SOLD! The Kennedy Wedding Photos, Including an Unpublished Shot of Jacqueline Bouvier in Her Bridal Gown, Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The Kennedy wedding photographs sold for $3,750.

What you see: A previously unpublished shot of Jacqueline Bouvier at Hammersmith Farm on her wedding day in 1953. It’s one of three black-and-white photos and a few negatives depicting the wedding of Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island. John McInnis Auctioneers estimates them at $500 to $1,000.

The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.

Could we start by talking about the importance of Hammersmith Farm to Jacqueline Bouvier during her life? Did its presence near Newport convince Jacqueline and Jack to have their wedding in Newport? Hammersmith Farm was extremely important to Jackie. She explains her love of the farm in her own words in an inscription in The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island: “For Uncle Hugh [her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss] on his seventieth birthday–a book about the place you brought us to–but the most beautiful house there for me will forever be Hammersmith Farm. That is my beloved architectural heritage of Newport — and thank you for it — with all love, Jackie, August 28, 1967.” She absolutely loved the place so much, and Jack loved it too. It was more removed and less stressful for him. It was on the ocean, the gardens were spectacular, and they could go to the America’s Cup [yacht race].

Was Hammersmith Farm John F. Kennedy’s introduction to Newport? He had connections there, but it gave him his true love for Newport.

Do we know who shot these Kennedy wedding photos? It was Bachrach, a very famous photography studio.

So the images in the lot were not taken by someone who lived at Hammersmith Farm? No, these were professional photos, not snapshots.

A collection of photos and negatives from the 1953 wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island.

How were they discovered? They were moved directly from Hammersmith Farm, where Jackie lived, her mother lived, her brother lived. They were stored on the property. Colleen Townsend Pilat was an assistant to Yusha, the brother, and helped clear out the property after he died. She was bequeathed all these things. When I got them, it was a mishmash of Jackie’s wedding, [her sister] Lee Radziwill, and her sister Janet, all mixed in. I had to pull them out. I had to figure out who the people were and who the weddings were. Lots of weddings were done on the property.

So these Jack and Jackie wedding images were one of three sets of wedding images in the same pile? Yes. Lee’s first wedding, which took place just a few months earlier than Jackie’s, and Janet’s wedding. It was almost a two-year project, doing all the research and the curating of it. I had to figure out what was what. It was really… fun. [Laughs] It was a challenge.

How big a deal was the wedding in 1953? Clearly it’s regional news, because Jack Kennedy is a sitting Massachusetts senator. Did it make national news? Positively. It was covered throughout the United States and to a degree, overseas. In an earlier lot, there’s a press release for the wedding. The release was modeled after [the one written for] Eunice [Kennedy’s] wedding. Joe Kennedy rules the roost on everything. Eunice’s was a big wedding, but this would be the biggest one. Joe had his eye on a specific thing–his son being president. Joe was Jack’s press agent. You could say he was behind the scenes on everything. Jack had his own thoughts, but he had an overseer on everything.

The photo of Jackie, solo, in her wedding dress has never been published before. How did this photo managed to go unpublished before now? I think the shot of Jackie with her veil billowing was chosen over this. I’ve had other issues of these pictures [the two outdoors shots] and they’re all well-known. These particular ones have not been. I haven’t seen those particular versions.

Where on the grounds of Hammersmith Farm were the outdoor shots taken? Near an equestrian area? At the front lawn, I believe. If you turn your head to the left, you’d see the ocean. At that point, [the family] was raising Guernsey cows and they had horses as well.

A group shot of the wedding party for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier shot in September 1953 at Hammersmith Farm.

And the group shot shows the bridesmaids, the bridesmatron, and the groomsmen? Yes. This particular group shot shows Jackie looking down at a dog.

In reading up on the wedding, it sounds like Jackie didn’t get much of what she wanted from her “special day”–that Joe Kennedy stuck his nose in and was very controlling. How did things unfurl? [Laughs] He oversaw… it was just the kind of guy he was. She knew when she got into [it] there were limitations on what would happen.

I understand she wanted a much smaller wedding and reception than she had, but anywhere from 700 to 800 were at the church, and more than 1200 were at the reception at Hammersmith Farm. That would be Joe [his doing]. The biggest thing for Jackie was her father, Black Jack. He was supposed to give her away.

From what I’ve read, allegedly, Jackie’s mom, who was Black Jack’s ex, tempted him into getting drunk in hopes that would make him fail to show up… It was very disappointing for her. She loved her father. Her stepfather, who she called Uncle Hugh [stepped in and did the honors.] She loved him too, but I think she wanted her birth father there. It was probably a big issue in her mind. I haven’t heard of anything else being out of place.

I haven’t been inside the church, but I have been in that area of Newport, and it’s… pretty congested. How did the church physically accommodate all those people? If you’ve seen some of the photos, there are throngs of people on the street, ten to 15 deep. They weren’t all in the church. In the auction, [there are lots with typewritten documents of] the procession for the church, where the bridal party was staying, who was going in which car. It’s very interesting. They had everything right down to a science.

That’s good preparation for life at the White House… [Laughs]

Another arrangement of the Kennedy wedding images in the lot, shown with negatives.

Hammersmith Farm was a 300-acre property, so it could handle 1,200-plus people. How did the reception go? I see a photo in the group that shows guests at a long table. There was a huge tent, and there were tables outside the tent–the reception sprawled onto the lawn as well. It was kind of like a picnic at some point. It was very difficult, I am sure, for everyone to have time with the couple. But what I’ve heard from people who were there was they had a great time. No one felt slighted. The next lot after shows [wedding guests] individuals, couples, and kids with smiles on their faces. That was a different part of the property. What would be really nice is if people find themselves in those pictures, or their children find them.

How do these Kennedy wedding photos reflect the image that Joe Kennedy was trying to project for his family, and how do they foreshadow the glamour of the Kennedy White House? They played very well for what Joe Kennedy had in mind for his son. They played extremely well. He couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $500 to $1,000? It’s what we felt was reasonable. It’s an unreserved sale. They’re gonna sell for whatever they sell for. But what we have here are personal photos from Jackie’s family, right from Hammersmith Farm. That’s what separates them from other photographs. It could possibly go much higher.

How well do Kennedy wedding photos do at auction? They’re always highly sought-after. The Kennedy wedding invitations sell for thousands. Any of those kinds of things maintain a human interest. Price-wise, they could go for higher than a wedding invite.

Why will these Kennedy wedding photos stick in your memory? Because of where they came from. We love what we do here, and we get sought out to handle these things because of our past experience with them. For me, the most important thing is the provenance. When it comes right from the source, there’s no doubt about how valuable it was within the family.

How to bid: The Jack and Jackie Kennedy wedding photos are lot 0126 in the Camelot with a Twist auction at John McInnis Auctioneers on October 13, 2019.

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Dan Meader appeared before on The Hot Bid talking about a record-setting Presidential Air Force One bomber jacket, given by John F. Kennedy to loyal aide Dave Powers.

Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.

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A Morton Bartlett Figure Could Sell for $150,000 at Rago

What you see: Daydreaming Girl, a circa 1950 sculpture by the late American outsider artist Morton Bartlett. It’s one of 15 he made between 1936 and 1963, when he created a series of highly detailed figures of children in order to photograph them. Rago Auctions estimates Daydreaming Girl at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Marion Harris, an independent specialist for Rago’s Outsider & Fine Art, Curious Objects auction.

How does Morton Bartlett fit the definition of an “outsider artist”? “Outsider artist” means outside the mainstream, for various reasons. You can be in prison. You can not be informed by the art world. Another way is being obsessive. Morton Bartlett falls into the “obsessive” category. This was his life, and he didn’t have traditional [art] training.

Was Bartlett entirely self-taught? He taught himself to sculpt, make clothing, make wigs, and shoot photographs? He didn’t take classes, but he went to Harvard and left after two years. He certainly had no help with sculpting. His downstairs neighbor was a sculptor, and he clearly saw him working.

The front of an alternate outfit, made by Bartlett, comes with Daydreaming Girl.
The front of an alternate outfit, made by Bartlett, which comes with Daydreaming Girl.

He taught himself to sew? Yes, yes. He bought wigs and altered them, but otherwise, he made everything. He didn’t make anything he wasn’t going to photograph.

He made the chair that goes with Daydreaming Girl? No, he bought the chair. I think that’s a commercial thing.

And he had no assistants? No, no, there weren’t. Nobody to help him. But if he wanted help, he would have gotten it. It [his project] wasn’t secret, it was private.

Do we know how much time he spent on creating each figure? We do. He tells us in a 1962 Yankee magazine story that each figure took up to a year, and each head took three to six months, depending on the head.

A closeup on Daydreaming Girl, showing her face and upper body.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult these Morton Bartlett figures were to make? The level of difficulty was quite high. He clearly was a perfectionist.

What do we know about how he worked? My sense, and it’s only a sense, is he worked mainly on one figure until it was done. He started with metal armatures for the arms and the legs and built around them with clay and plaster.

Daydreaming Girl shown in full against a white background, with scuffed knees and dangling feet clearly visible.

How does Daydreaming Girl compare to the other Morton Bartlett figures? I’d put her quite near the top. Her knees are just slightly scuffed, and her toe just skims the floor. He captures the essence of childhood in this figure.

And that facial expression… so fleeting, and he gets it. Exactly.

What book is the Morton Bartlett figure reading? I have photos of Daydreaming Girl from several angles, but none shows the cover or the pages of the book clearly enough to identify it. It’s a book the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore supplied for us. [The museum recently displayed Daydreaming Girl in a themed exhibit on parenthood.] It’s a 1950s children’s book about airplanes, but it’s not the original book. We don’t know what the original book was, but everything else is original–the clothes, the chair.

Do we know if Bartlett had any opportunities to observe actual children when he was making these figures and photographing them? We do. I researched carefully, and that’s why I’m comfortable saying [the figures] are a fantasy family, with no dark intent. He worked for a toy manufacturer and distributor in Boston called Scharf, which is how we know that if he wanted help [making his figures], he could have had it. He took pictures of Scharf’s daughter and Scharf was delighted, very happy with them. Bartlett also took pictures of children on the beach at Cohasset. When the Yankee magazine article came out, he received letters from people who recognized the dolls. People wrote to him, asking, “Are you the same Morton Bartlett who took pictures of my daughter at Cohasset? I send my regards.” It’s obvious he had nice relations with everybody.

Daydreaming Girl, a figure by outsider artist Morton Bartlett, shown in full on a white background.

Bartlett made his figures in order to photograph them, but I looked through everything I could find for Bartlett online and I did not see any photographs of Daydreaming Girl. Did I miss them somehow? No. Two or three of the figures aren’t photographed. When I bought it [the collection of material that came from Bartlett’s estate], it was boxes of arms, legs, hands, hundreds of bits. It took two years to assemble them. The paint finish was so precise–not every arm goes in every arm socket. Once I had the 15 dolls [assembled based on Bartlett’s photographs] I had to go do the catalog. If I had bits that didn’t relate to a specific doll, I set them aside to deal with them later. Twenty-five years passed. The Met bought them. Bartlett became an icon. I didn’t forget about the extra box, but I didn’t give it extra attention. Then we [she and her husband] moved. Then we assembled this doll.

Are there any other Morton Bartlett figures that don’t survive–they appear in his photos but don’t correspond to anything in the storage boxes of parts? I don’t think so. I don’t believe there are any more. The two he didn’t photograph–perhaps he wasn’t happy with them. That’s probably the answer to that.

Are any of the Morton Bartlett figures intended to be pairs of siblings, or are they all individual? I don’t see them as siblings, myself. They’re all quite individual. A lot of people believe the three boy figures are self-portraits. The boys are always seven or eight, the age Bartlett was when he was orphaned and adopted.

Is there any evidence that he named these figures? Yes, there is some. There were little cards with typed names [that she found in the trove of material from his estate]. I don’t know if this was his record-keeping technique, but there’s no other evidence of names.

And there’s no way to know which name goes with which Morton Bartlett figure… Exactly.

How many photographs did Morton Bartlett take of these figures? About 220. When I bought them, I didn’t know there were photos. It really was boxes of arms and legs and heads. That’s why it took so long to assemble them. The photos are a small body of work, which makes it more amazing.

What I find the strangest fact about all of this is the 1962 Yankee magazine article. With the biography that Morton Bartlett wrote for Harvard, he was kind of in a walled garden, speaking to peers who would tolerate some eccentricity, and even with that piece, his reference to the figure-photographing project is oblique. It does not hint at the scope of what he was doing. The Yankee magazine article shows the Morton Bartlett figures and goes into detail about them. Do we know why he agreed to do that piece, and why he never again sought or allowed media coverage? When I bought everything, I started my research, which led me to the writer [of the Yankee magazine piece], Michael Tatistcheff. He’s now dead–he died ten years ago–but he did remember it. He was engaged to Patricia Beals, Bartlett’s goddaughter. Bartlett loved them both, but he had no money. It all went into the dolls. As an engagement gift, he said to Mike, who had just graduated in communications, “Would you like to write about my dolls?” The twist was Yankee magazine told Mike they would pay him $6. It was meant to be one of three articles on Boston craftsmen. But they only paid him $4, and he decided he didn’t want to be a journalist, and went into teaching.

I wouldn’t have guessed that would be the explanation. I wouldn’t have guessed it either, but it’s ordinary. Not a big fancy complicated answer. It spoke to his kindness and generosity. But Pat and Mike never got married.

It was an engagement gift for his goddaughter that got him to step forward during his life. That’s right. That also means he was proud of it. It was private, but not a secret. I think that’s very important.

Daydreaming Girl, a figure by outsider artist Morton Bartlett, shown in full.

Morton Bartlett stopped making the figures in 1963. Was the Yankee magazine article a catalyst for that? I don’t think it was. He moved in 1963, to a house two doors down. We asked his neighbor about that [why Bartlett stopped] in the Family Found documentary. He looked at us and said, “Because he was finished.”

Can you talk about what it was like to discover Morton Bartlett’s work at the Pier Show in New York in 1993? I just stopped in my tracks. Ironically, it was the first year I hadn’t done the fair. I just went in with the public. It didn’t look complete–boxes of heads–I think people didn’t know what to do with them. But I love dolls, and I felt immediately attracted to them. When I got there, it had just come off hold [a hold is imposed on an artwork when a dealer at a fair has a commitment from a buyer]. Right away, I said I’d have them. It was a bit of money, but it was a fortune in assembling and doing the catalog and the research. Up until a couple of years ago, people said to me, “I was just behind you when you bought.” [They were a few minutes late and would have bought if she hadn’t.] There’s a moral to not panicking and getting there when you’re relaxed.

So, you getting the Morton Bartlett figures was down to luck? Isn’t it always? Everyone was talking about them. Clearly, there was a lot of work to do [to make them saleable]. About 60 boxes were delivered.

Sixty is a lot! It is. But I had a visceral connection–I’ve got to know what it is. I was fascinated, and I wanted to find out more.

Do we know how Morton Bartlett’s figures came to be saved? And could you talk about the inherent power of this material? So many outsider artists have gone unknown because whoever cleaned out their place decided to chuck their stuff in the Dumpster or the landfill rather than saving it and finding a place for it. Whoever found Bartlett’s stuff recognized it was worth saving, even though all they saw was boxes of plaster heads and limbs. I don’t know about powerful, but I think it’s interesting and tender. I do love dolls. Maybe it was luck, again, or the power of the work. Henry Darger is another example. It does take someone to present it.

But Bartlett himself didn’t see the figures as inherently valuable as art. He didn’t see in them what we see now. I don’t know what he saw. I know he saw them as a family, because he carried the photos with him. They were 4 x 3, very small.

A closeup, in profile, of the face of the Daydreaming Girl figure.

What, like wallet-size school portraits? Yes, exactly. That’s how I know the photos were his reality. He wrapped [the elements of the figures] up very carefully in newspapers dated to 1963, but he made the dolls only in order to photograph them, and he made the clothes only to clothe them. The end product was the photos.

Who saved the Morton Bartlett figures? Pat Beals was the one who told me this. He had a house, and after he died, his lawyer had the house cleaned out. This [the figures and the related material] was virtually all that was there. The cleaner contacted a dealer she knew and that dealer took it to the show on their behalf.

Why do you think he kept them? Because they were so beautiful, and they were part of the process. They were a means to an end. I’m quite comfortable in saying the photos are his reality, the end product. For 30 years, they were all in boxes. He didn’t need them any more–they had served their purpose. But it was 30 years of work. It was too special to throw away.

The Morton Bartlett figures were not mentioned in his will. Why do you think he left no instructions on what to do with them after he died? I don’t think he thought they were worth anything. And they weren’t, until they were complete. It took me five years to sell the first, and it was not easy.

I’m struck by the fact that he only did three boy figures, and all look to be around seven or eight years of age, which was roughly how old he was when his parents died and he was adopted. Why do you think he sculpted himself at the age when he suffered his greatest loss? Was he frozen in time? I don’t know. It’s just speculation that they look like him.

How reasonable is the speculation that the boy figures look like him? I don’t think I ever asked Pat Beals that. It is speculation, no more and no less than that.

A full shot of Daydreaming Girl, created by the late outsider artist Morton Bartlett.

Different art critics and art historians have different ideas about why Morton Bartlett made these figures. Why do you think he did it? I think it was a fantasy family. It was fulfilling the fantasy of having brothers and sisters.

The only reason the Morton Bartlett figures were recognized as art is because he died and they were found among his belongings. If we could somehow show him how people have received his creations, how do you think he would react? I think he’d be thrilled, I really do. And I think he’d be glad they survived. If he wanted to throw them away, he could have.

When did you finish assembling the Morton Bartlett figure titled Daydreaming Girl? About two years ago. Then we moved [she and her husband], and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore contacted me. They had exhibitions of Morton Bartlett before, twice. They asked, “Do you have any Morton Bartlett sculptures? Our next show is on parenthood.” I said, “If you had called six months ago, I’d have said no, but I just completed another one.” [She loaned it to the AVAM show.]

What condition is the Morton Bartlett figure Daydreaming Girl in? Everything was perfect. There’s slight surface paint restoration and a very good cleaning and there’s really nothing else. It’s like finding an old painting in a cellar. It didn’t need very much at all.

How many Morton Bartlett figures have come to auction? There was one at Christie’s in 2003. It was a seven-year-old girl. The estimate was $20,000 to $30,000, and I think it sold for $35,000.

How many of the 15 Morton Bartlett figures remain in private hands? I think maybe three or four.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $100,000 to $150,000? It was a bit of a struggle. Morton Bartlett figures have sold for more than that privately. At auction, you start below what they go for. I believe it will find its level. I’m not at all worried.

How to bid: The Morton Bartlett figure is lot 1052 in the Outsider & Fine Art, Curious Objects sale at Rago Auctions on October 20, 2019.

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Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Marion Harris has appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a 19th century life-size French wooden artist’s mannequin that ultimately sold for $45,000.

Marion Harris also deals in antiques. Her website devotes a section to Morton Bartlett and offers the Family Found catalog. A short version of the Family Found documentary is on YouTube.

Images are courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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NEW RECORD! Elizabeth Catlett’s Sculpture Seated Woman Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Update: Elizabeth Catlett’s Seated Woman sold for $389,000, more than doubling the high estimate and setting a new world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

Do we know how many sculptures Elizabeth Catlett made? There’s easily over 100, and probably close to 200. What’s interesting about the sculpture is it’s an early piece. She didn’t begin working in wood until she studied woodcarving in Mexico in the late 1950s. Her earliest dates to 1956. This is a significant work of refined sculpture. It shows how quickly she took to wood, and wood quickly became one of her materials.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Did she normally work in mahogany? She did do a number of works in mahogany. There are several mahogany works early in her career. She would do works in tropical woods, cedar, pecan. Mahogany, for a lot of reasons–beauty and durability–was a wood she would use often. It lends itself to the carving that she did.

Is Seated Woman a subject that she returns to over her career as a sculptor, or is this the only instance? Strong representations of women are part of her work, part of her creative impulse, and what she wanted to do. A woman seated on a box appears in the late 1950s in her work, and you see it throughout her work.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Was this sculpture based on a live model, or did Catlett imagine the figure? Most of these were done from her imagination. She may have had a model at some point. She may have done drawings of a model, but I’m not aware of a model for this piece. It’s an anonymous figure. There are later works where we do know the model. Here, the identity is not specific to a particular person. It’s more a universal idea.

What, if anything, do we know about how Catlett carved, and how she might have carved this work? This was actually made from several blocks of wood. She would find blocks of wood she would make into the figure she wanted, and glue them together. This is quite a complex thing to carve in wood.

And I imagine she had to wait to get blocks of wood that would match well. The wood has to be pieced together carefully. It’s stained and polished and made to fit together. It’s kind of the magic of these pieces. This is a typical way she would construct the general form. There were many different stages in the carving, down to the fine modeling and the polishing–very labor-intensive. This is a very finished, polished piece of wood.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

And she wouldn’t have had any assistants at this point? I don’t think so.

Seated Woman was purchased by George Crockett, Jr. and his wife, Ethelene J. Crockett. He put his name and his social security number on the base of the sculpture. Do we know why? I understand why he might want to put his name on it, but… his social security number? [Laughs] I think it’s sort of sweet, in a way. He really valued Seated Woman. [He thought, if he put his social security number on it] if it was ever lost or stolen, it would come back to him. His grandchildren, who were involved in consigning it, weren’t aware of it [his unusual anti-theft precaution], but it rang true with his character. It’s endearing. He prized it, and he didn’t want anyone else to claim ownership. [The ID carving] is very small, on the back of the sculpture, on the bottom of the base. You’ll only find it if you look very closely. [It’s not visible in any of the pictures Swann provided.]

Have you handled the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture? It’s in my office. One of the nice perks of the job is getting to live with the art for a while.

What is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture like in person? It’s got a wonderful presence.

This, more than many things I cover on The Hot Bid, I want to pick up and handle. [Laughs] It has 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.

Are there any aspects or details of the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The experiential part of the sculpture. Your eye can move around it. She’s not just square on the base. It’s got a visceral quality and a very animated quality. She gives it life. It works on so many different levels–how dynamic and complicated the pose is, all the curves to it.

What condition is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture in? It’s in very good condition. This work was in the Crockett family for a long time. With all wood, there’s some aging, and there’s always a few cracks. It was professionally cleaned and preserved for its appearance and to take care of the wood. Now it looks really fantastic.

How does it compare to other Elizabeth Catlett sculptures you’ve handled? We have had other works of hers in terra-cotta and wood. The record is Homage to My Black Sisters, a 68-inch high piece from 1968 that still stands as her auction record. We sold it in October 2009 for $288,000. It’s a decidedly different market today. In 2009, we’d only been doing African-American fine art auctions for two years, and there had been very few Elizabeth Catlett works at auction at that time. It was still early days.

How often do Elizabeth Catlett sculptures come to auction? From time to time. For wood, there have probably been half a dozen at auction. They’re all different. Homage to My Black Sisters was much more abstract, very modern.

Does Seated Woman have a different sort of presence than her later sculptures? This one is much more intense, I think, more intimate. It’s a small figure. The others are more abstracted. This is more representative. It’s an intricate carving, and very complex. It has a life to it. Her earlier works are more realistic and imbued with emotion. In her later works, though they are abstract, they’re more political works of art. This is more subtle. It’s part of its appeal. And she was getting into the prime of her career in the 1960s, which is wonderful.

Why will this Elizabeth Catlett sculpture stick in your memory? It’s from an interesting point in her career, and for the gorgeousness of the sculpture. It’s a really beautiful work. You can see all that went into it and the skill to pull it off–you can see it in the sculpture. It’s an impressive sculpture, and when you see it, you can’t help but be impressed.

How to bid: The Elizabeth Catlett sculpture is lot 63 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 8, 2019.

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

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman spoke to The Hot Bid previously about an Emma Amos mixed-media work that ultimately sold for an auction record for the artist;  a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglasa story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelouan Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

Kennedy Wedding Photos, Including an Unpublished Shot of Jacqueline Bouvier in Her Bridal Gown, Could Sell for $1,000

What you see: A previously unpublished shot of Jacqueline Bouvier at Hammersmith Farm on her wedding day in 1953. It’s one of three black-and-white photos and a few negatives depicting the wedding of Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island. John McInnis Auctioneers estimates them at $500 to $1,000.

The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.

Could we start by talking about the importance of Hammersmith Farm to Jacqueline Bouvier during her life? Did its presence near Newport convince Jacqueline and Jack to have their wedding in Newport? Hammersmith Farm was extremely important to Jackie. She explains her love of the farm in her own words in an inscription in The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island: “For Uncle Hugh [her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss] on his seventieth birthday–a book about the place you brought us to–but the most beautiful house there for me will forever be Hammersmith Farm. That is my beloved architectural heritage of Newport — and thank you for it — with all love, Jackie, August 28, 1967.” She absolutely loved the place so much, and Jack loved it too. It was more removed and less stressful for him. It was on the ocean, the gardens were spectacular, and they could go to the America’s Cup [yacht race].

Was Hammersmith Farm John F. Kennedy’s introduction to Newport? He had connections there, but it gave him his true love for Newport.

Do we know who shot these Kennedy wedding photos? It was Bachrach, a very famous photography studio.

So the images in the lot were not taken by someone who lived at Hammersmith Farm? No, these were professional photos, not snapshots.

A collection of photos and negatives from the 1953 wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island.

How were they discovered? They were moved directly from Hammersmith Farm, where Jackie lived, her mother lived, her brother lived. They were stored on the property. Colleen Townsend Pilat was an assistant to Yusha, the brother, and helped clear out the property after he died. She was bequeathed all these things. When I got them, it was a mishmash of Jackie’s wedding, [her sister] Lee Radziwill, and her sister Janet, all mixed in. I had to pull them out. I had to figure out who the people were and who the weddings were. Lots of weddings were done on the property.

So these Jack and Jackie wedding images were one of three sets of wedding images in the same pile? Yes. Lee’s first wedding, which took place just a few months earlier than Jackie’s, and Janet’s wedding. It was almost a two-year project, doing all the research and the curating of it. I had to figure out what was what. It was really… fun. [Laughs] It was a challenge.

How big a deal was the wedding in 1953? Clearly it’s regional news, because Jack Kennedy is a sitting Massachusetts senator. Did it make national news? Positively. It was covered throughout the United States and to a degree, overseas. In an earlier lot, there’s a press release for the wedding. The release was modeled after [the one written for] Eunice [Kennedy’s] wedding. Joe Kennedy rules the roost on everything. Eunice’s was a big wedding, but this would be the biggest one. Joe had his eye on a specific thing–his son being president. Joe was Jack’s press agent. You could say he was behind the scenes on everything. Jack had his own thoughts, but he had an overseer on everything.

The photo of Jackie, solo, in her wedding dress has never been published before. How did this photo managed to go unpublished before now? I think the shot of Jackie with her veil billowing was chosen over this. I’ve had other issues of these pictures [the two outdoors shots] and they’re all well-known. These particular ones have not been. I haven’t seen those particular versions.

Where on the grounds of Hammersmith Farm were the outdoor shots taken? Near an equestrian area? At the front lawn, I believe. If you turn your head to the left, you’d see the ocean. At that point, [the family] was raising Guernsey cows and they had horses as well.

A group shot of the wedding party for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier shot in September 1953 at Hammersmith Farm.

And the group shot shows the bridesmaids, the bridesmatron, and the groomsmen? Yes. This particular group shot shows Jackie looking down at a dog.

In reading up on the wedding, it sounds like Jackie didn’t get much of what she wanted from her “special day”–that Joe Kennedy stuck his nose in and was very controlling. How did things unfurl? [Laughs] He oversaw… it was just the kind of guy he was. She knew when she got into [it] there were limitations on what would happen.

I understand she wanted a much smaller wedding and reception than she had, but anywhere from 700 to 800 were at the church, and more than 1200 were at the reception at Hammersmith Farm. That would be Joe [his doing]. The biggest thing for Jackie was her father, Black Jack. He was supposed to give her away.

From what I’ve read, allegedly, Jackie’s mom, who was Black Jack’s ex, tempted him into getting drunk in hopes that would make him fail to show up… It was very disappointing for her. She loved her father. Her stepfather, who she called Uncle Hugh [stepped in and did the honors.] She loved him too, but I think she wanted her birth father there. It was probably a big issue in her mind. I haven’t heard of anything else being out of place.

I haven’t been inside the church, but I have been in that area of Newport, and it’s… pretty congested. How did the church physically accommodate all those people? If you’ve seen some of the photos, there are throngs of people on the street, ten to 15 deep. They weren’t all in the church. In the auction, [there are lots with typewritten documents of] the procession for the church, where the bridal party was staying, who was going in which car. It’s very interesting. They had everything right down to a science.

That’s good preparation for life at the White House… [Laughs]

Another arrangement of the Kennedy wedding images in the lot, shown with negatives.

Hammersmith Farm was a 300-acre property, so it could handle 1,200-plus people. How did the reception go? I see a photo in the group that shows guests at a long table. There was a huge tent, and there were tables outside the tent–the reception sprawled onto the lawn as well. It was kind of like a picnic at some point. It was very difficult, I am sure, for everyone to have time with the couple. But what I’ve heard from people who were there was they had a great time. No one felt slighted. The next lot after shows [wedding guests] individuals, couples, and kids with smiles on their faces. That was a different part of the property. What would be really nice is if people find themselves in those pictures, or their children find them.

How do these Kennedy wedding photos reflect the image that Joe Kennedy was trying to project for his family, and how do they foreshadow the glamour of the Kennedy White House? They played very well for what Joe Kennedy had in mind for his son. They played extremely well. He couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $500 to $1,000? It’s what we felt was reasonable. It’s an unreserved sale. They’re gonna sell for whatever they sell for. But what we have here are personal photos from Jackie’s family, right from Hammersmith Farm. That’s what separates them from other photographs. It could possibly go much higher.

How well do Kennedy wedding photos do at auction? They’re always highly sought-after. The Kennedy wedding invitations sell for thousands. Any of those kinds of things maintain a human interest. Price-wise, they could go for higher than a wedding invite.

Why will these Kennedy wedding photos stick in your memory? Because of where they came from. We love what we do here, and we get sought out to handle these things because of our past experience with them. For me, the most important thing is the provenance. When it comes right from the source, there’s no doubt about how valuable it was within the family.

How to bid: The Jack and Jackie Kennedy wedding photos are lot 0126 in the Camelot with a Twist auction at John McInnis Auctioneers on October 13, 2019.

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Dan Meader appeared before on The Hot Bid talking about a record-setting Presidential Air Force One bomber jacket, given by John F. Kennedy to loyal aide Dave Powers.

Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.

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SOLD! The Wilson Bentley Snowflake Photos Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Update: The Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs sold for $10,000.

What you see: One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley. Sotheby’s estimates the group at $8,000 to $12,000.

The expert: Hermione Sharp, associate specialist in the photographs department at Sotheby’s New York.

Let’s start by talking about Wilson Bentley–who he was, and how he became interested in photographing snowflakes. He was a farmer from Jericho, Vermont. I understand he lived on the farm his whole life. At some point, his mother had a microscope. For his birthday, as a teen, he asked for a better one. He was in Vermont, and he was around snow a lot. Around the age of 20, he wanted to document snowflakes on camera. It took him a while to figure out how to do that. Once he did, he ran with it.

Was he the first to tackle the problem of how to capture snowflakes on film before they melted? More or less. Some had tried here and there, but no one had the interest that he did. He was determined to get good pictures of snowflakes. They melted so quickly, it was hard to do.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did he solve the problem? He put together an apparatus, a microscope attached to a camera. That’s how he was able to capture the images we see today.

I understand the invention relied on a bellows. What’s a bellows? In 19th century pictures, you’ll see cameras with a long accordion thing at the front. That’s a bellows. That extension allowed him to get to the microscope, to get the image taken through the microscope itself. Later, he added a piece of wood with [attached to] a band of leather to pull the focus back and forth on the microscope.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did Bentley create these images? He would run around his backyard, catching snowflakes on a piece of velvet. He’d run back to the camera and move the snowflakes around with a feather to get the one he wanted. When he got one he liked, he’d move it onto a microscope slide, stick it in the camera, run to the other side of the camera, and focus. Then he got the picture. He would do a lot of this outside in the cold.

And he did it before we had Gore-tex or other modern cold-weather gear. No Gore-tex, and no electricity. From what I’ve read, he had no electricity. To expose the pictures, he used natural daylight.

What sort of shutter speed did he need to use? He had about two minutes before the snowflake would melt. The exposure, I think, was a minute and a half long.

Did he have any assistants? I don’t believe so. There’s no mention of assistants in the records I found. He would have been helping his family on the farm to some extent, but I think they didn’t understand why he was doing that, and why he wasn’t helping them more.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How many snowflake images did Bentley take? He took over 5,300 by the end of his life.

The Wilson Bentley snowflake photos are described as “photomicrographs”. What are photomicrographs? Did Bentley invent the photomicrograph process? A photomicrograph is a photograph of a microscopic object, taken with the aid of a microscope. He did not invent the process. I don’t know who’s really credited with it. It was used before Bentley used it, to photograph blood cells in the mid-19th century.

What can we tell, just by looking at these photomicrographs, how difficult they were to make? We all know how small a snowflake is. You can see how much he was able to magnify it himself, with 19th century equipment. You can see how detailed they are. They show the work put into the images. You can see not just the outsides [of the snowflakes] but the unique designs, the details in the prints themselves.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

I found a quote on Wikipedia about Bentley that said, “He did it so well that hardly anybody bothered to photograph snowflakes for almost 100 years.” What was it about the quality and strength of his photographs that convinced everyone else to leave the field to him? He really was the first to be able to photograph snowflakes the way that he did–over 5,000, and he did publish a book in the final year of his life. He devoted himself entirely to this. We don’t really see snowflake photos by anyone else [during this period]. I can see how that would be true.

How responsible were Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos for promoting the idea that no two snowflakes are alike? Very important. He basically figured it out. Nobody knew that before. He shot the first image in 1885, and he died in 1931. He never saw two that were the same.

Did he ever deliberately market and sell any of his snowflake images as collectible works of art? Might he have sold some of them to fund his snowflake photography work? I actually don’t know. I could not find anywhere [evidence or discussion] if he sold prints during his life. He would have sold some slides to American schools and museums, and sold them to fashion designers and jewelers as inspiration for design. But I don’t know if he sold them for money. In 1904, he contacted the Smithsonian. He had taken 2,000 images [by then] and he wanted them to take the best images for long-term preservation. They did, and they sent him some money for supplies.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

So Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos were not seen as artistic images during his lifetime? I would say they were mostly viewed as scientific images. I’m sure a lay person could understand the beauty of seeing snowflakes up close. But I can’t imagine him framing them and sticking them up on the walls. He did not try to decorate his house [with them]. He wanted people to know his research he was doing, scientifically speaking.

So people start seeing Wilson Bentley snowflake photos as art some time after he dies in 1931? In terms of the art market, I didn’t find auction records for these before 2005. Dealers sold them here and there over the years. They didn’t get to the secondary art market for a long time.

The date range for this group of ten Wilson Bentley snowflake photos spans the late 1890s to the 1920s. Why is the span so wide? We just don’t know when they were taken. They’re not dated. When we get a set, we use the widest range we can. We err on the side of caution.

It’s odd that he did not date the snowflake images, given that he saw himself as doing scientific work. You’d think he’d want to, if only to see if certain patterns emerged over time. It is interesting, and we don’t know why [he didn’t date them]. In general, photographers did not sign or date all their things until the 20th century. It’s not unusual to see prints like this that are unsigned.

The lot notes describe the group as “selected images”. Who did the selecting? Were the Wilson Bentley snowflake photos released originally as this specific group of ten, or did someone along the way pull them together? “Selected” is just what we say when we have a group of photographs from one photographer. It came to us this way from one collector.

How often do Wilson Bentley snowflake photos come to auction? On a fairly regular basis. We see a set once a season, maybe.

Are they always in some sort of group, or do individuals come up? We have not offered individuals at Sotheby’s. They sell on their own for a few hundred.

What are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs like in person? They’re not black and white. They have deep, dark brown tones, and some are slightly lighter than others. The darks are not just black–they’re almost black-brown. In person, you can really see the lovely dark chocolate browns. The whites are not white–they’re a creamy color. And there’s a bit of silvering in some of the dark areas, which is typical of something of this age. It adds a beautiful look to each object on its own. They’re quite small–four inches by three inches, which is the size they always are.

Do you have a favorite among the ten? This [above] is the one we chose to reproduce in the catalog, and it remains my favorite. It is a beautifully symmetrical shape, from the center all the way to the formation of the six “arms”, which I think are called dendrites. There is so much detail captured in this tiny print.

What condition are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs in? They’re really in quite excellent condition for prints of the late 19th century. There’s barely anything to report. The silvering is not distracting. It’s in the darks. You’ve got to hold them in high, raking light, at an angle, to notice it.

I understand the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs are framed. Is that unusual? Do we know when they were framed? They were framed pretty recently by the owner. The frames wouldn’t be original to them. I can’t imagine Bentley would have framed anything.

How many groups of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs have you handled? I started in 2015. Since then, this is the sixth group.

How does this set compare to the other five? It’s really nice, but they’re all very comparable sets. He clearly uses the same process over and over. All six sets that have come up during my time have sold. In October 2016, we sold a group for $22,500.

Is that the world auction record for a set of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs? It’s up there. Swann sold an album of 25 in February 2016 for $52,000. The next three records are all Sotheby’s, including the one I mentioned.

Why will this group of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs stick in your memory? It’s a nice selection of different snowflakes, as good a variety of shapes that you can have. What seems to be important to Bentley–he really was passionate about what he did. In his book, he documents snowflakes by shape. That was important to him. He died right after his book came out, of pnemonia, after walking around in the snow. His legacy lives on. He achieved his goal.

How to bid: The group of 10 Wilson Bentley Snowflake photographs is lot 142 in the Classic Photographs sale at Sotheby’s New York on October 3, 2019.

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Every Antiques Roadshow Appraiser Who Has Appeared on The Hot Bid

A patriotic Andrew Clemens sand bottle, discussed on The Hot Bid by Wes Cowan
A patriotic Andrew Clemens sand bottle, discussed on The Hot Bid by Wes Cowan.

To mark the return of Antiques Roadshow tonight (check your local PBS listings), here is every story ever published on The Hot Bid that features appraisers who have appeared on the program. It includes a lot of people, and even more stories. Enjoy!

A Tremendous Mike toy robot, with original box.

Michael Bertoia, Bertoia Auctions, Tremendous Mike toy robot. The winsome red robot commanded $11,000.

The Crucifixion, a limestone carving by self-taught African American artist William Edmondson.

* Sebastian Clarke, Rago Auctions, carving by William Edmondson. The Crucifixion, a circa 1930s carving by the African-American outsider artist, ultimately sold for $175,000.

Wes Cowan, Cowan’s Auctions, patriotic sand bottle by Andrew Clemens. In the story, Cowan talks about first encountering Clemens’s art on Antiques Roadshow. This bottle ultimately sold for $102,000.

Let Me Off Uptown, a mixed-media work by Emma Amos.

Nigel Freeman, Swann Auction Galleries, Emma Amos’s Let Me Off Uptown. The mixed-media fabric work set a world auction record for the artist, selling for $125,000.

Defiance, a print from the Emperor Jones series.

Nigel Freeman, Swann Auction Galleries, Emperor Jones prints by Aaron Douglas. Shown from the group of four 1972 reprints is Defiance.

A narrative quilt made by Faith Ringgold. Oprah Winfrey commissioned her to make it for Dr. Maya Angelou.

Nigel Freeman, Swann Auction Galleries, record-setting Faith Ringgold story quilt. Commissioned by Oprah Winfrey as a birthday gift for Dr. Maya Angelou, it sold at Swann in 2015 for $461,000.

War Worker, a painting by Elizabeth Catlett.

Nigel Freeman, Swann Auction Galleries, Elizabeth Catlett’s painting, War Worker. The 1943 tempera-on-board commanded $149,000.

Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask by Sargent Johnson.

Nigel Freeman, Swann Auction Galleries, Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother). The rare mid-1930s copper repoussé mask sold for $100,000 and a record for the artist at auction.

Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph by Harold Edgerton.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries, Milk Drop Coronet by Harold Edgerton. This print of the iconic image shot by the MIT professor sold for $4,250.

Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, aka Powerhouse Mechanic, by Lewis Hine.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries, Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, aka PowerHouse Mechanic, by Lewis Hine. This was an exceptionally early print, dating to circa 1921.

Edward S. Curtis's portrait of Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries, an Edward S. Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud. The platinum print commanded $32,500.

An image of seven nude women from a portfolio by Albert Arthur Allen.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries, a 1925 portfolio of nudes by Albert Arthur Allen. The rare complete set of 15 images from The Model, Series No. 1 fetched $2,860.

Kenneth Nolan's Songs: Yesterday, a chevron painting from 1985.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Kenneth Nolan’s Songs: Yesterdays. The 1985 chevron painting sold for $550,000, well over its estimate.

Bibi on the Ball, a hyperrealistic sculpture by Carole Feuerman.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Bibi on the Ball by Carole Feuerman. The hyperrealistic sculpture went on to set a world auction record for the artist.

Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a colorful abstract by Alma Thomas.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. by Alma Thomas. This was the debut post on The Hot Bid. The painting sold for $387,500 and set a world auction record for Thomas.

A Bounty Hunter dune buggy, completed in 1969.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Bounty Hunter dune buggy. An unusually well-built example of the mid-century off-road vehicle sold for $36,250.

Jonathan Borofsky's Man with Briefcase (C), a woodcut with collage on handmade paper.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Man with a Briefcase (C) by Jonathan Borofsky. The woodcut with collage on handmade paper fetched $9,375.

Wendell Castle's 2008 limited edition Abilene rocking chair, fashioned from stainless steel.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Wendell Castle Abilene rocking chair. The stainless steel limited edition appeared at LAMA roughly a month after Castle died.

Ed Ruscha's print Double Standard.

Peter Loughrey, Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Ed Ruscha’s Double Standard. When it sold for $206,250 at LAMA in October 2014, it set a record for a print by the artist.

Word Image, Tadanori Yokoo's poster for a 1968 MoMA show.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, Tadanori Yokoo’s Word Image poster. Created for a 1968 MoMA show, it sold for $4,250.

The famous 1917 "I Want You" U.S. Army recruiting poster.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, a 1917 “I Want You” recruiting poster. It fetched $14,300, just $101 shy of the world auction record.

A rare 1927 movie poster for The Siren of the Tropics, starring Josephine Baker.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, 1927 movie poster for The Siren of the Tropics, starring Josephine Baker. The rare poster garnered $9,750.

A triptych of posters touting the merits of Mont Blanc.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, a 1928 trio of Mont Blanc travel posters. Showing the famous mountain at day, twilight, and night, the triptych sold for $13,750.

An Alphonse Mucha poster showcasing actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt. The 1896 poster, created to advertise the actress’s American tour, commanded $8,750.

A mid-1930s German travel poster that includes the Hindenburg zeppelin.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, a circa 1935 German travel poster. The “pleasant trip to Germany” image, which pictured the Hindenburg, sold for $6,000.

A 1928 travel poster touting Corsica, designed by Roger Broders, who clearly took inspiration from Botticelli.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, a 1928 Corsica travel poster by Roger Broders. Does the pose of the woman seem familiar to you? It should, especially if you’ve visited the Uffizi Gallery.

An exceptionally rare 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, a 1938 London Transport poster by Man Ray. Yes, that Man Ray. The exceptionally rare poster fetched $149,000.

A.M. Cassandre's L.M.S/Best Way, which holds the world auction record for any travel poster.

Nicho Lowry, Swann Auction Galleries, L.M.S./Best Way, by A.M. Cassandre. It earned the world auction record for any travel poster in 2012 when it sold for $162,500.

A scarce 1949 concert poster for Billie Holiday, which pictures the singer.

Giles Moon, Heritage Auctions*, Billie Holiday concert poster. The rare poster, which dates to 1949, commanded $13,750.

An original 1969 Woodstock concert poster that lacks its small text and is autographed by designer Arnold Skolnik.

Giles Moon, Heritage Auctions*, an original 1969 Woodstock concert poster. It stands apart for lacking its small text and for bearing a signature from Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it.

UNTITLED (EYES), a work that French artist Martial Raysse gave to Hotel Chelsea manager Stanley Bard.

Alasdair Nichol, Freeman’s, UNTITLED (EYES) by Martial Raysse. Inscribed to Stanley Bard, the longtime manager of the Hotel Chelsea, it fetched $50,000–ten times its low estimate.

An amber, white, and gold glass chandelier, from the studio of Dale Chihuly.

Suzanne Perrault, Rago Auctions, Dale Chihuly chandelier. The ten-foot-tall work set a record for a Chihuly chandelier at auction in 2015.

Suzanne Perrault, Rago Auctions, Lino Tagliapietra dinosaur. The exquisite glass sculpture sold for $17,500.

A Chinese cloisonné bottle vase that provoked a frenzy at Quinn's Auctions, ultimately selling for $812,500 against an estimate of $400 to $600,

Matthew Quinn, Quinn’s Auctions, a Chinese cloisonné bottle vase. It sold for $812,500 against an estimate of $400 to $600 thanks to bidders who were convinced that it dated to the 14th century, and not the 18th or 19th centuries. The bidders were right.

A version of Rene Lalique's Tortues vase in amber glass with white patina.

David Rago, Rago Auctions, a Lalique Tortues vase. The amber glass vase with white patina garnered $25,000.

An unusually tall Wally Bird with a markedly snarky expression.

David Rago, Rago Auctions, a tall Wally Bird. Designed as a tobacco jar, the snarky-faced ceramic bird sold for $50,000.

A handsome vertical Paul Evans cabinet.

David Rago, Rago Auctions, a Paul Evans cabinet. The seven-foot-tall furnishing sold for a record $382,000.

A large four-panel ceramic tile by Frederick Hurten Rhead that features a peacock.

David Rago, Rago Auctions, a Frederick Hurten Rhead peacock tile. The unique, large, four-panel tile sold for the staggering sum of $637,500.

David Rago, Rago Auctions, George Ohr vase. The exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim commanded $10,625.

A circa 1865 tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first female recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Deborah Rogel, Swann Auction Galleries, tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. The circa 1865 image of the first female winner of the Medal of Honor sold for $9.375.

A record-setting Peter Hujar portrait of David Wojnarowicz.

Deborah Rogel, Swann Auction Galleries, a Peter Hujar Portrait of David Wojnarowicz. Dubbed David Wojnarowicz: Manhattan-Night (III), the 1985 silver print commanded $106,250 and a world auction record for the artist.

A still life of flowers in a vase on a yellow background by Florine Stettheimer.

Robin Starr, Skinner, a Florine Stettheimer still life. Offered in 2016, it garnered $375,000 and a world auction record for the artist.

Chrysler Building, a print by Howard Cook completed in the same year the skyscraper went up.

Todd Weyman, Swann Auction Galleries, Howard Cook’s Chrysler Building. The 1930 print sold for $10,625.

Day and Night, a magnificent, complex 1935 print by M.C. Escher.

Todd Weyman, Swann Auction Galleries, M.C. Escher’s Day and Night. The mind-bending 1935 print sold for $40,000.

The original artwork for the Italian poster for Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn.

Dr. Catherine Williamson, Bonhams, original artwork for the Italian movie poster for Sylvia Scarlett. The 1935 film starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but artist Anselmo Ballester kept the focus on the female star.

Robby the Robot. The one, the only, the original. Who doesn't love Robby the Robot? No one, that's who.

Dr. Catherine Williamson, Bonhams, Robby the Robot. The star of Forbidden Planet sold for $5.3 million and set a world auction record for a screen-used prop.

Grant Zahajko, Grant Zahajko Auctions, a 1936 Olympic basketball gold medal. The prize was awarded to John Haskell “Tex” Gibbons, a player on the winning American team.

Special thanks to Bertoia Auctions for the image of Tremendous Mike.

Special thanks to Cowan’s for the image of the Andrew Clemens sand bottle.

Special thanks to Rago Auctions for the images of the William Edmondson carving; the Dale Chihuly chandelier; the Lalique vase; the Rhead tile panel; the Paul Evans cabinet; and the tall Wally Bird.

Special thanks to Swann Auction Galleries for the images of Emma Amos’s Let Me Off Uptown; the Faith Ringgold narrative quilt; the Emperor Jones prints; the Elizabeth Catlett painting; the Sargent Johnson mask; the Albert Arthur Allen image; the Lewis Hine photograph; the Harold Edgerton photograph; the portrait by Edward S. Curtis; the Tadanori Yokoo poster; the I Want You poster; the Josephine Baker movie poster; the trio of Mont Blanc postes; the Mucha poster; the 1930s German travel poster; the Borders Corsica poster; the Man Ray London Transport poster; the A.M. Cassandre poster; the Mary Edwards Walker tintype; the Peter Hujar photograph; the Howard Cook print; and the M.C. Escher print.

Special thanks to Los Angeles Modern Auctions for the images of the Kenneth Nolan painting; the Carole Feuerman sculpture; the dune buggy; the Wendell Castle rocking chair; the Alma Thomas painting; and the Ed Ruscha print.

Special thanks to Heritage Auctions for the images of the Billie Holiday concert poster and the Woodstock concert poster.

Special thanks to Freeman’s for the images of the Martial Raysse work.

Special thanks to Quinn’s Auctions for the image of the Chinese cloisonné bottle vase.

Special thanks to Skinner for the image of the Florine Stettheimer still life.

Special thanks to Grant Zahajko Auctions for the image of the 1936 Olympic gold medal.

And special thanks to Marsha Bemko and all at Antiques Roadshow, for generally being awesome.

*Clarke has since moved to Doyle, and Moon has since moved to Bonhams.

SOLD! The Frank Lloyd Wright Armchair Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and shown in profile.

Update: The Frank Lloyd Wright casual armchair from Price Tower sold for $13,750.

What you see: A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Could we start by telling the story of Price Tower, and how it came to be, and how it fits within the body of work of Frank Lloyd Wright? Price Tower was built in 1956. It’s a really interesting example of the work Wright was doing at the end of his life and career. [He died in 1959 at the age of 91.] He was approached by the Price family from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Harold Price Sr. had a family business in oil and energy. Bartlesville is just outside Tulsa, a center of that [oil and energy businesses] at the time. He wanted to build a new headquarters for his company, and was looking for an architect. His sons, who were taking classes in architecture, initially recommended Bruce Goff, the truly maverick architect of this period. He taught at the University of Oklahoma. He met with Price and recommended meeting with Wright instead.

What happened when the Prices met Wright? They asked him to build something three to four stories tall. He proposed a 19-story skyscraper instead, in the middle of the prairie. They were swept along with his enthusiasm for the project and it was built. Wright called it “the tree that escaped the crowded forest”.

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Here, it is shown in full from the front.

Is this the first time a Frank Lloyd Wright armchair from Price Tower has gone to auction? No. There have been a handful that have come up over the years. I count at least four of this model. About 15 years ago, an initial group of furniture from Price Tower sold in New York, and a handful have circulated and been on the market since.

Do all the Frank Lloyd Wright armchairs of this design look like this one–silver-colored frame with red upholstery? There are different variations, with different finishes and different colors of paint. We believe this one has its original paint finish. It’s been reupholstered, but in fabric that’s as close to the original as possible.

The lot notes say “some forty were originally specified”. Were 40 in fact made? I don’t know, but I suspect there were about 40 made. Some were sold and circulated over the years. The Price Tower Arts Center has many in their collection. Price Tower, the building, is now owned and operated by the nonprofit Price Tower Arts Center. It’s preserving, and in the process of preserving, more period rooms in the building, restoring them to how they were created. The funds from the sale will help them continue their core mission of preserving Price Tower.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown from the rear in three-quarter view.

The seat and the back of this armchair have a hexagonal shape. I also see hexagons in the back and seat of a different Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower chair offered in the sale. Are hexagons a main design motif of the building? I wouldn’t say hexagons, as such, are specifically a formal motif Wright used, but the building is entirely about angles. It’s formed as a series of triangles locked together at 30 degrees, 60 degrees. Wright was exploring geometry in a more complex way than boxes and rectangles. The angular design is mimicked and repeated in the furniture that was designed.

So they’re not so much hexagons as joined triangles? Yeah, I would say so.

How many Frank Lloyd Wright lots are in the October 1 sale? About 20 lots. Many are works for Price Tower, and many are duplicates from within the Price Tower Arts Center collection. Some were donated by Carolyn Price, the wife of Harold Price, Jr., who passed away last year.

A design drawing for the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower.

We have that great quote from Wright talking about the Price Tower, but do we have any quotes from Harold Price, Sr., or others in his family about this particular chair design? I don’t have anything at hand for you, but generally, the furniture was greeted with mixed reviews by the people who had to use it. It was designed for company offices, and the staff was meant to use the furniture. There are stories of people bringing their own chairs or desks in. The Price family must have been happy enough, because they were patrons of Frank Lloyd Wright for many years.

A detail shot of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair, showing the spine-like appearance of the back strut.

The metal spine of the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair makes me think of vertebrae. Is that deliberate? Is the back of the chair meant to imitate a spine? I think it’s an innovative use of material. Cast aluminum was not usually done at the time. Wright found a local person to do the work. He used a single material to provide the frame of the chair and provide a decorative layer to the chair at the same time. It’s one of the reasons I find the chair so compelling.

To me, it looks like the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair would have been seen as futuristic in 1956. Was the chair design considered futuristic? I don’t know how it was considered, but Price Tower was completed at a time when Wright was doing a very forward, very unique type of architecture. A couple of years later, he completed the Guggenheim in New York. His residential projects of the time were different and new. To a certain extent, people came to expect it from Wright. It was 20 years since he had done Fallingwater. He had moved quite a bit past his early and mid-career periods. At the same time, it was the mid-1950s. There were a lot of new ideas being generated through the applied arts, and seen throughout the American mid-century movement. I’m not sure the degree to which it was so surprising. Also, the armchair was not made for the mass market. It was a private commission. Wright had the freedom to experiment.

This is described as a “casual armchair”. Why? What makes it casual? I think it’s probably a reference to the slope of the arms, which allows for a more casual sitting position.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown in full from the rear.

Have you sat in the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I have.

What’s that like? It’s fine. It’s like many chairs. It felt absolutely comfortable, but I don’t know what it’s like for eight or nine hours for a workday. It feels good to sit in. I don’t know if it would win any awards for ergonomic design.

Yeah, I’ve heard tell of how… how shall I put this… Wright making designs to please himself, and perhaps not thinking much about the people who would actually have to use his designs on a daily basis. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. The more I learn about Wright, [I am convinced] Wright cared about what his clients felt, and he did care about the function of his designs. But the wanted to consider the whole, and the unified whole, for that matter.

A three-quarter rear view of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair.

What’s your favorite detail of this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I’d say it’s the interpretation of the pattern into the structure itself, primarily in the use of triangles. It’s an echo of the design of the building. It has very few right angles.

What’s the world auction record for this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I can find £48,000 (roughly $60,000) in 2007 at Christie’s South Kensington, London.

Is there any chance this example will meet or beat the one that sold at Christie’s? Is its provenance better? I think we have to wait and see. It’s a very strong market for Wright right now. This is a great example, and I hope collectors will recognize it as such. I hope we’ll get a good price for the Price Tower Arts Center.

Why will this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair stick in your memory? It has its own visual language, its own aesthetic vocabulary, that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Once you see it, you’ll remember it. In that way, it’s iconic.

How to bid: The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower in Oklahoma is lot #67050 in the October 1, 2019 Design sale at Heritage Auctions.

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Brent Lewis appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing Widow of a King, a 2006 work by Pae White.

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An Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture Could Sell for $150,000 at Swann

What you see: Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

Do we know how many sculptures Elizabeth Catlett made? There’s easily over 100, and probably close to 200. What’s interesting about the sculpture is it’s an early piece. She didn’t begin working in wood until she studied woodcarving in Mexico in the late 1950s. Her earliest dates to 1956. This is a significant work of refined sculpture. It shows how quickly she took to wood, and wood quickly became one of her materials.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Did she normally work in mahogany? She did do a number of works in mahogany. There are several mahogany works early in her career. She would do works in tropical woods, cedar, pecan. Mahogany, for a lot of reasons–beauty and durability–was a wood she would use often. It lends itself to the carving that she did.

Is Seated Woman a subject that she returns to over her career as a sculptor, or is this the only instance? Strong representations of women are part of her work, part of her creative impulse, and what she wanted to do. A woman seated on a box appears in the late 1950s in her work, and you see it throughout her work.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

Was this sculpture based on a live model, or did Catlett imagine the figure? Most of these were done from her imagination. She may have had a model at some point. She may have done drawings of a model, but I’m not aware of a model for this piece. It’s an anonymous figure. There are later works where we do know the model. Here, the identity is not specific to a particular person. It’s more a universal idea.

What, if anything, do we know about how Catlett carved, and how she might have carved this work? This was actually made from several blocks of wood. She would find blocks of wood she would make into the figure she wanted, and glue them together. This is quite a complex thing to carve in wood.

And I imagine she had to wait to get blocks of wood that would match well. The wood has to be pieced together carefully. It’s stained and polished and made to fit together. It’s kind of the magic of these pieces. This is a typical way she would construct the general form. There were many different stages in the carving, down to the fine modeling and the polishing–very labor-intensive. This is a very finished, polished piece of wood.

Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett.

And she wouldn’t have had any assistants at this point? I don’t think so.

Seated Woman was purchased by George Crockett, Jr. and his wife, Ethelene J. Crockett. He put his name and his social security number on the base of the sculpture. Do we know why? I understand why he might want to put his name on it, but… his social security number? [Laughs] I think it’s sort of sweet, in a way. He really valued Seated Woman. [He thought, if he put his social security number on it] if it was ever lost or stolen, it would come back to him. His grandchildren, who were involved in consigning it, weren’t aware of it [his unusual anti-theft precaution], but it rang true with his character. It’s endearing. He prized it, and he didn’t want anyone else to claim ownership. [The ID carving] is very small, on the back of the sculpture, on the bottom of the base. You’ll only find it if you look very closely. [It’s not visible in any of the pictures Swann provided.]

Have you handled the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture? It’s in my office. One of the nice perks of the job is getting to live with the art for a while.

What is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture like in person? It’s got a wonderful presence.

This, more than many things I cover on The Hot Bid, I want to pick up and handle. [Laughs] It has 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.

Are there any aspects or details of the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The experiential part of the sculpture. Your eye can move around it. She’s not just square on the base. It’s got a visceral quality and a very animated quality. She gives it life. It works on so many different levels–how dynamic and complicated the pose is, all the curves to it.

What condition is the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture in? It’s in very good condition. This work was in the Crockett family for a long time. With all wood, there’s some aging, and there’s always a few cracks. It was professionally cleaned and preserved for its appearance and to take care of the wood. Now it looks really fantastic.

How does it compare to other Elizabeth Catlett sculptures you’ve handled? We have had other works of hers in terra-cotta and wood. The record is Homage to My Black Sisters, a 68-inch high piece from 1968 that still stands as her auction record. We sold it in October 2009 for $288,000. It’s a decidedly different market today. In 2009, we’d only been doing African-American fine art auctions for two years, and there had been very few Elizabeth Catlett works at auction at that time. It was still early days.

How often do Elizabeth Catlett sculptures come to auction? From time to time. For wood, there have probably been half a dozen at auction. They’re all different. Homage to My Black Sisters was much more abstract, very modern.

Does Seated Woman have a different sort of presence than her later sculptures? This one is much more intense, I think, more intimate. It’s a small figure. The others are more abstracted. This is more representative. It’s an intricate carving, and very complex. It has a life to it. Her earlier works are more realistic and imbued with emotion. In her later works, though they are abstract, they’re more political works of art. This is more subtle. It’s part of its appeal. And she was getting into the prime of her career in the 1960s, which is wonderful.

Why will this Elizabeth Catlett sculpture stick in your memory? It’s from an interesting point in her career, and for the gorgeousness of the sculpture. It’s a really beautiful work. You can see all that went into it and the skill to pull it off–you can see it in the sculpture. It’s an impressive sculpture, and when you see it, you can’t help but be impressed.

How to bid: The Elizabeth Catlett sculpture is lot 63 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 8, 2019.

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Nigel Freeman spoke to The Hot Bid previously about an Emma Amos mixed-media work that ultimately sold for an auction record for the artist;  a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglasa story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelouan Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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WOW! The TV Space Patrol Toy Car Sold at Morphy Auctions for (Scroll Down to See)

A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

Update: The TV Space Patrol toy car with box sold for $7,500.

What you see: A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

Do we know when this TV Space Patrol toy car was made? I don’t see a date in the lot notes. There’s not an exact date, and there’s not an exact company. It just says “Made in Japan”. There is no maker [indicated] on the box or the car. I would say mid-1950s. It’s definitely 1950s, that’s for sure. It [looks like] a concept car or a Batmobile.

The cover of the box for the TV Space Patrol toy car, showing an astronaut driving a Motorama-looking dune buggy on the surface of the moon.

How often does the TV Space Patrol toy car come up with its original box? It’s rare with or without the box, but it’s especially rare with the box.

The TV Space Patrol car, shown overhead and at full length.

The lot notes describe its condition as “near mint”. What does that mean here? It’s got some scratches on top of the plastic dome. But usually, the dome is broken or missing. Most times, [the toy] doesn’t have it. This has it.

How many TV Space Patrol toy cars have you handled? I’ve handled four, and there were two boxed ones.

The TV Space Patrol toy car, shown in full, from the rear, in a three-quarter view.

Do we have any notion at all of how many TV Space Patrol toy cars might have been made, and how many might have been imported to the United States? We don’t know how many were made, but there probably weren’t many. I’ve had four in 40 years.

This is described as a “Friction-powered” toy. What does that mean? You push it forward, and it rolls forward. Also, the spaceman inside has a TV camera, and he rotates, like he’s taking pictures on a planet or something, I guess. [Laughs] It was [made] 15 years before we actually landed on the moon. The pulp magazines got some things correct, and some things not nearly correct.

The TV Space Patrol car shown in full profile, with its nose cones pointing to the left.

This TV Space Patrol toy car is definitely cooler-looking than the moon buggy that the Apollo astronauts drove on the lunar surface, I grant you that. It was a lot cooler. And it wasn’t large, maybe nine and a half inches long. Maybe it didn’t sell well because of that. If they had made this car bigger–15 inches instead of nine–it could be worth $20,000. That’s my opinion.

An angle on the TV Space Patrol toy car's box, showing it from the side.

The box calls this a “TV Space Patrol” toy car. Was there a TV show connected with it? No. There was a TV show called Space Patrol, but it had nothing to do with this.

A detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol toy car, focusing on the astronaut and his TV camera.

What’s your favorite detail of the TV Space Patrol toy car? The cones in the front are very cool. You can kind of twist them. They come off, and when they come off, they’re gone. Kids could pull them right off. They usually don’t survive. And having an astronaut with a smiling face [in the driver’s seat] that rotates and takes pictures is pretty neat.

If I was going to dream up a mid-20th century toy car, I would dream of this–something with fins and a dome and cones on the front. It’s impressive. It’s a really nice car, but seeing it in a book [before] seeing it in person, you think it’s going to be bigger. It’s not to scale.

Why did this particular TV Space Patrol toy car survive so well? I don’t know. Somebody probably owned it–there’s a ‘J’ written in pen on top of the box. Sometimes, kids write on the box. You see that a lot. Like a kid writing his name in a baseball glove–same thing.

Another detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol car, showing the driver-astronaut-photographer in profile.

You mentioned earlier that the dome tends to be broken or missing, and the cones on the front tend to get lost. What other problems have you seen with TV Space Patrol toy cars? The hubcaps go missing. It has four white hubcaps, and they pry right off. A lot can go wrong with the car. If it’s in good condition, it will bring a lot of money.

We’re speaking on September 9, 2019, and there’s already a bid of $1,500 on the TV Space Patrol toy car. Is that meaningful? No. There are going to be a couple of serious bidders–usually calling in bids on the phone, or bidding during the auction.

What’s the world auction record for a TV Space Patrol toy car? Was it set at Morphy Auctions? In September 2013, we had one that brought $16,800. It might have been a shade nicer than this one. There was no scratching on the top of the dome. I would think that would be the record. I can’t remember one bringing more.

Why will this particular toy car stick in your memory? Because it’s boxed. I’m kind of a box freak. The box is probably worth as much as the toy. And there’s real character and a sense of history about the toy car because of when it was made–15 years before we landed on the moon.

How to bid: The TV Space Patrol toy car is lot 2194 in the Toy, Doll, & Figural Cast Iron sale at Morphy Auctions on September 24 and 25, 2019.

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Tommy Sage Jr. has appeared once before on The Hot Bid, discussing a record-setting Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese robot toy.

Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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SOLD! The Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. It is flamelike and colored with bright yellow and red and hunter green. It's kind of teardrop-shaped.

Update: The Lino Tagliapietra small dinosaur sold for $17,500.

What you see: A Lino Tagliapietra dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Suzanne Perrault, partner and co-director of Rago’s 20th and 21st century design department.

First, how is Lino Tagliapietra’s name pronounced? Tag-lee-uh-pee-et-tra? Perfect!

How prolific is Lino Tagliapietra? Is he still working? He was born in 1934 and just turned 85. He is still working and regularly coming up with new techniques and series. He gives hope to all of us!

When did his “Dinosaur” series start? It started in 1997.

Why are these pieces called Dinosaurs? It has something to do with creatures of the Murano lagoon surrounding him, and the struggle between the heaviness and difficulty of handling glass in a large piece, while it is, at the same time, such a delicate material.  Lino can be very creative with how he brands his piece – look up “Batman!”

The reverse side of the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur looks vaguely like a sunflower bloom.

How well-regarded is the Dinosaur series among his works? Is it among the most sought-after? Lino has done a great many series and continues to invent new ones regularly. Some works also don’t have specific names. I’m sure some collectors like the swooping grace of dinosaurs best of everything. Personally, I’m a coldwork lover. [Coldwork describes techniques performed on glass at room temperature.] My favorite piece we’ve ever offered was this one because of all the different patterns offered on it.

What defines this piece as “small”? How big do his Dinosaurs tend to get? Well over 40 inches. At 21 inches tall, this is the tiniest I’ve seen.

What qualities make this an “exceptional small Dinosaur,” per the lot notes? It has a lovely, manageable scale. Its surface is also cold-worked in battuto and inciso, which they aren’t always. These are both carving patterns on glass, battuto being shorter and squatter, like a hammer mark on metal. Inciso refers to narrower marks, more reminiscent of wood grain. They add a dimension to the piece which collectors really appreciate. The way the colored elements are assembled is referred to as incalmo. It’s a difficult technique, and one that Lino and his crew have mastered like few others. All that together makes this Dinosaur an exceptional piece.

The Lino Tagliapietre Dinosaur shown against a black backdrop.

What details or characteristics mark it as a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur? The bulbous base, the elongated, twisted neck, and the impossibly small foot. While he has other bulbous shapes–something he might well have picked up from Archimede Seguso, his mentor–the Dinosaur’s shape is full of motion.

Are its colors typical or atypical for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur?  Dinosaurs come in a very wide variety of colors and patterns. This is a difficult question to answer as there is not a specific color palette in this series.

How many people does Lino Tagliapietra work with to produce a Dinosaur? What is the production process like? I’ve seen him make a Dinosaur in a demonstration, and he probably had at least three or four people around him. It was a pretty big space, so there might have been more spread around. You can see him blow something like that on YouTube videos.  That’s just for the blowing part. The coldwork is done later by a company in Murano, I believe. For the most complicated shapes, he can be surrounded by as many as a dozen assistants. He’s also terribly popular, so I’m thinking there’s a line around the block for the opportunity to assist the maestro.

The lot notes say the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur has an etched signature and date. Is that typical? Yes. Lino signs pretty much everything he makes.

The Dinosaur form looks kind of… precarious. What stops Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs from tipping over and breaking? They’re well-balanced. They’re not as tippy as they appear, and they’re fairly heavy.

How often do Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs come to auction? No more than a few a year at auction, like two or three lately, world-wide.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? At the risk of sounding obvious, it’s really small. It feels like a little dancer en pointe, which is heightened by the tiny, clear foot. It also looks like a flame. The experience of seeing this particular work is completely different from being confronted with a bold, large piece of glass.

What is the world auction record for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, and for a Lino Tagliapietra piece, period? We hold the world record for a Lino work, a twelve-piece Masai installation we sold in May 2018 for a price of almost $119,000. We sold a Dinosaur for $31,250 in 2017. Camard (Paris) beat that by a little in 2011 with the Barry Friedman Collection, I believe, with a hammer price of E20,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Pretty much every unique piece of Lino sticks in my memory. I don’t know when I will see another Dinosaur of this size. It packs a lot of punch.

How to bid: The Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur is lot 1559 in Contemporary Glass Featuring Dan Dailey: From the Barbara Tarleton Collection, a sale taking place at Rago on September 22, 2019.

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Suzanne Perrault appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a record-setting Dale Chihuly chandelier.

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Wilson Bentley Snowflake Photos Could Fetch $12,000 at Sotheby’s

What you see: One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley. Sotheby’s estimates the group at $8,000 to $12,000.

The expert: Hermione Sharp, associate specialist in the photographs department at Sotheby’s New York.

Let’s start by talking about Wilson Bentley–who he was, and how he became interested in photographing snowflakes. He was a farmer from Jericho, Vermont. I understand he lived on the farm his whole life. At some point, his mother had a microscope. For his birthday, as a teen, he asked for a better one. He was in Vermont, and he was around snow a lot. Around the age of 20, he wanted to document snowflakes on camera. It took him a while to figure out how to do that. Once he did, he ran with it.

Was he the first to tackle the problem of how to capture snowflakes on film before they melted? More or less. Some had tried here and there, but no one had the interest that he did. He was determined to get good pictures of snowflakes. They melted so quickly, it was hard to do.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did he solve the problem? He put together an apparatus, a microscope attached to a camera. That’s how he was able to capture the images we see today.

I understand the invention relied on a bellows. What’s a bellows? In 19th century pictures, you’ll see cameras with a long accordion thing at the front. That’s a bellows. That extension allowed him to get to the microscope, to get the image taken through the microscope itself. Later, he added a piece of wood with [attached to] a band of leather to pull the focus back and forth on the microscope.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How did Bentley create these images? He would run around his backyard, catching snowflakes on a piece of velvet. He’d run back to the camera and move the snowflakes around with a feather to get the one he wanted. When he got one he liked, he’d move it onto a microscope slide, stick it in the camera, run to the other side of the camera, and focus. Then he got the picture. He would do a lot of this outside in the cold.

And he did it before we had Gore-tex or other modern cold-weather gear. No Gore-tex, and no electricity. From what I’ve read, he had no electricity. To expose the pictures, he used natural daylight.

What sort of shutter speed did he need to use? He had about two minutes before the snowflake would melt. The exposure, I think, was a minute and a half long.

Did he have any assistants? I don’t believe so. There’s no mention of assistants in the records I found. He would have been helping his family on the farm to some extent, but I think they didn’t understand why he was doing that, and why he wasn’t helping them more.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

How many snowflake images did Bentley take? He took over 5,300 by the end of his life.

The Wilson Bentley snowflake photos are described as “photomicrographs”. What are photomicrographs? Did Bentley invent the photomicrograph process? A photomicrograph is a photograph of a microscopic object, taken with the aid of a microscope. He did not invent the process. I don’t know who’s really credited with it. It was used before Bentley used it, to photograph blood cells in the mid-19th century.

What can we tell, just by looking at these photomicrographs, how difficult they were to make? We all know how small a snowflake is. You can see how much he was able to magnify it himself, with 19th century equipment. You can see how detailed they are. They show the work put into the images. You can see not just the outsides [of the snowflakes] but the unique designs, the details in the prints themselves.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

I found a quote on Wikipedia about Bentley that said, “He did it so well that hardly anybody bothered to photograph snowflakes for almost 100 years.” What was it about the quality and strength of his photographs that convinced everyone else to leave the field to him? He really was the first to be able to photograph snowflakes the way that he did–over 5,000, and he did publish a book in the final year of his life. He devoted himself entirely to this. We don’t really see snowflake photos by anyone else [during this period]. I can see how that would be true.

How responsible were Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos for promoting the idea that no two snowflakes are alike? Very important. He basically figured it out. Nobody knew that before. He shot the first image in 1885, and he died in 1931. He never saw two that were the same.

Did he ever deliberately market and sell any of his snowflake images as collectible works of art? Might he have sold some of them to fund his snowflake photography work? I actually don’t know. I could not find anywhere [evidence or discussion] if he sold prints during his life. He would have sold some slides to American schools and museums, and sold them to fashion designers and jewelers as inspiration for design. But I don’t know if he sold them for money. In 1904, he contacted the Smithsonian. He had taken 2,000 images [by then] and he wanted them to take the best images for long-term preservation. They did, and they sent him some money for supplies.

One of a group of ten images of snowflakes captured between the late 1890s and the 1920s by photographer Wilson Bentley.

So Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photos were not seen as artistic images during his lifetime? I would say they were mostly viewed as scientific images. I’m sure a lay person could understand the beauty of seeing snowflakes up close. But I can’t imagine him framing them and sticking them up on the walls. He did not try to decorate his house [with them]. He wanted people to know his research he was doing, scientifically speaking.

So people start seeing Wilson Bentley snowflake photos as art some time after he dies in 1931? In terms of the art market, I didn’t find auction records for these before 2005. Dealers sold them here and there over the years. They didn’t get to the secondary art market for a long time.

The date range for this group of ten Wilson Bentley snowflake photos spans the late 1890s to the 1920s. Why is the span so wide? We just don’t know when they were taken. They’re not dated. When we get a set, we use the widest range we can. We err on the side of caution.

It’s odd that he did not date the snowflake images, given that he saw himself as doing scientific work. You’d think he’d want to, if only to see if certain patterns emerged over time. It is interesting, and we don’t know why [he didn’t date them]. In general, photographers did not sign or date all their things until the 20th century. It’s not unusual to see prints like this that are unsigned.

The lot notes describe the group as “selected images”. Who did the selecting? Were the Wilson Bentley snowflake photos released originally as this specific group of ten, or did someone along the way pull them together? “Selected” is just what we say when we have a group of photographs from one photographer. It came to us this way from one collector.

How often do Wilson Bentley snowflake photos come to auction? On a fairly regular basis. We see a set once a season, maybe.

Are they always in some sort of group, or do individuals come up? We have not offered individuals at Sotheby’s. They sell on their own for a few hundred.

What are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs like in person? They’re not black and white. They have deep, dark brown tones, and some are slightly lighter than others. The darks are not just black–they’re almost black-brown. In person, you can really see the lovely dark chocolate browns. The whites are not white–they’re a creamy color. And there’s a bit of silvering in some of the dark areas, which is typical of something of this age. It adds a beautiful look to each object on its own. They’re quite small–four inches by three inches, which is the size they always are.

Do you have a favorite among the ten? This [above] is the one we chose to reproduce in the catalog, and it remains my favorite. It is a beautifully symmetrical shape, from the center all the way to the formation of the six “arms”, which I think are called dendrites. There is so much detail captured in this tiny print.

What condition are the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs in? They’re really in quite excellent condition for prints of the late 19th century. There’s barely anything to report. The silvering is not distracting. It’s in the darks. You’ve got to hold them in high, raking light, at an angle, to notice it.

I understand the Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs are framed. Is that unusual? Do we know when they were framed? They were framed pretty recently by the owner. The frames wouldn’t be original to them. I can’t imagine Bentley would have framed anything.

How many groups of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs have you handled? I started in 2015. Since then, this is the sixth group.

How does this set compare to the other five? It’s really nice, but they’re all very comparable sets. He clearly uses the same process over and over. All six sets that have come up during my time have sold. In October 2016, we sold a group for $22,500.

Is that the world auction record for a set of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs? It’s up there. Swann sold an album of 25 in February 2016 for $52,000. The next three records are all Sotheby’s, including the one I mentioned.

Why will this group of Wilson Bentley snowflake photographs stick in your memory? It’s a nice selection of different snowflakes, as good a variety of shapes that you can have. What seems to be important to Bentley–he really was passionate about what he did. In his book, he documents snowflakes by shape. That was important to him. He died right after his book came out, of pnemonia, after walking around in the snow. His legacy lives on. He achieved his goal.

How to bid: The group of 10 Wilson Bentley Snowflake photographs is lot 142 in the Classic Photographs sale at Sotheby’s New York on October 3, 2019.

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SOLD! The Print of President Theodore Roosevelt Dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier.

Update: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House sold for $2,250.

What you see: A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier. Heritage Auctions estimates it could sell for $2,000 or more.

The expert: Curtis Lindner, associate director of Americana at Heritage Auctions.

How did the dinner come about? Why did it make sense for President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House in 1901? Roosevelt was not the first president to invite African-Americans to the White House, but Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to dine at the White House. Washington was an advisor to Roosevelt.

What did Booker T. Washington advise President Theodore Roosevelt on? He advised him on horrible things happening to African-Americans, and wanted to get them more rights. That was a reason to invite him to dinner–to discuss voting rights in the South. Roosevelt probably had it in his mind that he wanted to run for president in 1905. Having Washington talk about voting for Roosevelt was very important. He was also a good friend of Roosevelt as well.

When did the two men become friends? Probably when Roosevelt was vice president. And when Roosevelt was governor of New York, he had invited African-Americans to the governor’s mansion, and had invited them to stay overnight. That didn’t become national news because he was a governor. When he did it as president, there was an uproar in the South. There are graphic quotes. The n-word was used extensively. Horrible things were said [along the lines of]–‘How dare he defame the White House by inviting him to dinner,’ and ‘How dare he dine with Roosevelt’s wife and white children.’ [Roosevelt had three sons and a daughter at the time.]

Was the uproar in all of the South? A majority. U.S. Senators and Congressmen made these comments. It seemed to be acceptable at the time.

How did the Northern states react? A lot of Northerners did support it. It was primarily the South, and a lot of Southern politicians, that didn’t like it at all.

Did the White House announce the dinner before it happened, or after? The White House announced it, from what I understand, after the dinner. Washington was up there for some sort of conference, and Roosevelt sent him a telegram inviting him to the White House. I don’t know if Roosevelt expected an uproar.

It sounds like it was spontaneous. Yes, it was more of a spontaneous thing. It was not fancy. It was just Booker T. Washington and Roosevelt’s family. And there were other people there–servants coming through as well. This is a “pro” print. It’s in support of the Roosevelt-Washington dinner. There are “con” buttons that depict Washington in caricature, and with bottles of liquor on the table, as if they were getting drunk. Those can sell for several hundred dollars, as well as the “pro”. There are also two versions of the “pro” print–one where the tablecloth says “Equality”, and one where it doesn’t. Both have the image of Lincoln between Roosevelt and Washington.

Yes, now that I look more closely at the print, there’s no hint of alcohol. No glasses are on the table, and maybe that’s a water carafe in the foreground? Absolutely. The “con” image is different from the “pro” buttons and the “pro” print. Washington has larger, curlier hair, and there’s no Lincoln between them. The juxtaposition is so interesting between the “con” image and the “pro” print.

The lot notes describe the dinner as a “public relations mistake Roosevelt never repeated.” What made the dinner a public relations mistake? After the uproar, the White House backpedaled a little, claiming it was a lunch. It was at 8 pm at night. It was not a lunch. The White House [might have said to Roosevelt] ‘We have a perception problem, Mister President.’ It was bad publicity for the president and the government in the eyes of many, especially in the South. I’m sure it took some time for this to go away. And Roosevelt never invited another African-American to dine at the White House. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have them over to visit, but there were no dinners or lunches. He probably didn’t want to deal with more controversy.

The dinner took place in 1901, but the print is dated 1903. What accounts for the two-year lag between the event and the publication of the print? I don’t have a definitive answer. What comes to mind is in late 1903 and early 1904, Roosevelt started running for president. Could he be trying to look good to the African-American population? On the other hand, would he want to remind the white American South about how mad they were when an African-American was in the White House? I don’t have a definitive answer. I could see how [a printer] would put it out a month after the dinner, but why two years after? Why wait those two years?

Well, in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of Irish Catholic homes displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy alongside the Pope. Could this print of President Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington have served the same sort of cultural role in African-American homes? That’s a good point. That could very well be why.

So, who would have been the audience for this print? Middle-class African-Americans? I would think it would be more for the African-American community. It’s a very flattering print of two brilliant men sitting down to eat. It was probably a coveted print that hung in a home next to a print of Abraham Lincoln.

Did you find any evidence that this could have been printed by a press that also offered an African-American newspaper? I could not find any information about that.

Is it possible that the Republican Party, or a local Republican group, might have commissioned the print to support Roosevelt’s 1905 campaign? I don’t think so at all.

And I take it this is a fanciful rendering of the dinner? There probably wasn’t a print of Abraham Lincoln hanging in the room where they ate? We do not know if there was an image of Lincoln in the room, but it was smart for the artist to add it. I’m sure he put it there with a lot of thought behind it. But there’s no actual photo or drawing of them having dinner. There was no White House photographer then. The images of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington’s faces were used in other memorabilia. What you see is an artist’s rendition of what the dinner might have been like.

Yeah, the faces of the men look like they were lifted from two different photographs. Exactly. They [the artist or the printer] found other images and used the faces for this purpose.

It’s odd that Roosevelt and Washington aren’t looking at each other. It is strange. The artist could have had them looking at each other. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.

What condition is the print in? There’s some damage to it, some edge roughness, but this is overall a good example. The majority of examples have some condition issues–the print is 116 years old, and it’s ephemeral by nature.

Do we have any notion of how many of these prints were made, and how many survive? We’ve sold four examples, the highest for $5,250 in June 2018. I’ve probably seen 15 to 20 examples. I’m sure it was made in some quantity.

Why will this print stick in your memory? To me, I think, it shows we can look past our differences. Roosevelt was a great man who saw he could take advice from African-Americans and treat them equally. This print makes me think we have a chance in thus country to all get along.

How to bid: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House is lot #43316 in The David and Janice Frent Collection, Presidential and Political Americana, Part VI auction, taking place at Heritage Auctions on September 21 – 22, 2019.

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A Mangling Board Carved from Icelandic Driftwood in 1742 Could Fetch $19,000 at Bonhams

What you see: A carved driftwood mangling board, created in Iceland in 1742. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $12,000 to $19,000.

The expert: David Houlston, specialist for the sale of the Brookwell Collection of Smoothing Implements at Bonhams Oxford.

What is a “mangling board,” and how was it used? It’s the forerunner of the mangle. It comes in two parts–most have been separated. It comes with what looks like a rolling pin [called a roller] that’s the length of the mangling board itself. You’d roll cloth or linen or bedlinen around the roller and rub it back and forth [on the mangling board] to smooth it out. That’s how you’d get the nice, neat straight lines [in the cloth]. There was no heat involved. It was all manual labor.

I realize this mangling board has long since lost its roller, but what would the roller have looked like? Would it have been as elaborately decorated as the mangling board? No. It would be totally plain, plain Jane. It had to be completely smooth.

How effective was it to smooth out clothes and linens with a roller and a mangling board? It was quite questionable. I think the majority of mangling boards were love tokens.

And that’s why these mangling boards are elaborately carved–they are meant as love tokens? Probably, yes. If someone gave you an iron, you’d wrap it around their neck, but I assume this was different. These mangling boards were a huge amount of work.

This mangling board is described as “very rare”. What makes it very rare? It’s Icelandic. You don’t get trees growing in Iceland. Any timber they would get would be driftwood that washed ashore. You’d literally have to wait to find a piece of driftwood [good enough to create a mangling board like this one]. And it’s dated. It’s an early date for a mangling board.

Is it rare to find a mangling board with a date on it, regardless? Quite a lot in the sale are dated, but that’s probably because the collection was formed over 60 years. They [the collectors] went for the better pieces. Maybe one in ten are dated [in general].

If this was a love token, does that mean that it wouldn’t have been used as a mangling board? Yes.

What clues point to it being created as a love token? The hand might symbolize the hand at home–his hand [the husband, who would also be the carver] at the end. If she used it, she would “hold his hand” as he worked in the fields, or at sea. The hand at the end is the part you hold [when using the mangling board to smooth fabric].

There’s a heart framed by scrolls at the top that have writing on them. Is that another clue? The heart was typical of giving your heart away, that sort of thing. The writing is typical of it. That’s how we know it’s Icelandic. The writing is a form of Höfdaletur, which is their script.

A grid of letters that represent a form of Höfdaletur, an Icelandic script, and how the same letterforms vary as they appear on the Icelandic mangling board.

Yeah, when I requested images I was also sent a grid of letters with the letters A, B, E, K, R… It shows you how to write those letters in their script.

And it shows you how the letters show up on the board? Yes. It makes them difficult to read. [Additional lot notes sent later explain “depending on the shape of the driftwood the carver would either have to expand or contract the font to fit the available space.”]

They’re the same letters, in different forms on the board? Yes, absolutely. That’s why many people can’t read it.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this mangling board would have been to carve? It’s one piece of wood. It was exceptionally difficult to carve. It’s not just the quality of the relief carving–it’s got cut-away carving.

And I imagine, seeing as the 18th-century Icelandic carver had to hunt down driftwood, he didn’t have many opportunities to practice… There probably weren’t. This is one big piece. [It measures 23 inches long by two and a half inches wide by one and a half inches deep.]

Does the mangling board show signs of wear? The underside and the ends of it are worn. But it’s 250 years old. It’s going to have signs of wear whether it was used or not.

Have you handled it? Yes.

What was that like? Is it heavy? Not particularly heavy, no. It is tactile.

The mangling board bears this inscription: “Gudrun Bjarnesdatter is the legal owner of this mangling board and has obtained it in an honest way.” Why would she have felt the need to inscribe the board with this language? Standard ownership, really. It’s a way of saying, “This is mine, I’m the legal owner.” That’s not rare.

What would it have meant in 18th century Iceland to have obtained a mangling board in an “honest way”? I don’t know. To put a name on it and say “that’s mine” is not unusual. But obtaining it in an “honest way”? I don’t know.

What’s your favorite detail of this mangling board? Probably the hand. It is quite rare to get a carved hand. I like the idea of clasping the hand when you use it. It makes sense. The rest [other mangling boards] have rounded ends. It makes you feel a connection to the person who is using it.

Why will this mangling board stick in your memory? Because personally, I wasn’t very familiar with Icelandic text. And it’s a different form. A lot of mangling boards are chip carving–that’s much more the norm. To have different Celtic motifs and cutaway carving makes it stand out.

How to bid: The 18th century Icelandic carved driftwood mangling board is lot 968 in the auction of the Brookwell Collection of Smoothing Implements, taking place on October 2, 2019 at Bonhams Oxford.

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SOLD! The George Ohr Vase Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, dating to 1897 to 1900.

Update: The George Ohr vase sold for $10,625.

What you see: An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” dating to 1897 to 1900. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

How prolific was George Ohr? He made about 10,000 pots during his career, from about 1885 to about 1909. Because the work was virtually unsaleable, most of it survived. Because the work was often paper-thin, much of it has minor damage. The entire body of work was stored away in Biloxi, some in the private homes of relatives, and the rest held by his surviving son. That, in and of itself, is a great story.

What makes this an “exceptional large vase” by Ohr, per the lot notes? What’s a more typical size for him? And specifically, what makes it “exceptional”? Ohr tended to work in “hand-sized” pots, as I like to call them. Four inches by four inches is typical. It seemed he could manipulate a pot uniformly, in integrated gestures, to complete something original and in the moment. He was very much an artist who worked with the flow the material–spinning clay, of a very elastic variety–and his own creative impulse. There is an immediacy to his best work, which is why it has captured the attention of collectors, artists, gallerists, and museums since 1970, when it was first put out on the open market. The vase in question is much larger than most and has two complicated handles. These tall, handled pots are a subset of his work that have remained among the more highly regarded this last half-century.

How often did Ohr create vases? Was that a favorite form of his? Is it a form that Ohr collectors prefer? One man, one pot. He dug the clay from a local river, wheelbarrowed to his Pot-Ohr-E, which he build with his own hands from the ground up, including the kiln. He threw on a wheel, endeavored to make “no two pots alike”, like human souls, and devoted his life to making truly unique work that no one wanted to buy.

Is ‘Pot-Ohr-E’ his term, or a whimsical term of your invention? His. “Mary had a little lamb.  George had a Pot-Ohr-E.”

The George Ohr vase is described as having ‘ear handles’. What are ear handles, and how often do they appear in his work? A small percentage of Ohr’s work had paired handles–unlike pitchers, say, which had one handle for pouring. Of the 10,000 pieces he produced, less than one percent received this treatment. I say this based on what I’ve actually seen [which is] about half his body of work, since 1973 when I handled my first piece, and period photos of him and his wares.

The George Ohr vase is described as having a ‘serrated rim’. How often does that feature appear in his work? Far less than one percent of the time. It’s not a decorative technique I think particularly interesting. The handles are the main point here. The pot itself is fairly straightforward, and the brown/green glaze is typical of much of his work.

How do all these elements–vase form, ear handles, serrated rim, ochre and gunmetal-speckled in color, large size–affect its appeal to collectors? Is it rare to have all these things in one Ohr piece? Any pot by Ohr this size with large double handles is quite rare and elevates it in the minds of collectors, both in stature and price, to the top ten percent of his production.

Is this vase unique? With rare exceptions, all of his work is unique. That was his fundamental approach, that art should occur in the moment, through an artist’s connection with his or her spirit, manifest in the craft. I don’t know that he actually worded it this way, but he spoke of souls and God, and it’s clear he was trying to capture something larger than to just make a pottery vase.

Did Ohr intend his vases to be functional, or purely sculptural? Are they meant to be used? He gave them functions, but I think that was just a starting point. For example, he made a double coffee/teapot where you poured coffee from the right and tea from the left. The lids were fused to it in the firing, so it didn’t actually function. I can’t speak for the man, but I’m sure he did not intend for these to actually be used to hold flowers or potables.

Would Ohr have created this vase entirely on his own, or would he have relied on assistants for certain parts of the production? Very few pieces of Ohr were done in any capacity by anyone but Ohr. He did have an assistant for a brief time, a Mr. Portman, whose initials have appeared on some pieces. He also worked with the famed potter Susan Frackelton, whose name [or] initials also appear on such pots. But 99 percent of the time, you buy a piece of Ohr, you’re buying Ohr’s hand.

How do we know this is an Ohr? Are fakes a problem with Ohr ceramics? There are a lot of fakes. His work has been augmented and copied by various people since the mid-1970s. The way to know a fake is to know Ohr’s work. If you’re buying this stuff online, on eBay, or from someone who is not a known expert in Ohr, it can be a rough ride. 

What sorts of Ohr fakes have been identified? The earliest fakes were in fact Ohr pieces, but ones he only bisque-fired and never glazed. Early sellers, thinking this work incomplete, and knowing it was hard to sell back in the 1970s, augmented them with glazing of their own. The next run of fakes were made from the ground up, with pieces usually of red clay and jet black glazing, rolled out and turned into hollowware vessels. These bore entirely the block stamp mark, which the fakers recreated using printer’s type, as Ohr did originally. Then came the absurd fakes, about mid- to late 1980s, which were dreadful pieces having nothing to do with Ohr’s work. Imagine, if you would, a piece of pottery that looks like a tree branch. Whatever mark was on the bottom of it was covered with plaster and “Ohr” crudely etched into it. As though that wasn’t stupid enough, that particular faker then spray-painted part of the work in day-glo colors.

George Ohr made this vase between 1897 and 1900. Was that a strong period for him? This is arguably his best period. He was still glazing pots at this time. He later switched to bisque fire only–“God put no color in souls, and I’ll put no color on my pots”–but was also at his creative peak in manipulation and overall concept of what he pieces could be. That is definitely his power alley period.

How have you seen the Ohr market change over time, in general? Mostly up, though with peaks and valleys.  We are not at a high point, but close to that level, in today’s market.

The 2011 description says the vase has “ribbon handles” and a “ripped rim”. Why might the language that describes these details changed between then and now? Just a different cataloguer at this point in time.  They are both correct in their way.

How does this Ohr vase compare to other Ohr vases you’ve had? I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. If this were a truly exceptional two-handled piece, the glaze would be red with orange and blue spots, the vase would have an in-body twist at its center, and it would be worth maybe seven to ten times the price.

What’s the world auction record for a piece by George Ohr? Sotheby’s sold a pot for 130,000 at auction in 2006. I sold a piece privately for about 150k about the same time.

What is it like to hold this vase in your hands? What is it like in person?Most are much lighter than you would expect, the fragility being an extension of the ephemeral nature of being human, I would surmise. If you were to handle a later bisque piece, it would be as though you were handling a large potato chip. The thinness of the work results from the local clay he developed and his unparalleled prowess at the potter’s wheel.

Rago sold this vase in June 2011 for $6,820 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. What does it say about the Ohr market that it’s up again eight years later with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000? Ohr is one of the few potters from the art pottery period whose work has retained value and even, in some cases, gone up.  That is because of an international market for the material, and the crossover to fine art buyers who recognize his importance as an artist.

How to bid: The George Ohr vase is lot 116 in the Early 20th Century Design auction at Rago on September 21, 2019.


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

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The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (OOMA) in Biloxi, Mississippi is devoted to Ohr and his work. (O’Keefe is the name of the family who made a major donation to the museum.) It has posted an online exhibit of Ohr pottery.

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WOW! The B.B. King Lucille Guitar Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien's estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

Update: The prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King, sold for $280,000–well above its estimate.

What you see: A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien’s estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

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

So, let’s start by explaining the deal with Lucille. How many Lucilles did B.B. King have over the course of his career? Is there an official count? There’s no official count, but we know there were many. Lucille dates back to 1949, when he was in his 20s and playing a venue in Arkansas. It was heated by a bucket of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men, and the kerosene was kicked over and started a fire. B.B. King realized he’d left his guitar behind, a very inexpensive Gibson arch top, and ran into the burning building and got it out. He found out that the fight was over a woman called Lucille.

And B.B. King named that guitar and all his subsequent main guitars Lucille as a reminder not to do something silly like run into a burning building to save a guitar? And to never fight over a woman.

So B.B. King had many Lucilles over the years, and not all looked the same, but what are the characteristics of a Lucille? What do most of us think of when we think of his guitar, Lucille? When you talk about what’s recognized as a Lucille, it’s black with gold hardware, and it’s a Gibson ES-345 guitar. It probably dates back to 1967, when he shifted his affection to the Gibson 345. That’s a luxurious model, a high-end guitar, very fitting for the king of the blues, B. B. King.

There are several Lucilles in the September 21 auction, but this particular one has the highest estimate of all. What makes this B.B. King Lucille guitar that much more valuable than the others? It’s a prototype, made for his 80th birthday. It was prototype one. He played it for the rest of his life. His last performance, in 2014, was with this particular guitar. It was one he cherished, and it was so beautifully done, customized for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. [King died in 2015, at the age of 89.]

And it became his main guitar from the time he received it from Gibson? Yes. This was his main guitar. He cherished it. There always seems to be a story to Lucille–this one was stolen from him in 2009, and he was devastated. It showed up in a pawn shop [later in 2009] in Las Vegas. A guitar dealer found it, sweaty, with broken strings, and with “prototype one guitar” on the back. He contacted Gibson, which put him in contact with B.B. King. He was very happy to be reunited with the Lucille guitar. He traded [a different guitar] to the dealer, saying, “I hope you enjoy playing this as much as I enjoy playing this prototype guitar.”

Does the fact that the B.B. King Lucille guitar was stolen and recovered make it more interesting to collectors? Its intrinsic value is $8,000 to $10,000, let’s say. I think the John Lennon Gibson we sold for $2.4 million had an intrinsic value of $2,000. That was stolen at a Christmas show in 1963. People loved the story, and it definitely played into it selling for $2.4 million.

A closeup of the lavishly decorated neck of the B.B. King Lucille guitar.

Do we know how many concerts B.B. King played with this Lucille? It would have been in the hundreds. He worked tirelessly. In his heyday, he played over 300 concerts a year. He came from very humble beginnings and he strived to become famous. When he got to a plateau in his career he never wanted to let go of that. He enjoyed playing music.

Does the September 21 sale represent the first time any B.B. King-owned and -stage played Lucille guitars have gone to auction? It’s the first time B.B. King has gone to auction with any of his guitars. It’s coming directly from his home to the auction block. That’s where the value is–the provenance, the chain of ownership, collectors love that. Being the next owner after the celebrity adds huge value.

What condition is the B.B. King Lucille guitar in? There’s no one area I’d say is worn down. It’s a heavy-duty guitar, a beauty of a guitar, but you can look at it and see it’s not pristine. There are little scratches that indicate it’s not a brand new guitar.

Have you played it? I have not, but I’ve held it many times. It’s amazing.

Is it well-balanced? It’s very well-balanced. It’s a very, very heavy guitar. For me to carry it for a period of time, it’s a challenge. I have handled many, many guitars, and this one stands out as being particularly heavy.

Is it solid? Semi-solid.

Would its weight have affected its sound? Yes, it definitely affects the sound. That’s why he liked it. He collaborated with Gibson on the guitar and definitely, the weight impacted the sound. That was important to B.B. King as a bluesman.

A closeup on the body of the B.B. King Lucille guitar, showing the decorative crown and the bluesman's signature, rendered in gold on gold.

What is your favorite detail on this B.B. King Lucille guitar? The gold inlay, the crown representing the king, his signature in gold on it–it’s just a beautiful instrument.

How to bid: The stage-played prototype B.B. King Lucille guitar is lot 543 in Property from the Estate of B.B. King, talking place at Julien’s Auctions on September 21, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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A Frank Lloyd Wright Armchair Could Sell for $18,000 at Heritage Auctions

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and shown in profile.

What you see: A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $12,000 to $18,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Could we start by telling the story of Price Tower, and how it came to be, and how it fits within the body of work of Frank Lloyd Wright? Price Tower was built in 1956. It’s a really interesting example of the work Wright was doing at the end of his life and career. [He died in 1959 at the age of 91.] He was approached by the Price family from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Harold Price Sr. had a family business in oil and energy. Bartlesville is just outside Tulsa, a center of that [oil and energy businesses] at the time. He wanted to build a new headquarters for his company, and was looking for an architect. His sons, who were taking classes in architecture, initially recommended Bruce Goff, the truly maverick architect of this period. He taught at the University of Oklahoma. He met with Price and recommended meeting with Wright instead.

What happened when the Prices met Wright? They asked him to build something three to four stories tall. He proposed a 19-story skyscraper instead, in the middle of the prairie. They were swept along with his enthusiasm for the project and it was built. Wright called it “the tree that escaped the crowded forest”.

A casual armchair, aka a sloped armchair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Here, it is shown in full from the front.

Is this the first time a Frank Lloyd Wright armchair from Price Tower has gone to auction? No. There have been a handful that have come up over the years. I count at least four of this model. About 15 years ago, an initial group of furniture from Price Tower sold in New York, and a handful have circulated and been on the market since.

Do all the Frank Lloyd Wright armchairs of this design look like this one–silver-colored frame with red upholstery? There are different variations, with different finishes and different colors of paint. We believe this one has its original paint finish. It’s been reupholstered, but in fabric that’s as close to the original as possible.

The lot notes say “some forty were originally specified”. Were 40 in fact made? I don’t know, but I suspect there were about 40 made. Some were sold and circulated over the years. The Price Tower Arts Center has many in their collection. Price Tower, the building, is now owned and operated by the nonprofit Price Tower Arts Center. It’s preserving, and in the process of preserving, more period rooms in the building, restoring them to how they were created. The funds from the sale will help them continue their core mission of preserving Price Tower.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown from the rear in three-quarter view.

The seat and the back of this armchair have a hexagonal shape. I also see hexagons in the back and seat of a different Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower chair offered in the sale. Are hexagons a main design motif of the building? I wouldn’t say hexagons, as such, are specifically a formal motif Wright used, but the building is entirely about angles. It’s formed as a series of triangles locked together at 30 degrees, 60 degrees. Wright was exploring geometry in a more complex way than boxes and rectangles. The angular design is mimicked and repeated in the furniture that was designed.

So they’re not so much hexagons as joined triangles? Yeah, I would say so.

How many Frank Lloyd Wright lots are in the October 1 sale? About 20 lots. Many are works for Price Tower, and many are duplicates from within the Price Tower Arts Center collection. Some were donated by Carolyn Price, the wife of Harold Price, Jr., who passed away last year.

A design drawing for the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower.

We have that great quote from Wright talking about the Price Tower, but do we have any quotes from Harold Price, Sr., or others in his family about this particular chair design? I don’t have anything at hand for you, but generally, the furniture was greeted with mixed reviews by the people who had to use it. It was designed for company offices, and the staff was meant to use the furniture. There are stories of people bringing their own chairs or desks in. The Price family must have been happy enough, because they were patrons of Frank Lloyd Wright for many years.

A detail shot of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair, showing the spine-like appearance of the back strut.

The metal spine of the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair makes me think of vertebrae. Is that deliberate? Is the back of the chair meant to imitate a spine? I think it’s an innovative use of material. Cast aluminum was not usually done at the time. Wright found a local person to do the work. He used a single material to provide the frame of the chair and provide a decorative layer to the chair at the same time. It’s one of the reasons I find the chair so compelling.

To me, it looks like the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair would have been seen as futuristic in 1956. Was the chair design considered futuristic? I don’t know how it was considered, but Price Tower was completed at a time when Wright was doing a very forward, very unique type of architecture. A couple of years later, he completed the Guggenheim in New York. His residential projects of the time were different and new. To a certain extent, people came to expect it from Wright. It was 20 years since he had done Fallingwater. He had moved quite a bit past his early and mid-career periods. At the same time, it was the mid-1950s. There were a lot of new ideas being generated through the applied arts, and seen throughout the American mid-century movement. I’m not sure the degree to which it was so surprising. Also, the armchair was not made for the mass market. It was a private commission. Wright had the freedom to experiment.

This is described as a “casual armchair”. Why? What makes it casual? I think it’s probably a reference to the slope of the arms, which allows for a more casual sitting position.

The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower, shown in full from the rear.

Have you sat in the Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I have.

What’s that like? It’s fine. It’s like many chairs. It felt absolutely comfortable, but I don’t know what it’s like for eight or nine hours for a workday. It feels good to sit in. I don’t know if it would win any awards for ergonomic design.

Yeah, I’ve heard tell of how… how shall I put this… Wright making designs to please himself, and perhaps not thinking much about the people who would actually have to use his designs on a daily basis. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. The more I learn about Wright, [I am convinced] Wright cared about what his clients felt, and he did care about the function of his designs. But the wanted to consider the whole, and the unified whole, for that matter.

A three-quarter rear view of the Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower armchair.

What’s your favorite detail of this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I’d say it’s the interpretation of the pattern into the structure itself, primarily in the use of triangles. It’s an echo of the design of the building. It has very few right angles.

What’s the world auction record for this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair? I can find £48,000 (roughly $60,000) in 2007 at Christie’s South Kensington, London.

Is there any chance this example will meet or beat the one that sold at Christie’s? Is its provenance better? I think we have to wait and see. It’s a very strong market for Wright right now. This is a great example, and I hope collectors will recognize it as such. I hope we’ll get a good price for the Price Tower Arts Center.

Why will this Frank Lloyd Wright armchair stick in your memory? It has its own visual language, its own aesthetic vocabulary, that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Once you see it, you’ll remember it. In that way, it’s iconic.

How to bid: The Frank Lloyd Wright armchair for Price Tower in Oklahoma is lot #67050 in the October 1, 2019 Design sale at Heritage Auctions.

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Brent Lewis appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing Widow of a King, a 2006 work by Pae White.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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A TV Space Patrol Toy Car Could Command $5,000

A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

What you see: A TV Space Patrol toy car with box, made in Japan, probably in the mid-1950s. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Tommy Sage Jr., head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions.

Do we know when this TV Space Patrol toy car was made? I don’t see a date in the lot notes. There’s not an exact date, and there’s not an exact company. It just says “Made in Japan”. There is no maker [indicated] on the box or the car. I would say mid-1950s. It’s definitely 1950s, that’s for sure. It [looks like] a concept car or a Batmobile.

The cover of the box for the TV Space Patrol toy car, showing an astronaut driving a Motorama-looking dune buggy on the surface of the moon.

How often does the TV Space Patrol toy car come up with its original box? It’s rare with or without the box, but it’s especially rare with the box.

The TV Space Patrol car, shown overhead and at full length.

The lot notes describe its condition as “near mint”. What does that mean here? It’s got some scratches on top of the plastic dome. But usually, the dome is broken or missing. Most times, [the toy] doesn’t have it. This has it.

How many TV Space Patrol toy cars have you handled? I’ve handled four, and there were two boxed ones.

The TV Space Patrol toy car, shown in full, from the rear, in a three-quarter view.

Do we have any notion at all of how many TV Space Patrol toy cars might have been made, and how many might have been imported to the United States? We don’t know how many were made, but there probably weren’t many. I’ve had four in 40 years.

This is described as a “Friction-powered” toy. What does that mean? You push it forward, and it rolls forward. Also, the spaceman inside has a TV camera, and he rotates, like he’s taking pictures on a planet or something, I guess. [Laughs] It was [made] 15 years before we actually landed on the moon. The pulp magazines got some things correct, and some things not nearly correct.

The TV Space Patrol car shown in full profile, with its nose cones pointing to the left.

This TV Space Patrol toy car is definitely cooler-looking than the moon buggy that the Apollo astronauts drove on the lunar surface, I grant you that. It was a lot cooler. And it wasn’t large, maybe nine and a half inches long. Maybe it didn’t sell well because of that. If they had made this car bigger–15 inches instead of nine–it could be worth $20,000. That’s my opinion.

An angle on the TV Space Patrol toy car's box, showing it from the side.

The box calls this a “TV Space Patrol” toy car. Was there a TV show connected with it? No. There was a TV show called Space Patrol, but it had nothing to do with this.

A detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol toy car, focusing on the astronaut and his TV camera.

What’s your favorite detail of the TV Space Patrol toy car? The cones in the front are very cool. You can kind of twist them. They come off, and when they come off, they’re gone. Kids could pull them right off. They usually don’t survive. And having an astronaut with a smiling face [in the driver’s seat] that rotates and takes pictures is pretty neat.

If I was going to dream up a mid-20th century toy car, I would dream of this–something with fins and a dome and cones on the front. It’s impressive. It’s a really nice car, but seeing it in a book [before] seeing it in person, you think it’s going to be bigger. It’s not to scale.

Why did this particular TV Space Patrol toy car survive so well? I don’t know. Somebody probably owned it–there’s a ‘J’ written in pen on top of the box. Sometimes, kids write on the box. You see that a lot. Like a kid writing his name in a baseball glove–same thing.

Another detail shot of the dome of the TV Space Patrol car, showing the driver-astronaut-photographer in profile.

You mentioned earlier that the dome tends to be broken or missing, and the cones on the front tend to get lost. What other problems have you seen with TV Space Patrol toy cars? The hubcaps go missing. It has four white hubcaps, and they pry right off. A lot can go wrong with the car. If it’s in good condition, it will bring a lot of money.

We’re speaking on September 9, 2019, and there’s already a bid of $1,500 on the TV Space Patrol toy car. Is that meaningful? No. There are going to be a couple of serious bidders–usually calling in bids on the phone, or bidding during the auction.

What’s the world auction record for a TV Space Patrol toy car? Was it set at Morphy Auctions? In September 2013, we had one that brought $16,800. It might have been a shade nicer than this one. There was no scratching on the top of the dome. I would think that would be the record. I can’t remember one bringing more.

Why will this particular toy car stick in your memory? Because it’s boxed. I’m kind of a box freak. The box is probably worth as much as the toy. And there’s real character and a sense of history about the toy car because of when it was made–15 years before we landed on the moon.

How to bid: The TV Space Patrol toy car is lot 2194 in the Toy, Doll, & Figural Cast Iron sale at Morphy Auctions on September 24 and 25, 2019.

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Tommy Sage Jr. has appeared once before on The Hot Bid, discussing a record-setting Gang of Five Machine Man Japanese robot toy.

Image is courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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A Print of Theodore Roosevelt Dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House Could Command $2,000

A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier.

What you see: A 1903 print commemorating Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington at the White House two years earlier. Heritage Auctions estimates it could sell for $2,000 or more.

The expert: Curtis Lindner, associate director of Americana at Heritage Auctions.

How did the dinner come about? Why did it make sense for President Theodore Roosevelt to invite Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House in 1901? Roosevelt was not the first president to invite African-Americans to the White House, but Booker T. Washington was the first to be invited to dine at the White House. Washington was an advisor to Roosevelt.

What did Booker T. Washington advise President Theodore Roosevelt on? He advised him on horrible things happening to African-Americans, and wanted to get them more rights. That was a reason to invite him to dinner–to discuss voting rights in the South. Roosevelt probably had it in his mind that he wanted to run for president in 1905. Having Washington talk about voting for Roosevelt was very important. He was also a good friend of Roosevelt as well.

When did the two men become friends? Probably when Roosevelt was vice president. And when Roosevelt was governor of New York, he had invited African-Americans to the governor’s mansion, and had invited them to stay overnight. That didn’t become national news because he was a governor. When he did it as president, there was an uproar in the South. There are graphic quotes. The n-word was used extensively. Horrible things were said [along the lines of]–‘How dare he defame the White House by inviting him to dinner,’ and ‘How dare he dine with Roosevelt’s wife and white children.’ [Roosevelt had three sons and a daughter at the time.]

Was the uproar in all of the South? A majority. U.S. Senators and Congressmen made these comments. It seemed to be acceptable at the time.

How did the Northern states react? A lot of Northerners did support it. It was primarily the South, and a lot of Southern politicians, that didn’t like it at all.

Did the White House announce the dinner before it happened, or after? The White House announced it, from what I understand, after the dinner. Washington was up there for some sort of conference, and Roosevelt sent him a telegram inviting him to the White House. I don’t know if Roosevelt expected an uproar.

It sounds like it was spontaneous. Yes, it was more of a spontaneous thing. It was not fancy. It was just Booker T. Washington and Roosevelt’s family. And there were other people there–servants coming through as well. This is a “pro” print. It’s in support of the Roosevelt-Washington dinner. There are “con” buttons that depict Washington in caricature, and with bottles of liquor on the table, as if they were getting drunk. Those can sell for several hundred dollars, as well as the “pro”. There are also two versions of the “pro” print–one where the tablecloth says “Equality”, and one where it doesn’t. Both have the image of Lincoln between Roosevelt and Washington.

Yes, now that I look more closely at the print, there’s no hint of alcohol. No glasses are on the table, and maybe that’s a water carafe in the foreground? Absolutely. The “con” image is different from the “pro” buttons and the “pro” print. Washington has larger, curlier hair, and there’s no Lincoln between them. The juxtaposition is so interesting between the “con” image and the “pro” print.

The lot notes describe the dinner as a “public relations mistake Roosevelt never repeated.” What made the dinner a public relations mistake? After the uproar, the White House backpedaled a little, claiming it was a lunch. It was at 8 pm at night. It was not a lunch. The White House [might have said to Roosevelt] ‘We have a perception problem, Mister President.’ It was bad publicity for the president and the government in the eyes of many, especially in the South. I’m sure it took some time for this to go away. And Roosevelt never invited another African-American to dine at the White House. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have them over to visit, but there were no dinners or lunches. He probably didn’t want to deal with more controversy.

The dinner took place in 1901, but the print is dated 1903. What accounts for the two-year lag between the event and the publication of the print? I don’t have a definitive answer. What comes to mind is in late 1903 and early 1904, Roosevelt started running for president. Could he be trying to look good to the African-American population? On the other hand, would he want to remind the white American South about how mad they were when an African-American was in the White House? I don’t have a definitive answer. I could see how [a printer] would put it out a month after the dinner, but why two years after? Why wait those two years?

Well, in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of Irish Catholic homes displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy alongside the Pope. Could this print of President Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington have served the same sort of cultural role in African-American homes? That’s a good point. That could very well be why.

So, who would have been the audience for this print? Middle-class African-Americans? I would think it would be more for the African-American community. It’s a very flattering print of two brilliant men sitting down to eat. It was probably a coveted print that hung in a home next to a print of Abraham Lincoln.

Did you find any evidence that this could have been printed by a press that also offered an African-American newspaper? I could not find any information about that.

Is it possible that the Republican Party, or a local Republican group, might have commissioned the print to support Roosevelt’s 1905 campaign? I don’t think so at all.

And I take it this is a fanciful rendering of the dinner? There probably wasn’t a print of Abraham Lincoln hanging in the room where they ate? We do not know if there was an image of Lincoln in the room, but it was smart for the artist to add it. I’m sure he put it there with a lot of thought behind it. But there’s no actual photo or drawing of them having dinner. There was no White House photographer then. The images of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington’s faces were used in other memorabilia. What you see is an artist’s rendition of what the dinner might have been like.

Yeah, the faces of the men look like they were lifted from two different photographs. Exactly. They [the artist or the printer] found other images and used the faces for this purpose.

It’s odd that Roosevelt and Washington aren’t looking at each other. It is strange. The artist could have had them looking at each other. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.

What condition is the print in? There’s some damage to it, some edge roughness, but this is overall a good example. The majority of examples have some condition issues–the print is 116 years old, and it’s ephemeral by nature.

Do we have any notion of how many of these prints were made, and how many survive? We’ve sold four examples, the highest for $5,250 in June 2018. I’ve probably seen 15 to 20 examples. I’m sure it was made in some quantity.

Why will this print stick in your memory? To me, I think, it shows we can look past our differences. Roosevelt was a great man who saw he could take advice from African-Americans and treat them equally. This print makes me think we have a chance in thus country to all get along.

How to bid: The 1903 print of Theodore Roosevelt dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House is lot #43316 in The David and Janice Frent Collection, Presidential and Political Americana, Part VI auction, taking place at Heritage Auctions on September 21 – 22, 2019.

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A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur Could Sell for $15,000 at Rago

A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. It is flamelike and colored with bright yellow and red and hunter green. It's kind of teardrop-shaped.

What you see: A Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, a glass sculpture created at Murano, Italy in 2008. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: Suzanne Perrault, partner and co-director of Rago’s 20th and 21st century design department.

First, how is Lino Tagliapietra’s name pronounced? Tag-lee-uh-pee-et-tra? Perfect!

How prolific is Lino Tagliapietra? Is he still working? He was born in 1934 and just turned 85. He is still working and regularly coming up with new techniques and series. He gives hope to all of us!

When did his “Dinosaur” series start? It started in 1997.

Why are these pieces called Dinosaurs? It has something to do with creatures of the Murano lagoon surrounding him, and the struggle between the heaviness and difficulty of handling glass in a large piece, while it is, at the same time, such a delicate material.  Lino can be very creative with how he brands his piece – look up “Batman!”

The reverse side of the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur looks vaguely like a sunflower bloom.

How well-regarded is the Dinosaur series among his works? Is it among the most sought-after? Lino has done a great many series and continues to invent new ones regularly. Some works also don’t have specific names. I’m sure some collectors like the swooping grace of dinosaurs best of everything. Personally, I’m a coldwork lover. [Coldwork describes techniques performed on glass at room temperature.] My favorite piece we’ve ever offered was this one because of all the different patterns offered on it.

What defines this piece as “small”? How big do his Dinosaurs tend to get? Well over 40 inches. At 21 inches tall, this is the tiniest I’ve seen.

What qualities make this an “exceptional small Dinosaur,” per the lot notes? It has a lovely, manageable scale. Its surface is also cold-worked in battuto and inciso, which they aren’t always. These are both carving patterns on glass, battuto being shorter and squatter, like a hammer mark on metal. Inciso refers to narrower marks, more reminiscent of wood grain. They add a dimension to the piece which collectors really appreciate. The way the colored elements are assembled is referred to as incalmo. It’s a difficult technique, and one that Lino and his crew have mastered like few others. All that together makes this Dinosaur an exceptional piece.

The Lino Tagliapietre Dinosaur shown against a black backdrop.

What details or characteristics mark it as a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur? The bulbous base, the elongated, twisted neck, and the impossibly small foot. While he has other bulbous shapes–something he might well have picked up from Archimede Seguso, his mentor–the Dinosaur’s shape is full of motion.

Are its colors typical or atypical for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur?  Dinosaurs come in a very wide variety of colors and patterns. This is a difficult question to answer as there is not a specific color palette in this series.

How many people does Lino Tagliapietra work with to produce a Dinosaur? What is the production process like? I’ve seen him make a Dinosaur in a demonstration, and he probably had at least three or four people around him. It was a pretty big space, so there might have been more spread around. You can see him blow something like that on YouTube videos.  That’s just for the blowing part. The coldwork is done later by a company in Murano, I believe. For the most complicated shapes, he can be surrounded by as many as a dozen assistants. He’s also terribly popular, so I’m thinking there’s a line around the block for the opportunity to assist the maestro.

The lot notes say the Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur has an etched signature and date. Is that typical? Yes. Lino signs pretty much everything he makes.

The Dinosaur form looks kind of… precarious. What stops Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs from tipping over and breaking? They’re well-balanced. They’re not as tippy as they appear, and they’re fairly heavy.

How often do Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaurs come to auction? No more than a few a year at auction, like two or three lately, world-wide.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? At the risk of sounding obvious, it’s really small. It feels like a little dancer en pointe, which is heightened by the tiny, clear foot. It also looks like a flame. The experience of seeing this particular work is completely different from being confronted with a bold, large piece of glass.

What is the world auction record for a Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur, and for a Lino Tagliapietra piece, period? We hold the world record for a Lino work, a twelve-piece Masai installation we sold in May 2018 for a price of almost $119,000. We sold a Dinosaur for $31,250 in 2017. Camard (Paris) beat that by a little in 2011 with the Barry Friedman Collection, I believe, with a hammer price of E20,000.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Pretty much every unique piece of Lino sticks in my memory. I don’t know when I will see another Dinosaur of this size. It packs a lot of punch.

How to bid: The Lino Tagliapietra Dinosaur is lot 1559 in Contemporary Glass Featuring Dan Dailey: From the Barbara Tarleton Collection, a sale taking place at Rago on September 22, 2019.

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Suzanne Perrault appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a record-setting Dale Chihuly chandelier.

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A Bauhaus Chess Set Owned by Walter Gropius Could Command $24,000

A complete 32-piece Bauhaus chess set, in blond and ebonized beech wood, designed by Josef Hartwig. It comes with its original box.

What you see: A complete 32-piece Bauhaus chess set, in blond and ebonized beech wood, designed by Josef Hartwig in 1923-1924. It comes with its original box. Christie’s London estimates it at £15,000 to £20,000, or about $18,270 to $24,360.

The expert: Murray Macaulay, head of the prints and multiples department, Christie’s London.

How do we know this is a prototype of the Bauhaus chess set? We haven’t pinned our flag to the mast on this one. Walter Gropius’s recollections describe it as a prototype, and that was conveyed by the Isaacs family [to whom Gropius gave it]. The story is Josef Hartwig gave it to Gropius in the 1920s. Gropius himself attributes it as a prototype. It’s his recollection of the set that we’re referring to.

Do we know how many prototypes of the Bauhaus chess set Josef Hartwig made? It’s been suggested that one copy was given to all the masters at the Bauhaus at the time. If that was the case, about ten were made. Whether Hartwig gave them to each of the masters is not clear.

The original box that comes with the Bauhaus chess set, which originally belonged to Walter Gropius.

How rare is it for a complete Bauhaus chess set to come to auction with its original box? Probably five in the last ten years. But what really sets this particular set apart is its provenance. It’s the Walter Gropius connection that makes it so interesting.

How do we know that the Bauhaus chess set first belonged to Walter Gropius? Reginald Isaacs was a very noteworthy architect, a student of Gropius, a family friend of Gropius, and he wrote his biography. The Isaacs were frequent visitors to the Gropius home. The recollection of Isaacs is it was a direct gift from Gropius. Reginald Issacs later gave it to his son, Henry Isaacs. Also, the box has an inventory label on the bottom that is Gropius’s inventory label, which [was applied] prior to him going to the United States. It validates Gropius’s story that he was given the set by Josef Hartwig.

The underside of the box for the Bauhaus chess set shows a Gropius inventory tag and number.

Is the Bauhaus chess set the thing that Josef Hartwig is best known for? Yes.

Did Josef Hartwig design it without a chess board, or did the one with this set go missing? There was a board design that went with it, made out of paper and card. It folded into four pieces. We believe it [the board that went with this set] perished.

And the set went into production? Yes,.

Do we know how many Bauhaus chess sets were made? We don’t. It wasn’t mass-produced. It was manufactured by Bauhaus themselves. There would have been limitations in terms of scale [the scale of production]. There can’t be many, or we’d see them more often.

The lot notes describe the Bauhaus chess set as “model XVI”. What does that mean? It means it’s design number 16. There are other models and other variations in the design as Josef Hartwig refined it. This model went into production.

What’s the Bauhaus chess set like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? What’s wonderful about this particular set is the sense that it’s been played with. Henry Isaacs remembers playing chess with Gropius. It’s not just a historically significant object, it was everyday. It was used for its function. The box shows quite a bit of use, like the game boxes you’d find in any family home.

The full Bauhaus chess set, pictured stored in its original box.

What makes this Bauhaus chess set design stand out? The conceptual idea behind it is so brilliant. It’s a major rethink of the design of the chess pieces. Josef Hartwig tried to think of a way to remove the hierarchical sense of the chess set while making it much more utilitarian. The pieces are designed around their function, and the way they move. The bishop takes the form of a cross. The rook is a cube because it moves forwards, sideways, and backwards. The knight is the shape of two ‘L’s sitting on top of each other, because it moves in an L-shape on the board. It’s very logical. When you see it, it makes absolute sense. It’s function-first. The conception of it is very unified and modern. It was thought out in a very contemporary way, the whole package. Now we don’t look at it as revolutionary as it really was.

What condition is the Bauhaus chess set in? The pieces do definitely [look as if] they’ve been handled. Very much so.

Do they have a patina? Yes. They’re not pure black and not pure white. The wood looks like it’s been used and played with.

What’s the world auction record for a Bauhaus chess set? It was set earlier this year at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen in Germany. It was €20,000, hammer. It had a board, but no provenance. This set doesn’t have a board, but it has a wonderful backstory.

I imagine you’ll see serious cross-competition between chess set collectors and Bauhaus collectors? It appeals to both. This particular set has been featured in important exhibitions–The Art of Chess show in London in 2003, and The Imagery of Chess Revisited at the Noguchi Museum in 2005 to 2006. It’s a great prize of 20th century chess-related artwork.

Does the fact that this particular set appeared in those two significant shows add yet more value? It adds to its weight. You’re buying something that you could see in the Museum of Modern Art. That’s what you’re getting.

Even more so than the chess set Man Ray designed? Yes. It’s a classic of modern design, so ahead of its time. It’s incredibly important.

Have you handled the pieces in the Bauhaus chess set? Yes.

What was that like? The pieces being light to hold is an interesting thing. It stood out to me that it’s been thought out on so many levels. It’s easy to play with. The pieces have a lovely quality when you hold them.

How to bid: The Josef Hartwig Bauhaus chess set is lot 1 in the Prints & Multiples auction at Christie’s London on September 18, 2019.

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A B.B. King Lucille Guitar Could Command $100,000 at Julien’s

A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien's estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

What you see: A prototype black Gibson ES-345 Lucille guitar, stage-played by B.B. King in his later years. Julien’s estimates it at $80,000 to $100,000.

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

So, let’s start by explaining the deal with Lucille. How many Lucilles did B.B. King have over the course of his career? Is there an official count? There’s no official count, but we know there were many. Lucille dates back to 1949, when he was in his 20s and playing a venue in Arkansas. It was heated by a bucket of kerosene. A fight broke out between two men, and the kerosene was kicked over and started a fire. B.B. King realized he’d left his guitar behind, a very inexpensive Gibson arch top, and ran into the burning building and got it out. He found out that the fight was over a woman called Lucille.

And B.B. King named that guitar and all his subsequent main guitars Lucille as a reminder not to do something silly like run into a burning building to save a guitar? And to never fight over a woman.

So B.B. King had many Lucilles over the years, and not all looked the same, but what are the characteristics of a Lucille? What do most of us think of when we think of his guitar, Lucille? When you talk about what’s recognized as a Lucille, it’s black with gold hardware, and it’s a Gibson ES-345 guitar. It probably dates back to 1967, when he shifted his affection to the Gibson 345. That’s a luxurious model, a high-end guitar, very fitting for the king of the blues, B. B. King.

There are several Lucilles in the September 21 auction, but this particular one has the highest estimate of all. What makes this B.B. King Lucille guitar that much more valuable than the others? It’s a prototype, made for his 80th birthday. It was prototype one. He played it for the rest of his life. His last performance, in 2014, was with this particular guitar. It was one he cherished, and it was so beautifully done, customized for him to celebrate his 80th birthday. [King died in 2015, at the age of 89.]

And it became his main guitar from the time he received it from Gibson? Yes. This was his main guitar. He cherished it. There always seems to be a story to Lucille–this one was stolen from him in 2009, and he was devastated. It showed up in a pawn shop [later in 2009] in Las Vegas. A guitar dealer found it, sweaty, with broken strings, and with “prototype one guitar” on the back. He contacted Gibson, which put him in contact with B.B. King. He was very happy to be reunited with the Lucille guitar. He traded [a different guitar] to the dealer, saying, “I hope you enjoy playing this as much as I enjoy playing this prototype guitar.”

Does the fact that the B.B. King Lucille guitar was stolen and recovered make it more interesting to collectors? Its intrinsic value is $8,000 to $10,000, let’s say. I think the John Lennon Gibson we sold for $2.4 million had an intrinsic value of $2,000. That was stolen at a Christmas show in 1963. People loved the story, and it definitely played into it selling for $2.4 million.

A closeup of the lavishly decorated neck of the B.B. King Lucille guitar.

Do we know how many concerts B.B. King played with this Lucille? It would have been in the hundreds. He worked tirelessly. In his heyday, he played over 300 concerts a year. He came from very humble beginnings and he strived to become famous. When he got to a plateau in his career he never wanted to let go of that. He enjoyed playing music.

Does the September 21 sale represent the first time any B.B. King-owned and -stage played Lucille guitars have gone to auction? It’s the first time B.B. King has gone to auction with any of his guitars. It’s coming directly from his home to the auction block. That’s where the value is–the provenance, the chain of ownership, collectors love that. Being the next owner after the celebrity adds huge value.

What condition is the B.B. King Lucille guitar in? There’s no one area I’d say is worn down. It’s a heavy-duty guitar, a beauty of a guitar, but you can look at it and see it’s not pristine. There are little scratches that indicate it’s not a brand new guitar.

Have you played it? I have not, but I’ve held it many times. It’s amazing.

Is it well-balanced? It’s very well-balanced. It’s a very, very heavy guitar. For me to carry it for a period of time, it’s a challenge. I have handled many, many guitars, and this one stands out as being particularly heavy.

Is it solid? Semi-solid.

Would its weight have affected its sound? Yes, it definitely affects the sound. That’s why he liked it. He collaborated with Gibson on the guitar and definitely, the weight impacted the sound. That was important to B.B. King as a bluesman.

A closeup on the body of the B.B. King Lucille guitar, showing the decorative crown and the bluesman's signature, rendered in gold on gold.

What is your favorite detail on this B.B. King Lucille guitar? The gold inlay, the crown representing the king, his signature in gold on it–it’s just a beautiful instrument.

How to bid: The stage-played prototype B.B. King Lucille guitar is lot 543 in Property from the Estate of B.B. King, talking place at Julien’s Auctions on September 21, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFK; the first TCB necklace given away by Elvis Presley, a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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A George Ohr Vase Could Sell for $15,000 at Rago

An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, dating to 1897 to 1900.

What you see: An exceptional large vase with ear handles and a serrated rim by George Ohr, the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” dating to 1897 to 1900. Rago estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: David Rago of Rago Arts and Auctions.

How prolific was George Ohr? He made about 10,000 pots during his career, from about 1885 to about 1909. Because the work was virtually unsaleable, most of it survived. Because the work was often paper-thin, much of it has minor damage. The entire body of work was stored away in Biloxi, some in the private homes of relatives, and the rest held by his surviving son. That, in and of itself, is a great story.

What makes this an “exceptional large vase” by Ohr, per the lot notes? What’s a more typical size for him? And specifically, what makes it “exceptional”? Ohr tended to work in “hand-sized” pots, as I like to call them. Four inches by four inches is typical. It seemed he could manipulate a pot uniformly, in integrated gestures, to complete something original and in the moment. He was very much an artist who worked with the flow the material–spinning clay, of a very elastic variety–and his own creative impulse. There is an immediacy to his best work, which is why it has captured the attention of collectors, artists, gallerists, and museums since 1970, when it was first put out on the open market. The vase in question is much larger than most and has two complicated handles. These tall, handled pots are a subset of his work that have remained among the more highly regarded this last half-century.

How often did Ohr create vases? Was that a favorite form of his? Is it a form that Ohr collectors prefer? One man, one pot. He dug the clay from a local river, wheelbarrowed to his Pot-Ohr-E, which he build with his own hands from the ground up, including the kiln. He threw on a wheel, endeavored to make “no two pots alike”, like human souls, and devoted his life to making truly unique work that no one wanted to buy.

Is ‘Pot-Ohr-E’ his term, or a whimsical term of your invention? His. “Mary had a little lamb.  George had a Pot-Ohr-E.”

The George Ohr vase is described as having ‘ear handles’. What are ear handles, and how often do they appear in his work? A small percentage of Ohr’s work had paired handles–unlike pitchers, say, which had one handle for pouring. Of the 10,000 pieces he produced, less than one percent received this treatment. I say this based on what I’ve actually seen [which is] about half his body of work, since 1973 when I handled my first piece, and period photos of him and his wares.

The George Ohr vase is described as having a ‘serrated rim’. How often does that feature appear in his work? Far less than one percent of the time. It’s not a decorative technique I think particularly interesting. The handles are the main point here. The pot itself is fairly straightforward, and the brown/green glaze is typical of much of his work.

How do all these elements–vase form, ear handles, serrated rim, ochre and gunmetal-speckled in color, large size–affect its appeal to collectors? Is it rare to have all these things in one Ohr piece? Any pot by Ohr this size with large double handles is quite rare and elevates it in the minds of collectors, both in stature and price, to the top ten percent of his production.

Is this vase unique? With rare exceptions, all of his work is unique. That was his fundamental approach, that art should occur in the moment, through an artist’s connection with his or her spirit, manifest in the craft. I don’t know that he actually worded it this way, but he spoke of souls and God, and it’s clear he was trying to capture something larger than to just make a pottery vase.

Did Ohr intend his vases to be functional, or purely sculptural? Are they meant to be used? He gave them functions, but I think that was just a starting point. For example, he made a double coffee/teapot where you poured coffee from the right and tea from the left. The lids were fused to it in the firing, so it didn’t actually function. I can’t speak for the man, but I’m sure he did not intend for these to actually be used to hold flowers or potables.

Would Ohr have created this vase entirely on his own, or would he have relied on assistants for certain parts of the production? Very few pieces of Ohr were done in any capacity by anyone but Ohr. He did have an assistant for a brief time, a Mr. Portman, whose initials have appeared on some pieces. He also worked with the famed potter Susan Frackelton, whose name [or] initials also appear on such pots. But 99 percent of the time, you buy a piece of Ohr, you’re buying Ohr’s hand.

How do we know this is an Ohr? Are fakes a problem with Ohr ceramics? There are a lot of fakes. His work has been augmented and copied by various people since the mid-1970s. The way to know a fake is to know Ohr’s work. If you’re buying this stuff online, on eBay, or from someone who is not a known expert in Ohr, it can be a rough ride. 

What sorts of Ohr fakes have been identified? The earliest fakes were in fact Ohr pieces, but ones he only bisque-fired and never glazed. Early sellers, thinking this work incomplete, and knowing it was hard to sell back in the 1970s, augmented them with glazing of their own. The next run of fakes were made from the ground up, with pieces usually of red clay and jet black glazing, rolled out and turned into hollowware vessels. These bore entirely the block stamp mark, which the fakers recreated using printer’s type, as Ohr did originally. Then came the absurd fakes, about mid- to late 1980s, which were dreadful pieces having nothing to do with Ohr’s work. Imagine, if you would, a piece of pottery that looks like a tree branch. Whatever mark was on the bottom of it was covered with plaster and “Ohr” crudely etched into it. As though that wasn’t stupid enough, that particular faker then spray-painted part of the work in day-glo colors.

George Ohr made this vase between 1897 and 1900. Was that a strong period for him? This is arguably his best period. He was still glazing pots at this time. He later switched to bisque fire only–“God put no color in souls, and I’ll put no color on my pots”–but was also at his creative peak in manipulation and overall concept of what he pieces could be. That is definitely his power alley period.

How have you seen the Ohr market change over time, in general? Mostly up, though with peaks and valleys.  We are not at a high point, but close to that level, in today’s market.

The 2011 description says the vase has “ribbon handles” and a “ripped rim”. Why might the language that describes these details changed between then and now? Just a different cataloguer at this point in time.  They are both correct in their way.

How does this Ohr vase compare to other Ohr vases you’ve had? I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. If this were a truly exceptional two-handled piece, the glaze would be red with orange and blue spots, the vase would have an in-body twist at its center, and it would be worth maybe seven to ten times the price.

What’s the world auction record for a piece by George Ohr? Sotheby’s sold a pot for 130,000 at auction in 2006. I sold a piece privately for about 150k about the same time.

What is it like to hold this vase in your hands? What is it like in person?Most are much lighter than you would expect, the fragility being an extension of the ephemeral nature of being human, I would surmise. If you were to handle a later bisque piece, it would be as though you were handling a large potato chip. The thinness of the work results from the local clay he developed and his unparalleled prowess at the potter’s wheel.

Rago sold this vase in June 2011 for $6,820 against an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000. What does it say about the Ohr market that it’s up again eight years later with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000? Ohr is one of the few potters from the art pottery period whose work has retained value and even, in some cases, gone up.  That is because of an international market for the material, and the crossover to fine art buyers who recognize his importance as an artist.

How to bid: The George Ohr vase is lot 116 in the Early 20th Century Design auction at Rago on September 21, 2019.


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

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (OOMA) in Biloxi, Mississippi is devoted to Ohr and his work. (O’Keefe is the name of the family who made a major donation to the museum.) It has posted an online exhibit of Ohr pottery.

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SOLD! The Magician Automaton from Sleuth Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1925-1930 magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It stands 56 1/2 inches tall and performs eight movements.

Update: The magician automaton from Sleuth sold for $24,000.

What you see: A circa 1925-1930 magician automaton built in Paris that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. It stands 56 1/2 inches tall and performs seven movements. Potter & Potter estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

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

I wanted to start by asking why so many automata have a magic theme. How much overlap is there between magic trick designers and designers of automata? Why do automata fit well within the realm of performative magic? I guess I’d say because by nature, they’re magical objects, so they lend themselves to performing magic tricks. How they work, why they work–it’s all a wonder-making proposition. Magic and automata have kind of gone hand in hand for centuries.

What, if anything, do we know about why this automaton was made? Also, who might have purchased or commissioned this piece—what sort of person was likeliest to buy something like this when it was new? I don’t have the name in front of me, but he [the person who ordered it] had a number of commissions from JAF [the Parisian company believed to have built this automaton]. He wanted something special. It’s larger than many others out there. I think he was interested in automata. I don’t think he was a magician at all.

Is it reasonable to assume that this automaton was a custom commission, given its size and the number of movements it performs? Or are automata generally created as one-offs? There are catalogs of automata going back over a century. In the sale, we have a peacock that walks around, spreads its feathers, and keeps walking. In the Roullet & Decamps catalog, it was offered in three different sizes. That doesn’t mean there was a storage room that had 500 of each [size] sitting on the shelves. [The catalog said], ‘Here’s what we can do for you.’ They’d build them as they got orders, or they’d build six and when they ran out, they’d build six more.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown in full and in profile.

But would this magician automaton have been custom made, judging by its size and the number of movements it performs? I don’t think the movements point to that, but the size and the finish point to it being a custom commission. There are automata that are similarly complex or a lot more complex. It’s large and finely finished. I’m sure it was built to the specifications of the customer.

Why might someone have commissioned a large automaton such as this one? I believe this was for a private collector, but many were meant to be in shop windows, something to attract attention. It was a business expense, but it was an employee who required no salary. Hopefully people in the pre-television era would stop and be fascinated by what they saw.

How do we know this was built in Paris between 1925 and 1930? I was given the information by the consigner. Between his research and the [expertise of the] person who was working on his automata, I believe that’s how they pieced it together.

Does its large size–it stands almost five feet tall–hint at how it might have been used? And would its size have been harder to make than most automata? It’s perfect for use in a film, of course, because it’s a background player. I don’t think its size made it harder to build. I think it made it easier to build. There’s just more room [to hide the works].

The lot notes for the automaton from Sleuth say it has eight movements. Is that a lot for an automaton? And what are the movements? It’s on the higher end. I don’t mean to put it down–it’s certainly a complex mechanism. What I mean to say is it’s not playing checkers with anyone. It’s not elaborate. [Fajuri later corrects the total to seven movements, which include: moving its head up and down; moving its head back and forth; moving its lips; moving its eyes; an arm moving a wand; an arm moving a cone; and items changing under the table. If you wanted to count this last as a separate movement for every object the magician automaton produces, it would add several to the total. You can see the automaton performing in this video.]

But the more movements there are, the more chances that something will break or go wrong… Absolutely, the more complex it is, the more complex it is. But in Paris at the time, certainly [the first owner] had a choice of people in a three-mile radius to fix it. They were in spitting distance of each other.

A closeup of the magician automaton from Sleuth shows the figure lifting a cap to reveal a white rabbit sitting on the tabletop.

Does the magician automaton from Sleuth still perform all its movements? Yes.

Does it perform the movements in a set order, or can you choose which ones it does? It’s a set order, as is the case with most automata.

What can we tell by looking about how difficult it was to make? By watching it from the outside, you can’t tell anything, which is the point.

How original is this magician automaton from Sleuth? And how unusual is it for a nearly hundred-year-old automaton to retain its fabric elements–its original costume and turban? Earlier examples in the [August 24 auction] catalog are more remarkable for retaining their clothes. It had things that needed tending to when [the consigner] bought it. It got a tune-up and a polishing as opposed to an entirely new “chassis”. But we’ve sold automata that have been missing 50 percent of their works.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown lifting a wizard's cap.

Do any of the symbols on the front and the top of the table mean anything? Are they just gibberish? I believe they’re gibberish. They’re not recognizable to me.

What, if anything, do we know about how this automaton was chosen to appear in the film Sleuth? We don’t really have additional information.

Do we know if the filmmakers tweaked the automaton for the movie, or built a backup model? Not that we’re aware of.

What’s it like in person? It’s scary. He’s not smiling. He has a furrowed brow, and a stern, serious look. It’s the kind of thing where if you walk into the gallery before you turn on the lights and [you] feel someone standing there. It’s kind of scary.

Does it make noise? It’s not all that noticeable, but you do hear the mechanics working. It’s not distracting.

The magician automaton from Sleuth, shown head-on, about to lift a wizard's cap from a table carved with mysterious symbols.

What’s your favorite detail of the magician automaton from Sleuth? You mentioned it already. It’s the carving in the table. It shows an extra level of care that the builder went to to make it special. It adds an extra level of quality and craft to what could be a plain, wooden table, or could have had a cloth thrown over it. It adds to the charm, and adds a mysterious element to it.

Is it heavy? Yeah. It’s not 500 pounds or anything, but it requires a few people to move it.

How did you arrive at the $40,000 to $60,000 estimate? It was difficult. It was at Skinner in 2008 and sold for $40,000, which was a help. Like a lot of things we sell, there’s not a huge track record to compare it to. We seem to be the place that writes the books on a lot of things we sell. The Skinner auction record was the only one we could find.

How do other magician automata you’ve handled compare to this magician automaton from Sleuth? It’s the largest, and on the auction day, it may be the most expensive we’ve ever sold. Sleuth was nominated for four Academy Awards. It was a pretty serious film with well-known actors. Laurence Olivier was no slouch. It’s fair to say more people saw it in the film than ever saw it in a store window.

So it’s in the upper ranks? I’d say so, yeah. The way it does its tricks is amazing in its own right. Other automata in the auction do similar tricks, but when you combine that with its history, its size, and its aesthetics, it’s certainly right up there. It’s got a lot going for it.

How to bid: The automaton from Sleuth is lot 45 in Automata: Life and Other Illusions, taking place August 24, 2019 at Potter & Potter.

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

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

In case you missed it above, here’s film of the magician automaton in action.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about 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.

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

RECORD! A Cygnet Swan Ladies Bicycle Sold for $24,150

An 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle, which has a striking looped frame painted in white.

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

What you see: An 1898 Cygnet “Swan” Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle, by the Stoddard Manufacturing Company of Dayton, Ohio. Copake Auction sold it in April 2013 for $24,150, a record for this type of bike.

The expert: Mike Fallon, owner of Copake Auction.

How were ladies’ bikes different from mens’ bikes at the turn of the previous century? You had to have room for skirts. The crossbar, which goes from the steering head to the seat, had to dip down to accommodate bloomers or skirts. It was always lower. Ladies’ bikes often had a skirt guard on the rear tire and guards on the chain, also, where you pedal.

Was this the first example of this bicycle to go to auction? I don’t know, but in my 30 years of experience, only one has sold at auction. Though I could be 100 percent wrong about that. In the antiques world, there are no absolutes.

Detail of the 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle that shows the front wheel.

How long was the Stoddard Manufacturing Company in business? From 1897 to 1898.

Do we know how many Cygnet “Swan” Ladies Bicycles they made? No.

Was the Cygnet “Swan” Ladies Bicycle a popular bike? I don’t know, but here’s my guess. If they were only in business for one year, it was probably an expensive bike. There were probably thousands of brands [of bicycles available at the time]. It didn’t catch on. My guess is it was hard to make. It’s a labor-intensive design. Sometimes, really expensive utilitarian items don’t do very well.

Why was its looped frame considered to have an advantage over a diamond-shaped frame? Their idea was to add strength through a continuous stress member, as opposed to hard angles with stress points. I think it probably wasn’t a factor. Welding was a fairly new science at that point. Everyone struggled to be the newest, best, most innovative, except the plain Jane bikes. Probably, people were hesitant to buy things that were very expensive and different.

An 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle, shown in full profile.

But the looped frame has a purpose, right? It wasn’t just there to look cool? It was one of its selling points. It was not just for looks. It was industrial design as art. I think it’s the best-looking bike of the period. At the point I sold it, I was told there were only ten [still in existence], but who knows?

Yeah, you never know when someone will stumble across an old warehouse that has ten of them in it. Yes. I’ve heard stories throughout my career [like that], and I’ve been doing this quite a while.

Did the Cygnet “Swan” Ladies Bicycle get its name from its frame? “Cygnet” is French for “swan.” If you look at it, it has a swan-y look.

A close-up of the brand badge on the 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle.

Was it only sold in white? Nobody knows.

The lot notes describe the Cygnet “Swan” Ladies Bicycle as “one of the most stunning bicycles ever made.” Could you elaborate? What makes it stunning? I think the Cygnet is the most beautiful bike ever made, from my perspective. If that bike as sitting with 100 other bikes, it’d be the one 50 people are standing around, looking at.

A detail shot of the back wheel of the 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle, which shows decorative gold vines painted on the back fender.

The lot notes describe this example as being in “excellent restored condition”. What does that mean in this context? “Restored condition” means it was refurbished. When I say “excellent”, it means when he [the restorer] finishes, it looks like it came out of the factory, maybe better. I can’t tell you what was repaired on it. I never did find out.

Must an antique bike be rideable, or does that not matter to collectors? One of the interesting things about bicycles in general, and bicycle collectors specifically, is bicycle collectors tend to ride [their] bikes. I don’t ride them. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ride them. If I got on one and it gave way because of a bad weld… The big deal with bike-riders is riding first and rarity second. I’ve sold bikes that are really rare and been told, “It’s rare, but I can’t ride it.” To me, if you have a bike where there’s only ten in existence, I don’t care if it’s hard to ride, I want it in my collection.

But you choose not to ride the antique bikes you sell? I’ll get on a high-wheel if I’m feeling really stupid, but I don’t really ride the bikes. We look at them and know what to look at, and know how to describe them and photograph them. When things come in, they’re not my property. And riding a bike is riding a bike. They’re all about the same.

Detail shot of the seat of the 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle.

Are unrideable antique bikes always worthless? I’ll tell you a story. Someone called me and said they had a Lindbergh bike–pretty rare and very desirable. It had been outside. The frame was totally rotted, the handlebars were rusted, the wheels were gone. The main thing was the badge [which said “Lindbergh”]. I sold it for $1,400. The man who bought it came from California specifically to buy it. He took the name badge off and put the rest in a Dumpster.

Are ladies’ bikes rarer than mens’ bikes of the period? I think ladies’ bikes were more plentiful, and I’ll tell you why. The 1890s was ladies’ liberation, out on a ride with a boyfriend and without a chaperone. Millions and millions of bikes were made, and ladies tended to take care of their bikes.

What was your role in the auction? I was selling at the podium.

What do you recall of the sale? There was a lot of apprehension about how it would do. One of the kahunas of the bike world told me it’d go for over $10,000. Others said no way. They tend to be a conservative bunch.

How did you present the lot when it came up? We wheeled it onto the stage back then. Now, we wouldn’t.

The Cygnet “Swan” Ladies Bicycle sold for $24,150 against an estimate of $6,000 to $7,000. Did that surprise you? I would say yes, I was surprised. It was an unknown. I’d be surprised if it only went for that today.

Detail shot of the 1898 Cygnet "Swan" Ladies pneumatic safety bicycle, with the swan badge visible.

What is the bike like in person? Stunning is the word I used. It IS stunning. Even if you don’t like bicycles, it’s pretty cool-looking. I’m a pretty critical type of person when it comes to… anything. I can look at something and tell if something’s wrong with it. This bike, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Why will it stick in your memory? Because of its style. It’s a great-looking machine. For industrial design as art, it’s as good as it gets. This thing is just a fabulous object.

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Images are courtesy of Copake Auction.

Copake Auction holds an antique bicycle sale annually, in April, usually around the third weekend of the month.

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RECORD! President Kennedy’s Air Force One Bomber Jacket Sells in 2013 at John McInnis Auctioneers

An Air Force One brown leather bomber jacket worn by President John F. Kennedy, shown in full.

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

What you see: A brown Air Force One bomber jacket, size 44, which President John F. Kennedy gave to Dave Powers circa 1962. Estimated at $20,000 to $40,000, it sold at John McInnis Auctioneers in February 2013 for $655,500, a record for a presidential Air Force One bomber jacket.

The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.

Who was David Powers, and what was his connection to John F. Kennedy? It started in 1946, when Kennedy was running for Congress. He needed to be a real player in the Charlestown area near Boston, and he was told by people in the know he had to befriend Dave Powers. He was the one who could really affect the local community. Kennedy knocked on his door, and brought him to a Gold Star Mother event. It was a really emotional meeting. Powers was blown away by his words, his actions, and how the audience took to him. He worked in the West Wing as a special assistant, and he remained a friend and confidant until the end. When things were tense in the White House, if people saw the president with Powers, they knew things were going to be OK.

How did John McInnis Auctioneers win the opportunity to auction Powers’s personal collection? We got a call from a person in Massachusetts who had things related to President Kennedy, and would we like to take a look? It was Powers’s son, who was in contact with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, all the big players. Someone recommended he contact us. We gave our presentation after we looked over the things. They chose us because of our desire, our ability, and our personal touch. They wanted to keep it [the sale] in Massachusetts, and the others only wanted to pick and choose. We had 750 lots, with literally thousands of objects [overall]. We were able to give [the collection] the honor it deserved.

How did President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket come to Powers? Did the president give it to him? The president had, I forget how many. It was an odd number of bomber jackets he had. Some he never wore, and gave to people. We believe he gave him this jacket in 1962. That’s how Dave got it. That’s how Dave got everything. He was the first creator of the JFK Library, and he gave thousands and thousands of objects to it. These [the collection McInnis sold] were the personal things he kept–things Dave had in drawers and files, a whole treasure trove. They [the family] didn’t understand what they had.

Did Powers wear it? I think he wore it on occasion. There’s a family story that when Powers passed away, his son hung it in the closet. He knew it was a special jacket, but he didn’t think of it in terms of dollars. It had been hanging there maybe a year or so, or two years. Then one of his [the son’s] kids was going away on an overseas trip, and was told, “You need a jacket to keep you warm at night.” The dad saw the jacket sticking out of the kid’s duffel bag and said, “Whoa, whoa, that’s JFK’s jacket.” If he hadn’t noticed that, it could have ended up lost and gone overseas. The kid just thought, “Oh, this will work, it’s leather.” He didn’t think about it, he didn’t understand. $655,000 later… [laughs] It was a good find for dad to see it sticking out of the bag.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $40,000? If you look at the estimates in the catalog, we tried to make things attainable. It was an unreserved sale across the board. It [the estimate] made people understand this is real, it’s going to be sold, and it’s going to sell for what it sells for. If we put the highest price on it, people would lose interest right away. If it felt attainable, they might get hooked, and maybe it would continue to go higher. That happened. I can tell you the person that won didn’t know what they would pay for it.

What condition was President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket in? It was in worn condition, but very good. There was a tiny hole in the stretchy material at the bottom of the jacket, but it wasn’t abused or anything like that. Dave didn’t wear it as an everyday jacket.

Do we know where the other JFK-era Air Force One bomber jackets are? JFK gave one to Peter Lawford, which sold for $14,000. I don’t know where that one is. There’s one at the JFK library. Bobby Kennedy had one, but Ethel Kennedy didn’t know where [it ended up].

Did you try it on? [Laughs] Yes. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that.

What is President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket like in person? I think the most amazing thing for me about the jacket–I don’t want to say I was jaded. I saw all the personal things [Powers kept from his relationship with JFK] and got a sense of what it was all about, but during the previews [for the auction], we had two television camera crews come from Russia. JFK was so well-known to them because of Castro and Cuba. They were dying for the jacket. It brought him to life.

This jacket is actually connected to two presidents. Ronald Reagan asked to borrow it from Powers, and he agreed. How might that have affected its value? That was kind of an unknown. Ronald Reagan wrote Dave Powers a nice letter. He wanted it for his museum. Powers was kind enough to let it out. He only loaned it to President Reagan. [Reagan’s thank-you note to Powers was part of the lot.] When you can see another president enamored of the jacket, it’s just incredible, just incredible.

What was your role in the auction? I’m the gallery director here. I do behind-the-scenes stuff. John McInnis is the auctioneer. We believe the Powers auction broke the record for a continuous live auction of antiques. We began at 11 am on Sunday, February 17, 2013, President’s Day weekend, and it went around the clock, ending with lot 732 at 5:31 in the morning [on Monday, February 18, 2013]. We stood right there without a break. It took forever to sell stuff. All the major television stations came. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people wanted to participate.

When did the jacket come up? After 8 pm.

And bidding lasted 17 minutes? It was 17 or 17 1/2 minutes. It’s a huge amount of time. It’s an eternity. There were people online, people in the audience, and at least eight phone lines, if not ten, for the jacket alone.

Physically, how were you all doing at that point, having auctioned for eight straight hours and gotten to lot 327 of 723? I worked until 3 am before the auction. I was back here by six. I got a half-hour of sleep, but I couldn’t sleep anyway. It was unbelievable. I was handling all facets of the press, all the questions from bidders, and I was trying to keep the place looking good. At the time, I was drinking Rock Stars and Monsters [energy drinks] to keep me going. I was a zombie afterward. The auction ended at 5:30 am and I didn’t get home until 8:30. I had to bring the jacket home with me [laughs], because I had insurance. Physically, I was… so much adrenalin was going through me. It was kind of a high, I guess. It was so exciting–no lulls. People would come and go, watch it online, and come back again. I knew when something big was coming up because the hall would fill up again.

Did you physically bring out the jacket, or did you show a photo behind John McInnis as bidding started? We had it in a glass case behind the podium. Just prior to the sale, three or four lots ahead, we took it out so people could take pictures of it. We laid it on Dave Powers’s desk from the West Wing.

An Air Force One brown leather bomber jacket worn by President John F. Kennedy, shown in full.

What do you remember of the sale of President Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket? The hall started to fill back up again. Don’t forget, there was a snowstorm, and it was getting late. I realized it was coming up. We didn’t know we were going to sell it for that kind of money. Personally, I thought it would sell for $75,000. I never thought it would go over half a million.

So you were surprised at the final figure? I was surprised, but I wasn’t. It had so much activity on it, [I realized] it could do $150,000 or $200,000. The beauty of the auction is the public determines the value of the object that day. On that particular day, that was what the public decided.

Did the snowstorm have any effect on the bidding? It had an effect on the crowd. [The sale room could hold about 450 attendees.] A lot of people couldn’t get here. I tried not to think about it. I had enough to worry about. But it didn’t have an effect on prices. It had an effect on the crowd being there in person, rather than online. That [the Internet option] made it much easier for them to bid without the stress of worrying about getting into an accident.

Did any members of the Powers family attend the sale? We don’t recommend [consigners] come to the auction. We had a private preview for the family, so they had their own time to shed their emotions. One of Powers’s grandchildren was having her Broadway debut in New York City that night. After 8:15 or 8:30, I got off the podium, went over, and left a message [with a family member]: “I wanted you to know what it just sold for.” Within two minutes, my phone was beeping. “I want to make sure I’ve got this right–WHAT did you say it sold for?” Prices were extremely strong across the board–10 times, 20 times, 30 times the estimates. It was incredible.

Did you have any notion that the auction would last as long as it did? No! No! Another auctioneer we’ve known forever texted me probably one hour in, “Do you realize, at the pace you’re going, it’s not going to end until 4 am?” [I texted back,] “I don’t care what it takes, so be it.” When you see the other end of it–the prices rise and rise and rise–it’s very exciting. It doesn’t happen often. It was a lot of fun. We run auctions of 700 or 800 lots in a day. We can usually do 60 to 75 lots an hour. We thought we’d be done by eight or nine at night. We could never have anticipated going for 30-something hours. [We thought,] “Eh, we can do it all in a day. We’ve done it a million times.” We never anticipated going through the night. We felt in full confidence we’d get through and be done by 9 pm.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It was the most valuable thing to sell at the auction, by far, and the only item in the sale that brought over $100,000. But honestly, a few other things in the sale had a bigger impact on me. There’s the book Jackie Kennedy signed to Powers [after the assassination, saying] “You and I will miss him most.” There’s the typewritten schedule for November 21 and 22, 1963. Dave had annotated the whole, entire schedule. When the murder happened, Powers was the guy who brought him to the hospital. He was in a Secret Service car behind the president. He was there through the whole thing. He was his most loyal person. It was a true bromance. He never had a better friend.

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.

John McInnis Auctioneers is on Twitter.

Film of the 2013 auction does not appear to be online, but you can hear Meader discuss the sale in an episode of the Antique Auction Forum podcast that is up on YouTube. A photo of Meader with the jacket appears at the 1:15 mark.

Meader is at work on a Columbus Day 2019 auction of presidential material at John McInnis Auctioneers. Check the website or follow the house on Twitter for more information as the fall approaches.

Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images are courtesy of RR Auction.

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

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

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

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

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