The Original Poster Artwork For A 1935 Movie Starring Katharine Hepburn Could Command $6,000 at Bonhams

An original artwork of Sylvia Scarlett by Anselmo Ballester

What you see: Original gouache and pencil artwork by Anselmo Ballester for a mid-1930s Italian movie poster for Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Bonhams estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Anselmo Ballester? He was an Italian artist, based in Rome, who spent almost five decades creating movie poster art for Italian and American studios. “He was one of a handful of artists U.S. studios turned to to create the Italian versions of their movie posters. You had to redesign the entire poster for overseas audiences, and they were designed in the country of exhibition,” says Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams. His posters featuring actress Rita Hayworth are absolute standouts. Ballester died in 1974 at the age of 77.

How rare is it for the original artwork for a vintage movie poster–any vintage movie poster–to survive and come to auction? “It is rare-ish,” she says, explaining that Bonhams has held an annual movie poster sale for three or four years, and there have been two to five pieces of original movie poster art in each. “Often, they’re drafts–not final versions of the work,” she says. “I haven’t seen a lot of his artwork come onto the market.”

Sylvia Scarlett was considered a flop in the United States, and some suspected that it had to do with Hepburn’s character, who spends most of the film cross-dressing to pass herself off as a boy. Was Ballester aware of the film’s box office troubles when he got the commission for the Italian movie poster? “The artists didn’t have a lot of information about the movies. Often, it’s clear they didn’t watch the movie or read the script before making the poster,” she says. “The studio probably knew Sylvia Scarlett was not successful, and that might have to do with the decision to foreground Katharine Hepburn in men’s garb [and let a more feminine image, rendered in red, dominate the composition.] Hepburn with long, curly hair is not an accurate depiction of what she looked like in that film.”

Sylvia Scarlett featured the first on-screen pairing of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, but Ballester’s poster design focuses on Hepburn alone. Why? “He understood that moviegoers wanted to see stars,” she says. “His posters are very star-forward. He placed the most beautiful Hollywood stars front and center, and they look even more beautiful [on his posters] than they are on screen. That was his signature.”

But… he left out Cary Grant. Cary Grant! “Honestly, his posters are all about beautiful women,” Williamson says. “Sometimes, male stars make it onto his posters, but they don’t get the same treatment. If he can put women on the poster, he certainly does.”

Ballester rendered the gouache and pencil in two colors. Is that unusual, or did he normally limit his palette? “It depends. Maybe it tells us it’s a preliminary piece,” she says. “The fully executed ones are not monochromatic or bichromatic. They show the full range of colors.”

Did the studio go ahead with Ballester’s poster design for Sylvia Scarlett for the Italian market? “I think what we have is not what was used,” she says, noting that the final version gives the title as Le Grand Aventura de Sylvia and the art doesn’t seem to look like his work.

I understand it’s common for the original artwork for a movie poster, which is unique, to sell for less than the actual movie poster, which had a press run in the hundreds or the thousands. Why? “Poster collectors collect posters. People who collect art are perhaps less interested in poster art,” Williamson says, adding, “There’s not a lot of original movie poster art, and there’s not really people who just collect original movie poster art. There’s not enough to support it as a collecting discipline. It’s too hard. There’d be no fun in it.”

When do collectors prefer foreign market movie posters over the American versions? “In general, the poster from [the film’s] country of origin are more valuable,” she says. “The exception is when the artwork is so superior, collectors decide they would rather have a gorgeous version of the Italian poster with Rita Hayworth than the American version of the same film.”

How to bid: The Sylvia Scarlett original poster art is lot 91 in TCM Presents… Vintage Movie Posters Featuring the Ira Resnick Collection, taking place November 20, 2017 at Bonhams New York.

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

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SOLD! An 18th Century Watercolor of Parrots with Beautiful Plumage* by British Natural History Illustrator Sarah Stone Sold For More Than $18,000 at Dreweatts

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Update: Sarah Stone’s Four Parrots on a Branch sold for £14,000, or about $18,400.

What you see: Four Parrots on a Branch, a watercolor painted by Sarah Stone in 1789 or 1790. Dreweatt’s estimates it at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,300 to $2,000).

Who was Sarah Stone? She was an English natural history painter and illustrator who was active in the 18th century. Taught by her father, who made his living painting fans, she came to the attention of Sir Ashton Lever, a wealthy Englishman who liked collecting natural history specimens and who displayed his collection to the public. Lever hired Stone before she was out of her teens. She ultimately created around 1,000 artworks based on his collection, and about 900 survive. Many of Stone’s illustrations represent the first depictions of various species, making them significant to science and history. The Royal Academy of Arts invited her to exhibit on three different occasions. After marrying John Langdale Smith in 1789, her output slowed, and she seems to have stopped after 1806, when Lever’s collection was sold. She died in 1844 at the age of 82.

How rare were female natural history artists in the 18th century? Was Stone pretty much it? “There were good, talented amateur artists, but it was very rare to be a professional artist,” says James Harvey, a salesperson at Mallett Antiques, which consigned the watercolor. “She was rare but not unique.”

What types of parrots are pictured in the watercolor? At the top is an Australian King parrot; below it is a Black-headed Caique, an Indonesian red-cheeked parrot, and an African grey parrot. Lever’s collection of taxidermied specimens included all four birds. Presumably, Stone looked at them when she created this watercolor.

And this charming little gathering of these four parrots could never happen in the wild, yes? “It was a concept in the sense that the artist enjoyed painting subjects from nature, and she used artistic license to make the painting appealing,” he says. “It’s more about observation, about looking at the forms and the colors and making things look aesthetically pleasing.”

Just how talented did Stone have to be to look at a group of dead, stuffed birds and turn them into this watercolor? “The birds are very, very vivid, very lively. That’s the difference between a good animal painter and a poor one. These birds are very realistic, but they’ve got character,” he says, adding, “It’s a standout. It’s decorative, but has tremendous presence to it. That’s what makes it so appealing.”

Normally Stone limited her focus to one subject per artwork. Do we know why she bent her rules here? “Sadly not. It’d be interesting to know why,” he says. While we have no background on the work and why Stone might have made it, Harvey and his colleagues speculate that it might have been meant for presentation: “It has that feel. It’s very well-observed. It might have been an exhibition piece, a presentation piece, perhaps even a piece for teaching purposes.”

Stone’s works have sold for six-figure sums at auction. How did you arrive at the estimate for Four Parrots on a Branch? “It’s a difficult one in that the market for watercolors is not as strong as it used to be,” he says. “If we get one or two collectors in Australia interested, it could do more.”

What else makes this watercolor special? “It has all the elements you want–good artist, good condition, nice picture,” he says. “The subject matter is very charming, and from an academic angle, she’s a lady artist who worked in relative obscurity. If there’s any justice in the world, it should do well and create a good price.”

How to bid: Four Parrots on a Branch is lot 167 in Mallett: Taking Stock, an auction scheduled for November 8 at Dreweatts in Berkshire, England.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Mallett Antiques.

*If I can work in a slightly obscure Monty Python reference, why yes, I AM going to do it.

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SOLD! Marlene Dietrich’s World War II Autograph Collection Sells For $5,250 at Swann

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Update: Marlene Dietrich’s short snorter sold for $5,250.

What you see: A short snorter–a collection of paper money covered with autographs–compiled by Marlene Dietrich during World War II. It comes directly from Dietrich’s descendants to Swann Auction Galleries, which estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

Who was Marlene Dietrich? She was a Berlin-born actress and singer who became an international star from her role in the 1930 German film, The Blue Angel. She actively resisted the Nazis, who assumed power in her home country, by funding efforts to help refugees flee Hitler’s regime. She renounced her German citizenship in 1939 and threw herself into the U.S. war effort, touting war bonds and embarking on two long tours in 1944 and 1945 with the United Service Organization (USO). Her war work earned her the Légion d’honneur from the French government and the Medal of Freedom from America. She regarded the latter award as her proudest accomplishment. After the war’s end, she continued to act in films and perform as a cabaret singer. She died in 1992 at the age of 90.

What is the purpose of a short snorter? The tradition seems to have started among aviators in the 1920s. If two flyers met, each would sign a piece of paper money belonging to the other. If they met again, one could challenge the other to produce the signed bill, or else buy the challenger a drink–but a small one, as full-on drunkenness and flying don’t mix. The small drink, known as a short snort, gave its name to the signed roll of bills. At some point the tradition spread beyond aviators to military personnel.

Do we know when Dietrich started her short snorter? “We have the story of how it likely happened, but not how it actually happened,” says Marco Tomaschett, autographs specialist at Swann, explaining that Dietrich’s collection dates to the 1940s, and she might have started it on one of her USO tours. “Someone who was collecting signatures for his short snorter asked her to sign his, and she thought it was a cool idea and decided to start one herself.”

Dietrich’s short snorter measures 38 feet long. That’s kind of unwieldy. Did she really carry the bill roll on her person during her war travels? “The tradition at the time was you were supposed to have all of them [the signed bills], so if a compatriot asked to see a signature, she could present the signature so she wouldn’t have to buy a drink for them,” he says. “Most short snorters were easier to carry, because most could fit the signatures on a single bill. If you ran out of room, you got a second bill. But not everyone was called to the front repeatedly, and not everyone did as much travel as she was doing.”

Do we know if she was ever challenged to produce a signed bill? “I don’t know. Probably not,” he says, laughing. “But she did use it to demonstrate solidarity with the soldiers.” He adds that seeing Dietrich’s short snorter inspired Army Air Force Captain John L. Gillen to start his own, and his bill roll ultimately grew to contain paper money from 36 countries and measure 100 feet long.

How often do you, as an autograph specialist, handle short snorters? “They don’t come up, mainly because they generally don’t have the value that brings them to auction,” he says. “This is unusual in that it has collectible autographs and it was owned by a celebrated figure.”

Has the short snorter tradition disappeared? “The historical factors that made it exciting at the time have dropped away,” he says. “The drinking game has completely vanished. The last time you get a serious collection of signatures on a bill is in the 1960s, connected with the space race. The analogy of space exploration to aviation made it a natural continuation.”

Who are some of the notable people who signed Dietrich’s short snorter? Author Ernest Hemingway, whose friendship with the actress predated World War II, wrote, “She’s long gone She never stands to fight knowing etc. Oct 4 1944.” Tomaschett is unsure of what the message might mean, but suspects it’s an inside reference of some sort. Military signers include George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, and Nathan Farragut Twining; entertainers include Danny Thomas and Burgess Meredith.

What is your favorite signature on the Dietrich short snorter? Tomaschett cited the inscription of Lieutenant Buck Dawson, who wrote, “Even a paratrooper must admire your courage. You volunteer for many things we have to do. Thanks. The 82nd Div.” “The courage he’s referring to is that she performed in these conditions,” he says, referring to the rugged environment of the war’s front lines. “We’re certainly not used to being shot at or bombed, but she did it [staged her USO act] repeatedly, for years.”

How to bid: The Marlene Dietrich short snorter is lot 46 in the November 7 Autographs sale at Swann Auction Galleries.

If you click the link to lot 46, you can see a period black-and-white photo of Dietrich draped in her short snorter.

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

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SOLD! Yo, Adrian! This Rocky Balboa Statue Commanded More Than $403,000 At SCP Auctions

Rocky Balboa Statue

Update: SCP Auctions sold the Rocky Balboa statue for $403,657.

What you see: A limited edition monumental bronze statue of Rocky Balboa, commissioned from sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg for the 1982 film Rocky III. SCP Auctions estimates it at $500,000-plus.

Who is Rocky Balboa? He is the fictional star of the Rocky series of films, which are about an Italian-American boxer who climbed from the bottom to the absolute top. The first Rocky appeared in 1976 and propelled its writer-lead, Sylvester Stallone, to Hollywood fame. Stallone has played the Rocky Balboa character in six sequels, including the most recent, Creed, released in 2015. The Rocky films have collectively earned more than $675 million in ticket sales alone.

How did this statue come to be? The producers of Rocky III commissioned the statue for the film. It commemorates the famous scene in the original film in which the boxer runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was placed at the top of the steps for filming, but now stands at the bottom right of the steps. The statue and the steps rival Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as the most popular tourist attractions in Philadelphia.

Who is A. Thomas Schomberg, and how was he chosen to sculpt the Rocky statue? By the early 1980s, the Colorado-based sculptor was well-known for his sports-themed works. Stallone owned a few of his boxing-related pieces and called him for the Rocky III job, which took a year. The actor sat for a plaster life mask to assist Schomberg in creating the bronze.

How many Rocky statues are there? Only three of the monumental-size statues exist. Two, including this one, were cast at the same time in the early 1980s, and the third was cast in 2006. The statue consigned to SCP Auctions had been on loan to the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum until recently. The later-cast statue is still with Schomberg.

And this is an exact replica of the one that’s outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art? “Correct, and it was made simultaneously, to the same specifications. They’re virtually identical,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions. “The one on display in Philadelphia and the one we have are twins.”

How often do you have sports-themed art in your auctions? Is it something you seek? “We’ve had our fair share over the years. It’s a take-it-as-it-comes scenario,” he says. “The Rocky statue fits many categories. It’s a monumental piece of art. It’s sports art, but you can see it as movie memorabilia. And it’s an iconic piece of Americana. It transcends categories. It’s many things. It should appeal to a cross-section of bidders.”

This statue stands eight feet, six inches tall and weighs 2,000 pounds. What should bidders hold in mind when they consider this piece? “It’s not ideally suited for your average living room. You won’t put it on your mantle or your coffee table. But I think it’s going to appeal to different people,” he says. “It has a lot of commercial value. You could display it at a public venue, or a business, or privately as well. We know from the example in Philadelphia that it was made to be displayed outdoors, or it can be put indoors, as it was in San Diego.”

I’ve never seen the Rocky statue in person. How did it affect you? “It’s breathtaking, first of all, for its sheer size,” Imler says. “Second of all is its sheer artistry. It’s incredibly well done, a beautiful work of art that conveys its ultimate intention, which is inspiration. It’s a very inspiring piece. Anyone who has seen the Rocky movies immediately thinks of the rags-to-riches story. This is an ideal representation of that.”

Why will this lot stick in your memory? “I was always an enormous fan of the Rocky movies,” he says. “If I’m flipping the channels and I happen upon any one of them, it’s hard to turn away. I remember being very moved by the original Rocky film. This statue embodies that story–the overcoming-the-odds, blue-collar, never-give-up mentality. It’s a very inspiring piece. We hope it lands in a place like its brother in Philadelphia, to be appreciated by as many people as possible.”

How to bid: The Rocky Balboa statue is among the lots in SCP Auctions‘ Fall Premier sale, which takes place from October 18 through November 4.

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SCP Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram as well. A. Thomas Schomberg has a website with a page that is dedicated to the Rocky statue. The statue also has its own website.

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

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LAST CALL: A Rare Winchester Model 1873 1 of 1000 Rifle Could Sell for $400,000 at James Julia



What you see: A closeup of a Winchester 1873 “1 of 1000” rifle, serial number 6594. James D. Julia estimates it at $250,000 to $400,000.

What is the Winchester Model 1873? It was one of the most popular 19th century firearms from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which touted the Model 1873 as “The gun that won the West”. Named for the year in which it debuted, Winchester produced well over 700,000 of them from 1873 until 1923.

What does “1 of 1000” mean? “According to Winchester, they were barrels specially selected for accuracy. It’s estimated that only one of a thousand barrels met those accuracy standards,” says J.R. LaRue, head of James D. Julia’s fine firearms consulting department, noting that 136 Winchester Model 1873s earned the designation, and about 70 to 75 of those still exist.

How often do Winchester Model 1873 “1 of 1000” examples come to auction? LaRue says he started to see them appear at James D. Julia about eight to 10 years ago, and saw many more come in during the last two to three years. “In this auction, we have three. The other two, I haven’t had time to describe yet,” he says, “But they’re not anything remotely like the quality of the one you read the description on [this one]. This is a really fine, high-condition example.”

This example dates to 1875, the year in which Winchester introduced the “1 of 1000” designation. Does that make the firearm more valuable? “It may add a little bit of prestige to a new owner, but it’s not going to add significantly to the value,” LaRue says.

It’s described as “one of the highest condition Model 1 of 1000 Winchester rifles extant.” What does “high condition” mean here? “It doesn’t show a lot of wear, and it shows a great deal of original finish,” he says. “The likelihood is the owner who purchased the rifle held it in such high regard, he didn’t allow it to be abused or exposed to the elements. Whoever owned it took care of it. It didn’t rattle around in a wagon box or a saddle scabbard.”

In the realm of antique firearms, condition includes functionality. Does this one work? “We don’t fire it at all,” he says. “We only check the functionality of the mechanics to ensure it’s working as intended.”

How unusual is it for an elite 19th century Winchester to have even a partial provenance, as this one does? “Pretty rare. Most of them can only be dated back to 1950, when Universal Studios searched for 1 of 1000 rifles to promote the movie Winchester ’73. We know the history of this one back to 1935,” LaRue says. The first twenty owners who wrote to the studio received a Winchester 184 “Carbie” for their efforts. The person who owned the rifle in 1950 was quick enough on the draw and won a Carbie. That 20th century gun is included in the lot.

This rifle is estimated at $250,000 to $400,000. James D. Julia sold a Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 in fall of 2014 for $258,750. Could this Winchester 1873 1 of 1000 do better? “It certainly has a chance to do so. I absolutely hope it does,” he says.

How to bid: The Winchester is among the lots in the Extraordinary Firearms Auction at James D. Julia on October 31, November 1, and November 2, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of James D. Julia.

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SOLD! A Mid-1930s Travel Poster Featuring The Hindenburg DID Float Away With $6,000 at Swann

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Update: The Jupp Wiertz circa 1935 travel poster featuring the Hindenberg sold for $6,000.

What you see: A Pleasant Trip to Germany, a travel poster created circa 1935 by Jupp Wiertz. Swann estimates its at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Jupp Wiertz? He was a German graphic designer, and unfortunately, we don’t know much more about him. He was based in Berlin, and he created several travel and fashion-themed posters. He died in 1939, when he would have been 57 or 58.

So we have three different forms of transportation (a zeppelin, an airplane, and an ocean liner) and three different destinations (Germany, New York City, and Rio) loaded into one poster. Why? “This is propaganda–Germany controlling the skies and the seas, flaunting its technology and bragging about its place in the modern world,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “It’s a very effective ad, in that sense.”

How do we know that the zeppelin pictured on the poster is the Hindenburg? “You can tell by the position of the cockpit,” he says. “On the Graf Zeppelin, it’s all the way forward. On the Hindenburg, its three-quarters of the way down [the body of the airship].”

Do vintage travel posters that feature zeppelins bring a premium? “Zeppelins bring a premium. Swastikas bring whatever is the opposite of a premium,” Lowry says, adding that the most popular zeppelin travel poster was also done by Wiertz. It shows the Hindenburg readying to hitch itself to the docking mast atop the Empire State Building, which is ablaze with golden sunlight. Swann has sold the poster for as much as $15,600.

What else makes this circa 1935 travel poster special? “It’s the peak of Art Deco. Though the ship is unrecognizable, the Art Deco style is very recognizable,” he says. “Plus the ghostly outline  of the cityscapes–it’s really a masterful job. It’s fun to have something from the golden age of travel and fun to have something from the very short timespan when zeppelins were operating. They were as captivating to the world’s imagination as the Titanic was in its time.”

How to bid: A Pleasant Trip to Germany is lot 151 in the Rare & Important Travel Posters sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 26, 2017.

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

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SOLD! That Striking 1968 MoMA Poster Fetched $4,250 at Swann Galleries

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Antiques Roadshow returns to PBS with a pair of new episodes on Monday, October 30, at 8 pm (check your tv listings for your local station) in advance of the debut of Season 22 on January 8, 2018. To celebrate, I’m reposting stories from The Hot Bid that feature people who’ve appeared on the show as appraisers. Today I’m featuring Nicholas Lowry of Swann Auction Galleries–a fan favorite and a personal favorite.

Update: The Tadanori Yokoo poster sold for $4,250.

What you see: Word Image, a poster designed by Tadanori Yokoo for a 1968 show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Swann Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who is Tadanori Yokoo? He is a Japanese graphic artist and painter who has been compared to Andy Warhol and Peter Max. The 1968 MoMA exhibition poster represents one of his few American commissions. He will turn 81 in June.

What was Word and Image? “This was one of the first really major international poster shows,” says  Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “For us, it was a seminal exhibit, and by us, I mean the poster community.”

Why was Yokoo chosen to create the poster for this MoMA show? While stating that he is unaware of the backstory, Lowry points out, “He was an up-and-coming artist. No one was going to say, ‘Oh, you’re going with the easy standard.’ This was something new. And this was the first mainstream poster he did. In three years, he went from an unknown artist to designing the image for the first major poster retrospective in the U.S.”

What makes this poster so strong? “It works in the manner that it’s supposed to do–it catches your attention,” Lowry says. “As you walk down the street, it sinks into your head and embeds in your cortex as you pass by. The poster screams at you till you hear it with your eyes. That’s exactly what it does. It’s a great, great poster.”

What other aspects make Word Image work? “What you can’t tell is those are Day-Glo colors–bright pink, bright red, bright blue,” Lowry says. “And he is visually literalizing the name of the show–‘word’ with mouth, and ‘image’ with eye. The message speaks for itself. The only typography is the title at the top and the details at the bottom.”

How rare is this poster? It’s not rare, but it’s not common, either. Lowry says that Yokoo’s Word Image poster took off at auction only after a 1965 Yokoo poster unexpectedly pulled in $52,800 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000 at a Swann sale in 2013, prompting collectors and dealers to comb through their holdings for vintage Yokoos. Since then, a Word Image poster has appeared at auction at least once a year.

How to bid: Yokoo’s Word Image poster is lot 293 in Swann Galleries’s Graphic Design auction on May 25.

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

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

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