SOLD! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport Poster Fetched the Way Out Price of $149,000 at Swann

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Update: The Man Ray 1938 London Underground poster did indeed sell for a way out price–$149,000.

 

What you see: A 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray. Swann Galleries estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who was Man Ray? Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitsky,  Man Ray was vital to the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. He was wildly creative in several media, especially photography and film-making. His art appeared in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925, alongside that of Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst. Man Ray befriended Marcel Duchamp and worked with him often. He died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 86.

 

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

 

How was Man Ray chosen for this London Transport poster commission? Hard to say exactly. Man Ray was living in Paris at the time. One school of thought is he went through London on his way back to the United States because of the war, but he may have designed the poster earlier than that, in 1936. He was chosen because Frank Pick, the head of London Transport advertising, was a real visionary. He employed a lot of fabulous artists and he pushed the envelope. He worked with László Moholy-Nagy, and probably through those connections, Pick became acquainted with Man Ray.

 

This looks like it’s one poster of a set of two. The second has the same image and asymmetric border structure. It’s meant to be a pair. This one says “Keeps London Going.” The other says “London Transport.

 

Does the other poster survive? It survives, but to the best of my knowledge, none have ever come up for public auction.

 

Apparently the design of the poster recalls Man Ray’s rayographs? A rayograph was Man Ray’s personal spin on the photogram. Objects are placed on paper, light is turned on, and shapes are left on the paper. The poster is more nuanced than a rayograph, which would not have had shades of gray.

 

And people enjoy debating what the poster might mean? A lot have surmised what it could mean, but to my mind, it’s pretty straightforward. My interpretation is, basically, he’s comparing the London Transport system to the solar system. The image at the top is the London Transport logo, which is called a roundel. On the bottom is Saturn. The way the planets move around the solar system is the way that London Transport moves you around London.

 

The lot notes call this poster ‘rare.’ I was under the impression it was unique? Unique means one of a kind. Salvator Mundi is unique. It’s an original work of art. Posters are never unique. Between 1,000 and 2,000 [copies of the Man Ray poster] were printed.

 

How often has the Man Ray London Transport poster been offered at auction? There are four auction records since 1994. One sold at Sotheby’s, and the other three sold at Christie’s. I think we have the one that Christie’s sold in 1994 for $39,800. The high-water mark was in June 2007 at Christie’s, when one sold for $100,906.

 

How much of that $100,906 auction record for a London Transport poster was driven by the fact that Man Ray designed the poster? I think it’s almost entirely [driven by Man Ray]. No other London Transport poster has commanded that kind of money. The qualities of a poster that make it valuable are image, artist, condition, and rarity, not necessarily in that order. László Moholy-Nagy is a super-famous artist. We have a poster he designed as lot 75 in this sale–

 

…I got the impression that Moholy-Nagy’s London Transport posters weren’t all that spectacular. The consensus [on lot 75, which is for Imperial Airways] is it’s a rare poster, but not that great an image. Here [with the Man Ray] you have a famous artist and an extraordinary image. He put all his technique and his creativity into the design. It’s rare, and its condition is fine.

 

If you lined up the ten best London Transport posters and asked me to pick the one that holds the world auction record, I doubt I’d pick the Man Ray because it’s black and white, and I think of great posters as being colorful… That’s a slight misconception on your part. You’re right, great posters have great color, but great posters are supposed to catch your eye, and there’s no methodology on how to do that. This catches your eye. The imagery makes you think about what’s going on. It’s a good advertisement because it makes you think. And it might have stood out [in its time] because it was black and white.

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? Because for many years, it was the most expensive travel poster ever sold. That travel poster record was beaten by us in 2012 when we sold an A.M. Cassandre poster for British Rail for $162,500. In the poster world, you deal in $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 posters. It’s wonderful, out of this world, that it [the Man Ray London Transport poster] would sell for $100,000. From that point of view, it sticks in my mind as exceptional.

 

How to bid: The Keeps London Going poster is lot 76 in the Graphic Design sale at Swann Galleries on May 3, 2018.

 

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

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

 

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

 

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about a trio of Mont Blanc posters from 1928, a mid-1930s German travel poster featuring the Hindenburg, a 1968 MoMA poster by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo, an I Want You 1917 World War I recruiting poster that introduced the modern concept of Uncle Sam, and an Alphonse Mucha poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt.

 

In case you missed it above, the London Transport Museum has the other poster from the pair in its online collection, and it includes a link to a period photo of the posters on display outside St. Paul’s station in London.

 

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SOLD! A Painting by Self-Taught African-American Artist Sam Doyle Drums Up $17,000 at Slotin Folk Art

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Update: Penn Drummer Boy sold for $17,000.

 

What you see: Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

 

Who was Sam Doyle? He was an African-American self-taught artist who painted images of people and events in the Gullah community of Saint Helena Island in South Carolina. He made his art with what he could scavenge. Born in 1906, he began painting in 1944 and displayed his works outside his home. Eventually, it evolved into the Saint Helena Out Door Art Gallery. Doyle gained fame after he was included in a groundbreaking 1982 show, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He died in 1985, at the age of 79.

 

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

 

How prolific was Sam Doyle? Do we know? There probably is a finite number of works because he was producing for quite a few years and decorating his environment with images. When he got discovered, collectors bought them and he replaced them. There’s at least a thousand works, or it’s in the thousands.

 

Penn Drummer Boy is undated. Can we narrow down when he might have painted it? The family who owned it bought it directly from his environment. This is 1983 or just right after the Corcoran exhibit. The painting could have been in the yard for a year or two, or he could have just made it.

 

How often did he paint on metal? The majority of his works are painted on old, used roofing tin. Discarded roofing and discarded house paint was almost free material.

 

Is Penn Drummer Boy from his Penn series? This image was repeated. That wasn’t uncommon. It’s an image he’d already done, and when it was bought, he made another, and another, and another. When you’re extremely poor and white people come to your community and say, ‘I want one of those,’ you’re going to make one of those. If you wanted a Penn Drummer Boy, he’d make you a Penn Drummer Boy. His paintings reported what went on in his community. He painted people he knew. No one else was documenting what was going on in his community except for him. He would record people of importance, such as the first black butcher. You get a lot of history in his paintings, but you don’t necessarily realize it.

 

How many Penn Drummer Boy paintings are there? No one knows, but we’ve seen three or four in the last 25 years we’ve been doing this, and we’ve handled two or three.

 

How similar are they? Pretty much everything is similar to the one before it.  If it’s a midwife holding a baby, it’s the same midwife holding a baby. There’s not a lot of variation.

 

Doyle attended the Penn school when he was young, and later he became a father. Is there any chance that Penn Drummer Boy is a self-portrait, or maybe a portrait of one of his kids? I would not know that. I’ve studied this guy and what he looks like, and it’s probably not the same person. It could be a very young version of him, but I wouldn’t even go there. There’s no indication. It didn’t occur to me that it would ever be a self-portrait. He may have done one or two self-portraits [in his career].

 

Was Penn Drummer Boy ever displayed at the outdoor gallery? Everything was displayed in his yard until someone bought it. If you found him and walked onto his property, you could buy it. Nothing was there just for looksies. That was his gallery.

 

Did Doyle call it a gallery? Who knows what he called it. Everything was nailed to the outside of the walls. It was really an all-outdoor environment. Paintings were leaning against each other. It was not what me and you would say is a gallery.

 

How rare is it for a Sam Doyle to come to auction? We’ve been really lucky. We get one or two pieces in every sale, which happens every six months. We’ve certainly sold more than anybody else. We have a really good track record of getting the highest prices for our sellers and for the buyers, making sure what we have is correct. We do a really good job of vetting.

 

Are fakes a problem with Sam Doyle works? There were a few times people tried to pass things off as Sam Doyles, but they’re really quick and easy to spot. We won’t accept those pieces. Anytime money is involved, somebody will try to capitalize and make a quick buck.

 

So faking a Sam Doyle piece is harder than it looks? Right. A trained artist who mimics folk, self-taught, and outsider art still has training in art. After 25 years of doing this we’re pretty aware of what to look for.

 

Penn Drummer Boy is fresh to market–it went from Doyle to the consigner to Slotin. Is that rare? For Sam Doyle and for most of the works in the auction, that’s not rare at all. During the period of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, collectors were visiting artists and buying directly from them. The original buyers have started getting older and need to figure out what to do with their art. If the children don’t want it, they sell it. We get a lot of stuff that’s never been sold or offered before.

 

As of April 6, 2018, about three weeks before the auction, Penn Drummer Boy has been bid up to $3,700. Does that mean anything? What you see online is basically lookie-loos. Most of the action on the piece will be in-house, online, or on the phone. The second that piece hits the auction block, and it’s on the block for 40 seconds to a minute, lots of hands in the auction will bid it up. $3,700 is nothing. It will hit the highest price in-house. That’s where it will go to $15,000, $20,000, $30,000.

 

What condition is it in? Self-taught artists, especially Sam Doyle, work with found material. This has rust, and holes for nails–that’s expected. You want to see that in a piece. You know it’s real. The colors are strong. It didn’t sit in the environment that long. It’s a pristine piece.

 

Why will Penn Drummer Boy stick in your memory? This is a really strong piece, in great condition. Those who bought it bought it right from the environment. I like everything it has going on. Everything you want to see in a Sam Doyle is there. It’s got the history. It’s got the colors. It’s easy on the eyes. It’s an all-around nice piece.

 

How to bid: Sam Doyle’s Penn Drummer Boy is lot 0132 in the Self Taught, Outsider & Folk Art sale on April 28 and 29, 2018 at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

 

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

 

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

 

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YES! Bertoia Auctions Sold the Tremendous Mike Japanese Robot Toy for $11,000

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Update: Bertoia Auctions sold the Tremendous Mike robot toy with box for $11,000.

 

What you see: A Tremendous Mike robot toy, with original box. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.

 

Why was this robot toy called Tremendous Mike? Lots of Japanese toys used goofy names. There was Magnificent Mike, a few different Mikes, a few American names. Arguably, it was made for the American market–that’s why the language on the box is in English.

 

Do we know how many Tremendous Mike toys were made, and how many survive? We can’t even take a guess at how many were made. How many are around–that’s easier to take a stab at. I know of at least a dozen in circulation, and that doesn’t include those that are tied up in collections. It’s important to note that what makes the difference between being worth $2,000 or $3,000 versus being worth $10,000, what makes it swing, is its condition, if it has its box, and if the original antenna is still on the top of its head. This guy is fresh, in stellar condition. That’s why it’s so valuable. It might even be old store stock.

 

And the fact that the original box survives too–does that point to it possibly being old store stock? Exactly. What’s helpful on this box compared to other toy boxes are the graphics. Its a pretty, colorful box. The artwork is not just a sticker on the front of the box. It’s on the sides, too.

 

How rare is it to see a Tremendous Mike with its original box? In the last decade, I’ve only seen a few box examples. In general, a robot with its box is harder to come by than a loose example. I know of one Tremendous Mike with box offered through an auction. There was one on eBay a few years ago as well. Those are the only two aside from this one. That said, there’s a little more than a handful of these robot toys without their boxes that have surfaced in the last few years.

 

What’s the condition of the box? Does its condition matter, given how rare it is for a box to survive at all? In the high-dollar collectors’ market, every scratch matters. The condition of all the pieces and parts are relevant. This box is in really impressive condition. It has a little tear on a flap. The robot is in better shape than the box. The toy doesn’t look like it’s had much play.

 

How did the toy and its box survive in such good condition? I often joke that maybe a really bad child had it, because it wasn’t played with often. It’s possible that the robot had several homes throughout its life. It’s hard to believe it would survive years of children playing with it. Maybe the child had a lot of toys and didn’t play with this one much. Often when you see a toy this crisp, and the box is complete, not folded or crushed, that’s an assumption that can be made.

 

Tremendous Mike is a wind-up toy. What does he do when you turn his key? The wind-up mechanism is pretty cool. Tremendous Mike had action–he was not a simple forward-and-back moving toy. The red glass window in his chest sparkles as he rolls. The satellite dish on his head spins and changes direction after he rolls for a certain distance.

 

Tremendous Mike came in two body colors–red-orange, and grey. Are they equally desirable, or do collectors like one color more than the other? They have the same red accents on both. Red pops a lot more strongly off the grey. It’s a better visual than the red-orange.

 

How many times has Bertoia handled a Tremendous Mike? This is the first time in a decade.

 

What’s the auction record for a Tremendous Mike with box? It belongs to a red-orange version of the toy sold by Morphy’s in May 2015 that commanded $13,200. (Scroll down to see it.)

 

Could this Tremendous Mike with box beat the auction record, do you think? It certainly could. It certainly deserves it. The underbidder [at the Morphy’s 2015 auction] would be satisfied to acquire this example. It’ll take two to make the numbers.

 

Why will this toy stick in your memory? Other than my appreciation of the fine name of Mike, it’s very seldom, given the quantity and volumes of toys we handle on a regular basis, that we have to look at one for a long time and research it. If it stumps us, it stands out, because it’s a challenge. I appreciate the challenge. I like to be stumped.

 

How to bid: The Tremendous Mike with original box is lot 0050 in Bertoia‘s Signature Sale on April 27 and 28, 2018.

 

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

 

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No One Can Do What British Potter George Owen Did. No One. A Covered Vase He Made in 1913 Could Sell for $21,000 at Bonhams

Fine Royal Worcester Reticulated Vase and Cover Bonhams

What you see: A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $14,000 to $21,000.

 

Who was George Owen? He was a British artisan who spent his entire career with Royal Worcester, which was founded in 1751 and still produces porcelain and earthenware. Born in 1845, Owen began his career in 1859, while he was barely into his teens. He enjoyed watching his colleagues who handled piercing work–making porcelain decorated with artful holes–and thought he could do a better job. He was right. He invented his own tools and techniques and he jealously guarded his methods. Owen died in 1917.

 

The expert: John Sandon, international director of European ceramics and glass at Bonhams.

 

How rarely do George Owen pieces come up at auction? Individually, they are scarce. We [Bonhams] sell more than anyone else, about half a dozen a year. Over the last ten years, we’ve had 50 pieces. Maybe a dozen a year are on the market worldwide.

 

Has anyone done a count or survey of the number of pieces Owen made? Because he was always secretive, he didn’t keep records. But I imagine maybe there’s a thousand. Over 40 years he produced pieces, each taking several months stretched over a long period of time.

 

Is the shape he used for this reticulated vase unique, or did he return to this shape over and over again? The shapes are never unique. They’re the factory’s vases. The same vase could be painted with flowers or other decorations. Owen adapted them by cutting holes in them. He added the pearls around the top–they’re his own invention. I don’t know of another piece that’s precisely like this. He did a small number of each shape, but no two are ever the same.

 

And he came up with his own tools and techniques to create these pieces? He worked in the Royal Worcester factory’s ornamental casting department. The [pierced pieces] were molded and they cut holes out. He thought he could do better without the molded pattern. He was the only one who tried to cut out holes without any guide in the mold. He developed his own tools to cut the tiny holes. A great many in the pottery industry like to make their own tools–there’s a long tradition of that. He supposedly got the steel for his tools from the staves of corsets.

 

How did Owen remove the tiny piece of wet clay waste from the body of the vase after he finished cutting a hole? He would dip the tool into something sticky [most likely oil or honey – Ed.] so with the last cut, it would stick to the tool. If it [the waste clay] did fall inside the piece, there was no way to get it out.

 

Punching thousands of tiny holes in a wet clay vessel makes it vulnerable to falling in on itself. How did Owen stop his works from collapsing before they reached the kiln? That’s a skill. If it was too wet, it would collapse. Potters learn over the years to get the right consistency. Owen’s difficulty was stopping the clay from getting too dry. To keep the shape, he had to handle it very carefully so it wouldn’t become distorted. Usually he managed to pick it up by the base or the top so it wouldn’t lose its shape. He must have been very careful with it. He had to cut each hole without putting pressure on it [the surface of the vessel].

 

Owen used what he called ‘wet boxes’ to rehumidify a piece so he could continue to work on it. How many wet boxes might he have going at once? He must have had a room full of these being worked on. Owen could work a piece for half an hour or an hour before it became too dry to carry on. His work took many hours. A bigger, more elaborate piece might go back into the wet box ten, twenty, forty times. We just don’t know.

 

Moving a piece in and out of a wet box raises the risk that it won’t make it to the kiln. The losses must… Once it was out of the biscuit kiln, there must have been a great sigh of relief.

 

And Owen didn’t let anyone at the factory watch him work? Not even his son, George Potter Owen? That’s always been claimed, but I don’t know how true that is. Craftsmen tend to be secretive to protect their livelihoods. If others learn to do it, they lose their work. They certainly don’t let apprentices learn too much. George Potter Owen may have had a go [at learning his father’s techniques] but he might not have been any good. That’s probably the case. It’s said that no one else, including his son, could do it. Different people at different times have tried to emulate George Owen. I tried too, and made a mess of it. It’s easy to cut big holes. Trying to cut smaller and smaller holes, keeping the holes even, and keeping them in even rows that are the same size–that was his great skill. No one has come close to what George Owen did, and they’ve certainly tried.

 

And while this might be an obvious point, let me hit it anyway–Owen did this on his own, without the help of a computer, which wouldn’t have been available to him anyway. He worked out the geometry for himself. He measured the circumference of a piece and planned it by putting tiny dots [on the surface]. We’d use 3-D printers to do this nowadays. Other than the little dots that you see on the clay sometimes, that’s all he did. Each piece is unique in that sense. There’s no other guide than what he achieved himself.

 

Was this vase a commission, or did he make it on spec? It wasn’t on spec, though he occasionally made special orders. He made the vases and the Royal Worcester factory bought them off him and sold them at a profit to a china shop or a department store. It would have cost two pounds when it was made in 1912, and it would have sold for three or four pounds. At the time, that would have been quite a lot for a single piece of china. Another in the factory would have done the gilding.

 

Bonhams has seven George Owen pieces in the May 2 sale. Is it unusual to have so many? It is. Most often there’s one or two. Sometimes there’s none. Sometimes there’s four. It’s a coincidence on this occasion that we attracted seven pieces. Lot 449 is one of two from the same consigner.

 

How have you seen the George Owen market change over time? George Owen works have always been expensive and costly. They were not appreciated in the 1960s, but in the late ’70s and early ’80s collectors realized they were something special and paid real money for them. I joined [the profession] in 1975, when a nice George Owen would sell for £700 to £1,000. At that time, that was a lot of money. It seems cheap now that they’re getting £15,000 to £20,000.

 

What condition is this piece in? And how much does condition matter with a George Owen? It’s as it left the kiln. It’s perfect. No problems. But George Owen vases don’t bounce if they hit the floor. They can smash into dust if broken. Even tiny damage can make a difference. If a tiny little hole is nicked in a piercing, that can halve the value. I have to check carefully, row by row. If there’s a tiny nick, it’s no longer perfect, and a restorer can’t bring it back to life again. The fact that this vase is perfect is to its favor.

 

What is it like to hold? Every time you pick it up, it’s a pleasure. It’s light. It feels so fragile that the fact that it’s here at all gives you a bit of a buzz. It’s always exciting to have a piece like this. It calls you over to admire it–it’s one of those pieces.

 

How to bid: The George Owen reticulated vase with cover is lot 449 in the Fine Glass and British Ceramics auction at Bonhams on May 2, 2018.

 

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.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Also see a 2014 Bonhams video in which John Sandon and his father, Henry, enthuse over the artistry of a different Royal Worcester George Owen vase. Estimated at £60,000 to £80,000, Bonhams sold it for £65,200, or $92,623.

 

And also see the Museum of Royal Worcester’s web pages on its peerless artisan, George Owen, which shows him “working” on a reticulated vase that’s actually finished.

 

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SOLD! A Striking Craniometer, Maybe the Only Surviving Example of Its Type, Commands $12,300 at Skinner–More Than Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The late 19th century lacquered brass craniometer sold for $12,300–more than double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A lacquered brass craniometer, made in the late 19th century by the German company C.F.H. Heineman. Skinner estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

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

 

What’s a craniometer, and how was it used? As it looks, it was to measure skulls. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was once believed that the shape and size of the skull indicated knowledge. The belief was called craniology. It was a pseudoscience along the lines of phrenology. The craniometer tried to measure each little undulation in a skull. That’s why there’s so many of those spikes. They measure a quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch.

 

Craniology imputed moral character to the size of the skull? That’s a good way of putting it. A bigger skull was considered a better skull.

 

This tool was made in Germany. Was craniology most popular in Germany? I would not say that. Braunschweig, Germany was a well-known area for producing medical instruments. This might be the only surviving example. Many think there was a very limited run because of the quality.

 

Are the parts of the craniometer labeled in German? No.

 

So we don’t know what qualities the craniometer was supposed to measure? It is a mystery. It all depends on where you chose to put the skull.

 

Why does the craniometer look like this? Why are the pins the length that they are? I think the pins are of this length to accommodate different sizes of skull. And you have to have a skull. You could not put a person in this.

 

Does the skull rotate or spin within the brass rings? The skull itself does not rotate. But the brass column can be turned manually, 360 degrees.

 

How were craniometer measurements taken? Around both spheres, there are numerical engravings. Let’s say you’re using the pin through number 17. You measure, you mark, you pull out the pin, and that gives you a measurement for where the pin falls on the skull for number 17. Number 17 is some sort of moral aspect.

 

Are you auctioning it with or without a skull? The skull is for display. It’s a real skull, a human skull. It is part of the lot.

 

How many pins are there? I think there are 40 pins. Down below the turned column, on the brass plate mounted in the ebony base, there are holes to hold the pins.

 

What are the tips of the pins made from? Bone. Turned bone.

 

Why? That’s not an obvious choice. I think it’s where the quality of the piece surpasses the average piece. The quality of it takes it to a different level.

 

Have you seen other craniometers? How do they measure up to this one? I haven’t seen others in person, but I have seen them in my research. They’re very crude. They’re less intricate, less detail-oriented. With this one, the tolerances are so tight where the pins go through the uprights–that’s a mark of quality. The castings of the rings are very well done also.

 

Can we tell if it was made for someone in private practice, or as a teaching model? We cannot tell. In my research, I was not able to find the purpose for this. I don’t know if it’s for a doctor or a teaching tool.

 

How did the craniometer come to you? This, along with several of the lots in the sale–a few phrenology heads, a medical teaching model–came from a private collector in Massachusetts.

 

Why will this craniometer stick in your memory? The sculptural quality. That’s how I look at it. As a craftsman myself, the quality of the instrument says something to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever handle another piece like this.

 

How to bid: The craniometer is lot 560 in the Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments sale at Skinner on April 20, 2018.

 

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.

 

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Jonathan Dowling spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a unique mid-century model airplane that ultimately sold for $11,070 at Skinner.

 

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RECORD! A Dutch Silver Masterpiece by Adam van Vianen Sells for $5.3 Million at Christie’s

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Update: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer sold for $5.3 million–a world auction record for the artist, and for any piece of Dutch silver.

 

What you see: A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619. Christie’s gives the estimate as on request, but it could sell for seven figures.

 

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, Christie’s European head of silver.

 

What is a ewer? Why might Adam van Vianen have chosen this form? A ewer is a jug. This ewer is not standard. Work by Adam van Vianen was only in the richest homes. One should think of this as a work of sculpture, though it’s of ewer form. It’s made from a single sheet of silver. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of how he was able to manipulate silver to create fluid forms.

 

Adam van Vianen signed and dated the ewer in addition to placing his maker’s mark on it. Why might he have done that? He wanted to be seen as a sculptor in precious metal rather than a producer of workaday objects. This is not meant to be used. It’s meant to be marveled at.

 

Was this ewer commissioned? Do we know? It’s possible it was commissioned for presentation. The choice of the Marcus Curtius narrative [A Roman tale of a soldier who sacrificed himself to save the city] suggests a display of bravery, sacrifice, and loyalty. It may have been presented to a military figure. It could have been Prince Maurice of Orange, who liberated Utrecht, which was van Vianen’s hometown. It’s conjecture, but it’s a possibility.

 

How rare is it for an Adam van Vianen piece to come to auction? Incredibly rare. Two years ago, Christie’s had a plaque by him with a scene on it. Prior to that, we had a small sweetmeat dish in 2001.

 

Do we know how many pieces Adam van Vianen made? A survey done by a Dutch academic notes 22 items either signed by him or bearing his maker’s mark. Of those, only two [in addition to the ewer] are in private collections. One is a beaker, and the other is a sweetmeat dish. Van Vianen’s brother and son worked in a similar style. If a piece is unmarked, it can be attributed to the family.

 

Did Adam van Vianen work alone, or did he have a team? There’s always that 19th century romantic image of silversmiths working alone. Van Vianen would have worked with shop assistants on manufacturing, but the ewer shows his individual skill at manipulating metal. And he signed and dated it, which is unusual.

 

He would have produced the decorative elements on the ewer through a technique called ‘chasing.’ What, exactly, would he have done? Here, he’s working with very pure silver, softer than sterling standard. If you hammer the silver, you give it tensile strength. If you heat it to pink-hot and quench it, it’s soft again, and you can work with it [you can fashion the decorative elements on the ewer]. It’s an incredibly long process to work it again and again–it’s so intricately chased.

 

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch him work, but is it possible to tell how long he would have worked on the ewer? Would it have been, say, two months or more? Yes. Something as important as this would have been a real focus for him.

 

What is it like to hold the ewer? It’s incredibly tactile. Once you pick it up, you want to keep on turning it. The eye just dances across it.

 

Is it heavy? No. Because it’s so beautifully made, it feels like it’s the right weight. Heaviness would imply that it was cast, which makes it a different object, created with a different skill.

 

Do you have a favorite detail? That face peeking out from under the foot [of the ewer], because it’s so unexpected. It’s the last place you’d expect to see a human face. It’s looking out at you, and it has an ambiguous expression. [The face is shown in the fourth image on the lot page.]

 

Why will this silver ewer stick in your memory? As an object, it’s incredibly rare. This is the last chance for the market to acquire something of this importance by Adam van Vianen. It captures everything he’s known for–technical skill and extraordinary imagination. Work by the van Vianen family of silversmiths has never ceased to be celebrated. It’s like an incredible piece of jewelry, something to be marveled at.

 

How to bid: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer is lot 21 in the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s on April 20, 2018.

 

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 Christie’s.

 

See a Christie’s video of Harry Williams-Bulkeley showing and talking about Adam van Vianen’s spectacular silver ewer.

 

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SOLD! Woodworker Sam Maloof Made Maybe a Dozen Double Rocking Chairs. Bonhams Just Sold One for $35,000

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Update: The Sam Maloof double rocker sold for $35,000.

 

What you see: A double rocking chair, created in 2006 by the late American studio furniture artist Sam Maloof. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

 

Who was Sam Maloof? The California-born woodworker was the first professional craftsman to earn a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship. He learned the fundamentals of his trade in high school and opened a workshop in 1948, after marrying and returning from World War II. Best known for his chairs, Maloof’s furniture resides in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He worked until he died in 2009 at the age of 93.

 

How many double rocking chairs did Maloof make? “There are around a dozen known,” says Jason Stein, Director of Modern Decorative Art & Design at Bonhams Los Angeles, noting that about four of those are in institutions. “There are very few in private hands. This is the first we know of to ever come up in the auction format.”

 

How hard was it for Maloof and his team to make a double rocking chair? “These pieces took a solid month to produce,” he says. “It’s more complicated, with way more spindles in the seatback. There are 13 spindles on this one, and Maloof double rockers normally have 13 to 15. A single rocker only has seven. Everything on a double rocker takes longer.”

 

When did Maloof start making double rocking chairs? “They came into play in the early 1990s. The single rockers started years before,” he says. “When he was fully developed in his craft, he was confident to make a piece like this.”

 

What details distinguish this particular double rocking chair, and what distinguishes Maloof’s furniture overall? “It has pronounced horns at the top, and the sleighs at the bottom come up beautifully at the back. It’s the most expressed version of this chair,” he says. “It’s incredibly sculptural, yet ergonomic. It’s a beautiful piece of art that you can also sit in. That was a thing with Maloof. He was a craftsman’s craftsman.”

 

This double rocker is made from walnut. Does that make it more desirable to collectors? “Walnut was his wood of choice,” he says, adding, “Throughout the American studio furniture movement, the majority of the works are made from walnut. They take advantage of the beautiful grain. You can create amazing compositions by working the grain.”

 

Have you sat in the double rocker? “Yes. It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s something that’s incredible to look at and sit in and to feel, to touch. It’s highly tactile. It’s an interactive experience to sit in a piece of Maloof. You want to sit in it. You want to stay in it. It’s not just a sculpture. It’s functional.”

 

Have you sat in the double rocker with another person? “I have not,” he says. “But in looking at this chair, each seat in it is fully pronounced. It’s made for two. Each seat will totally support a person. They won’t spill into each other.”

 

What’s the auction record for a piece of Sam Maloof furniture, and what’s the record for a Maloof rocking chair? The overall record belongs to a conference table and a set of ten chairs, which sold at Bonhams for $194,250 in March 2006 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. The Maloof rocking chair record was also set at Bonhams in April 2012 by a chair made in 1986 that fetched $80,500. Its estimate was $30,000 to $50,000. Both record-setting furnishings were made from walnut.

 

How have you seen the Maloof market change over time? “When I started in the early 1990s at Butterfield & Butterfield, single rockers were $12,000 to $15,000. There’s been an ascent over the years,” he says. “It’s always popular, and we’re always excited to get pieces by him. This time we have four lots by Maloof, including a single rocking chair.”

 

Why will this Maloof double rocking chair stick in your memory? “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work with this form–to be with it personally, to be near it, and to work with the consigner to bring it up for auction. It’s an exciting moment for an auction house specialist,” he says. “And it’s exciting to see where the market is going to take it, where it’s going to go, and who’s going to acquire it. I’m curious if it’s going to go to an institution or a private collector.”

 

How to bid: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair is lot 236 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design auction on April 17, 2018 in Los Angeles.

 

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.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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