Bloomsday Comes Early! Sotheby’s Could Sell the Scarcest First Edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses for $250,000

Lot 188, James Joyce Ulysses (i)

 

What you see: A first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses from the 1/100 series of the run of 1,000, which is signed by the author. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was James Joyce? He was an Irish author and poet who ranks as one of the most important and influential authors of the 20th century. Ulysses, published in 1922, catapulted him to literary stardom, even as it was challenged by censors who deemed parts of it obscene. Bloomsday, a June 16 holiday that celebrates Ulysses by visiting places in Dublin, Ireland where Joyce set the story, has taken place since 1954. He died in 1941 at the age of 58.

How was the first edition of Ulysses produced? The Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, run by American Sylvia Beach, printed Ulysses in three issues of 750, 150, and 100, which added up to 1,000 copies. All three were numbered, but only the 1/100 issue was signed by Joyce. All copies were issued in blue paper wrappers, a color meant to call to mind the blue of the Greek flag and link Joyce’s work to the ancient tale of the Odyssey.

What makes this particular copy stand out? “It’s a really, really fine copy of what many critics say might be the most important modernist novel,” says Peter Selley, specialist in books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, explaining that the blue paper wrappers “are quite fragile, and the majority of copies that survive have had to be cloth bound. With this copy, the special wrappers are preserved.” He adds that the copy includes the original prospectus, “which can be collectible in its own right.” It’s a single sheet of paper that announces the forthcoming publication of the book.

When Sylvia Beach published the book in 1922, did she and Joyce know what they had? “There was a lot of excitement before it was printed,” he says. “Sylvia championed it, and it was awaited in critical and collecting circles. There was a lot of excitement before it came out. Joyce was famous by then. They knew something special was happening,” he says, adding, “Sylvia Beach would probably not be surprised if the first edition of this book, 100 years later, was selling for $200,000 to $250,000. She really believed in it.”

When did Ulysses truly take off as a collectible book? “In the early to mid-1980s, there was a big uplift in prices,” he says. “It appealed to collectors who want the high spots. People want the key works in the best condition.”

Is the 1/100 version of the Ulysses first edition considered superior to the other two versions? “It depends on what you mean by superior,” he says. “It’s the most limited issue, and collectors gravitate to the most limited issue. The 1/100 is always going to be the most desirable, and most deluxe, in collectible terms.”

How often does a 1/100 copy of Ulysses come to auction? “About one or two every year,” he says. “Normally they fetch very high prices. It can fetch up to $300,000 to $400,000 for inscribed copies.”

Where did James Joyce sign the book? On the colophon page, a page at the front of the book that describes the details of each edition and gives the number of the copy: 82. “Look at the signature. He always signs at that angle,” he says, referring to the southwest-northeast rise of Joyce’s script. “Even in his manuscripts, he always writes at that angle. It’s very distinctive.” (To see Joyce’s signature, click on the second thumbnail you see below the main image on the lot page.)

Why will this copy stick in your memory? “I’ve been in the business since the mid-1980s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a first edition copy of Ulysses that’s as nice as this,” he says. “I’ve never seen as completely mint copy of a 1/100. It’s probably close to as-issued as any I’ve seen.”

How to bid: The first edition 1/100 copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is lot 188 in the English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations auction at Sotheby’s London on December 11.

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

Young Abraham Lincoln Made This Wooden Mallet. Christie’s Could Sell It For Half a Million Dollars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLD! Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, Jeanette MacDonald, Fay Wray, and Lana Turner All Wore This Fake Diamond Necklace On Screen. It Fetched $2,025 at Julien’s

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Update: The simulated diamond necklace made by Joseff of Hollywood and worn by more than half a dozen celebrities on screen sold for $2,025.

What you see: A simulated diamond necklace by Joseff of Hollywood, dating to the mid-1930s. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

Who was Joseff of Hollywood? Eugene Joseff was once a commercial artist for an advertising firm who enjoyed making jewelry as a hobby. He went to Los Angeles on vacation in 1928, just as the Great Depression started to take hold and advertisting work started to drop off. He never found his way back to Chicago. Joseff befriended costume designer Walter Plunkett and railed to him about the historical inaccuracy of the jewelry he paired with his screen clothes. Plunkett challenged him to do better. That challenge gave rise to Joseff of Hollywood, which supplied period-correct, camera-friendly costume jewelry to Golden Age Hollywood. Joseff conjured Shirley Temple’s tiara and scepter for The Little Princess, matched the spark of Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara with appropriate jewels for Gone With the Wind, and turned Elizabeth Taylor into an Egyptian queen in the notorious big-budget flop Cleopatra. Joseff died in a plane crash in 1949, when he was in his early forties. His widow, Joan Castle Joseff, took over Joseff of Hollywood until she died in 2010 at the age of 97.

How much of its archives has Joseff of Hollywood consigned for sale? “A good deal of it, but Joseff of Hollywood is still in business, still renting to studios, and still at work,” says Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions. “We were allowed to come in and go through the archive. It was like a treasure hunt, opening drawer after drawer. We’ve been working on the auction since January.”

Eugene Joseff died more than 50 years ago, and his wife, Joan, who ran the business after his death, passed away seven years ago. Why is this trove of vintage costume jewelry being sold now? “In the auction world, there’s something we call ‘the window’–the optimum time to let something go, when there are collectors and fans who know who these people are,” he says. “It’s a good time to let go. These pieces are going to go to homes that appreciate them and museums that will exhibit them, and continue the legacy of the stars who wore them.”

I picked lot 484 because–and I’m going to appropriate a verb here–it’s traveled. Seven different actresses wore the fake diamond necklace in seven different movies between 1934 and 1952, and it appeared on the cover of Life twice to promote two different productions in the mid-1940s. And that’s just counting the rentals that actually carried through–shoots get cancelled, scenes get cut, costume directors decide at the last minute that they need something different. Is this the most ‘traveled’ piece in the auction? “I’d say up to 20 percent of the collection selling now was worn by more than one star in more than one movie,” he says. “With this particular one, we can document that it was worn seven times by various stars. It’s one of the most popular pieces. It was used many times.”

The necklace first appears around the neck of Fay Wray in the 1934 film The Affairs of Cellini. Joseff was a stickler for historical accuracy in jewelry, so presumably, his workshop made it to look like it belonged in the Italian Renaissance. After that, Jeanette MacDonald wore it in The Firefly (1937); Anita Louise wore it in Marie Antoinette (1938); Hedy Lamarr wore it in Her Highness and The Bellboy (1945); June Haver wore it in I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947); Ava Gardner wore it in her hair in The Great Sinner (1949); and Lana Turner wore it in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). In addition, Ann Sheridan and Lucille Bremer wore it in publicity photos for two other movies, and one of Bremer’s images appeared on the cover of Life. What makes this jewelry design so ludicrously adaptable? “The most important thing is, it’s sort of bland, almost. It’s not jumping out at you,” he says. “You don’t look at it and say, ‘Oh, Fay Wray wore that in The Affairs of Cellini.’ It blended in.”

What did Eugene Joseff and his workshop do to the necklace to make it so adaptable? “I don’t know [what he did to this specific necklace], but all his pieces are able to have parts removed, or be shortened or lengthened,” Nolan says. “He was a man at work in his studio with a team of jewelers who were able to make adjustments easily.”

What else did Joseff do to adapt his pieces to the needs of Hollywood film production? In addition to inventing a formula for a matte gold that was easier for film crews to light, Nolan says Joseff created “a special resin to go in back of a stone to absorb its light, so the camera could get its true color.”

Have you handled the necklace? Yes. “It’s exquisite, it’s beautiful. It looks like a priceless piece of jewelry,” he says. “It’s a costume piece, but it’s important given that it was worn by so many stars.”

Is it fragile? “The pieces are very robust,” he says. “It speaks to the genius of the jeweler who made the piece. They look exquisite, but they’re quite sturdy.”

When I spoke to people at Sotheby’s about giving an estimate to Vivien Leigh’s personal charm bracelet, they told me they went by the intrinsic value of its gold and gems alone. How did you arrive at an estimate for this necklace, which does not contain real gold or gems? “What people are buying here is a tangible item that tells a story. It’s a great conversation piece,” he says. “All the stars who wore it–that’s where the value is.”

How to bid: The simulated diamond necklace is lot 484 in Joseff of Hollywood: Treasures from the Vault, which takes place November 18 at Julien’s Auctions.

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

RECORD: A Gus Wilson Red-Breasted Merganser Sails Away With $330,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions

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The Hot Bid is on Thanksgiving vacation today. I haven’t got anything turkey-related, so I’m celebrating by reposting a story on a record-breaking duck decoy. 

What you see: A red-breasted merganser drake duck decoy, carved circa 1900 by Augustus “Gus” Wilson. It had been described as the finest Wilson decoy ever offered at auction. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2014 for $330,000, achieving an auction record for the artist.

Who was Gus Wilson? He was a Maine native, boat builder, lighthouse keeper, and carver. He took up carving in his teens, probably learning the art from family members, and he remained active for most of his life. He died in 1950 at the age of 85 or 86.

How often do you see a Wilson duck decoy carved with an open bill, as this one is? “It’s very infrequent,” says Stephen B. O’Brien Jr., owner of Copley Fine Art Auctions in Boston, Mass. “There’s less than a handful, and many of those [beaks] are broken off and replaced. The fact that this one is intact makes it a real survivor.”

What makes this duck decoy exceptional? “It’s a big, bold carving. Wilson regularly produced larger, almost oversize carvings,” he says, alluding to the decoy’s generous measurements: seven inches wide, seven inches high, and more than 16 inches long. “It’s got a wonderful sense of sculpture. Combine that with the open bill, which is almost never seen, and it makes it a pinnacle work.

This is described as a “hunted” or “hunt-used” decoy, which means that a hunter actually put it out on the water to lure ducks. Are most Wilson decoys hunt-used? And do collectors prefer hunt-used decoys? “The vast majority of Gus Wilsons found were actually hunted,” O’Brien says. As for hunt-used versus pristine, he says, “It’s a very personal choice. It almost comes down to, in the art world, how some people are attracted to the real world and some people are attached to abstraction. I’m a hunter. I come at it from that perspective. I love a utility decoy that’s been hunted over, that has some wear that shows it was put to its intended use. But you don’t want it to have too much. With replaced heads, tail chips, and shot scars, it starts to take on some negatives. But you can miss out if all you want is pristine birds. They’re pretty hard to find.”

The decoy was carved around 1900. Where was Wilson in his career then? “It places him at about age 35. What’s nice about this merganser is the artist is at the height of his craft. There are subtleties that take more time to create,” he says, explaining that decoy carvers sometimes go through a period when they feel free to indulge in artistic flourishes that transcend the standard shape of the duck decoy–open beaks, fan tails, slightly extended wings–and abruptly stop when they see how their hand-carved treasures suffer nicks and breaks in the field.

How long do you think this auction record will stand? “It’s hard to say. As with any market, if the right piece came up and two people wanted it, the record could easily fall,” O’Brien says. “The decoy market has held up strong over the last 10 years relative to other [categories] in the antiques market. It wouldn’t shock me if it fell. Looking at it from the standpoint of being a great Gus Wilson, it’s probably a bargain price for what it went for.”

Are there any other Gus Wilson duck decoys that rival this one? “For me, I haven’t really seen it,” he says. “That’s why we put a heavy estimate on it. [The presale estimate was $350,000 to $450,000]. “He’s a pretty colorful, proud, bright bird. He had all the bells and whistles that collectors look for–the open bill, the cocked-back head, nice original paint, the paddle tail, and the original rigging [the weight on the bottom that lets the decoy float upright]. I can’t think of a better Gus Wilson decoy. If you asked me to own one Gus Wilson decoy, this would be it.”

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Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its 2017 Sporting Sale on July 27 and 28 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Quack!

 

You’ll Never Be As Cool As This Tattooed Man, Or P.T. Barnum. Want Proof? This 1876 Sideshow Poster Sold for $8,610 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The 1876 P.T. Barnum sideshow poster advertising  ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot,’ sold for $8,610.

What you see: An 1876 poster advertising the P. T. Barnum attraction, ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot.’ Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $5,000.

We live in a world where the barista who takes your coffee order has an amazing sleeve. Just how weird was a tattooed man in the late 19th century? “Well, he was exhibited in a sideshow with Siamese twins, the bearded lady, and midgets. This was not an everyday occurrence,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “I’m not an expert on tattoo history, but I’d say he’s one of the most famous [tattooed men].”

Would women have been allowed to see Captain Costentenus? Would he have appeared under a sideshow tent, or at Barnum’s dime museum, or both? And would he have just sat there and given his spiel, or did he do tricks as well? Yes, both, and his drawing power as a fully tattooed man was strong enough that he’d have only had to sit there, as exposed as decency would allow, and tell his story. “He would have had a little speech that he would give, a short lecture, real or imaginary, on his background, to stir up the imaginations of the people who were viewing him,” he says. “I think he retired wealthy.”

The poster says his appearance was changed “…in Chinese tartary as punishment for engaging in rebellion against the king.” That’s crap, right? Not true? “We’ll say he took liberties with the truth,” Fajuri says, adding, “I could see tattoos being used as punishment, certainly if they’re on the face. There might be a grain of truth in there, in the same way that the first person Barnum exhibited was old, but not 175 years old.”

Did Captain Costentenus set the template for what tattooed people in sideshows should look like? “No. They generally did not have their faces done,” he says. “Even today, that’s pretty extreme.”

But if his face is tattooed, why does Captain Costentenus also have a full, bushy beard? “I don’t know!” he says, laughing. “Maybe it’s a cultural thing. He’s Albanian.”

Did P.T. Barnum invent or popularize tattooed people as sideshow attractions? “Barnum had a lot of people working for him, and a lot of people copied him,” Fajuri says. “He set the standard for all these kinds of showmen.”

Just how rare is this Captain Costentenus poster? “Two months ago, Swann sold one. I don’t think it had an imprint [that says ‘P.T. Barnum’] at the top. It got $6,750 on an estimate of $800 to $1,200, Until I saw the one at Swann, I thought this might be the only one. It may be the only one with the Barnum imprint,” he says, adding, “It was custom made for this performer. Stock posters were a thing, but this a portrait of this person, custom made for them.”

Does the P.T. Barnum name add to the poster’s value? “Sure. It’s like the name ‘sterling’ on silver. He’s the guy who’s the godfather of all of this. Let’s hope it adds a premium,” he says. “No one has ever sold one [a Captain Costentenus poster] with the Barnum name on it. I don’t think it’s going to hurt it.”

And it was already bound to do well regardless, because there’s an eager contingent that collects vintage images of tattooed people… “Yes. You assess correctly. Those people are very actively interested in the subject,” he says. “Let’s hope that makes it a cross-collectible.”

What else makes this poster memorable? “We’ve sold a lot of weird things over the years, and we’ve never had anything like it,” Fajuri says. “In a business where we sell odd and unusual things, this is in the top twenty, top twenty-five things we’ve offered.”

How to bid: The Captain Costentenus poster is lot 346 in the Circus-Sideshow-Wild West auction at Potter & Potter on November 18.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

SOLD! A Masterpiece of Native African Art Sold For $975,000 at Sotheby’s

9620 Lot 24

Update: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure sold for $975,000.

What you see: A Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure from what is now the Republic of the Congo. It probably dates to the late 19th century, and the artist is unknown. Sotheby’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

What is a reliquary figure, and how did the native African people use it? According to Alexander Grogan, head of the African and Oceanic department at Sotheby’s New York, the figure was once attached to a basket that would have held ancestral relics–“bones, mixed with magical material in a kind of bundle.” The whole might have been kept in a sacred grove along with other reliquaries. The figure was separated from its basket at some point in its past, either by a European dealer or a collector who was only interested in the figure, or the basket could have fallen apart without being replaced. “They would have shined the figures with sand and water to keep them bright,” Grogan says. “It [the polishing] was not just to make them look good, it was part of the process of venerating the ancestors.”

The figure stands almost 28 inches tall. Is that typical for a Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure? No. “This is a very large one. It’s really one of the grandest and most fancy examples, and one of the most famous,” he says.

Does the sculpture depict a well-known character from the Kota-Ndassa culture? “It’s a representation of an idealized ancestor, an ancestor who’s going to help you,” Grogan says. “It’s a progenitor of your clan who has gone before you. In Kota culture, you venerate it. Ancestor worship is a big part of cultural religious practice in this part of Africa. It [the reliquary] connects to the physical remnants of a real ancestor and forms a conduit between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

Is the figure male or female? “Both males and females are represented, but we don’t know much about individuals. At some point [they] would have known who it was,” he says. “Even compared to the rest of the Kota corpus, this reliquary figure is a very fancy object. It represents a very wealthy and powerful individual.”

Is the fan-like object on the top of the figure’s head and the flip-do-like pieces that flank the face all part of a hairstyle? Yes. “In a very, very abstract way, it represents braids coming down the side of the head and a coiffure on the top,” he says.

The reliquary figure is described as “weeping” because of the lines that stream down its face. Are the lines purely decorative, or are they actually meant to make the face look like it’s weeping? “A work of art with such specific little motifs and things has the potential for rich symbolism and meaning, but we don’t know what it depicts,” he says. “The two-colored cheeks and the iron bands on the cheek allow the artist to show off different colors. It’s a tour de force. ‘Weeping’ is a speculative way to describe what the bands mean.”

Do we know why its mouth is depicted as being open? “The teeth shown there are pointed. The Kota would file their teeth to points,” he says, adding that men and women both engaged in the practice. “The figure reflected] the way the Kota people had their teeth. It was a symbol of beauty.”

What are the bean-like white things inside the mouth and on the forehead? They’re cowrie shells. “Each of them is a fancy embellishment–yet another texture, yet another color,” he says. “They give the impression of richness.”

Is the figure entirely made of metal? No. It’s a wooden structure covered with metal plates. “The sculptor creates a sort of wooden carcass, and on top of that are metal plates held in place with little pins,” Grogan says. “The back is naked wood.”

When did Westerners learn about Kota-Ndassa art? Europeans first reached the area in the 1870s or so. Some reliquary figures and other pieces were eventually taken to Paris, where they made an impression on the city’s artists. “Kota sculptures were among the first African sculptures people like Picasso saw in the early 20th century,” he says. “You can imagine Picasso looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what I was after.’ There are some Picasso works where you can see Kota motifs.”

How did this figure leave Africa? We don’t know its history prior to the 1960s, when it’s recorded as belonging to collector René Rasmussen. Two more dealers held it before Edwin and Cherie Silver purchased it in 1979. “It was the first major piece the Silvers acquired, and it was at the center of their collection of Kota reliquary figures,” he says. “You could say it was the crown jewel of the Silver collection because they displayed it in the center of the group. It was the most attention-grabbing piece. You’d see it as you walked in. You came through the door into a sunken living room, and there was a grand piano with nine Kota figures on it and a Calder mobile above, looking onto the valley where the Getty Center is now in Los Angeles.”

What else makes this figure special? “You have a Kota artist stepping way, way above their traditions to become a great world artist,” he says. “The figure is rooted in Kota culture, but the artist achieves something much greater. That’s how I would define a masterpiece.”

How to bid: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure is lot 24 in The Collection of Edwin & Cherie Silver, an auction of tribal and aboriginal art that takes place on November 13 at Sotheby’s New York.

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. Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Is This Diamond Green With Envy? No, Natural Radiation. And It Could Fetch $3.3 Million At Phillips

Rare and Important Fancy Intense Green Diamond Small

What you see: A fancy intense green diamond that weighs 5.62 carats. Phillips estimates it at HK $22 million to $26 million, which is about $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

So, just how rare are green diamonds? “We know colored diamonds are quite rare compared to colorless diamonds, and green diamonds are particularly rare,” says Terry Chu, head of jewelry, Asia, senior director, at Phillips. “Blue diamonds are caused by the presence of boron in the diamond crystal structure. Green diamonds are not caused by any impurity. They’re caused by natural radiation–subtle energy that can change the diamond crystal to a green color if it penetrates it over a long span of time–millions of years. Very often, the radiation can only penetrate to the outer layer. Usually only the skin of the diamond crystal is green, and when the diamond cutter polishes it, the green will be gone.”

How rare is it to find a rough green diamond that reduces to a stone of more than five carats? “The finished product is 5.62 carats, so the original rock was maybe seven or eight carats,” she says, adding that in 15 years of experience in gem and jewelry auctions, this is the first green diamond of its kind that she has handled. “But I would not use five carats [as a benchmark]. I would say most green diamonds are below three carats. One other green diamond that was not even five and a half carats–it was 5.03 carats–made over $3 million per carat 18 months ago.” (It sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in May 2016.)

This stone is described as a “fancy intense” green diamond. What does that mean? “Fancy intense is a color grade given by the Gemological Institute of America, the most reputable laboratory in diamond grading,” she says. “When grading a colored diamond, it’s based on saturation, from faint to fancy vivid. Fancy intense is below fancy vivid, which is the most saturated. It’s one grade below fancy vivid.”

Why did the jeweler choose a cushion modified-cut for the green diamond? “It has a more balanced outline,” she says. “No matter which side or which angle you look at it [from], it’s a nice shape. It’s still a brilliant cut style, and brilliant cut styles make it more appealing. With diamonds in general, the round brilliant cut is most popular, and the most everlasting shape and cutting style.”

Why did you put the green diamond in a white gold ring? “When I saw this stone, I wanted to show the pure, real color,” she says. “White gold [allows] the best, most true presentation of the green color of the diamond.”

Is it comfortable to wear on your hand? “A diamond never looks too big on any woman,” she quips. “Don’t worry. One carat of diamond weighs about 0.2 grams. That means five carats equals one gram. It will never be too heavy or too big.”

This looks more like a mint green, or an ice green. Are there green diamonds that have more of an emerald color, or a spring green color? “It’s a pure green color. There’s no secondary color in the hue,” she says. “A yellow-green color is not pure green, and technically, an emerald green is a blue-green. It would not be a pure green. This diamond may look like a mint or an ice green, but those are not standardized technical terms.”

What is the green diamond like in person? “Throughout my career, every time I handle a rare stone, I always have a feeling of how amazing nature is,” Chu says. “When you explain what causes a green diamond, when you think about the whole process, you feel so small. A human being lives maybe 100 years. In a geological span, that is nothing. And the color–no mater how clever or technically advanced human beings are, we cannot duplicate the green color created in nature.”

How to bid: The rare and fancy intense green diamond and diamond ring is lot 607 in the Jewels and Jadeite sale at Phillips Hong Kong on November 27.

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

Special shout-out to Aja Raden, author and green diamond fan extraordinaire.