Friday, January 30, 2009

Still creepy after all these years…

Jan. 30, 2009
Posted by Noah

I just can’t help but shudder a little when I think about it. Hmmm… So big by about so big… It was a cardboard reprint of a movie poster for the original Dracula movie, with Lon Chaney – not the Style B One Sheet Dracula in the upcoming Movie Poster Auction, which got me thinking in the first place – and I was about six when it came in to our house. It was a gift from my parents.

“Um… Thanks, mom…”

It came with a companion: A Boris Karloff Frankenstein poster. All these years later, a grown man with a family, sitting in a cube in this beautiful building, I get a link for the star of the movie poster auction. It’s from the movie poster director Grey Smith. It’s a consignment he’s been waiting for with bated breath because the poster is so rare. I open it up – as you can right here. It’s Dracula. I shudder.

No doubt it’s a great poster, incredibly rare, expensive as all get out, yet all I can see is the Dracula poster from our house that my brother Cris insisted always hang in the hallway outside my room, because he knew how it creeped me out. And he knew I would have to walk past it every night in the middle of the night to get to the bathroom.

I suppose that it is the point of this poster – to be so scary – and that I should be grateful to the studio geniuses, and to Lugosi, for providing me with such supreme creepiness. The 1931 Dracula is still the archetype of the character and clearly this poster is a cornerstone piece in any major collection. I am afraid that were I alone with it, however, I would become so unsettled that I would do to it what I finally did to the poster that haunted me grades one through four. It involved our backyard, a dirt pit and some matches. My brother Cris was pretty mad. My parents just laughed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The greatness of ‘Brandywine,’ and Jesse Wilcox Smith

Jan. 29, 2009
Posted by Noah

In my years in the Northeast and New England as an antiques, art and architecture writer and editor, I was fortunate to encounter, first hand, the highways, byways and venues that inspired some of the greatest fine art movements that America ever offered. Chief among those two were always the Hudson River Valley School – I lived in its heart, in Rhinebeck, NY – and the Brandywine School of Painting. While I never lived in the Brandywine region of Pennsylvania, I sure traveled there a lot for shows, to interview dealers and artists, and to write about historic sites, including an ill-fated interview with Jamie Wyeth of which the less I say the better. Now I find, years and thousands of miles later, that The Brandywine School has found me here in Dallas, for which I am very grateful.

Brandywine will be amply represented in the March 12-13 Illustration auction here with an original painting by Jesse Willcox Smith – The Then Lover – as well as with a rare painting from Maxfield Parrish, one of Willcox’s contemporaries. Brandywine, as a concept, represents the school of artists that studied with Harold Pyle in Chadd’s Ford, PA at the end of the 19th Century. The illustrations and art to come out of it are unmistakable. The examples in this auction are classic Brandywine, especially the Willcox Smith, and are as good as any painting hanging in any museum in the world.

Willcox Smith was best known for her paintings of “perfect” little girls for a number of major magazines of the day. The Then Lover is a perfect example of one of her angelic girls. What’s always moved me about her paintings of these girls is that while they present a perfect fa├žade, there is always something brewing in their eyes; a far-away look, a winsomeness that bespeaks a greater discontent. You can see where the recently departed Andrew Wyeth got his melancholy from when you look at Willcox Smith’s girls. It’s great stuff.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The undeniable legacy of Ernie Kovacs

Jan. 28, 2009
Posted by Noah

Ernie Kovacs is one of those guys who everybody should know about, though so many don’t. If you’ve ever watched a late night talk show, a sketch comedy show or a variety show then you’ve felt the impact of his television greatness. If you’re scratching your head right now, wondering who he is, or clicking quickly to Wikipedia, then the true greatness of the man will be lost on you, as will the amazing grouping from the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Estate Archive that we have coming up as part of the February Music & Entertainment Auction. I suggest going to YouTube, entering his name, and watching a few of the clips that come up. Even if you’ve never seen Kovacs, there will be something vaguely familiar about what you were seeing.

Ernie Kovacs was a hard living comedian, and a true giant of early American television comedy. His comedy still ranks as some of the greatest to hit the small screen, especially such classic bits as Percy Dovetonsils and The Nairobi Trio, the latter of which is so absurd and nonsensical that you can’t help but laugh at the broad physical nature of. I won’t describe the Nairobi Trio to you, instead insisting you watch a clip, but suffice it to say that Kovacs’ audience never tired of it, nor did the parade of stars that donned the monkey masks and manned the mallets.

The real question is: would this same kind of sketch play as well today? I seriously doubt it given how much the medium has changed. Still, Kovacs’ imprint is everywhere, from SNL, to Letterman to Steven Colbert and beyond, and they all know it. There’s also a good chance that a lot of them will be bidding on the Kovacs props, documents and awards.

Check it out. Bask in the glory of Golden Age TV. You know you want to…

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ruminating on gold…

Jan. 27, 2009
Posted by Noah

Am sick today, having picked up whatever bug my wife and daughter shared. The less details I provide, the better, but I have had plenty of time to ponder the new Heritage Weekly Special Gold Auctions that have just gotten started. Why? Who knows… Maybe just because I wish I had something sparkly and/or shiny to distract me from my stomach woes, and maybe because gold is one of the few places that seem to be holding value as the economy has gone nuts. I know for sure I’m not the only one looking at different places to put my meager savings until we all wake up and find mortgage backed securities were actually a big April Fools joke and that the economy is actually in great shape…

These Weekly Special Gold Auctions are going to be an every Wednesday type of thing, and the aspect of it that I find so interesting is that it seems, in many ways, to be the anti-Heritage auction, and I mean this in a good way. Heritage coin auctions are known for the rare and singular coins, those ones that bring millions and stop collectors in their tracks. Yet here we have weekly gold auctions that are simply about giving HA bidder-members another venue to diversify their investments. These are all good coins for auction, and all with a certain numismatic value on top of the precious metal value. As our Gold Director Doug Baliko puts it, however, these are all generics and slab coins. These are not sexy auctions, beyond the inherent sexiness of the gold itself.

Wholesale gold coins to dealers are a longtime staple of this company, but this is the first chance regular old Heritage members have had to get in on the action. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of money, relatively speaking, and it’s a chance to get some good gold coins at or below market value. Not glamorous, not really sexy, just smart… Wish I was bidding now…

Monday, January 26, 2009

An email to top all emails, from MAD Magazine

Jan. 26, 2009
Posted by Noah

One of the aspects of doing the job I do at Heritage that I like the best is that I get around, eventually, to all the categories in the company. One of the first I had a chance to work in when I started last fall was the comics category auction of the very best of the MAD Magazine cover art, including Norman Mingo’s cover art for MAD #30 – which went for an astounding $203,000+, btw. It was quite an introduction to the company, and I can assure that I wasted no time in asking our Comics Director, Barry Sandoval, if I could come downstairs to take a look at the art, as it would “help me write better.” Ha ha… Needless to say, I got a little bit weak in the knees looking at all that great cover art. Who wouldn’t?

I grew up on MAD Magazine, and I know I am not alone in this. MAD defined humor and satire, and gave me a million sarcastic comments to use on the playground or in gym class. I jumped at the chance to write an article for the April edition of Heritage’s in-house magazine about the MAD covers, and the MAD-Heritage relationship in general. Part of this story required me emailing MAD editor John Ficarra, an awesome comic talent, with a couple questions.

The funny thing is that I actually expected, for about a whole 30 seconds, to get a straightforward answer to my questions. Then I remembered it was MAD Magazine I was writing to, and I braced myself for the humor. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed, that getting Ficarra’s response was one of the great moments of my professional life, and that I have printed the exchange, framed it and will make sure it hangs in every office I ever work in again.

You’ll have to wait until the magazine comes out in April to see that whole exchange and to read the story, in whatever form it eventually takes, but for now, here’s a single exchange, one small teaser, just because you been so good to me…:

Heritage: After having MAD auctions at all the major houses, including Heritage, what made you decide to come back to Heritage for the MAD Cover Art auction?

Ficarra: It was a combination of things. First, no one at Sotheby’s returned our calls. (You don’t have any contacts over there, do you?) As for Christies, they expressed a tremendous interest and enthusiasm in a MAD auction, before referring us to Sotheby’s. So, in reviewing all the facts, Heritage seemed like the right fit for us.

Awesome. I will never wash this hand, or my keyboard, again…

Picture with link: Norman Mingo’s iconic first Alfred E. Neuman Cover, for MAD #30, which brought more than $200,000 at auction last November.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Academy Awards, you say? I just ask our in-house experts…

Jan. 23, 2009
Posted by Noah

In this case, it’s our Music & Entertainment Director Doug Norwine and our Movie Poster Director Grey Smith. Both men know their stuff, know their Hollywood and are not afraid to voice their opinions on it. The sad fact is that I’ve managed to corner only one of them: Doug. Grey has been a little busy getting his March auction in order, but I reckon I’ll be able to update this post soon with his opinions.

Before I get to Doug’s – who was a longtime L.A. resident, professional musician and probably rubbed elbows with more than his fair share of Oscar winners and nominees – I know that you’re really curious about my opinions. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Besides my wife, that is… I kid, I kid..

I haven’t seen all the movies for Best Picture, in fact, I think the only one I have seen is Benjamin Button, though I think Harvey Milk was a fascinating character, and I’m dying to see Slumdog Millionaire, and have traveled quite extensively throughout India, where the film is set – specifically Mumbai – and love it deeply as a nation, but that doesn’t really qualify me to comment on its chances. So, I guess by default, I’d say Benjamin Button is the odds on favorite. It’s by the Forrest Gump guys, has all the things that modern Hollywood loves in its epics, is the closest to magical realism Hollywood can truly get and is, really, just an enjoyable movie with excellent performances across the board. In fact, Doug echoed the same sentiment:

“Benjamin Button is a special effects tour de force with a wonderful message that left you in an up mood,” he said. “It also proves Brad Pitt is not only an excellent leading man, but a superb actor.”

Nicely said. The truth is that I really don’t have a real horse in any of the races, and I won’t even watch the awards. Benjamin Button will probably win best pic, but Pitt won’t win the award. He’s too pretty. It’s sweet that he and his wife are both nominated, though… Question is, will they be able to get a full section of seats for their 300 kids.

I’ll let you know, hopefully soon, what Grey has to say about the awards. Meanwhile, enjoy this little set of Oscar-related memorabilia from past Heritage Auctions. Cool stuff…

Picture caption: The Oscar for Best Short Film of 1949, one of the last Academy Awards legally available for resale, and sold at Heritage, April 2008.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who needs Americana Week in New York City? We’ve got American Spirit Week here in Dallas!

Jan. 21, 2009
Posted by Noah

I propose, here and now, that Dallas, Texas be named an official part of Antiques Week in New York City… Okay, well maybe take out the last part of that sentence, but one look at the amazing back-to-back-to-back-to-back auctions of American Indian Art, Art of the American West, Western Americana and Texana taking place at Heritage’s Slocum Street Annex will convince you that not only does Heritage belong in the high-end celebration, but that we represent pretty much the rest of America – all that beyond the banks of the Hudson River, and yes there is much more than malls. Let me explain:

This is the week of quality Americana in New York City. The nation’s very best antique shows all come to pass, and overlap, in the course of about 10 days. Thrown into that is a mix of auctions of art and antiques from two big auction houses – the only ones bigger than Heritage, and they shall remain nameless! It’s a heady mix of great and expensive stuff, and in my days as an antiques and art editor I made the yearly pilgrimage to NYC faithfully until I got just a little (picture me here squinting and showing a very small space between my thumb and forefinger) tired of East Coast-centric ego trip. It is, literally, all great stuff, but enough already. We get it, we get it…

Here’s what the other 95% of the nation knows: There is great Americana all over America; not just NYC for 10 days a year. Starting today, with our American Indian Art auction, you can see what I mean.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All that Obama memorabilia will be worth a ton… in about 200 years.

Jan. 20, 2009
Posted by Noah

First of all, this is a strictly non-partisan, non-ideological blog, got it? Okay…

Given the amount of coinage, history and presidential-related ephemera we get around here – and that’s a good thing – it’s not a surprise that several media outlets have turned to our resident experts for opinions of the current influx of Barrack Obama related memorabilia that has absolutely flooded the market since his election in November. We’ve had one of our Vice President’s, Leo Frese – a very well-known name in coins – interviewed by FOX News. We had our resident expert generalist and Americana Consignment Director, Marsha Dixey, interviewed by SmartMoney Magazine, and there were another few interviews, NPR among them, with people who I’m forgetting, but you get the point. You want experts, we got ‘em. Though on this subject you might not like what you hear.

It’s also a relatively frequent subject of discussion in the hallowed halls of 3500 Maple Avenue. I haven’t had the chance to get the opinions of any of our four principals here at HA – Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin, Greg Rohan or Paul Minshull – but I reckon, as well as those men know coins and collectibles, they’d say the same things that both Leo Frese, Marsha Dixey, and any of our other resident experts would say. I myself follow this issue pretty closely, because I’m obsessive about trends in this business, and I love to observe the successes and foibles of humanity.

Here’s the deal: The current run on all things Obama? The coins, plates, papers, shirts, shams, buttons, belly button lint pickers and the like? None of it, really, is going to be worth a thing, minus sentimental value. Perhaps in a few decades, or centuries, some of it will. But now? No. Give it up. You will not retire on those “rare, limited edition” Obama coins – that limited edition is probably in the 10s of millions.

In fact, besides items Obama has personally owned, signed, used in his campaign or senate career – pens, chairs, cars, stationary, etc. – there is really only one piece of Obama memorabilia that will have you pretty well set for life, and those are one of the original 350 iconic “Hope” portraits of America’s 44th President, by artist Shepard Fairey, one of which is now in The National Gallery in Washington. D.C., and another of which recently sold at a charity auction for more than $200,000. Even that price is not guaranteed to hold, but these original posters are very much in demand and very much not available.

Don’t shoot me, now, I’m just the messenger. And this is the truth. See me in a few decades and I’ll update this. Maybe I’ll even be wrong, but I doubt it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rumor has it that a Koufax glove will be auctioned here in April

Jan. 19, 2009
Posted By Noah

Okay, so it’s more than rumor. The thing is actually in house and sitting in a vault somewhere known only to a few people, or to a bunch who have no hope of getting in to see it. I’m one of those people, right now at least. Being in the position I’m in, a very lucky one btw, I could call our Director of Sports, Chris Ivy, and ask him if I could arrange a viewing, or an audience, as I like to think about it, given who once wore the glove…

It was actually the editor of Heritage’s Magazine, Hector Cantu – if you know your daily comic strips then that name is familiar to you from a little strip called Baldo – who told me of the auction, and it was Ivy, who I cornered in the hallway between the break room and the rest room, where he couldn’t possible escape without answering my question, if it was true. Actually, Chris is a very pleasant man and he acknowledged my excitement with a smile and a nod, and told me I was welcome to see it.

There are a lot of big-leaguers out there whose game worn memorabilia and equipment could reduce grown men to tears, but for me, and countless other Jewish kids of mine and previous generations – Today’s kids? Meh… - Koufax was held up as a true hero of the game, and the faith. I know this blog is a secular thing, but Koufax’s Jewish-ness cannot be avoided and – let’s face it – the list great Jewish sports stars is probably almost enough to count on one hand. Agents? That’s another matter. But full-blown stars? That’s a precious few… Koufax was an amazing pitcher, of great ability, and he famously refused to pitch in Game One of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. It may have bummed out a lot of Dodger fans, but it sure endeared him to Jews around the world, and the thought that one of his gloves is actually here, and that I might actually see it, and that – if I were a rich man – I could actually own it… Well that does indeed make me tear up a little bit.

More on this, I can only assume, to come….

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Alamo will be remembered Jan. 24 and 25, have no doubt…

Jan. 15, 2009
Posted by Noah

I can’t really think about the Alamo, or the Texas Revolution without thinking about my eighth grade history teacher, Coach Armon. I never really liked him, and he wasn’t really a teacher of any note in my life, except that he loved the story of the Alamo – made us watch the movie twice to make sure we didn’t miss any “details” of the story – and he frequently commented on what amazing horse riders the Apaches were. He loved his athletes, disdained those few of us not on a team, and shamelessly flirted with the pretty girls in the class, which, come to think of it, was always a little creepy.

For all of that, I remember reading the text of William Travis’s final impassioned plea from The Alamo, as his tragic few men waited for reinforcements, staring over the mission walls at a force of thousands of Mexican National soldiers. The weekend after this, Jan. 24-25, Heritage is going to be auctioning off a very rare copy of a broadside – which is a fancy way of saying old, hand-printed poster – of Travis’s plea, which appeared after the Alamo fell, after he and all his men were overrun and run through, and was a very salient rallying point for the rest of the Texas Revolution, if not the single most important turning point. And it’s here, in the building, under lock and key. How amazing is that? I defy any Texan to deny that the very thought of it doesn’t send chills up your spine.

I guess I should thank Coach Armon for that.

Here’s a link to the auction of important Texana, and here’s a link to the lot. This thing is pretty amazing, if just for the very fact that it’s survived almost two centuries, let alone its witness to Texas history, and proximity to those legendary players.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dino teeth at Heritage this weekend, Jan. 17. Wish I was still a kid.

Jan. 14, 2009
Posted By Noah

A kid between the ages of 7 and 13, to be exact, as that’s the demographic that stands to benefit the most from the preview this Saturday, Jan. 17, of the Natural History Auction, when the company gives away a free dinosaur tooth to the first 100 eligible kids – not employees, mind you, specifically those well over the right age, even if they really really want one… Please, please, please?

These teeth are from the ferocious and massive Spinosauraus, the largest meat eater to over roam the planet that existed a mere blink in the continuum of time and space ago, 67 million years. It’s rare to find the teeth of such a thing, and awesomely cool, if I can sound like I really am 10 years old. To further digress, the whole auction is full of amazing stuff, and not just dino teeth, and I’m not saying it just because I work at Heritage. Anyone can come and see the preview this weekend, and I suggest you do. Then you’ll see what I mean.

The star of the show is a massive, almost fully intact Triceratops skull. This thing is as wide as a Formula One race car across the front, and as long as an NBA player is tall. It’s a thing of superb intimidation and great beauty, and my first thought when I saw it is that I wished I was a genetic scientist who was capable of cloning a whole new triceratops from the DNA of the skull, whereby I could walk it on weekends, tie it to a tree in nearby Reverchon Park while I’m at work and make sure nobody ever messes with me – not that any really ever does anyway. I’m just saying…

There’s also a huge mammoth tusk, an amazing Saber Tooth Tiger Skull, a fully intact flying dinosaur skeleton and pieces of the moon and the planet Mars, as Natural History Director David Herskowitz always likes to stress. Did I mention, as I buff my nails on my shirt, that Heritage is the world leader in high-end natural history auctions.

The details of the auction can be picked up by clicking here. The details of the preview are also online, as is the address and full hours. Visitor parking is available in the garage attached to the building, enter on Maple Avenue.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Basking in the frets of the master: Chet Atkins guitars in Feb. 21-22 Music & Entertainment Auction

Jan. 13, 2009
Posted By Noah

the frets of the master: Chet Atkins guitars in Feb. 21-22 Music & Entertainment Auction

Now, I haven’t exactly wheedled my way into the Music & Entertainment vault at Heritage World-HQ – located as it is in a steel bunker, miles underground, in a secret undisclosed location – but I know for a fact that within those hallowed steel-reinforced concrete walls there sits a section of the Cochran Collection of Guitars, a select few of which were actually played by Chet Atkins. You can link to one of them by clicking here, or on the picture above.

If I were to be in the presence of those guitars I don’t quite know what I would do. My first thought would be to pick them up and play them, or at least one of them, but I know more likely than not I would be deemed unworthy to do such a thing and my head would explode like one of the Nazis at the end of Raider of the Lost Ark. And no, I’m not joking.

If you haven’t already shaken your head in disbelief that we have actual Chet Atkins-played guitars in-house, or you don’t know who Chet Atkins even was, then I pity you… Really… All you need to know, if you don’t know already, is that Atkins was, and still is, probably the greatest country guitarist to ever live and one of the five greatest guitarists of the 20th Century, and I’d stand on Jimi Hendrix’s coffee table and say it if I could. He set the standard for great country guitar, and rock guitar for that matter, and did it all with a level of ease, and class, that had never been seen before and hasn’t been seen since.

This is one of those groupings that gets everyone who knows enough to know excited about it. Doug Norwine, head of the M&E department – and a superb musician himself – is so excited about these beauties that he’s almost – almost – at a loss for words in describing them. If you know Doug, then you know how great that means these guitars are.

Here’s a link to the catalog for the auction. Just do a search for Chet Atkins and marvel at the beauty.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Fun of FUN: Rohan and Imhoff speak

Jan. 12, 2009
Posted by Noah

I have to admit that, with the recent travails of the market(s), and the fact that the entire world seems to be losing its mind over the recession – at least a little bit – that there was a bit of trepidation in the halls of Heritage going into the Jan. 7-10 FUN (Florida United Numismatists) Auctions in Orlando. It is, decidedly, the biggest event of the year for Heritage, and a definite harbinger of things to come. With so much doom and gloom around the industry, and so many, um… incomplete auctions, let’s just say that it was a long wait through the first week of 2009.

Imagine then, if you can and will, the thrill and the relief when the momentum of the week built to a more than $60 million crescendo for all auctions combined. Make that more like $65 million. While it didn’t approach the Heritage record for FUN, set last year at more than $70 million, it sure did get a good long drive through the neighborhood. Maybe it even bought a house a few streets over. You can view the results here.

So then today, Monday, Jan. 12, I had the chance to sit in on the taping of a video recap of Fun with Greg Rohan and Todd Imhof – that’s one “F” – respectively Heritage’s President and Vice President, as they discussed the surprising results. Our PR department has spread the word of the video around pretty well so far, but you can view it by clicking here.

Both men were in good spirits, as well they should be, and relaxed during the roughly 30 minutes of taping. I kept thinking that they carried the air of sailors who had captained their ship through some rough seas. They were still aware of the dark clouds on the horizon, but they were mighty glad of the 50-foot waves they’d just passed. Check out the commentary. It may be coin specific – a subject I am still learning about, and it’s a steep curve – but the lessons can be applied across many sectors of the collectibles market.

My favorite quote of the session? Greg Rohan: “Coins may not go up 25% in a day, but they also don’t go down 25% in a day.”

Check it out. Lots of good insight.

-Noah Fleisher, Jan. 12, 2009