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Live Auction Talk | Rosemary McKittrick

Live AuctionTalk: Yosemite

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Monday, 03 November 2014 14:16
Book, ‘The Wonders of Yosemite Valley, and of California,’ Samuel Kneeland, illustrated with 20 mounted original albumen photographs credited to John P. Soule, tissue guards, 1872, 10 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches. Price realized: $14,400. Photo courtesy of PBA.

SANTA FE, N.M. – When naturalist-author John Muir decided to write about Yosemite Park in 1911 he agonized over how to capture the magic of the place in words. He decided it would take a whole book to pull it off.

Where to begin?

Muir determined the most dramatic aspect of the park was Yosemite's dozen waterfalls. Of all the falls it was Nevada Falls that held the most magic for him.

"This noble fall has far the richest, as well as the most powerful, voice of all the falls in the valley," he said.

Native Americans believed Muir would have been a great medicine man in his day because he was listening, truly listening. He wasn't exploring. He was learning. He would have been one of those elders the kids gathered around as he talked to the rocks and trees and listened to the waterfalls. The children, they say, would have loved his stories. They wouldn't have called him crazy.

"But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite," Muir said in the introduction to his guidebook "The Yosemite." "Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life."

Muir, like the Native Americans before and after him, considered the forests of Yosemite sacred, a place to commune with nature, a place of contemplation. A preservationist, Muir wanted the land used as a park, free of logging, grazing and hunting.

The land's value was spiritual not practical for Muir. He had seen much devastation in the Sierra Nevada by the sheep and lumber syndicates and was skeptical of their motives and whether they could actually be controlled.

Muir was nicknamed the "Prophet of the Wilderness," an "unknown nobody" who stepped up as the voice of conservation.

Yosemite wasn't the world's first national park. Yellowstone was. But Yellowstone's creation as a national park came eight years after Yosemite was set aside by Congress and entrusted to California.

Muir's hero, writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, showed up in 1871with an entourage and rode on horseback to many of Yosemite's sites. At Muir's invitation Emerson visited the tiny loft in the sawmill Muir called home.

Here was a man living out what Emerson decided was the life he preached about in his writings with a direct connection to the currents of the cosmos. Here was a man "firmly believing that "every one of its (Yosemite's) living creatures ... and every crystal of its rocks ... is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God," Muir said. Emerson could not have said it better.

Muir's relationship with the old sage was more bemused father and eager son than between two equals. Nonetheless, there was a heartfelt connection and a deep respect for the land between the men.

As Emerson's group rode off toward civilization and away from Yosemite Emerson lagged behind and waved a last goodbye to Muir with his hat before disappearing over a ridge.

On Oct. 9, a presentation copy of John Muir's book The Yosemite went on the block at PBA Galleries and sold for $18,000. The book was inscribed by John Muir to Lucretia Perry Osborn, wife of Henry Fairfield Osborn, noted zoologist-professor and Muir's friend.

Here are current values for other Yosemite items sold in the auction:

– Photograph, El Capitan, glass plate positive photograph, circa 1880-1900, 33 3/4 inches by 25 1/2 inches, $1,800.

– Albumen photograph, buildings in Yosemite, circa 1878, 5 inches diameter, $3,000.

– Book with photographs, Ansel Adams, Sierra Nevada, 50 tipped-in plates from photographs of John Muir Trail with tissue-guards, 1938, 16 1/4 inches by 12 1/4 inches, $3,600.

– Book, The Wonders of Yosemite Valley, and of California, Samuel Kneeland, illustrated with 20 mounted original albumen photographs credited to John P. Soule, tissue guards, 1872, 10 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches, $14,400.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE
Book, ‘The Wonders of Yosemite Valley, and of California,’ Samuel Kneeland, illustrated with 20 mounted original albumen photographs credited to John P. Soule, tissue guards, 1872, 10 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches. Price realized: $14,400. Photo courtesy of PBA. Photograph, ‘El Capitan,’ glass plate positive photograph, circa 1880-1900, 3 3/4 inches by 25 1/2 inches. Price realized: $1,800. Photo courtesy of PBA. Albumen photograph, buildings in Yosemite, circa 1878, 5 inches diameter. Price realized: $3,000. Photo courtesy of PBA. Book with photographs, Ansel Adams, ‘Sierra Nevada,’ 50 tipped-in plates from photographs of John Muir Trail with tissue-guards, 1938, 16 1/4 inches by 12 1/4 inches. Price realized: $3,600. Photo courtesy of PBA. Book, ‘The Yosemite’, presentation copy, John Muir, inscribed by Muir to Lucretia Perry Osborn, wife of Henry Fairfield Osborn, noted zoologist-professor and Muir's friend. Price realized: $18,000. Photo courtesy of PBA.
Last Updated on Monday, 03 November 2014 15:05
 

Live Auction Talk: Halloween treats

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Written by ROSEMARY McKITTRICK   
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 15:25

Pumpkin lady candy container, Germany, pumpkin head with black hat, 5 inches long, $1,062. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

SANTA FE, N.M. – "I bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween."

I wish I had said that. The author is unknown.

Think about it. These folks can't dress up and pretend to be somebody else for a few hours. That's part of the magic of Halloween.

Of course we know Halloween isn't just about kids. An estimated 65 percent of American adults participate in the holiday. After Christmas, it's the second biggest retail jackpot.

The history of many of our holidays is obvious, but did anyone talk much about Halloween?

It seems the Celts, 2,000 years ago, marked the end of summer and the start of winter with a festival called Samhein. The Celts believed the ghosts of their ancestors came back to walk the earth on October 31. It was the same day the spirits of those who died during the year could travel to the underworld.

Some spirits were friendly. Some were not. An additional plate was placed at the dinner table for agreeable Casper-like ghosts, and the path to the front door was lit for them. Evil ghosts liked to wreak havoc by doing disturbing deeds like scaring people to death and destroying crops. Some ghosts were even said to demonically possess the bodies of the living and force them to act out in bizarre ways.

Somehow all of these ghosts, it is said, enabled druid priests to predict the future and their prophecies boosted the faith of the clans during unforgiving weather.

The clans also gathered at night around a campfire. They built huge bonfires to welcome the good spirits and frigid weather. They sacrificed animals and crops to the gods and dressed up in animal heads and pelts, and partied. They also wore masks to hide from evil spirits (banshees) lingering in the dark.

"There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask," the writer Collette said.

When the Irish came to America pumpkins were easier to find than the turnips they traditionally carved the center out of and placed candles inside. They believed evil spirits were afraid of light and these lanterns helped scare the bad ghosts away.

Nowadays, Halloween gives everybody the chance to dress up and act out their individual fantasies, if they so choose.

Stashed away in my storage shed, I'm sure I could lay my hands on it, is a box of tin Halloween noisemakers and other flights of Halloween fancy from the 1950s. When I lift these tin wonders out of their box I'm transported directly back to childhood, the cold air, and an impatient kid getting all dressed up as she heads out the front door.

On Sept. 19-20, Bertoia Auctions featured a selection of Halloween novelties in its Fall Festival sale. Here are some current values:

– Bobblehead man, candy container, Germany, 7 inches high, $177.

– Decorations, seven items including black cat, drum lanterns, pumpkin noisemaker, etc., $472.

– Pumpkin lady, candy container, Germany, pumpkin head with black hat, 5 inches long, $1,062.

– Black cat/pumpkin, candy container, postwar, 8 inches long, $1,534.

– Halloween items, hard plastic, witches on motorcycles, rocket ship, pumpkin coach, other assorted candy containers, 5 inches to 9 inches long, $3,835.



ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE

Pumpkin lady candy container, Germany, pumpkin head with black hat, 5 inches long, $1,062. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Bobblehead man, candy container, Germany, 7 inches high, $177. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Decorations, seven in the lot, black cat, drum lanterns, pumpkin noisemaker, etc., $472. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Black cat/pumpkin candy container, postwar, 8 inches long, $1,534. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Halloween items: witches on motorcycles, rocket ship, pumpkin coach, other assorted candy containers, 5 inches to 9 inches long, $3,835. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 16:54
 

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
 
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