After the Civil War, Rogers’ scenes of army life proved popular with veterans. ‘Wounded to the Rear, One More Shot’ from 1864 offers a glimpse of courage under fire. A number of Civil Wars groups will be offered in the Sept. 10 sale at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

Sculpture for the people: John Rogers 19th century genre

After the Civil War, Rogers’ scenes of army life proved popular with veterans. ‘Wounded to the Rear, One More Shot’ from 1864 offers a glimpse of courage under fire. A number of Civil Wars groups will be offered in the Sept. 10 sale at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

After the Civil War, Rogers’ scenes of army life proved popular with veterans. ‘Wounded to the Rear, One More Shot’ from 1864 offers a glimpse of courage under fire. A number of Civil Wars groups will be offered in the Sept. 10 sale at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

John Rogers (1829-1904) was that rarest of all phenomena, a successful artist. He sold over 80,000 sculptural compositions, mass-produced in painted plaster, during the second half of the 19th century. While only the wealthiest families could afford marble or bronze works of art, middle class households could purchase a graceful “Rogers Group” for $10 or $15.

More people became aware of fashions in home décor through the new medium of photography. Books appeared with recommendations for tasteful interior design. The accompanying photos of parlors and dining rooms always included sculpture—large or small—carefully arranged on pedestals, mantels and sideboards.

Born in Salem, Mass., Rogers’ skill as an artist emerged when he was working as a mechanic and draftsman in his twenties. He had begun modeling in clay and was further inspired by the sculpture he saw at an international exposition in 1853. Following the course of many aspiring artists, he set sail for study in Paris in 1858.

While studying abroad, he realized that neoclassicism was not his style. When he returned to the United States the following year, he began to achieve success by producing genre scenes from everyday life, a specialty he would make his own.

The genre tradition in painting had been established by artists such as William Sidney Mount and George Caleb Bingham. An excellent sculptor, Rogers was able to produce the same effect in three-dimensional figural groups. In 1863, he was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design where he often exhibited his compositions.

The New-York Historical Society has organized a traveling exhibition, “John Rogers: American Stories,” which includes many pieces from their permanent collection. The exhibition is on display at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in Memphis through Oct. 9. The final venue will be in New York City at the newly renovated New-York Historical Society building Oct. 19, 2012 through Feb. 17, 2013.

Collectors will enjoy the wealth of information provided by the accompanying catalog, which features a timeline of the artist’s career. In the opening essay, Michael Leja writes, “The middle decades of the 19th century marked a watershed in the development of a mass market for images in the United States, and Rogers was more influential than any of his contemporaries in bringing sculpture into this new marketplace.”

“He was, in other words, a key player in the invention of a mass visual culture, and his oeuvre reveals the technical and aesthetic challenges entailed in this momentous remaking of art. To our present vantage, when the hyperproduction and instrumentalization of images continue to rise to new levels, Rogers’ career presents an illuminating historical case study.”

Roger’s subject matter is often sentimental or humorous, as was often the case with Victorian art works. In a popular group from 1875 – Checkers Up at the Farm – a young man laughs as he beats an older relative at the game, while a young mother and child look on. Consumers would recognize the familiar scene and take it home with a smile.

Rogers also reproduced scenes from Shakespeare and popular fiction of the day. Courtship in Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel dates to 1868. You are a Spirit, I Know; When did you Die? is a four-figure group from King Lear made in 1885.

The beginning of Rogers’ career coincided with the Civil War years, and the artist from the North was a staunch Abolitionist. Many of the groups simply recorded daily life on the front – The Picket Guard of 1861 or Wounded to the Rear: One More Shot from 1864 – and were popular with veterans and their families.

Other themes had more political overtones. An 1868 photo of the parlor of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena, Ill., contains two Rogers Groups. The Council of War depicting Grant at President Lincoln’s side stands near the window. On the mantel is a family composition titled Union Refugees (1863) which shows a young couple and their child fleeing the South because of their loyalty to the Union.

Today, Rogers is particularly celebrated for his accurate and heroic depictions of African-Americans in the war years. One of the artist’s earliest groups, The Slave Market of 1859 shows a defiant black father being sold apart from his grieving family.

The most groundbreaking group, however, is Wounded Scout: A Friend in the Swamp (1864), which presents a black freedman helping a wounded soldier through difficult terrain. Modern eyes, accustomed to multicultural sculptures, such as The Soldiers by Frederick Hart at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., may not realize how radical the Rogers’ image was in its day.

Ellen Daugherty, associate professor at the Memphis College of Art, recently lectured in conjunction with the traveling exhibition. She said, “The thing that Rogers does so well is create a little moment, a visual anecdote in time. He tells some of the story and you’re allowed as the viewer to weave the rest of it, to decide how to complete the narrative. He opens up his potential audience rather than shutting them down.”

Daugherty is an expert on the portrayal of African-Americans in 19th and early 20th century art. In discussing the Wounded Scout, she noted, “Any type of art that depicts the humanity of African-Americans at this time period is rare. This black man is kind, helpful, and someone the wounded soldier can lean on in times of trouble.”

“The thing that makes it quite powerful is the touch – the way that Rogers puts the two figures together. The black man holds the soldier’s arm so tenderly; he exhibits characteristics of nobility, humanity and concern for his fellow man.”

Collectors can still find affordable examples of Rogers’ “Sculpture for the People” for sale in the antiques marketplace. Fontaine’s Auction Gallery in Pittsfield, Mass., will offer a one-owner collection from the South of about 55 groups in their Sept. 10 sale. Among the lots offered will be Civil War themes such as The Council of War and Union Refugees, theater scenes, and depictions of home life.

Jim O’Brien at Fontaines says, “It is wonderful for us to have the opportunity to sell such a large and diverse collection. We typically only see two or three groupings in the course of a year; so to see many of the rarer groupings all at once is a treasure.”

“Rogers’ studio in New Canaan, Conn., has been designated a National Historic Landmark. John Rogers is credited with being a pioneer in the making of elastic molds for works of art. He patented many of his works, displaying the dates on the base of the sculptures.”

O’Brien adds, “Rogers’ sculptures are very popular among collectors. When looking at any given piece, you can really get a feel for what life was like in the 1800s. The realistic qualities of his works are amazing; Rogers was an expert in not only duplicating realistic features of his subjects, but he also was a master at capturing movement and intimate scenarios in everyday life.”

Starting bids on the Fontaine lots start as low as $200. Note that condition affects value for the easily damaged plaster groups. Rogers also made durable master bronzes to use as his models. Many of these are included in the New-York Historical Society exhibition, but they rarely appear on the market.

Certain groups were copied by 19th-century English potteries in Parian porcelain. These were apparently not authorized by Rogers, but they are attractive and often bring four-figure prices at auction.

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


‘Wounded Scout, A Friend in the Swamp’ from 1863 was one of the first representations of a common humanity which transcends racial divisions. The bronze sculpture is on the catalog cover of ‘John Rogers: American Stories,’ a traveling exhibition organized by the New-York Historical Society. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

‘Wounded Scout, A Friend in the Swamp’ from 1863 was one of the first representations of a common humanity which transcends racial divisions. The bronze sculpture is on the catalog cover of ‘John Rogers: American Stories,’ a traveling exhibition organized by the New-York Historical Society. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

Rogers was well-known for his gently humorous genre scenes from daily life. Two of his best-selling groups were ‘Checkers Up at the Farm’ (1875) and the two men playing ‘Chess’ (1889) shown here. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

Rogers was well-known for his gently humorous genre scenes from daily life. Two of his best-selling groups were ‘Checkers Up at the Farm’ (1875) and the two men playing ‘Chess’ (1889) shown here. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

‘The Council of War,’ an 1868 group with President Lincoln flanked by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was a popular subject. Rogers produced multiple plaster editions from a master bronze. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.

‘The Council of War,’ an 1868 group with President Lincoln flanked by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was a popular subject. Rogers produced multiple plaster editions from a master bronze. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society. Courtesy New-York Historical Society.

‘Uncle Ned’s School,’ designed in 1866, depicts a black workman and young relatives learning to read, a skill denied to slaves before emancipation. An edition of this design is part of the collection offered at Fontaine’s. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

‘Uncle Ned’s School,’ designed in 1866, depicts a black workman and young relatives learning to read, a skill denied to slaves before emancipation. An edition of this design is part of the collection offered at Fontaine’s. Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society.

The Steampunk movement flourishes through inventive repurposing: old elements find new uses. 'Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter' is the time-telling creation of Roger Wood; see more of his designs at www.klockwerks.com. Image courtesy Klockwerks.

Steampunk style: Victorian with an attitude

The Steampunk movement flourishes through inventive repurposing: old elements find new uses. 'Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter' is the time-telling creation of Roger Wood; see more of his designs at www.klockwerks.com. Image courtesy Klockwerks.

The Steampunk movement flourishes through inventive repurposing: old elements find new uses. ‘Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter’ is the time-telling creation of Roger Wood; see more of his designs at www.klockwerks.com. Image courtesy Klockwerks.

Steampunk – a term used as a noun, an adjective, and a verb – may mean different things to different people. In interior design, it denotes a twist on turn-of-the century industrial pop culture. Innovative collectors repurpose and transmute basic elements of 19th-century technology – gears, boilers, windup mechanisms – in a way that integrates modern amenities with a Victorian period environment.

Inventors become involved in the process, because no one can buy a “steampunk antique.”

Vintage elements are the basic material, but it takes creativity to turn a pump organ into a computer workstation. Craftsmen often specialize: view Roger Wood’s fantastic timepieces – for example, his “Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter” – at www.klockwerks.com.

Philadelphia inventor Jack Zylkin of USB Typewriter adapts old-fashioned manual typewriters for use as keyboards on any USB-capable computer. He says, “I wouldn’t call myself a steampunk – I don’t dress up with a monocle and a bowler hat – although I think that kind of fashion is cool. For me, it’s about the spirit of industriousness and inventiveness. I think people respond to it because it’s not mass-produced. What I do is high tech, but it’s a personal kind of high tech.”

For adventurous dressers, Steampunk can become an elaborate masquerade, where participants turn themselves into fully costumed avatars with an alternative lifestyle.

Devices and interiors become the background for a distinctive Victorian fashion aesthetic that mixes lush fabrics with Goth accents and military gear. Websites like Steampunk Emporium have sprung up to supply everything from monocles and pith helmets to corsets and lace-up boots.

Fashion designers like Philadelphia’s Nikki Cohen of MayFaire Moon Costumes & Corsetry find their creations in demand. She says, “In the last two or three years, Steampunk has been one of the major movements in the alternative world. I’ve always loved Victorian costuming. Moving on from very strict historical accuracy to you-can-do-whatever-you-want has been wonderful. It’s like being handed a whole new box of crayons.”

Costumed neo-Victorians network through websites like www.thesteampunkempire.com, which is subtitled “The Crossroads of the Aether.” Events cited range from museum exhibitions to art shows to conventions. A Season 3 episode of the hit television series Castle featured a Steampunk costume party.

Last year’s PhilCon, organized by the venerable Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, included a Steampunk Ball.

At its heart, Steampunk attempts to use Victorian technology for projects never actually realized during the 19th century. The insightful entry in Wikipedia says in its introduction: “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain – that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

“Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.”

As this explanation indicates, Steampunk influence has long been present in literature and film, even though the term may not be directly employed. Doctor Who, a popular BBC television character who moves through time and space, has often made forays into the Victorian past. The interior of the Tardis – his home base cum time machine – has a lot of steampunk detail. The successful 2009 film interpretation of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law also played fast and loose with 19th-century tech, and a sequel is on the way later this year.

Collectors may read up on the movement and even dress up in the clothes, but questions remain. Where do I get the stuff? And how do I adapt it? Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum remodeled the kitchen of their 1901 Sharon, Mass., house. Later, when people began to admire their stylish modifications, they realized they had been steampunking unawares.

In 2007, the Rosenbaums founded their website www.modvic.com, where viewers find images of their projects and links to articles and events. The couple built a steampunk kitchen at the Stella Pier Show in New York City last March. Bruce pointed out, “We’re looking at it as a creative design solution. For people who love the Victorian period and the Industrial Age but want to live in today’s world, this is where we come in. We blend the best of both worlds.”

As a source for vintage material to steampunk, Kamelot Auctions in Philadelphia has offerings that go far beyond the usual industrials and architecturals. Some are easy to repurpose – for example, a fabulous Victorian warming stove with cast-iron masque feet sold in April for $738. Others are nifty gizmos and gadgets just waiting for a new life. In the same sale, a vintage electrostatic machine with glass disc and tole canister, circa 1910, sold for $600.

Joe Holahan, a partner in Kamelot Auctions with Jeffrey Kamal, says, “What’s interesting about Steampunk is that historically – from a dealer perspective – the kind of dealer who would buy Victorian and the kind of dealer who would buy industrial have nothing in common. It’s interesting to see the two different profiles come together. I’ve never walked into a shop that called itself a steampunk store, but it’s cool stuff. I’ve been in the business for 25 years, and I’m always thinking, what’s next? So this makes sense – it’s stuff that’s been done, but it’s being reinvented in a new form.”

Jeffrey Henkel, Kamelot’s resident furniture and decorative arts specialist, says, “I happen to like all aspects of design and many different genres. Steampunk is something that’s been around for a long time and then the term became attached to it. The beginning of us going into steampunk was with metal vitrines made around 1900-1910. Those have been so popular for us; we’ve done very well with them.”

“Urban Outfitters began to buy them – that really was the beginning – they were usable objects in store for display. People would go in and buy a bohemian blouse and want these vitrines for their houses. We tried to develop a clientele that bought more unusual objects, and we’ve been fairly successful doing it.”

He concludes, “We’ve got the stock – we get things from all over the world. All the factories that closed over the years were full of all sorts of fabulous, crazy things, and we’ve been lucky enough to have them in our auctions. There’s a market for these objects, and it’s great. Young couples are buying these things as everyday useful objects.”

Watch for Kamelot’s Oct. 22 event which will offer a perfect mix of architecturals, industrials, and Victoriana. Catalogs of past and future sales can be found at www.kamelotauctions.com. The auction house is located at 4700 Wissahickon Ave. in Philadelphia: for more information, call 215-438-6990.


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


The Steampunk movement flourishes through inventive repurposing: old elements find new uses. 'Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter' is the time-telling creation of Roger Wood; see more of his designs at www.klockwerks.com. Image courtesy Klockwerks.

The Steampunk movement flourishes through inventive repurposing: old elements find new uses. ‘Nemo’s Steampunk Clock/Electrostatic Voltmeter’ is the time-telling creation of Roger Wood; see more of his designs at www.klockwerks.com. Image courtesy Klockwerks.

Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum began steampunking as they were restoring their 1901 house in Sharon, Mass., and now share their expertise through their website www.modvic.com. In their kitchen, a modified 1890s J.L. Defiance stove has been updated with a glass cooktop and double ovens where the wood once burned. Image courtesy ModVic.

Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum began steampunking as they were restoring their 1901 house in Sharon, Mass., and now share their expertise through their website www.modvic.com. In their kitchen, a modified 1890s J.L. Defiance stove has been updated with a glass cooktop and double ovens where the wood once burned. Image courtesy ModVic.

Perfect for steampunk conversion, this late Victorian cast-iron and bronze warming stove sold in April at Kamelot Auctions for $738. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia .

Perfect for steampunk conversion, this late Victorian cast-iron and bronze warming stove sold in April at Kamelot Auctions for $738. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia .

A nifty gadget, this electrostatic machine with glass disc and tole canister, circa 1910, brought $600 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

A nifty gadget, this electrostatic machine with glass disc and tole canister, circa 1910, brought $600 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

 Ideal for a kitchen counter, four farm implement seat stools with cast-iron bases labeled “Baker Hamilton, San Francisco, Sacramento” sold for a hefty $3,690 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

Ideal for a kitchen counter, four farm implement seat stools with cast-iron bases labeled “Baker Hamilton, San Francisco, Sacramento” sold for a hefty $3,690 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

A vintage Golden Glow spotlight in polished steel, made by the Electric Supplier Co. of Philadelphia, circa 1920, brought $1,080 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

A vintage Golden Glow spotlight in polished steel, made by the Electric Supplier Co. of Philadelphia, circa 1920, brought $1,080 in April. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

This pair of wood and metal industrial rolling shelf units, sold on June 11 for $4,800, could be used for either storage or display. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

This pair of wood and metal industrial rolling shelf units, sold on June 11 for $4,800, could be used for either storage or display. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

Vintage metal vitrines, ideal for collections, have been popular with bidders at Kamelot sales. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

Vintage metal vitrines, ideal for collections, have been popular with bidders at Kamelot sales. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

Any reconstruction of Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment would require a good mechanical table. This example, nickel over bronze with multiple gears and levers, sold in Kamelot’s June auction for $3,840. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

Any reconstruction of Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment would require a good mechanical table. This example, nickel over bronze with multiple gears and levers, sold in Kamelot’s June auction for $3,840. Image courtesy Kamelot Auctions, Philadelphia.

At any auction, the gavel has the final say. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Kaminski Auctions.

Auctions 101: Expert tips for novice bidders

At any auction, the gavel has the final say. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Kaminski Auctions.

At any auction, the gavel has the final say. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com Archive and Kaminski Auctions.

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. – “Sold!” the auctioneer calls out. This is the very moment when title legally changes hands from the owner (or consignor) of the property being sold. to the bidder who won the item.

The “bids” (the offers to purchase the item being sold) are the essential elements in any successful auction. These incremental bids by those who raise their paddles indicate to the auctioneer that they are making an offer to purchase the item.  

The process of incremental bidding, i.e., a method by which bids are increased according to pre-determined increments, should be as simple as it sounds, and often is. This article deals with both the standard, everyday incremental bidding at an auction, as well as some of the vagaries of the process. It also deals with some things that bidders need to be aware of.

The numbered bid paddle (or card, or in some cases even a paper plate with a number written on it) is provided to the bidder once he or she has registered at the auction house. Registration is the process by which you supply the auction house with your identification, and any other required information, so they know who you are. Often, this requires a valid driver’s license.

Once registered and supplied with a bid paddle, bidders are given, or have the option of purchasing, a printed catalog that should include the auction’s Terms and Conditions of Sale. Read them carefully. The catalog usually contains the listing of all the items being sold, the lot number assigned to each item, detailed descriptions of the property being offered and sometimes condition reports that describe such things as repairs, breaks, etc.  

The catalog may also contain an estimate of each item’s value. These values are based on the auction house’s research of historical selling prices of similar items. These estimates are often represented in ranges such as $200-$300, $400-600, etc. Most items eventually sell in or near these estimate ranges.

Now that you’re armed with your bid number and catalog, you have everything you need to move along to the next step of the process, the all-important pre-auction inspection, or preview. As you go from item to item and identify those pieces that may interest you, the catalog is an excellent in-hand reference. Refer to it frequently, as it may supply you with information you might not be aware of. Many buyers also use the catalog to circle items of interest, jot down their maximum bids (how high they are willing go), general notes, etc.

Once you take your seat and the actual auction begins, the paddle is used to indicate to the auctioneer that you are making an offer to purchase, or bid. The auctioneer will often begin by asking for a low opening bid from the audience, often one-half of the low estimate of the item being sold. Once someone’s paddle is raised into the air, the bidding process begins, and it continues to progress until the item is deemed “sold.”

For example, an opening bid of $100 is often followed with a subsequent bid of $125, then $150, and so on, as the bidding process continues. The advances in the bids usually follow pre-determined bidding increments. At Leighton Galleries, as an example, the increments are published in the catalog, and range from $10 bid increments for items selling for $10 to $100, to $100 increments for items selling for $1,000 to $5,000.  

If the auctioneer opened an item by asking for a $100 bid, and you raised you paddle, the auctioneer would acknowledge your bid and, in the same breath, start looking for $125 from someone else. Then, if that someone else were to raise their paddle, the auctioneer would acknowledge that bid and almost certainly look right back at you for the next bid, now at $150. If you were to bid again, he would look back at the other bidder (called the underbidder) for the next bid, and so on, until one of you stops bidding. The sale happens when no additional bid, or advance, is made beyond the last and final bid. At that point, the auctioneer calls “Sold!” and moves on to the next item, repeating the entire process.

Sometimes in the heat of the auction, a bidder will call out a bid in excess of the bid that the auctioneer is asking for. Say the auctioneer is trying to get a bid for $225, and a bidder raises his paddle and yells out “$300”, this is referred to as “jumping” the bid. This is an aggressive move on the part of the jump bidder, an attempt to intimidate the underbidder into capitulating. This move sometimes works, but sometimes it can also fuel unintended competition.  

Another bidding tactic used by determined buyers is to raise their paddle into the air, and leave it there, holding it up through the entire bidding sequence. The motivation to bid in this way varies from person to person, and for a variety of reasons. At our auctions, I personally appreciate this type of bidder since it helps to move the sale along. However, for those who might consider bidding in this way, be forewarned. Unscrupulous auctioneers might see this “paddle-in-the-air” bidder as an easy mark, as it indicates a relentless bidder who will not stop bidding until he wins the item.

I’ve seen this illegal practice myself, many times. Bidding in this manner opens the door to a dishonest auctioneer “bouncing” bids (taking nonexistent bids from the floor, the back of the auction hall, out of the air, etc.) and running up the price to the detriment of the paddle-in-the-air bidder. This bouncing will continue until the paddle comes down or the bidder shows some hesitation. Then, and magically, the “underbidder” stops bidding and the paddle-in- the-air buyer wins the item, ultimately paying far more than the real bidding justified.

One victim at a particular auction, who was bidding on a reproduction Tiffany lamp, happened to be a long-time customer of Leighton Galleries. I didn’t even know he and his wife were there until I looked around to see who was bidding so high on this reproduction lamp. As an auctioneer myself, I’ve developed a keen eye for picking bids out of an audience. A blinking eye here, a tipped catalog there, the nod of a head – I have seen them all. I stood at the front of the auction hall and believe me, there wasn’t another bidder is the house – except my customer and his wife.  Not one!  

This buyer grossly overpaid as a result of a dishonest and greedy auctioneer. I immediately told my customer. I cautioned him that he could bid that way at MY auction without any apprehension, but to be careful at THIS auction because he was the only bidder on the lamp; the others were phantom bids. I later learned that this particular auctioneer had been arrested and his auction business closed down for similar indiscretions.

Finally, bidders should be aware that they may find themselves competing with legitimate bidders who aren’t physically present in the auction gallery. For a long time, now, telephone bids have been a staple at auctions. Essentially the bidder on the other end of the phone is bidding just as if they were in the hall, with the auction staff communicating with them on the phone and bidding on their behalf.  

Absentee bids, or bids left with the auction house, are fairly common as well. Absentee bidders are folks who can’t attend the auction due to scheduling conflicts, geography, or just not wanting to spend the evening waiting for a few items to come up for bid. In this case, they fill out a form and tell us how high they want to bid. The auction house then bids on their behalf in a competitive fashion.

Most auction houses impose minimum-bid requirements on absentee and phone bidders to justify the extra time their employees must invest in handling the bids. For instance, if a phone bidder wants to bid $100 on a sapphire ring of obviously greater value, most auction houses will not take the bid. A $1,000 bid on a bronze is a completely different circumstance.

The Internet has shaken up the auction business in recent years in ways never before imagined. These days, buyers can sit at their computer at home, in their office, or anywhere in the world for that matter, and participate by entering bids through their computer [or, if using LiveAuctioneers.com, also via apps downloadable to their iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone; absentee only through BlackBerry]. They can leave bids just like a traditional absentee bidder, and we bid on their behalf. The Internet also allows bidders to bid in real time through the Internet, as though they were right there in the hall or on the phone. As the item comes across the screen on their computer, all they have to do is click on a BID button, and voila. Internet bidding has become so popular that in most of our auctions, more than 35% of the items sell to the Internet.

If you are new to auctions and are thinking about attending one, find a local auction, register if you choose to do so, or simply take a seat and watch. Alternatively, learn the ropes by monitoring an auction through LiveAuctioneers.com. It’s absolutely free to watch any sale in progress on LiveAuctioneers. The process is so simple, you’ll catch on quickly. Within a few minutes of watching an action, you’ll be ready to jump right in with confidence.

Auctions are an excellent way to buy everything and anything from jewelry to antiques to collections of all kinds. You decide what you’re going to pay, and it’s fun too!

John Merowski
Owner/Auctioneer – Leighton Galleries Inc.

Leighton Galleries is a full-service Auction House advocating Buyer Awareness in the matters of art, antiques, auction houses and appraisal practices. Watch for Leighton Galleries’ auction catalogs and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

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ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


Bidders can take part absentee or in real time in any auction supported by LiveAuctioneers through the company's mobile phone bidding app available to users of iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or BlackBerry (absentee only through BlackBerry). Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com.

Bidders can take part absentee or in real time in any auction supported by LiveAuctioneers through the company’s mobile phone bidding app available to users of iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or BlackBerry (absentee only through BlackBerry). Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com.

Perfect for New Orleans, the Louisiana Heron was top Audubon lot at the Neal Auction sale in September. The spectacular shorebird was purchased by a local collector for $137,425, a new record for that image. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Big Audubon prints soar to a market high

Perfect for New Orleans, the Louisiana Heron was top Audubon lot at the Neal Auction sale in  September. The spectacular shorebird was purchased by a local collector for $137,425, a new record for that image. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Perfect for New Orleans, the Louisiana Heron was top Audubon lot at the Neal Auction sale in September. The spectacular shorebird was purchased by a local collector for $137,425, a new record for that image. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

In a year when prices have declined for some Americana categories, values for mid-19th century Audubon bird prints have soared to new levels. In September, Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans set 18 new world records when it sold a large collection of Audubon examples consigned by well-known print dealer W. Graham Arader.

Neal has established its reputation as an important outlet for Audubons through sales figures that have surpassed even the major auction houses of New York and London. This is appropriate, since the Southern city held a special place in the artist’s heart. Born to French parents on the island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), John James Audubon (1785-1851) later adopted New Orleans as his “natal city.”

After Audubon’s father returned to France, he sent his son to America at the age of 18 to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars. There, the young man married and began a family, while trying many careers without much success. At an important turning point, he decided to combine his interest in ornithology with his talent as an artist.

In Audubon Art Prints: A Collector’s Guide to Every Edition (University of South Carolina Press 2003), Bill Steiner stresses the immensity of the artist’s undertaking: “He committed himself to paint every bird in North America. All of them including eagles, swans, herons, and cranes, were to be painted life-sized.”

Audubon hired engravers, principally Robert Havell in England, to turn his bird paintings into plates that could be printed and bound into a volume. The costs would be supported by selling subscriptions for the massive completed work to interested scholars and collectors.

“The project was finally completed in 1839,” continues Steiner. “The Birds of America was made up of 435 hand-colored prints bound in four huge volumes. The ‘Great Work,’ as Audubon called it, was produced by printing etched copper plates onto double elephant folio paper measuring 28 by 39.”

Although there were later printings of the Audubon birds, collectors prize these large Havell edition prints above all. The prints are usually sold individually, but rare intact sets surface on the market occasionally.

On Dec. 7, Sotheby’s in London will offer a complete Birds of America in a sale of books from the collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh. This lot, described as “the most expensive book in the world,” is expected to attract as much interest as the complete copy sold at Christie’s in 2000 for $8.8 million. It is estimated to sell for 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds ($6.39 million-$9.58 million).

When it comes to purchasing individual examples of the prints, suitable for exhibition at home, all birds are not created equal. Large birds that completely fill the double elephant folio page, shall we say, rule the roost.

Marc Fagan, print expert at Neal’s who oversaw the September sale, says, “I think the Audubons are broken up into different tiers, where tier one is big birds. They really have to be posed in a certain way so that they can fit in that format. They’re life-sized so he had to have them bending or leaning, and their necks bent in odd shapes. I just think they are a more exciting package than the smaller birds.”

The big bird category includes many of the beautiful wading fowl found in the Southern United States. Top lot of the September sale was the Louisiana Heron, which sold for a record $137,425. This far surpassed the $89,625 paid for the view in the previous benchmark auction, Christie’s famous 2004 sale of Audubons from the ducal house of Saxe-Meiningen in Thuringia. In order to fit the rectangular format, the heron turns its head back to preen its wings.

Other successful waders at Neal’s were the Purple Heron and the Great White Heron, both bringing $83,650, second only to the Sachsen-Meiningen prices. A male and female Scarlet Ibis found a buyer at $20,315.

Also firmly in the big bird category were two other world record prints: the Great American Cock Male, Wild Turkey sold for $131,450, and the Wild Turkey, Female and Young, sold for $65,725. The Golden Eagle with prey in its talons brought $13,145.

“This sale was interesting because I saw the whole gamut from true collectors who have maybe 10 or 20 prints to people who always wanted one and this was their first purchase,” said Fagan.

When assessing Audubon prints, he points out, “They were all in good to excellent condition, so that always helps. For the true collectors, the condition is all-important. They’re looking mainly for color. Any kind of foxing, even small tears, that can be remedied and not affect the value. But if an example has been faded, you can’t do anything about it – that’s gone.”

In Audubon Art Prints, Steiner says this of the painstaking coloring process: “After the ink had dried, the prints were given to a small army of watercolorists (Havell employed 50). In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, hundreds of books with color prints were produced using hand-coloring methods, and many major cities had watercolorist guilds with apprentices, journeymen, and masters.

“In general, the birds themselves appear to be much more carefully painted than the backgrounds, which probably indicates that the more experienced painters did the birds and the apprentices colored the branches, leaves and landscapes.”

Color – pink, to be precise – plays a major role in values for two of the most popular Audubon prints, the American Flamingo and the Roseate Spoonbill. Both long-necked waders are shown with head bent in a feeding position to fit the format. Prices for the two desirables at Christie’s in 2004 were $197,900 and $175,500 respectively.

Neal Auction Co. offered another example of the latter in their Nov. 20-21 Louisiana Purchase Auction, estimate $60,000-$90,000. “The Roseate Spoonbill is one of the top tier birds, and it has everything going for it,” said Fagan.

“It’s a large shore bird and it has an unusual pink color. The color is absolutely spectacular. It was in a collection and displayed in a dark hallway for over 30 years. That accounts for its nearly perfect condition. I’m touting it as the greatest Roseate Spoonbill since that Sachsen-Meiningen sale.”

 

 

 


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


The brightly colored Roseate Spoonbill is one of the most sought-after prints from the Havell edition of Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America.’ In exceptionally good condition, this example from an Alabama estate sold for $95,325 at the Neal Auction. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

The brightly colored Roseate Spoonbill is one of the most sought-after prints from the Havell edition of Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America.’ In exceptionally good condition, this example from an Alabama estate sold for $95,325 at the Neal Auction. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Too expensive for the Thanksgiving table, these Wild Turkeys brought record prices at auction in September. The tom turkey with bamboo background sold for $131,450, the hen and her young for $65,725. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Too expensive for the Thanksgiving table, these Wild Turkeys brought record prices at auction in September. The tom turkey with bamboo background sold for $131,450, the hen and her young for $65,725. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Multiple Mockingbirds fearlessly attacking a rattlesnake in the nest are used to fill the large double elephant folio page format of the Havell Edition. The print brought $21,960 in September. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

Multiple Mockingbirds fearlessly attacking a rattlesnake in the nest are used to fill the large double elephant folio page format of the Havell Edition. The print brought $21,960 in September. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

An alert male and female Hooded Merganser, perched at water’s edge, sold for $14,340 in Neal’s September auction. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

An alert male and female Hooded Merganser, perched at water’s edge, sold for $14,340 in Neal’s September auction. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Co., New Orleans.

These antique platinum brooches are set two large pearls, each over 9 mm, surrounded by diamonds. The dazzling pair sold in Skinner’s Sept. 14 Fine Jewelry sale for $13,035. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Luminous pearls light up the jewelry market

These antique platinum brooches are set two large pearls, each over 9 mm, surrounded by diamonds. The dazzling pair sold in Skinner’s Sept. 14 Fine Jewelry sale for $13,035. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

These antique platinum brooches are set two large pearls, each over 9 mm, surrounded by diamonds. The dazzling pair sold in Skinner’s Sept. 14 Fine Jewelry sale for $13,035. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Lustrous in appearance and smooth to the touch, pearls top collectors’ wish lists because they are perfect for any occasion. Gloria Lieberman, head of Skinner’s jewelry department, sums it up: “Pearls are always correct. When you don’t know what to put on, you put on pearls.”

Pearls transcend politics as well. Both Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain wore pearls when they accompanied their husbands on the 2008 campaign trail. In the past two years, Mrs. Obama has made them a favorite fashion accessory in the first lady’s wardrobe.

Over 500 years ago, pearls were an important part of the treasure found in the Americas by the first explorers. Christopher Columbus discovered an abundant source off the coast of Venezuela in 1498.

From England to Russia, European royalty had a voracious appetite for the seaborne gems. News of an American pearl supply was greeted with enthusiasm back home, in part because it freed jewelers from their previous dependence on imports from Asia.

The most famous American pearls received special titles. “La Peregrina” – discovered off the coast of Panama or Venezuela in the mid-1500s – ended up in the Spanish royal treasury. A suitable match was found and the two pearls were made into earrings for the queen.

This tale is only one of the fascinating historical vignettes related in Tiffany Pearls (Abrams 2006), an excellent reference by John Loring, now design director emeritus of the famous jewelry firm. One illustration is the famous circa 1588 portrait of Elizabeth I of England. Large pearls outline her famous red hair, decorate the royal robes, and hang in multiple ropes around her neck.

In an interview before his retirement, Loring said, “When people see those historic portraits in museums of women covered with pearls, they think they are Oriental pearls, but they’re not – they’re American. Pearls enjoyed enormous popularity with painters because they were really the only gem that a painter could render accurately.”

He continued, “Pearls through much of their history were more highly prized than diamonds, so people took remarkable care of them. Queen Elizabeth II still wears some of the Hanoverian pearls from time to time. The Pope gave them to Catherine de’ Medici when she married the Dauphin who became Henry II, and she then gave them to Mary Queen of Scotts, who sold them to Elizabeth I.”

Leslie Field devotes an entire chapter to England’s royal pearls in her 1987 book on The Queen’s Jewels: The Personal Collection of Elizabeth II. The young Princess Elizabeth wore a pearl necklace – a gift from her father King George VI – when she married Prince Philip in 1947. The monarch has continued to favor pearl jewelry throughout her long reign.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, American women were particularly fond of jewelry set with hundreds of tiny seed pearls. The Peabody family pearls, now in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, include a floral necklace, earrings, and multiple brooches made in 1845.

In an 1861 photograph by Matthew Brady, Mary Todd Lincoln is wearing a set of seed pearl jewelry purchased by Abraham Lincoln from Tiffany’s. This image and many others appear in the pearl chapter of Martha Gandy Fales’s definitive reference Jewelry in America, 1600-1900.

“Pearls traditionally were associated with purity and love,” she writes, and then continues, “Sets of seed-pearl jewelry, imported from England or made in America, became fashionable as wedding gifts to brides.”

This country’s fascination with pearls continued into the 20th century. Certainly no grand dame’s outfit was complete without waist-length strands of natural pearls. In 1902, Tiffany sold oil and railroad magnate Henry Morrison Flagler a notable pearl necklace for the then unheard-of price of $2 million, about $40 million in today’s dollars.

Pearls changing hands still make headlines. Designer Calvin Klein purchased pearls for his wife, Kelly, at the 1987 sale of jewels owned by the Duchess of Windsor. Twenty years later the Klein pearl collection sold at Sotheby’s New York for almost $5 million.

The pearls of Anna Thomson Dodge, who married into the auto family, were sold at Bonham’s in December 2008 for $600,000. Created by Cartier circa 1920, the three-strand necklace was composed of 224 pearls.

In March of this year, Skinner’s sold a double strand necklace of 154 semi-baroque pearls with a diamond clasp for $88,875 and a single strand for $71,100. Gloria Lieberman pointed out, “We had some very pretty natural pearls from old families, and the market is very heated for those things. Anything that’s a natural pearl just flies. The value depends on the quality, the size and the luster – how beautiful they are, how they reflect light. A beautiful natural pearl reflects light differently; it has a lot of depth.”

She continued, “One of the things we shouldn’t forget, in the first decades of the 20th century, we begin to see some wonderful cultured pearls. We just had a double strand in a sale we sent off to GIA [Gemological Institute of America] to have them tested to see if they were natural or not, we couldn’t tell. They were really that lovely.”

The perfection of the cultured pearl process is often credited to Japanese entrepreneur Kokochi Mikimoto. Pearls are created when the oyster coats a foreign irritant with layers of lustrous nacre. Pearl production can be encouraged by introducing irritants into the oyster’s insides. Lieberman added, “And of course the longer they left the pearls in the oyster, the thicker the nacre and the more lustrous the pearl.”

Whether natural or cultured, pearl quality and size determine the value. Lieberman says, “We see a lot of natural pearls that are small graduated strands from 3 mm to 7 mm. Once you get into a 4 mm to 9 mm, the price jumps.”

Lieberman has no trouble picking a favorite pearl lot in past auctions. In March 2000, Skinner sold a late 19th-century Tiffany brooch for $60,500 with buyer’s premium. The piece was designed by one of the firm’s most famous artists, Paulding Farnham, who enjoyed mixing pearls and gems of various shades.

“The brooch was made in the Indian style, very maharajah looking. There was a hot pink sapphire in the center, and it had natural colored pearls in different shades and colored diamonds. Paulding designed using nature’s palette,” she said.

Although Tiffany had many of the designer’s drawings for jewelry, the whereabouts of this particular brooch were unknown until it surfaced in the Skinner sale. Tiffany purchased the rediscovered work, and it appeared as the back cover image on the reference Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s Lost Genius by John Loring (2000).


ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE


Found in varying shades of pink, conch pearls are formed naturally in the shell of the queen conch, which is found in the Florida Keys and Bahamas. A necklace, featuring 19 graduated conch pearls spaced with diamonds, sold in March for $51,000. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Found in varying shades of pink, conch pearls are formed naturally in the shell of the queen conch, which is found in the Florida Keys and Bahamas. A necklace, featuring 19 graduated conch pearls spaced with diamonds, sold in March for $51,000. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Designed by Salvador Dali and executed by jeweler Henry Kaston, this 18-karat gold 'Lips' brooch sold for $13,035 earlier this year. Noting that poets dream about ruby lips and teeth like pearls, Dali turned the fantasy into reality. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Designed by Salvador Dali and executed by jeweler Henry Kaston, this 18-karat gold ‘Lips’ brooch sold for $13,035 earlier this year. Noting that poets dream about ruby lips and teeth like pearls, Dali turned the fantasy into reality. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

This antique double-strand natural pearl necklace with diamond clasp came from noted jeweler Black, Starr & Frost and sold in March for $88,875. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

This antique double-strand natural pearl necklace with diamond clasp came from noted jeweler Black, Starr & Frost and sold in March for $88,875. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

American Arts & Crafts metalworker Edward Oakes often used pearls in his jewelry designs. This gold cross by set with vivid green tourmalines and pearls brought a strong $34,075 in 2007. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

American Arts & Crafts metalworker Edward Oakes often used pearls in his jewelry designs. This gold cross by set with vivid green tourmalines and pearls brought a strong $34,075 in 2007. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Once known only from the artist’s drawings, this Tiffany brooch designed by Paulding Farnham in the late 19th century is set with colored pearls and gemstones. Skinner sold the work back to the Tiffany archives in 2000 for $63,000. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Once known only from the artist’s drawings, this Tiffany brooch designed by Paulding Farnham in the late 19th century is set with colored pearls and gemstones. Skinner sold the work back to the Tiffany archives in 2000 for $63,000. Image courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Bears are a common motif on Black Forest carved wood furniture made in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cubs frolic on the back of this lively bench, which brought $5,760 at auction in 2008. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

It’s hard to keep rustic furniture out in the country

Bears are a common motif on Black Forest carved wood furniture made in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cubs frolic on the back of this lively bench, which brought $5,760 at auction in 2008. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

Bears are a common motif on Black Forest carved wood furniture made in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cubs frolic on the back of this lively bench, which brought $5,760 at auction in 2008. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

The ancient Romans invented the word. After creating big cities, they found they needed a quiet country retreat, away from all the bustle and noise. The Latin adjective rusticus means belonging in the country, and we still use “rustic” to describe a lodge or cabin environment.

In the days of total climate control, it may be hard to imagine hot days in the city long ago, when no houses, theaters, or public buildings offered respite. High temperatures brought not only discomfort but unpleasant smells and even contagious diseases to the narrow streets.

City dwellers fled to the mountains or seashores for relief. The wealthy had country villas, more modest folk built simple cabins. A new type of furniture was required, often made from natural materials – bent wood, twigs, cane and wicker. The best examples were light, airy and easily moved to catch the breeze.

Vintage rustic furniture ranges from whimsical one-of-a kind chairs to large porch sets manufactured in a factory setting. Jamie Shearer, one of the Americana specialists at Pook & Pook in Downington, Pa., said, “We sold a big suite of rustic furniture in October 2009 that did very well.”

The five-piece set, which sold for $8,109, included a settee, two armchairs, a rocker and table manufactured by the Old Hickory Chair Co. in Martinsville, Ind. “That seems to be the company everybody gravitates to. They were one of the few companies that did label things, and people like to collect things they can identify,” Shearer said.

“A lot of it was referred to as camp furniture,” he continued. “They had it in their weekend getaway houses. I’m always amused because – in Lancaster – they might have gone north to Mount Gretna. Today it’s just 30 minutes up the road, but by horse and buggy it took longer to get there.”

As pointed out above, rustic pieces could also be homemade, one-off creations. Shearer pointed out the “neat form” of an armchair sold at the auction house several years ago for $556. The piece is constructed of irregular branches incised with spiral turnings and the handholds on the arms are formed from polished roots.

Shearer emphasizes that condition is important when buying any sort of vintage outdoor furniture or decorative accessories: “Since these pieces were basically porch furniture, condition depends on whether they brought them inside for the winter or if 6 inches of snow fell on them. Structurally the frame is always sturdy; the problem is the seats didn’t always take the beating well.”

“Typically the rush seats are damaged. The frame itself holds up great – they were very well made – but the seats do not. That was one of the reasons we did so well with that set sold last year – the condition was so nice.” Look for the next the firm’s Americana sale on Oct. 1, at www.pookandpook.com.

Pieces used in a conservatory or a covered porch survive in far better shape than seating exposed to rain and sun in a garden. If some pieces seem a bit twiggy for comfort, remember that most were enhanced with custom-made padding and pillows in colorful fabrics.

One distinctive outdoor style flourished in the Adirondack region of upstate New York, where wealthy families like the Vanderbilt and Whitneys had family vacation compounds or “camps” on a grand scale. A classic turn-of-the-century wooden Adirondack chair has a slanted back and wide arms.

Focused on the history of the region, the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake is open from May 28 until Oct. 18. An antiques show held there each year in mid-August brings together dealers specializing in Adirondack and rustic furniture.

Kamelot Auctions in Philadelphia has done so well with outdoor antiques that they have an annual garden sale each April. President Jeff Kamal said, “There’s no one else in the industry that’s doing it. We felt there was a need for an auction house that specialized in garden. The first couple of garden auctions we had were a mix of garden and other things; the last two have been pretty much exclusively garden.”

Kamelot  carries only antique and vintage pieces, not the newer reproductions that often show up at shows and sales. The auction head regrets that some collectors fail to distinguish the new from the old: “Retail buyers at times are more interested in the condition of items and how well-made they are and a little less concerned than they used to be regarding the age of the item.”

Kamal has been pleased with the variety of consignments they have offered in their garden auctions. “Since we’re only player doing this and we advertise nationally, we get calls from all over the country. In fact, we just did a pickup of about 25 garden lots in Michigan,” he said. Lots in the sales typically include everything from rustic furniture to wrought iron gazebos and decorative statuary.

“What comes to mind when I think of rustic furniture is something naturalistic, primitive, hand-made, rather than machine-made,” said Kamal. “Anything that looks like it took time to make. And I think the craftsman really enjoyed making it, it was meaningful to the maker.”

Looking over the results of past auctions, he noted, “Patina is important as well. People want that old surface and are willing to pay more for that kind of silvery patina on outdoor pieces.” Last April, a rustic wooden bench with great patina brought $1,320 in Kamelot’s garden sale.

Auctions coming up at Kamelot include a Sept. 25 general estate sale with decorative items, lighting, paintings, and Asian antiques, and a Nov. 20 event with architectural antiques, popular industrials and Victoriana. Information: www.kamelotauctions.com.

Looking for more information? Gibbs Smith publishes a selection of informative illustrated books on rustic style for cabins, camps and lodges. Collectors can find references such as Hickory Furniture and Rustic Elegance, both by Ralph Kylloe, at www.gibbs-smith.com.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


A whimsical early 20th-century Adirondack chair features spiral turnings and chunky root arms. The folk art seating brought $556 at a 2007 Pook & Pook auction sale. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc.

A whimsical early 20th-century Adirondack chair features spiral turnings and chunky root arms. The folk art seating brought $556 at a 2007 Pook & Pook auction sale. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc.


The Old Hickory Chair Co. manufactured rustic furniture for resorts and private homes. At a Pook & Pook auction last fall, this marked set sold for a healthy $8,109. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc.

The Old Hickory Chair Co. manufactured rustic furniture for resorts and private homes. At a Pook & Pook auction last fall, this marked set sold for a healthy $8,109. Image courtesy of Pook & Pook Inc.


The cast stone faux bois bench features a seat inlaid with colorful tiles. The lot brought $570 in June. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

The cast stone faux bois bench features a seat inlaid with colorful tiles. The lot brought $570 in June. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.


Perfect end tables for summer use, each has a natural log top and aluminum twig-style base – price only $240. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

Perfect end tables for summer use, each has a natural log top and aluminum twig-style base – price only $240. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.


The rustic look in a more durable material, this cast-iron "twig" bench is perfect for an all-weather setting. The example brought $2,640 at auction in April. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

The rustic look in a more durable material, this cast-iron "twig" bench is perfect for an all-weather setting. The example brought $2,640 at auction in April. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.


A charming wooden bench with silvery patina brought $1,320 in Kamelot’s April garden antiques sale. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

A charming wooden bench with silvery patina brought $1,320 in Kamelot’s April garden antiques sale. Image courtesy of Kamelot Auctions.

This four-door welded cabinet with applied patina, made in 1974, sold for $72,000, including buyer’s premium, in the May 18, 2008 sale at Wright in Chicago. Image courtesy of Wright.

Paul Evans, heavy metal artist of mid-century furniture

This four-door welded cabinet with applied patina, made in 1974, sold for $72,000, including buyer’s premium, in the May 18, 2008 sale at Wright in Chicago. Image courtesy of Wright.

This four-door welded cabinet with applied patina, made in 1974, sold for $72,000, including buyer’s premium, in the May 18, 2008 sale at Wright in Chicago. Image courtesy of Wright.

In 2000, the year the auction house Wright debuted, a 1974 four-door welded cabinet with slate top by artist and designer Paul Evans (American, 1931-1987) went on the block.

It failed to sell, although a small hanging stainless steel cupboard by Evans managed to eke out $489, including buyer’s premium.

Eight years later, an almost identical four-door cabinet came up at Wright, a Chicago-based specialist in modern and contemporary design. This time around, there were plenty of admirers competing for Evans’ futuristic fusion of sculpture and furniture. The winner paid $72,000.

“You can walk into a room that has one of his great, welded cabinets and see something unique, a very unselfconscious artistic style,” said owner Richard Wright. “Interior decorators understand his aesthetic and how to use his extreme pieces in a way that is tasteful rather than threatening.”

Evans designed monumental wood furniture with sculptured aluminum, bronze and copper decoration that ran counter to the sleek simplicity of the 1950s and 1960s. An artist and entrepreneur, he was intent on making handmade furniture, as well as a profit.

Mastering sculpture and jewelry design at the School for American Crafters in Rochester, N.Y., and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Evans was artist in residence as a silversmith at the working history museum of Sturbridge Village near Springfield, Mass.

He visited the artistic community of New Hope, Pa., in his native Bucks County, frequenting a shop owned by artisan Phillip Lloyd Powell, who would become his mentor. Powell allowed Evans to display several pieces in his showroom and in 1956 Evans decided to make New Hope his home.

In 1964, he became the designer for Directional, a furniture manufacturer that introduced such innovations as a buffet-style cabinet that is reminiscent of a fractured iceberg, veneered with large facets of chrome-plated steel. His Argente series is a groovy union of welded aluminum with applied ink. The Sculpted Bronze line is a study in industrial art; the Cityscape collection is typified by geometric metallic veneered panels.

“Evans had several distinctive styles and it can be difficult to compare,” said Lisanne Dickson, director of modern design at Treadway Toomey Galleries of Cincinnati and Oak Park, Ill.. “There is no perfect science to it.”

The man was as complex as his designs. A heavy drinker, Evans was impetuous, exasperating and charming. He posed with a welding torch for a Life magazine photographer, but in reality he rarely touched tools, focusing on design.

“He had a huge personality,” Wright said.

For years, demand for Evans’ work was overshadowed by his New Hope contemporary George Nakashima, whose naturalist wood pieces soared in price in the 1990s.

Soon, Evans will be getting his due as an artist in the community he called home. In 2012, he will be the subject of a retrospective exhibit at the James A. Michener Museum in nearby Doylestown, Pa.

“The materials, the methods Evans used were so different,” said curator Connie Kimmerly, who consulted with craftsman Dorsey Reading, who worked with Evans and collected his pieces. “His use of the new technology that was available in the 1950s made him a real force.”

In addition to various metals and stone, Evans embraced epoxy resin, which was applied to the surface of furniture and then sculpted freeform. He sketched the designs and handed them off to artisans, who assembled and finished the pieces for hip, latter mid-century buyers.

After a swift run up in the mid-2000s, prices for Evans cooled along with the economy. “It was like a huge wave,” Dickson said. “Prices built up rapidly, then took a hard hit with the recession.”

Recently, there have been significant signs of an uptick in value. On April 18, a 10-piece sculpted bronze dining room suite zoomed to $59,225, including 15-percent buyer’s premium, at Austin Auction Gallery in Austin, Texas. Since then, there has been a flurry of interest from prospective buyers and consignors.

“I just got an e-mail from a guy in Pennsylvania who is wondering if the person who bought the dining room suite might be interested in his coffee table,” said Austin Auction Gallery associate Chris Featherston.There is other evidence the market is perking up. A bronze disc-shaped bar cabinet more than doubled expectations, garnering $13,000 at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., on April 25, according to sales information from LiveAuctioneers.

Demand for the top pieces remains hot, fanned by passionate collectors and committed dealers, most notably Todd Merrill Antiques of New York, an ardent champion of Evans’ industrial aesthetic. On April 28 a table with glass top and gilded steel base made the equivalent of $71,051 at a sale at Phillips de Pury & Co.

Still, Evans’ vision as an artist and designer has not aged evenly. His sculpted epoxy resin is prone to chips and is difficult to restore. The panels on the Cityscape series cabinets tend to lift.

That said, many of his massive metal cabinets and special occasion tables are in excellent condition. Featherston noted that Directional began making his furniture less than 50 years ago—and virtually all the pieces, signed and dated by Evans, went to well-heeled patrons.

“The dining room suite we sold cost $20,000 in 1970,” he said. “The original buyers were not the kind of people who let their kids beat up on the furniture.”

Richard Wright, who has handled more than 200 Evans lots, said the designer strikes a sweet balance between supply and demand. He died at 55, yet boasted a prodigious output, thanks to a dedicated staff. By contrast, his mentor Powell preferred to work alone and produced barely 1,000 pieces before his death in 2008 at 88.

“It’s a very well made, cohesive body of work,” he said. “Evans made enough furniture to feed a following, but not so much that the market would ever be flooded with it.”


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


Ten-piece sculpted bronze dining suite, made in 1970 and featuring a Stalagmite glass-top dining table, eight dining chairs with purple micro-suede seats and backrest; and a sideboard with two slate tablets and bi-fold doors concealing interior shelves. Signed ‘PE 70.’ Offered as three lots, total selling price: $59,225. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery.

Ten-piece sculpted bronze dining suite, made in 1970 and featuring a Stalagmite glass-top dining table, eight dining chairs with purple micro-suede seats and backrest; and a sideboard with two slate tablets and bi-fold doors concealing interior shelves. Signed ‘PE 70.’ Offered as three lots, total selling price: $59,225. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery.


A hanging welded ‘eye’ cabinet sold for $60,000 in the April 12, 2008 sale at Rago in Lambertville, N.J. It was consigned by Dorsey Reading, who worked with Evans. Image courtesy of Rago Arts.

A hanging welded ‘eye’ cabinet sold for $60,000 in the April 12, 2008 sale at Rago in Lambertville, N.J. It was consigned by Dorsey Reading, who worked with Evans. Image courtesy of Rago Arts.


A bronze disc bar with interior cabinet made $13,000 against a $5,000 estimate at Rago in an April 25, 2010 sale. Image courtesy of Rago Arts.

A bronze disc bar with interior cabinet made $13,000 against a $5,000 estimate at Rago in an April 25, 2010 sale. Image courtesy of Rago Arts.


Veneered in large facets, this cabinet in chrome-plated steel brought $35,000 in the March 24, 2009 sale at Wright. Image courtesy of Wright.

Veneered in large facets, this cabinet in chrome-plated steel brought $35,000 in the March 24, 2009 sale at Wright. Image courtesy of Wright.


The winner of a dining table with beveled glass top and base with diamond-shape patinated and gilded steel base served up $71,050 at Phillips de Pury on April 28. Image courtesy of Phillips de Pury.

The winner of a dining table with beveled glass top and base with diamond-shape patinated and gilded steel base served up $71,050 at Phillips de Pury on April 28. Image courtesy of Phillips de Pury.

This copy of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman, is graded 8.5 out of 10. It is, to date, the most expensive comic book ever sold, having been purchased from ComicConnect.com for $1.5 million in March 2010. Image courtesy of ComicConnect.

No Flukes: Vintage comic books continue to command strong prices

This copy of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman, is graded 8.5 out of 10. It is, to date, the most expensive comic book ever sold, having been purchased from ComicConnect.com for $1.5 million in March 2010. Image courtesy of ComicConnect.

This copy of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman, is graded 8.5 out of 10. It is, to date, the most expensive comic book ever sold, having been purchased from ComicConnect.com for $1.5 million in March 2010. Image courtesy of ComicConnect.

NEW YORK – It was hard to miss the media hoopla when a CGC-certified 8.0 copy of Action Comics #1, the June 1938 first appearance of Superman, became the first comic book to sell for $1 million on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010.

The enormous attention focused on the four-color world continued when just three days later a CGC-certified 8.0 copy of Detective Comics #27, the May 1939 first appearance of Batman, became the second seven-figure comic book when it sold for $1,075,500.

Then, little more than a month later, a CGC-certified 8.5 copy of Action Comics #1 sold for $1.5 million, reclaiming the record for Superman and setting a mark not likely to be beaten in the short term.

“Mainstream media sources were really taken with the story, but too many of them made the perceived novelty of the high-dollar sales the core of their stories. They did this in much the same way that some journalists still start stories with leads like ‘Pow! Bam! Zap!’ inspired by the mid-1960s Batman TV show. That series was more than 40 years ago. In the case of some of the current reporting, their perceptions are equally out of date,” said Robert M. Overstreet, author of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.

Overstreet said scarcity, condition, popularity of the character(s) and demand for the particular issue are significant factors in determining the prices for such comics. And the “condition” part of that equation is hard to overstate.

The arrival on the scene a decade ago of Comics Guaranty (or CGC), as an independent, third-party grading company significantly reduced the appearance of subjectivity. CGC’s presence coincided with the development of a thriving auction market.

Now Superman #1, Batman #1, Flash Comics #1 (the first appearance of the original Flash) Showcase #4 (the first revamped Flash from the 1950s), Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man), Amazing Spider-Man #1, Fantastic Four #1, and Incredible Hulk #1 are all reliably six-figure comics in the right grade.

“For a long time we have viewed breaking into the seven-figure range as a matter of when, not if. The comic market has a long track record to support this,” Overstreet said.

“Heritage just sold a 1913 Liberty Nickel for $3.7 million,” said Barry Sandoval of Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, which sold the $1,075,500 Detective Comics #27. “If an item near the top of the ‘hobby of kings’ is worth that, why shouldn’t an item near the top of our hobby be worth $1 million-plus? Particularly since the man in the street could tell you a lot more about Batman than about the 1913 nickel. I remember the Damien Hirst artwork with a bull submerged in formaldehyde that sold for $18 million. If you had $18 million to spend, you could put together one of the very best comic collections in the world, even at today’s prices!”

Vincent Zurzolo of New York-based ComicConnect.com saw the seven-figure range coming, but still said comic books, as an investment, are in their infancy compared to other collectibles.

“Compared to antiques, fine art, sculptures and jewels, vintage comic books are extremely inexpensive,” Zurzolo said. “Even making comparisons to similar type collectibles like baseball cards, coins and stamps, we find comic books as a rather inexpensive collectible with comic books being the last to break the million dollar mark,” he said.

Both auction houses, as well as a number of their competitors, can point to a string of record prices through 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. Heritage, for instance, recently brokered the sale of a CGC-certified 9.6 Flash Comics #1 for $450,000. In 2006 they had sold it to the seller for $273,125. ComicConnect can tout a string of record-setting sales of Action Comics #1, among others.

Some collectors and dealers have suggested that while there is solid or even dramatic progress at the high end, the middle of the market has seen tougher going. The notion is that mid-level comics sell, but one has to work harder and sell for a bit less.

“I think that’s true,” Sandoval said. “A Very Fine [or 8.0 copy of] Incredible Hulk #181 is a great book to have, but 1,000-plus nicer copies exist, and our clients know it. 1970s comics really soared for a while a few years back, but the high prices flushed out many, many copies.”

A decade of strong box office and DVD performances by comic book properties have boosted the general public’s awareness and to some extent driven media coverage of the record prices that have been paid for vintage, rare, high-grade issues, particularly in light of their performance in dicey economic times.

Overstreet suggests that the bullish market could continue for some time, but always adds a note of caution. Comic books have a very strong record over a very long period, he said. Just be careful if people start thinking prices can’t come down. They said that about housing prices, too.

Editor’s Note: Heritage Auction Galleries will conduct a 446-lot Comics & Comic Art Auction on May 20, with Internet live bidding provided by LiveAuctioneers.com.

View the fully illustrated catalog and register to bid absentee or live via the Internet as the sale is taking place by logging on to www.LiveAuctioneers.com.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


On February 25, 2010, this copy of Detective Comics #27, with the first appearance of Batman, became only the second comic book to sell for $1 million or more when it closed at $1,075,500 through Heritage Auction Galleries. It held the top spot for about a month. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

On February 25, 2010, this copy of Detective Comics #27, with the first appearance of Batman, became only the second comic book to sell for $1 million or more when it closed at $1,075,500 through Heritage Auction Galleries. It held the top spot for about a month. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.


Cover dated January 1940 and graded an unusually high 9.6, this first appearance of The Flash comes from the Edgar Church (or Mile High) pedigree collection. It sold for $450,000 in March 2010 after previously selling for $273,125 in January 2006. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

Cover dated January 1940 and graded an unusually high 9.6, this first appearance of The Flash comes from the Edgar Church (or Mile High) pedigree collection. It sold for $450,000 in March 2010 after previously selling for $273,125 in January 2006. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.


Marvel Mystery Comics #81 in VF 8.0 condition is offered with a $1 to $1 million estimate in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art sale. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

Marvel Mystery Comics #81 in VF 8.0 condition is offered with a $1 to $1 million estimate in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art sale. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.


Captain Midnight #2 (Fawcett, 1943) in NM 9.2 condition, is one of the highlights in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art sale. Estimate: $1 to $1 million. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

Captain Midnight #2 (Fawcett, 1943) in NM 9.2 condition, is one of the highlights in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art sale. Estimate: $1 to $1 million. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.


Top-Notch Comics #14 (MLJ, 1941), with provenance from the fabled Edgar Church Mile High collection, is graded NM 9.2. It will be offered in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art saleEstimate: $1 to $1 million. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

Top-Notch Comics #14 (MLJ, 1941), with provenance from the fabled Edgar Church Mile High collection, is graded NM 9.2. It will be offered in Heritage Auction Galleries’ May 20, 2010 Comics and Comic Art saleEstimate: $1 to $1 million. Image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.