This Mid-century Nigerian Painting Was Rediscovered Under a Bed in Boston. Bonhams Could Sell It for $100,000.

Demas Nwoko, Bicyclists (1)

What you see: Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

 

The expert: Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams.

 

How prolific is Nwoko? Not at all, really. His later career was as an architect. In the last 10 years, I’ve only seen four or five come to market. We’ve been lucky enough to sell three in the last four years.

 

When did he stop painting? I would say by the end of the 1960s he had pretty much stopped painting to concentrate on architecture.

 

He hasn’t gone back? No. He was born in 1935. He’s a very elderly gentleman. I think he’s hung up his paintbrush.

 

Do collectors prefer works from this point in his artistic career? The early 1960s is more unusual and very nice to have in some ways. He was at his most formative.

 

The painting is undated. How do we know he made it circa 1961? Because it was bought at the Mbari Exhibition in 1961 [in Nigeria], and it was painted for that. It was his first exhibition.

 

Is this image typical of his work? I would say it’s typical. When I was sent the image, I recognized it immediately. It’s definitely his kind of subject and his manner of painting. His output is not large, and he’s not a household name, but that doesn’t make him less important as an artist.

 

Could you tell the story of how the painting was rediscovered? I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed. We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, “What about this, is it special?” I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.

 

Speaking of it having been stashed under a bed for 50-odd years, what sort of condition is it in? Putting it under a bed keeps it pretty safe. It got a bit dusty, but the dust can be taken off. [Under a bed] is the safest place, normally. It’s important not to move it because it can get damaged.

 

The family didn’t display it? It’s so easy for us, knowing what it’s value is, to say, “What are they doing? Are they mad?” If you didn’t think it was anything, you wouldn’t know it was anything.

 

Still, I’m surprised they didn’t hang it up. It has wall presence, yes? I agree. Every piece of art is taken a different way. For whatever reason, they didn’t display it.

 

So Children on Cycles was known, but considered lost until now? In some ways, it was. The only previously known image of it was a black and white photo in the archives of the Harmon Foundation.

 

People hear stories like this all the time, of some amazing piece of art discovered in an attic or a basement after decades… this stuff actually happens. What’s nice about the story as well is the artist is like a J.D. Salinger figure. He was an incredibly talented artist who became a recluse. He became an architect and became known as an architect. I think it’s glorious, the fact that his art is coming to light and fetching strong prices.

 

Is he reclusive, or does he just not promote his artistic career? I would say the latter. He’s not in any way promoting his art. He’s not a hermit, but he doesn’t go to art events.

 

Did he paint Children on Cycles from his observations of his surroundings, or is this an invented image? I don’t know. It could be his imagination, but he’d certainly see children on cycles. The red road is redolent of the baked clay roads they have in Africa. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what he observed.

 

What is it like in person? Are there aspects of the painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? In my view, it looks better in the flesh. When you get in front of the original work, it’s a lot more impressive. It’s the simplicity and the spareness of the work. The colors are strong and glowing.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? We’ve sold two or three Nwokos in the past two or three years. It [the range] is about right. I won’t be surprised if it performs a bit better. It’s one of the nicest and best Nwokos I’ve seen.

 

What’s the world auction record for a Nwoko? Was it set at Bonhams? Yes, we did set it. We sold Metro Ride in October 2017 in London and Rickshaw Ride in October 2018 in London for the same sum–$106,503.

 

What are the odds that Children on Cycles will set a new auction record for Nwoko? At the risk of giving it the kiss of death, I think there’s a chance it will break the record. Nothing is certain at auction, but at $107,000, it hasn’t got far to go.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Probably because of the way it was discovered! [Laughs] Quite often, one goes to a collector and [the work to be consigned] is hanging on a wall to great fanfare. This came along rather gently.

 

How to bid: Children on Cycles is lot 6 in the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale at Bonhams New York on May 2, 2019.

 

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

 

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

 

Giles Peppiatt appeared on The Hot Bid once before, speaking about a record-setting sculpture by Ben Enwonwu.

 

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John Atkinson Grimshaw’s “Spirit of Night” Could Fly Past $500,000 at Christie’s New York

2019_NYR_17106_0051_000(john_atkinson_grimshaw_spirit_of_night)

What you see: Spirit of Night, an 1879 oil on canvas by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

 

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

 

Do we know why Grimshaw might have painted Spirit of Night? Was this a book illustration? It’s not clear why Grimshaw picked up this subject matter, but it doesn’t seem to be a book illustration. This is more from his love of poetry. It inspired him to turn to this subject, that’s my feeling.

 

About that. The lot notes say the painting had a tablet with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, To Night. Was the painting directly inspired by the Shelley poem?  I think it’s all but certain he was. The words “Spirit of Night” appear as the second line of the Shelley poem. He was interested in Keats and Browning. Tennyson was a favorite. Five of his 16 kids got their names from Tennyson’s poetry.

 

How does the painting depict the poem? In Shelley’s poem, the poet describes the personification of night emerging from her cave, ushering the personification of day from the world, putting all the creatures to sleep. I think that’s what’s happening here.

 

Is the city below her identifiable as a specific place? I don’t think the city is meant to be identifiable. It’s probably meant to stand in for any town. It’s by the water, which is mentioned in the poem. He wanted to explore [the effects] of reflected light.

 

How many fairy pictures did Grimshaw make? It’s hard to give an exact number, but there were approximately seven or eight. They were quite popular in Victorian times but the subject was on the wane by the time Grimshaw turned to it.

 

Where does Spirit of Night rank among them? I would say definitely it has an interesting and important place in the corpus of fairy painting.

 

Grimshaw was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Where do we see that influence in Spirit of Night? Grimshaw starts painting in a lot of ways by looking at the Pre-Raphaelites. The use of color in the fairy wings speaks to the influence on his art and the level of detail as well, the lacy details of the fairy wings. If you get up close to the painting, the veining looks like dragonfly wings. The Pre-Raphaelites were almost fanatically interested in the most minute details of nature. That very close attention to nature is very Pre-Raphaelite.

 

How does the painting testify to his talent? To me, all of Grimshaw’s paintings testify to his talent. Not only was he self-taught, his family actively discouraged his painting. That he became an artist at all is a triumph. His mother would throw his paints on the fire and turn off the gas to his room, so he didn’t have heat. When he got married, he left home, and his wife, who was also his first cousin, was very instrumental in encouraging him to become a painter.

 

How does he achieve the luminescent effects? Because he didn’t have formal training, he taught himself. He would look at the beveled edges of mirrors to learn what the effect looks like, and his kids would bring home opalescent glass that he would keep by his easel as a reference.

 

Is the fairy outlined in white or silver? It’s a sort of silvery-white. It’s a very hard color to describe. The diaphanous cloth that covers her is a tour-de-force. The stars woven into the cloth is a direct reference to the poem. He doesn’t always have the easiest time painting the human form, but he really gets it spot on here.

 

Is that because he had a model for the Spirit of Night? Yes.

 

Let’s talk about that–his relationship with Agnes Leefe, and whether it was unusual or not. It sounds a bit sketchy to modern ears, but it seemed to be above board. Leefe was a ward who modeled for him and became a companion to his wife and children as well. It was like taking in a distant relative. The Grimshaws had a sad life. Of the 16 kids, six survived to adulthood. He would jokingly refer to Leefe as Little Orphan Annie.

 

How did they meet? I don’t know how they met, except it was in Leeds [where Leefe performed as an actress]. His daughter recalls her mom being not super thrilled when he brought her home, but she came around quick. There didn’t seem to be any impropriety. He and his wife were very happy, though Leefe’s death [from tuberculosis] was hard on them. It probably brought back memories of the losses of their other children.

 

How often do Grimshaw fairy paintings appear at auction? Fairly infrequently. There were two in the 1990s and two, including this one, in the 2000s. His landscapes appear more reliably.

 

When was the last time a Grimshaw fairy painting came up? The most recent one was in 2004, at Christie’s London. It went for just over $500,000. This one came up at Christie’s New York in 2002. It brought $537,500. The fairy pictures are tricky to price because they appear so infrequently. They’re atypical, compared to the landscapes. But 19th century European art is very image-driven. You have to take that into account when estimating.

 

What’s the record for a Grimshaw fairy painting? It’s this one, sold in 2002.

 

So there’s a chance it could reset the record? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

 

What condition is the painting in? It’s in really nice condition. It does have an old lining on it but all the artist’s glazes are intact.

 

What is it like in person? The figure really does seem to be glowing. It pops and glows. The detail in the wings, too–you don’t pick up their lacy dragonfly quality until you get close to the painting.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? The fun of working in 19th century painting is covering so many schools and styles, and getting to see new things. I love to see an artist who’s so controlled and staid go completely outside the box. This definitely falls into that. The opalescent effect in the wings and the drapery–you don’t get that in Grimshaw’s moonlight scenes. Those are more about reflecting the light off of moss and brick. They’re beautiful, but this is in a class of its own.

 

How to bid: Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night is lot 51 in the European Art auction at Christie’s New York on April 30, 2019.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Heritage Sold the Original Cover Art for the 1958 Pulp Paperback “D for Delinquent” for (Scroll Down to See)

D_for_Delinquent_paperback_book_cover_1958_Heritage_Auctions

Update: The original cover art for D for Delinquent sold for $6,875.

 

What you see: Original cover art for D for Delinquent, a 1958 juvenile delinquent-themed pulp paperback. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

 

The expert: Meagen McMillan, junior specialist and cataloger for illustration art and American art at Heritage Auctions.

 

First, could you talk about how rare it is for any original pulp cover art to survive at all? Most often, when an artist created a cover for a pulp or a paperback magazine, they’d send in the artwork and never see it again. The publisher used it for publication and then threw it away, or gave it to friends, or sold it at charity events. The majority of art from this period was thrown in the trash. These come up extremely rarely.

 

How did this particular piece of art evade the trash bin? It was most likely due to Charles Martignette [pronounced Martin-etty]. While he was collecting he actively went to publishing houses to buy directly–stacks of art for bulk prices. I don’t know if this one was bought that way.

 

The lot notes call this “the finest single example of the juvenile delinquent genre from the estate of Charles Martignette”. What makes it so? It’s just got the classic [details]–the blonde bombshell with the overly tight sweater and the greaser character, in an abandoned house. It perfectly contains what you want to see from this genre.

 

What makes it an effective pulp novel cover? It’s immediately dynamic. The print version has a large D in D for Delinquent, and the D is yellow. It draws your eye directly to the blonde.

 

Do we know who the artist is? We don’t know who the artist is. It’s similar to a lot of different artists’ works. It’s similar to James Avati. It’s similar to Raymond Pease. It’s similar to Norman Saunders. But we don’t know who did this. The publishing house didn’t have records. Back then, it was something done quickly, and they didn’t acknowledge who did these incredible covers. It makes it special. While we can’t assign it to a specific artist, it’s so well-done that it still has value. Normally, if you can’t assign it to an artist, it cuts its value. It’s valuable by the image alone.

 

I realize we don’t know who did this, but what would have been the typical way to create images like these? Would the artist have used models, or shot reference photos, or just imagined the scene? It depends on each individual artist. Gil Elvgren used models and photos. Norman Rockwell used [models and] photos. Others used their imaginations. It’s really hard to tell what the process would have been [here].

 

This image was used for an American paperback in 1958 and a British one two years later. Does that speak to its power as an image? It was actually very common. Paperbacks were released in the U.S., the U.K., and maybe Australia. Sometimes they had different covers, and sometimes they re-used the covers. The artist didn’t own the image. They gave it to the publisher and they could use it as many times as they wanted.

 

What condition is the artwork in, given that it was created as a piece of functional art? It’s actually in surprisingly wonderful condition. The margins might have been trimmed at one point.

 

Does it show any wear from having passed through several hands at the publishing house? I’d have to unframe it to be certain, but I can give you an example of unframed cover art. Lot #71317 has all sorts of writing and dings to the edges. [You might have to click on the alternate image, which is  shown below the main shot.]

 

How did you arrive at the estimate? Have you sold this piece of art before? I believe we did sell it before, when it was in the Martignette collection. We handled the Martignette estate. We sold it previously in 2011 for $7,170, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The market showed the value is there, though there is no artist associated with it. We look at it and see what we’re all looking for–a beautiful girl, a dangerous guy, action, the setting, and it’s a published cover. If it was an interior [a piece of art used inside the book, rather than on the cover]. or we couldn’t prove it was published, it goes down [in value].

 

What is the piece like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? I guess the only difference is really, when you see it in person, it evokes something in you–an emotional response and a sense of presence. This definitely has it.

 

And this image was painted at a larger size than it would have appeared as on a pulp cover, yes? A paperback cover is four inches by six inches. This is 24.75 inches by 16 inches. It’s definitely larger.

 

Do we know what the auction record is for original pulp cover art for a juvenile delinquent-themed book, or would we have to look at pulp cover art in general? We’d have to be more broad. We sold a piece of pulp cover art in 2009 by James Avati, called Goodbye to Berlin, for $26,290. You have to do it [search for auction records] by artist. Doing it by pulp covers is nearly impossible.

 

Might this piece set a record for original pulp cover art by an unknown artist? It could, but I don’t know that anyone keeps that data point.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The rarity of it, for sure. I’ve handled probably thousands of pieces of illustration art per year. I’m a big fan of pulp art. When you have a piece come across your desk where you don’t know who the artist is, and it doesn’t matter–that’s rare. It’s still amazing. It’s going to do well, no matter what. It’s an image that speaks for itself.

 

How to bid: The D for Delinquent art is lot #71185 in the Illustration Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 23, 2019.

 

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

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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Will This Original Cover Art for the 1958 Pulp Paperback “D for Delinquent” Soar to $7,000 at Heritage Tomorrow?

D_for_Delinquent_paperback_book_cover_1958_Heritage_Auctions.jpg

What you see: Original cover art for D for Delinquent, a 1958 juvenile delinquent-themed pulp paperback. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

 

The expert: Meagen McMillan, junior specialist and cataloger for illustration art and American art at Heritage Auctions.

 

First, could you talk about how rare it is for any original pulp cover art to survive at all? Most often, when an artist created a cover for a pulp or a paperback magazine, they’d send in the artwork and never see it again. The publisher used it for publication and then threw it away, or gave it to friends, or sold it at charity events. The majority of art from this period was thrown in the trash. These come up extremely rarely.

 

How did this particular piece of art evade the trash bin? It was most likely due to Charles Martignette [pronounced Martin-etty]. While he was collecting he actively went to publishing houses to buy directly–stacks of art for bulk prices. I don’t know if this one was bought that way.

 

The lot notes call this “the finest single example of the juvenile delinquent genre from the estate of Charles Martignette”. What makes it so? It’s just got the classic [details]–the blonde bombshell with the overly tight sweater and the greaser character, in an abandoned house. It perfectly contains what you want to see from this genre.

 

What makes it an effective pulp novel cover? It’s immediately dynamic. The print version has a large D in D for Delinquent, and the D is yellow. It draws your eye directly to the blonde.

 

Do we know who the artist is? We don’t know who the artist is. It’s similar to a lot of different artists’ works. It’s similar to James Avati. It’s similar to Raymond Pease. It’s similar to Norman Saunders. But we don’t know who did this. The publishing house didn’t have records. Back then, it was something done quickly, and they didn’t acknowledge who did these incredible covers. It makes it special. While we can’t assign it to a specific artist, it’s so well-done that it still has value. Normally, if you can’t assign it to an artist, it cuts its value. It’s valuable by the image alone.

 

I realize we don’t know who did this, but what would have been the typical way to create images like these? Would the artist have used models, or shot reference photos, or just imagined the scene? It depends on each individual artist. Gil Elvgren used models and photos. Norman Rockwell used [models and] photos. Others used their imaginations. It’s really hard to tell what the process would have been [here].

 

This image was used for an American paperback in 1958 and a British one two years later. Does that speak to its power as an image? It was actually very common. Paperbacks were released in the U.S., the U.K., and maybe Australia. Sometimes they had different covers, and sometimes they re-used the covers. The artist didn’t own the image. They gave it to the publisher and they could use it as many times as they wanted.

 

What condition is the artwork in, given that it was created as a piece of functional art? It’s actually in surprisingly wonderful condition. The margins might have been trimmed at one point.

 

Does it show any wear from having passed through several hands at the publishing house? I’d have to unframe it to be certain, but I can give you an example of unframed cover art. Lot #71317 has all sorts of writing and dings to the edges. [You might have to click on the alternate image, which is  shown below the main shot.]

 

How did you arrive at the estimate? Have you sold this piece of art before? I believe we did sell it before, when it was in the Martignette collection. We handled the Martignette estate. We sold it previously in 2011 for $7,170, with an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The market showed the value is there, though there is no artist associated with it. We look at it and see what we’re all looking for–a beautiful girl, a dangerous guy, action, the setting, and it’s a published cover. If it was an interior [a piece of art used inside the book, rather than on the cover]. or we couldn’t prove it was published, it goes down [in value].

 

What is the piece like in person? Are there aspects that the camera does not pick up? I guess the only difference is really, when you see it in person, it evokes something in you–an emotional response and a sense of presence. This definitely has it.

 

And this image was painted at a larger size than it would have appeared as on a pulp cover, yes? A paperback cover is four inches by six inches. This is 24.75 inches by 16 inches. It’s definitely larger.

 

Do we know what the auction record is for original pulp cover art for a juvenile delinquent-themed book, or would we have to look at pulp cover art in general? We’d have to be more broad. We sold a piece of pulp cover art in 2009 by James Avati, called Goodbye to Berlin, for $26,290. You have to do it [search for auction records] by artist. Doing it by pulp covers is nearly impossible.

 

Might this piece set a record for original pulp cover art by an unknown artist? It could, but I don’t know that anyone keeps that data point.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The rarity of it, for sure. I’ve handled probably thousands of pieces of illustration art per year. I’m a big fan of pulp art. When you have a piece come across your desk where you don’t know who the artist is, and it doesn’t matter–that’s rare. It’s still amazing. It’s going to do well, no matter what. It’s an image that speaks for itself.

 

How to bid: The D for Delinquent art is lot #71185 in the Illustration Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on April 23, 2019.

 

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

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

 

 

My Latest “Sold!” Column at Art & Object Showcases Six High-flyers from Asia Week 2019

A COMMEMORATIVE GOLD BRACELET 1839-1841

What you see: A very rare gold commemorative 18k gold bracelet made between 1839 and 1841 and sold on March 18, 2019 at Bonhams New York for $187,575 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.

 

My latest Sold! column for Art & Object showcases six magnificent lots that commanded strong sums at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams during last month’s Asia Week auctions.

 

In addition to the absurdly intricate gold bracelet shown above, the column includes:

 

An important and extremely rare imperially inscribed greenish-white jade “twin fish” washer, sold at Christie’s New York for $2.89 million against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Chakrasamvara, made in Tibet in the 15th century and sold at Bonhams New York for $225,075 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

An extremely rare set of seven archaic bronze ritual Zhong bells, dating to the Western Zhou dynasty, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000

 

A gilt copper alloy figure of Amitayus, made in Tibet in the 15th or 16th century, and sold at Sotheby’s New York for $325,000 against an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000

 

A compressed Yixing teapot and cover, dubbed Flowing and made by Wang Yinxian and Zhang Shouzhi in 1988, and sold at Christie’s New York for $150,000 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000

 

Read the column and follow Art & Object on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

Potter & Potter Could Sell “The True History of Pepper’s Ghost”–a Rare Book on the Famous Special Effect–for $900

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What you see: A copy of The True History of Pepper’s Ghost, an 1890 book by Professor John Henry Pepper. Potter & Potter estimates it at $600 to $900.

 

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

 

What is Pepper’s Ghost, and how was John Pepper involved in it? It’s a theatrical effect used to manifest figures on a stage. They could be ghosts, they could be people, they could be objects, even. It was devised in the mid-19th century by Henry Dircks and popularized by John Pepper.

 

How did he popularize it? Pepper came up with a way to streamline the installation of the device. Dircks wanted to modify every theater in a major way to install the invention. Pepper made it adaptable and practical.

 

Why was the special effect such a big deal when it debuted in 1862? Because it made ghosts walk on stage.

 

Were there previous attempts to do something like Pepper’s Ghost, which fell short? I’m not aware of any, and I’m not an authority, but people had played with using glass in a similar way going back centuries.

 

To what extent, if at all, was the impact of Pepper’s Ghost amplified by debuting in a play based on a book by Charles Dickens? My recollection is the play it was used in involved the appearance of a ghost. What I like about that was Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. They probably chose it [the debut of the effect] coincidentally, but there’s some serendipity there.

 

What I find interesting is Pepper tried, almost heroically, to give due credit to Dircks, but the public persisted in calling the effect “Pepper’s Ghost.” But look at songwriting. Maybe it’s a stretch, but how many of Whitney Houston’s songs did she actually write? It’s the performance that makes the memory in the public mind.

 

But it’s not typical for someone to try as hard as Pepper did to share credit. No, especially when the profit motive is involved. But, eventually, Henry Dircks signed the patent over to Pepper. It shows he had no animosity to Pepper. It helped cement it in the public mind, I suppose, but the public doesn’t go back and read patent papers.

 

Have you read the book? Do we know why Pepper felt he had to write a book titled The True History of Pepper’s Ghost? I have not read it, and I don’t know his motivation.

 

Does it go into detail about how to produce the Pepper’s Ghost effect? Oh, yeah. The folding frontispiece shows you how to set it up. It’s literally the first page.

 

How is the Pepper’s Ghost effect used today? I know it’s been adapted for many practical and entertaining purposes. One you probably don’t think of is the headsup display on a car’s windshield. A more frivolous use brought Tupac Shakur to life on stage. It’s been used for decades in carnivals to turn a girl into a gorilla.

 

It’s a surprisingly durable special effect, given that it’s more than 150 years old. Sometimes, you know, simplicity is an art. It’s hard to improve upon something so direct and effective.

 

Do we know how many copies of the book were printed? Also, how many copies have you handled? I don’t know the number printed, but I’ve handled two or three in 11 years.

 

What condition is the book in? Lovely. It’s not in fine condition, but considering its age and scarcity, it’s good, in bookseller’s terms.

 

Who would have been the audience for this book? I imagine it would be scientists, or theater owners, or people who wanted to incorporate effects into a production. It could have been magicians or curiosity seekers as well. The cover is beautiful–one of its main attractions these days. The skeleton on the cover says it all.

 

How to bid: The True History of Pepper’s Ghost is lot 405 in The Magic Collection of Ray Goulet, a sale taking place at Potter & Potter on April 27, 2019.

 

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

 

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Gabe Fajuri is a favorite on The Hot Bid. He’s talked about 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.

 

Gabe rightly points out that the peerless Jim Steinmeyer wrote the definitive book on the Pepper’s Ghost special effect: The Science Behind the Ghost, which you can purchase from Steinmeyer’s website.

 

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

SOLD! Rago Sold That Stunning Circa 1880 Punch Ladle from Gorham’s Narragansett Pattern For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The circa 1880s parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham sold for $16,250.

 

What you see: A parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle in the Narragansett pattern by Gorham, circa 1880. Rago Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

The expert: Jenny Pitman, specialist with Rago Auctions.

 

This ladle dates to 1880. How important was punch then? It was very important and popular in the 19th century. Around that time it was served chilled or even iced. Punch was used not only as a drink but as a sorbet between courses. I found a recipe for Roman punch that had a dollop of meringue. This could have been a punch ladle or a soup ladle, but it was typically known as a punch ladle, and it’s illustrated in the Gorham archive as a punch ladle.

 

Did everybody in 1880 feel like they needed one of these? In the 19th century, American silversmiths began to take over worldwide. Gorham became the largest silver manufacturer in the world. During the Gilded Age, [clients] ordered extraordinary silver services with hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including flatware. They held multi-course dinner parties and had individual place pieces [such as] citrus spoons and oyster forks. Tiffany and Gorham introduced silver patterns of 40 pieces plus serving pieces. The Narragansett pattern was very specialized and small.

 

It wasn’t a fully fledged line? It was only about a dozen pieces. It included the soup ladle, the punch ladle–

 

Two different ladles? There’s a difference of about half an inch [between the two]. There was a gravy ladle, a sugar spoon, a berry spoon, a preserves spoon, a sugar sifter, about a dozen pieces. The pattern, I understand, was introduced in 1884. Some were illustrated in a catalog in 1885. The reason we know so much is Bill Hood, an expert in American flatware, went to the Gorham archive and researched it for an article.

 

Do we know what this ladle would have cost in 1880? We do. We know this pattern was really quite expensive, about one to one-and-a-half times more expensive to produce. This ladle was $29 in 1887. It was really intended as a showpiece. [According to the inflation calculator at westegg.com, $29 in 1887 amounts to more than $818 in 2018 dollars.]

 

Was it actually used? I would hope so. I would hope they would use it.

 

Would this have been the sort of thing that would have been assigned to a servant, who would keep hold of it all night while dispensing punch? [Laughs] If you had the means to afford a ladle like this, you had a servant to ladle the punch.

 

What can we tell by looking about how it was made? The stem is cast and embellished with marine details. They apply not just to the front, but to the back and bottom of the bowl. The shell [that comprises the bowl of the spoon] is a cockle shell, and it has an oyster for the terminal. The seaweed, fish, and little grains of sand have been picked out in parcel gilt. The purpose of that is to highlight certain elements. It’s a feature of the pattern.

 

What else can we tell by looking at the ladle? If you compare one [Narragansett] ladle to another, each is slightly different. The person working on the ladle had latitude in putting it together. They’re one of a kind. That’s what makes them so special.

 

What is parcel gilt, and is this a technique that can be safely done today? Parcel gilt is electro-gilding. It’s like electroplating. It can still be done now.

 

What kind of condition is the ladle in? It seems to have a lot of sticky-up bits that could snag a sleeve… [Laughs] I guess it could snag on a sleeve, but when they come to auction, they’re in uniformly good shape. They’re probably not used and they’re kept in their original boxes. A lot of special pieces had specially-made boxes.

 

Does this one have a box? No, it does not.

 

And this single piece could still go for five figures, without a box, when large, complete sets of brand name sterling silver flatware in their original custom chests go for less? It comes up rarely at auction. This is the third one I’ve sold in my life, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. Because it’s so rare, it brings huge sums. What’s so amazing about these pieces is there’s a feeling they’ve been plucked out of the bay or the ocean, crusted with sea life decorations. It’s kind of an extraordinary idea, and it captures a sense of ingenuity of American silversmiths in the late 19th century who devoted their expertise and design prowess to flatware.

 

What’s the auction record for a Narragansett ladle, and for something from the Narragansett pattern? A single ladle sold at Christie’s in May 2014 for $21,250. In January 2019, Christie’s sold a punch ladle with two sauce ladles for $32,500.

 

Do we know how many Narragansett ladles Gorham made and sold? No, I’m not aware of that.

 

Was the ladle not popular? I think that the production was limited. Whether it was popular or not, it was expensive. And it was not to everyone’s taste, and it was not a full line pattern.

 

Was there a matching punch bowl? There was. It’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection. It [the ladle] doesn’t match it exactly, but it has shell handles and it’s decorated with sea monsters and fish. [The one in the Boston MFA appears to be the only example.]

 

How does it feel to hold the ladle in your hand? It feels good. You’d think it would feel awkward and barnacle-ly, but it feels good. The pointy shells encrusting it are on a part of the ladle that you don’t necessarily hold onto. It’s really exquisitely designed.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the ladle? I like the bowl the best. I’ve seen a lot of ladles in my time. With many designs, the shell is stylized. I love the naturalism of this bowl.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] I’ll tell you what sticks in my memory. How to spell “Narragansett” correctly! Two Rs, two Ts.

 

How to bid: The circa 1880 Gorham parcel gilt sterling silver punch ladle is lot 1210 in the Remix: Classic + Contemporary auction at Rago on April 14, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

 

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