A Gold Eid Mar Coin–THE Most Desirable Ancient Coin–Could Fetch $500,000

A gold Eid Mar coin, issued by Brutus in 42 B.C.E. It could sell for $500,000 or more.

What you see: A gold Eid Mar coin, dating to 42 B.C.E. (Before Common Era). Roma Numismatics Limited estimates it at $500,000.

The expert: David Vagi, director of ancient coins at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

The Eid Mar has been described as “the most famous ancient coin of all”. Do you agree? I do. Typically, with coins, you have a cultural or a national interest–Americans want American coins, Indians want Indian coins. Ancient Greek and Roman coins transcend nationalism. In that sense, the Eid Mar jumps out as the most famous ancient coin.

Do we know the story of how and why the Roman government chose to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on gold and silver coins in 42 B.C.E? At that point, Rome was gearing up for civil war between competing factions. One carried on Caesar’s cause and included Mark Antony and Octavian. The other included Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. In the Senate, there was sympathy for both parties.

So the Brutus and Cassius side had this coin made, I’m guessing. Why? The faction led by Brutus and Cassius was gathering a great army to go to war with the other faction. When trying to defend their cause, they had to appeal to the sympathies of soldiers and Senators. There were many who considered Caesar a tyrant and were glad to be rid of him. With this coin, Brutus doubled down on what got him to this stage to begin with.

So this coin acted kind of like a political lawn sign does today? It advertised and boosted a political cause? This is an attempt by Brutus–a very blatant attempt–to make the case that Caesar’s assassination was not only good for Rome, it was justifiable. It’s a peek into the mind of Brutus. The stakes were life and death. He went with the justice of his cause.

The reverse of the gold Eid Mar coin shows a pair of daggers, representing the murder weapon and the two men who conceived the coup, Brutus and Cassius. The hat in the middle was of a style issued to newly freed Roman slaves. "Eid Mar" is a truncated phrasing for the Ides of March, the date of the assassination.

Let’s talk about the iconography on the gold Eid Mar coin. I see two daggers on the reverse side. Why two daggers, when a big group of Senators stabbed Julius Caesar to death? It isn’t necessarily recorded anywhere, but the natural conclusion is one dagger represents Brutus and the other represents Cassius, who were the ringleaders of the plot to murder Caesar.

The designer of the gold Eid Mar coin has placed between the daggers an image of a cap that was given to Roman slaves who have gained their freedom. Nothing subtle about that… It’s such a clear, bold statement linking the act with the result of the act.

This side of the coin features the words “Eid Mar”, which is a shortened form of the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar–the Ides of March, aka March 15. Why include the date? The incident was notorious enough that the designer didn’t really need to include it. Everyone understood the context. The date was just a design choice. I would have loved to have been in the room when they made that choice.

Co-conspirator Brutus issued this gold Eid Mar coin and had his profile depicted upon it.

Why does the other side of the coin, the obverse, show a profile of just Brutus, and not Brutus and Cassius? The two leaders of these armies, which were eventually conjoined before the Battle of Philippi, struck their own coins. If you’re paying soldiers, you want to put your face on the coins. There was no overlap between Brutus’s and Cassius’s coinage. The Eid Mar coin is of Brutus’s design, and is the most spectacular of them. It’s of Brutus, by Brutus, and for Brutus.

So Cassius’s coins were not as evocative? No coins of Cassius directly allude to the murder of Caesar. They speak to local conditions rather than the act that got them there. Brutus’s coin is as blunt and as straightforward a message as could be delivered. It’s really a masterpiece in that respect. It’s very fortunate that Brutus undertook this coin, but in the end, it didn’t save him. [Brutus killed himself in October of 42 B.C.E. after losing the second Battle of Phillipi.]

The Eid Mar coin represents Brutus pushing all of his chips onto the table, then? This is evidence that Brutus was not backing down. He’s saying, “I did it, I did it for the right reasons, and you should support me because of that.”

Is the Eid Mar coin a better-looking coin than most ancient coins? Not necessarily. I would say its strength is not in its artistry. It resonates because of its historical importance.

The gold Eid Mar coin, with both obverse and reverse shown. It is one of only three surviving examples struck in gold.

How would the gold Eid Mar coin have been struck? Typically, coins of this era were struck by hand. The die would be engraved in reverse. They’d take two of these dies, put a blank piece of metal between them, and hammer it several times.

How did the striker know when to stop? Experience. Gold coins of narrow diameter took fewer strikes than a copper coin. With something like this, they’d get away with two or three hammer blows.

Do we have any idea how many Eid Mar coins might have been produced in 42 B.C.E? Unfortunately, we don’t have any surviving records. In warlike circumstances such as this, they would have struck coins based on what they could provide. They probably turned every bit of metal–gold or silver–into coinage to pay the soldiers and suppliers.

So it’s not like Brutus swung by the Roman Mint and placed an order for 100 gold Eid Mar coins and 10,000 silver Eid Mar coins. No. Under other conditions, coinage was planned out and targets were met. These were struck under field conditions. They did whatever they could. With this, it was get it, melt it, strike it.

How much gold is in this Eid Mar coin? Its purity is extremely high. It’s very close to 100 percent pure. There’s some copper and trace elements in it. It weighs a touch over eight grams, which is about $500 in melt value.

How much purchasing power did a gold Eid Mar coin have in the world of ancient Rome? There’s very limited info on this subject. It’s known that in the time of Augustus, a soldier’s annual pay was 225 silver denarii, and there’s 25 denarii per gold aureus. It’s [a soldier’s annual pay in silver seems to be] equivalent to nine gold coins a year. This was an unusual and expensive coin. The average person in the Roman Empire and the late Roman Republic would never handle gold coins. They were for larger payments.

When Mark Anthony and Octavian later assumed power, did they deliberately target the Eid Mar coin for removal from circulation? We don’t know for sure if that happened in this particular case. Coins were melted for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes, they circulated for well over a century. One of the gold Eid Mar coins that does survive is quite worn, and some of the silver ones are worn almost absolutely slick. But there probably was some effort to reduce the coins in circulation, if only to melt them and strike coins in their own image.

To what extent, if at all, has the Eid Mar coin served to burn the memory of Caesar’s assassination into the collective consciousness? Has it helped keep that historical event alive? The sparking of the Renaissance in Europe was promoted strongly by the discovery of ancient coins. When antiquarians studied these coins, getting an Eid Mar was the ultimate prize. There’s something about having an object speak directly to a moment in history. The coin gives it context, meaning, and a tactile reality–here’s the proof of the history, the proof of what you read about. And it inspired Shakespeare. It’s hard to dismiss the coin’s impact on why the assassination is still a memorable occasion. [The Wikipedia pages for the assassination of Julius Caesar and Brutus prominently show photographs of silver Eid Mar coins.]

Do you mean that the gold Eid Mar coin is, in and of itself, historical evidence? Without this coin, one might be able to introduce a scholarly concern about how the assassination was described. But if you get this type of evidence, it’s very hard to dispute that it did occur and Brutus took credit for it. Coins help us have confidence in certain statements. Without a coin to back it up, it’s easy to assume something is exaggerated for political gain.

How did this gold Eid Mar coin emerge? I have no idea. Our role at NGC Ancient doesn’t have to do with the buying or selling of coins. I made no investigation into that.

According to what I have here, this gold Eid Mar coin was sitting, largely unnoticed, in a European collection until now. So it’s a previously unknown example of THE most desirable ancient coin, in its rarest metal form, in something close to mint condition. I assume that alarm bells went off in your head when you got word of this? When you hear that, as you describe it, I assume I need to be very careful. Ancient coins have been collected systematically and aggressively for 500 years. The possibility exists of a coin, even of this stature, being around without being brought to the notice of anyone in the business.

Did you examine the gold Eid Mar coin before it was encapsulated? I have to sign off on it as the director of the department.

What details or clues convinced you, as you looked at this coin, that it was the genuine article? [Laughs] It’s so funny. There’s an initial gut reaction you have, a visceral response, the instant you see a coin. You’re extremely wary, or quite pleased. From the second I saw it, it rang true. Then I looked for any reason to contradict my initial reaction. One way to look at it is as if it were any other gold coin of Brutus or Cassius. We’ve had quite a number of both over the decades. If it was another Brutus or Cassius type, would it give us alarm bells? The answer is no. It really did perform extremely well. There was literally nothing we could find about this coin that raised concerns.

How much experience do you have with handling ancient coins? My business partner, Barry Murphy, and I have over 60 years’ experience. We’ve looked at over five million ancient coins, and looked at them very clinically. Is it something real? Is it altered? That’s always been the principal focus. This coin fits in perfectly for where it should be–a field-mint issue of Brutus from 42 B.C.E. It’s everything we could expect.

Have you seen either or both of the other two gold Eid Mar coins in person? I’ve seen one of the other two.

I take it you’ve examined dozens of silver Eid Mar coins. Absolutely. Between Barry and myself, we’ve handled 30 to 35 of the silver ones. And we see a lot of counterfeits. What’s most important to know is what should it generally look like? There are so many aspects to determine authenticity, and it’s so easy for a forger to mess up on one. With this coin, we did not encounter any of those.

The gold Eid Mar coin as it now appears, encapsulated in plastic.

What is the gold Eid Mar coin like in person? It’s wonderful, and in the holder [the plastic encapsulation], it’s equally wonderful. It doesn’t take anything away from it–it showcases it, honors it. And it makes it possible to take the coin and hand it to somebody else. What people don’t know about coins is if you drop them or rub your thumb across them and you have slightly rough fingers, you can change their appearance. Gold is a soft metal! With the holder, you can reach a broader audience that poses no potential harm to the coin.

The gold Eid Mar coin is described as “mint”. What does “mint” mean when we’re talking about something that’s more than 2,000 years old? It has no observable wear from circulation. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dinged here or there, or hasn’t been cleaned. If it was in a mint state when it was buried, and it wasn’t affected by disruption or acid in the soil, it can come out absolutely perfect. There weren’t any banks in this period. People buried their coins. Then they died, or forgot about them, or were unable to retrieve their treasure. That’s how ancient coins survive in a mint state.

What’s your favorite detail of the gold Eid Mar coin? I’m a fan of Brutus as a historical figure, and I love the portrait on the Eid Mar coin. It captures what I perceive to be his personality.

How does the portrait capture Brutus’s personality? He was a very motivated individual. He had a sense of destiny and was very committed to his cause. To plan a coup, he had to have very strong political convictions. It may be my imagination, but I see it in the portrait. I see the intensity and the laser-focus of his ambitions. This is not an idealized portrait. It’s extremely individual. I could stare at it for hours.

I’d like you to walk me through the grades that NGC applied to the gold Eid Mar coin. You gave it five out of five on “Strike”. What does that mean? On a five-point scale, a five is not necessarily literally perfect. Everything about this coin was done by hand–it was hand-struck, it was melted by hand, the dies were cut by hand. You rarely get what, in a modern coin, would be described as perfection. A five out of five means that for what it is, it’s close enough to perfection.

The gold Eid Mar coin gets three out of five on “Surface”. Explain? “Strike” affects everything up to when the coin left the die. “Surface” covers things that happen after it leaves the mint. There can be circulation wear, or damage. This falls pleasantly in the middle of the range, very typical of coins of this era.

And “Fine Style” means what? It has to do with whether or not the engraver of the dies was inspired. This was carved by a gifted artist on a good day who produced a wonderful work of art in relation to the coin art of the period.

Why will this gold Eid Mar coin stick in your memory? It’s truly one of the highlights of my career. This is the coin everyone dreams of handling. Being given the responsibility to make a determination about it was an honor. When you’re evaluating a coin, you try not to let emotions enter the equation on any level. You try to do a scientific job. Now that it’s out of our possession, I can sort of allow myself to put my guard down and soak in the pleasure of the coin and reflect upon how and why it’s the most important Roman coin we’ve ever handled. That did not hit us initially. We had to keep it at bay.

Only after it left the NGC building you and your colleagues could enjoy the experience of having handled it? Correct. There are two towers of emotion: assuming it’s not genuine and it’s too good to be true, and wanting to believe. I had to shelve my emotions completely. But I have images of it, and the memory of holding the coin. When it actually sells, I’ll be there in spirit.

How to bid: The gold Eid Mar coin is lot 463 in Roma Numismatics Limited‘s Auction XX, which takes place on October 29 and October 30, 2020.

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Images are courtesy of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

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A Triple Caille Slot Machine–One of the Rarest Vintage Coin-op Machines–Could Command $300,000

A triple Caille slot machine, one of only two known. The machine, built between 1898 and 1905, could command $300,000.

What you see: A Caille (pronounced Kay-lee) Brothers Triple Centaur musical upright machine, built between 1898 and 1905. Morphy Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

The expert: Tom Tolworthy, chief executive officer at Morphy Auctions.

Who would have bought a triple Caille slot machine when it was new? Who was the target market? They were directly available to shop owners, and to operators who were in the business of putting out machines. In some cases, they were sold to saloons, cigar stores, or restaurants.

I’m guessing a triple Caille would have been much more expensive than a single. Do we know what they cost when they were new? Pulling it out of my memory, you could buy a Caille triple for $125. [That’s roughly equivalent to $3,700 in modern dollars.] If you look at early photos of cigar stores and saloons, you see one slot machine, not two or three. Caille triples were probably purchased by places that had a strong clientele and could afford to pay extra.

The player would insert a coin in one of the six slots at the top, and then crank the handle toward the floor.

What advantages did a triple Caille offer over owning a row of single slot machines? Whoever operated a slot machine needed a license. If they had three machines, they needed three licenses. With a triple, you needed only one license. And they could give the consumer more options. With three individual slots, you have the capability for a nickel, a quarter, and a half-dollar slot.

Do we have any clue about how many triple slot machines the Caille company made? No, there really isn’t. There might be 20 standard Caille single upright slots today. Triple Cailles, there might be two known. Of all the total uprights, less than ten percent are doubles or triples.

Only two triple Caille slot machines survive? Eight triples are known to exist. Two are Cailles. The others are by Mills. There probably weren’t many triples, even in their heyday, though a lot of them got destroyed during Prohibition.

I see the measurements given in the lot notes [62 1/2 inches by 70 1/2 inches by 19 inches], but what does this triple Caille slot machine weigh? I’d guess 250 pounds.

Weighing in around 250 pounds, the triple Caille was pretty much a sitting duck if federal agents came a-raiding during Prohibition.

Ah. So it’s difficult to move a triple Caille fast, even if someone tips you off about the police coming to raid your place. The fact that they survived at all is a mystery to us collectors. I’ve seen pictures of federal agents smashing up machines with sledgehammers, and they’re known to have dragged them to the water and sunk them.

What sorts of things have to happen to allow these vintage slot machines to survive to the present? In several instances, the machine goes from a shop or saloon to a family member’s house. I know specifically of several slot machines that came out of a basement in Omaha that had been there since 1906.

So this triple Caille slot machine might have idled in a basement at some point between the turn of the last century and, say, the 1970s? That’s my best guess. I know of others that have been found in buildings that were locked up for several generations, sitting there from the teens or 20s until the 50s or 60s, that were found and moved into collections. They had to have been tucked away where someone was not going to notice them.

Would these late 19th and early 20th century machines have been pulled from service eventually for falling out of fashion? Things were a bit more utilitarian back then. There were advances in gaming technology over time, but not in this period.

The rear of the triple Caille slot machine shows some of the few parts and areas that might have been replaced over the decades.

How original is this triple Caille slot machine? Has anything been replaced or restored? One of the back doors might be new, and all three of the locks on the back doors are replacements. Aside from that, it appears to be all-original.

The lot notes say the triple Caille slot machine comes with its original keys. Is that rare? And does it make the machine even more interesting to collectors, or is that irrelevant when we’re talking about something that’s as rare as this piece? Having its original keys is pretty unusual. The more original it is, the more collectors appreciate it. It does create value.

The player's coin never fed directly into the slot; it was five coins back in the line. If you inserted a slug into the top of the machine, the so-called "witness window" would reveal you as a cheat.

How does the triple Caille slot machine work? There are six slots at the top that all correspond with a color on the wheel, and different odds appear on the wheel. If you bet on white, there’s a ten-to-one chance of a payout. You could bet on one color or bet on them all, but if you bet on them all, you wouldn’t make any money.

Odds for each color are applied directly to the wheels of each machine in the triple Caille.

Let’s say I’ve loaded a coin in the top slot. What happens next? The triple Caille has three big handles on the front. You crank one toward the floor to make the wheel spin. It’s all mechanical, no electrics. Once you play it, it auto-engages the music. You get to hear a little tune. There’s also a witness window on the top slots. It’s not your coin that gets played–there are five coins before yours in the slot. If you hit the jackpot, they [the venue owner] can see if you played a slug or not.

How does the spinning wheel come to a stop? It’s a random set of actions in the mechanism. Think of a wheel in the back, but it has teeth. At some point, one of six levers will fall and connect to the teeth on the wheel and stop it. The lever is connected to the color of the coin slot that was played.

So the wheel with teeth is kind of like the wheel on the Wheel of Fortune television game show? Exactly, but it’s a bit more aggressive. The lever doesn’t slow it in its tracks, it stops the wheel right there.

The Caille company called this triple slot machine model a Centaur Jackpot. Do we know why? Is there centaur imagery on the cabinet or the castings? There is some centaur imagery on the castings, but it might not be noticeable in the photos. Caille made a Centaur single. When they built a triple with three Centaur mechanisms, they called that a Centaur.

This triple Caille features a nickel-quarter-nickel arrangement. Do we know why? Whoever operated it knew their customers. They could order the triple Caille with whatever coin heads they wanted. They had more customers who could afford nickel slots than quarter slots.

Once you pulled the front crank to the floor, the triple Caille would play a tune. Often, it would outlast the spin of the wheel.

Does the triple Caille slot machine play more than one song? It actually plays longer than the wheel spins. A single play gets you part of a song.

Would we recognize any of the songs it plays? Likely you wouldn’t. I was playing it for someone the other day and I didn’t recognize the tune.

What is the triple Caille slot machine like in person? It’s an impressive piece of furniture. It has oak cabinetry made by craftsmen. There’s detail in the legs and the castings. When you’re there and putting your hands on it and touching it, it’s a completely different feeling. It’s a massive piece and impressive to see.

What’s your favorite detail of the machine? The originality of it. The mechanism shows some oxidation, but it’s [the cabinet has] got its original varnish and original finish. I also like the music, because of the value of music as an option. Music boxes have been added to machines to increase their value. The music box shipped in this machine when it was bought–I can tell by the way it was mounted inside, and by the way it operates. It’s great to see an original music box of that age.

The mechanisms in the triple Caille are all-original, including the coveted music box (which is not visible in this image).

Have you played the machine? What was that like? There’s nothing electric about it–it’s mechanical. It clanks and clunks and makes noise. When you play today’s slots, you accumulate your winnings and bring a receipt to the payout window. With this, when the coins come out, you hear it. It’s a whole different feel.

Vintage triple slot machines have been faked in the past. Aside from a correctly mounted music box, what other clues tell us this triple Caille is genuine? Of the eight triples known, four are believed to be faked. That doesn’t make them worthless, but they’re not triples. What’s faked about them, generally, is the cabinet. When someone fakes one, they build the cabinet and get three [genuine period] mechanisms to populate it.

What condition is this triple Caille in? It has not been refinished. There are some dings in the cabinet, and there are places where the nickel plating has been rubbed thin, but that adds character. If it had been restored, or had recast parts, we would have put it in the description.

Does the upcoming sale represent the first time a triple Caille slot machine has gone to auction? No. There was one in a Witherell’s auction earlier this year. [The Caille Triplet Musical Upright sold for $217,800 against an estimate of $100,000 to $250,000 in January 2020.]

Why will this triple Caille slot machine stick in your memory? Because the last time I saw it, I was at Mel’s house [collector Mel Getlan, who consigned the machine] in 1996, when he was still living in New York, and I played it for four hours. [Laughs]. It’s really nice to see it again. There’s something whimsical about standing in front of a machine and playing it, and wondering who owned it before us, and were they as excited to play it as we are. Whoever buys it, I hope it brings them the same joy it brought to Mel. It’s a spectacular piece.

How to bid: The Triple Caille is lot 1110 in the Coin-op & Advertising sale taking place at Morphy Auctions from October 29, 2020 through October 31, 2020.

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

Tom Toleworthy appeared on The Hot Bid earlier in 2020 to discuss a pair of 1928 Princess Doraldina fortune teller machines that were offered in the same auction.

Images are courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

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

A Walter Lang 100-Blade Knife Could Sell for $7,000

A Walter Lang 100-blade knife, created around 1960, could sell for $7,000 at Skinner.

What you see: A Walter Lang 100-blade Exposition knife, No, 227, created circa 1960. Skinner estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

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

Who was Walter Lang? What do we know about his family’s company? He was the fourth generation of a knife-producing family in Germany. Pius Lang started the company in 1852, and in 1889, he showed an 100-blade knife at the Paris Exposition. They say Walter Lang pushed the family to enter the global marketplace. The company is still going.

Do we know why Walter Lang made this 100-blade knife in 1960? Was it for the 1964 World’s Fair? No, I think he just continued to make these. He made 50-, 100-, and 200-blade versions with mother-of-pearl sides and polished stainless steel blades.

I take it he didn’t make this 100-blade knife on his own–he had assistants? I’m under that assumption as well. I think it’s similar to fine watchmaking, with certain people produce certain blades.

Do you have a list of all 100 blades and their functions? No, I can’t find one. [Laughs] When I was researching it for the auction catalog, I went to the Pius Lang website. They don’t have it.

Ok, but how do they account for 100 different blades? I’m thinking after you get past the most popular two dozen, things get a bit too specific or obscure… I think there’s a lot of repetitive pieces, whether they’re different sizes or shapes. [The lot notes mention the following implements: Pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.]

So this Walter Lang 100-blade knife is not a one-off? In my research, I found that 400 100-blade knives were produced by Walter Lang. I think they date to the 1960s, but the information I could pick up was vague.

Shown here closed, the Walter Lang 100-blade knife measures almost 5 inches long and weighs about two pounds.

The lot notes say the 100-blade knife, when closed, measures almost five inches long. How much does it weigh? It weighs 935 grams, or a bit over two pounds.

Was it meant to be functional, or was it a stunt piece? I think it’s a pure stunt, but the precision and the quality of the blades is impeccable. There are a couple of saw blades on it. I would not try to cut down a tree limb with a saw blade, but you definitely could. It took 35 minutes to open all the blades on one side.

Thirty-five minutes! Did it take the same amount of time to open the blades on the other side? Give or take, yes. I’d call it a good hour to do it without cutting yourself.

If you did cut yourself when opening the knife, I’m sure there’s a surgeon’s needle on it somewhere that you could use to stitch up the wound. [Laughs] It’s a conversation piece, for sure.

Can you comfortably carry the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Did you try putting it in your pocket and walking around with it? I did not, no. It’s stainless steel and mother-of-pearl, which is hard to damage, but it’s not ours. Any scratches or scuffs could potentially hurt it.

The bit with the mother-of-pearl is called the “grips”. I take it that’s where your fingers are supposed to rest? Yes. It’s claimed that the mother-of-pearl is from stock set aside by Pius Lang.

What is your favorite blade on the knife? It’s the mustache comb. [Laughs]

The 100-blade knife's implements include pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.
The mustache comb is visible in the fan of tools on the right side of the 100-blade knife, on the bottom, peeking out from under what appears to be a butterknife.

Why? This thing is two pounds. The mustache comb is just shy of two inches long. To have a two-pound object in your hand at the right height to comb your mustache…it’s a challenge.

Who was the target market for the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Or did he do it just because he could? I believe that 100 percent. It’s not a functional piece, its a “Wow” piece.

What is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife like in person? This is craftsmanship at its best. The polishing of each blade, each instrument, is astonishing. No corners were cut with this. The lock and hinge each instrument is on makes a nice click when you open it. It’s pure quality, like fine Swiss watchmaking.

What does it feel like to hold the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in your hand? Is it clumsy or awkward? No, it’s very well-balanced. It’s not top-heavy or bottom-heavy or left-heavy or right-heavy. There’s nothing really I can compare it to.

I imagine that’s how Walter Lang shows his mastery, yes? This thing could have been an absolute mess, but it’s merely ludicrous and still functional. Yes. [Laughs]. I’d be so curious how it evolved over the last 50 years–what the layouts were, what came with the piece, and what happened over that time frame. It’s a work of art.

What condition is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in? There’s no tarnish or scratches. There’s a few surface scratches on the mother-of-pearl, but there’s way to tell with the naked eye. I think a lot of people buy them as curiosity objects, open them once, and shut them.

How often do Walter Lang 100-blade knives come to auction? We had one in June 2012 that sold for $7,110. So this is the second one I’ve seen in person.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Being able to experience an object like this–we called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience in 2012, but now it’s twice in a lifetime. I thought I wouldn’t see another, but here we are.

How to bid: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife is lot 1346 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments online sale at Skinner, taking place between October 19 and 27, 2020.

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

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Images are courtesy of Skinner.

Jonathan Dowling has appeared on The Hot Bid twice previously, talking about a scarce and remarkable crainiometer and unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

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

Reminder: A Wharton Esherick Table Made for Hedgerow Theatre Could Fetch $250,000

Back in March 2020, The Hot Bid posted a story on the Thunder Table, a magnificent unique piece that Wharton Esherick made in 1929 for the Hedgerow Theater.

It was meant to go to sale at Freeman’s Auction a few weeks later, but COVID-19 intervened.

The auction was ultimately rescheduled for October 28, 2020.

Given the unusual hiccups that have postponed the sale, I felt it best to post a reminder with a link to the original story:

A Futuristic Concept Car by a Brilliant Unknown Maker Could Fetch $75,000 (Updated October 15, 2020)

La Shabbla, a unique concept car created by John Bucci, a little-known Italian-American designer. It could sell for $75,000.

Update: The futuristic concept car sold for $30,000.

What you see: La Shabbla, a futuristic concept car designed by the late John Bucci. Everard Auctions & Appraisals estimates it at $50,000 to $75,000.

The expert: Amanda Everard of Everard Auctions & Appraisals.

Who was John Bucci? He was an Italian-American who grew up in an area of northern Italy that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. He immigrated around 1959 and found ultimate freedom after coming to America, but he didn’t have a car. He built himself the car of the future, which would get noticed. He drove it around Chicago.

He didn’t have money for a car, so he built one instead? Did he not realize that it would be more expensive to build one? I don’t know him, but I talked to people who did. Bucci had a magnetism about him. He was also an electrical engineer. His mind was always working. His widow said his motto was “nothing is impossible”. If he didn’t have it, he’d create it.

John Bucci dubbed his unique concept car "La Shabbla," which means "the sword", for its aerodynamic shape that slices through the air.

La Shabbla apparently means “sword”. Do we know why he gave his futuristic concept car that name? He chose it because the car’s aerodynamic form could cut or slice through the air. That was the thinking behind it.

Did Bucci have any experience making futuristic concept cars before starting work on La Shabbla? No, he had no experience, but he was an electrical engineer. He was very outgoing, and he would learn as he went.

And he did this alone? No assistants? As far as I know, yes.

From every angle, John Bucci's futuristic concept car looks like something that would fit right into the Jetsons universe.

How long did it take him to finish this futuristic concept car? I asked his widow that, and she didn’t know exactly. He immigrated in 1959 and La Shabbla was in its first custom car show in 1962, so it took at least that long–a couple of years.

Do we know why he chose to build La Shabbla on a Fiat chassis with an Abarth 750 engine? Because it had a potent engine and a compact size.

So Bucci bought a car to make a car… I guess buying a car like everyone else does wasn’t satisfying for him? This was the car of his imagination and his dreams. He couldn’t buy it off a lot. He was the center of attention. He got all the looks.

While we’re calling La Shabbla a futuristic concept car, it doesn’t really fit the strict definition of a concept car. It was never meant for mass production, and never meant to influence car designs that might go in to mass production. It was always for Bucci’s use alone. Yes? That’s correct. His widow said it identified him as an American. It was his American dream.

He designed the body of the futuristic concept car out of fiberglass. Was fiberglass a novel material in the early 1960s? Or was it well-established by then? It was invented in the late 19th century and was used in car design starting in 1949, but not for production cars until later in the 1950s. Bucci liked it because it was resilient and lightweight.

How does La Shabbla show Bucci’s mastery of fiberglass? I don’t think he mastered it. He trained himself, essentially. It’s certainly a slick form, very futuristic. If you look at films from the era that look into the future–1950s space films–it has that look. I always think of the Jetsons flying cars when I see it.

La Shabbla turned the heads of General Motors executives. Bucci declined to take a job with them, but accepted an invitation to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World's Fair.

How did Bucci manage to wrangle permission to show his futuristic concept car at the 1964 World’s Fair? My assumption is he was seen driving around Chicago or it was seen at one of the custom car shows. General Motors (GM) executives talked to him and wanted him to work for them, but he wanted to remain independent. The executives got him a pass for the 1964 World’s Fair. He drove the car from Chicago to New York. I assume he drove it alone. He was a very determined individual.

Ever the promoter, John Bucci politely pressed the powers that be at the 1964 World's Fair for permission to drive his futuristic concept car onto the fairgrounds for a killer photo shoot.

What happened once he brought his futuristic concept car to the fair? He wanted to drive it on the actual fairground. He wanted a photo op with the globe behind it. He asked for a pass and was told no. Day two, he was told no. Day three, the guy [in charge of fairground permissions] said, “I don’t know who you know, but here’s your pass.” He took shots with the globe behind him. He knew it would be a timeless thing.

Where within the 1964 World’s Fair was his futuristic concept car displayed? In the Transportation Pavilion, in the Cavalcade of Custom Cars.

A period article from 1964 says La Shabbla was “valued at over $250,000”. Did that number come from Bucci? It came directly from Bucci. He was a self-promoter. He thought his blood, sweat, and tears was worth $250,000.

Originally silver, at some point John Bucci repainted La Shabbla a khaki green.

What happened to Bucci’s futuristic concept car after the 1964 World’s Fair ended? It stayed with him the whole time. He stored it for a while, and when he got a new studio in Chicago, he displayed it there. [Bucci died in February 2019.]

Is La Shabbla drivable? No, not currently.

Bucci, an electrical engineer, built the car unassisted. It took him at least three years' worth of nights and weekends to realize his vision.

What is the futuristic concept car like in person? It’s so sleek, like a real-life Jetsons vehicle–the car of the future in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s a very sleek, very sexy car.

Have you sat in it? How could I not? I couldn’t resist. It has amazing woven blue leather bucket seats. Very comfortable.

Does it still have its engine? It has an engine, but we have not turned it on. It probably hasn’t been turned on for a long time.

Bucci designed La Shabbla with a retractable V-shaped steering device instead of a standard wheel.

What features does the futuristic concept car have? Were any of them novel or innovative for their time? It has retractable headlights and a retractable V-shaped steering wheel. The passenger side windshield goes up and down. And it has an 8-track tape reel on the passenger side.

Bucci fitted La Shabbla with a pair of woven blue leather bucket seats.

What is your favorite detail of La Shabbla? The seats. They’re just so sexy, like Bottega Venetta woven leather. And they’re eye-catching. The blue pops with the color of the car.

Did Bucci design La Shabbla without doors, or did it have them and lose them over time? It was designed with no doors.

Though he was living in Chicago when he built La Shabbla, Bucci sent it into the world without doors or a hard top to shield its driver and passenger from the elements.

Did he give the futuristic concept car a hard top or a removable dome? No. It was a sunny day car. [Laughs]. It needs a garage.

Does it have an odometer? It does not appear to have one.

How did you set the estimate for this futuristic concept car? [Laughs] It’s clearly hard to set a value on a one-of-one car by an unknown designer. I spoke to colleagues in the collector car field and developed a gut feeling on what it will bring. Concept cars at auction are mostly made by manufacturers, so they get high-flying prices. I would love for this to do that, but I don’t know that an unknown designer can bring that. There’s not a huge amount known about him, and there should be.

Why will this futuristic concept car stick in your memory? For me, it’s always about the story. I never knew John Bucci, but I feel like I do through his artwork and the cars I’m selling for the family. His widow said she felt the car defined him. That’s what will stick with me–optimism and possibilities and a dream coming true.

How to bid: The futuristic concept car is lot 0020 in Concept Cars & Art from the John Bucci Estate, a sale taking place at Everard Auctions & Appraisals on October 14, 2020.

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A Vase by Contemporary Native American Artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez Could Command $25,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

A black on black water jug-shape vase by Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez could command $25,000.

Update: The Youngblood Sanchez vase sold for $16,000.

What you see: A vase by contemporary Native American ceramic artists Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez, co-created in 2008. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Mark Sublette, founder of the eponymous gallery and auction house in Tucson, Arizona.

Let’s start by introducing each contemporary Native American ceramic artist. Who is Nancy Youngblood? She is a Santa Clara potter. She began as a young girl, and she comes from a great lineage of pottery-making.

And who is Russell Sanchez? He’s one of the great Pueblo potters from San Ildefonso, a different pueblo from Youngblood, but close to where she grew up. He and Youngblood are considered masters of the Pueblo pottery world. They’re two of the most decorated living Pueblo potters. She has won Best of Show at SWAIA [the Southwest Associaton for Indian Arts, which hosts the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico every August], and he has won Best Of his division.

Where were Youngblood and Sanchez in their careers in 2008, when they collaborated on this vase? They were at the top of their game, as they are now.

Do we know how the Youngblood Sanchez vase collaboration came about? I don’t, but dealer Charles King has represented both of them. My guess is he thought, “Let’s put two of the best potters together and see what comes up.” What they are is in the same league, which is the best. [Laughs]

Nancy Youngblood and Russell Sanchez collaborated on this vase in 2008. It appears to be a one-off.

So it was a contemporary Native American art dealer, and not the artists, who probably came up with the idea to collaborate? I’m sure it was, and I’m sure it was an easy pitch. It’s a natural. Potters have, historically, worked together. Usually it’s family members working together. This vase is a little different, because the artists are from two different tribes.

Is this Youngblood Sanchez vase part of a series of works they did together, or is it a one-off? My guess is this is the only one. I’ve never heard of another. Both are masters of the trade. They don’t need to work with anybody. They did this to see what would happen. It’s beautiful. That’s why it’s at auction.

Native American pottery seems to be female-dominated. The few pots I’ve seen that represent the joint efforts of a woman and a man have been the work of a wife-and-husband team. Does that fact make the Youngblood Sanchez vase unusual? Yes. I would say it’s very unusual. The only other pairing I know of is Tammy Garcia [a Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor and ceramic artist] and Preston Singletary [a Native American glass artist from the Tlingit community in the Pacific Northwest]. Those two are at the top of their field, too. Aside from that pairing and this one, I’ve never seen another.

Do we know how this Youngblood Sanchez vase was made? We can look at the pot and tell who did what. Nancy would have done the ribs on the pot. Russell is known for sgraffito, the etchings on the pot. I don’t know who fired it, but they probably did it together, outdoors, over a fire. My guess is each polished the part they did, with Nancy doing the ribs and Russell doing the neck.

Nancy Youngblood contributed the scalloping at the mouth of the vase and the ribs on the lower half. Russell Sanchez decorated the neck with sgraffito etchings and heishi beads.

I see two thin parallel lines of material on the lower neck of the Youngblood Sanchez vase. What, exactly, do I see, and who would have been responsible for that contribution? Those are heishi beads, from Russell. Heishi are generally shell beads.

How do the two artists’ styles complement each other in this vase? Both are known for working black-on-black. Nancy usually only works in black or red. Russell is more attuned to using lots of different slip colors. [A slip is a mixture of water and clay that can be used like paint.]

This detail shot of the Youngblood Sanchez vase shows off Youngblood's scalloping work.

Is there a narrative or traditional theme expressed on this Youngblood Sanchez vase? The jar itself is a water jar. The two pueblos of the artists have long histories of making water jars. Then they’ve taken the elements of what they’re known for–Russell with his sgraffito and heishi, Nancy with her ribs, and the scalloping at the very top of the jar. They’ve worked from the basis of history and tradition, though they are from two different pueblos.

Youngblood signed the interior base of the vase in letters, while Russell Sanchez opted for a sketch of a rafter on a wave.

Both Youngblood and Sanchez signed the vase on the bottom of its interior. She used letters, and he used graphics. Do we know why? Russell changes his script every so often, when he feels like it. Sometimes he’s a rafter. He was a world-class white-water rafter. That’s what that is. He’ll sign his name too. It just depends on where he is in his life.

What is the Youngblood Sanchez vase like in person? One of the hardest things to appreciate is how finely polished it is. You look at it and you don’t see any flaws at all. If you like the black-on-black sheen in the picture, you will love it in person.

Youngblood hand-polished the lower two-thirds of the vase, while Sanchez handled the upper third.

How does each artist approach the polishing of their ceramic pieces? Do they rely on assistants for that part of the process? They’re the only ones who can do the polishing. I’m sure he did the upper third, and she did the lower two-thirds. To get into those little grooves, she’s using little rocks that have been handed down through the generations.

Why does she use rocks to polish her ceramics? First, it comes from tradition. They’ve [her pueblo] been doing it that way for a thousand years. The rocks–if you’re not absolutely perfect with the pressure on the wet clay, you’ll leave little grooves. This looks perfect. You can’t see how perfect the finish is.

I imagine doing things the old-fashioned way places a natural limit on how many pieces Youngblood and Sanchez could make together. Yes. Polishing slows down the process, that’s for sure.

What is it like to hold the Youngblood Sanchez vase? Any Native American pot, not just that pot, has the sense of a continuation of the culture–watching your mom or your aunt, and helping them. You can tell how much effort is required to get to this point. When you hold the pot, you hold tradition, culture, and personal effort all at once.

This Youngblood Sanchez vase appears to be unique. How did you set the estimate? Did you look at auction prices for Youngblood and Sanchez and average them? Yes, exactly right. Russell Sanchez works have sold in the $40,000 range, and the same is true for Nancy. Both artists are highly desirable. When they do the Indian Market [the Santa Fe fair mentioned above], they sell out in a few hours.

Who do you think will win the vase–a Youngblood collector, or a Sanchez collector? Is there a great deal of overlap between the two? Yes and yes. If you’re a Nancy Youngblood fan, it’s hard to believe you’re not a fan of Russell Sanchez as well. This vase is going to be on your hit parade for sure. It’s hard to come by.

As we speak on September 28, the Youngblood Sanchez vase has received enough bids to meet its $8,000 reserve, well ahead of the October 11 auction. Does that matter? I think it does. It means people are watching. If you want something of this rarity, you need to be aggressive and on top of this. If it sets a record, that wouldn’t surprise me.

The Youngblood Sanchez vase will automatically set an auction record for a collaboration by both artists, but could it set new auction records for each artist as well? It’s possible. In auctions, you occasionally have one shot at a rare piece in your collecting career. This may be that piece if you’re a contemporary Native American pot collector.

Why will this Youngblood Sanchez vase stick in your memory? I’m a fan of both, and I’ve known both artists for 30 years. I considered taking this piece home and putting it in my own collection. It’s definitely selling. And it’s the rarity–having something this rare and unique and beautifully made.

How to bid: The Nancy Youngblood Russell Sanchez vase is lot 0292 in the Rare Early Native, Western Art, Photography sale taking place at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction on October 11, 2020.

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

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery & Auction.

Earlier in 2020, Sublette interviewed Russell Sanchez for episode 115 of his video podcast, Art Dealer Diaries.

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STAN the T. rex Skeleton Could Set a New World Auction Record (Did He Ever! Updated October 6, 2020)

STAN the T. rex, one of the best-known examples of the legendary dinosaur species, could command $8 million at Christie's New York.

Update: Whoa! Whoa! And WHOA again! The T. rex skeleton known as STAN sold for $31.8 million–just shy of four times its high estimate, and a new world auction record for any dinosaur.

What you see: A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as STAN. Christie’s estimates it at $6 million to $8 million.

The expert: James Hyslop, head of Christie’s department of scientific instruments, globes, and natural history.

Christie’s describes this T. rex skeleton as “one of the largest, most complete, and widely studied tyrannosaurus rex skeletons on earth”. I’d like to take each claim in turn. What makes STAN one of the largest? He stands 13 feet tall and 37 feet long. [The Christie’s press release notes that the skeleton is “40 feet long with the tail outstretched”.] He is a male T. rex. Females are larger than the males.

A detail shot of the tapering tail bones of STAN the T. rex. When fully outstretched, STAN is 40 feet long from nose to tail.

Is that how we know STAN the T. rex is male? His skeleton is smaller? The size is a clue, but ultimately, it’s the shape and size of the hips that determine the gender of a T. rex. STAN’s are slightly more narrow.

How complete is this T. rex skeleton? STAN has 188 of his bones. Only one or two other T. rex skeletons can boast a higher number of bones than STAN. No complete T. rex will likely ever be found. The circumstances of the animal’s death, followed by the preservation of remains in the geological record, are generally unfavorable to preserving the entire beast.

Would Sue be one of those two T. rex skeletons? She’s probably the best and most complete T. rex. She’s resided at the Field Museum in Chicago for 20-odd years. Another, Victoria, is a more recent discovery.

STAN lacks 112 of his bones. From where on his skeleton are they missing? The famously short, stubby arms of the T. rex aren’t present on STAN. He’s missing one of his femurs, some ribs, vertebrae, and parts of his feet. What’s important is so much of his skull is intact. All elements of his skull are present, including 30 teeth.

STAN's skull is unusually intact for a T. rex skeleton. Christie's New York has displayed the original at ground level, so visitors to its gallery can examine it up close. The skull on the full skeleton is cast from resin.

When you say this T. rex skeleton is widely studied, what do you mean by that? There are countless scientific publications on STAN, and he’s been cast at least 60 times for institutes and museums around the world. I think he’s the most-seen T. rex there is.

When you say “cast”, do you mean STAN’s skeleton has been cast in plaster 60 times? Yeah, originally, but these days, resin is used for lighter weight.

How did the T. rex skeleton get the name STAN, and why is STAN spelled in all caps? The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research [in Hill City, South Dakota] always referred to the dinosaur as STAN. Stan Sacrison found the first bones of the dinosaur in 1987. Unfortunately, it was identified as a triceratops, and triceratops are the most commonly found dinosaur. In the late 1980s, there was less impetus to excavate.

Christie's mounted STAN's skeletal feet in a position that imitates that of an ostrich.

I imagine that’s why they didn’t feel the urge to extract STAN’s bones from the earth until 1992. How much work went into recovering the skeleton? Each bone had to be documented, recorded, and transported to the Black Hills Institute. It was meticulously restored and prepared, 30,000 hours from ground to mount.

What can we learn about STAN’s life from studying his bones? Did he have adventures? Or should I say misadventures? Misadventures is exactly the term for it. Many of his ribs cracked and healed during his lifetime. He has holes on his jaw that are not caused by disease–they are puncture wounds that are pretty much the size of a T. rex‘s tooth. And vertebrae in his neck fused together and healed, right behind the skull. STAN broke his neck, healed, and carried on being at the top of the food chain. That tells you how tough the T. rex was as an animal.

Can we tell, by looking at STAN the T. rex‘s bones, how old he was when he died? Not with great accuracy. It’s thought that mature T. rexes lived to their late 20s or early 30s.

Long since stripped of flesh and photographed from the back, STAN  has lost none of his ability to strike fear into those who get too close.

What is STAN the T. rex‘s skeleton like in person? I’ve been lucky to come face to face with dinosaurs in my career. There isn’t anything like standing close to a T. rex. They are big, really big, terrifyingly big. I’m six-foot-two and I don’t get halfway up to the top of his hipbone. We had him mounted so he’s stooping down in a very dynamic pose. Even then, you look up to his skull.

Wow. With STAN, the skull is displayed separately. We wanted people to be able to see the puncture wounds and his neck. Also, the weight of the skull is severe. We’ve got a [lightweight] cast resin skull on the skeleton so we can have the dinosaur swooping down toward you.

What is your favorite detail of STAN the T. rex? It’s going to sound ridiculous, but it’s the feet. When I was out cataloging him, I watched the photoshoot happen, and I took a shot of my leg and foot up against STAN. His claw was bigger than my boot. He’s just an enormous animal.

What was it like to install STAN the T. rex in the display gallery at Christie’s New York? It’s been an adventure. It’s amazing the operations team speaks to me at all. STAN takes two to three days to install, and in 2020, social distancing is a big consideration. We want as many people as possible to see STAN, and we can’t accommodate them all in the building. We removed a temporary wall so you can see him from the street.

Did you supervise the installation? Because of COVID-19, I’m trapped in London. The last time I saw STAN was at the photoshoot.

Is that nervewracking–knowing that STAN the T. rex was being assembled an ocean away from you, and not being able to watch over the process? Having seen it go up once, I have full confidence in them [the team] to do it without me there. I don’t know where STAN will end up, but the team will be able to install him in any conditions you throw at them.

STAN the T. rex's skull retains 30 of its teeth.

So the team that assembled STAN at Christie’s New York will be made available to the winning bidder? Shipping will be at the buyer’s cost, but we would absolutely help the buyer, and advise them on how to position the skeleton in space. We’d recommend the team because they know the skeleton well.

When was the last time a substantially complete T. rex skeleton came to auction? Would that have been Sue? The last was Sue, in 1997. Sotheby’s sold it for a still-world-record price for any dinosaur: $8.36 million. The main difference, other than the gender and the size, is Sue was sold unassembled. The bones hadn’t been prepped or mounted into a full skeleton. The Field Museum spent one or two years getting it ready. [The original lot notes for Sue are not online, but the Associated Press (AP) archive channel posted video of the 1997 auction.]

Was the estimate for STAN the T. rex based on the price commanded by Sue? Yeah. There’s precious little auction history for T. rexes. STAN is being sold without reserve, but really, almost any price is possible. We’ve probably estimated STAN conservatively. Sue set a world record price and the benchmark for the market. I expect a world record with STAN and I expect another such reset. The number of T. rexes that have gone to market is pretty scant. Really, it’s a generational wait.

You said earlier that STAN’s skeleton has been cast at least 60 times and displayed all over the world. How might his fame make him more interesting to collectors? Or does the inherent rarity of a substantially complete T. rex skeleton coming to market make STAN’s fame irrelevant? I think the two are interwound. He’s been so well-studied and documented over the years, and so reproduced for museums, it’s hard to separate those two. If he was a triceratops, he wouldn’t command an estimate in the millions.

Why has Christie’s placed STAN the T. rex in its October 6 evening sale, rather than a natural history auction, or a single-lot offering? Two reasons. STAN really is the best of the best. The 20th Century Evening Sale is a marquee sale at Christie’s, and STAN is a natural fit for that reason. He was 67 million years in the making, but the T. rex is an icon of the 20th century. The first T. rex was found in Cezanne’s lifetime and was first published in 1905. Within 13 years, the T. rex had made its first appearance in Hollywood, doing battle with King Kong on Skull Island. More recently, the T. Rex was almost the lead actor in Jurassic Park.

Why will STAN the T. rex stick in your memory? Apart from the logistics and it happening in 2020… I was there as the skeleton was going up. I saw it as a pair of hips and nothing else. I saw the bones go up one by one over ten to 12 hours. Seeing it fully assembled with the lights dimmed was magical. It’s big and scary. You don’t forget something like that.

How to bid: STAN the T. rex is lot 59 in the 20th Century Evening Sale taking place at Christie’s New York on October 6, 2020.

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Images are courtesy of Christie’s.

James Hyslop has appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about a rocket-like (ahem) tall gogotte formation from Fontainebleu, France, a Canyon Diablo meteorite, and a Seymchan meteorite with pallasites

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An Unheated Tourmaline That Weighs 100.59 Carats Could Command $1 Million

The Jena Blue, an 100.59 carat unheated tourmaline, could sell for $1 million at Heritage Auctions.

What you see: An unheated “Paraíba-type” tourmaline from Mozambique, weighing in at 100.59 carats. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $700,000 to $1 million.

The expert: Craig Kissick, director of nature and science for Heritage Auctions.

How was the tourmaline discovered? It was mined in Mozambique in 2001. A really large rough was pulled out that weighed 262 carats. The person who acquired it was looking for top-quality rough material.

Is Mozambique known for its tourmalines? Yes, especially for gem “Paraíba-type” tourmalines. Tourmalines are a prolific type of mineral also found in Brazil, California, and Afghanistan. There are quality examples from each area.

This large unheated tourmaline is described as “copper-bearing”. What does that mean? Does the presence of copper affect the appearance of the stone’s color? Absolutely. Copper-bearing tourmalines have a gorgeous bluish-green hue. That’s what sets them apart. “Paraíba” is a word for the purest form of copper-bearing tourmalines of this color from Brazil.

What does the phrase “Paraíba-type” mean? The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) can refer to any copper-bearing tourmaline as Paraíba, but old-school people in the business call them “Paraíba-type” or “Paraíba-like” if they’re not from Brazil. There are people who will pay an unlimited amount of money if they get a true Paraíba from Brazil.

And this stone, called the Jena Blue, is believed to be the largest unheated tourmaline? That’s very, very important. We do believe it’s the largest unheated tourmaline gemstone in the world.

Why is it important that it’s unheated? It’s a purity standpoint, and a value driver. There are purists out there who want no enhancements. So much material is enhanced. This is among the small percentage that is not.

But how would heat treatment improve a natural tourmaline? Heating essentially juices the visual attributes of the stone. It will often brighten or intensify the color.

What’s the next-smallest known unheated tourmaline? This is a very casual answer, but in my experience, people looking for 20-carat or 30-carat examples have enough trouble finding them. You normally see five carats. For most people, that’s a plenty big stone, fine for a ring.

Why is this unheated tourmaline called the Jena Blue? The collector prefers to be anonymous, but my understanding is the Jena Blue is some sort of contraction of two of his grandchildrens’ names.

The stone is described as “flawless”. What sorts of flaws can appear in a tourmaline? Because of how it grows, in long, columnar crystals, tourmaline is not an inherently clear material. It’s more likely to be translucent than transparent. You’re not going to hold up a tourmaline and be able to read a book through it.

This unheated tourmaline has what’s called a “native cut”. Why was that cut chosen, and how does the cut enhance the qualities of the stone? The piece was required to be cut before it left Mozambique, and it has not been recut. They [the original owner] wanted to end up with a stone that was over 100 carats. It pains me to say it, but could you recut it and come up with a visually nicer and smaller stone? You could. It was cut for yield, for the largest stone possible.

The chosen cut has a lot of facets to it…The faceting around it gives it a little sparkle. Because of the size of the stone, there’s sort of a large window in the top that allows you to see through it. Because it’s so clear, it almost washes the color out. If this stone were smaller or more included [afflicted with inclusions, a type of flaw] it could be bolder, and it could have more richness in it.

About 162 carats were discarded in cutting this unheated tourmaline. Do we know why the gem-cutter chose to dispense with so much of the rough? I don’t know the answer, but my educated guess is that with a big chunk of rough, only a certain area is gemstone material. It could have been highly occluded. It could have been damaged, or cracked. Some is lost to get down to the finished product.

What is the Jena Blue tourmaline like in person? It’s huge. I don’t say this to downplay it at all, but when you compare it to a typical gemstone, it’s cartoonish. If you were of a mind to make it into jewelry, it would be comical. And it’s very clear. To me, it’s a little more clear than colorful in person.

What is it like to hold the Jena Blue tourmaline? [Laughs] It’s scary, because you don’t want to drop it or hurt it. It’s kind of like holding a baby.

How well does it fit in the palm of your hand? I’m six-foot-five and 275 pounds. If your hand was 20 percent smaller than mine, and if you cupped your hand so it’s concave as opposed to flat, it would cover the palm of your hand. It’s gonna nestle in there just fine. But people tend to want to handle it with two hands, because they’re nervous about it.

Is the Jena Blue tourmaline heavy? No, it doesn’t feel that heavy. It’s probably a bit more than a golf ball, weight-wise. That being said, if you put it in a pendant around your neck, it’s not going to be everyday jewelry.

How did you set the estimate for the Jena Blue tourmaline? Are there any direct comparables on record? It’s a hard comp. We’ve got a precedent in that material like this can go for one million or north of that. But it’s so singular, it’s hard to know what the market is.

Is there a world auction record for a tourmaline? I’m guessing that stones such as this tend to sell on the private market, and not at auction… I don’t know the world auction record. I really couldn’t answer. Nobody sees stuff like this very often. It’s so singular, there’s not much to compare it to.

So when the Jena Blue tourmaline sells, it might automatically set a world auction record for any tourmaline? That’s very well possible. I think there probably are million-dollar-plus Paraíba-type examples out there, through gem dealers. You virtually never see 100-carat-plus tourmalines at auction, so there’s not much of a sales record.

Who would comprise the market for the Jena Blue tourmaline–natural history collectors, or people who might want to fashion the stone into jewelry? I think a natural history collector. If someone fashioned it into jewelry… it’s too big. It’s like Flava Flav’s clock. You can see it coming from a mile away. I want to believe the attributes that were important to the original collector will drive the day. There’s a lot of stones in the auction catalog that you could make into jewelry. The Jena Blue doesn’t strike me as that.

Why will the Jena Blue tourmaline stick in your memory? To me, it’s the singular nature of the stone. As a collector, I always enjoy anomalies. There aren’t other tourmalines like it out there. This is a one-time thing. It’s an incredible item. Personally, I’m more into dinosaurs than gemstones, but even I can’t deny it’s something.

How to bid: The large unheated tourmaline is lot #72111 in The Jena Blue Collection of Gemstones & Minerals Signature Auction, taking place October 5, 2020 at Heritage Auctions.

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Craig Kissick has appeared on The Hot Bid twice, discussing a large specimen of crystallized gold as well as a matched set of bull mammoth tusks.

Heritage Auctions filmed a 360-degree video of the Jena Blue tourmaline and posted it on its YouTube channel.

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A William Wendt Painting Could Fetch $80,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

Flickering Light, a 1921 landscape painting by California plein-air master William Wendt, could fetch $80,000.

Update: The William Wendt painting sold for $137,575–more than double its low estimate.

What you see: Flickering Light, a 1921 William Wendt painting. Bonhams estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.

Who was William Wendt? He was a plein-air painter who was one of the leaders and foremost artists of California Impressionist painting. Because it never rains in Southern California, it’s easy to prop up an easel.

Was he self-taught? No, he wasn’t. Surprisingly, there’s little info on him–no journals, no scrapbooks, and no children. He was born in a small town in what is now Germany. He hated his father and hated his work as an apprentice in a furniture shop. He emigrated to America, got a job working in cabinetry, and he started painting. He did get art training, mostly in Chicago. He was known to paint up to 20 paintings a day, because it was fun and he was good at it. He was painting like a madman.

Chicago isn’t a great place for plein-air painting. Is that why Wendt moved? Back then, there was a huge influx of people to the West Coast because the railroads opened it up. It was advertised as a land of opportunity.

How prolific was Wendt? Is there a catalog raisonné for him? There’s no catalog raisonné, but there’s a coffee table book on his works that’s a catalog raisonné of sorts. It’s by John Alan Walker, and it covers 878 paintings by Wendt. He tried to document all of them.

Does that number–878 paintings–hold up as a good number for Wendt’s lifetime output? I’d say he painted well over 1,000, but the actual number, we don’t know. One thousand is a guess.

Where was William Wendt in his career in 1921, when he painted this work? 1921 was his heyday. He had a gallery in Los Angeles, the Stendahl Gallery, which handled all the big hitters in the market back then. He was making a pretty good living in Laguna Beach. His popularity ground to a halt when the Great Depression hit in 1929. It [his style of painting] was on a collision course with Modernism. This was his older, mature period. He did numerous paintings of sunlight coming through the trees.

So this William Wendt painting is a stand-alone, but the theme of sunlight coming through trees appears often in his work? Authors have suggested the sunlight represents a God-like, heavenly spiritual body coming through, bringing beauty and energy to the world. Wendt was a religious man. They [he and his compatriots] embraced a very Thoreau-esque way of looking at the world. They wanted to glorify the beauty of nature and look at God’s creation. They tried to do pleasant homages to nature, and that’s what Wendt became famous for doing.

Is this William Wendt painting a good example of his work? It’s got a lot of detail to the branches, and a lot of variety of light. It has an abstract quality to it.

Is the scene in this William Wendt painting a real place, or is it his own invention? If it’s real, do we know where he painted it? It probably was a real place, and we don’t know where it is.

This William Wendt painting jumped out at me because it looks like it could have been painted in New England in the autumn… That’s not how it strikes me. I just don’t interpret it that way.

So the painting looks clearly Californian to you? I think so.

What is the William Wendt painting like in person? The colors are bright, and they pop. There’s really nice, sharp detail.

How thickly is the paint layered on the surface of the canvas? I’d say moderately. Not thin and not thick. You can definitely see the brushstrokes. He definitely worked quickly. It’s not labored.

What’s the world auction record for a William Wendt painting? Was it set at Bonhams? It was set with us in 2015, and it sold for just over $1.5 million. The reason why it brought $1.5 million is it was on the cover of Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, by Ruth Westphal. It was the first of two books that became the bibles of California plein-air painting. From a notoriety point of view, I knew it would do well.

Why will this William Wendt painting stick in your memory? There are never any figures in his paintings. It has a quiet solitude about it. It looks like a very convincing scene, with that late light that comes when the sun starts to get a little low. It sort of gives you a happy feeling.

How to bid: The William Wendt painting is lot 57 in the California and Western Art auction taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on October 13, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Scot Levitt has appeared before on The Hot Bid, talking about a Gilbert Munger painting of El Capitanan early Sydney Laurence painting of the mountain now known as Denali, and a casting of Frederic Remington’s famous bronze, Broncho Buster.

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A Karl Benjamin Painting Could Fetch $50,000 (Updated October 19, 2020)

Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 painting by the late Karl Benjamin, could sell for $50,000 or more at LAMA.

Update: The Karl Benjamin painting sold for $37,500.

What you see: Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 work by the late Karl Benjamin. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA.

Who was Karl Benjamin, and how does he fit in with mid-century California artists? He was a key part of the hard-edge movement, a term coined by Jules Langsner. He put together The Abstract Classicists. Benjamin was in the show, and it was the birth of hard-edge painting.

How prolific was Benjamin? I know a catalog raisonné on him is underway. Do its authors have a notion of his productivity? I’m not sure about the number of works he produced in his lifetime, but I’m sure it’s a hefty number.

It seems that Benjamin took an unusual path to becoming an artist, in that it wasn’t his primary goal. Could you talk about how his career evolved? He had studied at Northwestern and joined the Navy in World War II. Then he moved to the west coast and started teaching at an elementary school. That led him to his interest in the fine arts. He went to Claremont Graduate School for art. It was a good move, because it had a thriving art scene in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. That’s probably why his career took off. He had his first solo show in 1954 though he had only been painting for four years at that point.

The Karl Benjamin painting you’re offering, Laguna Seascape II, dates to 1954. Was it in that solo show? It was! The Karl Benjamin estate has a copy of the original checklist, and the painting has a label from the show on the back. It’s great to have confirmation it was in the show.

So that 1954 exhibition was Karl Benjamin’s breakthrough? Yes, and he was obviously building up to it. 1954 to 1955 was when he started to really move into the style he became best-known for. You see his style start to crystalize. He does semi-representational pieces and starts moving into fully abstract pieces.

Are early Karl Benjamin paintings prized by collectors though they don’t match the fully abstract aesthetic of his later work? Benjamin is one of the rare cases where his early works are very desirable and sought after.

This is a small question, but I wanted to ask it. This Karl Benjamin painting is called Laguna Seascape II. Do we know where Laguna Seascape I is? I don’t know. We’ve offered a work by him called North of Santa Barbara Coast II, and the checklist for the 1954 show had both I and II, but it only had Laguna Seascape II. It’s possible that Laguna Seascape I is out there. I don’t know where.

Is the seascape in the Karl Benjamin painting a real, identifiable place in Laguna Beach, California, or is it his own invention? It’s interesting, because he never lived in Laguna Beach that I’m aware. His parents lived on the Santa Barbara coast. I don’t know what interest Laguna Beach had for him. I’m not sure what the significance was.

Are Karl Benjamin paintings of abstract landscapes relatively rare? They are relatively rare because he did move into pure abstraction pretty quickly. He only did landscapes for seven or eight years, and he was fully abstract for four decades.

Could you talk about the use of color in this Karl Benjamin painting? In his early works, the color is much more muted, which makes sense if he’s trying to do a seascape. He used bright Pop colors later in his career.

What is the Karl Benjamin painting like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t capture? There’s much more of a painterly quality to this piece, almost a pebbly texture to it, which you see in his earlier works. I don’t know how he got the texture on the pieces. His later style is more flat and perfect. A lot of hard-edge people put a lot of varnish on top [of their works] to give them a sheen and obscure the brushstrokes. That was the hard-edge look.

How has the Karl Benjamin painting market changed over time? The J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time initiative was a major boost to California artists. Karl Benjamin certainly benefitted from the increased exposure it provided. It was a city-wide initiative with various exhibits about artists who were active from 1945 to 1980. One of the main exhibits had a really beautiful piece by Karl Benjamin. That helped his career. Since then, his market has been pretty steady.

Does this sale mark the first time this Karl Benjamin painting has come to auction? Yes. Early in his career, before he was well-established, he did a lot of exchanges for artwork, or gave pieces to his friends. This person [who first owned it] was a colleague of Benjamin’s. The painting has been exhibited, but it’s never been offered.

What’s the world auction record for Benjamin? Was it set at LAMA? It was set with us. It was a piece from a similar period, a 1955 work offered in 2013. It was estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 and realized $71,875.

Was the record-setting Karl Benjamin painting an abstract landscape, like this one? It was untitled, and had a similar color pattern. I don’t think it’s a landscape, but it was more when he was moving into pure abstraction.

Could this Karl Benjamin painting set a new record for the artist? The 1955 untitled piece was a great piece, but so is this. It really depends.

Why will this Karl Benjamin painting stick in your memory? It is very evocative of the seaside, that sort of calm you find with the sea. There’s just something about it that’s therapeutic.

How to bid: The Karl Benjamin painting is a featured lot in the Modern Art & Design Auction taking place at LAMA on October 18, 2020.

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Clo Pazera appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about an iconic Julius Shulman image of the Stahl house, aka Case Study House #22, and an untitled Ed Moses abstract

Karl Benjamin’s estate has a website.

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Diane Arbus Photographs Owned by Albino Sword Swallower Sandra Reed Could Together Command $80,000 (Updated September 29, 2020)

A Diane Arbus double portrait photograph of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, could sell for $20,000 or more at Potter & Potter.

Update: Lots 233 and 234 sold for $6,000 each. The circa 1965 group photo, lot 231, fetched $12,000.

What you see: A gelatin silver print of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken in 1970 by Diane Arbus. It and three other images from the same session come directly from the estate of Sandra Reed. Potter and Potter estimates each at $10,000 to $20,000.

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

Do we know the story behind how Diane Arbus and Sandra Reed met? Did Reed know who Arbus was? I don’t know the story behind that, but I’m sure it’s chronicled. Obviously, Arbus had a fascination with sideshows, circuses, and unusual people. It’s a hallmark of her work. Joe, who works for me, could relate it better. Johnny Fox (a sideshow performer whose collection Potter & Potter sold in November 2018) had Arbus photos that Sandra Reed had given him. When Joe was doing the research on the photos, he found Reed’s phone number and called her. She had a vague recollection of the photo session, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, by the way, I’m the sword-swallower in the pictures by Diane Arbus”. Again, I’m speaking for Joe, but [I get the sense that it was] “Oh, I remember a lady came to the fairground and took pictures”.

Is it possible that Reed never realized the significance of having posed for Diane Arbus? The photographs in this auction were Reed’s property. She’s deceased. She died last year. The family consigned them.

Do we know how the Arbus photos came to Sandra Reed? Would Arbus have sent them to her? That’s speculation. Her kids are so far removed [from Reed’s time as a sword-swallower], they have no memory of it.

A closeup shot of Doreen and Sandra Reed, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970 on the grounds of the sideshow where Sandra performed as a sword-swallower. Both women happen to be albinos.

So we know these photos belonged to Sandra Reed because they come directly from her family? They’re not stamped by her, but they’re clearly from the session and they’re clearly from Reed’s collection. We also have Reed’s scrapbooks from her time on the shows [they comprise lots 236 and 237], and her traveling trunk, with her name on it. I really wanted the swords in the Arbus photos, but I can’t locate them.

Do we know how the photo session for the Arbus sword-swallower photos came about? Was it planned, or spontaneous? I don’t know, but her work is well-documented. I know that the large prints of Sandra Reed are some of her most iconic works. She took many different shots.

Many of the Arbus sword-swallower photos you’re offering include Sandra Reed’s sister, Doreen. Do we know why Doreen happened to be there? To me, that says they were both on the show. I think they were both albino.

Even though Doreen is not wearing a costume, and Sandra is? Right.

Also included in the sale is a circa 1965 group shot Diane Arbus took of the performers at Huber's Museum. It carries the same $10,000 to $20,000 estimate as the photos featuring Sandra Reed.

The auction includes a fifth Arbus photo, a group shot taken in 1965 at Huber’s Museum. What does it say about Arbus that she returned to these subjects so regularly? It’s clearly a big part of her life’s work. Obviously, she was interested in chronicling people who you did not see on the subway. Or if you do, you stare at them. There’s one guy in the Huber’s Museum photo who’s still alive, and performs as an Elvis impersonator and an escape artist. Mario Manzini. He’s up front, with dark hair, crouching, and in chains. If you ever need an Elvis who can escape from handcuffs, he’s your guy.

The two Arbus sword-swallower photos that you offered as one lot in the 2018 Johnny Fox sale sold for $28,800, and a record for a sideshow item at auction. Did that sale lead to the consignment of the four photos you’re offering now? One thousand percent, absolutely. It’s how Reed’s family found us.

What was your reaction to the 2018 sale? You had estimated those Arbus sword-swallower photos at $1,000 to $1,500, so I imagine it was a surprise. I thought they could get there, but the condition of the photos were less than great, and they were small. I estimated them conservatively. They had all the hallmarks of the potential to do very well–never before at auction, and the auction had a lot of buzz around it, because everybody knew Johnny.

A long shot of Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970.

How do these four Arbus sword-swallower photos compare to the two that set a record in 2018? These are much larger, and they have fewer condition issues. I put a higher estimate on them, but there’s no reserve. If you have $5,000, you can have a Diane Arbus photo, assuming no one else bids against them. And you can see three different versions of kind of the same photo–a distant shot, a close-up, and a medium-length shot. I can see someone wanting to buy all three for that reason.

None of the four Arbus sword-swallower photos show Sandra Reed with her sword. One of the two that sold for a record in 2018 did. Do you think that will matter? I don’t think so. Some of Arbus’s great photos of her have nothing to do with swords.

Diane Arbus also photographed the Reed sisters with two unidentified women, at least one of whom appears to be a performer in the sideshow.

What are the Arbus sword-swallower photos like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come across on camera? You’ll never have the same feeling as holding them in person. They’re the real thing.

But these are gelatin silver prints. I’m under the impression that those types of photographs have a silkiness to them– There’s that, but it’s not about the texture, it’s about the history. It’s a physical object, touched by a great photographer and touched by and owned by the subject of the photograph. Those are the things that speak to me. They’re imposing because of the story they tell and the people who interacted with them. They don’t carry physical weight, but they carry historical weight.

How much of the $10,000 to $20,000 estimate for each Arbus sword-swallower photo comes from the fact that Sandra Reed, the person shown in all four, owned them? It might not be half, but it’s certainly 25 percent of it. If you’re a photo collector, I’m not sure if you give a shit, but I certainly would. For me, that’s fantastic. Boy, is that a selling point.

Did the 2018 Arbus sword-swallower photos go to a sideshow memorabilia collector or a collector of Diane Arbus photographs? Neither. I don’t know them to be an Arbus collector, but I know them to be an art collector.

Why will these four Arbus sword-swallower photos stick in your memory? The serendipitous nature of it, whatever word you want to use that describes happenstance–the nature of getting the consignment like this. It’s like a giant puzzle that gets unassembled and reassembled, and we end up putting it together in surprising and potentially profitable patterns.

How to bid: The four Diane Arbus photographs from Sandra Reed are lots 232 to 235 in the Potter and Potter auction; the 1965 Arbus group portrait is lot 231. All appear in the Circus, Sideshow & Oddities sale taking place on September 26, 2020.

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Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a vintage Harry Houdini postcard from the magician’s personal collectionan oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200, a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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An Andy Warhol Portrait of Keith Haring and His Lover Could Command $250,000 (Updated Oct 2, 2020)

A circa 1983 Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose, could command $250,000 at Sotheby's.

Update: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose sold for $504,000–more than double its high estimate. Hooray!

What you see: An untitled Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose. Sotheby’s estimates it at $200,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Harrison Tenzer, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online Sales in New York.

How did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring become friends? In 1989, Haring told Rolling Stone: “Before I knew [Warhol], he had been an image to me. He was totally unapproachable. I met him finally through Christopher Makos, who brought me to the Factory. At first Andy was very distant. It was difficult for him to be comfortable with people if he didn’t know them. Then he came to another exhibition at the Fun Gallery, which was soon after the show at Shafrazi. He was more friendly. We started talking, going out. We traded a lot of works at that time.”

When would these meetings have happened? I don’t know, but it was probably the early 1980s.

The release for the auction says Haring was “greatly influenced by Andy Warhol”. How did that influence show up in Haring’s work? Warhol was really an elder statesman of the art world for Haring’s generation. All the artists who came up in the 1980s really looked up to him. Haring was influenced by his pop iconography and the idea of art as a business. Haring was interested in making his art available to the largest number of people–he drew his work in the subway, and printed it on hats and t-shirts. At the Pop Shop [Haring’s boutique in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan] you could buy things for very little. It was all directly influenced by Warhol. Haring even invented a character, Andy Mouse, which was a mash-up of Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse. Both Warhol and Haring were obsessed with Walt Disney and saw Mickey Mouse as a symbol of American culture. Warhol, in his own way, was an American legend like Mickey Mouse.

Did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring ever collaborate? I’ve done some research and the only true collaboration I can find–and I can’t confirm it’s the only one–is a poster they did for the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival. This is speculation, but Warhol did a number of collaborations with Basquiat that were not well received by the art community. It caused a rift between Warhol and Basquiat. After that experience, I think Warhol was pretty spooked by collaborating with young artists.

I’ve seen some of the Warhol-Basquiat things. I didn’t realize they were flops at the time. They weren’t seen as great examples of either of their work. Now, there’s a lot more appreciation for them, but they were not as successful as Warhol or Basquiat wanted.

So Haring and Warhol rarely worked together to make art, but it was strong enough to have meaningful effects? There are so many photographs of Haring and Warhol at parties. It’s clear from documentary archives that they spent a lot of time together. It’s interesting, because the two men were very different. Warhol was shy and withdrawn, and Haring was out dancing every night. They’re very different artists.

Do we know how this particular Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring came about? We don’t know the specifics of how it came to be, but this was a time in Warhol’s career when he was doing a lot of commissioned portraits of celebrities and friends in his network. He’d start with Polaroids and made silkscreens from selected images.

When was the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring made? 1983.

So everyone was happy and producing art when this silkscreen was made. AIDS was just starting to bubble up, but Haring was still healthy.

Is this the only portrait Andy Warhol made featuring Keith Haring? The catalog raisonné that covers this Warhol period hasn’t been created. It’s hard to know for certain. We sold another double portrait in 2018. It’s the same dimensions and the same image, but in different colors. If we have had one come up and sold it, I imagine there are others.

So there’s more than one variation on the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring. It’s a unique painting, not an editioned work. Warhol would have done the same silkscreen of Haring, but painting it with different color ways. They’re unique paintings, not prints.

Do we know how this particular one, with the orange background, ended up with Haring? Did Warhol give it to Haring, or did Haring choose it? That, we’re not sure. In 1983, Haring had just blown up and just become a sensation. I’m not sure Haring would have been in a place to ask Warhol [for the variation he liked best]. He would accept any gift he gave him.

Is this the only known portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose, regardless of who made it? Or are there others? I don’t know. There might be photographs. I haven’t researched it.

The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring has no title. Do we know why? Is that deliberate? We’re still doing research on it. But it was a gift to Haring, and it was a fully finished piece of artwork. I want to make it clear that it wasn’t a drawing or a a provisional castoff. It’s a unique, well-painted 1980s Warhol portrait, given to his friend.

Haring lived with this Warhol portrait. Sotheby’s sent along a photo that shows it hanging in Haring’s apartment. What does that say about how Haring regarded the work? He lived in many different apartments. I can’t confirm it was always on display. But it moved with him, and we have images of the work in different contexts.

Was it in Haring’s final apartment? Yes.

…But when you’re an artist, wall space in your own home is always scarce, no matter how big your home is. What does it say that Haring usually or always found room for this Warhol portrait of him and his lover? This particular work was pretty major. Juan DuBose was in Haring’s life for pretty much the decade of his major success. They had a contentious relationship at the time. Haring would have regarded the painting with mixed emotions. But he was from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and in his twenties, he was painted by the most famous artist alive. He was also out as a gay man. To be painted by Warhol with his African-American male lover… that’s a pretty major departure from five to six years earlier, when he was playing it straight in Pennsylvania.

So it wasn’t just a portrait to Haring. It captured milestones in his life. He claimed his identity as an artist, as a gay man, and as an important man in the community. And it ticks the box of celebrity, because Warhol painted him.

What is the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come over on camera? It pops so much in person. It’s in great condition, and very vibrant. It appears much flatter in the photo. When you experience it in person, it’s a very well-executed, crisp screen.

With regard to the sale itself–how much of Haring’s personal art collection does it include? This represents all of it, to my knowledge.

Haring died in 1990. Why sell his personal art collection now? Why not earlier? For some time, the Haring foundation wanted to do a sale. Now is a perfect time because the market for many of the artists in the auction has matured. Street artists and graffiti artists, at the time of Haring’s death, were not valuable. The interest in a more inclusive market just wasn’t there in the early 1990s.

Why will this Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover stick in your memory? It’s a subject that burns like fire. It’s in-your-face and bold. There’s so much joy and eroticism and heat in the portrait, and we know what’s going to happen to each of these three men. Unlike Warhol, who was active for four decades in a major way, Haring only had one decade. But he burned so bright, like a candle lit at both ends.

How to bid: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose will appear in Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring, a Sotheby’s online sale taking place from September 24 through October 1, 2020.

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RECORD! A Wedgwood First Day’s Vase Sold at Christie’s for More Than $600,000

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

What you see: A Wedgwood “First Day’s Vase”, dating to 1769. Estimated at £120,000 to £180,000 ($151,000 to $226,000), it sold for £482,500 ($607,000) at Christie’s in 2016, setting a record for any piece of Wedgwood.

The expert: Jody Wilkie, international specialist head of European ceramics at Christie’s, as well as a senior vice president and co-chairman of decorative arts.

Who was Josiah Wedgwood? He’s known for several different things. He’s a master potter, a master businessman, and arguably, the first person to do modern marketing for his works. He had a whole coterie of friends–artists and intellectuals–who traded ideas off each other. In the late 18th century, all things scientific were just having their birth, and potting was arguably a science. When Josiah Wedgwood made these [ceramics, he noted] the chemistry of how the clays reacted. He developed whole new materials that didn’t exist. And he would have been considered a cutting-edge contemporary artist.

So Josiah Wedgwood is the sort of person we could pluck from the 18th century and drop in the 21st, and he’d hit the ground running? Except he had a bad leg. [Josiah Wedgwood’s right leg was amputated below the knee due to complications from smallpox.]

He’d be all over Instagram today. Without question. There’s a story told about him and how he realized that marketing was the key to unlocking financial success in his business. In 18th century England, there was a huge industry in pottery, and particularly creamware, which was pale ivory-colored in imitation of porcelain. The middle classes couldn’t afford porcelain, so they had creamware. In 1759, Wedgwood had a showroom [in London], and Queen Charlotte came and bought a creamware tea service. Wedgwood decided his creamware could be called Queen’s ware. Everyone wanted to buy it because it was Queen’s ware.

Josiah Wedgwood understood the power of celebrity influencers. He recognized something like that could be helpful to him, so he did it. You could say he was the father of modern marketing.

Where was Josiah Wedgwood in his career in 1769, when he made this First Day’s Vase? He was ten years into his business and starting a new factory in England called Etruria, outside of Stoke-on-Trent, where the Wedgwood Museum is today. That whole area of England used to be one pottery after another. He decided to start a bigger enterprise, a modern factory.

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

Why did he call it a First Day’s Vase? The reason for the name is it was one of the first pots to come out of the brand new kiln. It’s known that he potted them, and his business partner, Thomas Bentley, turned the wheel.

Was it unusual for Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley to physically create the ceramics themselves in 1769? I think so. They did it because the First Day’s Vases were what they were. I don’t think Wedgwood was necessarily potting every day at the factory, but he was very much a hands-on owner. When doing tests to come up with new material, he would have been involved, for sure.

I understand that six First Day’s Vases went into the kiln, and four emerged. Are they all decorated identically, or do they differ? They’re basically identical. They definitely all have the same inscription on the back. The inscription is in Latin, and it translates as, “The arts of Etruria are reborn”.

Josiah Wedgwood was not aiming low. He definitely had a high opinion of himself. That’s why he got where he was.

Why did Josiah Wedgwood choose to decorate the First Day’s Vase in the manner that we see here? The whole point of the exercise was to copy Greek vases. At that point in the 18th century, Neoclassical art was in vogue. One of the great antiquities collectors was William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples. The shape of this vase was based on a piece in the William Hamilton collection, as is the decoration.

This Wedgwood First Day’s Vase and similar-looking Wedgwood pieces would have connected with the sorts of people who went on the Grand Tour? The 18th century was the height of the Grand Tour. They’d see the original, then go to a Wedgwood showroom and buy one just like it.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Wedgwood First Day’s Vase might have been to make? We know it posed challenges–six went into the kiln, and only four came out… Making any pottery, any vase, was a highly tricky enterprise because all the kilns were wood-fired. All kinds of physical problems could exist. Things would explode, things would crack. The reason they put six in was they were praying one or two would come out in a usable form. The fact that four came out–that’s a really good yield.

The Wedgwood First Day’s Vase measures 10 inches high. I know that the bigger a pot gets, the harder it is to see the design through to completion. Was Josiah Wedgwood pushing his luck by rendering the vase at this size? Ten inches, to my mind, is a doable size. It’s big enough to make a statement. The perfection of the First Day’s Vase is in its proportions and its shape. If it slumped to one side [in the kiln] or the curve of a shoulder wasn’t perfect, you’ve lost it.

Do we know where the other Wedgwood First Day’s Vases are? Yes. Two are at the Wedgwood Museum, and one is still in a private collection.

What is the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase like in person? My colleagues in London were the ones who really dealt with it and cataloged it. I came over for the sale. When I came over, I was surprised at how small it was. In my mind, it was such a big deal. In the photographs, it had presence. One of the beauties of black basalt [the type of Wedgwood ceramic used for the vase] is it has a wonderful silken surface, very smooth, and it has a light weight. Because of its shape, it fits in your hand very well. That’s the whole point of ceramics–they’re very tactile.

I’ve been told by people who have handled the full range of Wedgwood–pieces dating to the 18th century up to now–that the 18th century pieces feel different. Do you agree? I definitely agree. I’d say it’s lighter, and that silken surface… it draws you. If you touch it with your fingers, you can feel the difference. It’s the craftsmanship. There are techniques that were done in the 18th century that you can’t do now.

What, because of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-type rules coming in? There are an awful lot of techniques that are highly caustic and couldn’t be used today. But at a certain point in the 18th century, labor was dead cheap. The artist could take the time to develop his technique and make these things perfect. Later, labor became more expensive, and the objects have a more manufactured quality.

What condition was the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase in prior to the auction? A-maze-ing. It had two little tiny surface chips to the underside of the foot rim, and a tiny little nick at the mouth that could have been there when it was made. That’s it. No cracks, no wear, nothing. The finial was in one piece, but it had come off the surface of the cover and been stuck back on. In the general scheme of things, that’s nothing.

The provenance reflected in the lot notes show that the First Day’s Vase descended in the Wedgwood family for centuries. How might that have made it more interesting to collectors? It’s not that Wedgwood owned it and it hadn’t changed hands. That didn’t matter as much as it having stayed in one piece and having been taken care of. But it was the Wedgwood family that had it.

Was this the first of the Wedgwood First Day’s Vases to go to auction? It’s the only one to go to auction. The two in the Wedgwood Museum I don’t think ever left the factory, so, by default, they went into the museum. This one was owned by the Wedgwood family. The other, I understand, is with the family. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a buyer. It was very exciting. We went into it knowing it was sold. We didn’t know at what level it would sell.

Did you think it would set a new record for any piece of Wedgwood? No, no, I didn’t go into it thinking it would make a record price. Personally, I don’t care about records. [Laughs.] For me, it’s the object that speaks.

Well, isn’t it good and right that a First Day’s Vase, of all of Wedgwood’s many pieces, holds the world auction record? If anything is going to set the record for the manufacturer, the first piece made [at Etruria] should be it. As a footnote, on the last day of operations, Wedgwood did a modern version of the vase and called it the Last Day’s Vase. For collectors, having a Last Day’s vase is a big deal. It’s a landmark.

Do you remember how many bidders there were at the start of the battle for the First Day’s Vase, and how long it took to drop to two? As I recall, the whole thing, from start to finish, was six or seven minutes. It went back and forth a lot. Getting any bidding started on any major lot is a game of chicken. No one wants to be the first to open their mouth. It started slowly, which was no surprise.

Were you surprised by the final price? I was. I thought it would sell for around £250,000.

Were you shocked to see it get £482,500? It was a lot of money for the period, and a lot of money for English ceramics. It proves that when you’ve got something unique, an object out of the ordinary, of exquisite quality and an icon of the time in which it was made, it’s going to perform like that. That’s why we put it in an Exceptional Sale rather than a ceramics sale.

I had noticed that and was wondering about that. That particular object is a standout that would appeal to audiences beyond the field of Wedgwood ceramics. Museums and private collectors bid on it because it was what it was. When it was on view, it was in a single standing case, surrounded by silver and all kinds of grand objects. People who walked into the gallery were drawn to it.

How long do you think this world auction record for Wedgwood will stand? What could beat it? Would the other First Day’s Vase in private hands have to come to market? I think this record is going to stand for a while. It would take one of the other ones [being consigned], but I don’t know if it would make the same money. I think the odds of it being denied an export permit because the British want to keep it [in their country] is great. If it can’t leave the country, why bid on it?

Why will the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase stick in your memory? Because of the whole story behind the vase, and also because the man who bought it is a longtime client. He’s an extraordinary gentleman, and it’s all tied in. Being on the phone [representing the buyer] made it more personal than standing there, taking down prices.

Could you clarify what happened after the collector won the bidding? The original buyer of the First Day’s Vase was American. The museum that has it now was not the direct underbidder. Because of the system of [issuing] export papers in Britain, they were able to make a case and raise the money [to keep it in the country]. They felt it was taken away from its home and it needed to come back home. I advocated for my client to have it for his lifetime, and put in his will that it would go back to the museum, but that’s not the way it works. It was ultimately put back in the same case it had been in since 1979.

The winning bidder had a place for it in his house? He absolutely knew where it was going. I’m extremely disappointed that the collector never got to see it in person. He was 94 when he bought it. He never got to have it in his hands.

Is he still alive? He is still alive, and he’s that much older. If the piece came up now, in 2020, I don’t know if he would be bidding on it. I can’t say [for sure], obviously, but I do think there comes a tipping point.

But the First Day’s Vase remains the Holy Grail of Wedgwood collectors? It is the Holy Grail, as it were.

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RECORD! A Natee Utarit Painting Set a World Auction Record for the Artist at Phillips Hong Kong in November 2019

King, a monumental 2011 painting by Natee Utarit. It holds the world auction record for any work by the Southeast Asian artist.

What you see: King, a 2011 oil on linen by Natee Utarit. It set the world auction record for any work by the artist when Phillips Hong Kong sold it in November 2019 for HK $2.7 million (about $353,000) against an estimate of HK $1 million to $1.5 million ($128,000 to $192,000).

The expert: Sandy Ma, international specialist at Phillips.

Who is Natee Utarit? He’s a Thai artist who works in Bangkok. He’s been deemed one of the most significant and important artists in Southeast Asia right now. He’s known for his distinct style of painting and famously has a track record of works being exhibited in museums and institutions.

How prolific has Natee Utarit been? He’s been painting all through his life. He was born in 1970, and had his first show as early as 1990. As for a total [on output to date], I’m not sure, but on average, for the last year or two, he’s been doing as many as five to ten shows a year. He’s not only a painter. He sculpts and works in mixed media.

How often does Natee Utarit paint in the style we see in King? He’s primarily known for his figurative works. What really draws people in is not just the richness of the canvas and how beautiful it looks, but the complexity in the images as well. He puts in a lot of effort and thought in his works to talk about important socio-political issues.

Has he talked about what drew him to this style of still life painting, and why it suits his approach to creating art? Primarily, he uses his painterly style and traditional framing because he wants to lull the viewer into a false sense of familiarity. The subjects are painted from arrangements of figurines and found objects in his studio. He’s able to infuse a lot of messages into his work by using this language [the visual language of the still life]. I think it really does play to his idea of blurring reality and artifices in his work.

How does he do that? With scale and the juxtaposition of the objects he finds. One object is bigger than the other, making you think that the object is distorted.

He might show an object bigger than it would be in real life? Yes.

Does he make preparatory sketches? Usually there is a sketch. I’m sure he reworks and reworks the composition until it’s exactly how he wants.

King is an allegorical still life that references the life and legacy of the 19th century Thai King Rama IV.

King is big. It measures 78 and 3/4 inches by 125 and 7/8 inches. Does Natee Utarit normally work at this scale? He doesn’t always work this big. King is considered one of his very major works. It’s from the Illustration of the Crisis series, and this is already one of the largest paintings in the series. It’s from a trio of works called God, King, and Country.

Wait, so God, King, and Country are in turn part of a larger series by Natee Utarit, called the Illustration of the Crisis? It’s a series within a series? Yes. It’s a series of his major series. He started painting it around 2010 or 2011. People really love this particular series of works. It captures the turmoil in Thailand’s political landscape in the mid-2000s.

How does King compare to God and Country, the other two works in the trio? In terms of composition, this one has a lot more stage presence and a figurative approach where the other two are more abstract. God and Country are in private hands.

King Rama IV of Thailand shapes the narrative of King. Is this the only Natee Utarit work that explores his reign and its effect on the country? I’m not sure if it’s the only one, but it’s the only one I know of that addresses the story and the legacy of King Rama IV in such a prominent way. [The King ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868.]

Now I’m going to ask you to walk me through the composition of King. How has Natee Utarit loaded it with messages and meaning? The golden stature of the deity represents King Rama IV himself. The statue looks through a telescope at a scientific model of a dissected cow. Utarit’s talking about the legacy of King Rama IV, who was known as the father of science and technology–he’s immortalzing that part here. The model of the cow perches on top of scales, which supports the idea of King Rama IV’s reign as a proponent of knowledge and the rule of law. The fallen crown [a white object at the lower left, which overlaps the wheel] is a Western-type of crown. It alludes to the fact that Thailand was never colonized, which is a source of pride for Thai people. Utarit himself doesn’t go deep into the meanings of each part of his work. Part of the charm is he wants us to discover meanings on our own, ourselves.

Is that a golf club bag at the left? The deity is not facing the golf club bag. It almost looks like a cannon. The story of King Rama IV is he’s a proponent of knowledge, science, and technology rather than using cannons and military might to rule over the kingdom.

What does the white classical-looking statue represent? It’s a statue of the French enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire.

What does Voltaire represent here? He’s gesturing toward a book he wrote in his lifetime arguing for freedom of thought, civil liberty, religious tolerance, and a constitutional monarchy. It [the painting lets Utarit] talk about the story of Thailand through the lens of King Rama IV versus Western civilization, and he’s really in favor of the rule of law, constitutional monarchy, and freedom of thought.

When did the secondary market for Natee Utarit works begin? It started as early as the 1990s. It really has been over that many decades, and it’s been growing steadily. My recollection is that the previous auction record for Utarit was in 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong with a work from the Illustration of the Crisis series. Another record was set in 2015 at Christie’s Hong Kong.

Does the price fetched by King represent a large advance on the earlier records, or was the rise more steady? There’s a very steady progression of prices for Natee Utarit [represented by the records for his work], from $180,000 to $220,000 to $350,000.

What is King like in person? Are there any aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think the camera doesn’t get the scale of the work. It’s stunning in real life. The massive scale of the work is really prominent when you stand in front of it. It not only shows you how well Natee Utarit can paint–the surface is so bright and smooth–but it’s filled with the luminosity of the oil paint itself.

Are there any other things about King that a digital reproduction wouldn’t show? About the scale–there’s an interesting point. The painting is so heavy that we had to reinforce the wall it was hanging on. The frame is very heavy, and the whole is very heavy. It had to have eight art handlers to lift it at one time.

What was your role in the sale of King? I was in the room for the auction. I believe I was bidding on behalf of a client. The room was packed. Even before the auction, we knew King was going to be a huge success, because of how many people registered to bid on the work. I think there were around ten bidders on the work itself. Bidding went on for a while before the record was set. When it was, there was a huge sense of achievement and happiness that the work was being appreciated by so many people.

When did you know you had set a new world auction record for Natee Utarit? When the work came in for sale, we were quite sure it was going to be a record for Utarit. It was reinforced by the fact that before the sale, it toured to Singapore and Hong Kong for preview exhibitions, and there was a lot of interest in the work.

How long do you think the Natee Utarit record will last? My guess is… it would be possible [to set a new record] whenever a work from the Altarpiece series appears at auction, but that’s quite unlikely. They’re said to be in institutions.

Would it have to be King coming back to auction? The Illustration of the Crisis series is his most sought-after series. I think this is the best work of the three [from the God, King, and Country group]. It’s hard to say how long it will stand. It’s unlikely it’ll be toppled anytime soon, but you never know.

Why will this Natee Utarit painting stick in your memory? The first time I looked at this work in person, I knew it was going to be a huge hit at auction. It’s really one of the most major pieces to come to auction by the artist, and so many symbolisms and hidden meanings are within the work. We knew what a rare chance it was to represent the work and we knew going into the sale it would be a major success.

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RECORD! Stack’s Bowers Sells a 1794 Silver Dollar for $10 Million

The front of a 1794 "flowing hair" sliver dollar, so called because of the luxuriant locks on Liberty's head. The coin sold for just over $10 million in 2013, setting a world auction record for any coin.

What you see: A 1794 “Flowing Hair” silver dollar, described as a “unique superb gem specimen”. Stack’s Bowers auctioned it in January 2013 for just over $10 million and a world auction record for any coin. [Since writing this story, news broke that the coin would go to auction as part of the Bruce Morelan collection in Las Vegas in October 2020.]

The expert: Vicken Yegparian, vice president of numismatics at Stack’s Bowers.

What is the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar, and why is it considered one of the rarest and most valuable American coins? It’s America’s first silver dollar. It’s important for that one simple reason. It predates everything our currency stands for today.

How many 1794 flowing hair silver dollars are known to exist? Estimates range between 135 and 150. Undocumented ones still come out of the woodwork on occasion, but that’s the best guess on how many survive.

And how many 1794 flowing hair silver dollars are believed to have been produced? Records say 1,758 pieces were made.

How were they lost? Were they melted down? Actually, that’s a pretty good survival rate for coins from that era. People recognized what they were back then, and saved them.

And I take it it’s called the “flowing hair” silver dollar because the woman shown in profile on the coin has flowing hair? Exactly. If you look at designs for coins from the mid-1790s period, they show the personification of Liberty. They’re all patterned after the Libertas Americana medal in Paris at the Paris Mint. She has the same flowing locks, but with a liberty cap behind her.

Why was the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar created? What need did it meet? It was a necessary coin for the economy, and for the needs of civic coinage. It’s the product of money as a sovereign right. America was starting to flex its muscles, and what does a sovereign state do? Make its own money.

So issuing the 1794 flowing hair silver dollar was just as much about announcing America’s arrival as a country as creating money for its citizens to use? It was a tool for building our reputation? It’s all of that–making our mark in international waters, so to speak. Establishing a mint was one element of nation-building. When they [the U.S. Mint] started, they decided to start with the silver dollar, because the silver dollar was obviously bigger. It’s weightier and more impressive in the hand.

What would $1 in 1794 be worth in 2020 dollars? How much spending power did this coin represent when it was new? It was a very good amount of money. Talking in terms of inflation, it’s worth $25 today.

How much silver is in the 1794 silver dollar? Just over three-quarters of a troy ounce of silver, or .4735 ounces troy of silver, net.

And that’s important, because the government promised there’d be a specific minimum amount of silver in its silver dollars, yes? Exactly. The weight of coppers was stipulated within a certain range, but silver was much more stringent. The Mint was a fledgling, low-budget operation when it launched. It didn’t have the scientific standards we have today. Back then, if it made an underweight silver dollar, it’d scrap it. If it was over, it’d be filed down to the right weight. This coin had very few adjustment lines, but they’re common on all 1794 silver dollars and 1790s coinage.

The back side of the 1794 silver dollar features a spread-winged eagle. This particular example of the coveted coin sold for slightly more than $10 million in 2013, setting a world auction record for any coin.

How many 1794 silver dollars has Stack’s Bowers handled? Many of them. We’ve been in business since the 1930s. There’s a book documenting all known 1794 silver dollars. At least 75 in that book have passed through our doors–two-thirds of the known pieces traded through Stack’s Bowers or its predecessor.

This example is believed to be the first silver dollar ever struck in the United States. What evidence supports that claim? Before you strike a production run of coins, you test the example in a softer metal. The Smithsonian has a copper version. It’s in the same die state as this piece.

We should pause and explain how coins are physically produced… Stamps that make money are called dies. They’re heavy pieces of iron, with the design at one end. There’s one die on the top, and one on the bottom, with the metal between them. You activate the press and stamp the coin.

The lot notes say the coin shows “prooflike reflectivity in the fields”. What does that mean, and why is that important? Does it support the idea that it could be the first silver dollar ever struck in the United States? The overall surface quality has a prooflike appearance. That describes the reflectivity of the surfaces. It’s mirrorlike. That’s a quality of the die and its ability to impart that surface. That quality diminishes with each strike of the coin. This coin is very well-struck, very well-impressed. All the detail is fine and very visible.

So a coin with prooflike reflectivity is kind of like a print from an early state? That’s a good comparison, but coins are a little bit different. They go from a very reflective finish to a frosty and lustrous surface. Frosty and lustrous is not undesirable, just different.

What other clues support the notion that this 1794 silver dollar might have been the first to be struck? This coin was specially made from specially prepared dies. It didn’t go into a bag with other pieces. They [whoever struck the coin] might have wanted to present special coins to somebody. We don’t know who made it or who saved it, but someone put it aside, and someone saved it for it to have been in such perfect condition.

So we can say this 1794 silver dollar was among the earliest struck, for sure, but we can’t definitively prove it was the first? Today, each die has a serial number and we record the number of strikes. None of that existed in 1794. They had to jury-rig a press to make a coin this big. But we can say beyond a reasonable doubt it was among the first strikes, and among the first prepared. They polished the die to a glossy state so it would create a glass-smooth surface in the metal and impart a glass-smooth surface to it.

Do any other 1794 silver dollars come close to this one? Nothing. Nothing.

The 1794 silver dollar is described as being “Specimen-66”, as graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). What does that mean, and why is that important? That’s a very high grade for a U.S. coin. Anything remotely near it in silver dollars is huge. The scale is from one to 70. A grade of 67 is super-high. For this coin to be a 66 is a big deal. And it’s a big coin. It’s much easier to hurt a larger coin. If you drop a silver dollar on the ground, you can get a big dent in the edge. To have a 1794 silver dollar that’s so well-preserved and flaw-free relative to its peers… it’s a big deal.

The lot notes also describe it as a “unique superb gem specimen”. Could you break that phrase down and explain it? “Unique” means it’s the only specimen or specially struck 1794 silver dollar that we know of. “Superb” is an old term used in numismatics for over 100 years, from before numeric grading of coins. “Gem” is the best one on the tray. Calling it a “superb gem specimen” is gilding the lily.

What had to happen between 1794 and now for the coin to survive in such good condition? Someone had to forget about it and let it sit in a family collection for 200 years, or be really cautious in its handling. It’s a miracle that it’s survived this well. It’s indicative that it was specially made and specially saved.

Why didn’t Stack’s Bowers sell this 1794 silver dollar as a single lot in a stand-alone auction? It was part of a collection, so we kept it as such.

Have you seen this 1794 silver dollar or any other 1794 silver dollars out of their plastic capsules? By the time I saw it, it had been encapsulated for a while. I have held other 1794s, before they were certified. Getting a chance to hold it in its raw state is almost impossible. But even one that’s beat up and well-worn is very cool.

What estimate did Stack’s Bowers put on this 1794 silver dollar? We don’t provide printed estimates for most of our auctions, and we didn’t publish an estimate on the coin. Bidding started at $2.2 million and rose from there.

What was the previous world auction record for any coin prior to the 1794 silver dollar? It was $7.5 million, for a 1933 double eagle sold by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s in 2002.

What was your role in the auction of the 1794 silver dollar? I was on the phone with a client.

Was the winning bidder in the room? A representative of the winner was in the room, doing the actual bidding–Laura Sperber, on behalf of her client, Bruce Morelan. It’s still in his collection today. [Since taking this interview with Yegparian, PGCS announced that Morelan will auction his collection, including the record-setting 1794 silver dollar, in October 2020 in Las Vegas.]

The 1794 silver dollar sold for just over $10 million. Were you surprised? I was super surprised. There were no previous comparables [similar lots offered previously at auction] that would say the coin would bring $10 million that day. The closest was the 1933 gold piece.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? The minute the hammer fell. I think everyone was gobsmacked when the number was presented. We all knew the record for the 1933 double eagle. To get to $10 million–that’s faraway an obvious record. No one thought it would happen. I think the bidders kept their cards close to their chests. I don’t think a new record was a glimmer in anyone’s eye.

This coin was the first to cross the $10 million threshold at auction. Could you talk about what that meant to the world of coin-collecting? It seems that coins are like books, in that sales records go back fairly far. I recall reading that a coin crossed the $1,000 auction threshold in the 19th century… It was huge. I don’t know when the $10,000 sale happened, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that one hit $100,000. It took another 20 years to pass $1 million. Twenty years after that, one hit $10 million. I don’t think we’ll cross $100 million any time soon. The next realistic threshold will be $20 million. Many “greats” can be attributed to this coin. This one could break its own record.

How long do you think this record will stand? I don’t think it will fall tomorrow, but I hope it doesn’t take 30 years. I hope the record will break in the near term.

Why would it be better for this coin or one like it to come to auction relatively soon? Sometimes, you need a coin to trade to get it into peoples’ consciousness. If it goes away for 50 years, people might forget about it or think they aren’t able to own it. This coin last sold in 1984, and it brought $250,000, or thereabouts. In 30 years, it’s gone from $250,000 to $10 million.

To what do you credit the rise in price? Is demand higher? There are more well-heeled collectors in numismatics. Liquidity in the market plays into the desire to own those things. With the stay-at-home orders [the shelter-in-place recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic], collectors might have extra time to put into hobbies.

What else could meet or beat it? Is it pretty much this coin or an 1804 silver dollar? Exactly. This coin, or an 1804 silver dollar. That’s where story and value meet. Another coin we talked about [that could do it] is the pattern coin for the $20 gold piece.

What’s a pattern coin? An artist or a sculptor might put out a design for a coin. The iterations don’t always survive in any form, never mind the coin. For 1907 [the year in which Augustus Saint-Gaudens died, after creating but not finalizing designs for an eagle and a double eagle coin] there’s one iteration of an individual head design that was used on the $10 coin [the single eagle]. It definitely hasn’t traded in recent decades at auction. A coin like that would have all the factors that would produce a price above $10 million.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? If it were a common coin from that era, of this quality, it’d be memorable. It’s a special coin in many regards, and it was a crowning moment in my career. It’s just superior.

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RECORD! A Beatles Shea Stadium Poster Sets the World Auction Record for Any Original Concert Poster

A 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster--one of a handful of surviving originals--set a world auction record for any concert poster at Heritage Auctions in April 2020.

What you see: An original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster. It sold at Heritage Auctions in April 2020 for $137,500 and a new world auction record for an original concert poster.

The expert: Pete Howard, consignment director at Heritage Auctions for entertainment and music.

How often do you find original 1960s posters for Beatles concerts of any kind, not just the Shea Stadium one? It’s very unusual. There’s not a lot out there. I’m not going to say [genuine originals] are nonexistent, but when somebody calls me and tells me they have an old Beatles poster, I get bored pretty quick. It’s always some bootleg.

Do Beatles concert posters survive in larger numbers than concert posters that feature their contemporaries? Were concert-goers more likely to peel one off the wall and bring it home because it showed the Beatles? Surprisingly, and almost shockingly, that’s not the case. Beatles and Elvis posters are as rare as posters for Paul Revere and the Raiders. No one got the coolness of original Beatles posters then. No collectibles market was established at all.

So concert-goers were rarely moved to spontaneously grab a poster during or after the show? Yes. In the case of the Winter Dance Party poster, a person walking by saw it and took it down. Most of the time, they’d walk by. The show was over. Nobody said, “Gee, this will be worth money to somebody.” Nobody. Zero.

I have to say, the Beatles poster itself is not very interesting-looking. The band photo looks like it was shot in 1962–But that’s totally how the Beatles looked in 1966. Their current publicity photos from 1962 to 1966 would look the same. 1967 is when the sideburns happen. When they were touring, it was mop tops and suits and ties.

Still, it looks like whoever did it put five minutes of work into designing this thing. I can’t rubber stamp the five-minutes comment. They put a little work into it. They were following a template: Promoter, name of band, photo, venue, date, when tickets were available. It was boilerplate. The only creative thing in the format is the letters of the word “Beatles” are tilted a little bit to make it look more fun.

And I understand that some time after the show, the promoter started selling reprints of this Beatles concert poster? Sid Bernstein promoted the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966. In 1965, he didn’t make a collectible or worthwhile poster. The concert sold out instantly, so there was no need. In 1966, the Beatles didn’t sell out, so he made this poster. I can’t date when Bernstein did reproductions, but he did not pass them off as real. Plenty did some without his permission. Bootlegs are out there by the millions.

Before we spoke, I received a flyer from Heritage Auctions in the mail that showed this record-setting Beatles concert poster and a Grateful Dead “Skeleton & Roses” poster from 1966, which sold for $118,750. No disrespect to the Beatles poster, but the Grateful Dead poster… some designer lavished some time on it. They’re very different. Both are from the same year, and both were created for one reason only–to sell tickets. But the Grateful Dead design is a completely different concept and ethos, and there are different reasons to collect each poster. The Beatles poster is a rarity. The Grateful Dead poster was condition grade 9.8, which made it expensive. There are hundreds of first printings of the Grateful Dead poster out there. For the Beatles poster, there’s four. There are probably as many 9.8 grade Grateful Dead posters as there are Beatles [Shea Stadium] posters in any condition. That’s why they soared past $100,000.

As you just said, few copies of the original 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster survive. Is it possible to know how many were printed? A couple hundred is a good guess.

What’s the provenance of this Beatles concert poster? We don’t know whether the consigner went to the 1966 show together with his sister or if he went alone, but he saw the Beatles in Shea Stadium in the 1960s. Whether she went or not, she took down the poster. Fifty years went by. The sister passed away. He went through her stuff and found the poster. It wasn’t a new revelation. She’d hung it on her wall at home.

In November 2019, Heritage Auctions sold a different example of this poster for $125,000. Six months later, the record broke again. Could you discuss whether and how the two events were related? I get the impression the April poster might not have come out if the November poster hadn’t done so well. It’s not a coincidence at all. It shows you how strong and coveted the poster is.

The Beatles concert poster had a rating of Very Good Plus. What does that mean in this context? The image area is undamaged, and the poster is whole. There are minor folds or tack holes, but no major tears.

The Beatles concert poster advertises a show at Shea Stadium. Does the venue matter, or is it just gravy? It’s more than gravy. Shea Stadium is an iconic venue and it’s a huge part of Beatles history. It was considered the biggest rock concert in history at the time. If the poster said “Forest Hills Stadium, New York,” I’d expect it to go for a lot less.

What other Beatles concert posters are made more interesting to collectors because of the venue name? In America, nothing touches Shea Stadium. It’s the iconic venue, and it’s New York City. A German Beatles concert poster could hit six figures at auction. The right Cavern Club poster–where they honed their skills–could reach this [record sum].

Do any genuine Beatles Cavern Club posters survive? It’s iffy. There’s a “June 11, Beatles” poster in marquee style, which doesn’t have a band picture. There might be two or three that survive. But the rarity’s there, and the venue is there. It could challenge a Shea Stadium poster. A German one that would blow right by it is the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg. The Beatles played there for a couple of months. There are only three handpainted Beatles signs, but they’re still posters.

What is the 1966 Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster like in person? It’s on cardboard, but it shows its age. One has to be careful in how they handle it.

What was your role in the April 2020 auction? Were you the auctioneer? No. Usually, I’m at the front of the podium, but it was the first coronavirus sale. I had to watch it from my computer, like everyone else did.

Did that make the auction of the Beatles concert poster less dramatic? I don’t think so. It was quite exciting to see it go up and up. I was completely on the edge of my seat, just dying.

When did you know you had a new world auction record for a Beatles concert poster? As soon as the hammer hit.

Were you surprised that the Beatles concert poster sold for $137,500? No, because it’s a great poster and it [the record sum] was very close to the last one we sold. We did have the 2004 result to measure things against. November 2019 was just short of that, and April 2020 was just beyond that.

How long do you think this world auction record will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat the Beatles concert poster? I’d venture to say between 10 or 20 different posters could set a new world auction record. In the psychedelic poster world, a super-iconic Jimi Hendrix flying eyeball, if it came up in a high grade–9.8, 9.9, or 10.0–it wouldn’t surprise me if it beat the record. A large Elvis Presley from the 1950s with a picture on it–that wouldn’t surprise me. A Grateful Dead Skeleton and Roses poster, the next 9.8 grade could blow by a Beatles Shea Stadium and set a new world auction record.

Why will this Beatles Shea Stadium concert poster stick in your memory? Anything that sets a world auction record is going to completely stick in my memory. It’s bragging rights for the company, and it’s wonderful for the hobby. And it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is another reason it’s memorable.

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Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Pete Howard appeared previously on The Hot Bid talking about an original 1959 Winter Dance Party poster that featured Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

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RECORD! Pelé’s 1970 World Cup Winner’s Medal Commanded More Than $400,000

The front of the World Cup winner's medal awarded to Pelé in 1970. It sold for more than $400,000 in 2016, setting records for any Pelé item and any football or soccer medal.

What you see: The 1970 World Cup winner’s medal awarded to Pelé. Estimated at £70,000 to £140,000 ($86,400 to $172,800), it sold for £346,000 ($427,100) at a Julien’s Auctions sale in London in 2016. It’s the most expensive Pelé item sold at auction, as well as the most expensive football (aka soccer) medal ever auctioned.

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

Who is Pelé, and why is he important? He’s regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time. He won three World Cups. He’s from Brazil, and he’s a humanitarian–he’s done a fantastic amount of work for charity. In 1999, he was named the athlete of the century by the International Olympic Committee, and FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) named him Player of the Century. (Pelé shared the honor with Diego Maradona.)

Ah. So he’s kind of a big deal. A huge deal. When it comes to stars, he’s an absolute superstar.

Pelé’s birth name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how you get “Pelé” from that. How did he get that name? And what does it mean? He was born into poor circumstances in Brazil to a family of Portuguese origin. He was named after Thomas Edison, but it was misspelled as Edson. When he went to school, his favorite player was someone by the name of Bilé, but he mispronounced it as Pelé. The more he protested, the more it stuck. He became known as Pelé, and we know him as Pelé. In Portuguese, there’s no translation for “Pelé”.

Now, this 1970 World Cup winner’s medal–everyone on the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team received it, yes? It’s not the equivalent of a most valuable player award? Absolutely. Everyone who won got the medal.

Pelé won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970. Julien’s offered all three over the course of a three-day auction of Pelé’s personal collection in 2016, and this medal sold for the largest sum. Why? What makes the 1970 medal more valuable than the other two? Winning three World Cups is unusual and rare. No one else has done it to this day. It’s such a massive achievement.

Could you talk about what an absolute physical feat it is to win three World Cups? I see that Pelé was not quite 18 at the start of the tournament in 1958, and 22 in 1962, and 30 in 1970, which had to help, but still… when I watch a top-level soccer match, I’m always struck by how much running the players do. There’s a lot of running, and the game is played all with the feet, no hands. It’s the running, and the skill with moving the ball and passing the ball and moving the ball into the net–it’s a huge physical demand, and the World Cup is typically played in hot weather. Think about the huge demands on your body and your fitness level. And the speed you need to have is exceptional. Playing for 12 years at the international level is a phenomenal achievement. To win in 1958 and 1962 and still play in 1970–it speaks to the magnitude of Pelé as a person and an athlete.

While other players have won two World Cups, Pelé stands alone as the only three-time winner 50 years after he accomplished that feat. What does that say about how the game of football has changed over time? Is it pretty much impossible for a player to win three World Cups now? I think it’s changed and become more technical than the free-flowing play during his era. I won’t say it’s impossible, but football has become more technical than skillful.

When you say “technical,” do you mean it’s become more about knowing the rules over playing the game? Exactly. And there’s the technology available to us today, the competitors’ knowledge of how you play the game before you’re on the field.

You mean the ability to review tapes of previous games and study how rival teams play? Yes. That wasn’t applicable to Pelé.

Do you think Pelé will always stand alone as the sole three-time winner of the World Cup? To win it three times is so phenomenal for a player… there’s nothing to say no one can ever do it again, but so many things have to line up. There has to be luck involved as well as stamina and skill. It would be phenomenal to see it happen, but I think Pelé’s title is safe for another few years.

The reverse side of the World Cup winner's medal that was awarded to Pelé in 1970. It represents his third World Cup win, and 50 years later, he's still the only player, male or female, to propel the winning team to victory three times.

You had three Pelé World Cup winner’s medals to offer in the 2016 sale. What strategy did you use when scheduling them? Did you offer one on each day of the three-day auction, with the 1970 medal going up last? There was a lot of debate about that within our group at Julien’s. It was a three-day auction, six auction sessions, two each day. We worked closely with Pelé. He put his heart and soul into the project. He was inclined to sell the medals in one lot. I think he hoped to keep them together. In the end, we decided it was fairest to do one each day, in chronological order. That’s how it ended up. The three medals went to three different buyers.

Does the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal have inherent value? I see that it’s gold-colored, but I don’t see any information about a carat weight. Intrinsically, not really, but we didn’t focus on the intrinsic value of the medal itself. It represents a fantastic achievement by Pelé. That’s where the value was and is. It was his third World Cup win, and he scored the opening goal in the 18th minute of the game. That’s the story, that’s the history, that’s the value. That’s what we were selling.

What is the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t capture? If you looked at it, you’d be underwhelmed by it. You’d walk past it and it wouldn’t get your attention. But if you put a picture of Pelé with it, it’s game over. It’s so incredibly light and thin, and yet it represents so many years of hard work, grit, perseverance, and stamina. For me, personally, holding it gave me chills.

I see that the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal has a ring at the top, so it could be worn on a ribbon or a chain. Did Pelé ever wear this medal after he won it? He probably wore it on special occasions, but he was the most humble, non-egotistical gentleman I’ve ever worked with. I’m a fan of Pelé. I work with celebrities all the time. To see someone who’s achieved so much be so down-to-earth and normal and take an interest in how you were as a person… working with him was an honor.

He didn’t flaunt it. Exactly. Of course he was proud of his achievements for his country, but on a personal level, it was not something he would flaunt.

How did people react in the lead-up to the Pelé auction? It was phenomenal. Even people who weren’t bidding in the auction were curious and came to the exhibit. Pelé was so unselfish with his time. We had two parties, one for VIPs and one for the public. He attended both. Everybody who wanted a photo with him, he took a photo with them.

Pelé has seven kids, so it makes sense for him to consign his collection to auction rather than try to decide who should get what. I imagine it wasn’t easy for him to sell, though. How did he react to the auction? Sad as it was, it was cathartic, it was liberating. He had been caring for and insuring the items. Now they’re all over the world, safe, and being enjoyed, appreciated, and celebrated. Pelé loves the auction catalog, and that’s a historical book–his collection is all documented now. He can look to the catalog to see what he achieved, and know the items are loved and will be appreciated for many years to come, and there will be no family fights.

Was the group of bidders that participated in the Pelé auction more international than that of other Julien’s auctions? Yes, definitely. South Americans were hugely involved, Europe was involved. The Middle East was buying, and North America, of course–a tremendously international auction.

What do you recall of the Pelé auction? We made it a fun event. On the first day, the Julien’s Auctions team all wore black shirts. On the second, we wore green shirts, and on the third, yellow shirts. [The shirt colors reflected the colors of each of the three volumes of the auction catalog.] For me, it was one of my all-time favorite auctions we’ve ever done.

What was your role in the Pelé auction? I was on the phone with a client who was bidding in the auction. We had two different auctioneers who would rotate. My days were busy. We brought a lot of staff from Los Angeles. It was such a big project, we needed all hands on deck. And my family are such big fans of Pelé, it became like a family event as well.

What do you remember about the sale of this particular lot–the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal? There was a lot of tension beforehand. You could feel it as we got closer to the lot. It was all building up to a crescendo, a frenzy. The two who got the other two medals bid, but it ultimately went to an individual in the U.K.

The Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal ultimately sold for more than $427,000. Did that surprise you? Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. It was estimated at £70,000 to £140,000–that’s a big-ticket item. I hoped we could meet that amount. To have it sell for more than three times the estimate was exciting. It’s almost half a million for something you can almost fit in your hand. If you close your fist around it, you can’t see it. It adds to the story of Pelé and brings it to life.

Was Pelé in the room during the auction? There’s a certain amount of emotion involved in letting a collection go. We encouraged him to watch it online.

What was Pelé’s reaction to the news of how his 1970 World Cup winner’s medal did? He was very pleasantly surprised. I recall at the time that we thought all three medals would sell for half a million. This, alone, sold for almost half a million. He was so happy with the result.

The Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal set a world auction record for a Pelé item and a record for any football or soccer medal. How long do you think those records will stand? Would this medal have to come back to auction? Or maybe something from the 1966 World Cup could beat it? Some of those medals could. A U.K. player sold one of his [1966 World Cup] medals, but it was nothing close to this piece. If the Pelé medal came back again, it would set a new record, yes. In 2016, we were close to an election about Brexit, and unsure about spending money. There were 1,600 items in the auction. For one person, that’s a lot. Now there’s so little Pelé material out there. If it came back, the focus would be on this medal, and it would set a new record.

Why will the Pelé 1970 World Cup winner’s medal stick in your memory? You know what I deal with. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather have. The great hard work, what it required to keep his fitness level and his sanity and play the game before a cheering crowd in Mexico and score the first goal for his country… and to stand next to Pelé, who I came to know, and to sell it for a record amount–I’ll never forget. I’m so happy with what we achieved for him, and so happy with the result. I could talk all day about Pelé.


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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a baseball signed by the Beatles during what proved to be their final concert;  a Lucille guitar played on stage by B.B. King the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade JFKthe 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.

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Every Bird on The Hot Bid

A late 19th century Russian silver rooster-form presentation cup offered at Freeman's.

Birds flock to The Hot Bid. Several featured lots and records have an avian theme. You don’t need binoculars to enjoy this roundup.

The flamingo image from the double elephant folio of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, sold at Sotheby's in December 2019.

Sotheby’s offered a rare double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America in a single-lot auction in December 2019. Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York, spoke in depth about what makes the book legendary.

Ben Austrian's painting White Hen with Chickens, sold at Freeman's in June 2019.

A flock of paintings by Pennsylvania artist Ben Austrian appeared at Freeman’s in June 2019. White Hen with Chickens led the group.

A tall, snarky-looking Wally Bird, which is totally judging you, sold at Rago in January 2019.

A tall, snarky-looking Wally Bird offered at Rago in January 2019. Initially created as tobacco jars, collectors have long loved these British ceramics.

An Ira Hudson flying black duck, offered at Copley Fine Art Auctions in February 2019.

An Ira Hudson flying black duck graced the February 2019 sale at Copley Fine Art Auctions.

A spectacular Civil War-era quilt that showcased an eagle and featured several other colorful birds appeared at Skinner in March 2019.

In March 2019, Bonhams Los Angeles offered a stunning 2007 opaque ruby carving of an eagle in flight, done by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio.

18th century natural history painter Sarah Stone depicted a charming foursome of parrots that could never happen in the wild. It sold at Dreweatts in November 2018.

Chris Barber of Skinner spoke about a robin carved by the late New Hampshire artist Jess Blackstone ahead of an October 2018 sale.

A ridiculously scarce 1834 French first edition of a magnificent ornithological book came up at Heritage Auctions in September, 2018. Pictured above is its plate on the red curlew.

A circa 1912 Elmer Crowell preening black duck decoy swam away with a startling sum at Copley Fine Art Auctions in July 2018.

An Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy, also offered at Copley Fine Art Auctions in July 2018, set several records.

An original comic panel from The Far Side by Gary Larson, featuring a human trying to talk to a duck, appeared at Heritage Auctions in May 2018. The human succeeded, and so did the auction house, which set a new record for original art from The Far Side.

A late 19th century Russian silver rooster-form presentation cup came up at Freeman’s in October 2017.

In June 2017, the late Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani appeared at Bonhams Sydney.

An absurdly rare near-complete Dodo skeleton sold for a record sum at Summers Place in November 2016.

A Gus Wilson red-breasted merganser duck decoy sold for a record sum at Copley Fine Art Auctions in July 2014.

A unique, large, four-panel Frederick Hurten Rhead tile featuring a splendid peacock set a record at Rago in 2012.

Images of White Hen with Chickens by Ben Austrian and the Russian rooster-form silver presentation cup are courtesy of Freeman’s.

Images of the Wally bird and the Frederick Hurten Rhead peacock panel are courtesy of Rago.

Images of the red curlew plate from the ornithological book and the original Gary Larson comic art are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Images of the Ira Hudson flying black duck, the Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose, the Elmer Crowell preening black duck, and the Gus Wilson red-breasted merganser are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

The image of the near-complete Dodo skeleton is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

Images of the Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio ruby eagle carving and the Brett Whiteley painting are courtesy of Bonhams.

Images of the Civil War-era quilt and the Jess Blackstone robin are courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

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Painters of the Peculiar, by Michael Papa and Johnny Meah (THB: Shelf Life)

The cover of Painters of the Peculiar, a book that gathers a wealth of information about sideshow banners and those who painted them.

What you seePainters of the Peculiar: A Guide to Sideshow Banner Artists & Their Respective Work, by Michael Papa and Johnny Meah. $24.99. *

Does it fit in my purse? I guess it could if I rolled it up, but I wouldn’t want to do that to it.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? If you’re into sideshow banner art, yes. I am, and I loved it.

Painters of the Peculiar is review-proof in that, as far as I can tell, it’s the first book of its kind. Others have presented sideshow banners as art, but this appears to be alone in attempting to identify as many banner painters by name as possible, along with biographical information and images of their work, whenever it could be found.

The book also assumes you know why you’re holding it in your hands. It doesn’t kick off with a Sideshow 101 tutorial. It starts by breaking down the layout and features of a sideshow banner in detail and discusses each artist’s work through that lens.

Painters of the Peculiar performs a valuable service by doing its damndest to expand knowledge of American sideshow banners and those who painted them. Every fact gathered in its pages was rescued from an obscurity that almost consumed it.

Many objects have made the slow transformation from tool to art–weathervanes, figureheads, signs that hung outside shops. Sideshow banners are among the few that transitioned during the 20th century, when at least some alert and passionate folks could make a stab at documenting the shift.

As the book notes, more than 100 different sideshow companies once trekked across America. Now there are none. If you want to see a live sideshow, you need to make a pilgrimage to Coney Island USA in Coney Island, New York.

It’s telling that those who actually made sideshow banners never thought of themselves as artists-with-a-capital-A and would be startled to see their road-worn original images of sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, and fat ladies sell for four- and five-figure sums. Snap Wyatt, one of the greats, prided himself on his ability to finish a banner a day. Fine artists rarely boast of their speed, even if they are feverishly cranking out works on deadline to fill a gallery or an art fair booth.

I say the banner painters “would be startled” as most of them didn’t live to see the change. Johnny Meah, the rare painter who has, co-authored Painters of the Peculiar, contributes its cover art, and tells tales of his mid-century working life, both on the road and from his winter base in Florida. These stories alone justify getting the book.

Add the painter identifications, the field guides, and the black-and-white period images of banners on display, and you have a real winner.

Worth buying new, at full price.

How to buy Painters of the Peculiar: Co-author Michael Papa sells it directly through a dedicated website.

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Image is courtesy of Michael Papa.

* I received Painters of the Peculiar as a review copy, but it covers a topic I like and actively seek out. I’ve interviewed Johnny Meah before. I haven’t interviewed Michael Papa, but I did interview his father, John, for a story for Robb Report Collection that is not online. Michael Papa also deals in original sideshow banners.

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RECORD! An Indiana Jones Hat, Worn On Screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Set a Record at Prop Store in 2015

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

What you see: A fedora worn on screen by Harrison Ford while playing Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Prop Store sold it in September 2018 for £393,600 ($522,100) and a record for any piece of Indiana Jones memorabilia. [Scroll down for information on Prop Store’s first auction in Los Angeles, which takes place in late August, 2020 and includes another iconic prop from the 1981 movie.]

The expert: Brandon Alinger, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Prop Store Los Angeles.

Do we know why Director Steven Spielberg, Writer-Producer George Lucas, and Costume Designer Deborah Nadoolman decided that the Indiana Jones character should wear a hat, and how they decided what sort of hat he should wear? Spielberg and Lucas were very good about borrowing from existing ideas in cinema, and this was no exception. The look of Indiana Jones was patterned largely on the look of Charlton Heston in the 1954 film Secret of the Incas, where the character wears a Fedora and a leather jacket. The specific fedora was designed by Deborah Nadoolman to best compliment Ford’s face–you would have to ask her what exactly it was that made that *the* fedora.

What makes the fedora an important part of the Indiana Jones character, and why it is iconic? The character came to be known as “The man with the hat.” The look of Indiana Jones was just different enough to be memorable. It placed him in a certain time in history. Spielberg found many uses for the fedora in the Indiana Jones series–he could establish the character in a silhouette shadow shot based on the outline of the brim, or use it as a gag when Indy nearly loses it diving through a closing temple door and has to reach back and recover it with not an instant to spare.

Do we know how and why the film team chose the Herbert Johnson company to create the Indiana Jones hat? Herbert Johnson is a preeminent manufacturer of custom hats in London, where the production of Raiders of the Lost Ark was based. It would have been a logical choice for Nadoolman and her costume team.

The mark of Herbert Johnson, the milliner who created the Indiana Jones hat for the Raiders of the Lost Ark film team.

Do we know how many Indiana Jones fedoras the company made and delivered to the film team? It’s not known exactly how many fedoras were made for each film. For the first film, at least two fedoras are known to exist. Studying the hats in the film, we can see that these same two show up again and again. Of course, there may have been a few others made and on standby if needed–it’s hard to say with certainty.

Could you discuss what techniques and tricks Nadoolman and her colleagues used with the Indiana Jones hat to give it an aged, weathered look? The primary weathering on the fedora in Raiders is the addition of a dirt-like product, possibly Fuller’s earth. The idea was to make the hat look as if it had been worn on many adventures before.

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

How do we know that this particular fedora was indeed worn on screen? What features or details of the Indiana Jones hat mark it as the one Harrison Ford wore in particular scenes? There are a number of unique identifying marks on the hat, including the previously mentioned Fuller’s earth application, and the folds and stitching in the bow of the hat’s ribbon. Each hat ribbon is created by hand and takes on a unique appearance, providing a fingerprint to trace a fedora through the film.

A close-up on the bow on the Indiana Jones hat. Its particular shape and stitching helps experts identify when and in what scenes Ford wore it.

What is the provenance of this Indiana Jones hat? What happened to it after the film wrapped? The hat originated with someone who worked on the film and it passed through the hands of a few collectors before we brought it to the auction block. 

I understand that Harrison Ford signed the hat. Where on the hat did he sign it, and when did he sign it-during the shoot? The signature was obtained by a prior collector who owned it, probably a number of years after filming. It was signed in the hat liner band. 

At some point after Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed, a collector asked Harrison Ford to sign the Indiana Jones hat. He obliged, applying his signature in the hat liner band.

What is the Indiana Jones hat like in person? Are there details or aspects that don’t come across on camera? When I first handled the hat, I was struck by how soft the felt actually is. You might expect the hat to feel rigid and hold its shape, but in actuality, the felt is quite soft and malleable. A lot of the form that the hat exhibits on screen comes from the way Harrison Ford’s head fits into it-the specific stretching of his head into the hat band causes the edges of the brim to curl up.   

Did you try on the Indiana Jones hat? I did not! At Prop Store, we revere these artifacts and handle them with great care and respect. The Raiders fedora is a historic piece, and deserves to be treated as such.

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

Is this the first screen-worn Indiana Jones fedora to come to auction? If not, is it the first screen-worn Indiana Jones hat from Raiders of the Lost Ark to come up? Certainly from Raiders, yes, and I believe it’s the first screen-matched fedora to be offered at auction from any Indiana Jones film. 

Was the September 2018 sale the Indiana Jones hat’s auction debut? If not, when has it sold at auction before? The hat had traded hands between private collectors in the past, but never through public auction.

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

How did you set the estimate for the Indiana Jones hat? What comparables did you look to? We looked at Indiana Jones items that have sold through our auctions in the past, as well as private-party transactions for other fedoras that we were aware of. We knew this fedora was in a class on its own-possibly the most significant artefact from the Indy film franchise in private hands, and the price reflected that.      

What was your role in the auction? How many bidders were there at the start, and how long did it take to drop to two? As Chief Operating Officer, I am involved with all aspects of the auction, and I’m very hands-on with high-profile pieces like this. I worked with the consignor on sourcing and cataloging the pieces, I worked with our photography team and graphics team on the look and presentation of the piece in the catalog, and I did the research to screen-match the hat to various stills. I don’t recall the specifics on bidder volume.    

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

What do you recall about the sale of the Indiana Jones hat? Certainly the hat was a star lot in the auction, and we had a number of serious pre-sale inquiries. We expected strong bidding activity and we saw that on the day, with the final hammer price outpacing the upper end of the estimate we had placed on it.

The Indiana Jones hat ultimately sold for more than $520,000. Were you surprised by that? I believe this is a record price for any Indiana Jones fedora, but we expected it would be. It is almost certainly the best example of a fedora in any private collection.

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

What factors drove the Indiana Jones hat to its record price? The fact that it was screen-matched to multiple key scenes from the first Indiana Jones film, which is almost universally regarded as the best film. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s hard to imagine a much better piece that you could own.

It appears that the Indiana Jones hat is NOT the most expensive hat ever sold at auction-that appears to belong to a riding helmet worn by Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, which sold for $6.5 million at a charity auction in 2015. Does the hat hold any records aside from the most-expensive Indiana Jones screen-used prop? Might it hold the record for any screen-worn hat? It certainly may hold that title! I think you’ll have to reach out to Guinness to see what they have in their books. I can tell you it’s the highest priced Indiana Jones piece we have ever sold.

An Indiana Jones hat worn on screen by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark sold for more than $520,000 at Prop Store in 2015.

How long do you believe this world auction record will stand? What’s out there that could challenge the Indiana Jones hat? It’s hard to imagine a better Indy piece, but the market is always moving. Indiana Jones has been a consistently strong performer at auctions, along with other landmark titles of the era such as Star Wars. Who knows what the future may bring? That’s the fun part of auctions.

We know that the London milliner made at least two fedoras for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Do we know where the second fedora is? If it came to auction, would it challenge the record set by this Indiana Jones hat? At least one Raiders fedora is still in the collection of George Lucas. I’m not aware of any others at this time, and I think it’s extremely unlikely it [the Lucas fedora] will ever reach the auction block.

Why will the Indiana Jones hat stick in your memory? I’m a massive fan of the Indiana Jones films myself, so it was a real privilege to have this piece in house, to study it, catalog it, and prepare it for sale. It was a wonderful item to work with and an embodiment of what Prop Store is all about.

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.

On August 26 and August 27, 2020, Prop Store will hold its first auction in Los Angeles. The 850 lots will include a large Nostromo principal filming model miniature from Alien, estimated at $300,000 to $500,000; a screen-matched, blank-firing hero prop Colt Walker-style revolver used by Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000; and a Staff of Ra headpiece from Raiders of the Lost Ark, estimated at $100,000 to $200,000.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of Prop Store.

Herbert Johnson is still a going concern, and you can order an authentic Indiana Jones hat directly from the company.

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RECORD! A Shepard Fairey Work, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Fetched Almost $260,000 At Artcurial in 2019

Shepard Fairey created the Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité image in November 2015 as a response to the Bataclan attacks. He painted it twice on canvas. The first hangs in French President Emmanuel Macron's office. The second set a world auction record for the artist.

What you see: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, a 2018 work on canvas by American artist Shepard Fairey. Artcurial sold it on November 5, 2019 for €232,200 ($259,089) against an estimate of €80,000 to €120,000 (roughly $90,300 to $135,500), setting a world auction record for the artist.

The expert: Arnaud Oliveux, associate director and auctioneer in Artcurial’s urban art department.

Who is Shepard Fairey? He’s one of the most important contemporary urban artists. He’s very well-known for the image of Andre the Giant that he stickered all around the world at the beginning of his career in the late 1980s. Andre the Giant was a famous French wrestler who had a very particular and impressive body. Shepard used, and still uses, this image to do some posters with the word OBEY, which became its tagline. It references George Orwell’s book 1984 and John Carpenter’s movie Invasion Los Angeles [known in the United States as They Live]. Fairey’s works often deal with subjects such as mass manipulation and propaganda images, as well as with musicians who play rap or punk music. It can easily be said that Fairey is a committed artist.

When you say that Shepard Fairey is a committed artist, could you elaborate on what you mean by that? I mean that Shepard’s work deals with political and ecological issues. I think he himself is very committed, and that’s the reason why his works deals with these issues–Big Brother [the symbol of the surveillance state that reigns in 1984], war . . .

Could you tell the story of why Fairey made this French-themed work? What prompted him to create it? He created it just after the Bataclan attacks of November 2015 in Paris. [ISIL terrorists conducted several attacks on civilian targets in the city in mid-November 2015. The deadliest happened at the Bataclan theater, during a performance by the American band Eagles of Death Metal. Of the 130 victims who died in the November 15 attacks, 90 were killed at the Bataclan.] Fairey was in Paris for the Cop 21 event in December [the shorthand name for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st Conference of the Parties]. He was working on this incredible Earth Crisis Globe under the Eiffel Tower. And then the Bataclan attacks happened. Four days later, he wanted to do a tribute by using French symbols: the Marianne figure; the French flag colors, blue, white and red; and the French motto, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. For Fairey, this work was a symbol of harmony and fraternity.

I understand that Fairey made a version of this canvas and gave it to Emmanuel Macron, who hung it in his office after he won the presidency. Is there any chance that the record-setting Fairey work is the one from Macron’s office? The first version of the canvas was purchased by a French collector who is a close friend of Emmanuel Macron. This work is a real symbol here, so this collector decided to loan the canvas to the president’s office. Our record-setting work was the second one, not the one from Macron’s office, which is always there. 

What makes this Shepard Fairey work so powerful? Why is it such a successful design? This work is really compelling. I think there are two reasons. First, as I said earlier, is its symbolism in relation to the Bataclan. And then the image hung in our president’s office. It is really effective. It’s the reason that the prints from 2016 that originally sold for €70 [$60] can sell now for €6,000, and the reason that our buyer in November 2019, a business leader, purchased it for his company. It’s not so easy to answer your second question, but I think the composition of the work is very easy to understand. The wall in Paris with the same image is very impressive. The meaning is easy.

I searched for this piece in Fairey’s online archives and found two editions that resemble the record-setter, but do not match its size–both are smaller. What can you tell me about the 2018 version that set a record? Is it a one-off? If it’s not a one-off, how big was its limited edition? The work we sold, and which set a new world record in November 2019, is a different work. It’s a mixed media on canvas with spray paint, stencil, and collage. The image is the same visual in the two links on the artist’s website, but they are not the same work. The works shown in the links are prints, one in an edition of 450, and the other in an edition of 1,000. Shepard Fairey is a master of using the power of an image. He often develops the same image in different media: print, paper, wood, metal, and canvas. He wants the image to be seen by many people. Fairey created the second canvas version for an exhibition in Detroit in 2018. It was bought by a French collector.

I noticed there was a 2016 version of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité in the same November 2019 Artcurial auction, and it sold for far less than the record-breaker. Was the 2016 example one of the poster editions? Yes. That was a poster from an edition of 450. The record-setting work was an original canvas. These works are really very different, and the prices are really very different.

What is the Shepard Fairey work like in person? Are there details or aspects that the camera doesn’t quite capture? You can see more details on the work when you are physically in front of it. A stencil die stuck on the canvas creates depth in the work. But the essentials are the symbols–Marianne, the colors red, white, and blue, and the Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité motto–that you can see on the image. 

While I have not seen this Shepard Fairey work in person, I did attend his 2009 show in Boston and saw a very large version of one of his Hope posters. I was surprised by the amount of visual texture it had–imagery that isn’t evident unless you get close to the real thing. Does the record-setting Shepard Fairey work have that same sort of “visual texture”? You’re totally right. There are many symbols in most of Fairey’s works. He is so very committed. The Obama Hope poster series and Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité are committed works which tell a story–a social, political story.

How many Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité images have you handled at Artcurial? Do you tend to sell more of this particular Shepard Fairey work than other auction houses? In the past, we’ve sold six Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité posters–the print editioned in 450 copies in 2016, and this version on canvas. So, seven works, with this image. I think we tend to sell more of this one than other auction houses for several reasons. This visual has a French theme, and it’s been seen often during President Macron’s speeches. And Artcurial has realized the best aution prices for Shepard Fairey. We have ten of the 15 best prices in the world for him, according to Artnet. We have the current record for Fairey and the previous record. We have a very good database of collectors.

What was your role in the auction? I was the auctioneer of the sale. The buyer, who I know very well, was in the auction room, just in front of me. 

What do you recall of the auction? How many bidders were there at the start, and how long did it take to drop to two? During this particular auction, the bids were very quick. We had six or seven bidders on the phone and in the room. They all wanted the work until it hit its high estimate. Maybe 30 seconds after the start, the bids reached €150,000 [about $169,200]. The auction continued between two persons until it reached €180,000 [$203,200], which was the final hammer price. [The complete price was €232,200, or $259,100.]

Were you surprised at how well the Shepard Fairey work did? What did you think it was going to sell for, and how close was that number to the final number? Surprised? Yes and no. I knew when I took this work on consignment that we could have a new record for Shepard Fairey. The image is already iconic. During the exhibition, I thought we could sell it for €120,000 to €150,000 [$135,500 to $169,200], which is a very important price for a Shepard work. But I did not think it would sell for €232,200. And during the bidding, when we reached €180,000, I dreamed of a €200,000 [$225,800] hammer price. €232,200, including fees, is a great price–nearly $260,000. 

When did you know you had a world auction record for any work by Shepard Fairey? I knew it before the auction, in fact. During the exhibition, I knew that some collectors wanted to bid it up above the previous Shepard Fairey record. During the auction, we broke the record very quickly.

How long do you think this Shepard Fairey auction record will last? What other Shepard Fairey works out there could dethrone this one? It’s difficult to know. But now, with the COVID-19 situation, maybe things will change on the art market. Maybe the record won’t be broken immediately.

Why will this Shepard Fairey work stick in your memory? First, we broke the record for Shepard Fairey. That’s always an event for us, we did a good job. And I love Shepard Fairey’s works. I spent time with him three years ago, and he is very committed. His works are political, social, and environmental.

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Artcurial is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Artcurial.

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RECORD! A Four-Rotor Enigma Machine Sold at Sotheby's for $800,000

An M4, or four-rotor, Enigma machine, recovered from a bunker in Trondheim toward the end of World War II. It set a record for any Enigma machine at Sotheby's in December 2019.

What you see: A four-rotor (“M4”) Kriegsmarine Enigma cipher machine, in its original case. It sold at Sotheby’s New York in December 2019 for $800,000 against an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000, setting a new world auction record for an Enigma machine.

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

Let’s start by explaining what an Enigma machine is. An Enigma machine is a machine used to encrypt messages. It doesn’t send messages. It simply encodes them so they can be sent in a secret manner. They were usually sent by Morse code. In order for encryption and decryption to function, you need two machines. The Enigma machine was not invented by the Nazis, but the Nazis chose to use it because it was the best model of encryption machine. Before the war, they were used in the commercial realm, to keep business secrets.

Were there different types or varieties of Enigma machine? When World War II broke out, the Nazis chose to adapt and use the three-rotor machine, also known as the E1. It was primarily used by the army. Three-rotors tend to be banged up. They were on the ground.

Were three-rotors the most common model of Enigma machine used during World War II? Those are the most common, which is not to say any are common. They’re the ones I see the most.

So, Enigma machines predate World War II and were used commercially. Were they available to the Allies? They were. My understanding is the Nazis had a contract with the companies that manufactured them. I don’t think the companies had a choice [to decline the German contract], but during the war they exclusively produced a more sophisticated machine than was previously available in the commercial realm. The Nazis swooped in when the machines were on the verge of having an extra layer of encryption invented, and bought it all out. If the Allies had a machine in their hands, they’d captured it.

The example that set the world auction record is a four-rotor Enigma machine. How is it different? The Nazis knew that the Allies were working to break the code, but they weren’t aware of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. The commander of the German naval fleet, Karl Doenitz, was particularly concerned about it. He had a four-rotor Enigma machine developed in secret, to be used by the German navy. The body is slightly different. Both the three-rotor and the four-rotor are in an oak case, but the four-rotor has a handle on the side, so you can slide it into a slot on a U-boat so it doesn’t roll around. The majority of four-rotors were on U-boats, and the majority are trashed, rusted out, because of exposure to salt water and air. I’ve seen them completely rusted, with just the chassis surviving. To find a machine that’s complete and in fantastic condition is so rare, and to find one with a traceable provenance… it’s a unicorn. This is the unicorn of Enigma machines.

How did this four-rotor Enigma machine manage to survive in such good condition? The story is fantastic. We do know where the machine originated. It was in a bunker in Trondheim, Norway, in a major communications center. The crew had 15 of these machines.

Wow, 15? Was each four-rotor Enigma machine in that Trondheim bunker dedicated to a single U-boat, or could each machine only handle one message request at a time? A machine couldn’t handle more than one at a time.

How does the four-rotor Enigma machine work? When you open it up, you see that there are rotors inside–wheels. Each wheel has 26 positions. In the four-rotor, the wheels have letters, A to Z. Each wheel has to be set to a specific letter. Patched cables also have to be set in very specific ways at the front of the machine. For Machine A to encrypt the message, it has to be set up in a specific way. For Machine B to decrypt the message, the cables and the rotors must be set up in the same way. It takes 45 seconds to reset a machine, but during war, there’s no time for that. Each machine had a different setting, set up to speak to a specific machine.

But I don’t think this is the rarest form of Enigma machine. Didn’t they make a 10-rotor? That wasn’t used in wartime, really, and it’s not exactly a 10-rotor. There are double rotors, and I don’t completely understand how those machines function. I would compare a three-rotor to a Volvo. A 10-rotor is more of a Prius. I can change the oil in an old Volvo, but I can’t in a Prius.

How did this four-rotor Enigma machine leave the bunker? The bunker was sieged, taken by surprise. When a machine was captured, the first thing that the Nazis were supposed to do was destroy the machine–open it, smash the rotors, smash the keyboard, throw it in a lake. The most important thing to get rid of was the rotors. The secret of the rotors was not just in their secret positions. Each has internal wiring that’s different. If you can figure out the internal wiring, it all falls apart.

“It all falls apart,” meaning if you learn the way the rotors are wired, you can easily figure out whatever messages come over? Exactly. But if the rotors are destroyed, you can’t figure it out.

What happened to the other 14 machines in the Trondheim bunker? They did survive the war, but I think they were disposed of later. The fact that this machine’s rotors are in perfect condition shows they were taken by surprise. They were not able to destroy the machine. They [the people working in the bunker] were kept prisoner and forced to teach a Norwegian naval officer how to use the machine.

So this would have been after Vidkun Quisling was overthrown? Yes.

What happened to the four-rotor Engima machine after it left the bunker? After the war, Churchill ordered all types of Enigma machines destroyed. Most from the bunker were trashed. One member of the Norwegian naval forces took this one home and kept it. His son consigned it, and told me that kids in his village used rotor boxes to keep change in. This was something kept in his house, not hidden, just there. There was no sense they were not supposed to have it, or it was stolen.

Is that how most Enigma machines come down to us now? Someone kept it? It’s what I understand to be the case with every Enigma machine that comes to market. The majority were kept as souvenirs. Someone’s Swiss grandpa took one and kept it in the attic, or they’re left behind in homes that were used as Nazi bases. I haven’t encountered any machine that came to the market in any other way.

When did Enigma machines start arriving on the auction market? Probably the late 1990s or early 2000s. They were previously placed in scientific instrument sales or World War II sales. Those buyers looked at them more as relics. They put them on a shelf, and they wouldn’t be touched. They were part of history. The biggest leap in prices was in 2015, when I was at Bonhams. The sale with the Alan Turing manuscript also had an Enigma machine, and I want to say it made $269,000. It was a record price and a big leap for a three-rotor. It was fully operational.

How did the 2015 Bonhams sale of the three-rotor Enigma machine change things? It was a big shift. They were no longer World War II relics sitting on a shelf. Now they were objects from the history of computing that you could play with. Interest in Alan Turing’s manuscript came from the tech world. The shift in interest in the machines went from World War II to tech–a different client base. That’s when things took off, I think. Christie’s sold a four-rotor Enigma machine in 2017 for $547,500, which was a new world record. The one we sold in December was way above that.

Why did the four-rotor Enigma machine that Sotheby’s sold in December 2019 do so much better than any other offered at auction? It had a combination of everything you want. This machine had fantastic condition and a really killer history. It’s the only one I’ve seen or know of with an unbroken chain of provenance. Condition plus provenance plus rarity is where you find higher prices. Buyers understood it was a trifecta.

How often do three-rotor Enigma machines come to auction, and how often do four-rotor Enigma machines come up? The E1 [the three-rotor], once or twice a year, maybe. A really, really good one comes up every other year. I could probably sell many E1s every year but they wouldn’t be in great condition, or wouldn’t have a great provenance, or they wouldn’t function. The M4 [four-rotor], there have been four I’m aware of in the past six years. Two have been at Sotheby’s since I’ve been here. One was at Christie’s, and one was at Bonhams. I always look for four-rotors. I know where to find three-rotors. It’s not difficult to acquire one. Getting an M4 is a different story, much more difficult to do.

How many Enigma machines have you personally handled? Quite a few. I’d say at least one dozen, if not more. I’m including ones that clients own but need to figure out if it’s working or not.

Do Enigma machines have to work to have value to collectors? They definitely wouldn’t be worthless, but there would be less interest in it. I’ve previously seen them come up in World War II and scientific instrument sales not working and they were still sold. I have seen machines missing most of their hardware still sell. But I’ll see a higher price for an operational machine.

Why do functional Enigma machines command higher prices? A functional Enigma machine is a totally different thing. It becomes an interactive piece that can encode messages, and you can show people how to decode messages. They come into the gallery and I ask, “You want to see how this thing works?” The looks on peoples’ faces… going from a box on a shelf to showing them how it works, it blows peoples’ minds every time. If the choice is between a machine that blows peoples’ minds versus a box sitting on a shelf, you’re going to go for this machine.

How easy or difficult is it to operate a four-rotor Enigma machine? It seems easy to me because I’ve played with the machines for a long time. They’re not difficult to operate. They’re actually pretty clean and elegant. I understand the math behind it is more difficult.

Do Enigma machines make any noise? What do they sound like? They make a very satisfying kind of thunk sound, very similar to old typewriters, but very distinctive. It’s louder than an old typewriter. You couldn’t use it in secret.

That’s why you need a bunker… Yes! [Laughs]

What is the four-rotor Enigma machine like in person? I think it’s very difficult to understand what these machines really are just with a camera. You need to put your hands on them and play with them. I love Enigma machines. I’m obsessed with them. If I could have two M4s and two E1s, I’d be very happy and very broke. If you can forget about what they were used for, they’re amazing technical marvels. It’s impossible to convey in a video. The experience is a different thing. And it’s heavy. It takes a strong person to lug it around.

Do you know how much it weighs? I think the E1 and the M4 are about the same weight. This is a two-arm job. It comes with a leather strap, but there’s no way I’d try to carry it with a leather strap.

In what ways does the four-rotor Enigma machine bring pleasure to someone who loves all things analog? Opening the machine up and seeing the guts, seeing how the rotors are put together, how it’s engineered to fit together, nest together, it’s so satisfying. I’m a person who likes to look under the hoods of cars. I like taking things apart and putting them back together. If you’re that person, an Enigma machine is so fun.

What was your role in the auction? Were you on the phone? Yes.

With the winner? Yes.

Did you have a notion that the four-rotor Enigma machine might break the world auction record? I always hoped for that. I didn’t think it was unreasonable. I think it was a fair price, and it was right for it to sell for that price. The provenance and the condition were beyond the others [that have been] at auction. I thought it should, at minimum, sell for the high estimate. I was happy with where the sale ended up.

What role did the provenance play in driving it toward the record price? I think it played a big role. It really did. People were excited about the story. If you take the provenance away, it gets closer to the high estimate.

And its condition, what role did that play in the record price? The machine was issued with, I believe, seven rotors. Each rotor has a serial number. One way to determine if a machine was used during wartime is if the serial number of the rotors match the serial number of the machine. The serial numbers on the rotors do not match the machine–that means it was used. When it sat in a bunker, all the rotors were piled on a table, because they were interchangeable in terms of wiring. You could use an R7 [a seventh rotor] in any machine. When the machine was taken, it had a full complement of rotors and [the original private owner] grabbed a box with extra rotors. The rotors in the box had different serial numbers than the machine, which is totally fine. If they matched, that means the machine was never used, or used in isolation.

So the world of Enigma machines is not at all like the world of classic cars, where you want the number on the engine to match the number on the chassis. Exactly.

What do you think it would take for an Enigma machine to cross the seven-figure threshold? Would this particular one have to return to auction? I think it’s definitely possible. It’s hard to say what kind of machine would do that. It’d have to be a famous machine with some sort of super-celebrity provenance to it, like Admiral Doenitz’s own.

Does Admiral Doenitz’s four-rotor Enigma machine still exist? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!

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News: Summer 2020 on The Hot Bid

As of today, The Hot Bid shifts to a summer schedule.

New posts will appear on Tuesdays during July, August, and early September.

Most will feature items that set world auction records.

When The Hot Bid resumes its twice-a-week schedule, new posts will appear on Tuesdays and Fridays, rather than Mondays and Thursdays.

Enjoy your summer, and enjoy The Hot Bid!

A Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco Figure Could Command $24,000 (Updated August 13, 2020)

A Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure, dubbed The Aristocrats and depicting a woman in medieval-esque clothing walking a pair of Borzoi dogs.

Update: The Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure sold for £18,812, or $24,475.

What you see: The Aristocrats, a cold-painted and carved ivory figural group in ivory and bronze on a green onyx base, created circa 1925 by Professor Otto Poertzel. Bonhams estimates it at $18,000 to $24,000.

The expert: Gemma Sanders, head of the department of 20th century decorative arts and design at Bonhams.

Who was Professor Otto Poertzel? He was a successful German commercial artist. He’s best known for his Art Deco statuettes executed in bronze and ivory.

How did he get the title of “Professor”? The title was given to him in 1913 by Duke Carl Eduard, the last member of the ruling family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He gave it possibly because Poertzel was a founding member of the Coburg Art Association. Perhaps the professor title was a nod to his academic associations.

Did Poertzel only create Art Deco statuettes, or did he work in other media as well? We know he honed his craft as a porcelain designer. He learned his craft in porcelain, as an apprentice. Once he was a commercial artist, he made large-scale public artworks in stone as well as statuettes for commercial production.

How prolific was Poertzel? It’s difficult to know exactly how many pieces he produced. He was as much a designer as an artist. As an auctioneer, I see his works less often than his contemporaries.

The Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure is described as “cold-painted”. What is cold-painting? It’s a way to apply color to a bronze after the casting process. Once it’s cold, the color can be applied.

It seems like there was a vogue for decorative figures and statuettes during the Art Deco period. Do we have any idea why they caught on then? It’s tricky. I don’t know why they took off or who was the first to produce the figures, but I know they were produced before the Art Deco period. Art Nouveau figures featured beautiful young women in flowing outfits, but with more gilt. The Art Deco period was about high-end materials and exotic, rare finishes. At the time, ivory was seen as the best material for intricate carving. I think the figures captured the glamorous, positive, upbeat feeling of the time.

Is this Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure unique, or was it part of an edition? We know it isn’t a one-off because others have come to market. I should stress that there have not been many–six in 20 years. Figures of this quality were expensive, even at that time. They were expensive because of the ivory components.

Do the other figures look identical to this one, or do they vary? I know examples where the hair is part of the bronze casting and examples where the hair is part of the ivory. And sometimes, there are contrasting details to the dress–the cold-painting might be different.

Where would something like this have been sold when it was new? They were most commonly offered in high-end department stores–Harrods, or that city’s equivalent. If one sold, another would have been requested from Priess Kassler [a foundry that produced the figures] or directly from the artist.

The Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure has a circa date of 1925. How do we know it was made around then? Does it have a date on its base? No. Other figures like it are very difficult to date. We use “circa 1925” for auction purposes. It could date to the mid-1920s, the late 1920s, the early 1930s, there’s no way of knowing.

I take it there’s no surviving production records? No, not for things like this.

This Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure is called “The Aristocrats”. Do we know how it got its name? Possibly it was given its name in the 1970s or 1980s, when these figures became popular again.

Do we know anything about how or why Professor Otto Poertzel created this particular Art Deco figure? We know he likes the medieval look. He adopted it for a few of his figures. The Borzoi dogs were fashionable at the time for their lean look. And in a book by Alberto Shayo, there’s an archival photo of Mrs. Edmund Guy at the Casino de Paris music hall that looks like her [the human figure in the group].

So Professor Otto Poertzel might have had that woman performer model for him for this figure? We don’t have images to back that up, but it’s what his contemporaries would have done. Demetre Chiparus had the Dolly Sisters model for him. Certainly, Poetzel would have had a model at the first part of the process. He would have sculpted his figure, and that figure would have been cast.

How involved might Poertzel have been with the creation of this Art Deco figure? Did he create the design and hand it off to others to fabricate, or did he participate in its physical creation? The design is certainly his. It’s not known if he carved every piece or was involved in the process, but it’s likely he had help with some of the processes. He was probably more involved because he was not as prolific as his contemporaries, and his ivory-carving is superior.

The quality of the carving on the ivory face convinces you that Poertzel personally did it? The face is exquisite–beautifully carved, and she’s actually a beautiful-looking woman. I see a lot [of these Art Deco figures], and others are not so good, not so real-looking. He is one of the best carvers. The quality is so good, I see it with only one other maker, Ferdinand Priess.

A detail shot of the female figure in Professor Otto Poertzel's The Aristocrats that shows off the quality of the carved ivory face.

And that would be your favorite detail of the piece–the woman’s face? The face is exquisite, and not easy to achieve in ivory. I also love the stride she’s taking under her long skirt. It’s quite fabulous in reality. It comes down to his modeling ability, to create a feeling of movement. That’s where a figure can look stiff and stifled. He designed it so perfectly… it’s probably from his years of training in porcelain modeling.

What is the Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t pick up? I talked about how beautiful the face is. She has a quiet confidence to her expression, in the way she’s looking down. A lot of figures just stare at you. She’s strikingly elegant, striding out and looking down. To give a figure like that emotion is very difficult to do.

What do we know about the provenance of this Poertzel figure? It’s been privately owned for a half-century or more.

What condition is it in? And what condition issues do you see with Art Deco figures like this one? Ivory is a natural material. If it heats and cools and heats and cools, it can crack. Cracks in the ivory are often engrained with dirt, and can be detrimental to the look of the piece. Sometimes, there’s a hairline crack in the face of a figure that creates a gray line. This is in very good condition–no hairline cracks to the ivory. Her ivory is very clean. She’s had careful ownership.

I’m doing this interview from the United States. May I bid on this Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure? No, unless you have a home in another part of the world where you can enjoy it. It cannot be imported into the United States. The laws governing ivory in the U.K. and Europe are different.

What’s the world auction record for this particular Professor Otto Poertzel Art Deco figure? It was £43,700 [about $54,000], set at Sotheby’s in 2007.

Is that also the world auction record for any piece by Professor Otto Poertzel? I was not able to find a higher price, so it might be it. The highest that Bonhams has achieved is $40,000. We’re very excited to have this figure.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? For me, I think, the stride in her step, her movement, and the confidence in her face. I would like to bottle that confidence.

How to bid: The Professor Otto Poertzel statuette is lot 218 in a Decorative Art & Design sale taking place at Bonhams London on August 11, 2020.

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Thomas Edison Light Bulb Design Drawings, Plus a Period Edison Light Bulb, Could Command More Than $110,000 at Christie’s (Updated July 17, 2020)

A set of Thomas Edison design drawings for the light bulb, dated March 1886 and paired with a period light bulb, could sell for $110,000 or more at Christie's.

Update: The Thomas Edison light bulb and design drawings in his hand sold for £75,000, or about $93,900.

What you see: A page of design drawings of light bulbs and related objects, rendered by American inventor Thomas Edison in March 1886. The pencil sketches are paired with a period Edison light bulb. Christie’s London estimates the lot at £600,000 to £900,000, or $75,600 to $113,400.

The expert: Sophie Hopkins, specialist in manuscripts and archives at Christie’s London.

Who was Thomas Edison, and why is he still important? He was arguably the greatest inventor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His fabulous inventions shape our lives today, from radiography to microphones. His way of working was also distinctive. Before Edison, scientists did personal research with a few assistants. Edison took a more collaborative approach to things. His laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey was the first of its kind–the first proper, organized scientific lab. The best way to characterize him is to use an electrical engineering comparison: he was a dynamo. An unstoppable torrent of extraordinary ideas poured from him.

The seven pages of Thomas Edison drawings in the lot have a March 1886 date. Where was Edison in his career at that point, and how widely used was his light bulb by then? He had already gained a good amount of recognition. He had the phonograph and the microphone under his belt. And by 1884, over 10,000 “Edison lights” were in use in New York. He was very successful.

One of the pages of design drawings reflects a date of March 12, 1886. Edison was honeymooning with his second wife at the time.

Thomas Edison was not the first to invent a light bulb, but he did make the first commercially viable one. He began working on designs in 1878 and filed for a patent in 1880. Why was he continuing to work on the light bulb in 1886? Was he trying to improve the design? It is relevant to point out that through the 1880s, Edison constantly tinkered with light bulb design, mainly to improve its durability. But not all of the drawings are about improvements to the light bulb, necessarily. Edison had conceptions for how light bulb technology could apply elsewhere. The first page of drawings shows him introducing electrodes into the circuit. The drawings cover a mixture of the two [motivations]–how the light bulb itself continues to occupy him, and how electric lamp technology could have applications beyond itself, such as for vacuum tubes.

What specific pages, or drawings on specific pages, show Thomas Edison grappling with applying electric lamp technology in other contexts? I think it’s better to see the pages in a holistic sense. You see a mind fizzing with ideas and working on them all simultaneously.

One page of the Thomas Edison light bulb design drawings carries a March 1886 date. We know he was on honeymoon with his second wife at the time. What does it say about the nature of the light bulb that it kept calling him and tempting him to work on it, even when he was supposed to be vacationing? To me, at least, that’s what differentiates men and women like Edison from the majority of the population. For brilliant inventors, geniuses, people who make and change history, inventions aren’t something they can make and put down. It’s very simple–Edison was a man possessed. There were just too many ideas in his brain, and they came bubbling and pouring out. He couldn’t stop, even on his honeymoon. There’s a reason he filed just shy of 1,100 patents in his name in his lifetime.

Did Thomas Edison continue to work on the light bulb until he died? The light bulb continued to preoccupy him into the 20th century, decades after he filed the patent. From the late 1870s to the 1890s, he improved the durability of the filament in the light bulb. After that, we see him tweak it less. The light bulb was always something that his followers and fans liked to talk about, because it was so significant. It’s the thing that defined him. What’s great about these drawings is they’re from the middle of the period where the light bulb was clearly a work-in-progress. Everything was essentially moving toward a more durable light bulb, which happened in the early 1890s.

A Thomas Edison light bulb comes with the handwritten design drawings. Does the bulb date to 1886? If not, when was it made, and how do we know when it was made? The bulb is certainly a little earlier than 1886. It’s possible to say the light bulb that comes with the lot was made between the end of 1880 and early 1881.

A nearly complete Edison light bulb comes with the lot. It's believed to date to late 1880 or early 1881.

Have the Thomas Edison light bulb and drawings always been offered as a pair, or did someone bring them together at some point in the past? The first time we see the light bulb and the documents together is in 2009, when they were with a rare book dealer in America. They reappeared on the market ten years later, in a sale in Paris.

Do we know how the Thomas Edison light bulb drawings left his possession? We do know that his design notebooks became scattered for the same fact I pointed out earlier–the style of working in a laboratory. Because you’re working alongside others, there’s a culture of exchange of ideas, and a vast number of design drawings. You often find material such as this coming to the open market via one of Edison’s assistants or a colleague of his who was in Edison’s laboratory at some point.

When you’re inventing things, you’re not worrying about how and where to archive the raw design sketches. It’s important to think of them as in-the-moment design drawings, not formal. It’s the best instance we have of transmitting genius to paper. To me, [raw design sketches are] more interesting and more exciting, because they offer insight into the creative process. We see Edison working through his ideas. The drawings are part of a much broader chronological arc. This one moment is a flash of brilliance, but he was constantly working toward something.

How often do Thomas Edison design drawings come to market? And how often do you see them appear with an example of the object illustrated in the drawings? The first time that original Thomas Edison design drawings came up was in June 2000.

Whoa. Exactly. It’s fair to say it’s rare to see such material on the market. To have it paired with a finished object is rarer still.

I’d wondered how much, if any, Thomas Edison design drawings have been consigned to auction. I had a vague notion that after he died, most of his material went directly to an archive. The Thomas Edison National Historic Park is the main repository of his archived material. There are five million pages in there. It’s rare to see Thomas Edison design drawings on the market. We’re quite excited to have these pages and the light bulb.

Heck, the light bulb is an emoji. Thomas Edison’s breakthrough has become the visual representation of a breakthrough. Yes! The light bulb is the symbol for the dawn of the proper modern industrial age, a symbol for brilliance, a symbol for a great idea. Who wouldn’t want to have drawings from the world’s most brilliant inventor of his invention that sums up the idea of a good idea?

The world has seen many great inventors. Only one, Thomas Edison, saw his invention become the symbol for a good idea.

What are the Thomas Edison light bulb and drawings like in person? Are there aspects that the camera doesn’t capture? One thing I find pleasing is how big and bold and sculptural the light bulb is. It’s bigger than the light bulbs we use nowadays. I find something incredibly appealing about holding a light bulb in its earliest state, because it looks so different from the light bulbs of today. I think of how precious and alien it must have been to a 19th century observer.

And the Thomas Edison light bulb design drawings? I like the fact that you get the sense of the pencil Edison uses for the drawings. I love drawings and letters in pencil. The texture of the pencil lead is more evocative than pen.

And by choosing a pencil, the user is kind of saying, “I might screw this up”. Exactly. These things are not finished works. The pencil is an admission of that. People who appreciate that person years later appreciate them more [for using a pencil to think through problems]. You want to see an unguarded moment of creation. You want to see the scientist struggling and working it out. You want to see the toil that went into it.

Yet another light bulb-related drawing from the group of Thomas Edison documents.

What’s your favorite detail in the Thomas Edison light bulb design drawings, and why? I like the drawings that look most obviously like a light bulb. There’s something incredibly powerful and pleasing and emblematic about Thomas Edison drawing a light bulb.

The Thomas Edison light bulb that comes with this lot–does it work? [Laughs] It’s not working currently, but it’s in near original condition and it’s tantalizingly close to being functional. It would require technological intervention of the sort that very few are capable of doing without altering or changing the bulb.

What’s the most expensive Thomas Edison item sold at auction? It was an 82-page autograph manuscript, notes for his autobiography. It sold in New York in 1998 for $75,000. A more recent comparable lot sold at an American auction house in July 2014. It was a laboratory notebook from Edison in which he’s essentially doing experiments on rubber to find a suitable alternative for tires. That sold for $50,000. It was a full notebook, and it dated from the late 1920s, the end of his career. But to be quite honest, when collectors think of when they think of Thomas Edison is the light bulb. What’s more desirable–the light bulb, or experimenting with different forms of rubber?

So you think the Thomas Edison light bulb and design drawings have a shot at breaking the world auction record for an Edison item? If you reach the low estimate, you’ve pretty much done it. We’re hoping it contends for the title of most expensive item at auction for Thomas Edison. I think a lot of collectors see the value in design drawings of something so emblematic of modernity and progress and brilliance.

Why will this lot stick in your memory? The Eureka! sale focuses on inventions of the modern age. The electric light ushered in a society where sunset and sunrise don’t define productivity. It opens the door to everything that came afterward. To have it open the sale, as lot 1, makes perfect sense to me.

How to bid: The Thomas Edison light bulb and drawings are lot 1 in Eureka! Scientific Breakthroughs of the 20th Century, an online Christie’s sale that began on June 24, 2020 and continues until July 16, 2020.

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A Saint-Gaudens Lincoln Statue–a Reduced-Size Version of an Original in Chicago’s Lincoln Park–Could Sell for $900,000 (Updated June 26, 2020)

After Augustus Saint-Gaudens died, his widow fulfilled a wish to cast reduced-size versions of his Standing Lincoln statue. One of the 17 bronzes could command $900,000.

Update: The reduced-size Augustus Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue sold for $1.5 million.

What you see: Abraham Lincoln: The Man, aka Standing Lincoln, a reduced-size version of a sculpture commissioned from Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the late 19th century. Sotheby’s estimates it at $600,000 to $900,000.

The expert: Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s.

Who was Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and why was he chosen for this commission? He was regarded as the most celebrated American sculptor of his era. He was awarded the commission for a statue of Lincoln in Chicago due to his success with earlier Civil War-related projects, specifically the Farragut monument and the Sherman memorial in Manhattan. By the 1880s, he was a known American sculptor, and a good choice.

Does the Standing Lincoln sculpture represent his first attempt at sculpting Abraham Lincoln? Yes, it does.

How did Augustus Saint-Gaudens approach the Lincoln commission? He prepared diligently before modeling the full-scale Lincoln. He studied his speeches and contemporary photography to get a sense of his physical likeness. Saint-Gaudens had encountered Lincoln twice: in 1861, before his presidency, and during his funeral procession in 1865. Those two moments stuck in his mind.

Saint-Gaudens managed to really capture Lincoln despite not being able to have him pose in his studio… It really does speak to his mastery of the field. He began work on the sculpture in the summer of 1885, in Cornish, New Hampshire. While he was there, he recruited a local farmer who stood around six-foot-four to serve as a likeness for Lincoln. Being able to reference a person like that was very helpful.

I understand Saint-Gaudens also had access to a cast of Lincoln’s face and both of his hands? I know he referenced them and did spend significant time with them. They enriched the authenticity of the finished work.

Do we know why the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue includes a chair? Why not just show him standing? The chair is meant to be a chair of state. I’m not sure if you can see it in the photo online, but there’s an eagle on the back of the chair, which represents Lincoln’s role as president of the United States. The chair is based on the throne of a priest from the third century in Athens. I do think it was helpful to include the chair of state to contextualize the moment Saint-Gaudens captured.

What moment does the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue capture? It shows a contemplative Lincoln, his head down, one foot stepping forward, and preparing to give a speech. You can tell he’s deep in thought, and preparing for what’s to come.

What is the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue like in person? It’s incredibly beautiful in person, with a rich brown patina that stands out and draws the eye in. You can see the details in Lincoln’s face and the emotion that Augustus Saint-Gaudens really captured. There are also details on the chair and the hands as well–the hands really read true-to-life.

What is your favorite detail of the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue? It’s Saint-Gaudens’s ability to infuse the work with emotion, and his ability to capture Lincoln’s character. You see the figure looking down, deep in thought. I think the details capture where he was in this moment and reflects everything that happened in his presidency, and what he was preparing for.

It’s tough to give a hunk of bronze an inner life… It is. He does it very successfully here. It’s very true to life, down to the creases in his jacket.

How heavy is the reduced-size Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue? Do you need more than one person to move it? It’s solid bronze, and weighs about 230 pounds, so you do need more than one person to move it.

I understand that 17 casts of the reduced-size Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue were made. Do we know how many survive, and how many are in private hands? There are approximately 17, based on records that his wife kept. In 1982, a publication on the artist identified the locations of 12 of the bronze casts. Most were in public collections and institutions, indicating that this is one of the last ones in private hands.

What was Augusta Saint-Gaudens’s role in the production of the reduced-size version of Standing Lincoln? She oversaw the whole production process of the statues. She was very, very careful and kept good records. She only used his preferred foundries. Her advocacy on the behalf of her late husband contributed to the resulting quality of the bronzes, and contributed to Saint-Gaudens’s legacy.

Of the 17 bronzes cast, 11 were done by Gorham, and six by Tiffany. Does that matter at all to collectors? Or are there so few examples available that it’s not an issue? With the Standing Lincoln, there’s no preference. This one was cast by Gorham in 1917, but it was probably sent to Tiffany [the boutique] to be sold based on the provenance for this example.

Was the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue cast in one piece, or was it cast in multiple pieces and soldered into a whole? It’s probable it was cast in several pieces, but cast from a single bronze pattern [a tray-like mold that would have contained all the components]. We’re certain different aspects were cast and joined. But the finishing is highly exquisite. We can’t see where the joins are.

Are the bronzes in the series numbered? No, not to my knowledge. I don’t think it was standard practice to number them.

What’s the patina like on the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue? And do the patinas on the other examples vary, or do they all share the same general coloration? This example presents with a beautiful warm brown patina with gold undertones. To my knowledge, it’s consistent with the others, but because I haven’t seen the other 16, I can’t confirm.

How often does this reduced-size Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue come to auction? This is actually the first time at auction, at least in the past 30 years. If you go online and check the art auction sales databases, you won’t find another one.

What condition is the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln statue in? I can tell you it’s in excellent condition. The work was recently waxed and cleaned as well, which is a good way to maintain the sculpture.

The entire run of the reduced-size Standing Lincoln statues were cast posthumously. Does that matter to collectors at all? Do they prefer Saint-Gaudens bronzes that were cast during his lifetime? The debate is moot here. It was only ever cast posthumously. It’s not a concern for people.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a true pleasure to handle works that are as rare as this. It could be the first and last time I handle one of these. Its meticulous details and exceptional quality resonates with me, and sticks with me. It’s one of my favorite works in the sale.

How to bid: The Saint-Gaudens Lincoln sculpture is lot 40 in the American Art sale scheduled to take place at Sotheby’s New York on June 26, 2020.

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Charlotte Mitchell appeared on The Hot Bid previously to discuss a Georgia O’Keeffe sculpture and a Paul Manship sculpture.

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The Earliest U.S. Navy Mark V Diving Helmet Could Set a World Auction Record (Updated July 20, 2020)

A U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet from 1916, the earliest example known. Nation's Attic could sell it for $40,000 or more.

Update: The 1916 U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet sold for $21,000, hammer price.

What you see: A 1916 U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet, the earliest known example of the type. Nation’s Attic estimates it at $20,000 to $40,000.

The expert: Don Creekmore, co-owner and founder of Nation’s Attic in Wichita, Kansas.

What is the U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet, and why did the Navy commission it? The Mark V was the first standardized diving helmet that the Navy used. Before that, there was no standard diving helmet design. As they were developing it, entering World War I was a distinct possibility. With any war, there’s a certain amount of salvage work to be done.

Salvage work? Such as? Recovering sunken ships, or material salvaged from ships to keep the war going.

The U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet was in use for a long time, from 1916 to the mid-1980s. What made it such a useful and durable design? The job of the Navy diver who used this kind of helmet was essentially the same–doing salvage work. They’re not fighters. They’re very brave people, but their job is not combat. The Mark V really was an improvement over what was available prior to this. It has a lot of redundancy and safety [built in]. That’s why it was used by the Navy for such a long time. It was a proven safe design, the pinnacle of what’s called “hard hat diving”.

Do we have any idea how many U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmets were made, and how many survive? During the entire production run, tens of thousands were made, but I don’t know if it was closer to 20,000 or 50,000. The majority, probably 85 percent, were made during World War II, between 1942 and 1945. Another majority were made around 1918, for World War I, and a very small number were made between those two wars. It was simply due to demand from the government.

And the manufacturers didn’t build many more because the earlier-made ones didn’t need to be replaced? Exactly. The large number that was made around 1918 were relied on in the 1920s, the 1930s, and the very early 1940s. Around the 1940s, the Navy realized it drastically needed to increase its inventory.

Are there any big differences between the U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmets made for the two world wars, and those made later? The only difference on the ones made later in the 20th century is the windows that the diver looks through changed from glass to plastic. That’s it. That’s how good and reliable this helmet was.

How do we know this U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet was made in 1916? This one has a clear identifying plate from the manufacturer showing the day, month, and year it was made. And the serial number is in six different places on the helmet. That’s the nice thing about anything military. Commercial diving helmets from the same company had serial numbers, but not the dates. For commercial divers, who cares? But the military wants redundancy.

A detail shot of the identification plate on the U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet, confirming it was made in 1916.

How do we know this U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet is a prototype? There’s a number of minor differences in this helmet from the standard production helmet. On the back of the helmet, the places where the air line and the communication line would attach are opposite from where they normally would be on a standard production helmet. It also has parts from an English diving helmet. The manufacturer was trying to figure out what the U.S. Navy wanted and what would work best.

How do we know that the helmet is in “original unaltered condition”, as it says in the lot notes? When a diving helmet comes from the factory, it has tinning, a finish that covered the copper body of the helmet and prevented corrosion. It was standard on all helmets the U.S. Navy ordered. The top half of this helmet has well over 90 percent of its original tinning remaining, and the lower half has about 60 percent remaining. That’s quite unusual. The copper is exposed on the lower front half because weight belts were strapped across it, and the tinning wore off prematurely.

But no one has tried to touch it up. Correct. And nothing on here has been repaired, altered, or moved. Other than age, everything appears the way it did on the last day the U.S. Navy used it.

A rear three-quarters view of the diving helmet. The ports for the air line and the communications line are visible.

I’d like some help identifying what some of the fittings on the U.S. Navy Mark V diving helmet are. In the photo that shows the helmet from the back, there’s a long fitting that juts out at an angle. What is that for? That’s for the air line.

And the shorter, stubbier fitting at the right? Was that for the communications line? Yes. At the time, it was a relatively new feature. The U.S. Navy wanted the most advanced technology incorporated in the helmet. The line itself was a big, thick telephone cable. It hooked up to the helmet, and there was a speaker inside the helmet. You could hear through it and also talk into it, but the helmet was loud.

What made the diving helmet so loud inside? Air was blasting in there at high volume. It was very hard to hear. But it was better than what was used before. Prior to this, they had a signaling system that involved pulling on the air line. Very crude communications. The telephone line was a big advancement.