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Live Auction Talk | Rosemary McKittrick

Live Auction Talk: Harry Houdini

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Thursday, 04 September 2014 13:34

Color lithograph poster, ‘Harry Houdini King of Cards,’ Chicago, National Printing and Engraving, circa 1898, half-sheet, 19 3/4 inches by 27 3/4 inches, $20,400. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.

SANTA FE, N.M. – “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Harry Houdini showed the world how to fly cloaked in chains and shackles. The magician stunned audiences worldwide with his daredevil antics.

His world was about possibilities.

Houdini had a fascination with death and flirted with it constantly in his escape acts. He coaxed crowds to vicariously join him in that gamble. With hearts pounding they did.

That's magic.

Houdini's "Double-fold Death Defying Water Mystery" was a showstopper. The bulky wooden crate had four heavy locks built into the lid lock along with hasps for four more padlocks.

During the performance a large metal milk can filled with water was lowered into the crate. The performer stepped into the can and the lid was sealed. Next the padlocks on the crate were locked. Then a cloth cabinet was drawn around the crate. Like a bank vault, it seemed impossible to penetrate.

After what seemed like too long, the front curtain was pulled aside and there stood the magician soaked in water and sweat. Houdini devised the apparatus after his Milk Can escape.

"The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place someone is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death," Houdini said.

Always walking right up to the edge of the cliff and teetering over. Always looking for ways to raise the stakes. That was Houdini. His main goal he said was to conquer fear.

Shackled in handcuffs, leg irons, chains, ropes and locks, nothing seemed to stop the magician.

Madness also fascinated Houdini. It wasn't enough to be strapped inside a straitjacket or a bag-style “punishment suit” a few times a week. He visited insane asylums on occasion and feared ending up there himself. Houdini drew up a testament directing his money to be divided between his wife Bess and his brother Hardeen should he suffer any "sickness which may hurt my mind."

This conjures up the image of a pretty edgy guy always testing the limits. He turned magic into high art with his energy and it showed up on stage.

"I make the most money in Russia and Paris," Houdini said, "for the people in those countries are so willing to be amused, so eager to see something new and out of the ordinary."

Maybe they hadn't lost their childlike sense of wonder, still open to the possibilities.

When Houdini died in 1926 at age 52, most of his magic apparatus and escape devices went to his brother, who spent 18 years gifting and selling the items to magicians and collectors.

On Aug. 23, Potter & Potter Auctions, Chicago, featured its Houdiniana auction. Here are some current values for Houdini memorabilia:

– Photograph, a young seated Houdini dressed in coat and tie with a white dog, in cabinet card format, 3 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches, $3,840.

– Photograph, full-length portrait, a young Houdini, chained and shackled, wearing only a loincloth, circa 1902, 3 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches, $4,800.

– Color lithograph poster, ‘Buried Alive!’ escape from a coffin buried under the earth, a stunt Houdini would not live long enough to perform, Otis Litho, circa 1924, eight-sheet, 86 inches by 109 inches, $9,600.

– Color lithograph poster, Harry Houdini King of Cards, Chicago, National Printing and Engraving, circa 1898, half-sheet, 19 3/4 inches by 27 3/4 inches, $20,400.

– Double-Fold Death Defying Water Mystery Trick, heavy wooden crate with trapezoidal lid, copied by other magicians trading on Houdini's fame and reputation, American, circa 1909, 29 1/4 inches by 38 1/2 inches, $66,000.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

 Color lithograph poster, ‘Harry Houdini King of Cards,’ Chicago, National Printing and Engraving, circa 1898, half-sheet, 19 3/4 inches by 27 3/4 inches, $20,400. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Photograph, young Houdini cabinet card format, 3 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches, $3,840. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.  

Photograph, young Houdini chained and shackled, circa 1902, 3 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches,  $4,800. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Color lithograph poster, ‘Buried Alive!’ an escape from a coffin buried under the earth, Otis Litho, circa 1924, eight-sheet, 86 inches by 109 inches, $9,600. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Double-Fold Death Defying Water Mystery Trick, heavy wooden crate with lid, American, circa 1909, 29 1/4 inches by 38 1/2 inches, $66,000. Photo courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 14:32
 

Live Auction Talk: Louis Comfort Tiffany

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Friday, 15 August 2014 12:46

Lily table lamp, 18-light, Favrile, 21 1/2 inches high. Price realized: $68,750. Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.

SANTA FE, N.M. – If you collected Louis Comfort Tiffany 65-years-ago you would be a multimillionaire today. In general people didn't appreciate the swirling lines and patterns of Art Nouveau design and much of Tiffany's work was Art Nouveau, which fell out of fashion.

Over the years his stained glass windows, lamps, and glass mosaics ended up in garbage dumps like last week's leftovers. It has been estimated that only 10 per cent of Tiffany's ware survive. Many of his unique pieces vanished totally.

With the iridescent glass he called Favrile, Tiffany created his own new kind of glass. Not an easy task. Glass technology often evolves by accident and craftsmen imitate the process not really understanding the process. That wasn't the case with Louis.

Tiffany came to glass design through jewelry making. His father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, opened a shop in New York in 1837. He sold stationary and luxury goods. Charles used his income from selling high-end imports to set up workshops and train local craftsmen. By 1848 he was making his own jewelry and by the 1860s it became the biggest business of its kind in America.

Louis, his son, was more artist than businessman. Landscape art was his first love. How to saturate his landscapes in light in a way never before seen plagued him. Windows, he said, like murals should inspire as well as educate. With glass and the see-through effects of light he could achieve the rich color he longed for in a way he could not pull off in mural painting.

That was the power of working with glass.

"Color is to the eye what music is to the ear," he said. And Louis rivaled the painter’s palette with glass. The spontaneous, unexpected effects of working with it was pure magic to him.

He started out studying painting in the Paris studio of George Inness. He also appreciated seeing artists and craftsmen working together like William Morris set up in his workshop in the early era of the arts and crafts movement.

Louis founded his factory in Queens, N.Y., in 1878. Coming from money gave him an edge. His decorating projects included Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Conn., and the White House under president Chester Arthur. From interior design he moved into glassmaking and from windows Tiffany moved into luxury lamps.

Louis understood the glass technology process itself but he never actually blew glass himself or cast it. His craftsmen did.

Originally they used pieces of glass leftover from windows to make stained glass lamps. Then they realized people wanted the lamps and they could be a key part of the production line. Some lampshades had as many as 1,000 separate pieces of glass in them. Consumers would pay as much as $500 for one of these fancy lamps.

Louis was always experimenting. And if his glass lamps and vases were beautifully crafted enough it would fulfill his ultimate goal of bringing beauty into the home through glass and light.

Tiffany liked pulling off impossible tasks and he did. On June 12 a selection of Tiffany lamps went on the block at Christie's, New York. Here are some current values.

– Lily table lamp, 18-light, Favrile, base stamped Tiffany Studios New York, circa 1910, 21 1/2 inches high. Price realized: $68,750.

– Lotus table lamp, leaded glass, base stamped Tiffany Studios New York, circa 1910, 22 inches high. Price realized: $68,750.

– Pony Wisteria table lamp, leaded glass, base stamped Tiffany Studios New York, circa 1910, 17 inches high. Price realized: $87,500.

– Wisteria table lamp, leaded glass, base stamped Tiffany Studios New York, circa 1905, 27 inches high. Price realized: $437,000.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Lily table lamp, 18-light, Favrile, 21 1/2 inches high. Price realized: $68,750. Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.

Lotus table lamp, leaded glass, 22 inches high. Price realized: $68,750. Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.

Pony Wisteria table lamp, leaded glass, 17 inches high, $87,500. Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.

Wisteria table lamp, leaded glass, 27 inches high. Price realized: $437,000. Photo courtesy of Christie's, New York.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 13:41
 

Live Auction Talk: Popeye the Sailor

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Friday, 27 June 2014 15:58

Popeye Floor Puncher, Chein, lithographed tin, clockwork driven: $1,121. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

SANTA FE, N.M. – “I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eats me spinach, I’m Popeye the sailor man!”

All seriousness aside, if you grew up in the 1950s you probably remember this character and his cartoons. Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, and Swee’pee lived in that simple world where simple values ruled.

Popeye wasn’t all that smart, good looking or buff, but he won the hearts of fans anyway. He was the underdog who stood up for himself and didn’t get creamed.

“Tha’s all I can stands, ’cause I can’t stands no more,” is a famous Popeye one-liner.

How often have you been there in life? Popeye’s sense of fair play was noble. Despite all odds, this spinach-obsessed half-pint was willing to take on the brute.

And then there’s his beloved Olive Oyl. Olive Oyl is the antithesis of the voluptuous beauty as we define it in this culture. Skinny as a rail, she looks like she hasn't eaten in months. And fickle as all get out. Still, she managed to capture the little guy’s heart with a simple kiss on the cheek.

Popeye actually made his first debut on Jan. 17, 1929 in Elzie Segar’s carton strip Thimble Theatre. The strip originally revolved around Olive Oyl’s family, but Popeye soon eclipsed his love as star of the show.

He then moved to the big screen in 1933 in the Betty Boop cartoon Popeye the Sailor.

Talk about art reflecting life. This one is too good. Spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach cunsumption in the 1930s, rescuing the spinach industry during the Great Depression. As much as I cherished Popeye as a kid, my eating habits weren’t reflected in those statistics. I hated canned spinach, and had to sit it out at the kitchen table until my plate was clean anyway.

Our hero with the bulging forearms was also a patriot who joined the Navy in 1941, appearing in a number of shorts in his starchy white uniform.

Famous Studios produced the cartoon from 1942 to 1957. In 1960, King Features Syndicate stepped in creating 220 Popeye the Sailor cartoons for television syndication.

From the 1930s to the 1960s Popeye reigned as one of the most popular cartoon characters ever. His cartoon appeared in 638 newspapers around the country.

In 1995 the U.S. Postal Service honored  Popeye with his own stamp. And the whole Popeye crew sailed to Orlando in 1999 to be showcased in the opening of Universal’s “Islands of Adventure” theme park.

How cool is that? The little guy made it in spades. Even artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons honored the man on canvas.

As a cartoon, Popeye’s star seems to be fading. He’s appearing in fewer newspapers. But as a collectible, he’s still very much alive.

On May 9-10, Bertoia Auctions, Vineland, N.J., featured a selection of Popeye toys in its toy auction. Here are some current values

– Popeye Playing Basketball, Linemar, lithographed tin, Japan, 9 inches high: $767.

– Popeye wooden figure with Donald Duck wooden figure, spring necks, Linemar, Japan, copr. Walt Disney Productions, box included, each 4 inches high: $767.

– Popeye Floor Puncher, Chein, lithographed tin, clockwork driven, 7 inches high: $1,121.

– Popeye Express, Louis Marx, features tunnels, trestle bridge and Popeye characters, lithographed tin, copr. King Features Syndicate, 10 inches diameter: $1,652.

– Popeye and Olive Oyl Jiggers, Louis Marx, lithographed tin, 9 1/2 inches high, boxed examples: $1,652.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Popeye Floor Puncher, Chein, lithographed tin, clockwork driven: $1,121. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Popeye playing basketball, Linemar, Japan: $767. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Popeye with Donald Duck wooden figures, spring necks, Linemar, Japan, copr. Walt Disney Productions: $767. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Popeye Express, Louis Marx, lithographed tin windup: $1,652. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Popeye and Olive Oyl Jiggers, Louis Marx, lithographed tin: $1,652. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 15 August 2014 12:53
 

Live Auction Talk: The Beatles

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 14:18

‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ fan club poster, Beatles signed, 30 inches by 20 inches: $59,375. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

SANTA FE, N.M. – “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.” – John Lennon

Friendship and a love of music brought the Beatles together in 1957. That spark ignited a firestorm and the world was never the same. It was an era of restlessness. That much was clear. A catalyst was in order. And that’s where the Beatles came in.

No frills, no armor. They simply addressed the world with truth in their lyrics and filled the gap.

“I think people who truly can live a life in music are telling the world, 'You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don't need them. Just take the music, the goodness, because it's the very best, and it's the part I give most willingly,'" said George Harrison.

The Beatles were the possibility of music going forward. And they were coaxing us to take a closer look at how we actually lived our lives.

They were already the biggest entertainment phenomena the Brits had ever seen. But no English rock band had ever come close to capturing the American music scene.

And on the plane flight to America on that chilly February day in 1964 George Harrison had been the only Beatle who had even visited America.

“They don’t know us,” Harrison said about the trip. “It’s going to be hard.”

Looking out the plane window at Kennedy airport as it landed the Beatles figured all the commotion outside had to be for somebody else. Not them.

The group was in America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was paying them half of what normal headliners got. Nothing compared to Elvis.

More than 70 million viewers were on board for the Liverpool boys and their fateful Feb. 9 appearance, 60 percent of all American television viewers. It was the largest audience for a nonnews event in television history. The group was on stage for 13 1/2 minutes performing five songs.

Everything shifted right there. The ’60s movement was on. And the news media mostly missed the point.

“Asexual and homely.” “The anti-barbershop quartet.” “An infestation.” “A fine mass placebo.” On and on went the reviews.

“They’re a passing phase, symptoms of the uncertainty of the times and the confusion about us,” said the Rev. Billy Graham.

Despite all the negative chatter the Beatles went on to become the pre-eminent pop group in the world, a cultural phenomenon of unrivaled scope. The four Brits were leaving their mark on history in a profound way.

“The thing the ’60s did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility,” John Lennon said.

The Beatles were all about possibilities.

“And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics.

On April 26-27, Heritage Auctions a selection of Beatles memorabilia in it Entertainment auction.

Here are some current values:

– Picture sleeve, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Beatles signed, 16 1/2 inches by 16 1/2 inches: $20,000.

Please Please Me album, Beatles signed, obtained by British newspaper on Oct. 31, 1964: $40,625.

Meet the Beatles stereo LP, Beatles signed: $56,250.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, fan club poster, Beatles signed, 30 inches by 20 inches: $59,375.

– The Fab Four, inside cover of a foldover photo album, containing early glossy, Beatles signed, Feb. 9, 1964, 12 inches by 10 inches: $125,000.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ fan club poster, Beatles signed, 30 inches by 20 inches: $59,375. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Picture sleeve, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ Beatles signed, 16 1/2 inches by 16 1/2 inches:  $20,000. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

‘Please Please Me’ album, Beatles signed: $40,625. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Meet the Beatles’ stereo LP, Beatles signed: $56,250. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The Fab Four, inside cover of a foldover photo album, containing early glossy, Beatles signed: $125,000. Photo courtesy of Heritages.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 16:24
 

Live Auction Talk: Coca-Cola

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Thursday, 01 May 2014 13:15

Tin button sign, ‘Coca-Cola,’ right out of the box,  1950s, pristine condition, 24 inches diameter: $1,560. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

SANTA FE, N.M. – Guess what the most popular term in the world is after “hello.”  If you said “good-bye,” you’re wrong.

It’s “Coca-Cola.”  That’s how powerful branding is.

When John Pemberton came up with the Coca-Cola formula in 1886 he had no idea the cash cow it would ultimately turn out to be. He just wanted to get rich like the next guy and in the 1880s the fastest way to do that was in a bottle – through patent medicines.

In the 19th century where doctors were few and far between cure-alls took a front seat proclaiming to fix everything from gout and rheumatism to cancer and tuberculosis. Home remedies were everywhere and inventors guarded their “secret formulas” closely.

Most of the secret formulas contained up to 50 percent alcohol and consumers didn’t seem to mind. You no doubt heard the word “snake-oil salesman”

Anyway, it’s in this arena Coca-Cola emerged. Pemberton was injured in one of the last battles of the Civil War and in constant pain. He added coca (cocaine) to his elixir and it seemed to help with his pain.

No one knew at the time how addictive cocaine was. They just knew it took away the pain.

Obviously, Coca-Cola has gone through a huge metamorphosis since then. But those are its humble beginnings.

By 1920, sales of Coca-Cola skyrocketed to more than $4 million in annual net profit. A lot of it had to do with what’s called “aspirational advertising.”

Success in life can be achieved simply by buying the right product. That was the message. And the right product, of course, was Coke. It was the great equalizer. The 6-year-old sipping Coke at the table next to you was drinking the same Coke as the Pope. No better. No worse.

Do things actually go better with Coke?

Like it or not, we’ve all been imprinted with Coke signs. Unless you’re blind. They’re everywhere and you probably grew up with them too.

Plus, I think they’re cool. The logo works for me – I really can’t say why. Maybe it’s because Coke signs have the look and feel of my “growing up” years. Pure nostalgia

Vintage tin and paper signs from products like Coke are some of the most popular collectibles today. Others include trays, calendars and pieces made between 1875 and 1925, which have the brilliant early color lithography.

Vintage items displaying beautiful women, pudgy babies and handsome horsemen abound in these pieces and are the kinds of images calling out to collectors today.

Why you see so many vintage Coke collectibles around now is because the company had a big advertising budget. The same was true of beer, tobacco, whiskey and other soft drink companies of the era.

Mark Twain said it well: “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

Coca-Cola pounced on the right kind of advertising.

On April 26 & 27 Morphy Auctions, Denver, Pa., featured its advertising auction. In the sale were a number of Coca-Cola items. Here are some current values:

– Tin button sign, “Coca-Cola,” right out of the box, paper just removed, 1950s, pristine condition, 24 inches diameter: $1,560.

– Serving tray, “Drink Coca-Cola,” pictures a “highbrow” woman, 1906, excellent condition, 13 inches tall: $3,300.

– Tin sign, “Drink Coca-Cola,” 1920s, very good condition, 11 inches by 8 1/4 inches: $4,500.

– Easel sign, cutout cardboard, “Drink Coca-Cola,” 1931, near mint, 23 inches by 15 inches:  $5,700.

– Sports festoon, “Coca-Cola,” 9-piece, wire and plywood, made by Kay Displays, 1930s, largest 16 inches diameter: $6,000.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Tin button sign, ‘Coca-Cola,’ right out of the box,  1950s, pristine condition, 24 inches diameter: $1,560. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions. 

Serving tray, ‘Drink Coca-Cola,’ 1906, excellent condition, 13 inches tall: $3,300. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Tin sign, ‘Drink Coca-Cola,’ 1920s, very good condition, 11 inches by 8 1/4 inches: $4,500. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Easel sign, cutout cardboard, ‘Drink Coca-Cola,’ 1931, near mint, 23 inches by 15 inches: $5,700. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Sports festoon, ‘Coca-Cola,’ nine-piece, wire and plywood, made by Kay Displays, 1930s, largest 16 inches diameter: $6,000. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 13:50
 
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