SOLD At Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: The Ringling Bros Joan of Arc Poster Collects $469


Update: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster sold for $439.

What you see: A 1913 poster by Ringling Brothers, featuring Joan of Arc and promising a ‘Magnificent 1200 Character Spectacle.’ It’s from the Richard Bennett Collection of Circus Memorabilia. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers estimates the poster at $400 to $600.

Why is Joan of Arc on this Ringling Brothers poster? Where are the tigers, elephants, and clowns? “Circuses were not seen as the most classical or tasteful form of entertainment. To drum up business and legitimize the circus, the performers would parade through the streets dressed as classical Romans or knights with Joan of Arc,” says Nicholas Coombs, associate specialist at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “This spectacle was the first encounter the town would have with the circus, and it was a free parade down the main street.”

Why build a parade around Joan of Arc? Why would that be a draw in 1913? “Joan of Arc was a character who would have been known to a large slice of the population,” he says. “Ringling Brothers tried to appeal to as many people as possible. Joan of Arc certainly had that sort of cache among everyday, average Americans.”

What would the parade-goers have seen? “It would have been a fully-costumed production,” he says. “They probably tried to have as large a French army as possible, dressed up as knights. They tried to depict a mighty spectacle to get people to go to the circus later. They would have showed some animals as well.”

What other forms of entertainment was Ringling Brothers competing against in 1913? “It really didn’t have much competition,” Coombs says. “The circus was its own form of entertainment. A production this large, with thousands of people coming to your town–it was an event. Everyone came out to see it for miles around.”

The poster trumpets a 1200-person spectacle, but it only shows Joan of Arc and her horse. Is that unusual? “From the ones we’ve encountered, they try to sell the cast of a thousand characters aspect,” he says. “This stands out for its visual strength and its simplicity.”

How to bid: The Ringling Brothers Joan of Arc poster is lot 427 in the Documenting History: Science, Exploration sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on May 4, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

NEW RECORD: Heritage Sells Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 Million–A Record for A Rockwell Study at Auction

Study for Triple Self Portrait, 1960

Update: Heritage sold Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 million–a record for a Rockwell study at auction.

What you see: Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Heritage Auctions estimates the study at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was Norman Rockwell? He was the best-known and most-loved American illustrator of the 20th century. He created 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post as well as many works for Look magazine, calendar companies, and the Boy Scouts of America. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.

How many studies did Rockwell make for Triple Self Portrait, and how many have come to auction? It’s unclear, but according to Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, Rockwell typically made between five and 10 studies or preliminary works for a Post cover. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only study for Triple Self Portrait that exists in private hands,” Jaster says. The finished Triple Self Portrait cover art belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Where was Rockwell in his career in 1960? Jaster points to the language that appeared on that February 1960 Post cover, which dubbed Rockwell “America’s Best Loved Artist,” and adds, “In the eyes of museum curators and critics, not so much. Rockwell, in his lifetime, never got true recognition as a painter, and never as a fine art painter. He didn’t ascend to major museums until well after his death.”

How close is this study to the final version of Triple Self Portrait? “It’s a nice, tight color study with a fair amount of work put into it,” says Jaster, noting that the differences between the two are few–the final places pipes in all three Rockwell mouths, adds sketches of Rockwell’s head to the left of the easel and changes the Picasso clipped to the right of the easel. Rockwell’s signature also appears on the lower right of the canvas-in-progress, but that’s about it. “This is close to the final composition, and it works as a painting.”

Who is Henry Strawn, the person to whom Rockwell inscribed the study? We don’t know, and we don’t know when he would have received it from Rockwell. We do know that the artist freely bestowed his originals on models, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. “He was a generous guy who didn’t take himself seriously,” says Jaster. “We see a lot of [Rockwells] come out from the families of sitters. One consigner [not Strawn–ed.] was a truck driver who traded him cider and cheese from Vermont.”

What makes Study for Triple Self Portrait special? “Rockwell is almost certainly the most famous illustrator and maybe the greatest illustrator who ever lived,” says Jaster. “Triple Self Portrait is a top 10 painting. It’s a tight study, it doesn’t have a long auction history, and it’s fresh to market. That all makes it wonderful. I hope you can hear the smile in my voice.”

How to bid: Study for Triple Self Portrait is lot #68139 in Heritage Auctions’s American Art Signature Auction on May 3, 2017 in Dallas.

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

SOLD At Slotin: A Medium Size American Flag Sculpture by Ab the Flag Man Fetches $1,200


Update: The medium size American flag by Ab the Flag Man sold for $1,200.

What you see: An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a “Medium Size American Flag.” Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $600 to $900, plus $75 for shipping.

Who is Ab the Flag Man? “He has a real name, but no one ever calls him by it,” says Steve Slotin, of Slotin Folk Art Auction, an auctioneer in Buford, Ga., that specializes in self-taught, outsider, and folk art. Ab the Flag Man was born with the name Roger Lee Ivens in Tennessee in 1964. He picked up the nickname “Abstract” during his school days, after asking his teacher about abstract art. It got shortened to “Ab” by co-workers on construction sites. He traces his interest in flags to the age of seven, when he witnessed the military funeral of his father. The sight of his casket covered with a flag never left him.

How long has Ab the Flag Man been an artist? He quit carpentry in 1995 to make art full-time, but it’s unclear precisely when he began–it could have been the late 1980s or early 1990s. He was discovered in a parking lot in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, where he had set up alongside another folk artist to sell his works. “Specific dates in folk art are hard to come by. It’s not like he came out of art school and we tracked his progress,” says Slotin. “With Ab, people liked his stuff, and it was immediately popular.”

How prolific is he? “We’ve been doing auctions for 25 years, and since we began, we’ve had a few in each auction,” says Slotin. “There’s got to be a thousand pieces out there.”

Does Ab the Flag Man work alone, or does he have assistants? “That’s the thing with folk artists. There’s no team behind them, and no staff that prepares [materials],” Slotin says. “Typically, it’s all them.”

Wait, are there chair legs in there? “You see furniture legs in a lot of his stuff,” Slotin says. “Furniture legs, blocks, parts of house moldings, discards, it varies. It’s all scraps.”

What are the dimensions of this piece? It’s 35 inches long, 21 inches high, and four inches deep. “It really pops out at you,” Slotin says. “It has a lot of movement to it, like it’s waving at you. Most of his pieces have movement, like they’re waving in the wind.”

What else makes this artwork special? “The great thing about almost all of our artists is they’re untrained and unschooled. They don’t have art school or European influences,” Slotin says. “A kid out of art school, who’s trained on what is and isn’t art, makes art that’s pretty homogenized. With Ab, his background is in construction, and his dad passed away–you see his experience in his work. And no one saw it [Ab’s style of flag-themed art] till he started doing it. That’s what I like. What he’s doing is original.”

How to bid: The medium size American flag is Lot 322 in Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Masterpiece sale, taking place April 29 and 30, 2017 in Buford.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

SOLD: The One-of-a-Kind Mid-Century Model Airplane Soars to $11,070 at Skinner


Update: The unique 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane fetched $11,070.

What you see: A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine. Skinner estimates the unique model plane at $6,000 to $8,000.

Who was Ernest Burke? Born in New York City in 1921, he’s best known as a Western artist, having made more than 2,500 paintings and 80 sculptures with frontier themes. His works are in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum of the American Indian, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, among others. Burke’s parents recognized his artistic talent early, and supported his pursuits. Model-making was a boyhood hobby. He would scavenge wood from fruit crates from markets around the city. Burke died in 2010.

Have you ever seen anything like this? “No, we haven’t!” says Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner. “Nothing like this–the scale, the detail, nothing like this in other auctions. We haven’t.”

What challenges did Burke face when making this model P-47 plane? “He had to do some serious legwork on trying to find the scale, and drop the scale down,” says Dowling, explaining that Burke wrote to the Republic Aviation Company to obtain blueprints of the World War II-era fighter plane. “He was almost an engineer at heart. He took his time to do research before he even attempted to create this.”

Just how faithful is this 1/12 scale model to the original? “The accuracy is incomprehensible, down to the detail of the cockpit,” Dowling says, noting that Burke worked alone over the course of nine years to complete it. His efforts paid off with a first place prize at a model plane enthusiasts’ meeting in Chicago in 1964. He retired his masterpiece after that, and never flew it again.

Does it still fly? “We have not tested it, but I would not see why it wouldn’t,” says Dowling, while pointing out that the U-control, which is a forerunner to the remote control, is not included in the lot (Burke’s heirs couldn’t find it).

What else makes it special? “I have never seen anything this accurate, this well-preserved, and this off-the-wall odd,” says Dowling. “I saw the pictures, and it didn’t do it for me. When it came through the door, it sparked my interest. They [the heirs] brought it to the lobby and we were all amazed.”

How to bid: Ernest Berke’s Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane is lot 414 in the Clocks, Watches, & Scientific Instruments auction at Skinner on April 28, 2017.

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

SOLD: That Splendid 19th Century Fire Company Hat Commands $18,750 at Freeman’s



Update: The Franklin Fire Company parade hat sold for $18,750.

What you see: A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter. Freeman’s estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

What was the Franklin Fire Company? It was one of several volunteer fire-fighting companies in pre-Civil War America. “It was kind of a club, but you didn’t just get together as a fraternity–you did something. You saved property, you saved lives. You were heroes,” says Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s. “Fires were an everyday terror in 18th and 19th century America. Heating, cooking, and lighting were all hazardous. Volunteer fire-fighters had a hugely important role to play. The company was a great melting pot. You could have laborers, lawyers, and doctors. You were selected by ballot, and not everybody got in.”

Why did someone in the Franklin Fire Company need a parade hat? “This was for special occasions, such as celebrations and competitive events. The hats emphasized their group, their fraternity,” Cain says. “It shows your affiliation. It advertised your fire department, and your membership in it.”

Who in the Franklin Fire Company would have worn this hat? Everyone would have worn matching red parade hats with Franklin’s face on the front. “These guys would have proudly gathered and marched in their groups,” she says, noting that the initials ‘W.G.’ are lettered on the crown of the hat in black and gilded paint. “They had capes, too, but fewer of those survive.”

Who painted the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the same artisan who made the hat. “It’s beautifully done,” Cain says, adding that it’s the first hat of its type with a Benjamin Franklin image to come to auction. “This particular hat has Franklin, but others had Washington, or Lafayette, or eagles, or classical figures, or scantily clad ladies in the 19th century sense.”

How rare are fire company parade hats? “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had five,” she says. “I love this hat. It’s been cleaned, but it’s in very fine shape. And Philadelphia and Franklin are a perfect pair.”

How to bid: The Franklin Fire Company parade hat is lot 148 in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on April 26, 2017.

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

SOLD: The Thousand-Year-Old Astrolabe at Sotheby’s London Fetched More Than $781,000


Update: The 11th century astrolabe sold for more than $781,000.

What you see: A rare Umayyad-era brass astrolabe, signed by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar and dated in Western Abjad 411 AH (1020 AD). It is the earliest known dated astrolabe from Muslim Spain. It comes from a French collection. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $372,900 to $621,000.

What is an astrolabe? “Basically, it’s an ancient astronomical computer,” says Benedict Carter, head of auction sales of Middle East and Indian art at Sotheby’s. “It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional celestial sphere. Typical uses were for finding the time during the day or night, and figuring out the times of sunrise or sunset.”

What makes this astrolabe special? “It’s a thousand-year-old astrolabe, and it’s very rare as it’s signed and dated,” he says. “This period [between the ninth and fourteenth centuries] has an awful lot of enthusiasm for it, not just from collectors from the Middle East. Buyers and collectors globally want to buy into the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age.”

Who would have used this astrolabe? “It was probably a princely commission. A lot of time went into making it,” Carter says, noting that it is the first of three signed astrolabes produced by Muhammad ibn al-Saffar over the course of 10 years. “It was a very niche, courtly thing. Not just any old person would have one. That’s why there’s not so many out there, and most are in museums.”

Is it entirely original? No. The pierced face of the astrolabe, which is known as a rete, was replaced in Turkey sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. “It is a functional replacement,” Carter says. “Five hundred years after it was made, it was a valuable tool, still being used. That tells us a lot.”

How soon did you know that you had something special with this? “The moment I saw this, I knew it was pretty exciting,” he says. “I didn’t know it was signed or dated, but I immediately realized it looked early and important. You always hope something like this will show up, and one day, it does.”

How to bid: The astrolabe is lot 170 in Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World auction, which takes place in London on April 26, 2017.

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

UPDATE: Papa Flash Makes a Splash at Swann Galleries With Milk Drop Coronet

M34957-2 001

Update: Milk Drop Coronet sold for $4,250.

What you see: Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil. Swann Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Harold Edgerton? Harold “Doc” Edgerton was an electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He used his knowhow to create an electric flash that could fire extremely briefly–10 microseconds, or 1/100,000th of a second–allowing his camera to capture events that happen too fast for the eye to see. His mastery earned him the nickname “Papa Flash.” He died in 1990 at the age of 86.

Where was Edgerton in his career in 1957? “He was still at MIT, but by 1957 he had achieved recognition for his inventions and his visionary approach to making images,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Galleries. “But the photography market didn’t happen until the first galleries opened their doors in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

Is that why Milk Drop Coronet was shot in 1957 and printed in the 1970s? Yes. “Edgerton did not identify himself as an artist, which isn’t surprising,” Kaplan says, “At the start of the market for photography, dealers realized that a picture of this elegance could be a full-fledged artistic image. Edgerton was a very brilliant man. He acknowledged that his work had taken on a new audience, a new form.”

How does the dye transfer process improve the image? “It’s probably the most stable and vivid technique in relation to reproducing color,” she says, noting that dye transfer is no longer used. “It was the blue-chip technique. The reds [of Milk Drop Coronet] are vivid and saturated–they pop.”

Does Milk Drop Coronet belong to a limited edition? “Multiple prints were made during this period, but it was not a common practice to edition prints. The market was still articulating itself,” Kaplan says. Later, she stated that she had handled versions of the photograph in eight Swann Galleries auctions over the last 10 years: Three dye transfers, two chromogenic (color) prints, and three that were black and white.

What makes Milk Drop Coronet special? “This is one of the top Edgerton images, and I have to say, one of the most popular images of the 20th century,” she says. Speaking of Edgerton’s 20th century stop-motion achievements, she adds, “It’s startling in its prescience. Time is accelerating, people are moving at faster and faster paces. He looked at it from an academic and a scientific perspective, but he was able to articulate in his images what people were beginning to feel.”

How to bid: Milk Drop Coronet is lot 214 in Swann Galleries’s Images & Objects: Photographs & Photobooks auction on April 20.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.