RECORD! Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President Dress Sells for $4.8 Million at Julien’s

Marilyn Monroe's Happy Birthday Mr. President dress is flesh-colored and covered with 2,500 crystals that were hand-sewn on.

What you see: The gown that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 at a Democratic fundraiser that also marked his 45th birthday. Julien’s sold Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress in November 2016 for $4.8 million, a record for any dress sold at auction.

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

Looking at black-and-white tape of Monroe’s performance on YouTube, it seems that a dimension has been lost. Can you talk about why Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress made the crowd gasp, and why JFK joked that he could “retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to him in such a sweet and wholesome way”? First of all, she had agreed that she’d wear a conservative black dress. But she knew the power of voting, and knew the power of singing at Madison Square Garden, and it was just before her 36th birthday. She was so in tune with the importance of that event. She took her white stole off and stepped to the left of the podium because she didn’t want it to block her in anyway. There was an amazing reaction when the lights bounced off the crystals–15,000 gasps. It looked like she was wearing nothing. You and I are talking about it today, and 50 years from now, we’ll talk about that moment.

So the skin-tight, flesh-colored dress was her idea? She asked [costumier] Jean Louis to make her something that would wow the crowd. Bob Mackie, who was just out of college and 22 years old, drew the sketches for the dress. We sold them a few years ago. 2,500 crystals were hand-stitched onto the dress. Monroe paid for it herself and had matching shoes. We sold the receipt for the dress as well. She spent $6,000 on it [the outfit and related items] which is over $60,000 today–a huge amount of money, a huge investment. She didn’t think about the cost factor. She was thinking about the ‘Wow’ factor. She was very aware of the importance of the event.

Could you talk about what Monroe went through when she wore this dress? I understand that she was sewn into it. Also, in looking at the period tape, her movements are clearly restricted. At one point we see her jumping very vertically to rally the crowd to sing. Was the dress as uncomfortable as it looked? The dress was fragile and difficult to walk in. The stitching was done just below the zip line at the back of the dress. It took a few minutes for her to get from the dressing room to the stage. It was distant, and she could not run, because she was wearing heels. She shimmied her way on stage, wrapped in the cloak, and master of ceremonies Peter Lawford announced her as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Three months later, she was the late Marilyn Monroe. [She died on August 5, 1962.] Fox promised to fire her if she was late [she was filming Something’s Got to Give at the time, and the studio did not want her to travel across the country and potentially delay the shoot.] She risked it all to go to New York. When she got back, she was fired from the set.

Do we know where that white fur stole went? It got separated from the dress. Monroe passed away in August 1962. She had no family members. Attorneys for her estate put everything from her house into storage. The boxes got shipped back to Lee Strasberg [her  mentor and acting teacher], where they stayed until 1999. The dress was first uncovered for the Christie’s estate sale [in October 1999]. We have not found the fur stole, but believe me, I’m searching for it and the shoes.

How much more would the dress be worth if it were part of a complete stage-worn Marilyn Monroe outfit? It’d be hundreds of thousands extra if we found the shoes and the stole. It would be phenomenal to have them all together.

What condition is Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress in? It’s in perfect condition, absolutely perfect condition. The consigner [who won the Christie’s auction in 1999] enlisted experts to build a ‘conservative’ mannequin to preserve the shape of the dress. The knee is positioned out so it supports the weight of the dress. The special mannequin was in a special display case with UV-protective glass. Very clever. He [the winner] believed he’d sell it for a profit. The underbidder [in 1999] was Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When the dress came back to auction, Ripley’s was bound and determined not to let it get away.

Do we know how much the dress weighs? It would weigh several pounds. Place 2,500 crystals in a bag or a bowl–that’s a lot of weight right there.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $2 million to $3 million for Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress? We truly believed that if it fetched $1.27 million in 1999, there had to be a level of appreciation in the dress. It had to double its money. Its historic and political value, matched up with Hollywood history, affected the value of the dress. We felt it would sell for at least $2 million.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a museum. Everyone [who bid] had to be pre-qualified. It came down to two bidders in the room. The energy in the room was just phenomenal. Marilyn Monroe is beloved worldwide. She’s still relevant and still gets high prices.

Marilyn Monroe dominates the auction records for clothing, but it’s interesting that this dress, which she wore in real life, is now number one, ahead of a white dress she might have worn while standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. It’s definitely significant. She was not in character in a movie. This was purely Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK, a love affair made public. There was a lot of speculation and a lot of rumors about a romantic relationship between Monroe and JFK, and after this event, people realized there was something to the rumors [laughs]. She disregarded the 15,000 people in the room. It was just her and President Kennedy in those 90 seconds.

How long will this auction record stand? What else is out there that could beat Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress? I can’t think of anything else that would be so iconic.

Why will this dress stick in your memory? In 2005, I had a wish list. I said what I’d love to auction is Michael Jackson’s red jacket from Thriller, and that came true in 2011.  The next was Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress. Now I’m looking for a pair of ruby slippers [worn in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz]. That could potentially be $5 million, but there’s only one Happy Birthday dress. It’s presidential history and Hollywood mixed together.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses; a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction; and a purple tunic worn by Prince.

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RECORD! The Supreme Grade Number One Qianlong Imperial Firearm Reigned Supreme at Sotheby’s in November 2016, Commanding $2.4 Million

The Supreme Grade Number One Qianlong Imperial Firearm, shown in full in profile, with the muzzle pointing to the right.

What you see: A “Supreme Grade Number One” Imperial matchlock musket, made for the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century. Estimated at £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million), Sotheby’s London sold the Qianlong Imperial firearm for £1.98 million (or roughly $2.6 million) in November 2016. It set a world auction record for any Chinese Imperial firearm.

The expert: Henry Howard-Sneyd, chairman of Asian art, Europe, and Americas for Sotheby’s.

First, could we talk about how genuine Imperial Qianlong items, regardless of what they are, cause excitement at auction? The Qianlong Emperor is real, but he’s a sort of mythical-type figure in terms of Chinese psychology. In English terms, you might liken him to King Henry VIII. He’s represented as a great emperor. He reigned for 60 years–a very long time, and China had a golden age [then]. The affection he holds in the Chinese mind is pretty much unmatched, and it’s [his time is] not so far in the past to be a myth. As China came into the 21st century, and began to be a wealthy, developed country, the Qianlong Emperor became one of the poster children of popular culture.

How did the Qianlong Emperor view guns? Were they important to him? He clearly admired guns and thought of them as an important element of what he did. Excelling at the hunt was very important to his legitimacy as Emperor. It shows he can look after his people by shooting straight, in effect. In an essay online, there’s a quote from the Qianlong Emperor, [who wrote of a different weapon]: “the ‘Tiger Divine Gun’ is a marvellous appliance for military accomplishment inherited from my grandfather and is used for killing fierce beasts … the Mongolian tribes of the Forty-nine Banners and Khalkha [participating in the imperial hunts] all excel in archery and stress martial art. If I have nothing to show them, I am hardly a worthy heir to my ancestors. Whenever I learn of tigers in the hunting preserve, I go hunting with no exception. Where bows and arrows cannot reach, I always use this gun, and unfailingly get the target … an Emperor must rely on divine appliances to hone martial skills and demonstrate masculine magnanimity, and the musket is wonderfully efficient and pleasing…”. It gives you a sense of how personal it is about being a worthy ruler.

Did the emperor handle this gun? There’s a chance this gun was held and used by the Emperor. There’s also a painting of him using a very similar gun [scroll down and it’s the second image on the right]. This is as close to the emperor as anything we’ve ever sold.

This gun is inscribed with the phrase te deng di yi, which translates to “Supreme Grade Number One”. Is there any explanation in the archival materials that goes into detail about what, exactly, Supreme Grade Number One might mean beyond it being obviously high praise? It seemed to be only used for guns. It’s not recorded on any other known, extant gun. The assumption is it’s the best of the best. It’s hard to imagine what would be above Supreme Grade Number One.

Does the Qianlong Imperial firearm work? The firearms specialist we consulted said yes, it should work. There’s nothing to stop it working.

Do we know when the Imperial workshops made it? We were not able to pin down a time. There’s just not enough information.

Is it possible to know anything about how this gun came to be? We don’t know exactly how it happened. We were never able to find a specific order.

What makes this Qianlong Imperial firearm a work of art? It has, very typically of the taste of this emperor, designs based on archaic elements. He was probably the single greatest collector, and one thing he accumulated were archaic Chinese bronzes. The archaic look appealed to him very much. It was like the Neoclassical period in Western art, looking back at a great classic period of early antiquity, from 1,000, 1,200, 1,300 B.C.

How did Sotheby’s decide to sell the gun in a single-lot auction? In our view it was obvious to sell it as a single lot. It stands out as a completely unique object.

With no other directly comparable items having gone to auction, how did you arrive at the estimate of £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million)? There are other pieces that are somewhat comparable. The seals of the emperor are very personal and specific [to him], and we sold a sword in Hong Kong a number of years back. By calibrating all the things selling around the same time, we came to a figure that was a well-placed estimate, very strong. Bidders pushed it further, but not much further. I think we put it exactly right.

What was your role in the auction of the Qianlong Imperial firearm? What was your experience of the sale? I was the auctioneer. Specifically, I have a fairly clear visual memory of the room in front of me and one of my colleagues taking bids from a client, and because the reception was not great, he had to go out of the room and come back in to make a bid. I don’t recall if that was the successful bidder in the end. It was very tense and quite drawn out. A lot of consideration went into each bid. It was something that garnered a lot of interest and intrigue because it was a unique thing.

With the first bid, you had a world record because it was the first gun of its type to come to auction. Were you surprised by the final result? I wasn’t surprised. I felt it was a fair price, a competitively reached price.

What factors drove it to the final price of £1.98 million (roughly $2.6 million)? Its uniqueness, and the combination of it being the best of its type and the potential touch of the emperor combined to make a hugely desirable object.

How long do you think this record will stand? Is there anything out there that could approach this piece? There’s no evidence that there’s any other piece like this anywhere. This record could stand forever. As an object itself, it’s hard to beat this one.

Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a unique thing–that’s always something that stands out. And it was enormous fun to work on. It was slightly starting from scratch, but it was [it involved searching] archival material, original [Chinese] court documents. It was a slightly Sherlock Holmesian game of following a trail that made it a fascinating and somewhat exciting journey.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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RECORD! A Clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” Sold for Almost $110,000 (Updated December 2018)

A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Its clapper is shaped and painted to resemble a row of shark's teeth.

Update: The Jaws clapperboard sold again as lot 1423 in a Profiles in History auction in December 2018. PIH estimated it at $60,000 to $80,000, and reported on its Twitter account that it sold for $128,000.

What you see: A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Prop Store sold it in September 2016 for £84,000, or $109,000–a record for any filmset-used clapperboard at auction.

The expert: Stephen Lane, CEO and founder of Prop Store.

When did major film productions stop using wooden clapperboards and start using digital ones? That’s tough to answer. Probably in the early 1990s it started to happen. There are still productions today that use analog acrylic clapperboards. There’s still a crossover going on.

How often do set-used clapperboards from legendary films come to auction? I don’t know of any clapperboards sold at this level previously.

What was the previous auction record for a set-used clapperboard? Probably a second unit Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clapperboard, which sold for £27,500 a few years ago. Clapperboards are something that collectors locked onto within the last five years. The collectors we speak with aspire to collect objects that were used before the camera.

It strikes me that even before the collecting mentality became ingrained, set-used clapperboards were likely to have been saved because they say, ‘Hey! We made a film!’ Is that a fair assumption? It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of clapperboards come directly from crew members who worked on the films. A lot bring them home from every film they’ve ever worked on, and hang them on the wall and will never part with them. With some clapperboards, the information was taken off to rewrite it for the next film. I’ve seen clapperboards from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I’ve never seen one for Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. They probably finished the film, got the paint off it, and got the clapperboard ready for the next film. There was a huge amount of recycling.

Have you handled any other set-used clapperboards from Steven Spielberg films? We had a Raiders of the Lost Ark clapperboard in 2014, a small insert clapperboard. They make them in a variety of different sizes. For a shot on the top of a mountain in Lord of the Rings, they [the LOTR crew] made one that was 8 feet wide. I’ve seen other Indiana Jones ones but clapperboards are tough to pin down. There’s not a huge volume of those around and they don’t pop up very often.

What details on this clapperboard, aside from the obvious, prove that it is a genuine set-used clapperboard from the filming of Jaws? It’s incredibly distinctive. It’s very specific, with the cut teeth, which was hugely endearing to a number of collectors. And there’s a photo of Steven Spielberg holding the clapperboard on the set. It was not only used in Jaws and made for Jaws, Steven Spielberg held it on the set. That’s part of the huge appeal of this particular piece.

How big a deal is it to have this period photo of Spielberg holding the clapperboard? Would the clapperboard be worth less if the photo did not exist? Yes, I would say so. Because they were wiped and redetailed with chalk, it’s very unusual for final shot info to be retained on an individual clapperboard. A lot of these slates originated as rental items that productions used to hire. To get one with all the info on it and match it against a photo, it’s very tough.

Is it unique? No, I’ve had a couple of screen-matched boards in the past. But it’s rare, especially for a significant film.

Do we know how many clapperboards were made for Jaws and used on the set? There’s no record whatsoever. I can say quite comfortably that’s the only Jaws clapperboard that’s ever come to market.

As you mentioned before, the clapperboard is decorated with a line of shark teeth. If it lacked that cool little flourish, would it still have made a record price? Again it’s tough for me to speculate. I hadn’t seen a Jaws clapperboard before. I think it [the lack of the teeth detail] would have definitely impacted it, but I can’t say it’d be 20 percent less valuable. It is one of the most endearing features of the board.

How often do you see decorative flourishes like that on a clapperboard? Almost never. The most elaborate thing you get these days is the film logo laser etched on an acrylic clapperboard. You don’t see ones that are nearly as entertaining as this.

What was your role in the auction? I was in the room. I went and sat with the consigner. He wanted to be part of the experience of it selling. Because of the level of interest prior to the auction, we knew it was going to be an exciting moment. It got a massive amount of publicity. People loved it and the press ran with it. It was such an exciting moment for him and for me. He was over the moon, and I was over the moon with him.

Can you talk about how the consigner reacted? He got more and more excited. He looked at the screen, he looked at me, then back at the screen, and his jaw dropped a bit more. After it finished he had to leave the room, he was so excited. He had to have a drink to calm his nerves.

When did you know you had a new world auction record? By the time it got to £30,000. At that point, we were there.

How long do you think this record will stand? I haven’t seen anything that comes remotely close to this. Maybe if a Star Wars: A New Hope clapperboard came up, but it’s unlikely any survive. If a Wizard of Oz or a Gone With the Wind clapperboard came up, they’d be worth tens of thousands. This really was the perfect storm. An interesting-looking clapperboard, the most interesting film in Spielberg’s back catalog, brilliantly documented, and a huge amount of production use. It ticked all the boxes you want to tick.

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Prop Store’s September 20, 2018 auction will include Harrison Ford’s screen-worn Han Solo jacket from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Rose’s farewell note from Titanic, and also a Jaws lot with 40 storyboard pages and a crew t-shirt.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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SOLD! A Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce Ceiling Light that Graced the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

A unique Torciere della Cultura ceiling light, designed by Sami El-Khazen and executed by Arredoluce between 1964 and 1965.

Update: The Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce Torciere della Cultura ceiling light sold for $32,500.

What you see: A unique Torciere della Cultura ceiling light, designed by Sami El-Khazen and executed by Arredoluce between 1964 and 1965. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.

What can you tell me about Sami El-Khazen, and about how he was chosen to design the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair? I can’t seem to find much. It’s incredibly hard to get info about him. I put hours upon hours into searching. He was in Lebanon in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when it was a cultural hotbed, the right time to be there. In 1988, he passed away. He was a vital designer, an architect, an unsung hero of modernism. [As for the story of how he was chosen to design a pavilion for the World’s Fair,] I’ve done a lot of research into it and it was not something I was able to discover. There’s relatively little in the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné, too. This piece is discussed in the opening, and they talk about him, but there’s no biography.

Do we know how long he’d been working with Arredoluce when he got the nod to create that 1964 World’s Fair Pavillion? No, we don’t know that either, or how it [the World’s Fair commission] came about. He designed it and Arredoluce provided all the manufacturing expertise. Arredoluce has been around since 1930. They were at the height of their success as a company [in the mid-1960s,] at the top of their game. It’s a piece of architecture in the way it’s been designed and put together.

Was the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair Sami El-Khazen’s crowning achievement? From what I read about him, he was not a product designer, he was an architect. This may be the only thing he produced outside of architecture.

Do period photographs of the Lebanon Pavillion survive? Yes. The way you see the lamp, it extends down almost to the floor, like a stalactite. It was spectacular. It must have been ten feet in height. It must have been the centerpiece of the pavillion.

Why did Sami El-Khazen and Arredoluce call it the Torciere della Cultura [lamp of culture]? I think it ties into what I was saying about Lebanon. In that period, they embraced modernity. It was a way of looking forward to the future. I think that’s what it was for them. It was made to symbolize Lebanon’s contribution to civilization and was designed to look like a tower of flame – representing the spread of Lebanese culture across the globe. It was exhibited in the pavilion’s Culture Room.

And the Shah of Iran saw the ceiling light and asked to buy it in 1965, or someone representing him did? That’s my supposition. There’s no discussion of that anywhere in the book [the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné], but I imagine he attended.

The lot notes say that the unique ceiling light “was sent to the Arredoluce factory in Monza [Italy] where it was dismantled and re-engineered into the present smaller proportioned work.” Do we know what, exactly, the artisans at Arredoluce did to modify the piece for installation in the dining room of the Shah’s palace? No, that’s not mentioned specifically. But it tapered to the floor, so it was cut down to a more user-size scale.

And let’s just stop here and discuss why it was okay to alter the light, and what made it okay. It was still a creation of Arredoluce. It [the changes] happened in El-Khazen’s lifetime, shortly after the show, and done with his approval. The ceiling light was completely impractical as it was. It was a huge thing, made into a more usable object.

Are there any period shots that show the ceiling light installed in the Shah’s palace dining room? No, there’s no interior shots, nothing that shows it in situ. It’s surprising how little information is out there about El-Khazen. Maybe it was destroyed in the war [the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990].

So, when we’re talking about works by El-Khazen at auction… this ceiling light is pretty much it? Yes, this is it, which is why it resonates with us. As an auctioneer, it’s incredible to have something unique by a critically acclaimed company, Arredoluce, and which is shown in its catalogue raisonné. It ticks a lot of boxes. The fact that there’s not a lot known about El-Khazen makes it more beguiling. The other thing that appeals to us is it was in the 1964 World’s Fair. It was legendary at the time.

And this sold once before at auction, in 1985, but we don’t know which house sold it? No. The seller’s grandparents bought it. He does not recall where they bought it. He thinks it sold for around $70,000, which in 1985 is quite significant.

And 1985 predates most of the available online auction archives. Yes, exactly. It gets patchy even past 15 years on Artnet.

What condition is the unique ceiling light in? It’s in excellent condition. It was rewired for the U.S. [electrical system] in 1985, but it hasn’t been updated since then. The bulbs have not been modernized. It’s in working order, and it’s been very well-cared-for.

How many pieces comprise the unique ceiling light? It has about 170 individual pieces.

Are they fixed in place, or is there any play or give? No. It’s amazingly well-engineered. It tessellates together, firmly into place.

I see that it is strictly described as a “ceiling light,” never a “chandelier,” which people would expect to wiggle and sway a little. Yes, exactly. It’s quite densely packed. It’s a complex piece.

This is a unique ceiling light design, and it seems to be the only thing El-Khazen designed that isn’t a building. How did you arrive at the estimate of $30,000 to $50,000? We looked at comparables [somewhat similar things that sold at auction in the past] for Italian lighting–prices for rare or unique lamps by Stillnovo and Arredoluce. But you can’t be precise with something unique. It comes down to what people are willing to pay for. It’s not only unique, it’s by a top manufacturer in Italy at the time, and it has historic connections with the 1964 World’s Fair. There’s a lot of good factors that make it highly collectible, and the Middle Eastern feature makes it collectible as well. [With this,] you can’t hold out for a second. That gets people’s attention. It should really go above the top estimate.

What’s it like in person? It’s absolutely incredible. It’s got great presence. It’s obviously quite masculine, quite powerful.

Is it heavy? Very heavy. It’s bronze, nickel-plated bronze. It’s a very serious weight.

The Shah of Iran put this unique ceiling light in his palace dining room. Where could someone put it today? If the entryway in your home has a double-height ceiling, it would work. It’s the focal point of a room. Though it’s reduced in scale, it’s a great conversation piece to have in a modern home.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so unique. It speaks volumes of El-Khazen’s vision for design. It’s spectacular. There’s definitely an unwritten story somewhere.

How to bid: The unique mid-century ceiling light is lot 93 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design sale on December 14, 2018 in New York.

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Arredoluce has a website (but it’s Italian-language only).

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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RECORD! Michael Jordan’s Game-worn 1984 Olympic Gold Medal Sneakers Sold for More Than $190,000

A pair of size 13 Converse sneakers that Michael Jordan wore during the 1984 Olympics, when the U.S.A. basketball team won the gold medal. He signed each sneaker.

What you see: A pair of size 13 Converse sneakers that Michael Jordan wore during the 1984 Olympics, when the U.S.A. basketball team won the gold medal. SCP Auctions sold them for $190,372 in June 2017–a record for a game-worn pair of basketball sneakers.

The expert: David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions.

Where do game-worn sneakers rank among game-worn basketball items? Are they second to game-worn jerseys? As far as game-worn items go, yes, they’re second to jerseys. When game-worn shoes have great provenance and are documented, there’s great demand. We didn’t expect them to go to $190,000, but you can see how that can happen.

Does Michael Jordan dominate the game-worn basketball sneaker market? I’d say Jordan is number one for a few reasons. He was prone to giving out shoes and signing them, and Jordan had his own brand issues. The rest love Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, no one was saving shoes. They threw them away. By the mid-80s or so, you had players signing shoe deals and getting paid to wear shoes. There’s a whole huge industry that didn’t exist for the players from earlier years. Heck, today, some players wear their shoes for one game. A lot of them have their own orthotics that they slip into their shoes. Some wear a different color of shoes depending on their uniform.

Where was Jordan in his basketball career in 1984? He was pretty big-time. He didn’t have a shoe line yet. He was very much on the map and was wearing Converse.

Does the fact that the sneakers are Converse brand hurt their value? No. It’s not a negative at all. There was a lot of demand for these shoes, which were one of the last two pairs that he wore as an amateur. The next year, he was a pro. The provenance was exceptional. Former Laker Gail Goodrich was in charge of the basketball event, and his son was a ball boy. Jordan signed both shoes. The story is he gave the shoes to the ball boy, and the boy was literally almost out of the arena when Jordan saw him running back, and said, ‘I knew you were going to come back. I didn’t sign these.’

How unusual is it to have such a strong provenance for a pair of game-worn basketball sneakers? It’s very rare, and that’s what we love about the piece. We knew that it would bring big demand at auction. Michael Jordan, the star of the U.S. Olympic team, the shoes he wore, signed, from the ball boy–you can’t really write the story better than that.

How do these Michael Jordan 1984 Olympic sneakers compare to his game-worn sneakers from the 1992 Dream Team Olympics? We have had a pair of Dream Team sneakers. It brought around $20,000. If we knew the sneakers were from the final Dream Team game, they would have brought big money, like these. The 1984 pair were from a time when Jordan wore only two pairs [for the entire Olympic run]. Eight years later, players were wearing one pair per game. It was a different time and era.

Game-worn items can be tricky in that you want them to show some wear, but not too much. What condition are these Michael Jordan sneakers in? These had all the appropriate wear you want–the vintage look of it, but not starting to be damaged, or in the sun. The colors have started toning, which is natural for them being 34 years old. They’ve been in a closet in a box for years.

I understand there’s a letter of authenticity for each Michael Jordan sneaker. Is that typical for game-used basketball sneakers? There’s a letter from the consigner about the provenance, and then the third party grader did a letter for each shoe to address each autograph.

Has the other pair of Michael Jordan 1984 Olympic sneakers gone to auction? They came up in 2015. We did not handle them then, and they didn’t meet the reserve. Since that sale, they were consigned to us, and they brought almost $90,000. They brought less because they were not from the gold medal-winning game, but they were very similar.

What was the previous record for a pair of game-worn basketball sneakers? A pair of Michael Jordan-worn shoes from the flu game. [In 1997, Jordan played in Game 5 of the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz, scoring 38 points and helping his team win despite suffering from either the flu or food poisoning.] That pair sold for around $100,000.

How long do you think this record will stand? Interesting question. Certainly if you had the shoes that Wilt Chamberlain wore in the 100-point game, and the provenance was airtight, but I doubt those exist. They’d have to be over the top in basketball history.

Why will these Michael Jordan sneakers stick in your memory? It’s Michael Jordan, it’s the Olympics, it’s the gold medal. Jordan telling the ball boy, ‘Hey, I’ve got something for you after the the game.’ Just the story behind it.

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RECORD! A Monumental Fencai Imperial Qianlong Period Vase Sells for $24.7 Million

Monumental Fencai Flower and Landscape Vase sold for $24,723,000

What you see: A monumental Fencai Imperial vase dating to the Qianlong period. Skinner sold it in 2014 for $24.7 million– a record for any Chinese work of art sold in the Western world.

The expert: Judith Dowling, director of Asian works of art at Skinner.

Can you tell us what we know about how the Fencai Imperial Qianlong vase came to be? Why might it have been made? The theory, and I say theory because in China there are no actual documents, comes from observation of a vase in the Palace Museum in Beijing called the “mother of porcelain.” The Qianlong Emperor wanted a compilation of accomplishments the Chinese had made up to that point in porcelain. By repute, the superintendent [of the Imperial porcelain works] was supposed to be quite extraordinary. We believe he had to fire the vase [put it in the kiln] at least 14 times. It’s very large, with fine enamel work. It had to illustrate different techniques from different centuries–celadon, Ming blue and white–sort of like a sampler of porcelain technology. That’s why they had to fire it so many times, because the clay is fired differently [at different temperatures] for different applications. But there are no diaries that say, ‘Here’s what we did and how we did it.’

So this was an exceptionally challenging piece for the Imperial porcelain works to make? Especially with the ancient firing techniques. It could have exploded. It could have sagged. That’s why the one in the Palace Museum is the “mother of porcelain.” When ours was discovered, it was ‘Aha! There’s another one.’

And would the Emperor have kept this Fencai Imperial Qianlong vase for himself? Yes, he would have been very proud of it. He would have rejoiced in the success of it. We know at least two survive. We don’t know if they came out of the kiln on the same day. It was so famous, even at the time, that reproductions were made. When we discovered our piece, it was listed as a reproduction. Since our sale, people have offered three or four reproductions done in the early 19th or 20th centuries.

How are you sure the Fencai Imperial Qianlong vase is not a reproduction? It was deaccessed from a very small museum. I was there. They said, ‘We have a very large vase that’s had some small repairs. Want to have a look?’ They dragged it out. It was dirty. I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I didn’t put it in the [Skinner] warehouse, I put it in my office. It sat here for a few months. One day I got a rag and bucket and cleaned it. I thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’ I didn’t know about the ‘mother of porcelain’ until I saw it in a book. Then I started to deconstruct the whole thing. I began to think the vase was from the same time period, and believe maybe it was one of a pair. It is identical [to the one in the Palace Museum]. With all the effort involved in producing this, it’s not conceivable that they’d only do one. We started to get information on the mark on the one in the Palace Museum, and it was identical. We had no one to confirm it. We had to publish it. It went viral in 48 hours. People flew in from Beijing to see it. That’s when we decided to do a preview during Asia Week in New York. It was thrilling to see excitement from people who knew what they were looking at.

How did you put an estimate on the Fencai Imperial Qianlong vase? We had no idea what to put on it. Nothing like it had sold. [Bidding opened at $150,000 to $250,000.]

Did it set an auction record for Chinese porcelain? When it sold for $24 million, that was the most paid for any work of Chinese art in the Western world. The only porcelain that sold for more was the Meiyintang Chicken Cup, which sold in Hong Kong for $36 million. It was thrilling to see the excitement of people all over the world. It was all about the ‘Wow’ factor of finding a second vase.

What was your role in the auction? Our CEO was the auctioneer. I was standing next to her. We had bidders on the phone and some in the room. We limited it to people who could give us a retainer. The only people who bid were qualified. There were 20 at the start. It went very quickly, but it started very slowly, going up by $100,000. Finally someone in the audience yelled, ‘$5 million.’ Then it just started, back and forth and back and forth. Then it slowed down to one person on the phone and one in the audience. The person in the audience won. People jumped up and clapped. It was very exciting.

What is the Fencai Imperial Qianlong vase like in person? [Laughs] We had several very important people come and look at it and say, ‘I think it’s ugly.’ It’s very ornate, and it’s big–38 inches tall. If you don’t like enameled, fancy, big vases, you won’t want to live with such a thing. The Emperor was making a statement. He wanted to have a piece that surpassed anything else in size and technique. That’s what makes it so special.

Why will this vase stick in your memory? Because there it was, hidden away for many years and sort of ignored. It was like Cinderella coming out to finally be appreciated and heralded for accomplishments done at the time. It was wonderful to be able to discover it. It kept speaking to me, in the corner of my big office. It wasn’t until I got a bucket of water that I thought, ‘Wow,’ then that was it. And I think everybody rejoiced [at its discovery]–it was special and touching for me to see. We are a mid-level auction house. Representatives from London, New York, and Hong Kong all came to see the vase. It’s an example of what a masterpiece it is. It speaks to everyone.

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You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

This post for The Hot Bid debuted on the Skinner blog on September 10, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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SOLD! Wanda Gág’s Study for The Poisoned Apple Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

The Poisoned Apple, a study by Wanda Gág [pronounced 'Gahg'] for an illustration in a 1938 edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Update: Wanda Gág’s study for The Poisoned Apple sold for $5,000.

What you see: The Poisoned Apple, a study by Wanda Gág [pronounced ‘Gahg’] for an illustration in a 1938 edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

How did this Snow White book project come about? Was it a reaction to the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? It is, it absolutely is. 1937 was the Disney film. While it was popular and became an iconic film, the depiction of the witch frightened children. Because of that, one year later, Anne Carroll Moore, a writer, reviewer, and critic of children’s books and an advocate for children’s libraries, wanted to go back to the original Brothers Grimm and soften some of the elements that Disney portrayed.

How did the 1938 version achieve what Moore wanted? It keeps more of the folkloric charm of the original. You asked if the fact that Gág translated it herself, if it shaped the story–it did. Gág’s father was from Bohemia, and they moved to Minnesota. She grew up with those fairy tales and stories. She understood folklore and fairy tales, and she knew the language. She was able to translate it and come up with a more accurate version of the Brothers Grimm tale.

The study for The Poisoned Apple is far more elaborate than the same scene in the Disney movie. Can you talk about how Wanda Gág approached this scene, and how she chose certain details? In the original Grimm, the queen made four attempts to kill Snow White…

It sounds kind of like the Michael Palin character in A Fish Called Wanda trying to kill the old lady and accidentally killing her dogs instead. Exactly! Exactly. The queen tries her damnedest. She comes to the door as a corset peddler. The dwarfs told Snow White was told she was not supposed to answer the door to anyone. The queen puts her in a corset and ties her in so tightly that she passes out. The dwarfs find her and revive her. Next, she went as a comb vendor. The different attempts to disguise herself are discarded on the floor [the pile of masks and clothes at the left of the illustration]–the peddler didn’t work, the comb didn’t work. She gets her with the poisoned apple. Snow White was hesitant to take it. She had the good sense to be wary. The queen makes the apple half poison and half safe, and takes her bite out of the apple pulp side, the safe side. I love that Gág is showing the recipe, how she created the poisoned apple to give to her stepdaughter. It looks kind of delightful until you look at the elements and realize how dark they really are.

The late 1930s were a time when the notion of “better living through chemistry” wasn’t laughable. Nylon had been invented a few years earlier. Do you think that the positive view of chemical breakthroughs shaped how Gág approached this illustration? The Disney scene has the witch standing over the traditional cauldron, but this scene is half lab, half kitchen. It’s an interesting connection to make, but I’m not sure if I’d 100 percent go there. Domestic science came in the teens. By 1937 and 1938, it was established. You definitely have those elements to it.

How different is the study from the illustration that appears in the book? Not terribly. It takes you a while to realize the differences. The composition is almost identical. In the book version, she defines the elements more. The vapors coming off the apple look more like a corona. It’s interesting to see the subtleties of how she directs the eye.

I don’t have the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in front of me, and I can’t recall it, but wouldn’t it have been harsher than the Disney version? It was. In the movie, the dwarfs dance around her and love Snow White. It’s symbiotic. In the book, they’re almost like little opportunists:”You can stay here and we will help keep you protected if you become our housekeeper.” They’re in the more classic tradition of dwarfs as mischievous and devious. They’re going to use her services. In the movie, when she falls under the spell, they put her in a glass coffin. In the book, the prince decides to take Snow White to a better resting place and attempts to move her to his castle, and one of his carriers trips. An act of clumsiness dislodges the apple from her throat and wakes her. She and the prince then decide to get married. In dark, grim fashion, the prince reveals to Snow White that the queen tried to murder her. They make the queen wear molten hot dance shoes and in a messed up Circus Maximus scene, they make her dance until she dies and they carry on with the rest of the wedding. Gág kept it. It’s still a violent image, but she kept it.

Is this the first piece of art from the Snow White book to come to auction? I didn’t find any others when I searched the Swann online archives. It is our first Snow White. Her other work does come up. She was a printmaker and a very skilled lithographer. The record-keeping for her work is really erratic. We seem to have the top price for a fine art work by her [an undated print, titled Outside Looking In, which sold in September 2008 for $6,480]. Skinner sold an ink on paper of a cat in a laundry basket in May 2016. That could be the top price for a Wanda Gág illustration.

Where are the rest of Wanda Gág’s illustrations for the Snow White book? The rest reside in the Kerlan collection at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota is where she grew up. A couple of studies have entered the market. The provenance for this piece is it was acquired by a German rare book and manuscripts dealer, Walter Schatzki. He had them and then he sold them in the early 1970s to another dealer, Justin G. Schiller. It went from Schiller to the current owner. That’s one of the reasons why the price is higher. It’s her best-known work outside of Millions of Cats. It’s a crucial scene from the book, and you can’t acquire [the final illustration] because it’s in the Kerlan collection.

What are the odds that The Poisoned Apple will set a new record for Wanda Gág at auction? The estimate straddles the price of Outside Looking In. It might, it might. I’d like to see it set a record. We’re still celebrating the 80th anniversary of the movie and the publication of the book. It’s one of her most important and defining creations. And this is its first time at auction. With enough luck and enough bidders, we’ll see it set a new record.

Why will this Wanda Gág piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] A couple of reasons. I like it because, in general, I love food and fairy tale images. For me, it’s a two-in-one. I’m the vice president of a local farmer’s market. I often deal with farmers and apples. I love any illustration that’s food- and fairy tale-based. I also like that it’s cartoon-like. The dark, thick lines lend that element to it.

How to bid: The study for The Poisoned Apple is lot 22 in Swann Auction Galleries‘s Illustration Art sale on December 6, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about an Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

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A Tiffany Studios Wisteria Table Lamp Could Command $650,000

A "Wisteria" table lamp by Tiffany Studios, circa 1905.

What you see: A “Wisteria” table lamp by Tiffany Studios, circa 1905. Phillips estimates it at $450,000 to $650,000.

The expert: Cordelia Lembo, Head of Design for Phillips in New York.

Where does the Wisteria table lamp design stand among Tiffany designs, in terms of its desirability when it was new, and its desirability now? The Wisteria lampshade’s naturalistic beauty has a broad appeal, outside of its historical and market contexts. It was one of the most popular and expensive shades in its time, and continues to be today.

How many iterations did Tiffany Studios make of this lamp? Is the table version the most popular? There are some slight variations in the shapes of the larger Wisteria table lamp shades, and then there is also the “Pony Wisteria” which is a miniaturized version.

Could you talk for a bit about Clara Driscoll, her importance to Tiffany, and how this Wisteria design testifies to her artistry? Clara Driscoll was Tiffany’s lead designer. She was behind some of his more elaborate and commercially successful shades, but it wasn’t until recent years that she has received the recognition she deserves. I highly recommend the book A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls for the full story of Clara Driscoll, her career and contributions to Tiffany. [A Wisteria lamp appears on the cover of the book.] She was a fascinating woman far ahead of her time in so many ways.

Could you talk a bit about what went into making a Wisteria table lamp? I get the impression that this shade was particularly labor-intensive. Yes, that is immediately evident in the intricate design which required around 2,000 pieces of glass. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Tiffany lamp production was the glass selection, a process in which a “glass selector” would choose the type of glass to be cut for specific placement on the lampshade. Even more than the design or glass-making processes, this is where you can see the individual perspective of the artisan.

This lamp dates to 1905. The Wisteria design was produced between 1901 and 1910. Does the date matter? Do collectors have a clear preference for Wisteria table lamps made early or late in the run? We’ve actually dated the lamp circa 1905, which is fairly standard dating for a Wisteria. Some lamps have certain indicators which, considered together, can give a more specific date within the window of production. As with some other Tiffany lamp models, the preference tends to be for earlier examples, but that is one factor among many.

How does this shade compare to other Wisteria table lamp shades that you have seen? What aspects of its color palette distinguish it? How does its appearance testify to the skill of the pair of artisans who assembled it? What strikes me about this shade is its delicacy and realism. The glass selector clearly intended to showcase the shape of individual blossoms. The paler pannicles [individual pieces of glass] can be interpreted as either a glittering background or white and pink blossoms. My favorite part about the lamp is that as light passes through the blue and purple glass, it colors the white glass a pale blue. These kinds of subtle and almost magical effects are one of the reasons that people are drawn to Tiffany.

I see in the lot notes that the shade has a tag that has the number 342, and the base is impressed with the number 342. Does that mean the shade and the base left the factory together, and have remained together? Or could it have left the factory with a different base and had the tree base swapped in later? “342” refers to the model number. I am not sure if this base and shade are an original pairing, though that is certainly possible. It would have originally been paired with a tree base. 

Phillips handled this particular Wisteria in 2012. How has the Tiffany lamp market changed over time? Are Wisteria table lamps even more desirable now than they were six years ago? The Tiffany market is one of the strongest and most consistent categories within 20th century design. A number of other Wisterias have come to market in the last five years, some of which have achieved truly exceptional results. This means that some of the collectors who were actively seeking to acquire a Wisteria no longer are, but also that these results have established certain benchmarks and brought visibility to the market, inviting new collectors to participate. The Design department at Phillips has a track record in bringing new audiences to established categories, and we are pleased to have the chance to introduce them to Tiffany.

How did you arrive at the estimate? As with any other, we took into account other auction results for similar examples, and in this case of course the 2012 result for this particular example.

How often do Tiffany Wisteria table lamps come to auction? Approximately 2-4 a year in recent years. But each one is unique.

What is the world auction record for a Tiffany Wisteria table lamp? I believe it is over 1.5 million USD, and there are more than a few results in the high six and low seven figures.

Does the lamp work? If so, what sort of bulb does it use, and how has its wiring changed over time? Are LED bulbs recommended now? If so, do LED bulbs change the appearance of the lit shade? The lamp does work, it’s very important that it illuminate! I recommend a bulb that doesn’t emit too warm of a light. 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? For me personally, this lamp was sold in my first sale at Phillips, and so for that reason alone I will always remember it. One of the best things about working at an auction house is that sometimes we have the chance to be the custodian of certain works more than once.

How to bid: The Tiffany Studios Wisteria table lamp is lot 25 in the Design Evening Sale at Phillips on December 13, 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.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Cordelia Lembo spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a record-setting Lucie Rie bowl.

I like Tiffany Studios lamps and all things Tiffany. I’ve written about Tiffany Studios and Clara Driscoll for Art & Antiques magazine and I did a piece for Andrew Harper Travel (now Hideaway Report) on a Tiffany Studios-themed tour of New York City.

You can buy A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls from Powell’s or your favorite independent bookstore.

Also, just sayin’: Somebody needs to do a solid period miniseries about Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. AMC? PBS? Netflix? Get on it, please, and see the “About the Hot Bid” page to contact me and compensate me for the idea. You’re welcome.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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SOLD! Frank Sinatra’s Copy of the 1961 Inauguration Program for John F. Kennedy Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

Frank Sinatra's copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Update: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy sold for $1,250.

What you see: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Sotheby’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

What is this deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program worth without the Sinatra provenance? It’s probably something like $700 to $1,000, but maybe that’s a bit aggressive–$600 to $800 for a deluxe limited edition that went to no one of consequence except being a big donor.

How big was the press run? When they don’t state a limitation, my assumption is it’s fairly high. Checking results at auction, the highest-number copy was in the 700s. If I had to speculate, I’d say 1,000 [were printed].

How often does the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program come to auction? Every couple of seasons, but it could come up at sales of political memorabilia, which is a separate area [from books and manuscripts]. There’s probably one available every 18 months.

What makes this version deluxe? The standard version would have been what you or I could obtain if we attended the Kennedy inaugural in 1961. This was made for presentation for donors to the inaugural event, which Sinatra certainly was, or to donors to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign. This was for VIPs, essentially.

How did Kennedy and Sinatra become friends? I don’t know that it’s known when they met, but it’s generally acknowledged that they met through Peter Lawford, being the senator’s brother-in-law and an associate member of the Rat Pack. Both were stars: Sinatra in entertainment, and Kennedy a rising star in politics. Both were charismatic, and both were the sort of people other people want to be around. There was mutual admiration. Sinatra was a New Deal FDR Democrat. He was probably excited to see a younger version of that.

Seems that Sinatra went all-in on Kennedy. He retooled High Hopes as a campaign song… I think Sammy Cahn wrote new lyrics for High Hopes as a campaign song. I think Sinatra saw a winner in Kennedy. He wanted to associate with that, and he believed in him. I think he felt he was a better choice for the country and he tried to convey that through campaigning. Sinatra had several peaks in his career. He could have made a lot of money singing anywhere, and he spent some of those nights on campaign appearances.

Does the 1961 inauguration of Kennedy represent the peak of the friendship of Kennedy and Sinatra? I think it has to, because the inaugural balls, the entertainment, Sinatra was put in charge of that. He chose not to treat that as an honorary position. He worked the telephone, strong-armed people, and turned out an amazing cavalcade of stars to perform. The president thanked him for his work. It had to be the pinnacle for Sinatra [who probably thought]: “I helped put him in the White House, and he acknowledged me.”

Can you talk about how the relationship between Kennedy and Sinatra ended? Sinatra, for all his charisma and bravado and his tough-guy exterior, did not like to be disappointed. He anticipated hosting President Kennedy, as he had hosted Senator Kennedy, at his Palm Springs estate in 1962. At the last minute, after making lots of preparations for Kennedy and the Secret Service to be there, he was informed that Kennedy would not stay at his property, but would stay with Bing Crosby instead. It was particularly irksome because Crosby was a Republican.

Why would Kennedy have chosen to stay with a Republican rather than another prominent Democrat in Palm Springs? Crosby may have been seen as safer than Sinatra, who was seen as a bad boy, and who was in the tabloids in a way that Crosby was not. The association [with Sinatra] could prove embarrassing in a way that associating with Crosby would not be.

The end of the friendship of Kennedy and Sinatra is tragic, but I don’t see how it could have been avoided. Kennedy had chosen his brother, Bobby, for attorney general, and was rightly getting heat for that, even though Bobby proved capable. One of Bobby’s main tasks was targeting the mob, and if Sinatra didn’t have mob ties, many believed he had them… This is pure speculation, but maybe Kennedy tried to get a message to Sinatra to the effect of “Look, if it was solely my choice, I’d be with you, but I’ve been advised I can’t do that.” It’s speculation that the president tried to explain it that way. I think it stung Sinatra very deeply. I do think he came to realize that President Kennedy didn’t really have an open choice to stay with him.

Sinatra was clearly hurt by the snub, but he hung onto this program and he mourned Kennedy’s death, even though he went on to campaign for Republicans… People do change their politics. Sinatra did campaign for Ronald Reagan, who was also a former New Deal FDR Democrat. I think that progression–as people get older, the move from one party to another is not unusual. It could be his political choices were based on the man rather than the platform. Just as he found Jack Kennedy more convivial than Richard Nixon, he may have found Ronald Reagan more convivial than Jimmy Carter. I do think the continuing involvement–he found in it something similar to the adrenalin rush he could get from performing. If you’re Frank Sinatra, you’re a pretty important guy, but you’re not the president.

But Sinatra kept the program until he died, despite how things ended between him and Kennedy. I think he recognized it was a great moment for him and a great friendship. Some friendships don’t last, but the memory does last. The assassination of Kennedy the following year may have contributed to him keeping this. There are other Kennedy items in the sale. I think he regretted that the friendship blew up or ended, but I don’t know that he regretted the friendship.

The condition of Frank Sinatra’s copy of the program is described as “extremities just rubbed, a bit shaken”. Could you elaborate? Any book, if you put it on a shelf, the corners especially tend to get rubbed or worn in something 60 years old. “Just rubbed” means a bit of wear and tear, maybe at the top of the spine where you put a finger to pull it off the shelf. It’s fairly straightforward. “Shaken” is related to the pages, the substance of the book itself, to the binding. It was printed to be a paperback and inserted into the binding to delineate it as a limited edition. The binding is not always the best quality. Literally, if you hold it in your hand and shake it, you’d see the pages were moving. Nothing is sewn into the binding, but nothing is loose.

What does the wear say about Frank Sinatra’s copy of the program, and what does it say about how often Sinatra or his wife might have taken it down from the shelf to look at it or show it to friends? I think it [the wear] is partly that, and partly–I don’t want to be harsh about it–though it was coveted at the time, it was not of the highest quality of manufacture. [The condition reflects] the quality of heavy use and mid-quality manufacture. Let’s put it that way.

The estimate on Sinatra’s deluxe limited edition copy of the 1961 inaugural program is $3,000 to $5,000. That strikes me as a little low. How did you choose that sum? It’s higher than any copy we’re aware of that has sold. Whenever you have a celebrity–and we learned this with the Jackie O estate auction–when there’s special interest with the provenance, it’s best not to build it into the estimate. It’s best to let the marketplace determine where it goes. We say the fact that it was Sinatra’s should increase the value three- or four-fold. In the event of a sale, it may see an increase of more than that.

Are there any notations or inscriptions in Frank Sinatra’s copy of the book? There are no notations, but I also think it’s a matter of… during the inauguration, you want to be seen as listening, not taking notes. And it’s pretty chock-a-block. It’s dense. There’s not a lot of space left for notes.

What’s the world auction record for one of these deluxe 1961 inaugural programs? Our estimate is already higher than the highest price. We’re saying that of the copies that have been for sale, this is worth more than any of them. The current record, and this is not quite a one-to-one comparison because it included other material from the 1961 inauguration, such as invitations, it was copy 776, signed by Mr. Foley as chairman of the commission and given to Edward J. Sullivan. It sold at another house for $2,745. Obviously, what we want when people look at the catalog [is to think] “That’s low, I can get it.” We want to pitch the estimate so it’s appealing and will create competition among bidders.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a huge Sinatra fan. I’ve listened to Sinatra for four decades. And I love association copies–something that underlines a friendship in a tangible way, This is tangible evidence of friendship between two of the greatest figures of 20th century America. It’s really evidence of the culmination of the friendship and probably a highlight for both of them. Kennedy got into the White House, and Sinatra was acknowledged as very important in achieving that goal.

How to bid: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program is lot 109 in Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra, a sale that takes place at Sotheby’s New York on December 6, 2018.

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Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Cassandra Hatton on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce Ceiling Light that Graced the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair Could Command $50,000 at Bonhams

A unique Torciere della Cultura ceiling light, designed by Sami El-Khazen and executed by Arredoluce between 1964 and 1965.

What you see: A unique Torciere della Cultura ceiling light, designed by Sami El-Khazen and executed by Arredoluce between 1964 and 1965. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.

What can you tell me about Sami El-Khazen, and about how he was chosen to design the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair? I can’t seem to find much. It’s incredibly hard to get info about him. I put hours upon hours into searching. He was in Lebanon in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when it was a cultural hotbed, the right time to be there. In 1988, he passed away. He was a vital designer, an architect, an unsung hero of modernism. [As for the story of how he was chosen to design a pavilion for the World’s Fair,] I’ve done a lot of research into it and it was not something I was able to discover. There’s relatively little in the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné, too. This piece is discussed in the opening, and they talk about him, but there’s no biography.

Do we know how long he’d been working with Arredoluce when he got the nod to create that World’s Fair Pavillion? No, we don’t know that either, or how it [the World’s Fair commission] came about. He designed it and Arredoluce provided all the manufacturing expertise. Arredoluce has been around since 1930. They were at the height of their success as a company [in the mid-1960s,] at the top of their game. It’s a piece of architecture in the way it’s been designed and put together.

Was the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair Sami El-Khazen’s crowning achievement? From what I read about him, he was not a product designer, he was an architect. This may be the only thing he produced outside of architecture.

Do period photographs of the Lebanon Pavillion survive? Yes. The way you see the lamp, it extends down almost to the floor, like a stalactite. It was spectacular. It must have been ten feet in height. It must have been the centerpiece of the pavillion.

Why did Sami El-Khazen and Arredoluce call it the Torciere della Cultura [lamp of culture]? I think it ties into what I was saying about Lebanon. In that period, they embraced modernity. It was a way of looking forward to the future. I think that’s what it was for them. It was made to symbolize Lebanon’s contribution to civilization and was designed to look like a tower of flame – representing the spread of Lebanese culture across the globe. It was exhibited in the pavilion’s Culture Room.

And the Shah of Iran saw the unique ceiling light and asked to buy it in 1965, or someone representing him did? That’s my supposition. There’s no discussion of that anywhere in the book [the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné], but I imagine he attended.

The lot notes say that the unique ceiling light “was sent to the Arredoluce factory in Monza [Italy] where it was dismantled and re-engineered into the present smaller proportioned work.” Do we know what, exactly, the artisans at Arredoluce did to modify the piece for installation in the dining room of the Shah’s palace? No, that’s not mentioned specifically. But it tapered to the floor, so it was cut down to a more user-size scale.

And let’s just stop here and discuss why it was okay to alter the unique ceiling light, and what made it okay. It was still a creation of Arredoluce. It [the changes] happened in El-Khazen’s lifetime, shortly after the show, and done with his approval. The ceiling light was completely impractical as it was. It was a huge thing, made into a more usable object.

Are there any period shots that show the unique ceiling light installed in the Shah’s palace dining room? No, there’s no interior shots, nothing that shows it in situ. It’s surprising how little information is out there about El-Khazen. Maybe it was destroyed in the war [the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990].

So, when we’re talking about works by Sami El-Khazen at auction… this ceiling light is pretty much it? Yes, this is it, which is why it resonates with us. As an auctioneer, it’s incredible to have something unique by a critically acclaimed company, Arredoluce, and which is shown in its catalogue raisonné. It ticks a lot of boxes. The fact that there’s not a lot known about El-Khazen makes it more beguiling. The other thing that appeals to us is it was in the 1964 World’s Fair. It was legendary at the time.

And this sold once before at auction, in 1985, but we don’t know which house sold it? No. The seller’s grandparents bought it. He does not recall where they bought it. He thinks it sold for around $70,000, which in 1985 is quite significant.

And 1985 predates most of the available online auction archives. Yes, exactly. It gets patchy even past 15 years on Artnet.

What condition is the unique ceiling light in? It’s in excellent condition. It was rewired for the U.S. [electrical system] in 1985, but it hasn’t been updated since then. The bulbs have not been modernized. It’s in working order, and it’s been very well-cared-for.

How many pieces comprise the unique ceiling light? It has about 170 individual pieces.

Are they fixed in place, or is there any play or give? No. It’s amazingly well-engineered. It tessellates together, firmly into place.

I see that it is strictly described as a “ceiling light,” never a “chandelier,” which people would expect to wiggle and sway a little. Yes, exactly. It’s quite densely packed. It’s a complex piece.

This is a unique lighting design, and it seems to be the only thing El-Khazen designed that isn’t a building. How did you arrive at the estimate of $30,000 to $50,000? We looked at comparables [somewhat similar things that sold at auction in the past] for Italian lighting–prices for rare or unique lamps by Stillnovo and Arredoluce. But you can’t be precise with something unique. It comes down to what people are willing to pay for. It’s not only unique, it’s by a top manufacturer in Italy at the time, and it has historic connections with the 1964 World’s Fair. There’s a lot of good factors that make it highly collectible, and the Middle Eastern feature makes it collectible as well. [With this,] you can’t hold out for a second. That gets people’s attention. It should really go above the top estimate.

What’s it like in person? It’s absolutely incredible. It’s got great presence. It’s obviously quite masculine, quite powerful.

Is it heavy? Very heavy. It’s bronze, nickel-plated bronze. It’s a very serious weight.

The Shah of Iran put this ceiling light in his palace dining room. Where could someone put it today? If the entryway in your home has a double-height ceiling, it would work. It’s the focal point of a room. Though it’s reduced in scale, it’s a great conversation piece to have in a modern home.

Why will this ceiling light stick in your memory? I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so unique. It speaks volumes of El-Khazen’s vision for design. It’s spectacular. There’s definitely an unwritten story somewhere.

How to bid: The unique mid-century ceiling light is lot 93 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design sale on December 14, 2018 in 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.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Arredoluce has a website (but it’s Italian-language only).

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

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SOLD! A British First Edition of the First Harry Potter Book Sells for $81,250 (Updated December 2018)

A British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, published in 1997.

December 5, 2018 update: Christie’s sold a British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $162,500 against an estimate of $45,000 to $65,000, setting a new world auction record. And yes, this means the top price for the book has DOUBLED between September 2017 and December 2018.

November 17, 2017 update: Bonhams reclaimed the world auction record for the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in a November 15 sale when an author’s presentation copy, inscribed by Rowling, commanded £106,250 ($140,204) on an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000 ($39,600 to $52,800).

Update to the Update: Hooray! Heritage Auctions sold the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $81,250well above the $56,249 fetched by a different copy at Bonhams in November 2016. Congratulations to James Gannon and all at Heritage!

Update: As of 8 am EST, the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone offered by Heritage Auctions carried a high bid of $50,000, with buyer’s premium. That’s about $7,000 shy of the current world record for the book. The auction closes today.

What you see: A British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published in 1997. Heritage Auctions doesn’t typically publish estimates, but its internal estimate is around $20,000, and it had an opening bid of $10,000.

Who is J.K. Rowling? Who is Harry Potter? C’mon, really? I have to explain this? Okay, in case some form of the Internet survives million and millions of years into the future, but these cultural references do not: J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series, which is about a maltreated orphan who discovers he is a wizard and gets to go to Hogwarts, a wizarding school in some vaguely British locale served by a shiny red train. Rowling’s publisher recommended she reduce her name to gender-ambiguous first and middle initials to better attract young male readers. (Her first name is Joanne; she doesn’t actually have a middle name, but chose ‘K’, for Katherine, to honor her paternal grandmother.) Harry Potter was a hit pretty much from day one and became an unimaginably huge global phenomenon. As of 2017, 20 years after the first Harry Potter book appeared, Rowling is the ninth-best-selling fiction author ever. She is 52.

How rare are first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Pretty rare. Bloomsbury printed 500, 300 of which went to British libraries, where they presumably lived hard lives before they were retired from circulation in favor of fresher, later-printed editions of the book.

Is the copy now at Heritage Auctions an ex-library copy? No. It’s one of the 200 that were not sent to British libraries. James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage, says this copy has had multiple owners. It is described as being in “nearly fine” condition, which Gannon says “has to mean it wasn’t handled very much.”

Even though only 500 copies of the British first edition of Harry Potter were printed, and we don’t know how many of them survive, I seem to see the book at auction fairly often. Why is that? In response, Gannon cites a favorite quote of his: “‘Nothing makes a book common like a high price.’ It’s true. They come out of the woodwork when people see an auction result and think, ‘I’d sell for that.'”

How valuable are ex-library copies of the British first edition? “Being an ex-library copy usually hurts the value a lot, but not in this case,” he says. He notes that while some British librarians probably realized the value of the book and pulled it and replaced it with a copy from a later press run, and it’s likely that some collectors approached British libraries and offered fat donations in exchange for their first editions, he has not handled any copies that have those backgrounds.

Are American first editions of the first Harry Potter book worth anything? Yes, but not nearly as much as the British first edition. “In my mind, it’s a $2,000 book,” Gannon says, adding that the American first edition press run was 35,000–significantly bigger than the British, and reflective of the hold the story already had on the imaginations of readers by the time of the initial American printing. “If you have a set of the seven American Harry Potters, and if one is the first edition in its jacket, that’s where most of the value is.”

As of August 30, which is about two weeks before the auction ends, the book had been bid up to $19,000. Does that mean anything? “Not to me. All that matters is the last number. It’ll make more than $20,000, that’s for sure,” Gannon says. “I do have clients who call me every few months and ask me when I’m getting a copy.” The auction record for a British first edition of the first Harry Potter book belongs to a copy sold at Bonhams in November 2016. It commanded £43,750 ($56,249), was described as being in “exceptionally fine” condition, and included a few interesting typos, such as spelling out the author’s name on the copyright page.

What else stands out about this book? “It’s interesting to me, from a pure market consideration, how this is a book everyone knows is very rare,” he says. “A lot of famous modern first editions, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they’re coveted, and they come up, but Harry Potter is rare. If I was a collector, I’m not sure I could get a copy I can afford in my lifetime. As time goes on, it’s only going to get more expensive.” He recalled an episode from his previous role at Heritage Rare Book Shop in Los Angeles (no connection with the auction house), when he paid $15,000 for a signed British first edition, priced it at $30,000, and stocked it next to a first edition of Walden that was listed at $10,000. “People got peeved at us, but it was an instance of supply and demand with the Harry Potter book. The supply is tiny, and the demand is huge.”

How to bid: The British first edition of the first Harry Potter book is lot #45111 in the Rare Books Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which ends on September 14.

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. Rowling is on Twitter, too, and she is fiercely awesome there on a regular basis.

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SOLD! The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Update: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone sold for $9,375.

What you see: The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Prop Store estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: James Comisar, president of the Comisar collection. He’s also the consigner.

Let’s start by talking about the place in the culture that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse holds. What makes it a good television show, and why does it endure? It continues to resonate because it was loved by schoolkids, college kids, and adults. It was the perfect mix of everything, and it appealed to everybody. Just as Mr. Rogers is getting his due, I think Paul Reubens [creator of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the actor who played the main character, Pee-Wee Herman], in 20 years, will get his due. He created an amazing, organic, joyful world where kids could be kids. He spoke down to nobody, and it was incredibly inclusive. It’s one of the most perfect pieces of television in the last 70 years. I think the secret sauce was its authenticity, and the main character was positive. That never goes out of style.

Why did you want to acquire the Picturephone Booth? What made it important enough for you to pursue? I should back up. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is situated in Puppetland. Pee-Wee is sequestered in his own fantasy world. His conduit to the world is this Picturephone Booth. In that way, it’s very special. And in the 80s [the show ran on CBS from 1986 through 1990] the idea of a video phone booth was interesting. Reubens gave it his own spin. He had his own sensibility for everything.

Is the Picturephone Booth well-built? It’s built to look great on camera. As a general rule, pieces look better on camera than they do in person. When a show is in production and a prop is being used, it has an economic value to the production. It’s cared for well. After the show ends production, there’s a mad dash to get it off the stage so a new show can come in and the studio can continue to earn revenue. It’s an indelicate process. When we first received these pieces, they were in studio storage and they had a bit of wear. There was damage to the paint. There were cracks.

Did you have to restore or conserve it? First, we had to stabilize it. It’s a pretty strong and durable piece, but it had been banged around a bit after production [after the show ended]. Once we dealt with the structural issues… No professional archivist wants to take a historic piece and make it look fresh and pretty again. The goal is to get rid of any damaging influences. When pieces live in studio storage, it’s not a climate-controlled facility. It’s on the outskirts of town, 65 cents a foot. It’s 35 degrees in winter and 110 degrees in summer. Bad things happen in studio storage rather quickly. They shove it into a warehouse, and shove stuff around it, and on top of it. [With the Picturephone,] there was nothing catastrophic to be sure, but it still took over a year to accomplish the intake. It required a textile conservator to come in. Then you have wood, and leather, and foam, which is worse than any material, certain to deteriorate. We went slowly and cautiously. Our job was to do the minimum, not the maximum.

I see that only one name is in the provenance, and it’s Paul Reubens. How did you acquire this from him? I believe the initial contact was around 1992, a year after the show had gone off the air. I had numerous conversations with his business manager before I met Paul. The way I found this stuff was I was [in a studio storage warehouse] working for another client, and I found a recognizable puppet for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I thought, “No, could it be?” Once Paul’s team was made aware of what was going on, he wanted the pieces to have a more appropriate configuration than studio dead storage.

Did Reubens take some of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props back? Absolutely, absolutely. But even if you have a 15,000-square-foot home, you have space limitations. The reality eventually sets in that you cannot keep everything. Paul Rubens kept a lot from the show, and it’s evident that the pieces meant a lot to him. It wasn’t just stuff. It sprung from his brain. It’s still influencing people decades later. It was painful to decide what to save and what to give to another archive.

Well, the Picturephone is furniture, isn’t it? It’s furniture, but it’s an amazing, sculptural piece of artwork. It was created with an almost avant-garde sensibility. It’s almost like folk art in the way it’s put together.

How original is the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone? It’s two percent restored to 98 percent original. A couple of the dowels that form the eyelashes were broken or missing and had to be replaced. There was paint [the paint required touching up], and surface cleaning. The curtain, which extends across the front for privacy, is original. The textile conservator carefully cleaned it. Even the rings that attach the curtain to the front are original, scrubbed by hand.

Sounds like a lot of work went into it. If this piece sells for $10,000 to $15,000, oh, my dear god in heaven, we spent so much more than that restoring it and caring for it for 25 years. Whoever gets that, if they get it for $10,000, that represents a loss to us. But you can’t keep everything. A piece like that takes up a lot of room on the floor, and you can’t stack anything in it or on it. If you can tell the story of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with three smaller objects [rather] than one that will take up real estate, you’re going to do it.

It’s amazing it survived so well. I believe the universe put me where I needed to be to advocate for these pieces. The puppet head was poking out, I know, so I could see it and advocate for it. This is much more than a job to me. It’s what I do. I don’t question it. I’m grateful I was there at a time when I could rescue it. [I asked him if he remembered which Pee-Wee’s Playhouse puppet caught his eye that day in the early 1990s; he could not say for sure.]

How did you get what you managed to get from the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props? When I met Paul at the warehouse, he was very passionate, but a very practical man. There was a Paul pile, a Goodwill pile, with appliances from the set and toys that someone else could use, and a Dump pile. A studio truck was hired to take the discarded pieces to the landfill. That was the end of the road for those things. There was no James pile. My job was to convince him to give me what pieces I could get from the Paul pile and the Dump pile. It was difficult for him to part with any of them, which I respected.

What’s the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone like in person? Monumental. This is a big, hulking piece, but it’s got a joyful character. It’s got eyes, and pouty lips that open up like saloon doors. It’s colorful, joyful, and recognizable. It’s a home run in every way.

How many people can fit inside the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone booth? One, comfortably. I think it’s meant for one person. We don’t normally sit in the pieces. I think it was made just for him.

So you haven’t sat inside it? Absolutely not. It would be sacrilege, treacherous. It’s a piece of history and art. It’s not for me to degrade it by sitting in it.

Ok, I’ve gotta ask. Where is Chairry? Did Paul Reubens claim Chairry? That falls into the area of client privilege. I’m not able to say what he did and didn’t do. Rest assured the iconic pieces from the show are in his collection or an archival collection. Don’t worry. Chairry is cherished.

How to bid: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Booth is lot 156 in Prop Store‘s TV Treasures auction on December 1, 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.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

Comisar is also the president of the Museum of Television.

The Picturephone appears at three or four points in the background in the opening credits of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. And that’s an uncredited Cyndi Lauper singing the theme song.

Yes, there is a Pee-Wee Wiki. Here’s the entry for the Picturephone.

Also! Google “Technology’s Greatest Visionary,” on Google Images, and take in the top row of images that the search engine spits back at you.

Image is courtesy of Prop Store.

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

Sotheby’s Has High Hopes for Frank Sinatra’s Copy of the 1961 Inauguration Program for John F. Kennedy, Estimated at $3,000 to $5,000

Frank Sinatra's copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

What you see: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition of the 1961 official program of the inaugural ceremonies for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Sotheby’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Selby Kiffer, senior vice president and international senior books specialist for Sotheby’s New York.

What is this deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program worth without the Sinatra provenance? It’s probably something like $700 to $1,000, but maybe that’s a bit aggressive–$600 to $800 for a deluxe limited edition that went to no one of consequence except being a big donor.

How big was the press run? When they don’t state a limitation, my assumption is it’s fairly high. Checking results at auction, the highest-number copy was in the 700s. If I had to speculate, I’d say 1,000 [were printed].

How often does the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program come to auction? Every couple of seasons, but it could come up at sales of political memorabilia, which is a separate area [from books and manuscripts]. There’s probably one available every 18 months.

What makes this version deluxe? The standard version would have been what you or I could obtain if we attended the Kennedy inaugural in 1961. This was made for presentation for donors to the inaugural event, which Sinatra certainly was, or to donors to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign. This was for VIPs, essentially.

How did Kennedy and Sinatra become friends? I don’t know that it’s known when they met, but it’s generally acknowledged that they met through Peter Lawford, being the senator’s brother-in-law and an associate member of the Rat Pack. Both were stars: Sinatra in entertainment, and Kennedy a rising star in politics. Both were charismatic, and both were the sort of people other people want to be around. There was mutual admiration. Sinatra was a New Deal FDR Democrat. He was probably excited to see a younger version of that.

Seems that Sinatra went all-in on Kennedy. He retooled High Hopes as a campaign song… I think Sammy Cahn wrote new lyrics for High Hopes as a campaign song. I think Sinatra saw a winner in Kennedy. He wanted to associate with that, and he believed in him. I think he felt he was a better choice for the country and he tried to convey that through campaigning. Sinatra had several peaks in his career. He could have made a lot of money singing anywhere, and he spent some of those nights on campaign appearances.

Does the 1961 inauguration of Kennedy represent the peak of the Kennedy-Sinatra friendship? I think it has to, because the inaugural balls, the entertainment, Sinatra was put in charge of that. He chose not to treat that as an honorary position. He worked the telephone, strong-armed people, and turned out an amazing cavalcade of stars to perform. The president thanked him for his work. It had to be the pinnacle for Sinatra [who probably thought]: “I helped put him in the White House, and he acknowledged me.”

Can you talk about how their relationship ended? Sinatra, for all his charisma and bravado and his tough-guy exterior, did not like to be disappointed. He anticipated hosting President Kennedy, as he had hosted Senator Kennedy, at his Palm Springs estate in 1962. At the last minute, after making lots of preparations for Kennedy and the Secret Service to be there, he was informed that Kennedy would not stay at his property, but would stay with Bing Crosby instead. It was particularly irksome because Crosby was a Republican.

Why would Kennedy have chosen to stay with a Republican rather than another prominent Democrat in Palm Springs? Crosby may have been seen as safer than Sinatra, who was seen as a bad boy, and who was in the tabloids in a way that Crosby was not. The association [with Sinatra] could prove embarrassing in a way that associating with Crosby would not be.

The end of the friendship is tragic, but I don’t see how it could have been avoided. Kennedy had chosen his brother, Bobby, for attorney general, and was rightly getting heat for that, even though Bobby proved capable. One of Bobby’s main tasks was targeting the mob, and if Sinatra didn’t have mob ties, many believed he had them… This is pure speculation, but maybe Kennedy tried to get a message to Sinatra to the effect of “Look, if it was solely my choice, I’d be with you, but I’ve been advised I can’t do that.” It’s speculation that the president tried to explain it that way. I think it stung Sinatra very deeply. I do think he came to realize that President Kennedy didn’t really have an open choice to stay with him.

Sinatra was clearly hurt by the snub, but he hung onto this program and he mourned Kennedy’s death, even though he went on to campaign for Republicans… People do change their politics. Sinatra did campaign for Ronald Reagan, who was also a former New Deal FDR Democrat. I think that progression–as people get older, the move from one party to another is not unusual. It could be his political choices were based on the man rather than the platform. Just as he found Jack Kennedy more convivial than Richard Nixon, he may have found Ronald Reagan more convivial than Jimmy Carter. I do think the continuing involvement–he found in it something similar to the adrenalin rush he could get from performing. If you’re Frank Sinatra, you’re a pretty important guy, but you’re not the president.

But Sinatra kept the program until he died, despite how things ended between him and Kennedy. I think he recognized it was a great moment for him and a great friendship. Some friendships don’t last, but the memory does last. The assassination of Kennedy the following year may have contributed to him keeping this. There are other Kennedy items in the sale. I think he regretted that the friendship blew up or ended, but I don’t know that he regretted the friendship.

The condition of Frank Sinatra’s copy is described as “extremities just rubbed, a bit shaken”. Could you elaborate? Any book, if you put it on a shelf, the corners especially tend to get rubbed or worn in something 60 years old. “Just rubbed” means a bit of wear and tear, maybe at the top of the spine where you put a finger to pull it off the shelf. It’s fairly straightforward. “Shaken” is related to the pages, the substance of the book itself, to the binding. It was printed to be a paperback and inserted into the binding to delineate it as a limited edition. The binding is not always the best quality. Literally, if you hold it in your hand and shake it, you’d see the pages were moving. Nothing is sewn into the binding, but nothing is loose.

What does the wear say about Frank Sinatra’s copy of the book, and what does it say about how often Sinatra or his wife might have taken it down from the shelf to look at it or show it to friends? I think it [the wear] is partly that, and partly–I don’t want to be harsh about it–though it was coveted at the time, it was not of the highest quality of manufacture. [The condition reflects] the quality of heavy use and mid-quality manufacture. Let’s put it that way.

The estimate on Sinatra’s deluxe limited edition copy of the 1961 inaugural program is $3,000 to $5,000. That strikes me as a little low. How did you choose that sum? It’s higher than any copy we’re aware of that has sold. Whenever you have a celebrity–and we learned this with the Jackie O estate auction–when there’s special interest with the provenance, it’s best not to build it into the estimate. It’s best to let the marketplace determine where it goes. We say the fact that it was Sinatra’s should increase the value three- or four-fold. In the event of a sale, it may see an increase of more than that.

Are there any notations or inscriptions in Frank Sinatra’s copy the book? There are no notations, but I also think it’s a matter of… during the inauguration, you want to be seen as listening, not taking notes. And it’s pretty chock-a-block. It’s dense. There’s not a lot of space left for notes.

What’s the world auction record for one of these deluxe 1961 inaugural programs? Our estimate is already higher than the highest price. We’re saying that of the copies that have been for sale, this is worth more than any of them. The current record, and this is not quite a one-to-one comparison because it included other material from the 1961 inauguration, such as invitations, it was copy 776, signed by Mr. Foley as chairman of the commission and given to Edward J. Sullivan. It sold at another house for $2,745. Obviously, what we want when people look at the catalog [is to think] “That’s low, I can get it.” We want to pitch the estimate so it’s appealing and will create competition among bidders.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a huge Sinatra fan. I’ve listened to Sinatra for four decades. And I love association copies–something that underlines a friendship in a tangible way, This is tangible evidence of friendship between two of the greatest figures of 20th century America. It’s really evidence of the culmination of the friendship and probably a highlight for both of them. Kennedy got into the White House, and Sinatra was acknowledged as very important in achieving that goal.

How to bid: Frank Sinatra’s copy of the deluxe limited edition 1961 inaugural program is lot 109 in Lady Blue Eyes: Property of Barbara and Frank Sinatra, a sale that takes place at Sotheby’s New York on December 6, 2018.

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

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SOLD! A Maurice Sendak-designed Crocodile Costume from the Opera Goose of Cairo Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L'Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Update: The Sendak-designed complete crocodile costume for Goose of Cairo sold for $3,750.

What you see: A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L’Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rago Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Justin G. Schiller, a specialist in rare and collectible children’s books. He co-created the corporation that consigned the costume to Rago Auctions.

So, how many operas did Sendak design for? Altogether I believe he did 15 operas and ballets. He began in 1980, with The Magic Flute, and his career went through to 2004 or 2005, with Brundibar. He was very interested in the experience of developing not only the sets and costumes, but trying to make the characters interactive.

Was this character the only crocodile character in Goose of Cairo, or was it one of several crocodiles? I think there was only one involved in the production. This is one of the few Sendak costumes that is complete. The head and feet are the main parts of those costumes. The bodysuits were painted to fit, but the crocodile costume was so specific, they kept everything.

Why is this costume described in the lot heading as being “After Maurice Sendak” rather than designed by Maurice Sendak? Maurice would have done the design on paper. The costume was created by the seamstresses, the people who make the costumes. In some cases, you see Maurice fix up the costume once it’s on the actor or the actress. He did the pictures, they did the physical production.

So he wouldn’t have been involved with making sure the costume was comfortable for the actor to wear? Yes, but if there was any problem with the fitting, he would have been consulted.

What do we know about Sendak’s approach to costume design? He took it very seriously. For example, when he was doing Hansel and Gretel, he went to German forests and studied the landscaping. It took him seven years to create.

Apparently it’s rare for a Sendak costume to survive intact, as this one does. How did it manage to do that? The production for Goose of Cairo was very short-lived. They [the few Goose of Cairo items that were found] were in a separate storage unit. It’s one of only two pieces of the production that survive. The other is a mechanical goose of Cairo that gets wheeled onstage, which Richard Michelson has. Goose of Cairo was never considered a main production, because it was an unfinished opera by Mozart. It’s usually presented as an interlude. It ran for about half an hour, and something else would have come with it. Maybe that’s why there weren’t many costumes.

Why are Sendak-designed costumes so scarce, compared to Sendak-designed sets? Probably because sets get rolled on stage or lowered on stage, and when they’re not on stage, they’re protected. Costumes get handled and used constantly. The condition of the crocodile is unusually good. It’s a simpler costume: bodysuit, head, gloves, foot coverings.

Is this crocodile costume a good representative of his opera costume design work? I would think it’s a very good example. The head is probably papier-mâché molded on top of a helmet so it fits on the head of an actor. From there, they’d build out the rest of the head, the body suit, the painted fabric. Several of the costumes we had would have the names of actors inside them and the names of the production companies.

Is that true here? No. I believe the crocodile had only one actor. When you have multiple figures wearing the same cluster of costumes, like in The Love for Three Oranges, different actors play the roles, and they all need to be fitted. Having names on them makes it much simpler.

And the provenance for this Sendak costume–it went from the New York City Opera to you to Rago Auctions? Yes, exactly. We specialize in Sendak.

How did you come to own the Sendak costume? The New York City Opera decided to sell all [the sets and costumes] they didn’t plan to put into sequence again [in 2013]. We decided to acquire as much as we could from productions they still had examples of.

How many costumes did you acquire? It didn’t seem like a lot. We purchased ten or twelve.

How many complete Sendak-designed costumes survive? I don’t really know. There were a few major ones. There was a fabulous one with a very grand lady who was a pig, and a bear dressed up like a lord, [both] for a different opera, and they went for $4,000 to $6,000 each, as the hammer price [the price before the premium and other fees are applied]. I talked to the collector afterward. She was a very serious collector of opera and theater costumes. It was a unique opportunity to acquire a costume by Sendak.

When Sendak created book illustrations, he worked in two dimensions. When he created opera costumes, he had to think, to some extent, in three dimensions. How did he handle this challenge? Sometimes it’s the costume people, but Maurice’s drawings often show a profile, how it looks from the side. But sets are one thing, costumes are another. The catalog only shows side views of the crocodile head. Head on, it’s fantastic.

What details on the crocodile costume mark it as a Sendak design? Maybe with certain specific styles, you can look at it and say that’s a David Hockney or that’s a Picasso. With Sendak, I would say basically the [sense of] fantasy, of playfulness. His ogress would be friendly, even if the character was not.

What jumped out and me and said “Sendak” was the crocodile’s eyes, and the snout. It certainly was the eyes that got us. They’re wonderful, almost yolk-colored eyes. The snout–most artists would draw it as menacing. Sendak’s snout is friendly instead of menacing, despite all the teeth.

The condition report states that the Sendak costume has “wear commensurate with theatrical use.” What does that mean in this context? It’s got scuffs or scrapes on the bottom of the tail and the foot coverings? That [the language] is mostly so people don’t think it’s brand new. The bodysuit may have a tear in the stitching, but overall, it’s quite good, and very dramatic.

Have you or your gallery partner or anyone at Rago Auctions tried on the Sendak-designed costume? You need a slim body [to wear it]. We told Rago they’d need some kind of body form [to display it and photograph it]. They were able to find a person on staff who could do the pictures. We were surprised and pleased that they were able to do that.

How does the wearer see? There are eyeholes in the neck.

Do you know what size the Sendak-designed costume is? I don’t. Dennis [Dennis David, Schiller’s gallery partner] is suggesting it’s probably more of a medium. Maybe that’s why the crocodile is not looking too hungry.

Is the head attached to the tail, or are they separate pieces? The head is certainly separate. The tail is attached with button snaps to the back of the bodysuit. The gloves are part of the bodysuit. The head, in itself, is very decorative.

What’s the auction record for a Sendak-designed costume? The only auction I know of is from the New York City Opera sale, three costumes that were very elaborate in themselves. We were the underbidder. They were probably from The Love of Three Oranges. Those sold for between $4,000 and $6,000 each.

How to bid: The Sendak-designed costume is lot 1141 in the Curiouser and Curiouser sale at Rago Auctions on December 1, 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.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Justin G. Schiller has a website. Two, actually.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! Richard Feynman’s 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded to Richard Feynman in 1965 for his contributions to creating a new quantum electrodynamics.

Update: Feynman’s 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics sold for $975,000.

What you see: The Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded to Richard Feynman in 1965 for his contributions to creating a new quantum electrodynamics. Sotheby’s estimates it at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

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

In the press release for the sale and in the raw lot notes for the Nobel Prize, Feynman is described as a “rock star of physics” and “one of the most beloved scientists of all time.” What makes him so? I think what earns him the title of the “rock star of physics” is his personality–who he was as a human, and his intellectual capacity. If you look at other physicists of his caliber, you don’t see relatable humans with the same intellect. You could compare Feynman to Einstein, but Feynman loved teaching, and it was more important to him than theoretical work. Rock stars transcend their genres. They’re not just musicians. Feynman transcended his work. He would always say there’s nothing magical here, that he was just very curious, worked hard on the questions, and figured it out. But he inspired people, and he imparted excitement to people.

Feynman died 30 years ago, but he’s just as popular now as he was when he was alive. How has he managed to persist? Why hasn’t his memory faded? Partly it’s because of his personality, who he was. A lot of scientists are best known for their work. With others, the subject that won the prize is far more famous than the person who did the work. Because Feynman was such a popular figure, he was able to stay popular.

Have his books and his former students played a role in keeping his memory alive? He taught so many people who went on to teach other people who are super-successful and doing things they love to do. Not all are physicists, but they apply what they learned from Feynman to their lives. One of his biggest lessons was to enjoy life and enjoy what you’re doing. I’ve met many of his students, and they’re generally happy, fun-loving people. And I think the books definitely help.

It’s interesting that Feynman’s fame persists without the help of an Academy Award-winning film, such as A Beautiful Mind. At the end of the day, an Oscar-winning film is just an Oscar-winning film. Feynman doesn’t need a film. He became his own legend. He’s one of the rare people who was human, fun-loving, and also a fun-loving genius. He defied the stereotype of the scientist in a lab, not interacting people, with no social skills. He was the opposite of that.

Feynman won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for work on quantum electrodynamics. Using non-technical language, can you explain why his contribution to science was such a big deal? Feynman was asked the same question, and he said, “Hell, if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel prize.” To be frank, I don’t understand it completely.

Feynman was one of three who earned the 1965 prize for work on this problem. Did he work directly with his fellow winners, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga? They were all working on similar problems independently, but they knew about each other and were aware of each other’s work. Schwinger and Tomonaga took a mathematical approach to how to reconcile quantum mechanics, a 19th century science, with quantum electrodynamics, a 20th century science. Feynman’s approach was completely original and took a completely different direction. One of the ways he explained it it was by coming up with Feynman diagrams [click those words to see what a Feynman diagram looks like]. Those diagrams really revolutionized how we do quantum electrodynamics. They’re standard now.

How did Feynman learn that he’d won the Nobel Prize? He got a phone call at 4 am from a reporter. My understanding is he was unhappy about it [both the crazy-early phone call and the news of the win]. He asked his wife, Gweneth, how he could get out of it. He had a good life, and he knew the win would change things. I think the way it goes is she said, ‘Dear, the publicity would be worse if you don’t accept the prize.’ So he went to Stockholm and ended up having a great time. Feynman had been raised with a suspicion of institutions and authority. [Receiving the prize] played into his reluctance, because it was another symbol of the establishment. But he realized the machine had started running, and it’s harder to stop the machine than go along with it.

What did Feynman do with his share of the Nobel Prize money? He spent part of it on a vacation house in Mexico, and he bought a van. There’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which they take the Richard Feynman van and drive down to Mexico and stay in Richard Feynman’s vacation home.

Have the other two Nobel Prizes in Physics for 1965 come to auction? No. I keep a spreadsheet of all the Nobel Prizes ever sold. I’ve been obsessed with the market for Nobels for a long time–I started tracking them in 2012. They have not come up.

How have you seen the market for Nobel Prizes change over time? A few had come up, three or four, since 1988. Then Francis Crick’s Nobel sold at Heritage Auctions for $2.2 million in 2013, and it kind of sparked a flurry. It was the highest price ever paid for a Nobel, and it really got a lot of attention. It was followed by James Watson’s Nobel Prize selling at Christie’s in 2014 for $4.7 million. What’s really interesting is most of what we sell has no inherent value, but the story is what is valuable. Whereas a Nobel Prize actually has a value. Prizes minted before 1985 are made from 23-karat solid gold. Depending on the value of gold, they’re worth about $10,000. Prizes minted after 1985 are plated with 24-karat gold.

The price range for Nobel Prizes at auction is all over the place. Which ones sell for the most money? I’ve been trying to figure out which categories are worth more. The fewer the words you need to explain why a person won the Nobel, the more it sells for. With Watson, it’s “DNA.” No need to explain. “DNA” is enough. With Feynman, you can just say “Feynman.” No one is going to ask me to explain quantum electrodynamics, thank God.

How often does Feynman material come up at auction? It’s super-rare. There have been two manuscripts by Feynman to come to market. One was at Sotheby’s in 2006–lecture notes from one of his students, who was helping transcribe them. The other was a sheet of calculations he signed to Egon Lehmkuhl, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2008. Do you know who bought that?

No. I bought it. I was a dealer at the time. I sold it and I started looking for Feynman material obsessively. Those two manuscripts that came up were total flukes. All his material is in the archives at Caltech. Since then, four copies of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! that he signed and gave to friends have come up. One of them sold at Sotheby’s last year for $43,750.

What else comes with Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize as part of the lot? There’s the Nobel, the box it comes in, the diploma, and two programs. One says things like ‘the limo comes at this time, this is a white-tie party, you’ll eat this meal.’ The other is a program with translations of the Nobel speeches. On the back, Feynman has doodled Feynman diagrams. To get Feynman diagrams on the back of a Nobel Prize ceremony program is pretty cool.

Has a Feynman diagram drawn by Feynman ever gone to auction before? Prior to this, no. There are other manuscript lots in the sale that have Feynman diagrams.

I’m surprised that more Feynman material hasn’t managed to escape to the market, here and there. Yeah. Again, because he gave just about everything to Caltech, what stayed at his house were things he probably thought weren’t important. But when you look at them, you realize they’re extremely important. Final manuscripts don’t tell you much. How he gets there is much more interesting. What you see in the manuscripts [offered in other lots in the November 30 sale] is how he gets there. You see how he gets from A to Z.

What other Feynman pieces are in the sale besides Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize? There are about 40 lots. They include a tambourine, very conveniently signed by him, thank you Richard Feynman, which he bought in Copacabana, Brazil. He talks about it in Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and it’s torn from being played too much. There’s his undergraduate copy of Paul Dirac’s The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, with his handwritten annotations. Some [pages] have very heavy annotation. One says ‘prove this one day’ or ‘figure it out one day’–it’s the book that made Feynman Feynman. [Later she clarified: The notation is “analyze this some day”, and it’s in a section about the polarization of photons.] There are transcripts from the Oppenheimer hearing. There are some arithmetic books from his undergraduate years. The books are really, really interesting. He lived in a frat house at MIT. One book has his MIT address and his address in Far Rockaway. Then another book just has the MIT address–a shift that says ‘This is my home now.’ There are clues that tell you about the young Feynman.

Whoa, whoa. What was it like for you to look through all that stuff? Honestly, I teared up. I could not believe it. I could not believe it. I had said to a colleague the year before that the only Nobel Prize I wanted to sell is Richard Feynman’s. To get that call… I’m a specialist in science and technology. I don’t talk about fate, but it felt like cosmic alignment to get that call.

The estimate on Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize is $800,000 to $1.2 million. The world auction record for a Nobel Prize is $4.7 million. Do you think Feynman’s has a chance to approach or beat the record? I’m optimistic it will exceed the estimate, but at the end of the day, it’s just an estimate. I don’t know how it will do until the day of the auction, but it’s not… it’s such a weird thing to say, but it’s not a regular Nobel Prize. Because Richard Feynman is a celebrity, he’s in a different category. There’s no comparable [no lot sold before at auction] that’s exactly like it. It’s an unusual situation. The work [that the Nobel Prize recognizes] is tremendously important and the personality is tremendously important. That Venn diagram is what buyers look for.

The Nobel Prize world auction record belongs to one that was awarded to a scientist. Why? Why hasn’t a Nobel Prize for Literature or Peace sold for more? Part of it is looking at the demographics of the buyers. If you look at the Forbes 500, a lot of the wealth today comes from or relates to science. And a lot of people are motivated by nostalgia, a time when they were happy and young. With Feynman, bidders remember studying his work in college or reading Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and being inspired by him. It’s not that Nobel Prizes for Peace or Literature are less important. There are just fewer buyers.

How many Nobel Prizes have you handled? How is this one different? I’ve handled six or less. The others were certainly important and exciting, but this one got my pulse going. You try not to be, how can I say it, emotionally involved in a sale, because sometimes, things don’t sell. This is something I’ve been obsessed with. Feynman is my favorite scientist of all time. I’ve got pictures of him in my office. I don’t know how I’m going to top this one, let’s put it like that.

How to bid: Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize is lot 67 in the History of Science & Technology sale at Sotheby’s New York on November 30, 2018.

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

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Cassandra Hatton on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about an Apollo 13 space-flown flight plan, which ultimately sold for $275,000–more than six times its high estimate.

If you haven’t yet read Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! yet, you have a treat ahead of you. Purchase it from an independent bookseller, such as The Strand Bookstore in New York City.

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to background on the Feynman van, as well as a website about Feynman himself.

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

A Maurice Sendak-designed Crocodile Costume from the Opera Goose of Cairo Could Fetch $5,000 at Rago

1141A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L'Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

What you see: A crocodile costume designed by Maurice Sendak in the 1980s for a production of L’Oca del Cairo (Goose of Cairo), an unfinished opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rago Auctions estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Justin G. Schiller, a specialist in rare and collectible children’s books. He co-created the corporation that consigned the costume to Rago Auctions.

So, how many operas did Sendak design for? Altogether I believe he did 15 operas and ballets. He began in 1980, with The Magic Flute, and his career went through to 2004 or 2005, with Brundibar. He was very interested in the experience of developing not only the sets and costumes, but trying to make the characters interactive.

Was this character the only crocodile character in Goose of Cairo, or was it one of several crocodiles? I think there was only one involved in the production. This is one of the few Sendak costumes that is complete. The head and feet are the main parts of those costumes. The bodysuits were painted to fit, but the crocodile costume was so specific, they kept everything.

Why is this costume described in the lot heading as being “After Maurice Sendak” rather than designed by Maurice Sendak? Maurice would have done the design on paper. The costume was created by the seamstresses, the people who make the costumes. In some cases, you see Maurice fix up the costume once it’s on the actor or the actress. He did the pictures, they did the physical production.

So he wouldn’t have been involved with making sure the costume was comfortable for the actor to wear? Yes, but if there was any problem with the fitting, he would have been consulted.

What do we know about Sendak’s approach to costume design? He took it very seriously. For example, when he was doing Hansel and Gretel, he went to German forests and studied the landscaping. It took him seven years to create.

Apparently it’s rare for a Sendak costume to survive intact, as this one does. How did it manage to do that? The production for Goose of Cairo was very short-lived. They [the few Goose of Cairo items that were found] were in a separate storage unit. It’s one of only two pieces of the production that survive. The other is a mechanical goose of Cairo that gets wheeled onstage, which Richard Michelson has. Goose of Cairo was never considered a main production, because it was an unfinished opera by Mozart. It’s usually presented as an interlude. It ran for about half an hour, and something else would have come with it. Maybe that’s why there weren’t many costumes.

Why are Sendak-designed costumes so scarce, compared to Sendak-designed sets? Probably because sets get rolled on stage or lowered on stage, and when they’re not on stage, they’re protected. Costumes get handled and used constantly. The condition of the crocodile is unusually good. It’s a simpler costume: bodysuit, head, gloves, foot coverings.

Is this crocodile costume a good representative of his opera costume design work? I would think it’s a very good example. The head is probably papier-mâché molded on top of a helmet so it fits on the head of an actor. From there, they’d build out the rest of the head, the body suit, the painted fabric. Several of the costumes we had would have the names of actors inside them and the names of the production companies.

Is that true here? No. I believe the crocodile had only one actor. When you have multiple figures wearing the same cluster of costumes, like in The Love for Three Oranges, different actors play the roles, and they all need to be fitted. Having names on them makes it much simpler.

And the provenance for this Sendak-designed costume–it went from the New York City Opera to you to Rago Auctions? Yes, exactly. We specialize in Sendak.

How did you come to own the Sendak-designed costume? The New York City Opera decided to sell all [the sets and costumes] they didn’t plan to put into sequence again [in 2013]. We decided to acquire as much as we could from productions they still had examples of.

How many Sendak-designed costumes did you acquire? It didn’t seem like a lot. We purchased ten or twelve.

How many complete Sendak-designed costumes survive? I don’t really know. There were a few major ones. There was a fabulous one with a very grand lady who was a pig, and a bear dressed up like a lord, [both] for a different opera, and they went for $4,000 to $6,000 each, as the hammer price [the price before the premium and other fees are applied]. I talked to the collector afterward. She was a very serious collector of opera and theater costumes. It was a unique opportunity to acquire a costume by Sendak.

When Sendak created book illustrations, he worked in two dimensions. When he created opera costumes, he had to think, to some extent, in three dimensions. How did he handle this challenge? Sometimes it’s the costume people, but Maurice’s drawings often show a profile, how it looks from the side. But sets are one thing, costumes are another. The catalog only shows side views of the crocodile head. Head on, it’s fantastic.

What details on the crocodile costume mark it as a Sendak design? Maybe with certain specific styles, you can look at it and say that’s a David Hockney or that’s a Picasso. With Sendak, I would say basically the [sense of] fantasy, of playfulness. His ogress would be friendly, even if the character was not.

What jumped out and me and said “Sendak” was the crocodile’s eyes, and the snout. It certainly was the eyes that got us. They’re wonderful, almost yolk-colored eyes. The snout–most artists would draw it as menacing. Sendak’s snout is friendly instead of menacing, despite all the teeth.

The condition report states that the Sendak-designed costume has “wear commensurate with theatrical use.” What does that mean in this context? It’s got scuffs or scrapes on the bottom of the tail and the foot coverings? That [the language] is mostly so people don’t think it’s brand new. The bodysuit may have a tear in the stitching, but overall, it’s quite good, and very dramatic.

Have you or your gallery partner or anyone at Rago Auctions tried on the Sendak-designed costume? You need a slim body [to wear it]. We told Rago they’d need some kind of body form [to display it and photograph it]. They were able to find a person on staff who could do the pictures. We were surprised and pleased that they were able to do that.

How does the wearer see? There are eyeholes in the neck.

Do you know what size the costume is? I don’t. Dennis [Dennis David, Schiller’s gallery partner] is suggesting it’s probably more of a medium. Maybe that’s why the crocodile is not looking too hungry.

Is the head attached to the tail, or are they separate pieces? The head is certainly separate. The tail is attached with button snaps to the back of the bodysuit. The gloves are part of the bodysuit. The head, in itself, is very decorative.

What’s the auction record for a Sendak-designed costume? The only auction I know of is from the New York City Opera sale, three costumes that were very elaborate in themselves. We were the underbidder. They were probably from The Love of Three Oranges. Those sold for between $4,000 and $6,000 each.

How to bid: The Sendak-designed crocodile costume is lot 1141 in the Curiouser and Curiouser sale at Rago Auctions on December 1, 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.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Justin G. Schiller has a website. Two, actually.

Image is courtesy of Rago 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.

Snow White Couldn’t Resist the Queen’s Poisoned Apple. Bidders Could Push Wanda Gág’s Spellbinding 1938 Study for “The Poisoned Apple” Past $7,000 at Swann


The Poisoned Apple, a study by Wanda Gág [pronounced 'Gahg'] for an illustration in a 1938 edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

What you see: The Poisoned Apple, a study by Wanda Gág [pronounced ‘Gahg’] for an illustration in a 1938 edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

How did this Snow White book project come about? Was it a reaction to the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? It is, it absolutely is. 1937 was the Disney film. While it was popular and became an iconic film, the depiction of the witch frightened children. Because of that, one year later, Anne Carroll Moore, a writer, reviewer, and critic of children’s books and an advocate for children’s libraries, wanted to go back to the original Brothers Grimm and soften some of the elements that Disney portrayed.

How did the 1938 version achieve what Moore wanted? It keeps more of the folkloric charm of the original. You asked if the fact that Gág translated it herself, if it shaped the story–it did. Gág’s father was from Bohemia, and they moved to Minnesota. She grew up with those fairy tales and stories. She understood folklore and fairy tales, and she knew the language. She was able to translate it and come up with a more accurate version of the Brothers Grimm tale.

The study for The Poisoned Apple is far more elaborate than the same scene in the Disney movie. Can you talk about how Wanda Gág approached this scene, and how she chose certain details? In the original Grimm, the queen made four attempts to kill Snow White…

It sounds kind of like the Michael Palin character in A Fish Called Wanda trying to kill the old lady and accidentally killing her dogs instead. Exactly! Exactly. The queen tries her damnedest. She comes to the door as a corset peddler. The dwarfs told Snow White was told she was not supposed to answer the door to anyone. The queen puts her in a corset and ties her in so tightly that she passes out. The dwarfs find her and revive her. Next, she went as a comb vendor. The different attempts to disguise herself are discarded on the floor [the pile of masks and clothes at the left of the illustration]–the peddler didn’t work, the comb didn’t work. She gets her with the poisoned apple. Snow White was hesitant to take it. She had the good sense to be wary. The queen makes the apple half poison and half safe, and takes her bite out of the apple pulp side, the safe side. I love that Gág is showing the recipe, how she created the poisoned apple to give to her stepdaughter. It looks kind of delightful until you look at the elements and realize how dark they really are.

The late 1930s were a time when the notion of “better living through chemistry” wasn’t laughable. Nylon had been invented a few years earlier. Do you think that the positive view of chemical breakthroughs shaped how Wanda Gág approached this illustration? The Disney scene has the witch standing over the traditional cauldron, but this scene is half lab, half kitchen. It’s an interesting connection to make, but I’m not sure if I’d 100 percent go there. Domestic science came in the teens. By 1937 and 1938, it was established. You definitely have those elements to it.

How different is the study from the illustration that appears in the book? Not terribly. It takes you a while to realize the differences. The composition is almost identical. In the book version, she defines the elements more. The vapors coming off the apple look more like a corona. It’s interesting to see the subtleties of how she directs the eye.

I don’t have the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in front of me, and I can’t recall it, but wouldn’t it have been harsher than the Disney version? It was. In the movie, the dwarfs dance around her and love Snow White. It’s symbiotic. In the book, they’re almost like little opportunists:”You can stay here and we will help keep you protected if you become our housekeeper.” They’re in the more classic tradition of dwarfs as mischievous and devious. They’re going to use her services. In the movie, when she falls under the spell, they put her in a glass coffin. In the book, the prince decides to take Snow White to a better resting place and attempts to move her to his castle, and one of his carriers trips. An act of clumsiness dislodges the apple from her throat and wakes her. She and the prince then decide to get married. In dark, grim fashion, the prince reveals to Snow White that the queen tried to murder her. They make the queen wear molten hot dance shoes and in a messed up Circus Maximus scene, they make her dance until she dies and they carry on with the rest of the wedding. Gág kept it. It’s still a violent image, but she kept it.

Is this the first piece of art from the Snow White book to come to auction? I didn’t find any others when I searched the Swann online archives. It is our first Snow White. Her other work does come up. She was a printmaker and a very skilled lithographer. The record-keeping for her work is really erratic. We seem to have the top price for a fine art work by her [an undated print, titled Outside Looking In, which sold in September 2008 for $6,480]. Skinner sold an ink on paper of a cat in a laundry basket in May 2016. That could be the top price for a Wanda Gág illustration.

Where are the rest of Wanda Gág’s illustrations for the Snow White book? The rest reside in the Kerlan collection at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota is where she grew up. A couple of studies have entered the market. The provenance for this piece is it was acquired by a German rare book and manuscripts dealer, Walter Schatzki. He had them and then he sold them in the early 1970s to another dealer, Justin G. Schiller. It went from Schiller to the current owner. That’s one of the reasons why the price is higher. It’s her best-known work outside of Millions of Cats. It’s a crucial scene from the book, and you can’t acquire [the final illustration] because it’s in the Kerlan collection.

What are the odds that The Poisoned Apple will set a new record for Wanda Gág at auction? The estimate straddles the price of Outside Looking In. It might, it might. I’d like to see it set a record. We’re still celebrating the 80th anniversary of the movie and the publication of the book. It’s one of her most important and defining creations. And this is its first time at auction. With enough luck and enough bidders, we’ll see it set a new record.

Why will this Wanda Gág piece stick in your memory? [Laughs] A couple of reasons. I like it because, in general, I love food and fairy tale images. For me, it’s a two-in-one. I’m the vice president of a local farmer’s market. I often deal with farmers and apples. I love any illustration that’s food- and fairy tale-based. I also like that it’s cartoon-like. The dark, thick lines lend that element to it.

How to bid: The study for The Poisoned Apple is lot 22 in Swann Auction Galleries‘s Illustration Art sale on December 6, 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 Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared before on The Hot Bid, speaking about an Arthur Rackham illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseusa Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

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

Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, by Rebecca Rego Barry (THB: Shelf Life)

Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry.

What you see: Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry. * $19.99, Voyageur Press.

Does it fit in my purse? Yes, but with difficulty.

Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.

Fair warning: I’m a complete sucker for books like this. It is The Sort Of Thing I Like, And I Like That Sort of Thing. Rare Books Uncovered is a perfect example of a book I’d put on my wish list and end up buying for myself less than 20 minutes later because I couldn’t hold out until my birthday or Christmas to read it.

This book made me happy. Every page of it. Am I biased? I suppose, but if Rare Books Uncovered had been poorly written, it would have made me sad, and I would not hold back from detailing exactly how it saddened me. Make of that what you will.

I do not have the book-collecting affliction, but I empathize with and celebrate those who do. Rare Books Uncovered is a 254-page celebration of them and those who enable them.

All the stories in the book take place between 1976 and 2014. All feature tales of the hunt–finding or rediscovering treasures that lurked across the country and the world.

I devoured the book methodically in one straight shot. Reading it was like emptying the bonbons from an oversize assortment one by one, but without the guilt.

Rare Books Uncovered avoids hyper-focusing on the priciest scores. Some of the items described have mostly or only sentimental value. Others are delights I had no idea existed. I am forever jealous of the person who found a copy of a Jorge Luis Borges book illustrated by Sol LeWitt.

Readers of Rare Books Uncovered will meet Martin Stone, a rare book hunter who ought to have his own hour-long TV procedural [Book Hunter, Crime Solver! Based on the life of Martin Stone, coming soon to ABC!]. You’ll encounter a family Bible that’s actually worth something, and you’ll learn why so many are not.

You’ll stumble upon books from the library of Mark Twain, inexplicably stored in barrels. You’ll thrill to the tale of the discovery of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

You’ll follow along as the copy of Frankenstein that author Mary Shelley inscribed and gave to Lord Byron emerges from the shadows. You’ll contemplate the author’s own find, a first edition of Death of a Salesman that might have belong to Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Shirer.

Munch, munch, munch until all the bonbons are gone. They are tasty, and they go fast.

The stories have more substance than bonbons, though. The author snuck in fiber in the form of capsule anecdotes, asides that define book-world terms, and by making sure the parade of chapters aren’t just about the score. You see the struggle, You glimpse the tedium, and you confront ethical questions, too.

Worth buying new, for full price.

How to buy Rare Books Uncovered: Please purchase it from an independent bookstore near you. If there isn’t one near you, try ordering it from Powell’s.

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.

Rebecca Rego Barry is on Twitter, and she has a website. She’s also the editor of Fine Books Magazine, which is on Twitter and has a website.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry.

* I received Rare Books Uncovered as a review copy, but I’d had it on my wish list for a while before the offer was made.

Rare Books Uncovered was first published in Winter 2015.

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SOLD! The 1903 Maxfield Parrish Commanded… (Scroll Down to See)

Maxfield Parrish's A Venetian Night's Entertainment, a 1903 oil on paper laid down on panel.

Update: The Maxfield Parrish painting sold for just over $2 million.

What you see: Maxfield Parrish’s A Venetian Night’s Entertainment, a 1903 oil on paper laid down on panel. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

The expert: Tylee Abbott, Vice President and specialist in American art at Christie’s.

What characteristics mark A Venetian Night’s Entertainment as a Maxfield Parrish painting? What details tell you that only he could have painted it? Certainly one of the things that defines a Maxfield Parrish is luminosity. It tends to glow, regardless of subject matter. It has to do with his technique. He applied an Old Master technique where he built a white ground and added layers and layers of washes and colors, and he used intricate varnishes to achieve the luminous surface. And he’s very well-known for doing fantastical, wonderful scenes. It’s as much his subject matter as his technique.

How does his use of lanterns mark A Venetian Night’s Entertainment as distinctly his? Did he depict them often? They actually occur in a couple of different paintings. An interest of his was in luminous paintings that glowed. Obviously, lanterns lend themselves to achieving that aesthetic. Lanterns also allow for really soft points of light.

A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is what I describe as a “Jenga painting”: the composition is loaded with so many elements that it should fall apart, but because it’s put together well, it holds together well. How does Parrish’s deftness with a crowded composition speak to his mastery? It is chaos, but it’s ordered chaos. It’s overflowing with figures and elements, and it was carefully designed by Maxfield Parrish. It conveys the revelry of Venice, and the party. All the figures in there are complementing each other. The gestures of their hands are expressive, and they’re all looking in different directions–across each other, at each other. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it is balanced. It starts with the architectural space at the top, and it’s balanced by the figures at the bottom. The center is illuminated by lanterns. The dark [areas] on the top and the bottom allow a more cohesive balance in the composition.

Might Maxfield Parrish have done anything differently than he normally would to work out the unusually complex composition we see in A Venetian Night’s Entertainment? His technique could be very labor-intensive. He relied heavily on models for his paintings. Oftentimes, he would choose friends. He would not have had twelve people sitting in his studio. He would explore them and simulate positions.

Maxfield Parrish made this work after joining the Cornish community in Cornish, New Hampshire, which orbited around Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Is there any chance that Parrish recruited his neighbors to pose for this? And do we know who might have modeled for him for this piece? He may well have had folks prominent in the community sit for him. The communal nature of the Cornish community lends itself to painting a theatrical party scene. But we haven’t identified any of the models, unfortunately.

Parrish was commissioned to paint this to illustrate an Edith Wharton story. Could we talk about what scene he’s showing here? I take it the main character is the man in profile in Colonial-looking clothes at the left? In the story, a young man wanders the streets of Venice as a tourist, out of place. Count Rialto [at right] befriends him–‘Have a drink, I’ll show you what Venice nightlife is all about.’ Parrish has taken an austere young Massachusetts gentleman with a tricorn hat and upright posture and thrown him into a very Italian, expressive scene of frivolity.

To use a slightly dismissive phrase that Parrish coined, his most famous works feature a “girl on a rock.” A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is not a girl on a rock. Does that matter? The top auction price for his most famous painting, and one of the most famous paintings in art history, is Daybreak, which shows two Neoclassical figures in a fantastical landscape. That was made in the 1920s. This was made in 1903, and this is a purposeful illustration, executing a narrative. These painted illustrations, in today’s market for American illustration, which is very strong, can be every bit as popular as the girl-on-the-rock subject matter.

What is the auction record for a Maxfield Parrish painting? $7.6 million, for Daybreak, sold at Christie’s in May 2006. The next-highest result is for The Lantern Bearers, sold at Christie’s in the same auction for $4.2 million.

How often does an original Maxfield Parrish painting come to auction? Almost every season there’s a Parrish or a couple of Parrishes on the market. What type of Parrish varies widely. How often is something as significant as this available? Once a year, or every other year.

*Architect Stanford White designed the frame. How does it enhance the painting? The frame is something that sets this painting apart from all other Parrishes. It’s a very special thing. There’s one other Parrish in a Stanford White frame known, and it’s in a private collection.

*So this is the first time one of the two has come to auction? I believe so. I think the prominence of Stanford White as a secondary artist contributes to its value. The frame furthers the architectural design where the scene takes place. The vegetative scrolls on the frame add to the fluidity of the gestures and compliments the overall motion of the painting.

What is the work like in person? The photo is fairly good in terms of a likeness, but with Maxfield Parrish, the luminous nature of the painting is important. It glows a lot more in person than in reproduction.

Why will this Maxfield Parrish painting stick in your memory? The frame is really unique. Rarely are frames made by Stanford White, and rarely are frames so complementary to the work. The amount of people in the painting and the lanterns are definitely memorable. They lend a lot to the glowing nature of the composition.

How to bid: A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is lot 40 in the American Art sale at Christie’s, scheduled for November 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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

*Since taking the interview and posting the piece, Christie’s learned that the frame is not original, and thus not by Stanford White.

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SOLD! A 1903 World Series Program Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh.

Update: The 1903 World Series program sold for $228,780.

What you see: The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.

Why do so few of these inaugural World Series programs survive? They were actually sold only at Pittsburgh games. Boston won the series, five games to three. [It was a best of nine.] I think only four of those games were played in Pittsburgh. Twenty to 30 copies of the Boston version of the program have surfaced over the years. Only three have surfaced for the Pittsburgh games. One is in Cooperstown, and one is in a private collection. This one here was purchased by the consigner in the 1970s and has been in a safe deposit box ever since.

Why should there be fewer surviving Pittsburgh programs than Boston programs? Was the Pittsburgh park smaller, or the program less interesting than the Boston one? Being that it was the first World Series, I’m not sure they were expecting a huge turnout. They didn’t know if if would even catch on.

To stay on that point about the Pittsburgh program maybe being less interesting–the cover does not show any players… It’s mostly ads. As you open it up, there are lots and lots of ads, 90 percent advertising.

Maybe that explains why so few of these 1903 World Series programs survive? People didn’t buy the Pittsburgh program because it was so full of ads? Possibly. In and among a page of ads is a picture of [Pittsburgh Pirate] Honus Wagner, who was the star of the series. [The images of the players] are only silhouettes, two by two inch black and white head shots, in a bunch of ads. They had the player’s last name underneath. The players are in business suits with ties. They’re not even in uniform.

What condition is the 1903 World Series program in? I see pieces of tape on the cover… It must have been coming apart a little, because it has three pieces of tape on it. I don’t know if that was done in 1903, but it was done a very, very long time ago. And it’s got some wear on the corners, and things like that. When I get an old publication, I pick it up and smell it. It smells like old paper. That’s a telltale sign it’s not a reproduction. The pages are very. very thin compared to today’s programs. But there are no pages missing, no tears, no rips, no excessive writing.

Have you personally seen the other two known copies of the 1903 World Series program from Pittsburgh? I have not, but I can only imagine, barring the tape, I couldn’t find one nicer than this.

Do we know who the program’s first owner was–the person who made the notations on the cover and the scorecard inside? And do we know any of its subsequent owners, aside from the consigner? We don’t. However, the style of the scoring is very much of the period. Today, scorecards are much more elaborate.

And those handmade notations–that’s how we know it’s a World Series program from Game 7, yes? Yes. The World Series is the only time the American League met the National League in 1903. They didn’t play each other during the year.

The printers used three colors on this 1903 World Series program: blue, red, and black. Does that mean the people who commissioned the program splashed out on it? Actually, this is a bit more primitive. Some scorecards produced in the late 1800s were more elaborate. They might have four or five or more colors on some of them.

The words “World Series” don’t appear anywhere on the front or back cover of this 1903 World Series program. Do they appear anywhere inside it? No. Actually, it looks very similar to programs that the Pittsburgh ball club put out for regular games, if not identical. The defining part is the center page scorecard. I’d imagine the center page is a thing that could be a separate insert on its own, changed on a day to day basis. [FWIW, the cover of the counterpart Boston program doesn’t say “World Series”, but it does say “World’s Championship Games.” To learn more about how the contest got its modern name, follow this link and scroll down to the section called The Origin of the Name ‘the World Series’,]

What else marks this as ephemera from 1903? Are there ads in the program that would never appear in a World Series program today? There are whiskey ads, and one for cigars, three for five cents. Another says ‘Drink Crystal Water and live for 200 years.’

The Federal Trade Commission would not be cool with an ad like that today. No. There’s an ad for OK beer. Another cigar ad–almost everybody smoked. There’s literally page after page of advertising.

Why will this 1903 World Series program stick in your memory? Knowing what it is and knowing the significance of it, it’s very cool. In our industry, rookie cards are very, very hot. This is sort of the rookie card of World Series programs. The rarity of it is key, the firstness of it is key, and only three have surfaced. But there could be some in attics, basements, or drawers that haven’t come out.

How to bid: The 1903 World Series program from Pittsburgh is lot 2 in Huggins and Scott‘s November Auction, which runs from November 2 to November 15, 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.

Image is courtesy of Huggins and Scott.

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

Become Technology’s Greatest Visionary! Prop Store Has the Picturephone from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Which Could Sell for $15,000

The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

What you see: The Picturephone Booth from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Prop Store estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

The expert: James Comisar, president of the Comisar collection. He’s also the consigner.

Let’s start by talking about the place in the culture that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse holds. What makes it a good television show, and why does it endure? It continues to resonate because it was loved by schoolkids, college kids, and adults. It was the perfect mix of everything, and it appealed to everybody. Just as Mr. Rogers is getting his due, I think Paul Reubens [creator of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the actor who played the main character, Pee-Wee Herman], in 20 years, will get his due. He created an amazing, organic, joyful world where kids could be kids. He spoke down to nobody, and it was incredibly inclusive. It’s one of the most perfect pieces of television in the last 70 years. I think the secret sauce was its authenticity, and the main character was positive. That never goes out of style.

Why did you want to acquire the Picture Phonebooth? What made it important enough for you to pursue? I should back up. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is situated in Puppetland. Pee-Wee is sequestered in his own fantasy world. His conduit to the world is this Picturephone Booth. In that way, it’s very special. And in the 80s [the show ran on CBS from 1986 through 1990] the idea of a video phone booth was interesting. Reubens gave it his own spin. He had his own sensibility for everything.

Is the Picturephone Booth well-built? It’s built to look great on camera. As a general rule, pieces look better on camera than they do in person. When a show is in production and a prop is being used, it has an economic value to the production. It’s cared for well. After the show ends production, there’s a mad dash to get it off the stage so a new show can come in and the studio can continue to earn revenue. It’s an indelicate process. When we first received these pieces, they were in studio storage and they had a bit of wear. There was damage to the paint. There were cracks.

Did you have to restore or conserve it? First, we had to stabilize it. It’s a pretty strong and durable piece, but it had been banged around a bit after production [after the show ended]. Once we dealt with the structural issues… No professional archivist wants to take a historic piece and make it look fresh and pretty again. The goal is to get rid of any damaging influences. When pieces live in studio storage, it’s not a climate-controlled facility. It’s on the outskirts of town, 65 cents a foot. It’s 35 degrees in winter and 110 degrees in summer. Bad things happen in studio storage rather quickly. They shove it into a warehouse, and shove stuff around it, and on top of it. [With the Picturephone,] there was nothing catastrophic to be sure, but it still took over a year to accomplish the intake. It required a textile conservator to come in. Then you have wood, and leather, and foam, which is worse than any material, certain to deteriorate. We went slowly and cautiously. Our job was to do the minimum, not the maximum.

I see that only one name is in the provenance, and it’s Paul Reubens. How did you acquire this from him? I believe the initial contact was around 1992, a year after the show had gone off the air. I had numerous conversations with his business manager before I met Paul. The way I found this stuff was I was [in a studio storage warehouse] working for another client, and I found a recognizable puppet for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I thought, “No, could it be?” Once Paul’s team was made aware of what was going on, he wanted the pieces to have a more appropriate configuration than studio dead storage.

Did Reubens take some of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props back? Absolutely, absolutely. But even if you have a 15,000-square-foot home, you have space limitations. The reality eventually sets in that you cannot keep everything. Paul Rubens kept a lot from the show, and it’s evident that the pieces meant a lot to him. It wasn’t just stuff. It sprung from his brain. It’s still influencing people decades later. It was painful to decide what to save and what to give to another archive.

Well, the Picturephone is furniture, isn’t it? It’s furniture, but it’s an amazing, sculptural piece of artwork. It was created with an almost avant-garde sensibility. It’s almost like folk art in the way it’s put together.

How original is it? It’s two percent restored to 98 percent original. A couple of the dowels that form the eyelashes were broken or missing and had to be replaced. There was paint [the paint required touching up], and surface cleaning. The curtain, which extends across the front for privacy, is original. The textile conservator carefully cleaned it. Even the rings that attach the curtain to the front are original, scrubbed by hand.

Sounds like a lot of work went into it. If this piece sells for $10,000 to $15,000, oh, my dear god in heaven, we spent so much more than that restoring it and caring for it for 25 years. Whoever gets that, if they get it for $10,000, that represents a loss to us. But you can’t keep everything. A piece like that takes up a lot of room on the floor, and you can’t stack anything in it or on it. If you can tell the story of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with three smaller objects [rather] than one that will take up real estate, you’re going to do it.

It’s amazing it survived so well. I believe the universe put me where I needed to be to advocate for these pieces. The puppet head was poking out, I know, so I could see it and advocate for it. This is much more than a job to me. It’s what I do. I don’t question it. I’m grateful I was there at a time when I could rescue it. [I asked him if he remembered which Pee-Wee’s Playhouse puppet caught his eye that day in the early 1990s; he could not say for sure.]

How did you get what you managed to get from the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse props? When I met Paul at the warehouse, he was very passionate, but a very practical man. There was a Paul pile, a Goodwill pile, with appliances from the set and toys that someone else could use, and a Dump pile. A studio truck was hired to take the discarded pieces to the landfill. That was the end of the road for those things. There was no James pile. My job was to convince him to give me what pieces I could get from the Paul pile and the Dump pile. It was difficult for him to part with any of them, which I respected.

What’s the Picturephone like in person? Monumental. This is a big, hulking piece, but it’s got a joyful character. It’s got eyes, and pouty lips that open up like saloon doors. It’s colorful, joyful, and recognizable. It’s a home run in every way.

How many people can fit inside? One, comfortably. I think it’s meant for one person. We don’t normally sit in the pieces. I think it was made just for him.

So you haven’t sat inside it? Absolutely not. It would be sacrilege, treacherous. It’s a piece of history and art. It’s not for me to degrade it by sitting in it.

Ok, I’ve gotta ask. Where is Chairry? Did Paul Reubens claim Chairry? That falls into the area of client privilege. I’m not able to say what he did and didn’t do. Rest assured the iconic pieces from the show are in his collection or an archival collection. Don’t worry. Chairry is cherished.

How to bid: The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Picturephone Booth is lot 156 in Prop Store‘s TV Treasures auction on December 1, 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.

Prop Store is on Twitter and Instagram.

Comisar is also the president of the Museum of Television.

The Picturephone appears at three or four points in the background in the opening credits of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. And that’s an uncredited Cyndi Lauper singing the theme song.

Yes, there is a Pee-Wee Wiki. Here’s the entry for the Picturephone.

Also! Google “Technology’s Greatest Visionary,” on Google Images, and take in the top row of images that the search engine spits back at you.

Image is courtesy of Prop Store.

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

SOLD! The First TCB Necklace That Elvis Presley Gave Away Sold For… (Scroll Down to See)

A 14k gold necklace with a Taking Care of Business (TCB) logo, given by Elvis Presley to Sonny West circa 1970.

Update: The Taking Care of Business necklace that Elvis Presley gave to Sonny West sold for $38,400.

What you see: A 14k gold necklace with a Taking Care of Business (TCB) logo, given by Elvis Presley to Sonny West circa 1970. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

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

What was the Memphis Mafia, and how did it serve Elvis Presley? “Memphis Mafia” was the name given to the group of friends and close confidants of Elvis Presley. The media gave them the name “Memphis Mafia” around 1960. Elvis liked the name and it stuck.

Where did the phrase “Taking Care of Business” come from? Elvis’s band was called Taking Care of Business. He always gave away gifts, especially jewelry, and he came up with the idea for an identifying piece of jewelry that he only gave to the Memphis Mafia. There were probably 12 to 20 people [in the group]. Elvis loved Taking Care of Business. It was the logo on his plane. Priscilla was involved with the design of the logo. They were on the plane when a lightning bolt went through it. She got out her sketch pad and came up with Taking Care of Business in a flash.

When did that happen? We don’t know for sure, but we presume it was the late 1950s or early 1960s, probably after he came out of the military.

How was the material and the carat weight chosen? Elvis loved bling, he loved gold. There were some variants on the necklace. The one he gave Doctor Nick [George Nichopoulos, Presley’s personal physician] had diamonds on it. We sold that one for $120,000. The overall look of the 14k gold necklace is probably based on a collaboration with the jeweler in Beverly Hills and what they could do within their budget.

This is believed to be the first Taking Care of Business necklace that Elvis Presley gave out. Does that make it more interesting to collectors? Yes. Collectors love something when it’s original, or the first. TCB went on to be a significant Elvis signature, in a way. Its being the first definitely adds value on auction day.

Why is Sonny West a logical recipient of the first Taking Care of Business necklace? He was Elvis’s bodyguard, responsible for security at his concerts. He was one of the original members of the Memphis Mafia, which was a very close, tight circle. My guess is because he was Elvis’s bodyguard, he was right there when Elvis went to the jewelry shop in Beverly Hills. Because he was right there, and a member of the Memphis Mafia group, he got the first necklace.

Do the Taking Care of Business necklaces always look like this one does, or did the design change over time? They’re not all exactly the same. The TCB logo with the flash remains the same, but the chains change.

How many owners did the necklace have after Sonny West relinquished it? He passed it on to the consigner, who brought it to us. Jeffrey, the consigner, created a video which is on our site of Sonny West taking the necklace off himself and putting it on Jeffrey. The provenance is 100 percent solid. That plays into the value.

How many Taking Care of Business necklaces have you handled, and how many Taking Care of Business necklaces did Elvis give out? Do we know? I think we’ve handled four to sixprobably four, with two coming back to auction again. I don’t know how many there are, but there were somewhere between 12 and 20 people in the Memphis Mafia. Not a huge amount. Maybe 30, max.

Do any period photos exist of Sonny West wearing the TCB necklace and standing alongside Elvis? I presume there would be period photos. He was with Elvis for 16 years, and he was with Elvis a lot. We didn’t license any, but I’m sure there are photos.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 for the TCB necklace? Obviously we looked at the intrinsic value first. Then we looked at other TCB necklaces we’ve sold. The provenance is so solid because of Sonny West. Then there’s the collectibility of Elvis himself. He has a huge amount of fans out there.

As of October 19, the TCB necklace has its first bid, amounting to $7,500. Does that mean anything? No, it doesn’t mean anything. But we have 55,000 views on this auction already. To have so many so early on, that’s amazing.

What condition is the TCB necklace in? It’s in great condition, given its age and the life it’s had up to now.

Why will this particular TCB necklace stick in your memory? The fact that it was the first one–wow, it was the start of something. The very first one created, for Sonny West, the bodyguard and confidant of Elvis. Within the history of Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, it’s almost like branding, or a tattoo. Taking care of business in a flash was what the Memphis Mafia represented: getting business done. That was what was important to Elvis.

How to bid: The TCB necklace is lot 466 in the Icons and Idols: Rock “N” Roll auction Julien’s will hold in New York on November 9 and 10, 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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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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

Maxfield Parrish’s 1903 Illustration for an Edith Wharton Story Could Command $1.5 Million at Christie’s

Maxfield Parrish's A Venetian Night's Entertainment, a 1903 oil on paper laid down on panel.

What you see: Maxfield Parrish’s A Venetian Night’s Entertainment, a 1903 oil on paper laid down on panel. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

The expert: Tylee Abbott, Vice President and specialist in American art at Christie’s.

What characteristics mark A Venetian Night’s Entertainment as a Maxfield Parrish painting? What details tell you that only he could have painted it? Certainly one of the things that defines a Maxfield Parrish is luminosity. It tends to glow, regardless of subject matter. It has to do with his technique. He applied an Old Master technique where he built a white ground and added layers and layers of washes and colors, and he used intricate varnishes to achieve the luminous surface. And he’s very well-known for doing fantastical, wonderful scenes. It’s as much his subject matter as his technique.

How does his use of lanterns mark A Venetian Night’s Entertainment as distinctly his? Did he depict them often? They actually occur in a couple of different paintings. An interest of his was in luminous paintings that glowed. Obviously, lanterns lend themselves to achieving that aesthetic. Lanterns also allow for really soft points of light.

A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is what I describe as a “Jenga painting”: the composition is loaded with so many elements that it should fall apart, but because it’s put together well, it holds together well. How does Parrish’s deftness with a crowded composition speak to his mastery? It is chaos, but it’s ordered chaos. It’s overflowing with figures and elements, and it was carefully designed by Maxfield Parrish. It conveys the revelry of Venice, and the party. All the figures in there are complementing each other. The gestures of their hands are expressive, and they’re all looking in different directions–across each other, at each other. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it is balanced. It starts with the architectural space at the top, and it’s balanced by the figures at the bottom. The center is illuminated by lanterns. The dark [areas] on the top and the bottom allow a more cohesive balance in the composition.

Might he have done anything differently than he normally would to work out this unusually complex composition we see in A Venetian Night’s Entertainment? His technique could be very labor-intensive. He relied heavily on models for his paintings. Oftentimes, he would choose friends. He would not have had twelve people sitting in his studio. He would explore them and simulate positions.

He made A Venetian Night’s Entertainment after joining the Cornish community in Cornish, New Hampshire, which orbited around Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Is there any chance that Parrish recruited his neighbors to pose for this? And do we know who might have modeled for him for this piece? He may well have had folks prominent in the community sit for him. The communal nature of the Cornish community lends itself to painting a theatrical party scene. But we haven’t identified any of the models, unfortunately.

Parrish was commissioned to paint this to illustrate an Edith Wharton story. Could we talk about what scene he’s showing here? I take it the main character is the man in profile in Colonial-looking clothes at the left? In the story, a young man wanders the streets of Venice as a tourist, out of place. Count Rialto [at right] befriends him–‘Have a drink, I’ll show you what Venice nightlife is all about.’ Parrish has taken an austere young Massachusetts gentleman with a tricorn hat and upright posture and thrown him into a very Italian, expressive scene of frivolity.

To use a slightly dismissive phrase that Parrish coined, his most famous works feature a “girl on a rock.” This is not a girl on a rock. Does that matter? The top auction price for his most famous painting, and one of the most famous paintings in art history, is Daybreak, which shows two Neoclassical figures in a fantastical landscape. That was made in the 1920s. This was made in 1903, and this is a purposeful illustration, executing a narrative. These painted illustrations, in today’s market for American illustration, which is very strong, can be every bit as popular as the girl-on-the-rock subject matter.

What is the auction record for a Maxfield Parrish painting? $7.6 million, for Daybreak, sold at Christie’s in May 2006. The next-highest result is for The Lantern Bearers, sold at Christie’s in the same auction for $4.2 million.

How often does an original Maxfield Parrish painting come to auction? Almost every season there’s a Parrish or a couple of Parrishes on the market. What type of Parrish varies widely. How often is something as significant as this available? Once a year, or every other year.

*Architect Stanford White designed the frame. How does it enhance the painting? The frame is something that sets this painting apart from all other Parrishes. It’s a very special thing. There’s one other Parrish in a Stanford White frame known, and it’s in a private collection.

*So this is the first time one of the two has come to auction? I believe so. I think the prominence of Stanford White as a secondary artist contributes to its value. The frame furthers the architectural design where the scene takes place. The vegetative scrolls on the frame add to the fluidity of the gestures and compliments the overall motion of the painting.

What is the Maxfield Parrish painting like in person? The photo is fairly good in terms of a likeness, but with Maxfield Parrish, the luminous nature of the painting is important. It glows a lot more in person than in reproduction.

Why will this Maxfield Parrish painting stick in your memory? The frame is really unique. Rarely are frames made by Stanford White, and rarely are frames so complementary to the work. The amount of people in the painting and the lanterns are definitely memorable. They lend a lot to the glowing nature of the composition.

How to bid: A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is lot 40 in the American Art sale at Christie’s, scheduled for November 20, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

*Since taking the interview and posting the piece, Christie’s learned that the frame is not original, and thus not by Stanford White.

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SOLD! A Snap Wyatt Sideshow Banner of a Headless Girl Sold For… (Scroll Down)

A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion.

Update: The Snap Wyatt Headless Girl sideshow banner sold for $4,000–double its high estimate. Also, the headless woman illusion apparatus sold for $3,200, well above its $500 to $1,000 estimate.

What you see: A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion. Potter & Potter estimates it at $1,500 to $2,000.

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

How rarely do sideshow banners painted by Snap Wyatt come to auction? I don’t know that it’s unusual. They’re out there. Remember, Wyatt said he could paint one banner per day.

Where does Snap Wyatt rank among the known sideshow banner painters? And is this the largest group of Snap Wyatt banners you’ve offered at the same time? He ranks in the top three, top five. And yes, it is the largest group. Usually we get them one or two at a time, if at all.

How does this Snap Wyatt sideshow banner compare to the other Snap Wyatt banners in the auction? It’s in better condition than some of the others. But it’s so hard to say–tastes vary widely. One banner in there shows a magician, and someone will want that who’s interested in magic. Some might be interested in the Headless Girl because they like a woman in a bikini.

Snap Wyatt signed this sideshow banner. Is that unusual? No, he usually put his stencil signature on them. There are many unsigned examples [of sideshow banners] but I think people like examples by known painters–Sigler, Johnson, Wyatt.

How do you know Snap Wyatt painted this sideshow banner around 1965? It’s an educated guess based on its style and condition. It’s not an earlier banner because it’d be a lot rougher as far as condition. Johnny Meah gave me insight into when and how Wyatt worked.

Do sideshow banner collectors avoid banners that don’t show enough signs of having been on the road? I think something collectors look for are show-used banners–ones you can prove were used in a particular show at a particular time. That is to the good. I don’t know that that’s the case here.

Would people who paid to enter the sideshow in 1965 because this banner caught their eye have seen a headless girl illusion that looks like this? [Laughs] No. They would not have seen it in this way, no. It was the equivalent of a line illustration in the Johnson Smith catalog. The difference between imagination and reality is pretty stark.

How far off would it be from what we see on the sideshow banner? It’d be different in that she wouldn’t be sitting sideways, she wouldn’t be in a bikini, and a thing would be attached to her head in place of her head, like the apparatus we’re selling in lot 646. This is very casual-looking, as if she’ll get up and walk around. In a ten-in-one [a sideshow that offered ten acts in one venue for one price], she’d sit in a chair, and there’d be someone next to her, the demonstrator of the attraction, fiddling with knobs on a blinking control board or pouring fluid into tubes leading to her neck, explaining how she survives. He might hand her things to prove she’s alive and not a robot. Since she’s not getting up out of the chair and can’t talk, she’s going to need some help.

Is the headless girl illusion a standard sideshow attraction? I would say it’s a classic,  a fairly common thing. It was exhibited at Coney Island for years.

Did the headless girl just sit there, or did she do things? She could have done any number of things. She definitely moved around to prove she was not a wax figure or a mannequin. She could have written on a blackboard, anything to prove she was alive.

How similar would the circa 1965 headless girl apparatus have been to the one you’re offering in lot 646? The method is basically unchanged. The way it works now is identical to the way it worked then. There would have been tubes or a metal apparatus coming out of her neck. Perhaps they dressed it up in different ways, with different headpieces, or different sets of tubes and a lot of things on the side to “keep her alive.”

So you can guess where the headless girl’s head is pretty easily. It depends on how careful the exhibitor is. The illusion can be quite good. It’s up to them to set it up correctly. A lot of show operators didn’t care in the sense that they’d gotten your money. You can still buy the workshop plans from Abbott Magic in Michigan, if you want, and build your own. I think the plans are $5. [He remembered correctly. The plans are $5 as of October 2018.]

And the illusion doesn’t look like the sideshow banner. They all have something sticking out of her head. It’s not simply a headless woman.

How much would the headless girl illusion banner be worth if the artist was anonymous? The banner market is not what it used to be, but I don’t think it would change it tremendously. If it’s anonymous, it’s a 20 to 30 percent difference.

What does the Johnny Fox provenance add to the sideshow banner’s value? I think it adds a little bit to it. A lot of people are interested in Johnny Fox. If you look on Facebook, there are memorials to him. He had a lot of friends. He performed for 37 seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. They named a stage after him in tribute to him. A lot of people fondly remember Fox and his museum.

What are the odds that the same bidder buys the Headless Girl sideshow banner and the headless woman apparatus? About 50/50. I think there’s a good chance someone will buy the prop and use it. I think a collector will buy the banner.

How to bid: The Headless Girl sideshow banner is lot 8 in Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox, a sale that takes place November 10, 2018 at Potter & Potter.

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

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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SOLD! A William Henry Harrison Ceramic Campaign Pitcher from 1840 Sold For… (Scroll Down to See)

A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign for president.

Update: The William Henry Harrison 1840 campaign pitcher sold for $18,750.

What you see: A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign for president. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $30,000.

The expert: Don Ackerman, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’s historical Americana & political department.

Who would have bought this pitcher in 1840? Or did William Henry Harrison make them to give away to his most ardent supporters? A lot of the campaign items from that period were utilitarian objects. In contrast to campaign buttons or ribbons that you wore to a rally, you’d display the pitcher in your home, and you could use it. I don’t think he gave it away. It was not cheap to produce. If you were a diehard supporter, you’d buy it and put it in your house. After the election, you didn’t throw it out. It had long-term value.

Was the ceramic pitcher a common form for campaign memorabilia in 1840? It was a fairly common form. Pitchers made of soft paste porcelain and china have a history. Before America became independent, there was a 1766 teapot that said ‘No Stamp Act’. That’s certainly one of the earliest political items. After the Revolutionary War, you’d often see Liverpool jugs, which were imported from England. America had very little in the way of pottery. Though England lost the war, they produced patriotic pitchers and tankards for the U.S. because there was demand for them.

William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office, so there’s little to collect from his time as president. I imagine there’s much more material from his days as a candidate? You get a lot of stuff for William Henry Harrison and practically nothing for his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Harrison had a highly organized campaign and it caught the public’s attention more than any other campaign before that time. 1840 stands out for a flourishing of political items and material, and probably 95 percent of it was for William Henry Harrison.

Why was that? Was Harrison a marketing and branding wizard, or was the demand for Harrison stuff that strong? I think there was demand for it. His was the first campaign with an icon–the log cabin and the hard cider barrel. Previously, you didn’t have symbols representing the candidates. Harrison came up with the log cabin and the hard cider barrel, and it caught fire.

We think that four or five of these ceramic pitchers survive, but do we have any idea how many might have been made? They probably made very few of them. It was made by an American pottery company.

So you get cross-competition for this pitcher from collectors of American ceramics? Yes. Pottery people really like it. This is the pinnacle of political pottery from 1840. There’s probably fewer than ten examples in existence. When these come up for auction, they consistently sell for a lot of money.

How do the decorations on the pitcher reflect William Henry Harrison’s campaign imagery? It’s got the log cabin and the hard cider barrel.

Where is the hard cider barrel? Below the window of the log cabin. It was a popular image because Harrison was meant to be a man of the people. Contrast that with Martin Van Buren, who was considered a New York elitist who’d sit in the White House and sip Champagne from a silver goblet. The hard cider barrel was originally a criticism of Harrison–that he was a country bumpkin, and if he was given a pension he’d be content to sit in a log cabin and sip hard cider. Of course by that time he was living in a mansion, but he presented himself as born in and lived in a log cabin, and an Ohio farmer, like Cincinnatus, going back to his farm after the war.

Does the pitcher have every element that a William Henry Harrison collector would want? No, it doesn’t, but it’s got the essentials. It doesn’t say “The Hero of Tippecanoe,” and it doesn’t show a canoe. [Yes, Harrison was the ‘Tippecanoe’ in ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,’ and that slogan is not on the pitcher, either.] He was sometimes called the “Farmer of North Bend.” Here he’s the “Ohio Farmer.” It lacks the symbol of the Whig party, which was the raccoon–

Wait, wait, wait. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon? What is it with American political parties choosing non-heroic animals to represent them? The raccoon goes with the rustic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type of thing. These guys were trappers. They trapped animals, sold the hides, and made stew out of the meat.

This pitcher was a functional object. Does it show any signs of use? Not really. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s got some discoloration on the inside, and it’s got a crack and a chip [which you can see on the spout of the pitcher]. Obviously, it was used. The crack and the chip can be restored, and the stains can be bleached out. Even with the defects, it’s probably the nicest one [of the surviving pitchers] I’ve seen. A lot of them have cracks and tend to be highly discolored.

Another example of the William Henry Harrison pitcher went to auction at Heritage in December 2016, selling for $37,500. But do you remember if and when one of these pitchers went to auction before then? This one and the one sold in 2016 are the only two I remember in political memorabilia auctions. I know of five examples, and I’ve been collecting for 54 years. They’re highly prized. I don’t think I’ve seen one sold for under $20,000, even going way, way back. This is the Cadillac. It’s got four portraits. It was made in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s big. It’s got great graphics. It’s rare. If you can afford it, it’s a great item to have.

How to bid: The William Henry Harrison ceramic pitcher is lot #43039 in the David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential & Political Americana, Part IV sale, which takes place on November 10 and 11 at Heritage Auctions.

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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Earlier in 2018, Don Ackerman spoke to The Hot Bid about a William McKinley campaign poster, also from the David and Janice Frent Collection, which sold for $11,875.

Did you just realize that “William Henry Harrison” scans just like “Alexander Hamilton”? No need to write a Hamilton parody. Actor Jason Kravitz beat you to it.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize for Physics Could Sell for $1.2 Million


The Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded to Richard Feynman in 1965 for his contributions to creating a new quantum electrodynamics.

What you see: The Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded to Richard Feynman in 1965 for his contributions to creating a new quantum electrodynamics. Sotheby’s estimates it at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

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

In the press release for the sale and in the raw lot notes for the Nobel Prize, Feynman is described as a “rock star of physics” and “one of the most beloved scientists of all time.” What makes him so? I think what earns him the title of the “rock star of physics” is his personality–who he was as a human, and his intellectual capacity. If you look at other physicists of his caliber, you don’t see relatable humans with the same intellect. You could compare Feynman to Einstein, but Feynman loved teaching, and it was more important to him than theoretical work. Rock stars transcend their genres. They’re not just musicians. Feynman transcended his work. He would always say there’s nothing magical here, that he was just very curious, worked hard on the questions, and figured it out. But he inspired people, and he imparted excitement to people.

Feynman died 30 years ago, but he’s just as popular now as he was when he was alive. How has he managed to persist? Why hasn’t his memory faded? Partly it’s because of his personality, who he was. A lot of scientists are best known for their work. With others, the subject that won the prize is far more famous than the person who did the work. Because Feynman was such a popular figure, he was able to stay popular.

Have his books and his former students played a role in keeping his memory alive? He taught so many people who went on to teach other people who are super-successful and doing things they love to do. Not all are physicists, but they apply what they learned from Feynman to their lives. One of his biggest lessons was to enjoy life and enjoy what you’re doing. I’ve met many of his students, and they’re generally happy, fun-loving people. And I think the books definitely help.

It’s interesting that Feynman’s fame persists without the help of an Academy Award-winning film, such as A Beautiful Mind. At the end of the day, an Oscar-winning film is just an Oscar-winning film. Feynman doesn’t need a film. He became his own legend. He’s one of the rare people who was human, fun-loving, and also a fun-loving genius. He defied the stereotype of the scientist in a lab, not interacting people, with no social skills. He was the opposite of that.

Feynman won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for work on quantum electrodynamics. Using non-technical language, can you explain why his contribution to science was such a big deal? Feynman was asked the same question, and he said, “Hell, if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel prize.” To be frank, I don’t understand it completely.

Feynman was one of three who earned the 1965 prize for work on this problem. Did he work directly with his fellow winners, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga? They were all working on similar problems independently, but they knew about each other and were aware of each other’s work. Schwinger and Tomonaga took a mathematical approach to how to reconcile quantum mechanics, a 19th century science, with quantum electrodynamics, a 20th century science. Feynman’s approach was completely original and took a completely different direction. One of the ways he explained it it was by coming up with Feynman diagrams [click those words to see what a Feynman diagram looks like]. Those diagrams really revolutionized how we do quantum electrodynamics. They’re standard now.

How did Feynman learn that he’d won the Nobel Prize? He got a phone call at 4 am from a reporter. My understanding is he was unhappy about it [both the crazy-early phone call and the news of the win]. He asked his wife, Gweneth, how he could get out of it. He had a good life, and he knew the win would change things. I think the way it goes is she said, ‘Dear, the publicity would be worse if you don’t accept the prize.’ So he went to Stockholm and ended up having a great time. Feynman had been raised with a suspicion of institutions and authority. [Receiving the prize] played into his reluctance, because it was another symbol of the establishment. But he realized the machine had started running, and it’s harder to stop the machine than go along with it.

What did Feynman do with his share of the Nobel Prize money? He spent part of it on a vacation house in Mexico, and he bought a van. There’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which they take the Richard Feynman van and drive down to Mexico and stay in Richard Feynman’s vacation home.

Have the other two Nobel Prizes in Physics for 1965 come to auction? No. I keep a spreadsheet of all the Nobel Prizes ever sold. I’ve been obsessed with the market for Nobels for a long time–I started tracking them in 2012. They have not come up.

How have you seen the market for Nobel Prizes change over time? A few had come up, three or four, since 1988. Then Francis Crick’s Nobel sold at Heritage Auctions for $2.2 million in 2013, and it kind of sparked a flurry. It was the highest price ever paid for a Nobel, and it really got a lot of attention. It was followed by James Watson’s Nobel Prize selling at Christie’s in 2014 for $4.7 million. What’s really interesting is most of what we sell has no inherent value, but the story is what is valuable. Whereas a Nobel Prize actually has a value. Prizes minted before 1985 are made from 23-karat solid gold. Depending on the value of gold, they’re worth about $10,000. Prizes minted after 1985 are plated with 24-karat gold.

The price range for Nobel Prizes at auction is all over the place. Which ones sell for the most money? I’ve been trying to figure out which categories are worth more. The fewer the words you need to explain why a person won the Nobel, the more it sells for. With Watson, it’s “DNA.” No need to explain. “DNA” is enough. With Feynman, you can just say “Feynman.” No one is going to ask me to explain quantum electrodynamics, thank God.

How often does Feynman material come up at auction? It’s super-rare. There have been two manuscripts by Feynman to come to market. One was at Sotheby’s in 2006–lecture notes from one of his students, who was helping transcribe them. The other was a sheet of calculations he signed to Egon Lehmkuhl, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2008. Do you know who bought that?

No. I bought it. I was a dealer at the time. I sold it and I started looking for Feynman material obsessively. Those two manuscripts that came up were total flukes. All his material is in the archives at Caltech. Since then, four copies of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! that he signed and gave to friends have come up. One of them sold at Sotheby’s last year for $43,750.

What else comes with the Nobel Prize as part of the lot? There’s the Nobel, the box it comes in, the diploma, and two programs. One says things like ‘the limo comes at this time, this is a white-tie party, you’ll eat this meal.’ The other is a program with translations of the Nobel speeches. On the back, Feynman has doodled Feynman diagrams. To get Feynman diagrams on the back of a Nobel Prize ceremony program is pretty cool.

Has a Feynman diagram drawn by Feynman ever gone to auction before? Prior to this, no. There are other manuscript lots in the sale that have Feynman diagrams.

I’m surprised that more Feynman material hasn’t managed to escape to the market, here and there. Yeah. Again, because he gave just about everything to Caltech, what stayed at his house were things he probably thought weren’t important. But when you look at them, you realize they’re extremely important. Final manuscripts don’t tell you much. How he gets there is much more interesting. What you see in the manuscripts [offered in other lots in the November 30 sale] is how he gets there. You see how he gets from A to Z.

What other Feynman pieces are in the sale? There are about 40 lots. They include a tambourine, very conveniently signed by him, thank you Richard Feynman, which he bought in Copacabana, Brazil. He talks about it in Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and it’s torn from being played too much. There’s his undergraduate copy of Paul Dirac’s The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, with his handwritten annotations. Some [pages] have very heavy annotation. One says ‘prove this one day’ or ‘figure it out one day’–it’s the book that made Feynman Feynman. [Later she clarified: The notation is “analyze this some day”, and it’s in a section about the polarization of photons.] There are transcripts from the Oppenheimer hearing. There are some arithmetic books from his undergraduate years. The books are really, really interesting. He lived in a frat house at MIT. One book has his MIT address and his address in Far Rockaway. Then another book just has the MIT address–a shift that says ‘This is my home now.’ There are clues that tell you about the young Feynman.

Whoa, whoa. What was it like for you to look through all that stuff? Honestly, I teared up. I could not believe it. I could not believe it. I had said to a colleague the year before that the only Nobel Prize I wanted to sell is Richard Feynman’s. To get that call… I’m a specialist in science and technology. I don’t talk about fate, but it felt like cosmic alignment to get that call.

The estimate on the Feynman Nobel Prize is $800,000 to $1.2 million. The world auction record for a Nobel Prize is $4.7 million. Do you think Feynman’s has a chance to approach or beat the record? I’m optimistic it will exceed the estimate, but at the end of the day, it’s just an estimate. I don’t know how it will do until the day of the auction, but it’s not… it’s such a weird thing to say, but it’s not a regular Nobel Prize. Because Richard Feynman is a celebrity, he’s in a different category. There’s no comparable [no lot sold before at auction] that’s exactly like it. It’s an unusual situation. The work [that the Nobel Prize recognizes] is tremendously important and the personality is tremendously important. That Venn diagram is what buyers look for.

The Nobel Prize world auction record belongs to one that was awarded to a scientist. Why? Why hasn’t a Nobel Prize for Literature or Peace sold for more? Part of it is looking at the demographics of the buyers. If you look at the Forbes 500, a lot of the wealth today comes from or relates to science. And a lot of people are motivated by nostalgia, a time when they were happy and young. With Feynman, bidders remember studying his work in college or reading Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and being inspired by him. It’s not that Nobel Prizes for Peace or Literature are less important. There are just fewer buyers.

How many Nobel Prizes have you handled? How is this one different? I’ve handled six or less. The others were certainly important and exciting, but this one got my pulse going. You try not to be, how can I say it, emotionally involved in a sale, because sometimes, things don’t sell. This is something I’ve been obsessed with. Feynman is my favorite scientist of all time. I’ve got pictures of him in my office. I don’t know how I’m going to top this one, let’s put it like that.

How to bid: Richard Feynman’s Nobel Prize is lot 67 in the History of Science & Technology sale at Sotheby’s New York on November 30, 2018.

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

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Cassandra Hatton on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cassandra Hatton spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about an Apollo 13 space-flown flight plan, which ultimately sold for $275,000–more than six times its high estimate.

If you haven’t yet read Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! yet, you have a treat ahead of you. Purchase it from an independent bookseller, such as The Strand Bookstore in New York City.

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to background on the Feynman van, as well as a website about Feynman himself.

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

A 1903 World Series Program Could Command $250,000

The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh.

What you see: The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.

Why do so few of these inaugural World Series programs survive? They were actually sold only at Pittsburgh games. Boston won the series, five games to three. [It was a best of nine.] I think only four of those games were played in Pittsburgh. Twenty to 30 copies of the Boston version of the program have surfaced over the years. Only three have surfaced for the Pittsburgh games. One is in Cooperstown, and one is in a private collection. This one here was purchased by the consigner in the 1970s and has been in a safe deposit box ever since.

Why should there be fewer surviving Pittsburgh programs than Boston programs? Was the Pittsburgh park smaller, or the program less interesting than the Boston one? Being that it was the first World Series, I’m not sure they were expecting a huge turnout. They didn’t know if if would even catch on.

To stay on that point about the Pittsburgh program maybe being less interesting–the cover does not show any players… It’s mostly ads. As you open it up, there are lots and lots of ads, 90 percent advertising.

Maybe that explains why so few of these 1903 World Series programs survive? People didn’t buy the Pittsburgh program because it was so full of ads? Possibly. In and among a page of ads is a picture of [Pittsburgh Pirate] Honus Wagner, who was the star of the series. [The images of the players] are only silhouettes, two by two inch black and white head shots, in a bunch of ads. They had the player’s last name underneath. The players are in business suits with ties. They’re not even in uniform.

What condition is the 1903 World Series program in? I see pieces of tape on the cover… It must have been coming apart a little, because it has three pieces of tape on it. I don’t know if that was done in 1903, but it was done a very, very long time ago. And it’s got some wear on the corners, and things like that. When I get an old publication, I pick it up and smell it. It smells like old paper. That’s a telltale sign it’s not a reproduction. The pages are very. very thin compared to today’s programs. But there are no pages missing, no tears, no rips, no excessive writing.

Have you personally seen the other two known copies of the 1903 World Series program from Pittsburgh? I have not, but I can only imagine, barring the tape, I couldn’t find one nicer than this.

Do we know who the program’s first owner was–the person who made the notations on the cover and the scorecard inside? And do we know any of its subsequent owners, aside from the consigner? We don’t. However, the style of the scoring is very much of the period. Today, scorecards are much more elaborate.

And those handmade notations–that’s how we know it’s a World Series program from Game 7, yes? Yes. The World Series is the only time the American League met the National League in 1903. They didn’t play each other during the year.

The printers used three colors on this 1903 World Series program: blue, red, and black. Does that mean the people who commissioned the program splashed out on it? Actually, this is a bit more primitive. Some scorecards produced in the late 1800s were more elaborate. They might have four or five or more colors on some of them.

The words “World Series” don’t appear anywhere on the front or back cover of this 1903 World Series program. Do they appear anywhere inside it? No. Actually, it looks very similar to programs that the Pittsburgh ball club put out for regular games, if not identical. The defining part is the center page scorecard. I’d imagine the center page is a thing that could be a separate insert on its own, changed on a day to day basis. [FWIW, the cover of the counterpart Boston program doesn’t say “World Series”, but it does say “World’s Championship Games.” To learn more about how the contest got its modern name, follow this link and scroll down to the section called The Origin of the Name ‘the World Series’,]

What else marks this as ephemera from 1903? Are there ads in the program that would never appear in a World Series program today? There are whiskey ads, and one for cigars, three for five cents. Another says ‘Drink Crystal Water and live for 200 years.’

The Federal Trade Commission would not be cool with an ad like that today. No. There’s an ad for OK beer. Another cigar ad–almost everybody smoked. There’s literally page after page of advertising.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Knowing what it is and knowing the significance of it, it’s very cool. In our industry, rookie cards are very, very hot. This is sort of the rookie card of World Series programs. The rarity of it is key, the firstness of it is key, and only three have surfaced. But there could be some in attics, basements, or drawers that haven’t come out.

How to bid: The 1903 World Series program from Pittsburgh is lot 2 in Huggins and Scott‘s November Auction, which runs from November 2 to November 15, 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.

Image is courtesy of Huggins and Scott.

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

Chirp! A Jess Blackstone Robin Carving Sold for… (Scroll Down and See)

A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969.

Update: The Jess Blackstone robin sold for $584.

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

Did Jess Blackstone live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

How prolific was Jess Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

What do we know about how Jess Blackstone worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

Where do collectors put Jess Blackstone bird carvings? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone bird carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

What is this Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 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.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

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

A William Henry Harrison Campaign Pitcher Could Sell for $30,000

A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign for president.

What you see: A large (almost a foot tall) ceramic pitcher touting Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign for president. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $30,000.

The expert: Don Ackerman, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’s historical Americana & political department.

Who would have bought this pitcher in 1840? Or did Harrison make them to give away to his most ardent supporters? A lot of the campaign items from that period were utilitarian objects. In contrast to campaign buttons or ribbons that you wore to a rally, you’d display the pitcher in your home, and you could use it. I don’t think he gave it away. It was not cheap to produce. If you were a diehard supporter, you’d buy it and put it in your house. After the election, you didn’t throw it out. It had long-term value.

Was the ceramic pitcher a common form for campaign memorabilia in 1840? It was a fairly common form. Pitchers made of soft paste porcelain and china have a history. Before America became independent, there was a 1766 teapot that said ‘No Stamp Act’. That’s certainly one of the earliest political items. After the Revolutionary War, you’d often see Liverpool jugs, which were imported from England. America had very little in the way of pottery. Though England lost the war, they produced patriotic pitchers and tankards for the U.S. because there was demand for them.

William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office, so there’s little to collect from his time as president. I imagine there’s much more material from his days as a candidate? You get a lot of stuff for William Henry Harrison and practically nothing for his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Harrison had a highly organized campaign and it caught the public’s attention more than any other campaign before that time. 1840 stands out for a flourishing of political items and material, and probably 95 percent of it was for William Henry Harrison.

Why was that? Was Harrison a marketing and branding wizard, or was the demand for Harrison stuff that strong? I think there was demand for it. His was the first campaign with an icon–the log cabin and the hard cider barrel. Previously, you didn’t have symbols representing the candidates. Harrison came up with the log cabin and the hard cider barrel, and it caught fire.

We think that four or five of these ceramic pitchers survive, but do we have any idea how many might have been made? They probably made very few of them. It was made by an American pottery company.

So you get cross-competition for this pitcher from collectors of American ceramics? Yes. Pottery people really like it. This is the pinnacle of political pottery from 1840. There’s probably fewer than ten examples in existence. When these come up for auction, they consistently sell for a lot of money.

How do the decorations on the pitcher reflect William Henry Harrison’s campaign imagery? It’s got the log cabin and the hard cider barrel.

Where is the hard cider barrel? Below the window of the log cabin. It was a popular image because Harrison was meant to be a man of the people. Contrast that with Martin Van Buren, who was considered a New York elitist who’d sit in the White House and sip Champagne from a silver goblet. The hard cider barrel was originally a criticism of Harrison–that he was a country bumpkin, and if he was given a pension he’d be content to sit in a log cabin and sip hard cider. Of course by that time he was living in a mansion, but he presented himself as born in and lived in a log cabin, and an Ohio farmer, like Cincinnatus, going back to his farm after the war.

Does the pitcher have every element that a William Henry Harrison collector would want? No, it doesn’t, but it’s got the essentials. It doesn’t say “The Hero of Tippecanoe,” and it doesn’t show a canoe. [Yes, Harrison was the ‘Tippecanoe’ in ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,’ and that slogan is not on the pitcher, either.] He was sometimes called the “Farmer of North Bend.” Here he’s the “Ohio Farmer.” It lacks the symbol of the Whig party, which was the raccoon–

Wait, wait, wait. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon? What is it with American political parties choosing non-heroic animals to represent them? The raccoon goes with the rustic Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type of thing. These guys were trappers. They trapped animals, sold the hides, and made stew out of the meat.

This pitcher was a functional object. Does it show any signs of use? Not really. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s got some discoloration on the inside, and it’s got a crack and a chip [which you can see on the spout of the pitcher]. Obviously, it was used. The crack and the chip can be restored, and the stains can be bleached out. Even with the defects, it’s probably the nicest one [of the surviving pitchers] I’ve seen. A lot of them have cracks and tend to be highly discolored.

Another example of the William Henry Harrison pitcher went to auction at Heritage in December 2016, selling for $37,500. But do you remember if and when one of these pitchers went to auction before then? This one and the one sold in 2016 are the only two I remember in political memorabilia auctions. I know of five examples, and I’ve been collecting for 54 years. They’re highly prized. I don’t think I’ve seen one sold for under $20,000, even going way, way back. This is the Cadillac. It’s got four portraits. It was made in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s big. It’s got great graphics. It’s rare. If you can afford it, it’s a great item to have.

How to bid: The William Henry Harrison ceramic pitcher is lot #43039 in the David and Janice Frent Collection of Presidential & Political Americana, Part IV sale, which takes place on November 10 and 11 at Heritage Auctions.

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.

Earlier in 2018, Don Ackerman spoke to The Hot Bid about a William McKinley campaign poster, also from the David and Janice Frent Collection, which sold for $11,875.

Did you just realize that “William Henry Harrison” scans just like “Alexander Hamilton”? No need to write a Hamilton parody. Actor Jason Kravitz beat you to it.

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.

Chirp! Skinner Has a Flock of Jess Blackstone Bird Carvings, Including a Robin That Could Fly Away With $500

1576Miniature birds “Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone”

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

Did Jess Blackstone live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

How prolific was Jess Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

What do we know about how Jess Blackstone worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

Where do collectors put Jess Blackstone bird carvings? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone bird carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

What is this Jess Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

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You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Skinner.

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

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Sold! The 1869 Red Stockings Sheet Music Fetched $1,320

An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name.

Update: The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music sold for $1,320.

What you see: An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name. Robert Edward Auctions estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

The expert: Tom D’Alonzo, vintage memorabilia specialist at Robert Edward Auctions.

How was sheet music of this sort used in the mid-19th century? Also, is this sheet music for the piano, for voice, or both? It might be a little hard, but try to imagine living in a time with no radio, no records, no televisions. If you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a concert or play an instrument. A lot of homes had a piano, so sheet music like this was sold to be played for entertainment. This sheet music is for exactly that – a piano – with no lyrics included.

How many songs are in this 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music? Would we recognize any of the songs today, or are all of them unknown to modern audiences? Only one song appears in this sheet music, and I would think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be recognized today if the tune came on the radio.

How was the sort of music in the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music important to baseball and baseball fandom? Did clubs that were similar to the Royal Rooters in Boston exist in 1869? Would they have used sheet music such as this? I don’t know how important it was to the fan base, but other prominent teams and players had songs dedicated to them – it was considered a great honor. I’d imagine that some of these songs were popular in their day, but it’s hard to say for sure – we have no way of seeing how many pieces of sheet music were sold. The Red Stockings had a strong local following, of course, but nothing to the extent of the Royal Rooters.

Why are the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings ‘one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history’, according to the lot notes? What is the demand like for that club’s material today, and how does it remain strong? This team is generally considered to be the first professional team. That, coupled with the fact that they won all their games in 1869 against some of the best teams in the country, has made them pretty famous today. That contributes to a strong demand for items related to the team, but there aren’t a ton of items to go around. We’ve seen some, including CDVs [cartes de visite] and sheet music like this, and they’re always in demand.

Are the Cincinnati Red Stockings an antecedent to the Cincinnati Reds? Does the club have any connection to the Boston Red Sox? You’d think they would, but they don’t. Four players from the 1869 Cincinnati team joined up with the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 as part of the National Association, which was baseball’s first professional league, after the Cincinnati club disbanded. That Boston team is actually today’s Atlanta Braves – stick with me here – and the Boston Red Sox didn’t come along until 1901. The Cincinnati Reds that we know today weren’t a thing until 1882.

Is this cover design for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music unusually elaborate? What can we infer from the fact that the publisher thought they could pay to show all nine players in this level of detail on the cover and make a profit? This cover was obviously designed to catch the eye, and that’s true of most early baseball sheet music. They’re phenomenal display pieces and very attractive. The players on the 1869 team were all well known, so it’s likely the manufacturer saw them as great selling points and included them all.

How does this copy compare to the other four that you’ve handled? Without being able to hold them side by side, I’d estimate that this example is middle of the pack – not the best, but not the worst. It’s really a solid example.

How did it manage to survive so well? Much of the early sheet music was bound together in an album, and that’s true of this example. Having it preserved tightly and free of exposure to the elements contributed to its survival.

The lot notes mention the sheet music’s ‘extremely fragile nature’–what makes it fragile? Was it printed on lower-quality paper? And does it require any sort of special handling, such as gloves? It’s printed on thin paper – not low quality by any means, but thin and susceptible to tearing or damage. Gloves aren’t needed to handle it, but common cautions should be taken to ensure it lives another 100+ years.

How did this 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music come to you? How many owners has it had? Have you sold it before? This piece has a typical story – it was collected by a sheet music collector who enjoyed it for many years before deciding it was time to sell his collection. I don’t know where he acquired it or how many owners it had, but it’s the first time we’ve ever offered it.

What is the world auction record for this particular piece of sheet music? The highest price we’re aware of at public auction is $4,025 in 1999.

Why will this item stick in your memory? It’s just a classic piece from the early days of baseball. When we think sheet music, it’s hard not to have the 1869 Red Stockings sheet music come to mind.

How to bid: The 1869 Red Stockings sheet music is lot 2054 in the REA Fall Auction, which opened online on October 8, 2018 and closes on October 28, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.

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A Snap Wyatt Sideshow Banner of a Headless Girl Could Sell for $2,000

A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion.

What you see: A sideshow banner made by Snap Wyatt circa 1965, advertising a headless girl illusion. Potter & Potter estimates it at $1,500 to $2,000.

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

How rarely do sideshow banners painted by Snap Wyatt come to auction? I don’t know that it’s unusual. They’re out there. Remember, Wyatt said he could paint one banner per day.

Where does Snap Wyatt rank among the known sideshow banner painters? And is this the largest group of Snap Wyatt banners you’ve offered at the same time? He ranks in the top three, top five. And yes, it is the largest group. Usually we get them one or two at a time, if at all.

How does this Snap Wyatt banner compare to the other Snap Wyatt banners in the auction? It’s in better condition than some of the others. But it’s so hard to say–tastes vary widely. One banner in there shows a magician, and someone will want that who’s interested in magic. Some might be interested in the Headless Girl because they like a woman in a bikini.

Snap Wyatt signed this banner. Is that unusual? No, he usually put his stencil signature on them. There are many unsigned examples [of sideshow banners] but I think people like examples by known painters–Sigler, Johnson, Wyatt.

How do you know Wyatt painted this banner around 1965? It’s an educated guess based on its style and condition. It’s not an earlier banner because it’d be a lot rougher as far as condition. Johnny Meah gave me insight into when and how Wyatt worked.

Do sideshow banner collectors avoid banners that don’t show enough signs of having been on the road? I think something collectors look for are show-used banners–ones you can prove were used in a particular show at a particular time. That is to the good. I don’t know that that’s the case here.

Would people who paid to enter the sideshow in 1965 because this banner caught their eye have seen a headless girl illusion that looks like this? [Laughs] No. They would not have seen it in this way, no. It was the equivalent of a line illustration in the Johnson Smith catalog. The difference between imagination and reality is pretty stark.

How far off would it be from what we see on the banner? It’d be different in that she wouldn’t be sitting sideways, she wouldn’t be in a bikini, and a thing would be attached to her head in place of her head, like the apparatus we’re selling in lot 646. This is very casual-looking, as if she’ll get up and walk around. In a ten-in-one [a sideshow that offered ten acts in one venue for one price], she’d sit in a chair, and there’d be someone next to her, the demonstrator of the attraction, fiddling with knobs on a blinking control board or pouring fluid into tubes leading to her neck, explaining how she survives. He might hand her things to prove she’s alive and not a robot. Since she’s not getting up out of the chair and can’t talk, she’s going to need some help.

Is the headless girl illusion a standard sideshow attraction? I would say it’s a classic,  a fairly common thing. It was exhibited at Coney Island for years.

Did the headless girl just sit there, or did she do things? She could have done any number of things. She definitely moved around to prove she was not a wax figure or a mannequin. She could have written on a blackboard, anything to prove she was alive.

How similar would the circa 1965 headless girl apparatus have been to the one you’re offering in lot 646? The method is basically unchanged. The way it works now is identical to the way it worked then. There would have been tubes or a metal apparatus coming out of her neck. Perhaps they dressed it up in different ways, with different headpieces, or different sets of tubes and a lot of things on the side to “keep her alive.”

So you can guess where the headless girl’s head is pretty easily. It depends on how careful the exhibitor is. The illusion can be quite good. It’s up to them to set it up correctly. A lot of show operators didn’t care in the sense that they’d gotten your money. You can still buy the workshop plans from Abbott Magic in Michigan, if you want, and build your own. I think the plans are $5. [He remembered correctly. The plans are $5 as of October 2018.]

And the illusion doesn’t look like the banner. They all have something sticking out of her head. It’s not simply a headless woman.

How much would the banner be worth if the artist was anonymous? The banner market is not what it used to be, but I don’t think it would change it tremendously. If it’s anonymous, it’s a 20 to 30 percent difference.

What does the Johnny Fox provenance add to the banner’s value? I think it adds a little bit to it. A lot of people are interested in Johnny Fox. If you look on Facebook, there are memorials to him. He had a lot of friends. He performed for 37 seasons at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. They named a stage after him in tribute to him. A lot of people fondly remember Fox and his museum.

What are the odds that the same bidder buys the Headless Girl banner and the headless woman apparatus? About 50/50. I think there’s a good chance someone will buy the prop and use it. I think a collector will buy the banner.

How to bid: The Headless Girl sideshow banner is lot 8 in Freakatorium: The Collection of Johnny Fox, a sale that takes place November 10, 2018 at Potter & Potter.

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 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.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

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Sold! A 1928 Roger Broders Corsica Travel Poster Commanded $7,500

La Place de Calvi. Corse, a 1928 poster by Roger Broders, touting Calvi Beach on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Update: The 1928 Roger Broders poster featuring Calvi Beach in Corsica sold for $7,500.

What you see: La Place de Calvi. Corse, a 1928 poster by Roger Broders, touting Calvi Beach on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

Where was Roger Broders in his career in 1928? Let me give you a little background first. In 2011, we were very lucky at Swann to hold a sale called The Complete Poster Works of Roger Broders–every poster he ever designed. We have handled all his material at the same time. We’re in a good position to have an overview. We arranged the catalog in chronological order, first to last, and we had 100 lots in the auction. This poster was number 49, so, midway in his output, if not his actual career. He was at a stage when his figures take on a lithe, elongated look.

Was this his first poster for this client? Oh, no. PLM was his major client, his primary client. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of his posters were done for them.

A railway company commissioned this Corsica poster from Roger Broders, but there’s no train in it. Why would a railroad want a travel poster that didn’t show a railroad? The railway teamed up with ferry services. You would have booked the ferry through the train company–it was a PLM ticket. PLM was like a travel agency, in that way. This [Corsica] was along their extended route.

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What makes this Roger Broders image a strong poster design? I see a bright patch of orange in the middle–a beautiful, brightly colored, artistically decorated wrap. If I was passing by this, I would stop because I saw a flash of orange. Then I’d see the pretty lady. The composition is fantastic. The curve of the shore is a Broders design motif. Her body cuts right through it. It’s very eye-catching. And at the time, people wouldn’t have thought this, but it’s an incredible Art Deco image. This is archetypal Art Deco. The coastline is sweeping, the cape is moving, the waves are lapping at the shore.

Was it unusual for Broders to place a woman front-and-center, as he does here? Lot 72 is the same woman seen from the back. There are a handful of other posters where he has figures taking the central place.

I went back and forth between those two posters, lot 71 and lot 72, and settled on this one because I recognized the woman’s feet and legs. They look like the feet and legs of Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It’s almost as if he traced them. I don’t see anything mentioned in the lot notes, though. Is Broders quoting that painting?  The tilt of her head is similar, and the elongated neck is similar. There’s no way it’s a coincidence. It’s too accurate. 100 percent, this is a nod to Birth of Venus.

And the Birth of Venus is, technically, a beach scene… It gets better and better. If you look at the bottom of the poster, there are two figures on the left of the woman and one on the right. That’s also like the painting. The figure on the right in the painting is about to shroud Venus with a cloak. In the poster, the woman has a wrap. There’s not a lot of info on Broders, but the Birth of Venus is in Florence, and he did a poster for Florence in 1921. And that’s his style–the elongated style appears in other posters.

Was it typical for him to quote paintings in his posters? Off the top of my head, I’ve never seen a pose in his posters that made me think he was copying an Old Master.

How many of these 1928 Roger Broders Corsica posters have you handled, and what is the auction record? It’s not rare, but it’s not common. At least 23 have been auctioned since 1988. We have had it three times. The first time was in 2011. The auction record is $16,800, set at Poster Auctions International in February 2018.

M38476-1 004

Where does this rank among Broders’s poster designs? Certainly in the top 10 and probably in the top five. Now I’m biased, knowing it was based on the Birth of Venus. I thought it was a great poster before you said that. Now it’s like, wow. It’s because of the composition, the color, the style, and the attitude it broadcasts–summer laziness, aristocratic decadence. It’s certainly how high society lives. There’s no question this is an elegant lady.

What else do you like about this Roger Broders Corsica poster? He has made the landscape realistic. It’s Calvi Beach in Corsica, and it wraps around Corsica. That sweep is not an exaggeration. He has accurately represented the surroundings. It’s a tribute to the level of detail he put into his work. Some posters are really supposed to represent an attitude. This is about a destination, too. Lot 72, the woman with her arms to the sun–that doesn’t tell you anything about where you’re going. There’s a beach, but it’s not the same level as this.

How to bid: The Roger Broders Corsica poster is lot 71 in the Rare & Important Travel Posters sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 25, 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.

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about Swann setting the world auction record for any travel postera 1938 London Transport poster by Man Ray that ultimately sold for $149,000a 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.

Are you a professional art historian? Here’s the full Swann Auction Galleries catalogue for The Complete Poster Works of Roger Broders. Can you find more instances of Broders quoting a work of art? If you do, tweet it to @SGSwritereditor, @SwannGalleries, and @NichoLowry, along with a WikiCommons image of the work the poster is emulating.

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

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The First TCB Necklace That Elvis Presley Gave Away Could Sell for $50,000 at Julien’s

A 14k gold necklace with a Taking Care of Business (TCB) logo, given by Elvis Presley to Sonny West circa 1970.

What you see: A 14k gold necklace with a Taking Care of Business (TCB) logo, given by Elvis Presley to Sonny West circa 1970. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

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

What was the Memphis Mafia, and how did it serve Elvis Presley? “Memphis Mafia” was the name given to the group of friends and close confidants of Elvis Presley. The media gave them the name “Memphis Mafia” around 1960. Elvis liked the name and it stuck.

Where did the phrase “Taking Care of Business” come from? Elvis’s band was called Taking Care of Business. He always gave away gifts, especially jewelry, and he came up with the idea for an identifying piece of jewelry that he only gave to the Memphis Mafia. There were probably 12 to 20 people [in the group]. Elvis loved Taking Care of Business. It was the logo on his plane. Priscilla was involved with the design of the logo. They were on the plane when a lightning bolt went through it. She got out her sketch pad and came up with Taking Care of Business in a flash.

When did that happen? We don’t know for sure, but we presume it was the late 1950s or early 1960s, probably after he came out of the military.

How was the material and the carat weight chosen? Elvis loved bling, he loved gold. There were some variants on the necklace. The one he gave Doctor Nick [George Nichopoulos, Presley’s personal physician] had diamonds on it. We sold that one for $120,000. The overall look of the 14k gold necklace is probably based on a collaboration with the jeweler in Beverly Hills and what they could do within their budget.

This is believed to be the first TCB necklace that Elvis Presley gave out. Does that make it more interesting to collectors? Yes. Collectors love something when it’s original, or the first. TCB went on to be a significant Elvis signature, in a way. Its being the first definitely adds value on auction day.

Why is Sonny West a logical recipient of the first TCB necklace? He was Elvis’s bodyguard, responsible for security at his concerts. He was one of the original members of the Memphis Mafia, which was a very close, tight circle. My guess is because he was Elvis’s bodyguard, he was right there when Elvis went to the jewelry shop in Beverly Hills. Because he was right there, and a member of the Memphis Mafia group, he got the first necklace.

Do the TCB necklaces always look like this one does, or did the design change over time? They’re not all exactly the same. The TCB logo with the flash remains the same, but the chains change.

How many owners did the necklace have after Sonny West relinquished it? He passed it on to the consigner, who brought it to us. Jeffrey, the consigner, created a video which is on our site of Sonny West taking the necklace off himself and putting it on Jeffrey. The provenance is 100 percent solid. That plays into the value.

How many TCB necklaces have you handled, and how many TCB necklaces did Elvis give out? Do we know? I think we’ve handled four to sixprobably four, with two coming back to auction again. I don’t know how many there are, but there were somewhere between 12 and 20 people in the Memphis Mafia. Not a huge amount. Maybe 30, max.

Do any period photos exist of Sonny West wearing the TCB necklace and standing alongside Elvis? I presume there would be period photos. He was with Elvis for 16 years, and he was with Elvis a lot. We didn’t license any, but I’m sure there are photos.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $30,000 to $50,000? Obviously we looked at the intrinsic value first. Then we looked at other TCB necklaces we’ve sold. The provenance is so solid because of Sonny West. Then there’s the collectibility of Elvis himself. He has a huge amount of fans out there.

As of October 19, the necklace has its first bid, amounting to $7,500. Does that mean anything? No, it doesn’t mean anything. But we have 55,000 views on this auction already. To have so many so early on, that’s amazing.

What condition is the necklace in? It’s in great condition, given its age and the life it’s had up to now.

Why will this particular TCB necklace stick in your memory? The fact that it was the first one–wow, it was the start of something. The very first one created, for Sonny West, the bodyguard and confidant of Elvis. Within the history of Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, it’s almost like branding, or a tattoo. Taking care of business in a flash was what the Memphis Mafia represented: getting business done. That was what was important to Elvis.

How to bid: The TCB necklace is lot 466 in the Icons and Idols: Rock “N” Roll auction Julien’s will hold in New York on November 9 and 10, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a purple Prince-worn tunic that the star donned for a 1998 BET interview, which yielded a famous GIF; a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

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SOLD! African-American Outsider Artist William Edmondson’s The Crucifixion Commanded $175,000 at Rago

The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

Update: African-American outsider artist William Edmondson’s circa 1930s sculpture, The Crucifixion, sold for $175,000.

What you see: The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Rago Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Sebastian Clarke, director of estate services for Rago.

Did African-American outsider artist William Edmondson use a railroad spike as a chisel for most of his artistic career? He did, though to the best of my knowledge, he used smaller, finer chiseling tools as well. He was very much self-taught. I can send you a discovery–the original press release from the 1937 MoMA show, which includes an interview with him. The list of pieces to be shown includes a version of The Crucifixion. He did three or four different versions of The Crucifixion, and we don’t know if this is the one that was in the show, or another example. Of the three or four, one is in the Smithsonian, at least one other is in a private collection, but was exhibited in 2005, one is unknown [its whereabouts are unknown], and one is ours.

How does this version of The Crucifixion compare to the others? The others have more fully formed figures, with pierced areas between the arms and the cross [the arms are separate]. This is more of a relief, with a flat face. What I love about it is it really conveys Edmondson’s work. It’s impossible to identify it as male or female. Of the others, two ore three are male figures wearing loincloths or underpants. This one is completely plain.

William Edmondson preferred limestone. How difficult is it to carve limestone? It’s very, very difficult to carve. What’s fabulous about this is its condition is so good. You can really see the strike marks where he worked the stone. This is almost smooth to the touch in so many areas.

The sculpture measures 15 and a quarter inches high by 10 and a half inches wide by five inches deep. Is that relatively small for an Edmondson? It’s a hair on the smaller side. His animals seem to be a little smaller. His figures got to be 23, 24 inches. Of his Crucifixions, one is 20 inches and another is 26 inches. So it’s definitely smaller for a Crucifixion, but squarely on the average side for pieces he worked.

Earlier you told me, “This work is as close to Edmondson’s original intent as they get.” Could you elaborate? Edmondson’s pieces are extremely symbolic. The scenes are often drawn from his religious beliefs. This Crucifixion is part of that body of work. The surface is just so fantastic. It’s clearly a crucifixion, but it’s up to the viewer to interpret the rest of the thing.

This is William Edmondson’s only crucifixion sculpture to come to auction. How did you put an estimate on it? We’re aware the world auction record for an Edmondson is nearly $1 million, for a wholly different work. The nature of this is cruder and more simplistic. And a crucifixion, in my experience in the art world, sometimes places limitations on value. We want to take that into account.

But it’s not a gory, gruesome crucifixion scene. It’s pretty stylized. And people who collect folk art and outsider art, they know they’re going to encounter pieces with intensely religious themes. True. But the value will be determined by the marketplace. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’ve been in the business for 20 years. I’ve never handled an Edmondson before. Whenever they come up for sale, they always far exceed the estimate. We’ll try to replicate that success.

Edmondsons rarely go to auction. Is that because most of them are in institutions, or is it because collectors are reluctant to give them up, or both? Several examples are in institutions, and the ones in collectors’ hands are often promised to institutions. Folk art and outsider art collectors take a lot of pride in their collections. Edmondsons come up so rarely, everybody pays attention.

What’s the world auction record for a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson? The Boxer, a circa 1936 piece that sold at Christie’s in January 2016. It had an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and it hammered at $785,000. I’d love to see it [The Crucifixion] beat its estimate but I’d be surprised to see it go beyond-beyond. Artnet only has 24 records. It’s a very shallow pool, and none are a crucifixion. They don’t come from a similar period or style, where the features are not very well-defined. What will that do to it? Will it make it more desirable, or less? We’ll have to wait and see.

What is the William Edmondson sculpture like in person? It’s fabulous. It’s so bright and crisp. There’s something magnetic–you’re drawn to it, and the color and the surface are lovely. It looks like it’s never seen the light of day. The chisel marks are so well-defined on the back. There’s something really exceptional about it.

What does it feel like to hold it in your hands? It’s heavy, probably around 40 pounds. It is surprisingly smooth. You can really feel the weight of the piece, the way the figure is defined on the cross. You want to turn it over and look at the back, which is not easy to do, because it weighs so much.

Is that something that collectors look for in a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson–chisel marks? Or are they so rare that they can’t afford to quibble if they’re missing? The whole idea behind outsider and folk art is really feeling a connection with the individual who made it, to feel them reflected in the piece. In the chisel marks, you can really see him working on it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Probably because I’ll never handle one again. [Laughs.] Edmondsons are something you only hear about, but don’t get to see. For me, personally, my training is in European furniture and decorative art. This is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love. I’ve always been a high-style person. I’ve come to appreciate pieces that are naive in so many ways, but are spectacular. It’s so magnificent.

How to bid: The Crucifixion will be offered in Autobiography of a Hoarder: The Collection of Martin Cohen, Part I, which takes place October 21, 2018 at Rago.

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 Rago Auctions.

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Cincinnati Red Stockings Sheet Music from 1869 Could Sell for $3,000 or More

An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name.

What you see: An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name. Robert Edward Auctions estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

The expert: Tom D’Alonzo, vintage memorabilia specialist at Robert Edward Auctions.

How was sheet music of this sort used in the mid-19th century? Also, is this sheet music for the piano, for voice, or both? It might be a little hard, but try to imagine living in a time with no radio, no records, no televisions. If you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a concert or play an instrument. A lot of homes had a piano, so sheet music like this was sold to be played for entertainment. This sheet music is for exactly that – a piano – with no lyrics included.

How many songs are in this 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music? Would we recognize any of the songs today, or are all of them unknown to modern audiences? Only one song appears in this sheet music, and I would think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be recognized today if the tune came on the radio.

How was music of this sort important to baseball and baseball fandom? Did clubs that were similar to the Royal Rooters in Boston exist in 1869? Would they have used sheet music such as this? I don’t know how important it was to the fan base, but other prominent teams and players had songs dedicated to them – it was considered a great honor. I’d imagine that some of these songs were popular in their day, but it’s hard to say for sure – we have no way of seeing how many pieces of sheet music were sold. The Red Stockings had a strong local following, of course, but nothing to the extent of the Royal Rooters.

Why are the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings ‘one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history’, according to the lot notes? What is the demand like for that club’s material today, and how does it remain strong? This team is generally considered to be the first professional team. That, coupled with the fact that they won all their games in 1869 against some of the best teams in the country, has made them pretty famous today. That contributes to a strong demand for items related to the team, but there aren’t a ton of items to go around. We’ve seen some, including CDVs [cartes de visite] and sheet music like this, and they’re always in demand.

Are the Cincinnati Red Stockings an antecedent to the Cincinnati Reds? Does the club have any connection to the Boston Red Sox? You’d think they would, but they don’t. Four players from the 1869 Cincinnati team joined up with the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 as part of the National Association, which was baseball’s first professional league, after the Cincinnati club disbanded. That Boston team is actually today’s Atlanta Braves – stick with me here – and the Boston Red Sox didn’t come along until 1901. The Cincinnati Reds that we know today weren’t a thing until 1882.

Is this cover design for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music unusually elaborate? What can we infer from the fact that the publisher thought they could pay to show all nine players in this level of detail on the cover and make a profit? This cover was obviously designed to catch the eye, and that’s true of most early baseball sheet music. They’re phenomenal display pieces and very attractive. The players on the 1869 team were all well known, so it’s likely the manufacturer saw them as great selling points and included them all.

How does this 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music compare to the other four that you’ve handled? Without being able to hold them side by side, I’d estimate that this example is middle of the pack – not the best, but not the worst. It’s really a solid example.

How did this 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music manage to survive so well? Much of the early sheet music was bound together in an album, and that’s true of this example. Having it preserved tightly and free of exposure to the elements contributed to its survival.

The lot notes mention the sheet music’s ‘extremely fragile nature’–what makes it fragile? Was it printed on lower-quality paper? And does it require any sort of special handling, such as gloves? It’s printed on thin paper – not low quality by any means, but thin and susceptible to tearing or damage. Gloves aren’t needed to handle it, but common cautions should be taken to ensure it lives another 100+ years.

How did this item come to you? How many owners has it had? Have you sold it before? This piece has a typical story – it was collected by a sheet music collector who enjoyed it for many years before deciding it was time to sell his collection. I don’t know where he acquired it or how many owners it had, but it’s the first time we’ve ever offered it.

What is the world auction record for this particular piece of sheet music? The highest price we’re aware of at public auction is $4,025 in 1999.

Why will this item stick in your memory? It’s just a classic piece from the early days of baseball. When we think sheet music, it’s hard not to have the 1869 Red Stockings sheet music come to mind.

How to bid: The 1869 Red Stockings sheet music is lot 2054 in the REA Fall Auction, which opened online on October 8, 2018 and closes on October 28, 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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Image is courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.

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Sold! That Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Fetched $2,860 at Swann

An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs of nude women shot by Albert Arthur Allen.

Update: The 1925 Albert Arthur Allen portfolio of nudes sold for $2,860.

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates the glorious portfolio of nudes at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

The photo I’m using to illustrate the glorious portfolio of nudes is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

How does this glorious portfolio of nudes exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

Was it legal for Albert Arthur Allen to shoot this glorious portfolio of nudes in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Albert Arthur Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images in this glorious portfolio of nudes—this is all Albert Arthur Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

I understand Albert Arthur Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

Some suggest that Albert Arthur Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

“Sexine”? Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 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 Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

NEW RECORD! A Sir Edwin Lutyens Clock, Designed for the Viceroy’s House in India, Sells for More Than $146,000

A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced "Letchens"] for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, circa 1930.

Update: Phillips sold the mantel clock that Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for the Viceroy’s House circa 1930 for £112,500, or more than $146,000–a new auction record for Lutyens.

What you see: A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced “Letchens”] for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, circa 1930. Phillips estimates it at £80,000 to £120,000 ($105,200 to $157,800).

The expert: Marcus McDonald, senior design specialist at Phillips.

How often do pieces designed by Lutyens for the Viceroy’s House come to market? To my knowledge I’m not aware of any. I tried all the search engines.

And how rare is it to have a Lutyens piece that’s fresh to market and consigned by a member of the Lutyens family? It’s exceptionally rare. It hasn’t happened before to my knowledge. It has an impeccable provenance.

What does that suggest about how this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock will do at auction? We’re about to find out. The Viceroy’s House was by far his largest commission and possibly his most important commission. We have high hopes.

I understand the clock is not unique, and that Lutyens sometimes had copies made of designs of his that he especially liked. How many of these clocks exist, and where are they? Lady Willingdon’s clock [the wife of the first Viceroy to live in the home], I don’t know what happened to hers. She would have brought it back to the U.K. She had no descendants. Mary Lutyens, his daughter or granddaughter, still has hers. The third clock is the one we have, from the Lutyens family. Lutyens had it made for himself, and it’s by descent to the current owner. The three clocks are identical as far as I’m aware.

Did Lutyens design other clocks? I found another Lutyens clock in a Sotheby’s auction  in 1987, and he designed a children’s clock for a nursery. I spoke to a horologist [about this clock]. The design is all Lutyens. The movement is a typical movement for the time, adapted to fit the oval face. The expanding hands are bespoke.

The body of the clock is painted mahogany. I’ve never encountered painted mahogany before. Did he use it often? It’s slightly peculiar. Pearwood is traditional for clocks. But you can see quite clearly when you remove the finial from the clock that it’s mahogany. I guess it weathered better in India. It seems like a sensible solution.

Why does it have expanding hands? Was that done because of India’s humidity? No, it’s because of the clock’s oval face. The minute hand has to expand to be in line with the Roman numerals. The hands are blued steel, to make them rustproof.

How is this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock an example of his “wit and vitality”? He always had jokes hidden within his work. Here, the pansy at the top of the clock is a key [the winding key]. Pansy is a pun on penser, the French word for “to think.” The play on words–pansy as in flower and the French word “to think”– is meant to be a reminder to wind the clock. We have a separate key-winder for it. It’s perfectly fine [to use the original key] but it’s [using the key-winder is] easier than using the one on the top of the clock.

Is the pansy pun one of his better puns? It depends on the observer, I suppose. But I think it’s a fairly good one.

What other details mark this clock as a Lutyens design? The truncated bun feet on the base. You see them in his furniture.

What is the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock like in person? It has a presence, certainly. When I first saw it in the client’s house, I was immediately drawn to it on the mantle.

What does it sound like? I haven’t heard it chime. I’ve only heard it ticking. You can hear it as you’re approaching. The sound of the ticking is lively and quite loud.

What’s the auction record for a piece of Lutyens-designed furniture? The highest at auction I’m aware of is a table that Sotheby’s sold in March 2014 for £62,500 ($104,500).

Why will this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock stick in your memory? It’s just such a captivating object. The provenance, the original location, and the designer are three elements that make it such an amazing work.

How to bid: The Lutyens clock is lot 91 in the Important Design sale at Phillips London on October 18, 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.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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A Bronze Model of The Vendôme Column Could Sell for $60,000

A French patinated bronze model of the Vendôme Column, made circa 1835 and standing just over five feet tall.

What you see: A French patinated bronze model of the Vendôme Column, made circa 1835 and standing just over five feet tall. Christie’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

The expert: David Weingarten, a partner in Piraneseum, the gallery that consigned the work. Piraneseum focuses on artwork and souvenirs of the Grand Tour, a trip through Europe that wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their educations in the 17th through 19th centuries.

Let’s start with Trajan’s Column and why Napoleon would want his own version of it. One emperor liked the way another emperor was remembered. [Laughs] There are other parallels of Napoleonic France to Imperial Rome, but Napoleon saw himself in the same light as Trajan, as an equal. The Vendôme Column is very closely modeled on Trajan’s Column. The initial statue of Napoleon at the column’s summit had him dressed in a toga, like a Roman emperor. The column was part of a much wider enthusiasm in this period for Roman architecture and art, which in Paris included the Arc de Triomphe, which was modeled on the Arch of Titus, and the Luxor obelisk, which was retrieved from Egypt, just as the Romans had. There are more ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome than in Egypt!

How did the artisans create such a precisely detailed replica of Trajan’s column around 1835, when they would have had to rely on sketches and engravings instead of photography? Rome wasn’t so terribly far away. They had very accurate records of it in the beginning of the 19th century. The Vendôme Column’s details are quite different, of course. Trajan’s Column depicts him humiliating the Dacians. The Vendôme Column shows Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, with French cannons and horses. Trajan had different actors and different weapons.

So this is an update? A refresh. Column 2.0. [Laughs]

Does the Napoleon statue on the top date-stamp it to 1835? One of the most interesting things about the Vendôme Column is how it’s changed dramatically over time. When it went up, there was no statue on the top. Then there was a fleur-de-lis, then a flag, then a statue of Napoleon in a toga. Then the people who were politically in charge, Napoleon’s family, didn’t care for the toga statue. That’s when Le Petit Corporal went up [the Napoleon statue on this model]. It lasted until the 1860s, when Napoleon’s grandchildren thought it was demeaning, and put up a new statue of Napoleon in a toga.

Was this a souvenir of the Grand Tour, the trip through Europe that rich young Englishmen took after they finished school, or was this a custom commission of some sort? It wasn’t like a souvenir that you go down to the souvenir shop and get. It certainly is the right period, and it’s a very grand sort of thing. You get the grandest of the Grand Tourists bringing this thing back.

Is it solid or hollow? And do we know why the finish looks black? The Vendôme Column isn’t black. The model is hollow-cast bronze, and is remarkably detailed and highly accurate. The model’s finish – a very dark, inky green – is typical of many French bronzes in this period. As you point out, this differs considerably from the monument’s green-oxidized bronze panels, which we see today. Whether this oxidized patina was original or intended, I don’t know.

How heavy is this thing? I wouldn’t say it was lightweight, but one person can lift it with no problem. You can put it on a table. It cohabitates nicely with other things of its period.

Do we know who made this model Vendôme Column? In the last 15 years, since the sale of a Vendôme Column at the Bill Blass Collection auction at Sotheby’s in 2003, there have been a half dozen or so of these offered at auction. All have shared the same general characteristics–patina, method of manufacture, topped by Le Petit Corporal, etc. And yet, there has been one intriguing difference–almost all are different heights, something very unexpected with pieces cast in a mold. This suggests there wasn’t a vendor in any conventional sense, but a foundry producing models on order, for a very limited clientele. I wish I knew the name of this foundry. Perhaps time will reveal it.

What is it like in person? The idea of a souvenir is to jog your memory, but this giant Vendôme Column inverts that idea. At the Place Vendôme, you don’t get very close to the column. The real thing is great, but you can’t see what’s going on. This column is tremendously well- and accurately detailed. You can get very close to it. The architectural experience of the model is more profound than the experience of the real thing.

How to bid: The circa 1835 Vendôme Column replica souvenir is lot 331 in The Collector: English and European 18th and 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on October 23, 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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Piraneseum has a website.

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

A Sir Edwin Lutyens Clock Designed for the Viceroy’s House in India Could Sell for More Than $150,000

A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced "Letchens"] for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, circa 1930.

What you see: A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced “Letchens”] for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, circa 1930. Phillips estimates it at £80,000 to £120,000 ($105,200 to $157,800).

The expert: Marcus McDonald, senior design specialist at Phillips.

How often do pieces designed by Lutyens for the Viceroy’s House come to market? To my knowledge I’m not aware of any. I tried all the search engines.

And how rare is it to have a Lutyens piece that’s fresh to market and consigned by a member of the Lutyens family? It’s exceptionally rare. It hasn’t happened before to my knowledge. It has an impeccable provenance.

What does that suggest about how this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock will do at auction? We’re about to find out. The Viceroy’s House was by far his largest commission and possibly his most important commission. We have high hopes.

I understand the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock is not unique, and that Lutyens sometimes had copies made of designs of his that he especially liked. How many of these clocks exist, and where are they? Lady Willingdon’s clock [the wife of the first Viceroy to live in the home], I don’t know what happened to hers. She would have brought it back to the U.K. She had no descendants. Mary Lutyens, his daughter or granddaughter, still has hers. The third clock is the one we have, from the Lutyens family. Lutyens had it made for himself, and it’s by descent to the current owner. The three clocks are identical as far as I’m aware.

Did Lutyens design other clocks? I found another Lutyens clock in a Sotheby’s auction  in 1987, and he designed a children’s clock for a nursery. I spoke to a horologist [about this clock]. The design is all Lutyens. The movement is a typical movement for the time, adapted to fit the oval face. The expanding hands are bespoke.

The body of the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock is painted mahogany. I’ve never encountered painted mahogany before. Did he use it often? It’s slightly peculiar. Pearwood is traditional for clocks. But you can see quite clearly when you remove the finial from the clock that it’s mahogany. I guess it weathered better in India. It seems like a sensible solution.

Why does it have expanding hands? Was that done because of India’s humidity? No, it’s because of the clock’s oval face. The minute hand has to expand to be in line with the Roman numerals. The hands are blued steel, to make them rustproof.

How is this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock an example of his “wit and vitality”? He always had jokes hidden within his work. Here, the pansy at the top of the clock is a key [the winding key]. Pansy is a pun on penser, the French word for “to think.” The play on words–pansy as in flower and the French word “to think”– is meant to be a reminder to wind the clock. We have a separate key-winder for it. It’s perfectly fine [to use the original key] but it’s [using the key-winder is] easier than using the one on the top of the clock.

Is the pansy pun one of his better puns? It depends on the observer, I suppose. But I think it’s a fairly good one.

What other details mark this clock as a Lutyens design? The truncated bun feet on the base. You see them in his furniture.

What is the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock like in person? It has a presence, certainly. When I first saw it in the client’s house, I was immediately drawn to it on the mantle.

What does it sound like? I haven’t heard it chime. I’ve only heard it ticking. You can hear it as you’re approaching. The sound of the ticking is lively and quite loud.

What’s the auction record for a piece of Lutyens-designed furniture? The highest at auction I’m aware of is a table that Sotheby’s sold in March 2014 for £62,500 ($104,500).

Why will this clock stick in your memory? It’s just such a captivating object. The provenance, the original location, and the designer are three elements that make it such an amazing work.

How to bid: The Lutyens clock is lot 91 in the Important Design sale at Phillips London on October 18, 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.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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A Roger Broders Corsica Travel Poster Could Sell for $12,000

La Place de Calvi. Corse, a 1928 poster by Roger Broders, touting Calvi Beach on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

What you see: La Place de Calvi. Corse, a 1928 poster by Roger Broders, touting Calvi Beach on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

Where was Roger Broders in his career in 1928? Let me give you a little background first. In 2011, we were very lucky at Swann to hold a sale called The Complete Poster Works of Roger Broders–every poster he ever designed. We have handled all his material at the same time. We’re in a good position to have an overview. We arranged the catalog in chronological order, first to last, and we had 100 lots in the auction. This poster was number 49, so, midway in his output, if not his actual career. He was at a stage when his figures take on a lithe, elongated look.

Was this his first poster for this client? Oh, no. PLM was his major client, his primary client. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of his posters were done for them.

A railway company commissioned this poster from Roger Broders, but there’s no train in it. Why would a railroad want a travel poster that didn’t show a railroad? The railway teamed up with ferry services. You would have booked the ferry through the train company–it was a PLM ticket. PLM was like a travel agency, in that way. This [Corsica] was along their extended route.

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What makes this Roger Broders Corsica image a strong poster design? I see a bright patch of orange in the middle–a beautiful, brightly colored, artistically decorated wrap. If I was passing by this, I would stop because I saw a flash of orange. Then I’d see the pretty lady. The composition is fantastic. The curve of the shore is a Broders design motif. Her body cuts right through it. It’s very eye-catching. And at the time, people wouldn’t have thought this, but it’s an incredible Art Deco image. This is archetypal Art Deco. The coastline is sweeping, the cape is moving, the waves are lapping at the shore.

Was it unusual for Roger Broders to place a woman front-and-center, as he does here? Lot 72 is the same woman seen from the back. There are a handful of other posters where he has figures taking the central place.

I went back and forth between those two Roger Broders posters, lot 71 and lot 72, and settled on this one because I recognized the woman’s feet and legs. They look like the feet and legs of Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It’s almost as if he traced them. I don’t see anything mentioned in the lot notes, though. Is Broders quoting that painting?  The tilt of her head is similar, and the elongated neck is similar. There’s no way it’s a coincidence. It’s too accurate. 100 percent, this is a nod to Birth of Venus.

And the Birth of Venus is, technically, a beach scene… It gets better and better. If you look at the bottom of the poster, there are two figures on the left of the woman and one on the right. That’s also like the painting. The figure on the right in the painting is about to shroud Venus with a cloak. In the poster, the woman has a wrap. There’s not a lot of info on Broders, but the Birth of Venus is in Florence, and he did a poster for Florence in 1921. And that’s his style–the elongated style appears in other posters.

Was it typical for Roger Broders to quote paintings in his posters? Off the top of my head, I’ve never seen a pose in his posters that made me think he was copying an Old Master.

How many of these 1928 Roger Broders Corsica posters have you handled, and what is the auction record? It’s not rare, but it’s not common. At least 23 have been auctioned since 1988. We have had it three times. The first time was in 2011. The auction record is $16,800, set at Poster Auctions International in February 2018.

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Where does this Corsica poster rank among Broders’s poster designs? Certainly in the top 10 and probably in the top five. Now I’m biased, knowing it was based on the Birth of Venus. I thought it was a great poster before you said that. Now it’s like, wow. It’s because of the composition, the color, the style, and the attitude it broadcasts–summer laziness, aristocratic decadence. It’s certainly how high society lives. There’s no question this is an elegant lady.

What else do you like about this Roger Broders Corsica poster? He has made the landscape realistic. It’s Calvi Beach in Corsica, and it wraps around Corsica. That sweep is not an exaggeration. He has accurately represented the surroundings. It’s a tribute to the level of detail he put into his work. Some posters are really supposed to represent an attitude. This is about a destination, too. Lot 72, the woman with her arms to the sun–that doesn’t tell you anything about where you’re going. There’s a beach, but it’s not the same level as this.

How to bid: The Roger Broders 1928 Calvi Beach poster is lot 71 in the Rare & Important Travel Posters sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 25, 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.

Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about Swann setting the world auction record for any travel postera 1938 London Transport poster by Man Ray that ultimately sold for $149,000a 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.

Are you a professional art historian? Here’s the full Swann Auction Galleries catalogue for The Complete Poster Works of Roger Broders. Can you find more instances of Broders quoting a work of art? If you do, tweet it to @SGSwritereditor, @SwannGalleries, and @NichoLowry, along with a WikiCommons image of the work the poster is emulating.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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Contemporary Artist Pae White’s Widow of a King Could Command $25,000 at Heritage Auctions

Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White

What you see: Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Is this piece unique, or part of a limited edition? From what we understand, three versions were made, and each of those is unique.

How do the other two differ? From a few images I’ve seen, they’re very similar, but slightly different in the design of the faux carving.

Do we know why Pae White named this piece Widow of a King? I don’t know the story on that. I think she uses an evocative title to suggest a background for it that could not be immediately obvious. This is very atypical of her oeuvre. Pae White is an artist in the true sense of the word. She is not a designer. She typically does not make functional objects.

Do we know why Pae White made Widow of a King predominantly white? The material she used, Corian, is produced in various colors, but its primary color is white. She’s been quoted as saying she wanted to source blue Corian, but it wasn’t available, so she used white. She worked up the conceptual side of the piece in white, and she has said, “I wanted the “look” of something that might have been carved in the Black Forest but by an albino alien and I think we came pretty darn close.” If you look at it from a distance, it looks like it may be a traditional four-poster bed that’s carved and may be painted white. As you approach, you see the way it’s carved is different. The carving itself is off and almost degraded. You can tell there’s something else going on with the piece once you begin to examine it.

Why is one of the headboard posts taller than the other? It’s part of what I described of her intentionality. It [the work] is an object that has an inherent unbalance. She talked about wanting to subvert the viewers’ relationship with everyday objects.

Do the symbols on the footboard have any particular meaning? Not to my knowledge.

Do we know why Pae White used Corian? And how involved was she in its creation–did she do the physical work of producing the bed, or did she delegate it? I didn’t see anything [that explained why she used Corian]. She’s a mixed-media artist who doesn’t typically work in this manner. I’m not aware of other works in Corian. Everything was done under her watchful eye. It was made with the assistance of sophisticated machinery.

Widow of a King is an actual bed, but what size is it? And did the consigner use it as a bed? I think it’s a king-size. And yeah, the owner did use it as a bed.

Widow of a King has signs of use. Will that matter? No. I think that any of that can be conserved quite easily.

Is Widow of a King among the earlier pieces by Pae White to reach the secondary market? Not a great deal of her work has come to auction. I count 25 auction records on Artnet, with the record being $20,000 in 2013, sold at Christie’s, and titled Skygazing #6: Blue Nebula. It’s a large cotton and polyester work.

Is that record work anything like Widow of a King? No. Nothing like this by Pae White has sold at auction.

What is Widow of a King like in person? It’s incredible. It’s extraordinary, it’s complex, it’s multi-layered, and it has extraordinary physical presence.

We’re seeing the work as an incomplete bed frame, with no mattresses or sheets. Does the artist have any recommendations for finishing it? I don’t think there are any, but it was created to be a functional bed. Its impact would be complete when it’s installed in a domestic setting.

Are there details that don’t show up well in the photo? The fine carving on the posts. I think there is an intangible quality to the carving on the headboard and the footboard.

How does the carving hold your attention? It’s beguiling. It’s beautiful, but in an unexpected way. As I explained earlier, when you first come upon it, it’s traditional. As you approach it, you look for the carving techniques you’re accustomed to. When you get up close, the carving may be sharper and more asymmetrical where you would expect a more balanced pattern. It throws you off balance, but allows you to enjoy the object itself.

Widow of a King is a work of contemporary art, but you decided to put it in a design sale. Was that a tough call? There was debate, but in the end we felt it was pretty clear-cut where this piece should be positioned. Pae White is an artist who doesn’t make design objects and is not known for making functional objects. Because of the functionality, it may have a stronger market in design than in contemporary art, where you normally see her work. From time to time, contemporary artists make works that have a functional aspect, like this bed. Sometimes they’re successful from a design standpoint, and sometimes they’re less successful. I think this is very successful. The quality of the material used and its production is very high, but the intentionality that’s prevalent in it clearly comes from the place of the artist. It’s what makes this piece stand apart. It’s an accomplished piece of furniture, but you can look at it as a work of art.

How to bid: Pae White’s Widow of a King is lot 79038 in the Design Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on October 21, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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It’s No Humbug! That 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum Sold for $25,000

An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris.

Update: The 1851 P. T. Barnum daguerreotype sold for $25,000.

What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

Where was P.T. Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

Did P.T. Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Jenny Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

This is the second P.T. Barnum daguerreotype to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Jenny Lind or P.T. Barnum.

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

This P.T. Barnum daguerreotype is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

What is the P.T. Barnum daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

How to bid: The P.T. Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

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A Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Could Command $6,000 at Swann

An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs of nude women shot by Albert Arthur Allen.

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates the glorious portfolio of nudes it at $4,000 to $6,000.

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

The photo I’m using to illustrate the glorious portfolio of nudes is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

How do these images in this glorious portfolio of nudes exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

Was it legal for Albert Arthur Allen to shoot this glorious portfolio of nudes in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed for this glorious portfolio of nudes? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Albert Arthur Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

I understand Albert Arthur Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this glorious portfolio of nudes have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

Some suggest that Albert Arthur Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

“Sexine”? Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Albert Arthur Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 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 Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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RECORD! A Walker Percy-signed First Edition of A Confederacy of Dunces Sold for $5,000

A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket.

Update: Freeman’s sold the first edition Walker Percy-signed copy of A Confederacy of Dunces for $5,000, setting a new record for the novel at auction.

What you see: A 1980 first edition copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, in its dust jacket. signed by Walker Percy. Freeman’s estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

The expert: Darren Winston, head of the books, maps, and manuscripts department at Freeman’s.

How rare is it to find a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket, and how rare is it to find one that’s also signed by Walker Percy, who helped see the book into print and wrote its foreword? It was published in 1980. Since that time, 21 copies have come to auction. Of the 21, only two were signed by Walker Percy. They came up in 2002 and 2009. You could argue that only two copies have come up like ours in the last 38 years. Another interesting fact is the very first copy to come up at auction was in 1986.

Is that unusually quick, to see a book published in 1980 debut on the secondary market six years later? It is unusually quick. It has such an interesting history, and it’s so different from other books like it. It became an instant cult classic. Now it’s even more of a big deal. It sat around from 1969, when Toole killed himself and his mom [Thelma Toole] found the manuscript. She went around trying to get it published. Walker Percy, at the time, was at Loyola [Loyola University of New Orleans]. Toole’s mom got him to read the manuscript, and he made it his duty to get it published. LSU Press published it in 1980.

Yes, let’s hit the point squarely–why is it impossible to find a first-edition of A Confederacy of Dunces signed by the author? Because he died before it was published. He wrote it in 1963 and committed suicide in 1969. 1969 to 1980 was the period in which his mom set about finding a publisher for it.

So, Walker Percy’s signature is the closest thing to an author’s signature that we can get on a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? Exactly right. He was sort of the midwife. In the world of book-collecting, the next-best thing is the mom’s signature. Two copies she signed were at auction in 2011 and 2012. Either [signature] is as charming as the other. If she hadn’t picked up the baton, the manuscript wouldn’t have gotten to Walker Percy, and he wouldn’t have done what he did.

Are there any first-edition copies signed by both Thelma Toole and Walker Percy? There are no recorded copies at auction. They might be in the world, but not at auction.

Who is shown on the dust jacket? It’s the protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.

If A Confederacy of Dunces came up today as the debut novel of an unknown, dead author, I just can’t picture a modern publishing house green-lighting dust jacket art featuring a fat guy in a deerstalker holding a hot dog in one hand and a sword in the other, even if he is the lead character and he dresses that way. Was this a risky choice, even for a university press in 1980? You could argue that the title, which is from a Jonathan Swift poem, is a mouthful. It’s completely wacky. But maybe part of it was the publisher being a university press. Maybe it had more leeway.

How was the book received in 1980? The initial press run was 2,500. That’s part of its rarity–only 2,500 copies in the first edition, versus 50,000 for The Old Man and the Sea, which was printed 30 years before. Within three years, the unknown, dead author won the 1981 Pulitzer prize for fiction and sold 650,000 copies.

Why does A Confederacy of Dunces hold up almost 40 years after its publication? Certain books–The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird–come along and upend everything that came before. The Catcher in the Rye was 1951. To Kill a Mockingbird was about 10 years later, and A Confederacy of Dunces was 20 years after that. It was a book that became a touchstone. As a teen, you carried it with you. When you look at it as a collector, young people turn into adults, and when they have money, they want a talisman [of their youth]. When many people want the same talisman, it goes up and up.

This first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is described as “fine.” What does that mean? “Fine” is a tricky word because any wear marks it as less than fine. This copy looks like it’s unread, which leads to questions about the box. It was made early in the book’s life, and the book has lived in this box. There’s a relief image of Ignatius on the [box’s] cover. Someone went to some trouble to have it made. Thought went into it.

How many different groups of collectors will compete for this first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces? There are many, but people who go after high spots–the biggest and best book by any author–will be interested. People who collect an author’s first book will be interested, as will people who just love the book. If you’re going to splash out, this is the copy you want. Another reason people will go after this book is to trade up to a better copy. Maybe someone has a gorgeous copy with no Walker Percy signature, or a gorgeous copy with no dust jacket–they trade up.

What’s the world auction record for a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces in its dust jacket? What are the odds of this copy meeting or exceeding that record? The most it’s brought at auction was $4,000, in 2002. I believe that copy was also signed by Walker Percy. That’s a good sign in our case.

Why will this book stick in your memory? Because of the story. There’s a poignancy, a sadness, and a lot of irony to the fact that Toole never saw it published. It was his life’s work, literally and figuratively. Father Time came through for it. It’s on its third generation of readers. Toole published one book, and he’s in the pantheon. That’s cool.

How to bid: The Walker Percy-signed first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces is lot 176 in Freeman’s September 27 Books & Manuscripts auction.

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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RECORD! Carole Feuerman’s Bibi on the Ball Sold for $118,750–a New Record for the Artist

Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It's the first of an edition of six.

Update: Bibi on the Ball sold for $118,750–a new auction record for the artist.

What you see: Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It’s the first of an edition of six. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

Who is Carole Feuerman? She is a contemporary sculptor who explores hyperrealism, an approach that strives for life-like qualities in a work of art. Her sculptures have appeared at the Venice Biennale, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives in New York City and just turned 78.

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

Is this the first sculpture of the limited edition of six to go to auction? It is that I’m aware of. I searched the auction databases, and I haven’t seen this one come up before.

Are the six Bibi on the Ball sculptures identical, or do the colors of the ball change? The colors of the ball don’t change, but the swimsuit color and other parts of the sculpture can vary.

Is Bibi on the Ball a stand-alone limited edition, or is it part of a larger group of associated works? There are two other very similar editions which the artist commonly calls “variants.” One edition has a mirror-like reflective surface on the ball, and another variant has the subject’s eyes open. Each of these variants are different editions. There is a group of Feuerman works people generally refer to as “bathing beauties” or “swimmers.” They’ve been the focus of a good part of her career for the last 30 years. They’re typically female subjects in swimsuits or bathing suits, shown in a supreme state of relaxation or satisfaction, with closed eyes in a state of bliss. That theme has continued for much of her career. 

How does Carole Feuerman create the hyperrealistic effects of wet skin and fabric on her sculptures? With her resin sculptures, the artist first creates a plaster or resin maquette. Then she makes a mold of the maquette that is filled with epoxy resin to form the edition. She creates the water droplets by mixing epoxy and placing each drop in strategic locations with a toothpick. In addition, the artist hand-applies lifelike qualities such as veins, sunspots, and freckles, so no two examples will be exactly alike.

Is Bibi a real person? Does Carole Feuerman feature her in other works? Most of the pieces are not created from any live model, but rather are based on the artist’s creative vision. Bibi is simply a character.

Bibi on the Ball is pretty colorful, maybe a bit more colorful than most Feuerman sculptures. Does that matter? If so, how does that matter? Do the more colorful sculptures of hers do better at auction? All of her works featuring beach balls are colorful, but the colors themselves have no particular meaning. From a market perspective, her more colorful works do tend to be more consistently desirable than the less colorful examples. It fits with the subject matter, too. The beach ball and the swimsuit lend themselves to bright, sunny color schemes.

What’s the world auction record for a Carole Feuerman artwork? It’s $104,500, set in 2016 by Innertube variant II, a 2013 sculpture.

What’s the likelihood that Bibi on the Ball could meet or exceed the record? Bibi on the Ball is in fairly pristine condition, and condition drives the market. When a sculpture has natural or synthetic hair loose under the bathing cap, as Bibi does, it’s easily damaged. Feuerman has had to restore and replace the hair on older models. [The hair peeking out from under Bibi‘s cap is hard to see in the photo, but it is there. The figure in Innertube variant II has a bit of hair coming out from under its bathing cap as well.] Bibi is extremely well-kept and well-cared-for. We could get double our estimate.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), September 30, 2018 Modern Art and Design auction

What is Bibi on the Ball like in person? It’s life-size and a full figure where a lot of Feuerman’s other works don’t necessarily show a full figure. This is not just part of a scene–it’s a scene of a figure and what it’s interacting with. Bibi is fairly exquisite, with painted fingernails and toenails and strands of hair escaping the bathing cap, and there’s a hyperreal feeling of water on the skin and the bathing suit. It’s technically more difficult to get an entire figure correct and doing what you’d expect a figure to do when it sits on a beach ball. The figure has to be rendered perfectly lifelike. There’s a completeness to Bibi, and thus there is complexity.

Is Bibi on the Ball a single sculpture, or is it comprised of several parts? It is technically multiple pieces. I don’t know if the swimsuit or the cap can be removed, but you can pick the figure up separately from the beach ball. It’s perfectly balanced. It can’t be visually lopsided or physically lopsided.

There are hollows in the ball that are designed to receive the figure? Yes. There are impressions that are equal to the shape of the figure. The hands, the calves–it fits perfectly.

How to bid: Bibi on the Ball is lot 239 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction, which takes place on September 30, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

Peter Loughrey has appeared on The Hot Bid since the beginning–literally. The blog’s first post was on an Alma Thomas painting that LAMA ultimately sold for a world auction record. He has also discussed works by Jonathan Borofsky and Wendell Castle, as well as an exceptional 1969 dune buggy. Prior to this entry, he spoke about an Ed Ruscha print that set a world auction record at LAMA.

Carole Feuerman has a website and a namesake foundation.

This post for The Hot Bid debuted on the LAMA Blog on September 14, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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African-American Outsider Artist William Edmondson’s Sculpture, The Crucifixion, Could Command $50,000

The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

What you see: The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Rago Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Sebastian Clarke, director of estate services for Rago.

Did African-American outsider artist William Edmondson use a railroad spike as a chisel for most of his artistic career? He did, though to the best of my knowledge, he used smaller, finer chiseling tools as well. He was very much self-taught. I can send you a discovery–the original press release from the 1937 MoMA show, which includes an interview with him. The list of pieces to be shown includes a version of The Crucifixion. He did three or four different versions of The Crucifixion, and we don’t know if this is the one that was in the show, or another example. Of the three or four, one is in the Smithsonian, at least one other is in a private collection, but was exhibited in 2005, one is unknown [its whereabouts are unknown], and one is ours.

How does this version of The Crucifixion compare to the others? The others have more fully formed figures, with pierced areas between the arms and the cross [the arms are separate]. This is more of a relief, with a flat face. What I love about it is it really conveys Edmondson’s work. It’s impossible to identify it as male or female. Of the others, two ore three are male figures wearing loincloths or underpants. This one is completely plain.

African-American outsider artist William Edmondson preferred limestone. How difficult is it to carve limestone? It’s very, very difficult to carve. What’s fabulous about this is its condition is so good. You can really see the strike marks where he worked the stone. This is almost smooth to the touch in so many areas.

The sculpture measures 15 and a quarter inches high by 10 and a half inches wide by five inches deep. Is that relatively small for an Edmondson? It’s a hair on the smaller side. His animals seem to be a little smaller. His figures got to be 23, 24 inches. Of his Crucifixions, one is 20 inches and another is 26 inches. So it’s definitely smaller for a Crucifixion, but squarely on the average side for pieces he worked.

Earlier you told me, “This work is as close to Edmondson’s original intent as they get.” Could you elaborate? Edmondson’s pieces are extremely symbolic. The scenes are often drawn from his religious beliefs. This Crucifixion is part of that body of work. The surface is just so fantastic. It’s clearly a crucifixion, but it’s up to the viewer to interpret the rest of the thing.

This is William Edmondson’s only crucifixion sculpture to come to auction. How did you put an estimate on it? We’re aware the world auction record for an Edmondson is nearly $1 million, for a wholly different work. The nature of this is cruder and more simplistic. And a crucifixion, in my experience in the art world, sometimes places limitations on value. We want to take that into account.

But it’s not a gory, gruesome crucifixion scene. It’s pretty stylized. And people who collect folk art and outsider art, they know they’re going to encounter pieces with intensely religious themes. True. But the value will be determined by the marketplace. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’ve been in the business for 20 years. I’ve never handled an Edmondson before. Whenever they come up for sale, they always far exceed the estimate. We’ll try to replicate that success.

Edmondsons rarely go to auction. Is that because most of them are in institutions, or is it because collectors are reluctant to give them up, or both? Several examples are in institutions, and the ones in collectors’ hands are often promised to institutions. Folk art and outsider art collectors take a lot of pride in their collections. Edmondsons come up so rarely, everybody pays attention.

What’s the world auction record for a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson? The Boxer, a circa 1936 piece that sold at Christie’s in January 2016. It had an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and it hammered at $785,000. I’d love to see it [The Crucifixion] beat its estimate but I’d be surprised to see it go beyond-beyond. Artnet only has 24 records. It’s a very shallow pool, and none are a crucifixion. They don’t come from a similar period or style, where the features are not very well-defined. What will that do to it? Will it make it more desirable, or less? We’ll have to wait and see.

What is the sculpture like in person? It’s fabulous. It’s so bright and crisp. There’s something magnetic–you’re drawn to it, and the color and the surface are lovely. It looks like it’s never seen the light of day. The chisel marks are so well-defined on the back. There’s something really exceptional about it.

What does it feel like to hold it in your hands? It’s heavy, probably around 40 pounds. It is surprisingly smooth. You can really feel the weight of the piece, the way the figure is defined on the cross. You want to turn it over and look at the back, which is not easy to do, because it weighs so much.

Is that something that collectors look for in a sculpture by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson–chisel marks? Or are they so rare that they can’t afford to quibble if they’re missing? The whole idea behind outsider and folk art is really feeling a connection with the individual who made it, to feel them reflected in the piece. In the chisel marks, you can really see him working on it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Probably because I’ll never handle one again. [Laughs.] Edmondsons are something you only hear about, but don’t get to see. For me, personally, my training is in European furniture and decorative art. This is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love. I’ve always been a high-style person. I’ve come to appreciate pieces that are naive in so many ways, but are spectacular. It’s so magnificent.

How to bid: The Crucifixion will be offered in Autobiography of a Hoarder: The Collection of Martin Cohen, Part I, which takes place October 21, 2018 at Rago.

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SOLD! A Memorial Lincoln Lithograph Fetched $4,000 at Swann

In Memory of Abraham Lincoln, the Reward of the Just, a hand-colored lithograph by D.T. Wiest, printed circa 1865.

Update: The hand-colored circa 1865 memorial Lincoln lithograph sold for $4,000.

What you see: In Memory of Abraham Lincoln, the Reward of the Just, a hand-colored lithograph by D.T. Wiest, printed circa 1865. Swann Auction Galleries estimates the memorial Lincoln lithograph at $2,000 to $3,000.

The expert: Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann Auction Galleries.

Do we know how many of these memorial Lincoln lithographs were made, and how many survive? There’s likely no way to know how many were produced. I imagine at least a couple of hundred were made. I’ve tracked down three in institutions and two at auction.

The memorial Lincoln lithograph’s date is given as circa 1865, but is it fair to assume it would have been done very soon after Lincoln’s assassination in April of that year? Absolutely. It’s fairly laborious work to make a lithograph like this. It wasn’t made the day after, but it was made in response to the assassination, I’m pretty confident. The engraver, Wiest, is largely unknown. He didn’t have a long career as a lithographer. He was only active in 1865.

The memorial Lincoln lithograph is closely modeled after an 1801 image by John James Barralet known as The Apotheosis of Washington [scroll down to see the image]. How would D.T. Wiest have made his Lincoln-centric version? Would he have looked at the John James Barralet print and copied most of it onto a new lithographic stone? Right. The copy, I would say, is semi-pirated, but it’s got enough changes in style and composition. I don’t know what the copyright laws were then.

How well-known was the John James Barralet image in 1865? It was an image that might have been familiar to some people, but by 1865, I don’t expect it was probably terribly well-known.

So the John James Barralet image of Washington was not part of popular culture in 1865? Yes, and probably the creative process here was not all that sophisticated. The printer wanted something dramatic, something that would catch the eye and stir the emotions, and he wanted to get it in the hands of the public as quickly as possible. The printer probably showed the Barralet to Wiest and said, “Do something like this, but with Lincoln.” When Washington died, there would have been a small audience for the Barralet print, and it would have been a luxury item. The audience would have been sophisticated, and would have picked up on its classical analogies. By 1865, print-making was a much more mass-market endeavor. The audience didn’t care much about symbolism.

Is the Lincoln print as colorful as most lithographs of its era, or is it more colorful? For its period, it’s certainly one of the more eye-catching ones. The color is quite nice and rich. It definitely tilts toward the colorful end of the spectrum.

So it’s the sort of thing that a print shop would put in its shop window to draw in customers? That’s a likely way to advertise it, sure.

D.T. Wiest changed the face of Washington to the face of Lincoln, and he changed the inscription on the tomb, but he didn’t change several details that he could have changed and probably should have changed… The goal, when the print was produced, was to get it into the hands of the public quickly. I don’t know if we can say that some of those details should have been changed. It may not have been profitable for them to spend a week on changing them. If it was produced as fine art, then or now, they might have reconsidered the symbolism. The mourning Indian was a symbol of America in 1800, but clearly, for someone mourning Lincoln’s loss, it should have been changed to a freed slave. They probably should have taken the extra two days to do that, particularly if their main sales were in Philadelphia, an abolitionist city. But they didn’t.

Would the average American print-buyer in 1865 have cared that the American flag-decorated shield on the left has 15 stars in in its canton and not the 35 it should have had by then? Not necessarily. If you’re looking to buy a print for 50 cents–and I don’t know if that was its 1865 price, but that seems reasonable–you might not count the stars. Also, we grew up with a flag with 50 stars. We think of it as a fixed thing. In the 1800s, the stars changed with each new state.

So these Washington-centric details that D.T. Wiest copied over–the badges on the tomb that represent the Society of Cincinnati and the Freemasons, the out-of-date canton, the mourning Native American where a freed slave would be more appropriate–would an 1865 audience have seen them as errors? Errors on whose part? Wiest was given an assignment and he fulfilled it faithfully, with Lincoln’s face [in place of Washington’s]. They’re not exactly errors, but they’re things that could have been improved on if more thought had been given to it. But it gives us more to chew on. We can ponder the evolution.

And because the Washington print wasn’t part of pop culture in 1865, we can’t assume that D.T. Wiest was being clever by tying the legacy of Lincoln directly to Washington by deliberately borrowing the visuals of the 1801 Barralet print? Yeah, but if it did happen, it would have been an additional selling point. Some might say, ‘Hey, it’s that old Washington print. That’s how we mourn our heroes.’ In Henry Holzer’s [the consigner’s] scholarship, this is the moment when Lincoln joined the pantheon. For 80 years, it was Washington, the founder of the country. Now we start to see Lincoln as his peer or equal. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. I can’t imagine such a print featuring Obama or Trump in place of Lincoln.

Do these details that look like errors make the print appealing to modern collectors? The first point of appeal to modern buyers is the same point that appealed to buyers in 1865. It’s patriotic, it’s colorful, Lincoln is in the center, and it’s an eye-catching print. From there, it’s a historical curiosity, designed for Washington but with Lincoln’s head awkwardly glued in where Washington’s head had been. It not only looks great on the wall, it’s something to chew on and discuss with friends. And it’s a tribute to Lincoln, who people still admire.

How to bid: The lithograph is lot 141 in Printed & Manuscript Americana Featuring the Holzer Collection of Lincolniana, taking place September 27, 2018 at Swann Auction Galleries.

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Rick Sattler spoke to The Hot Bid before about a lot of early 20th century copies of Gleanings in Bee Culture which included the issue that contained the first published account of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight. The lot sold for $5,000, double its high estimate.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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It’s No Humbug: An 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum Could Sell for $30,000

9919 lot 141.jpg

What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

Where was P.T. Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

Did Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Jenny Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

This is the second P.T. Barnum daguerreotype to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Lind or Barnum.

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

This is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

What is the P.T. Barnum daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

How to bid: The P.T. Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

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SOLD! A Copy of Aurora Australis, the First Book Made in Antarctica, Fetched $97,500 at Bonhams

A copy of Aurora Australis, created by members of the 1908-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton. It is the first book to be written and produced on the continent of Antarctica.

Update: Bonhams sold the copy of Aurora Australis for $97,500.

What you see: A copy of Aurora Australis, created by members of the 1908-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton. It is the first book to be written and produced on the continent of Antarctica. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York.

So, how much of a pain in the ass was it for Shackleton and his crew to haul a printing press down to east Antarctica along with all the other stuff they needed for the 1908-1909 polar expedition? It was a small printing press, described as being the size of an oven–picture the size of a four-burner gas oven. It was a very heavy piece of equipment. And take into consideration that they brought the type and the paper and a special printing press to do etchings.

They brought two printing presses? Yes. You can’t do the printing and the etchings on the same press. The thing about Antarctic winters is they’re very dark and very cold. If you have a bunch of guys sitting in close quarters all winter, it’s great to have a project to occupy them. Shackleton, having been on previous expeditions, thought ahead and came up with an interesting project.

What challenges did the explorers face when producing the first book made in Antarctica? That was really one of the most difficult things. They were in very small quarters in extreme temperatures and dealing with poor lighting–it’s dark all winter long. They had to be incredibly careful when going about printing the thing. The type was metal, which freezes to your fingertips, and the ink congeals because of the cold. They used candles to heat up the ink, and they had to move the candle around to get the ink to the right temperature. They had to limit the number of types they brought with them, so the printer could only print two pages at a time. In addition to that, the floors were filthy and it was damp everywhere. They needed to keep the pages dry. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to produce a fair number of copies under those conditions.

The lot notes say there’s a blind-stamped penguin motif on the spine of Aurora Australis. What is blind-stamping, and how did the explorers apply the motif? Blind-stamping means there isn’t any color used. It’s just the impression of the stamp. They must have brought a hand tool with them to decorate the binding. Shackleton sent two or three crew members to a London print shop to apprentice for two or three weeks before the expedition. They probably arrived at a penguin as a printer’s device, which would have been metal on a wooden handle. They would have pressed it against the spine to bang it into the spine’s leather before it was bound.

How often have copies of Aurora Australis come up at auction? It’s an incredibly rare book that doesn’t come up often. The initial idea was they would print 100 copies of the book, but in a letter Shackleton wrote to Pierpont Morgan he says they bound 80 copies. A good third of them are in institutions. The others are very likely in private collections. I checked the auction records and seven copies have been offered in the U.S. and Europe in the last 20 years. This is the third copy that we have handled.

To make the covers of the copies, the explorers scavenged wood from their own expedition supply crates. The covers of this book have the word ‘OATMEAL’ stenciled on one side and ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’ on another. How does the presence of those words and partial words affect the book’s value? That is to be determined, but this copy in particular is great because it has the full word ‘OATMEAL’ on it and the truncated ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’. It’s incredibly beautiful and makes it attractive to have. Others just say ‘BUTTER’ or ‘BAKED BEANS’. Having the ‘OATMEAL’ and the extra bits on the back is very attractive. As a collector I’d definitely be drawn to a copy because of its stenciling and wording.

I take it more than one group of collectors will be interested in this copy of Aurora Australis. How many different constituencies will be in the hunt? Anyone who collects travel and exploration is interested. Then there are people who collect books on the Arctic and Antarctic. And I would say this is considered a high-spot publication because it was the first book printed on Antarctica. It’s a very cool book. There are collectors who go for the best of the best, and this book appeals to those collectors. People collecting limited editions would go after this as well. It’s not just the first book printed in Antarctica–the explorers looked after the aesthetic beauty of the book. If you look at the colophon page, the typography is beautiful, and it’s printed in two colors, red and black. It indicates the book was published as a fine press book.

What condition is this copy in? It’s in good condition. There’s some slight rubbing to the leather spine, which is kind of inevitable. The boards are perfect.

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about Aurora Australis as a book first and as symbol of Shackleton and polar exploration, but I haven’t heard much about its actual contents. Is Aurora Australis a good book? [Laughs] Well, I haven’t read through it. It’s fun. Many people who were on the expedition were published authors. There is some talent there, but there aren’t earth-shattering, amazing stories.

What’s the world auction record for a copy of Aurora Australis? It’s £122,500, ($185,894), set at the Franklin Brooke-Hitching sale at Sotheby’s in 2015. That collection was incredibly beautiful. Brooke-Hitching was one of those collectors who collected the absolute best copies he could get. Everything in that sale achieved enormous prices. Our copy is estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 and I would expect it to go in that range.

Why will this book stick in your memory? It’s about the whole discussion we had about producing something blindfolded, essentially. It’s incredible to have it bound on these boards. You feel like you’re close to the event. To have an object that was produced there, with materials there, the shipping crates–that’s one of a kind. I’ll never forget that.

How to bid: The copy of Aurora Australis, the first book made in Antarctica, is lot 55 in Bonhams‘s Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana sale scheduled for September 25, 2018.

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