NEW YORK – Cabinets of curiosities were encyclopedic collections of macabre and bizarre objects gathered from around world. Many of these obscure curiosities are found in an online auction to be conducted by Jasper52 on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
Some of the 61 lots in the auction were picked from the collection of the late Canadian tribal art dealer Billy Jamieson, the star of Treasure Trader on television’s History Channel, who owned an impressive collection of shrunken heads, among other curiosities.
While there are no shrunken heads offered in this auction, there is a unique hyper-realism bust by Canadian sculptor Evan Penny. It came from the special effects master Gordon Smith and his FXSMITH studio and was created as a “portfolio” piece presented to the producers of the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The intent was to prove the viability and opportunities in choosing prosthetics over CGI (computer generated imagery). The life-size bust, which is made up of silicone, pigment, hair and aluminum, has an estimate of $35,000-$75,000. Gordon Smith is perhaps best known for bringing the mutants from X-Men to life. Smith retired at the height of his career and sold much of his works to Jamieson.
A calabash is a utensil, such as a bottle, made from a gourd. The calabash was a disturbing part of the Bamum culture because the gourds were adorned with the jaws bones of slain enemies. The Kingdom of Bamum (1394-1884) was a pre-colonial Central African state in what is now northwest Cameroon. A scarce 19th-century artifact (below) of this practice is offered in the auction with a $6,000-$8,500 estimate.
Strange by today’s tastes is the Victorian practice of creating artworks from the hair of deceased loved ones. The fine example in the Jasper52 auction is a large and intricately woven wreath of human hair housed in a deep shadow box. The beautiful wreath features multicolored hair that forms a circular bouquet of flowers, each tipped with silver beads.
Daguerreotypes, the first commercially viable form of photography, are highly prized, especially if the subject is extraordinary. A small hand-colored daguerreotype of a mid-1800s firefighter answers that call and comes complete with its original case and glass in fine condition. The seated fireman is posed holding his helmet and wearing a red tunic and scarf.
Also produced in the industrial age is a rare salesman sample of a dumbwaiter manufactured by the Edward Storm Spring Co. of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The miniature device features working mechanisms that demonstrate the gears and pulleys. The top and sides are hinged to show the inner workings of the device.
A table lamp made with the shells of English sea urchins is singed Curtis Jere, which is a pseudonym for the design team of Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels. Together they two created some of the most striking and vivid furnishings and decorative objects of the ’60s and early ’70s. The lamp is a fantastic composition of a polished burled root wood from which springs stems and leaves of patinated copper carrying three shades made of shells inserted in petal-like grips. Switched on, the lights glow in a symphony of rich orange and amber colors.
The Jasper52 cabinet of curiosities auction also features a fine selection of cabinet card photos, magic lantern slides and boxed sets of stereoscope images.