Lionel Messi ‘napkin contract’ tops $972K at Bonhams

Lionel Messi 'napkin contract,' which sold for £600,000 ($759,685, or $972,400 with buyer's premium) at Bonhams.

LONDON — The napkin contract signed by 13-year-old Lionel Messi for FC Barcelona sold for £600,000 ($759,685, or $972,400 with buyer’s premium) at Bonhams on May 17 (estimated at £300,000-£500,000, or $380,000-$633,450) in a timed online auction.

There was a flurry of bidding in the final five scheduled minutes of the sale, taking it from below the low estimate to its final hammer price.

Laminated and framed, the napkin measures 6.5 by 6.5in (16.5 by 16.5 cm) and is signed by FC Barcelona’s then-sporting director Carles Rexach; agent Josep Minguella who was responsible for Messi’s trial in Spain; and Argentine agent Horacio Gaggioli. The latter was the consigner.

Messi arrived in Barcelona from Rosario in September 2000, but it was not until December 14 that Barcelona sporting director Rexach finally penned the contract at Pompeia tennis club in Barcelona. The football club was hesitant to sign a player they considered too small, but with mounting pressure from Messi’s father Jorge, Rexach took matters into his own hands and asked the waiter for paper. Instead, he was given a napkin on which to outline the commitment.

In translation, the napkin reads: “In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, FC Barcelona’s sporting director, hereby agrees, under his responsibility and regardless of any dissenting opinions, to sign the player Lionel Messi, provided that we keep to the amounts agreed upon.”

“It’s astonishing how a humble object – a paper napkin – can convey a pivotal moment in footballing history,” Bonhams director Ian Ehling told the Antiques Trade Gazette. “This piece of paper gave the reassurance to the Messi family that FC Barcelona was serious about signing 13-year-old Lionel. It changed the life of Messi, the future of FC Barcelona, and was instrumental in giving some of the most glorious moments of football to billions of fans around the globe.

“The item is being sold now because the owner who has been its guardian for more than 20 years hopes it will inspire future generations of football fans.”

Messi has gone on to win more Ballon d’Ors than any other player in history, and scored more goals in La Liga as well as the most assists in that league.

Garden sculpture turns backyards into open-air art galleries

A striking and large stone garden sculpture of a mask earned €4,200 ($4,515) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — In the collecting world, more is usually better. But in the realm of garden sculpture, the opposite is true. A few well-chosen, well-placed pieces transform the outdoors into an open-air gallery.

“The auction market for garden ornament is terrific. There are wonderful pieces to be had at all levels of collecting in all styles,” said Nan Zander, a longtime specialist in garden decor at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina. “We look for period pieces, and the market for them is very, very strong,” she said.

This Anna Coleman Watts Ladd bronze garden sculpture from 1914, depicting Anteros and Eros, sold for $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This Anna Coleman Watts Ladd bronze garden sculpture from 1914, depicting Anteros and Eros, sold for $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

But choosing sculptures for a garden requires thought and planning. They can’t just be tossed in a truck bed or an online shopping basket. Many garden sculptures are huge, heavy, or both, which forces buyers to think through how best to transport them, as well as where, exactly, they should be displayed, and how to ready the display site for their arrival.

“Garden statues and garden decoration are different from a lot of collecting fields,” Zander said. “If you’re going to collect paintings, it doesn’t matter how many you buy. With garden statues, it crosses over into a different area, because these are things you’re not really going to move around your yard. You’re going to place them, and they’re going to be integrated into a landscape.”

Profile view of a striking and large stone garden sculpture of a mask that earned €4,200 ($4,515) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.
Profile view of a striking and large stone garden sculpture of a mask that earned €4,200 ($4,515) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

Whatever is chosen, be it a cutting-edge contemporary work or a textbook classical sculpture, should be granted the space – both literal and figurative – it needs to cast its spell. The garden sculpture pictured at the head of this article, a 41in-high stone mask that sold for €4,200 ($4,515) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, gains visual power from its setting within the landscape.

This is also true for a group of Four Seasons statues in cast stone that attained $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020 at Brunk Auctions. The foursome came out of a large Southern estate, where they had been set in equidistant positions in a corner of a courtyard hedge. The naturalistic setting made the statues look as if they belonged there and had been there for ages.

A set of Four Seasons garden sculptures in cast stone was well placed in this garden area, partially set into a hedge. The foursome went on to make $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A set of Four Seasons garden sculptures in cast stone was well placed in this garden area, partially set into a hedge. The foursome went on to make $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Moving the Four Seasons sculptures to their original spots on that Southern estate certainly called for many hands, as well as a dolly or heavy equipment, custom crates, and protective packing materials. The task would have also included prep work, such as leveling the areas where the statues would be installed and putting a slab of stone or brick underneath each to limit their contact with soil moisture and to stop them from settling into the ground.

Size is an important consideration when choosing garden sculptures. Backyard-style landscapes look better with fewer and smaller garden sculptures, while a large formal estate can accommodate a grander layout. Regardless of how many acres there are to play with, breaking the property down into smaller sections is key to avoid overloading a given area with too many artworks that compete for the viewer’s attention.

“The most successful landscapes incorporating garden ornament have one focal point that you see within your vision,” Zander said. “If you’re looking down your backyard, you’re not going to want to see five different things in there. You’re going to want one thing. Then you walk somewhere else, say a side yard, [and] you can have another piece.”

Two bronze garden sculptures of deer, resembling ancient models from the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum in Italy, took $8,125 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
Two bronze garden sculptures of deer, resembling ancient models from the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum in Italy, took $8,125 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, garden statues that look like classical antiques have a ready audience. Two 20th-century cast bronze deer modeled after originals found in the garden of the Villa dei Papiri in the town of Herculaneum in central Italy proved this point when they secured $8,125 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022 at John Moran Auctioneers, Inc.

Another angle on an Anna Coleman Watts Ladd bronze garden sculpture from 1914 depicting Anteros and Eros, which sold for $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Another angle on an Anna Coleman Watts Ladd bronze garden sculpture from 1914 depicting Anteros and Eros, which sold for $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Garden statues differ from fine art in that many examples of the former were made by foundries or went unsigned. A notable exception is an Anna Coleman Watts Ladd bronze from 1914, depicting Anteros and Eros, which sold for $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023 at Brunk Auctions. Measuring 31¾ by 82 by 17in, the figural sculpture soared above its $7,000-$10,000 estimate for several reasons, as Zander explained: “It was slightly modern, so it appealed to both classical tastes and more modern tastes. It didn’t weigh as much, so it was easier to place. It was signed and dated by a well-known artist, so it had everything going for it.”

A Carrara marble garden sculpture of a woman with a dove and a serpent achieved $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Vogt Auction Texas and LiveAuctioneers.
A Carrara marble garden sculpture of a woman with a dove and a serpent achieved $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Vogt Auction Texas and LiveAuctioneers.

Materials matter more for garden sculpture than with other forms of art because it is meant to sit outside, taking the full brunt of the elements for years, decades, and even longer. A favorite choice is Carrara marble, which has been mined for centuries in Italy and was used to build Tajan’s column and the Pantheon in Rome. Garden sculptures fashioned from the stone bring prices in the $10,000 to $20,000 range and often feature classical themes. A Carrara marble garden statue of a lady with a dove and a serpent went for $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Vogt Auction Texas.

Cast bronze is a medium well-suited for garden statuary as it is durable and its luster improves as it ages. A fine-looking addition to any garden would be the pair of bronze guardian lions, each 56in tall, which brought $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022 at Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery.

This pair of large bronze guardian lion garden sculptures, measuring 56in tall, went out at $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.
This pair of large bronze guardian lion garden sculptures, measuring 56in tall, went out at $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

One of the most popular and affordable materials for garden sculpture is cast stone, which is similar to concrete and weathers well. “Vintage cast stone is a viable and well-respected option,” Zander said. “Its affordability gives it a strong market share, allowing for buying at all levels.” Small pieces can cost a few hundred dollars, and even larger items, such as the Four Seasons set discussed above, sell for a fraction of what it would cost for an identical set produced in carved stone or marble. A pair of cast stone eagle garden sculptures, modeled with their wings spread, made $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2024 at Case Antiques, Inc. Auctions & Appraisals. Set on round bases and dating to the early 20th century, the eagles measured an impressive 27½in tall and 28in wide.

This pair of cast stone garden sculptures of eagles with their wings spread made $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2024. Image courtesy of Case Antiques, Inc. Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers.
This pair of cast stone garden sculptures of eagles with their wings spread made $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2024. Image courtesy of Case Antiques, Inc. Auctions & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers.

Buyers favor garden sculptures with a weathered appearance, and most prefer to site pieces in a naturalistic setting, instead of, say, lining a driveway with a procession of statues. Garden sculptures look great when placed in niches or among plantings chosen to heighten and enhance their visual impact. “I think for the most part people do want a sort of lived-in look, and most of the pieces have what I like to call a patina commensurate with age and use,” Zander said.

Boasting precisely that lived-in look is a circa-1850 carved stone garden sculpture of a Greek muse, possibly Comedy, done in a Neoclassical style. The sculpture, which stood 87in tall including its base, earned $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2024 at Ashcroft and Moore LLC.

An antique carved stone garden sculpture of a Greek muse realized $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2024. Image courtesy of Ashcroft and Moore LLC and LiveAuctioneers.
An antique carved stone garden sculpture of a Greek muse realized $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2024. Image courtesy of Ashcroft and Moore LLC and LiveAuctioneers.

Once a garden sculpture is maneuvered into place, its owner is not off the hook. Garden sculptures require maintenance and care, especially in climates that receive hard freezes. Taking smaller pieces indoors for the winter is generally recommended to prevent cracking, which will eventually break them. Pieces too large to move can be covered with plywood, a tarp, or a weatherproof bag.

Conversely, in warmer months and in Southern climates, high humidity and acid rain can damage garden sculptures, especially those made from marble. “Rain has to be okay, and if it’s not, sure, you can cover them, but then they really shouldn’t be outside,” said Zander, who also suggested that works rendered in metal can be protected from rust with a coat of paint.

Garden sculptures can turn an unadorned patch of land into a scene of paradise, but the effect only looks magical. Mundane acts of concentration, forethought, and toil bring these intensively manicured visions to life, and they originate with the visions of sculptors who create pieces designed for a very different sort of gallery, one in which the art is framed by greenswards, flowers, hedges, and sky.

Buffalo Bill Cody and Robert Eden Handy military firearms bring history to life at Lewis & Grant May 24

Museum-Quality Reproduction Of An 1876 Gatling Gun And Carriage, estimated at $25,000-$50,000 at Lewis & Grant.

NEWPORT, KY — Two 19th-century firearms related to the Texas independence war with Mexico and the War Between the States come to market at Lewis & Grant Auctions Friday, May 24 as star lots in its Historic Arms and Armor sale. The catalog is now available for review and bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

Leading the sale’s estimates at $50,000-$75,000 is a Texas presentation fullstock percussion rifle owned by Robert Eden Handy (1807-1838). A Pennsylvanian by birth, Handy moved to Texas in 1834 and during the Texas Revolution, he served on Sam Houston’s staff and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. He had also been dispatched to the Alamo in San Antonio by Houston, but arrived too late. On the top of the rifle’s barrel in a silver escutcheon inlay is the phrase Robert Eden Handy San Jacinto April 21, 1836. The is one of the only known firearms that can be documented to have been present at both the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto.

The legend of William F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody (1846-1917) is well known. A consummate showman who popularized the American West worldwide, his life remains a fascinating chapter in American 19th-century history. Less well known is that he began his career at age 17 as a teamster with the rank of private in Company H of the 7th Kansas Cavalry Volunteers. Cody’s military career ended upon his discharge in 1865, and this Civil War-era Sharps New Model 1863 with serial number C26310 was issued to Companies A, B, and H of the 7th Kansas Cavalry Volunteers, who were known as ‘Jennison’s Jayhawkers.’ As was common, soldiers would mark, brand, or even carve their names into the stock or other wood parts of their firearms. This Sharps New Model 1863 is hand-carved on the inside of the forearm with the name Wm. F. Cody, and the carving appears to be as old as the rifle. Accompanying it is a file folder containing all the documentation of a loan agreement with the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. The Cody-documented rifle is estimated at $25,000-$50,000.

Though not antique, this 1876 Gatling gun is fully operational and full size. Built by Chester ‘Chet’ Fudge in early 2000, it fires .45-70 caliber rounds and boasts a 38in barrel. With an oak carriage and wheels and a brass yoke and housing, the retro firearm is estimated at $25,000-$50,000.

Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry showcasing 18K gold brings the bling to Jasper52

Van Cleef & Arpels 18K gold and diamond Ludo Swann wristwatch, estimated at $32,000-$38,000 at Jasper52.

NEW YORK – On Saturday, May 25, commencing at 8 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will present an auction titled The Art of Luxury: Designer Jewelry & Watches. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

While many elite and coveted brands appear in the 442-lot sale lineup, all three highlighted pieces are credited to Van Cleef & Arpels. The first of them is a Van Cleef & Arpels 18K gold and diamond Ludo Swann wristwatch, which boasts 254 round brilliant-cut diamonds of VVS1 clarity and E color. It comes with service papers from Van Cleef & Arpels and a box, and it carries an estimate of $32,000-$38,000.

Another prize is a Van Cleef & Arpels 18K gold choker necklace from its Alhambra line. It measures 16.5in, dates to 1998, and is estimated at $22,000-$26,000.

Completing the Van Cleef & Arpels trio is a set of 18K gold, diamond, and sapphire Folies des Pres earrings, featuring 64 round brilliant-cut diamonds of VVS1 clarity and E color, weighing 3.15 carats in all. The sapphires are a variety of colors (yellow, green, and orange) and shapes (round, pear, and marque) and together weigh 6.27 carats. The earrings are estimated at $50,000-$60,000.

15th-century astrolabe charts an astounding $638K at Bonhams

15th-century astrolabe, which sold for £400,000 ($638,645 with buyer's premium) at Bonhams.

LONDON – A 15th-century astrolabe hammered for £400,000 ($638,645 with buyer’s premium), more than twice its estimate at BonhamsImportant Instruments of Science and Technology Sale on April 24. The 69-lot sale made £1 million ($1.2 million) against a collective estimate of £250,000-£350,000 ($314,380-$440,110), with 90% sold by lot.

Jon Baddeley, Bonhams specialist, said “This is one of the strongest results we’ve seen at auction at Bonhams Knightsbridge in the past decade. The astrolabe, an early smartphone of sorts, was a vital tool, used for not only telling the time, but mapping one’s location, tracking the stars, and even making life decisions. As the only global auction house to still hold dedicated Science and Technology sales, we’re very pleased with the results, demonstrating the importance of this survivor of mathematical culture from the dawn of the European Renaissance.”

The Regiomontanus/Cardinal Bessarion Astrolabe bears the inscription Under the protection of the divine Bessarion on whom all can be said to depend I arise in Rome the work of John 1462, the Regiomontanus/Cardinal Bessarion astrolabe was a testament to patronage between a young German humanist and a Greek Cardinal.

Johannes Bessarion entered the order of St. Basil at an early age. He was created a Cardinal-priest by Pope Eugenius IV in 1439 and soon became a champion for the reunification of the Greek and Roman churches, becoming Patriarch of Constantinople in 1463. Johann Müller (1436-1476), later known as Regiomontanus, was a student at the University of Vienna, where, under the tutelage of celebrated astronomer Georg Peurbach, he entered Bessarion’s circle in May 1460. This astrolabe was one of his early works, marking the beginning of a patronage relationship defined by a shared passion for the humanities.

Only one of five dated astrolabes of this type in the world, the Regiomontanus/Bessarion model is a direct link to a period of scientific and spiritual transition in European culture. The humanist Roman script used in the engraving is characteristic of the 15th century, but it retains traces of the preceding Gothic era in its numerals and its use of the quatrefoil motif.