form it usually takes is a circular foot with a central stem that has a number of hinged segments. It opens like the petals of a flower.

How would the silver pomander’s owner have used it–to perfume herself, to shield her nose from unpleasant smells, or both? She would hold it up to her nose, like a nosegay or a viniagrette, which is a box that had a sponge with smelling salts or scented waters.

So it’s kind of like us putting Vicks VapoRub under our nostrils today? Exactly.

Would she have worn the silver pomander every day, or did she only wear it on fancy occasions, or at court? It could be everyday. She didn’t necessarily wear it around the house, but it denotes status. It’s a costly object. Certainly, if she went out around town in her finest dress, she’d wear it.

What sorts of nice-smelling things might she have put in the silver pomander? And would she put the same thing in each of its six compartments, or would she put different, complementary things in the compartments? I think it’s each to their own. She might want rosemary for this, or lavender for that. Each scent had certain properties and beliefs about what they would help with. She could put the same thing [in every compartment] or a cocktail. There’s no difference to aromatherapy today–if you’re stressed, try lavender, if you need invigoration, try lemon verbena.

This side of the silver pomander shows a man wearing a ruff and hat. It's believed to be a portrait of King James I. The man on the right with orb and scepter could be King Henry VIII, and the woman on the right is now believed to be Anne of Denmark, James's wife, or possibly a queen of Bohemia.

The silver pomander features several portraits of people who are believed to be royals: King James I, King Charles I (as Prince of Wales), King Henry VII, King Henry VIII, and a woman who could be Anne of Denmark (James I’s wife) or Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. How do we know these are the people depicted? They’re really [after] engravings by the de Passe family, a Dutch family that specializes in head-and-shoulder portraits. They’re not exact matches, but similar ones match up. They’re known engravings of members of the Tudor and Stuart royal family. Anne of Denmark was originally attributed as Elizabeth I.

Would the silver pomander have advertised the political leanings of the wearer? Would she have taken a risk if she went out in public with this hanging from her chatelaine? All the royals [depicted on the pomander] are Protestant monarchs. You’ll find by this time (early 17th century), Britain was established as a Protestant nation. Under the reign of Queen Mary I, the owner wouldn’t have wanted to wear the pomander, but it postdates that. At the time, the monarch was Protestant and the country was 90 percent Protestant.

The silver pomander, shown open to display all six of its segments. Its user would have placed pleasant-smelling items such as rosemary or lavender in the compartments through the rectangular-shaped holes.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the silver pomander was to make? You’ve got six little segments. It’s difficult to make sure they’re all the same size and have the same curve so they come together to form an orb. It’s got a carefully milled thread, so you can screw the top down [and hold the six segments closed and in place]. And it’s been heavily engraved with shield shapes ornamenting the tops of the segments, the medallion portraits, and so on.

What is the silver pomander like in person? Is it heavy? It’s about two inches high. It fits in the palm of the hand. If you make an “OK” sign with your middle finger and your thumb, it’s that sort of size. It feels heavy in the hand.

What condition is it in? When you see it open, [you can see that] the not-quite-rectangular openings in each segment have been squeezed over the years. But really, it’s survived in surprisingly good condition.

I understand that little early English silver survives because various groups sought it to melt it and turn it into money. I realize we don’t know exactly how this silver pomander survived, but what are some plausible theories? In Civil War England, Royalist and Parlimentarian forces were desperate to pay their armies. Silver was the coinage of the day. If you melted a cup and struck coins, you got money. Two silver plates from the Armada service are in the sale. The service was buried in a barn and not rediscovered until 1827. It was almost certainly hidden to avoid being seized by Parlimentarian forces. But this pomander is a small object [which would yield] an ounce and a half of silver, not a huge amount. And it’s easily hidden away. You could stick it in the back of a drawer and if you weren’t really searching for it, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. A silver cup is less easily hidden.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think number one, it being English. It’s unmarked [it lacks hallmarks that would identify the silversmith], but it would be very strange for it to be anything else than English, and to have portraits on it is rare. Pomanders are more likely to have scrolling foliage on them, that sort of thing. And it’s a gem of an object in an amazing collection of objects that survived all the intervening years. It’s a lovely personal object, beautifully decorated in great detail, and it [represents an] extraordinary survival.

How to bid: The Elizabeth I silver pomander is lot 101 in The David Little Collection of Early English Silver, taking place at Christie’s London on December 3, 2019.

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Harry Williams-Bulkeley features in a piece on the Christie’s website in which he talks about the David Little collection, and the forces that make early English silver so rare.

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! The Daisy and Violet Hilton Poster Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1930s poster featuring Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who headlined the vaudeville circuit.

Update: The Daisy and Violet Hilton poster sold for $1,000.

What you see: A circa 1930s poster for the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

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

Could we start by talking about Daisy and Violet Hilton–who they were, and why they’re still interesting to us now? And how did they set themselves apart from other conjoined twins who appeared in public? They started out working for fairly well-established carnivals and graduated to theaters. From everything I’ve read, they were certainly talented performers and entertainers. They practiced assiduously to become talented musicians. They closed their act by dancing with two gentlemen in harmony, in concert. I think Bob Hope was one of the two men dancing at the end of the routine, before he became famous. By all accounts, it was a rousing performance. They commanded a huge salary–Houdini-level money. I can’t state that strongly enough. Literally thousands a week on the vaudeville circuit.

If they appeared in a sideshow, all they’d have to do is show up, but playing music and dancing let them rise in vaudeville? The carnival setting is literally a display of their deformity. They had something to offer above and beyond their unusual anatomy. They were entertainers. They were stars.

Other sets of conjoined twins didn’t go as far as the Hilton sisters in offering more than the fact of their uniqueness? Chang and Eng were very successful and retired wealthy. Some say the Hiltons tried to model themselves on their success that the Bunkers made. [Chang and Eng’s surname was Bunker.]

I see the poster is dated circa 1930s. I take it that it has to date before 1931, when the Hilton sisters won a lawsuit to emancipate themselves from their managers? I believe it’s pre-emancipation, yes.

How rare is this Daisy and Violet Hilton poster? How many have you handled? We’ve sold three, this being the third. I know of a couple others. They’re out there.

Was material featuring conjoined twins less likely to be saved for reasons of taste, or does it survive in roughly the same amounts as other forms of ephemera? I don’t think so. In some ways, it’s a benefit–“I can’t believe I saw it. Here’s a memento of what I saw.”

This Daisy and Violet Hilton poster has the highest estimate of any Hilton sisters material in the auction. Why? Its rarity and its aesthetic graces. [Material from] Chained for Life–I might even call it a C movie, but let’s call it a B movie–is much more readily available, and there’s much more sales history there. Probably the rarest Hilton sisters piece is the souvenir napkin. The collector who consigned it said in 30 years, they’d only seen two. But it’s less sexy than a one-sheet poster.

And that’s why it gets the highest estimate? It’s a striking image, it’s vivid, and we’re talking about people who, in a way, are cultural icons. I think a lot of people could see this item up on their wall, rather than a pinback [a button].

Is this circa 1930s poster scarcer than Chained for Life movie posters? I’m not sure I could quantify. If I remember right, the Hiltons kept working as entertainers only about five to seven years before they died, though work was scarce in their last few years. Toward the end they worked in burlesque houses, doing striptease, because they were desperate for work. In the last few years of their life, they were weighing produce in a grocery store. They had squandered their earnings, or it was spent by the family who took care of them and booked their shows.

Where do the Hiltons rank among the various sets of conjoined twins who appeared before the public? Is it Chang and Eng, and then the Hiltons? I’d say Chang and Eng, the Hiltons, and then the two-headed nightingale, Millie-Christine. The most recent biography was published about Chang and Eng, so perhaps they’re more popular. And they have that connection with P. T. Barnum, of course, which gives them a certain pedigree.

There’s a lot of material that features conjoined twins in this salenot just stuff that showcases Daisy and Violet Hilton. Is it a typical amount for your annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale, or is there more than you usually have? I think it’s about what we’ve had in previous sales. It’s on par with what we’ve had in the past.

When did Potter & Potter start doing annual Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities auctions? Not that long ago, actually. This will be our fourth annual auction. We’ve been fortunate to get nice things and become the go-to place for it. We’ve turned away twice as much for the auction as we have in it. Maybe we could do two next year.

And why not have this auction before Halloween? Why hold it in mid-November? We do a magic auction before Halloween. We’ve been doing that for 12 years.

Let me get back to the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster. What condition is it in? I’d give it a B-plus. Most condition issues are around the exterior.

How does it compare to the two other examples you’ve handled? It’s about on par with the others. It’s beautiful.

What is the Daisy and Violet Hilton poster like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think when you see it in person, at full size–you’ve got to remember, this would have gone on the side of a building, or in a lobby–it’s quite large. [It measures 42 inches by 27 and three-quarter inches.] We had one guy who came in for the magic auction [which Potter & Potter held on October 26] who said, “I’m so used to seeing it on a screen. When you stand up in front of it, it’s a completely different experience.” He was talking about magic stuff, but you can take it to heart about anything.

How to bid: The Daisy and Violet Hilton poster is lot 0133 in the Circus, Sideshow, & Oddities sale at Potter & Potter on November 16, 2019.


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In 2012, Dean Jensen wrote a biography of the Hilton sisters, dubbed The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins. It’s out of print, but worth tracking down.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200,  a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a 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.

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A Know Nothing Flag Could Sell for $50,000

A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. It features an image of George Washington in the space where the canton would go.

What you see: A Know Nothing American flag, dating to December 1858. Freeman’s estimates it at $25,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s.

Let’s start by talking about who the Know Nothings were. They were founded in 1849, and were a nativist party–anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, largely due to Irish immigration. Ireland experienced a famine, and there were no jobs, so they moved to American cities. It was an anti-immigration movement, sadly not unlike today.

Funny how some things never seem to change. There’s an interesting letter from Abraham Lincoln about the Know Nothings. It’s from 1855, and it reads: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” The Know Nothings were a well-enough known party, though they kept it kind of secret. If anyone asked about their agenda, their members would say, “I know nothing.” [Hence the name.] They didn’t want new people, people who had different faiths. They didn’t want to change.

How would the Know Nothings have used this flag in the late 1850s? I don’t know for sure. I think maybe it was made for group meetings, secret meetings, or for someone’s personal use. But it’s small, a very small thing–only 19 inches by 23 1/4 inches. It looks like it was pinned up on something. It was not hung on a building. It was rather discreet. Nobody wants to stand up and say, “I hate people.”

The Know Nothing flag is small enough to tuck inside a coat? It’s small. It’s not something to be raised on a pole.

Detail shot of the Know Nothing flag, focused on the George Washington portrait that replaces the canton.

Here in the 21st century, we think of the design of the American flag as being fixed and inviolate. I get the impression that wasn’t the case in the 19th century, when this Know Nothing flag was made. The makers have clearly taken liberties with the basic American flag design–they’ve replaced the canton [the blue field that appears in the upper left] with an image of George Washington… This whole patch [with Washington on it] was cut out of a length of printed fabric and appliqued on the stripes. It functions as the canton, and it serves its purpose beautifully.

There are 13 embroidered stars above the eagle’s head on this Know Nothing flag. Is that meant to be a reference to the original 13 colonies? Yeah, I think they’re envisioning some sort of purer time that never was. Again, it’s comparable to the present–longing for some idyllic past that was not idyllic for everyone and not as idyllic as it seemed.

Redesigning the look of the American flag would not have been offensive in 1858? Not until 1912 was there a flag act that started to regulate things–48 stars and 13 stripes. This… I don’t think it’s a public piece. It’s private, or for a small group of like-thinking individuals.

The Know Nothing flag has 17 stripes. Does the number of stripes have any special significance to the group or its ideology? Or does it just happen to have 17 stripes for reasons known only to the person who stitched it? Very interesting. I don’t know why. I don’t know if that meant something to the Know Nothings.

The Know Nothings put a portrait of George Washington on the flag. Why did they hold Washington, of all the founders, in such high esteem? According to legendary flag collector Boleslaw Mastai, the Know Nothing Party “professed a veritable cult for George Washington”. They took partial quotes from a Washington letter of April 30, 1777, which he wrote in the wake of an assassination plot involving members of his own guard: “You will therefore send me none but Natives, & Men of some property, if you have them- I must insist that in that in making this Choice you give no intimation of my preference of Natives, as I do not want to create any invidious Distinction between them & Foreigner….”    

George Washington is shown with his hand on the hilt of a sword. Did that have particular meaning to the Know Nothings, or is that just how the company who printed the textile wanted Washington to look? You often get that, even in formal portraits. It’s not uncommon for portraits of the 18th century and the early 19th century to show [leaders] with swords to allude to their military past.

The Know Nothing flag, shown in full inside a frame.

What can we tell, just by looking, about how the Know Nothing flag was made? It’s all hand-sewn. They cut out a patch from a length of printed fabric, and appliquéd it onto the stripes.

The initials “JWL” are embroidered on the Know Nothing flag. Do we have any idea who JWL is? We don’t.

The flag also has a date on it–December 1858. Is it unusual to see a dated flag? Yes, it is unusual. We do have a couple of flags in the sale that were made by or presented to people and often, there are inscriptions on them. It’s a little different to embroider [the date], but it’s not unknown.

Does the December 1858 date have any special meaning to the Know Nothings? I don’t think so. I think it’s just when they made it [the flag].

I see what looks like scorch marks in places on the flag. What are they? There could be a number of things that cause that. Sometimes it happens if it’s folded for a long time. Something could have been spilled on it. Perhaps it was nailed to something metal and rust transferred onto the fabric.

How rare is this Know Nothing flag? I don’t know of any others. It comes from a very important flag collection, the Mastai Collection.

Have any others appeared at auction? The first Know Nothing flag at auction was this one, in 2002, when the Mastai collection sold at Sotheby’s. It was passed [it failed to sell at auction] and was sold later, within a year of the auction.

What is the Know Nothing flag like in person? It’s very colorful and bright. The reds are very vibrant. The Washington patch is a trifle faded, but not horribly. It makes an impact.

Why will the Know Nothing flag stick in your memory? Because I’ve never seen anything like it. Everybody heard about the Know Nothings in history class, but I’ve never seen a living, breathing artifact associated with the group. It’s a reminder that history repeats itself. Anti-immigration–we have that going on today.

How to bid: The Know Nothing flag is lot 39 in A Grand Old Flag: The Stars and Stripes Collection of Dr. Peter J. Keim, taking place November 24. 2019 at Freeman’s.

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Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

Lynda Cain appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a jaunty 19th century hat from the Franklin Fire Company that later sold for $18,750.

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SOLD! The Jackie Robinson Doll with Box Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1950s Jackie Robinson doll in its original box. The Dodgers legend is pictured in the upper right corner.

Update: The Jackie Robinson doll with box sold for $1,100.

What you see: A circa 1950 Jackie Robinson doll, with its original box and accoutrements. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

Who made this doll? And is it possible to know how many of these Jackie Robinson dolls were made? I can tell you who made it: the Allied-Grand Doll Company in New York. I think the manufacturing was in Brooklyn, New York, but I’d want to double check. Based on the number of dolls I’ve seen, probably not many were made.

Apparently there were two versions of the Jackie Robinson doll, and this is the de luxe version. What does this have that the standard version lacks? This box is more elaborate, as opposed to the doll items. And it has a cardboard die cut of an actual baseball field on the front. I’ve never handled the other doll. Inside, there’s a Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game, with pinwheels and sliders that allow you to play a baseball game.

Closeup of the Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game that comes with the circa 1950s doll.

Yeah, I think I see the back sides of two wheels on the cover of the game in the full shot. There were three different gages for balls, strikes, and outs per inning. It runs up to 15 innings. It’s pretty complicated for what it is. It’s six inches by 8 inches and on cardstock. It’s pretty cool. All the dolls have a tag with a photo of Jackie Robinson, a ball with a mitt, and a wooden baseball bat that has Jackie Robinson’s signature on it.

Is the printed baseball diamond meant to be used with the pocket baseball game? The pocket baseball game, essentially, is the game. Outside of the visual, the baseball diamond has no significance. There are no figures to move around it.

And we think the Jackie Robinson doll appeared around 1950–well after his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers–and it probably remained available until he retired from the sport in 1956? That’s my assumption. There are no dates written, no way for me to know for sure. [In holding off until 1950 or so] they were probably testing the waters to see how well Robinson was received by the audience. Once he was a success story, they jumped on the bandwagon. There’s no way to know if they continued to make it after he departed from the league, but following his retirement as a player, they probably ceased production. The life of the toy was probably a five-year run or so.

Did the Allied-Grand Doll Company tweak the design of the Jackie Robinson doll or the extras or the packaging over that span of time? Are there subtle changes that help us date individual examples? Nothing I had noticed, but there are few examples of the doll around. It’s possible it started as a large boxed set and it proved to be too expensive to produce [so they made a stripped-down version instead], or the doll itself was not enough and they sweetened it with the go-alongs [the extras, such as the printed baseball diamond and the pocket baseball game] Those are possible reasons why there are two different sets.

A closeup on the black-and-white photo of Jackie Robinson on the packaging for the doll.

Did Jackie Robinson or Major League Baseball or both approve of this doll? I see Robinson’s picture on the box, and you said the toy bat has his signature, but I’m guessing that doesn’t imply official approval? I couldn’t find anything linking to Jackie Robinson or the league. There’s only a copyright next to the signature on the box and on the [toy] bat itself, and the tags for the doll. It does not appear on the pocket baseball game.

And is there any proof that Robinson shared in the royalties for the doll? No, not at all. Interestingly enough, and not to say that it’s true, but on the cover of the pocket baseball game, it says, “Designed by the National League’s most valuable player of 1949,” so it’s possible he had something to do with it.

Is this the only Jackie Robinson doll created and marketed during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s the only one I’ve been able to find in my digging around, and it’s the only one I’ve ever handled.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown alone, from the front, in full Dodgers uniform. Robinson's signature is visible on the toy bat.

The 1950s predate the rise of the “action figure,” a phrase that made dolls acceptable to boys and their parents. This Jackie Robinson doll really is a doll, with toddler-like proportions. Might its appearance have affected its sales, and explain why so few survive? I presume the doll was marketed to a boy audience while also played with by a girl audience as well. It was probably for boys interested in baseball, but it has the proportions of a baby doll. It could have hit both markets. Predating action figures, it was probably a harder sell. It could indicate why it’s as scarce as it is. It might have missed the mark on the audience. The company might have been ahead of its time.

Is this the only doll that the Allied-Grand Doll Company made and marketed for a target audience of boys? Yes. The rest are girl dolls.

How did the company change its marketing to attract boys? Looking at the box, I take it they leaned heavily on baseball imagery? Yes, it’s very baseball-heavy, exactly. The corner shows Jackie Robinson at bat, but it’s very baseball-heavy, even more than Jackie Robinson himself.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full, from the rear, with the baseball bat clearly attached to the right hand.

The Allied-Grand Doll Company was located in New York. Did they intend this Jackie Robinson doll to be a regional product, or did they market it nationally? There’s no way for me to tell. Allied-Grand did market nationally, and given that he was the first African-American to enter Major League Baseball, it’s very possible that the reach of the market for the doll went nationwide. I presume the majority of the demand for the doll to be close to home.

Is there any evidence that the company marketed the Jackie Robinson doll nationally? No, nothing like that.

How many examples of the Jackie Robinson doll have you handled? This is the first I’ve handled with a box, and the third I’ve seen in the last decade.

Another angle on the Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full from the left rear.

Does it come with everything it ought to have? I believe so. The tag, the bat, the baseball game, and the diamond complete the set. I’m shy to say it’s the most complete I’ve ever seen, but it’s the first I’ve seen with the pocket baseball game.

The lot notes describe the doll and its box as being in “Exc – Pristine Cond.” What does that mean here? It gives it an 85 to 90 percent condition grading, albeit with tears to the box. Given the rarity of the piece, this one grades to the 90th percentile of completeness and it’s 100 percent authentic, with no touch-ups.

I see some fading or bleaching to the doll’s baseball cap and its windbreaker. Would it have gotten that discoloration from being played with? Given the doll’s condition, it’s more age-related wear than play wear.

What is the Jackie Robinson doll like in person? It has an impressive size. It stands 13 inches tall or so–good scaling. The most important detail is the stitched uniform, albeit soiled and aged clothing. It’s cream-colored cloth with light blue stitching on it. And in my opinion, one of the neatest things is the pocket baseball game. It’s a handy little thing.

What is the provenance of the Jackie Robinson doll? It comes from a collector, a very advanced doll collector who’s had it for some years.

We’re speaking on November 4, and the Jackie Robinson doll has already been bid up to $850. Is that meaningful? It’s a soft indication of interest. We’ve had a few phone calls about the condition of the doll, but it’s a bit early to tell. I find that bidders hold their cards pretty tight until the auction is up and running.

Why will this Jackie Robinson doll stick in your memory? The rarity of it, and I think it’s going to draw very wide attention and interest. Sports-themed toys are well-received in the market. Doll collectors could easily go for it, baseball collectors–it hits all the bases.

How to bid: The Jackie Robinson doll is lot 1619, offered on day two of the Annual Fall Sale at Bertoia Auctions, scheduled for November 15, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Michael Bertoia appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a vintage Tremendous Mike robot toy with box that went on to sell for $11,000.

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SOLD! The Steiff Teddy Bear Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

Update: The Steiff PB28 rod bear sold for €7,500, or about $8,150.

What you see: A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904. Auction Team Breker estimates it at €6,000 to €9,000, or roughly $6,600 to $9,900.

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

Could we start by discussing how the idea of the teddy bear came about, and how Steiff decided to produce teddy bears? Steiff had already been in existence for several years [when it made its first teddy bear]. In 1880, it made the first soft toy, an elephant. Bear toys existed for a long time before that–carved bears from the Black Forest region, and automaton bears, but they were not cuddly. Bear toys were not new [in the early 20th century] but jointed soft toy bears were new, and Steiff pioneered them.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904. When measured in a standing position, it tops out at 15 and 3/4 inches tall.

Was the story of President Theodore Roosevelt declining to shoot a bear cub while hunting in 1902 an inspiration for Steiff to create soft, jointed teddy bears? Yes, I know that story. How true it is, I’m not sure. Interestingly, the name “Teddy” attached to the bear after 1903. The earliest [Steiff bears] were not known as teddy bears.

So the creation of the Steiff teddy bears and the timing of the Roosevelt hunting trip was a coincidence? I think maybe it was a happy coincidence, you could say. The first Steiff bear was string-jointed, in 1902, and was called 55PB, with the “PB” standing for “Plush Bear”. [The Theodore Roosevelt Association discusses the origin story of the teddy bear on its website, and Steiff makes an appearance.}

And none of the string-jointed Steiff teddy bears are thought to survive, yes? I’m reluctant to say there are no survivors. It’s possible somewhere in America or Europe there’s a disjointed bear, or a bear that started life as a string bear.

Let’s also take a minute to talk about Germany’s reputation as a toy-making nation in the early 20th century. I’m under the impression that partly because it was home to Steiff and Marklin, Germany was tops in the world. There was always competition between France and Germany, but France was in decline in 1900 and Germany was in ascendance. German toymakers were very innovative during this period, making more childlike dolls and character dolls. A similar thing happened with bears. They made soft toys children wanted to hold, not expensive dolls that children had to be supervised [during play], as with French toys. Steiff and Marklin are still there and are very, very conscious of their history and identity as iconic German products. They have reproduced certain models in limited editions.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, created circa 1903 or 1904, and shown in closeup. It seems to have been made before Steiff started sewing ID buttons in the ears of their teddy bears.

How do we know this Steiff teddy bear was made in 1903 or 1904? The rod bears were only produced for around two years, from 1903 to 1905. This one has no Steiff button in his ear. The buttons came in in 1903. It’s possible this bear had one early on and the button was removed, but there are no characteristic holes [that provide evidence there was once a button]. That’s our indication of the dating on this.

Is it possible to know how many rod bears Steiff produced from 1903 to 1905? It’s possible, if you go to Steiff, there are records, but sadly, we don’t have access to them. This is the only one Auction Team Breker has handled. I’ve personally handled and seen around 15 to 20, but I’m sure there are more than that.

But the Steiff PB28 rod bear isn’t common, correct? It is a rare item. It’s definitely not a common one. And it’s an iconic Steiff bear. String-jointed bears aren’t known to survive. If you want the first model of Steiff bear, it’s this one.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown seated.

The plush on this Steiff teddy bear is described as pale gold. Did the Steiff PB28 rod bear come in other colors? And is pale gold one of the more rare colors? There were other colors as well–dark golden mohair, blond mohair, apricot mohair. I think there is less of pale gold than light blonds. Pale gold does not turn up as much. Apricot is a rare color, and black is incredibly rare. Dark gold, light gold, blond, they do turn up.

What do we know about the provenance of this Steiff teddy bear? The anecdotal history from the family in France [who consigned it] is that it was left at the house during the occupation by a German soldier [in the 1940s, during World War II]. Like most stories from 80 years ago, you can’t verify them or contradict them. There’s no reason to contradict it, but you have to accept it with a pinch of salt.

So this Steiff teddy bear has never been to auction before? No. The Auction Team Breker sale is its first time at auction.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown standing and in profile.

I apologize if this is a silly question, but did the consigning family have a name for the Steiff teddy bear? Not that we know of.

I notice that as we speak, we don’t call the bear “it”, we call it “him”… Yes! It’s funny. With dolls and things, people do that.

What condition is the Steiff teddy bear in? He’s in great condition, but there are things that have been repaired or changed on him. The felt pads [on his paws] have been reinforced, and the original pads are underneath. Paw felt wears quickly. It’s probably one of the most common repairs. It’s lucky to have the originals under the replacements. It will be the decision of the future buyer to remove them and restore the originals or accept [the repairs] as part of his history. He’s also missing his original nose. He had a gutta-percha nose. It was one of the earliest forms of plastic. When it was new, it was a malleable material, but over time, it became brittle. The nose is now stitched, with wool or silk thread. It’s very, very hard to find one with a gutta-percha nose. I’ve seen one at auction.

The Steiff PB28 rod bear was made for children to play with. What forms of wear are visible on this bear, and what forms of wear are considered acceptable in a Steiff teddy bear of this vintage? I think teddy bear collectors are quite forgiving. These things were loved at the time and had a hard life. So often, you find bears that have been hugged so much that they’re bald in places. This bear was lucky. It has some thin patches, but most bears do.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, shown from the rear. Thin patches are visible on the back as well as the back of the head.

Thin patches? They normally turn up where a teddy bear has been hugged.

An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.
An X-ray of the Stieff PB28 bear, which reveals its internal rods.

This is a rod bear, which means it has rods inside its limbs that make it posable. Do the rods still work smoothly and easily? The rods survive very well. He’s still moveable as originally intended. He’s clearly a poseable bear.

A Steiff PB28 rod bear, measuring 15 and 3/4 inches tall and created circa 1903 or 1904, proving it is just as poseable as it was when it left the factory.

What is this Steiff PB28 rod bear like in person? I think he definitely has character, and quite an appealing expression. He’s helped by the fact that his fur is quite bright and in good condition. He presents very well.

How does this Steiff PB28 rod bear compare to others that you’ve handled? I think he compares very well. He’s been looked after. He’s not pristine, but he’s definitely one of the better ones.

What is the world auction record for a Steiff teddy bear? It’s Teddy Girl, which sold in 1994 at Christie’s for £110,000, hammer price [the raw price, before adding the buyer’s premium. That sum roughly translates to $141,400 in contemporary dollars.]

Why will this Steiff teddy bear stick in your memory? Because it came to Auction Team Breker from a kind of odd way from France. It was a German bear, in France, which came back to Germany. It’s an interesting story. And it’s a rod bear, and if you meet him in person, he has a nice character. Rod bears have a really specific look. It has an almost triangular-shaped face and really long paws. If you see it in profile, you know it’s a rod bear. It makes up the special character of these bears.

How to bid: The Steiff rod bear is lot 0163 in the Mechanical Music, Science & Technology, Toys & Automata sale at Auction Team Breker in in Koeln, Germany on November 9, 2019.

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The folks at Auction Team Breker appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a gorgeous, steampunk-looking Malling-Hansen writing ball, an early typewriter. It went on to sell for the equivalent of $111,600.

Images are courtesy of Auction Team Breker.

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A Battleship Potemkin Russian Movie Poster Could Sell for $100,000

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

What you see: A 1929 Russian movie poster for the noted Russian film Battleship Potemkin. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $50,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage Auctions.

First, could we talk about Battleship Potemkin–what it’s about, why it’s considered such an effective propaganda film, why film scholars still study it? What I know is it’s considered one of the greatest foreign films in history. It was about a mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, and it was made for the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the [Bolshevik] revolution. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a proponent of the montage theory in film–juxtaposition of images to create emotion. Every scene within the film took a different angle. It was very exploratory for the age. When it was released in Russia [in 1925], it didn’t do very well. Only on overseas distribution did people go, “Whoa, this is quite a propaganda piece.”

Why was Battleship Potemkin re-released in Russia in 1929 if it did so poorly in the country its original run? This is purely a guess but I think it had something to do with the advent of sound. I would almost bet that the 1929 re-release had a sound element. [The 1925 version was a silent film.] I do not know that, and I can’t find evidence of it, but 1929 was when the change was being made. Also, the film governing body, Goskino, wanted to push it out again domestically after the overseas response, to see if it would get a better response.

Do we have any notion of why the Stenberg brothers, Vladimir and Georgii, were chosen to design the 1929 re-release Battleship Potemkin poster? I don’t think we’ll ever know beyond [the fact that] they were so well-known in this period, the late 1920s. They were the premier Constructivist artists. They did 300 posters in total in their ten-year career.

What makes this Battleship Potemkin poster design successful? The feel of movement. It’s about expressionist movement in an image. As far as Battleship Potemkin is concerned, it shows the turrets crossing each other in a regimented, militaristic fashion, and the two people are almost in flight. It expressed Czarist oppression. That was the whole reason for the Bolshevik revolution.

What’s going on in the poster? Is this image abstract, or does it show characters from the movie? One sailor is on a turret and the other is an officer being thrown overboard. That’s what they [the mutinying sailors] did–threw them overboard. Throwing the officer overboard is the essence of it. It’s very evocative of the film. It’s a moment in the film, but not literally. They [the Stenberg brothers] used the element of the crossed turrets to create tension.

The first two gun turrets on the Battleship Potemkin poster give the name of the movie in Cyrillic. What does the third turret say? It says “Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Cameraman Eduard Tisse.”

I also see a logo in the lower right. What does it stand for? It’s the logo for the Soviet distributor, the state-run film production company [Mosfilm]. Russians put the print run on every poster. In the lower left of the poster, in Cyrillic, it says 10,000. You can imagine how many they discarded. Of the Constructivist posters, less than a handful [of each are] surviving.

The movie poster for the 1929 Russian re-release of The Battleship Potemkin, designed by the Stenberg brothers.

This poster design is horizontal. Is that unusual for a Russian movie poster, as it would be in most other countries? It was fairly common, yeah. There’s a suggestion that the format styles [for Russian movie posters] were a good bit broader than in the U.S. There was a great lot of liberty given to those artists. Some of the images are really incredible. In this instance, [the design] totally lends itself to a horizontal image.

Would Russian movie posters have gone up in the same sorts of places movie posters went up in other countries–movie house lobbies, boards outside construction sites, and the like? I think they had the ability to post anywhere. The story was that U.S. films did much better in the post-Revolutionary era than Russian films. Russians wanted to see light-hearted comedies. Most Russian productions were propaganda pieces. Films with less political undertones were more popular and made a lot more money than Russian productions. It could be one of the reasons why Battleship Potemkin and Ten Days that Shook the World didn’t have that big of a demand.

How many Battleship Potemkin posters from the 1929 re-release survive? I know there are fewer than four copies.

Are Russian movie posters more rare than posters from other countries? They were very much put up, then taken down and thrown away. I’m pretty sure Russia had a paper shortage. I think in World War II, the decimation in that country–so much paper was burned to stay warm, or just destroyed. The Nazis were brutal, as you know.

Were Russian movie posters recycled as well? Local theaters would print things on the back, and local grocers would use them [the backs of posters] to advertise on.

A 1929 Battleship Potemkin poster went to auction at a different house in 2012 and sold for $164,725. Is this the same poster? What do we know about its provenance? I don’t know if this is the same one. It could be the same one, but I don’t know, and if I did, I would tell you. There’s no reason not to. It’s another thing that proves how scarce the item is. Both this and the Ten Days that Shook the World poster [another great Constructivist poster, but not by the Stenberg brothers] came from a private collection. I can’t say much about it beyond it’s in great shape.

What condition is the Battleship Potemkin poster in? Incredible condition, incredible. It was folded at one point, and there were tiny chips. But it’s really incredible. When I first got it, I put it on a light table and it was hard to see it was folded.

Do we have any idea when and how the Battleship Potemkin poster left Russia, and how it survived so well? Maybe it came out after the Berlin Wall fell. Maybe it was carried out by somebody visiting there. Who knows? I find it hard to believe that anyone in government, if someone picked it up and put it in their suitcase, would know what it was. It would not have been noted in the 1960s. If it was folded, that would explain it–with folding, there’s a greater chance of traveling without damage. This one is paper-backed. Once it was conserved on paper, it looked brilliant. Also, the Russians used better paper than France, certainly South America, and Mexico. Lower-quality paper gets what collectors call “fold burns”–browning at the folds. That’s not a problem with Soviet paper [of this vintage].

What is the Battleship Potemkin poster like in person? Striking. It’s striking. The colors are really brilliant. It’s really sort of 3-D when you stand and look at it. It’s incredible, it really is. It makes me excited and makes me want to sell more Constructivist posters. No book can give you a real feel for them.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? When you deal with things like this, you have no idea where it’s going to go. But you’ve got to get it out there at a reasonable price. It’s the only way to get people to participate. If you don’t have underbidders, you don’t have an auction. It’s important we try to price these things to move.

As we speak on November 14, the Battleship Potemkin poster has already drawn a bid of $25,000. Is that meaningful? That’s a good sign that it’s piqued other collectors’ interest. But I don’t think anything is meaningful per se a week before the auction or more.

Why will this Battleship Potemkin poster stick in your memory? It’s an often-used phrase, but it’s such an iconic piece. I’ve been truly fortunate through the years to get great posters. I remember unique posters well because it’s exciting for me. It’s so much fun to get rare pieces in.

How to bid: The Battleship Potemkin poster is lot #86286 in the Movie Posters Signature Internet Auction offered by Heritage Auctions on November 23 and November 24, 2019.


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Grey Smith has appeared on The Hot Bid three other times, talking about a lobby card from the 1932 film Freaks,  a unique Japanese movie poster for The Seven Samurai and a 1934 poster for the nudist film Children of the Sun

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NEW RECORD! The Oscar Howe Painting Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

Update: Medicine Man, a casein painting by Oscar Howe, sold for $25,000 and a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

The expert: Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction.

Who was Oscar Howe? He was a Yanktonai Sioux from Dakota. He drew his first lines when he was three–he was always fascinated by lines. He was taken away from his parents in 1922, at age seven, and went to a federal boarding school at Pierre, South Dakota. He did two tours of duty in World War II, and did murals for the Works Progress Administration before he was called up. Throughout his career, he remained rooted in his Dakota ancestry. It was a motivation for his art. One or two academics suggested he was influenced by European Cubism and the avant-garde, but he emphatically rejected that. [The abstract elements of his art] tie into the symbology and the mythology of Sioux culture.

When did Oscar Howe’s art career gain momentum? When he went to the Santa Fe Indian School in 1938. Dorothy Dunn started the school for Indian painters and it was really focused on traditional Indian painting, which was supposed to be illustrative, and called the Studio style. The first part of his career, he was successful in the Studio style. He broke out in the 1950s–that’s why he’s important.

What happened to Oscar Howe in the 1950s? He became famous in 1958 when the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma held an exhibition of Indian painting. It started a project for Native American artists in 1946, and did juried exhibitions and provided a platform for exposure. The Studio style won prizes, and I guess it also unintentionally established a standard of style that prevented artists from developing their abilities. In 1958, the painting Howe sent to Philbrook was rejected. I think the term [they used to explain the rejection] was “not authentically Indian.” He was outraged, and he sent a very famous letter that said, “Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian has always been, put on reservations and treated like a child, and only the White Man knows what is best for him?  Now, even in Art, ‘You little child do what we think is best for you, nothing different.” Well, I am not going to stand for it. Indian Art can compete with any Art in the world, but not as a suppressed Art….” 

What inspired Oscar Howe to paint Medicine Man? It was an ancient story in Sioux culture. It’s from the tahokmu, which references a spider trap, or web [in his native language]. He used lines and planes in that painting in order to add dynamism to the figure. I think it [the lines and planes] looks like the spokes of a spider web–you look at it in a different way. Where Cubists break up the figure to flatten it, Howe uses lines to add energy to the image. You see a lot of movement. It’s not flat at all, though it’s broken into sharp geometric fields.

Ah, I was going to ask–I haven’t seen many works that straddle the line between figurative art and abstract art, but that is not what Oscar Howe is trying to do here, right? He’s combining a figure and abstraction as part of his Native American approach to art? That’s absolutely how he would argue it. It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. He rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.

Oscar Howe used casein paint, a milk-based paint, for Medicine Man. Was that his preferred type of paint? And did he mix it himself? We see casein very often from traditional Indian painters, but I don’t know how often Howe used it. But he would have mixed the paints, yes. He was a very traditional artist.

Would he have used a live model for Medicine Man? No, it would have been from a story, and from the heritage he carried inside him. His purpose in painting was to visually articulate his language and culture, specifically Dakota and Sioux.

As of November 2019, only four Oscar Howe works have ever appeared at auction. Why do you think that’s the case? Are people just reluctant to sell–they want to keep them? As you can imagine, there’s so much interest in this piece. Most don’t want to sell his work, and he’s almost an iconic figure. Him and Joe Herrera are literally referenced as the first modernist American Indian painters. You don’t need to send [Howe’s works] to auction.

This Oscar Howe painting belonged to Patricia Janis Broder. How does that provenance affect collectors’ interest in the work? Tremendously, based on the very successful auction of her collection [with Santa Fe Art Auction in April 2019]. She was important to American Indian art history. She wrote about the material before a lot of people were paying attention. She knew what she was buying, and she lavishly illustrated [the art she bought] in her books. She definitely makes a difference.

What makes Medicine Man such a strong example of Oscar Howe’s work? This is classic Howe. The use of the tahokmu device is brilliant in this particular painting. It’s just a classic instance of energizing–the figure is there and moving and powerful and you get the force of it. It’s an expression of what the medicine man does. It articulates the medicine man’s magic and his role in Sioux culture.

Was the painting inspired by Howe’s personal encounters with medicine men? No. He spent an important part of his early life with his blind grandmother, who came from a long verbal tradition of story-telling in the Sioux culture. Though she was blind, she drew pictures in the sand to illustrate her stories.

The Oscar Howe painting is undated, but are there clues lurking in the work itself that helps us figure out when he might have made it? We know it’s definitely that later period [his modern period rather than his Studio period]. I would think it’s 1960s or 1970s, but it’s hard to say.

What’s the world auction record for an Oscar Howe painting? It was set in 1998 at Sotheby’s New York. The medium was also casein. It was called Modern Sioux Dancer and it went for $15,500. It was one of his modern pieces.

So if Medicine Man sells for even its bottom estimate, it’s a new world record for Oscar Howe… I looked at other auction records [when setting the estimate for this work] and there are so few of them, and none are comparable to this one. This is better and more typical of the best of his work. It’s more characteristic of the aspects of his art for which he is most highly prized.

What is the Oscar Howe painting like in person? Oh! [Sighs] It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s vibrant and vivacious. It’s in beautiful condition. I know it was in storage for a long time. It looks unfaded. It looks, I think, the way he wanted us to see it.

Are there aspects of the Oscar Howe painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? There’s no surface to this painting that you’re missing. It’s not an oil. Casein is very flat. You don’t see the brushwork in it.

Why will this Oscar Howe painting stick in your memory? I’ve been in the art world for more than 20 years, and I’ve never had an Oscar Howe in my hands. This artwork is so pleasing to the eye. And I have huge admiration for his conviction as an artist. I have huge respect for the letter he sent to Philbrook saying, ‘How dare you tell me how to represent my culture.’ He was brave, and he was good.

How to bid: The Oscar Howe painting is lot 0185 in the 2019 Santa Fe Art Auction, taking place on November 9, 2019.

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A Howard Terpning Painting Could Command $500,000

Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 painting by contemporary Western artist Howard Terpning.

What you see: Finding the Buffalo, a 1988 oil on canvas by Howard Terpning. Bonhams estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Aaron Bastian, specialist in Bonhams’s California and Western art department.

Let’s start by talking about who Howard Terpning is, and what makes him interesting to collectors. I tried to think of another living artist who isn’t a mainstream contemporary artist, but whose works still sell for six or seven figures on the secondary market, and I couldn’t come up with one… Howard Terpning is a fascinating character, and a titan of contemporary Western art. Like many in this space, he has a background in illustration. He did it for a couple of decades before wandering over to this side of the fence. Pleasing an art director and working to a deadline carried over into his self-defined artistic practice. He’s one of if not the most decorated artists in this space. I don’t want to bore your readers, but it would take pages to list them all. He won the National Academy of Western Art’s Prix de West. It’s a big deal to win it once. He won it twice. He’s won the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for exceptional artistic merit [given at the annual Masters art exhibition and sale held at the Autry Museum of the American West] twelve times, including eleven straight between 2005 and 2016. He is immensely recognized in his field. Anyone in this space knows who he is.

What makes Howard Terpning paintings so exceptional? It’s not just that any one painting is spectacular, it’s consistent quality over the decades. I think that’s why the value is what we see. They’re so well-planned that you don’t see bad Howard Terpnings. They don’t make it onto the market. They fall apart earlier in the process.

How prolific is he? I’m sure the family has it [a total count for his body of work] but it’s not public. Big finished works take him a couple of months. I don’t know how many he might work on simultaneously.

Is he still painting, or has he retired? As of two years ago, when he was 90, he was still painting. He’s going to die with a pencil in his hand. If he can’t paint oils, he’s going to draw. I can’t see him ever stopping.

Howard Terpning has been painting Western art since the late 1970s. Are there periods or phases within his work that collectors prefer, or has his work been scarce enough that they can’t be that choosy? It’s a somewhat complicated answer. What we see for the top ten [for him] on the auction market is in a fairly narrow period for production in the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Is that indicative of what the market thinks is most valuable? Some of that is those are the works that are available. Maybe there’s a great late 1990s work out there that will blow us away if it comes to auction. I think this work [which dates to 1988] is in the sweet spot, but I don’t know if the sweet spot is real.

Finding the Buffalo measures 36 inches by 32 inches. Is that a typical size for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s sort of middle of the pack as far as scale goes. He does paint larger, and he does paint smaller. But he’s stretching his own canvases. He makes them any size he wants. The finished drawing he does [in the lead-up to creating the painting] always informs the size and proportions of the canvas.

What do we know about how he works, and how he might have made Finding the Buffalo? His technique is pretty well-documented. He starts with a series of sketches leading to a finished drawing. The drawing informs the size of the canvas. It’s traced and essentially transferred to the canvas, which is not a blank canvas. There’s one tone brushed onto the whole canvas. The drawing is transferred on, then he begins. There are videos of him doing this. [Jump to the 4:20 mark to watch Terpning embark on the first step of creating a painting.] Lights and darks are applied over the midtone. He can quickly define the whole composition.

Then he finishes it? That’s where the real time is spent.

So the drawing, the scaling-up for the canvas, and the transfer of the drawing–that’s a kind of scaffolding for creating the finished painting? Yes. I think it’s a rigorous approach he gets from his background in illustration.

How might he have arrived at the content and composition of the image we see in Finding the Buffalo? He has a huge archive of reference images. The rocks in the background could be a combination of images of a few different rocks. And he has a huge archive of objects. He’d have a quiver as a historic reference, but he’ll modify it to make it historically accurate to [the quiver of] a Comanche scout.

How often do Howard Terpning paintings feature the Comanche people, as we see in Finding the Buffalo? He always has a specific tribe in mind. Comanche, I hesitate to give a percentage, but he’s painted them many times. I don’t know if they’re a favorite per se. It’s the Plains peoples who are his fascination.

And the Comanches are among the Plains peoples? Yes. Terpning has a deep connection with and fascination with the nomadic style of life these people led.

Detail shot of the horned lizard from Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

How rare is it for Terpning to place an animal front-and-center in his works, as he does here with the horned lizard? I don’t know another work like it. It’s very unusual. The lizard is front and center, but it’s not the center point. You look at the scouts, look at what they’re looking at, and–oh. Everything is centered on the lizard, but the lizard is more like one of the rocks, and he puts the focus on the Comanche. Terpning is ultimately a figure painter, and Finding the Buffalo is no different. I think it’s a really neat painting in that it’s a subtle painting. In another Terpning painting in the sale, My Medicine Is Strong, the medicine man is on a rock and he’s clearly having a religious moment. Here, it’s a little quieter compared to some of the narratives Terpning likes to convey.

What’s going on in Finding the Buffalo? What’s the story? This is from Terpning himself: Comanche scouts believe that if they ask the horned lizard where the buffalo are, whatever direction he runs in is where the buffalo are. If he breaks left, go left. They’re watching the lizard very intently, especially the scout in the back–his anxiety is piqued. And I love that even the horses are staring at the lizard. [Laughs]

What’s your favorite detail of this Howard Terpning painting? There’s a splash of blue beadwork right at the very center of the painting. There are a few other touches where he uses bright blue, but this is the only spot where you get that color, and he does it right in the center of the painting. I love it as contrast. I look at the painting and it feels hot and oppressive under the bright sun, washed out. The splash of blue yanks your eye to the middle of the painting. Then you look down, and there’s the lizard. It’s so restrained, and it speaks to how valuable the beads would have been.

Detail shot of the blue beadwork dangling down the side of a Comanche scout's horse in Howard Terpning's Finding the Buffalo.

What is the Howard Terpning painting like in person? It’s more subtle in person. When you have a painting with large patches in the same tonal family, your eye is better at appreciating the subtle tonal shift than the camera is. The lizard blends into the rocks even a little more. The background behind the scouts is very rich, and I don’t think you get that in the reproduction. And the camera doesn’t capture the thickness of the paint. Terpning is reliant on impasto [the buildup of paint on the surface of a canvas], and it casts shadows. Not a big shadow, but a tiny ridge of paint can cast a tiny shadow. The camera can’t capture the change in physical height–that texture–but the eye can perceive it. He uses it to give the rocks a real three-dimensionality.

The back side of Howard Terpning's painting Finding the Buffalo, which shows the artist's notations.

On the webpage devoted to the lot, you at Bonhams have included a photograph of the back of the painting. Could you talk about the information Terpning put on the back of the painting, and how him bothering to do that helps collectors, dealers, and specialists like yourself? I would say this is true almost universally among art buyers–there’s going to be interest in the back of a painting. In this case, we have information from Terpning. He signs it, puts the title on the back, and says how big it is in his own handwriting. He signs it in two different places and reminds you that he retains the reproduction rights [laughs]. And there’s a brief narrative [that explains the scene] affixed to the back of the painting. It’s a printed label, but it is his language, his words. And there’s a CAA (Cowboy Artists of America) label still on the back [from when the painting was first shown and sold in 1988] that says $60,000.

How many Howard Terpning paintings have you handled? In the last five years, we’ve sold six. There aren’t a ton that circulate. At all the auction houses put together, ten or 15 go up at auction every year.

Is it unusual to have three Howard Terpning paintings in the same auction, as you do here? It’s only happened to us once before. [Laughs]. But it’s not unheard of. We’ve just been very lucky recently.

What’s the world auction record for a Howard Terpning painting? It’s $1.9 million, set in 2012 at the Scottsdale Art Auction. Its name was The Captured Ponies, and it’s not an outlier. Nine Howard Terpning paintings have sold for more than $1 million since 2006. We had one in 2019 that sold for just shy of $1.4 million.

Why will this Howard Terpning painting stick in your memory? There’s a real subtlety to this one. I like how quiet it is. It’s a painting that rewards you for looking at it longer. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but as you look at it, there’s a lot going on. It’s a sophisticated picture in terms of how it was painted and the narrative it conveys.

How to bid: The Howard Terpning painting Finding the Buffalo is lot 41 in The Eddie Basha Collection: A Selection of Western American Art, a sale taking place November 25, 2019, at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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SOLD! The Howard Finster Painting Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a 1982 painting by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster.

Update: Howard Finster’s Vision of George on Planet Loraleon sold for $41,000.

What you see: Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, by the late American outsider artist Howard Finster. Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $30,000 to $40,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia.

First, let’s discuss the story of Howard Finster–how he became an artist, and how his art career played out. He was a street preacher in the small town of Summerville, Georgia. He would stand on the hood of his car on Main Street and preach. He also had to make a living, so he’d put clock cases on the hood and sell them. One day, he was watching Billy Graham on TV. He watched the whole thing and couldn’t remember what he heard. Finster had a vision that he should put his sermons into art so they were always there to see, in the art. As a person of no means, he could not buy art supplies. He would say, “I take your garbage and turn it into art.” He would take refuse and any paint that was around. Early paintings were tractor enamel [paint] on board, scrap, whatever.

How was he discovered? People knew about his art but didn’t consider it art. But one day, the Talking Heads put his art on the cover [of their 1985 album Little Creatures] and R.E.M. put his art on the cover of [their 1984 album, Reckoning]. He was known and collected, but when the Talking Heads album went big, he became famous. People rushed to buy from him, and that’s when his career really soared.

Did the Talking Heads discover him? No. His work was known and in shows, but the masses–when the Talking Heads had that monster album and his art was on the cover, with David Byrne holding the world up–that’s when Howard Finster became a household name.

Not many outsider artists gain recognition while they are still alive and actively making art. How did Howard Finster react to his fame? He never changed. The only thing I think it did was let him by a nicer house for his wife. Otherwise he was the same street preacher who stayed up all night, eating coffee grounds and working on his art. It never went to his head.

How prolific was he? He started painting around 1976 and went into the 2000s. He had a good thirty-something years of painting. For the first ten years, no one really knew about him. He numbered every piece of his artwork. In his later years, his kids and grandkids helped him. I believe he got up to 40,000 pieces of art.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, featuring his signature and the painting's number.

He numbered every single piece of art he ever made? From the very first one forward? Yes. He was quite an unusual guy. He believed he was from another planet. He had visions, and conversations with people from the beyond.

And he was an insomniac? He worked all night and all day and hardly ever slept. He’d eat about a spoonful of Folger’s instant coffee. He had a very hard rural upbringing before he became a street preacher.

Where does Howard Finster rank among the titans of outsider and self-taught artists? He is by far the most recognized self-taught artist out there. Others may bring more at auction, but as far as making the field accessible and known to the masses, there’s no one like Howard Finster.

Really? Is he better-known than Grandma Moses? People know her stuff, but they knew it in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It’s been two or three generations since Grandma Moses connected. Howard Finster was popular in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and he still connects to the masses.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

What is the story of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon? Is it a stand-alone work or is it part of a dedicated series on a specific theme? That’s the thing. Howard is really not from this world. Where his thoughts take him are very strange and unique. He did a set of four-foot-by-four-foot paintings–I guess there are under 20 pieces. He probably made two or three of George Washington. I don’t know the story behind the planet Loraleon. It could truly be all going on in his mind.

Did Howard Finster think that he came from the planet Loraleon? I think he said he traveled to all these planets. He’s way out there in the universe on this stuff.

So he didn’t claim to be from planet Loraleon? No, but he was able to visit and travel in his own mind, his own visions.

Do we know why he did 20 paintings in four-by-four size? There just happen to be 20 at that size. One is called Superpower, and dealt with the Russian-American conflict. Some are George Washington. Some are Daniel Boone. Some are about getting to heaven. They vary in subject. A few years ago we sold one of Jesus’s mother–she was a central figure for that. It brought $51,600. That’s still a record for any Howard Finster piece.

Did he scavenge or receive a pile of four-by-four boards, and use those for paintings? After a certain time, he started to get better art supplies. He still used leftover tractor enamel. He could have ordered four-by-four boards. Normal plywood is four-by-eight. Maybe he had a bunch of these cut.

How often does George Washington appear in his work? Quite often. He would repeat a lot of icons, using them over and over. He did thousands of images of Elvis at three years old. He loved people in history, especially American history.

Does his George Washington always look like this–like the portrait we see on the dollar bill? That I can’t tell you. He comes up with portraits or images. It could be the dollar. It could be a cereal box. Who knows where this stuff comes from?

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, showing Washington's collar, which has people walking on it.

I’d like to talk about some of the details of the Howard Finster painting–particularly Washington’s collar, which looks like a sidewalk with people strolling on it. What meaning did this have for him? For a lot of his paintings, there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s going on. A lot of clouds have faces, because it’s easier for him to have faces on them. That’s what makes self-taught art America’s greatest art. Nothing else out there [is like this] and everything else after this will be a copy of this. He’s only influenced by himself and religion and what was around him.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows a handwritten message and part of a church.

I see a church in the background, and the handwritten religious messages, but this seems less religious than other Howard Finster paintings. This doesn’t seem really religious, but he’s trying to preach at the same time. He always has churches, he always talks about Jesus. There are proverbs and messages from the Bible. There’s always some kind of preaching going on, and he’s always trying to get the world right in his mind.

Am I right in thinking this Howard Finster painting has a less crowded composition than other works of his? It’s not as busy as most of his works, and it’s very bold. Even the details of his shirt–it’s charming.

This Howard Finster paintings measures four feet by four feet. Is this the largest size he worked in? These are the biggest paintings you can get. He did a painting as a full four-by-eight sheet, but he didn’t really paint it–the paintings are stuck on there. He was prolific in his paintings. Some are big. Some are small. Whatever he could get his hands on, it didn’t matter to him, he was just trying to get the word out. Wood, concrete, fabrics, rags, anything. We’ve seen stuff on mirrors, on glass, almost anything you can think of.

Picasso and Warhol were also prolific, and that has helped their secondary markets–the volume of stuff creates momentum that keeps their markets going. Is that true for Howard Finster’s market, too? Does the volume of his work create momentum for his market? It’s more true than with Warhol or Picasso. Finster signed and numbered his works, even his later works. It’s a lot easier [money-wise] to have a Howard Finster in your house than a Warhol or a Picasso. Howard Finster did original art, but he was able to mass-produce it because he just worked so hard at it.

This painting was featured in a show and a book named Passionate Visions, by Alice Rae Yellen. How might that fact affect the painting’s value to collectors? It’s very helpful, mainly because it shows provenance, it shows it’s been exhibited. Those little things always help a piece of art.

Several other works by Finster appear in the auction. How do they compare to this work? What makes this one especially interesting when compared to the other five? The size and the rarity and just the sheer–it’s an early, early classic piece with great size to it. Whoever gets this will always have a museum-quality piece. No one can debate that.

What condition is the Howard Finster painting in? Mint condition.

Which means what, in the context of a Howard Finster painting? It’s been maintained very well. No fading. No scratches. It’s as pristine as the day he made it.

A detail of Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster, which shows the decorations he burned into the frame he made for the work.

The Howard Finster painting has a frame made by him. How many Finsters have Finster-made frames? Is that common? In the early days, when he was a street preacher, he’d put clock cases and other wooden items to sell [on the hood of his car]. He made frames for his works. He would burn little designs onto the frame with power tools. If you’re lucky, you can get an early work with a frame.

Is this a pretty typical frame for him, or does it stand out in any particular way? I like this frame. It’s multi-layered, like, three or four layers of wood burned on top of each other. It’s very well built-up, and it’s a heavy frame for him. I’d say it’s one of his best frames.

We know he made 40,000 or so pieces of art. Do collectors prefer Howard Finster paintings that have certain numbers? Are they less interested in paintings with higher numbers? The period when he was going from a paintbrush message to a Sharpie message–between 5,000 and 6,000, we see permanent marker come in to write the preaching down. That’s where most collectors want to be, 5,000 and earlier. Those are his most important pieces.

I don’t see much in the lot notes about the provenance of the Howard Finster painting. Has it been to auction before? Right, it hasn’t been on the market. A dealer probably sold it [to the consignor] 20 or 30 years ago.

What is the Howard Finster painting like in person? It’s powerful. It’s big and it’s bold and it’s striking. I guarantee a lot of people will take selfies next to it during the auction.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this Howard Finster painting? I imagine it was informed by the sale of the Virgin Mary painting of the same size? This would be the second-highest price paid for a Finster if it sells within the estimate. I’d be very happy if it exceeded the estimate, and my estimates are usually conservative anyhow. There’s no other chance to get a four-foot-by-four-foot Finster. To get one on the market is rare. The others are in private collections, and when I ask about them, [the owners] want over $100,000 for it. That’s nice, but a little high for the market right now.

Vision of George on Planet Loraleon, a painting by the late American self-taught artist Howard Finster.

Why will this Howard Finster painting stick in your memory? When you look at an artist’s work–we’ve been in the auction business for self-taught art for 25 years, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of Finsters. Some you just gravitate to. Rarely do we have a piece like the Virgin Mary or the George Washington. Twenty-five years from now, it will be very difficult for anybody to pick up a masterpiece like this.

How to bid: The Howard Finster painting Vision of George on Planet Loraleon is lot 0186 in the Self-Taught, Outsider, & Folk Art auction at Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia on November 9, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Sam Doyle painting on tin roofing material that went on to command $17,000; a work on paper by Minnie Evans that later sold for $8,000; and a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

Howard Finster has a website. So too does the Paradise Garden Foundation, which maintains the unique museum he created on four acres in Pennville, Georgia.

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

NEW RECORD, AGAIN! A Painted Boba Fett Rocket Launching Prototype Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A fully painted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype action figure, created in the late 1970s by Kenner, sold for $185,850 in November 2019.

Update: A fully painted rocket-launching Boba Fett prototype Star Wars action figure, dating to the late 1970s and pictured above, sold for $185,850 at Hake’s on November 7, 2019. The previous record, set by a different rocket-launching Boba Fett prototype, took place in July 2019, and marked the first time a Star Wars action figure crossed the six-figure threshold at auction.

The original text of this article for The Hot Bid, which showcased the action figure that set the July 2019 record and included discussion of the toy that just broke it, follows.

In the course of reporting this story, I learned about the next likely record-breaking Star Wars action figure–an even rarer Boba Fett prototype to be offered in a Hake’s auction that opens on October 15, 2019, and closes on November 6 and 7, 2019. That prototype could sell for as much as $200,000. You will see mentions of that toy, as well as pictures, woven into this article.

A circa 1979 Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype, which became the first Star Wars action figure to cross the $100k threshold at auction. It set the record in July 2019 only to see it broken in November 2019 by a different, fully painted, scarcer version of the prototype.

What you see: A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration. It comes with a letter from Collectible Investment Brokerage (CIB) assigning the encapsulated toy an 85 (NM+) grade. It sold at Hake’s in July 2019 for $112,926–a new record for any Star Wars toy, and the first time a Star Wars toy has crossed the six-figure threshold at auction.

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s.

How often do late-1970s Star Wars prototype toys come to auction? What others have appeared? Prototypes for action figures are much more layered than for other things. They go through various stages, various color treatments. That’s why there’s so many Boba Fett prototypes. Only a handful have been at auction. It’s still fairly uncommon for them to come up. We happen to have had the luxury of two back to back, and one coming up. [Scroll down for news on the Boba Fett prototype that’s coming up.]

When I hear “prototype” I assume there’s just one, but you’re telling me that action figures require more than one. What number of prototypes is more typical for an action figure? Three to five? I think so. There’s a few for every figure. Boba Fett went through stages of the rocket-firing figure because it had a spring-loaded mechanism. They had to get it right, so more prototypes had to be produced.

Do we know how many Boba Fett prototypes exist? It’s all very vague and speculative, but there’s a very good article that has an accurate lineage of the Boba Fett action figure. [The 2016 story suggests that maybe 100 Boba Fett prototypes exist: about 80 of the L-slot variety, and 19 of the later J-slot version. The letters describe the shape of the rocket-firing mechanism built into Boba Fett’s backpack.]

Could you talk a bit about this rocket-firing Boba Fett toy, and why it’s legendary? It’s taken on a life of its own. Kenner documented what it was supposed to be and put it all into motion before realizing it was not going to work. [As described in the previously given link, the rocket-firing Boba Fett toy was touted in a winter 1979 Kenner catalog as free with four proofs of purchase of other Star Wars toys. Kids gathered the material, sent it off to Kenner, and waited six to eight weeks for the prize to arrive, only to discover that the much-celebrated rocket was fixed in place.] I was eight when Star Wars came out. I saw the original run and sent away for the Boba Fett figure. I don’t remember being disappointed, but everyone got a fixed rocket. Other kids could have been disappointed.

A circa 1979 Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, unpainted, with the L-slot configuration firing mechanism, shown with its certificate of authenticity from CIB.

This prototype is an example of the L-slot version of the toy. There was also a J-slot version. What is the significance of the slot configurations? The L-slot is the first version [of the rocket-firing mechanism]. It was very touchy–tap the figure, and it fired. The J-slot version made it a little more difficult to fire the rocket, but there was a problem. A piece of plastic could snap off that was very sharp, and could puncture [a kid’s] finger. Because they had already advertised it [as a rocket-firing toy], my guess is when they got to the deadline for when they were going to ship, they said, ‘Let’s just mount the rocket in place and get it out of here.’ [Another factor that might have led Kenner to fix the rocket in place] was a kid had choked to death on a rocket from a Battlestar Galactica toy. That could have been the reason for it. [A rocket-firing toy] sounds like a great concept, but it didn’t work. Kids got a stationary version in the mail.

This figure is unpainted. What’s the significance of that? Is it just further proof that it’s a prototype? This shows you the progression. With action figures, you go through so many stages until you get it right. Because they were still working out the firing mechanism, it was not painted. In the process, the concern is that the figure looks right, then making sure that the rocket works, and then they paint it in the final stages. It [the lack of paint] is a signpost.

Is this toy on a blank card? It’s encapsulated in plastic, in an acrylic case.

How did you set the estimate of $75,000 to $100,000? Was that the first time you’d given a Star Wars toy an estimate that includes a six-figure sum? It’s the second time. The first time was the Obi-Wan. It just got into that estimate. We based the estimate on what other Boba Fetts have sold for.

What’s the difference between this Boba Fett and the Obi-Wan Kenobi that set the record in November 2017? Is it down to one being a prototype and the other being a production toy? That’s really the big difference–one is a prototype and one is a production toy. Very few Obi-Wan have ever come to auction and sold. It’s probably a toss-up which one has fewer in existence.

The world auction record for a Star Wars toy broke three times from November 2017 to now [October 2019]–between the Obi-Wan and this Boba Fett prototype, you offered a different Boba Fett L-slot prototype in March 2018 that sold for more than $86,000. Why is there such strong movement in Star Wars toys now? Why has the record broken three times in less than two years? Five years ago, it [the Boba Fett prototype] was a $25,000 figure. Star Wars collectors are serious, and a lot are of the age where they have disposable income. It’s in the last five years or so that it’s been elevated to the level that it is.

The sale of this Boba Fett marks the first time any Star Wars toy has sold for more than $100,000. Could you discuss the significance of that? And did that milestone come when you expected it to come, or was it a little early, or a little late? The first comic book, the first baseball card, and the first original comic artwork breaking six figures was big news. This getting over $100,000 is a big deal, and a long time coming. A lot of that is [due to] third-party authentication. Other collectibles that have been encapsulated [sealed in plastic] have set the guideline for how the market is trending. That’s why we’re seeing what we see. As for the timing of the six figures, we had thought the Obi-Wan could do that. If it was one grade higher, it certainly would have. It’s trending upwards, as all Star Wars toys are. Collectors are there, and they’re ready and willing to pay what they have to.

What was your role in the auction? I tend to stay off the phones if I can. It’s all Internet bidding or phone bidding. I was monitoring things to make sure everything was running smoothly. I watched the whole auction unfold in front of me.

Did you have a dedicated screen for this Boba Fett lot? I have to watch the entire auction at once. It’s important that I watch everything unfurl.

That sounds tricky. I’ve been doing it for 34 years. But it’s hectic, for sure.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? We had a lot of activity for all three weeks online, to closing. On closing day, the Boba Fett prototype was around $85,000 with premium, which would have been $1,000 under the record. Even if we’d closed at that, we’d be happy, because it was right up to where the other sold. It came down to the wire. We got a bid at 9:19 pm, and that reopened the clock.

It reopened the clock? When you bid on an item, it resets the clock for 20 minutes.

So it extends the bidding life of the lot? Correct. When this was still going, much of the rest of the auction was over. It took to the very end until we eclipsed the record. It was a bit unnerving. A lot of people waited until the last minute, but that doesn’t work with us. We’re not eBay. There’s no sniping.

The Boba Fett sold for just under $113,000. Were you surprised by that? No. No. If it was twice its estimate, I would have been surprised, but it was just over the estimate. We were very pleased, but I wouldn’t say we were surprised.

And I understand Hake’s has another Boba Fett prototype coming up in November 2019 that could break the world auction record for any Star Wars toy again? This is the J-slot, the next version of the firing mechanism. It’s painted, and its grade is 85+. It’s the same grade [as the current record-holder], but it’s more desirable because it’s a J-slot, of which there are fewer. It looks like the one that was released.

Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which Hake's will offer in November 2019.
Image of a painted rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype with a J-slot mechanism, which broke the auction record for a Star Wars action figure in November 2019.

Do you have an estimate on that upcoming Boba Fett prototype? I haven’t committed to one yet. It literally showed up one day after the [July 2019] auction. It could be $100,000, it could be $200,000. It could beat the record substantially, based on what it is. It’s the more desirable of the two [styles] of rocket-firing mechanisms, it’s painted, and it appears in Star Wars collectibles reference books.

What did Kenner learn from the Boba Fett disaster, if anything? It changed the toy industry dramatically. After that, people were cautious and didn’t want to be sued [over a potential choking hazard]. [The toy industry] moved into a different era.

So it wasn’t just overpromising and underdelivering, it was eek, kids could die. Yep. They made sure every base was covered so nothing would come back on them. Now it’s obvious that a tiny piece of plastic that launches with great force was not the smartest [idea]. But it all led up to this legendary status for the rocket-fired Boba Fett.

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.

Hake’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Hake’s.

Alex Winter also spoke to The Hot Bid about a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

I also wrote a piece about record-setting Star Wars action figures for the Field Notes section of the October 2019 issue of Robb Report.

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 Jackie Robinson Doll With Its Original Box Could Sell for $2,500

A circa 1950s Jackie Robinson doll in its original box. The Dodgers legend is pictured in the upper right corner.

What you see: A circa 1950 Jackie Robinson doll, with its original box and accoutrements. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

Who made this doll? And is it possible to know how many of these Jackie Robinson dolls were made? I can tell you who made it: the Allied-Grand Doll Company in New York. I think the manufacturing was in Brooklyn, New York, but I’d want to double check. Based on the number of dolls I’ve seen, probably not many were made.

Apparently there were two versions of the Jackie Robinson doll, and this is the de luxe version. What does this have that the standard version lacks? This box is more elaborate, as opposed to the doll items. And it has a cardboard die cut of an actual baseball field on the front. I’ve never handled the other doll. Inside, there’s a Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game, with pinwheels and sliders that allow you to play a baseball game.

Closeup of the Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game that comes with the circa 1950s doll.

Yeah, I think I see the back sides of two wheels on the cover of the game in the full shot. There were three different gages for balls, strikes, and outs per inning. It runs up to 15 innings. It’s pretty complicated for what it is. It’s six inches by 8 inches and on cardstock. It’s pretty cool. All the dolls have a tag with a photo of Jackie Robinson, a ball with a mitt, and a wooden baseball bat that has Jackie Robinson’s signature on it.

Is the printed baseball diamond meant to be used with the pocket baseball game? The pocket baseball game, essentially, is the game. Outside of the visual, the baseball diamond has no significance. There are no figures to move around it.

And we think the Jackie Robinson doll appeared around 1950–well after his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers–and it probably remained available until he retired from the sport in 1956? That’s my assumption. There are no dates written, no way for me to know for sure. [In holding off until 1950 or so] they were probably testing the waters to see how well Robinson was received by the audience. Once he was a success story, they jumped on the bandwagon. There’s no way to know if they continued to make it after he departed from the league, but following his retirement as a player, they probably ceased production. The life of the toy was probably a five-year run or so.

Did the Allied-Grand Doll Company tweak the design of the Jackie Robinson doll or the extras or the packaging over that span of time? Are there subtle changes that help us date individual examples? Nothing I had noticed, but there are few examples of the doll around. It’s possible it started as a large boxed set and it proved to be too expensive to produce [so they made a stripped-down version instead], or the doll itself was not enough and they sweetened it with the go-alongs [the extras, such as the printed baseball diamond and the pocket baseball game] Those are possible reasons why there are two different sets.

A closeup on the black-and-white photo of Jackie Robinson on the packaging for the doll.

Did Jackie Robinson or Major League Baseball or both approve of this doll? I see Robinson’s picture on the box, and you said the toy bat has his signature, but I’m guessing that doesn’t imply official approval? I couldn’t find anything linking to Jackie Robinson or the league. There’s only a copyright next to the signature on the box and on the [toy] bat itself, and the tags for the doll. It does not appear on the pocket baseball game.

And is there any proof that Robinson shared in the royalties for the doll? No, not at all. Interestingly enough, and not to say that it’s true, but on the cover of the pocket baseball game, it says, “Designed by the National League’s most valuable player of 1949,” so it’s possible he had something to do with it.

Is this the only Jackie Robinson doll created and marketed during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s the only one I’ve been able to find in my digging around, and it’s the only one I’ve ever handled.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown alone, from the front, in full Dodgers uniform. Robinson's signature is visible on the toy bat.

The 1950s predate the rise of the “action figure,” a phrase that made dolls acceptable to boys and their parents. This Jackie Robinson doll really is a doll, with toddler-like proportions. Might its appearance have affected its sales, and explain why so few survive? I presume the doll was marketed to a boy audience while also played with by a girl audience as well. It was probably for boys interested in baseball, but it has the proportions of a baby doll. It could have hit both markets. Predating action figures, it was probably a harder sell. It could indicate why it’s as scarce as it is. It might have missed the mark on the audience. The company might have been ahead of its time.

Is this the only doll that the Allied-Grand Doll Company made and marketed for a target audience of boys? Yes. The rest are girl dolls.

How did the company change its marketing to attract boys? Looking at the box, I take it they leaned heavily on baseball imagery? Yes, it’s very baseball-heavy, exactly. The corner shows Jackie Robinson at bat, but it’s very baseball-heavy, even more than Jackie Robinson himself.

The Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full, from the rear, with the baseball bat clearly attached to the right hand.

The Allied-Grand Doll Company was located in New York. Did they intend this Jackie Robinson doll to be a regional product, or did they market it nationally? There’s no way for me to tell. Allied-Grand did market nationally, and given that he was the first African-American to enter Major League Baseball, it’s very possible that the reach of the market for the doll went nationwide. I presume the majority of the demand for the doll to be close to home.

Is there any evidence that the company marketed the Jackie Robinson doll nationally? No, nothing like that.

How many examples of the Jackie Robinson doll have you handled? This is the first I’ve handled with a box, and the third I’ve seen in the last decade.

Another angle on the Jackie Robinson doll, shown in full from the left rear.