Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Flash, or Showcase #4, is off to a fast start – No surprise there…

April 30, 2009
Posted by Noah

I think I’ve made it abundantly clear in these pages before that I am, and have ever been, an unabashed aficionado of The Scarlet Speedster. Barry Allen first, Wally West second and Jay Garrick coming along in third. Give me a little Barry Allen, throw in the time travel treadmill and some Prof. Zoom and it’s about all I can do to stay conscious. Like a good scotch, these stories just get better with age.

I’ve also written here before about the upcoming copy of Showcase #4, the most valuable Silver Age Comic of all – which, by the way, is the first appearance of The Flash, as embodied by Barry Allen – that’s featured in the upcoming May Comics Auction here in the hallowed halls of Heritage. That issue, part of the Motor City Collection, is already up to $100,000 and the auction is still three weeks away. Any way you cut it up, that’s still an impressive matzo ball. I’ve asked Barry Sandoval for comment and he is his typical sanguine self about getting excited over such things.

“I don’t really think the early bidding is that significant one way or another,” he wrote.

I can see his point, of course, as the bottom line is ultimately what it brings at auction – at least from a business perspective – and if it raises the bar higher than it already is. That’s saying something about such pricey comics. Barry veneer of comic expert cool did slip a bit in his comments regarding the Fair/Good 1.5 Detective Comics #27 – If I have to tell you why it’s a famous book then stop reading this post right now! – that’s a featured lot in this auction. It’s an unrestored, original owner copy of this second overall most popular Golden Age book, right behind Action #1.

“Look at the Detective Comics #27 at $47,801,” he wrote. “Already higher than the Overstreet value with three weeks of bidding left to go.”

That’s a great price, especially considering the relatively low grade, even for The Batman’s first appearance. Evidently Heritage Grader/Consignment Director Jerry Stephan (whose license plate is TEC 27 by the way) was ribbing him a bit after seeing Barry do the auction highlights video, because he was raving about how nice it looks and yet the grade on it is that Fair/Good 1.5.

“I don’t dispute the grade,” he wrote, “the book does have a split spine. But all 1.5 copies are not created equal.”

The run of the different Motor City Showcase comics in the May auction are quite amazing, even besides the #4. There are definitely some great titles and some choice books in the bunch that will probably go for good prices and probably won’t show up on the market again for quite some time.

“To me it’s all about the Flash issues,” Barry wrote (and with which I agree. “Maybe because he’s also named Barry, but if you ask (Chief Comic Cataloger) Jim Steele, whose nickname is Flash, I think he’s most excited about the Challengers of the Unknown. And I got an email from a bidder who thinks the Showcase #11 – Challengers again - is the cream of the crop.”

I am not one to disagree with any assessment any of these men make regarding comics – does a bug question the blowing wind? – but there’s no chance any of them will come close in price to that Superhero among Superheroes, the one – the only – The Flash.

Have I mentioned yet in this post that no one – no one – is faster than The Flash? No? Well, I’ll see about getting around to that. As an aside, I have an old and dear friend named Dechen who once gave me an old beat up comic in which Superman and Flash race, and the cover has Flash saying, “I give up, Superman. You win. You really are the fastest,” or something to that extent. The truth is, inside, the two tie, which proves nothing to me. See, Superman isn’t even a man – you know it’s true! So The Flash is, truly, the fastest man alive. I am resolute in my conviction, so don’t even bother trying to change my mind, and never speak to me of Quicksilver.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

– Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1804 $1 all over the news

Posted By Noah

The AP in Cincinnati picked up the story about the Carter Adams Class III 1804 $1. It's all over the place right now. Most notably, at least on the front page of my browser at 4 p.m. Central time, the front page of Yahoo.

It's a beauty of the coin and its getting the "mysterious coin" treatment, which is pretty cool considering the shady, intriguing past of this thing. It's all good going into Central States Auction.

Bidding on the coin is already at $1.7M, and the thing is on the block until tomorrow night. Let's hope for $2M, or $2.5.

Also, if you, uh... Tweet, tha is, use Twitter, you'll be able to follow the auction action live in Cincinnati with Heritage's resident rock star Jim Halperin.

Okay, so Jim isn't quite a rock star, but he's the closest thing to one we have here at Heritage, and he's one scary smart man. It should be fun following what he has to say. Twitter is all about the mundanity of things, about voyeurism of a sort, which makes sense in the micro-focused atmosphere of today.
Below is the brief press release we sent out. You can pick up Jim's Twitter page from it:

Heritage’s Jim Halperin joins Twitter

Tweeting live now from CSNS in Cincinnati at

Dallas, TX – Heritage Auction Galleries Co-Founder Jim Halperin has started his own Twitter page, and will be Tweeting live from the Central States Numismatic Society coin auctions from April 29-May 3.

Jim will relay live updates from the bourse floor, as well as from the auction gallery, at Heritage’s CSNS Auctions in Cincinnati, OH, now through May 3.

Jim will also be Tweeting live from Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction at CSNS, Thursday, April 30. This will include up-to-the-minute updates on important developments in the auction, interesting side topics and – most importantly – an instant update on the auction of the Carter-Adams Class III 1804 $1 specimen, which already shows bidding approaching $2 million.

Watch (or sign-up for free to follow) at For any numismatists that are just getting into the world of social media, Twitter is a good place to start, and following Jim’s Tweets will give the inside information that will take several more hours, if not days, to reach the general public.

-Noah Fleisher

Koufax glove brings six figures, proving Sandy really is still the Super Jew

April 29, 2009
Posted by Noah

The Sandy Koufax 1966 game-used fielder’s glove that recently sold for $107,000+ in the April Sports Collectibles Auction is the same one I wrote about back in January in the early days of what is now the Juggernaut known as the Heritage Blog – We literally have tens and tens of readers – as a dream lot for any baseball collector, but especially so for Jewish kids of a certain age, to whom Koufax is of divine stature. Now that it’s gone into a good collection, and proved the King Of The Hill for the April auction, I stand by my earlier post.

My heart also swells with pride as Koufax tops this list because it’s a rare feather in the cap of famous Jewish athletes. There are only a few that might come to mind – Rod Carew, Hank Greenburg, Mark Spitz, Mavs owner Mark Cuban – besides Koufax.

I can remember very clearly the adoration with which my Sunday school Hebrew teacher, Mr. Flick, spoke of Koufax when I was a kid, and I also clearly remember being asked by him in a trivia contest what is the name of the famous Jewish pitcher who refused to pitch in the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. I didn’t know the answer, but my brother Cris did, and he clandestinely wrote it in blue pen on the palm of his hand and showed it to me. It was Koufax, of course, and I would never forget his name after that day, or how good the quarter of that Everything Bagel tasted, given to me as a prize from the teacher for that answer. In fact, I cannot eat an everything bagel with a schmear today without thinking of the great Jewish southpaw hurler.

The glove was given to a National League umpire Doug Harvey in 1966 as a thank you from Koufax for returning his World Series lighter, which Sandy left in a bar one night, and which Harvey picked up.

“Fewer than five fielder’s gloves have ever cleared the six-figure mark at auction,” noted Ivy, “and our Koufax gamer joined that elite club Friday with a result of $107,550.”

The Sandy Koufax glove was the subject of much pre-auction buzz and it proved equal to the hobby interest. One of the greatest pitchers to ever play professional baseball, Koufax left the game after a dozen amazing years with a 165-87 win-loss record, a 2.76 ERA, and 2,396 strikeouts. He a six time All-star, a three-time World Series Winner (and twice the series MVP), a three-time Cy Young winner, and the owner of a Sept. 9, 1965 Perfect Game against the Cubs, despite the arthritis that was ravaging his cannon of an arm and which would force him to retire a year later in 1966.

He was also a first ballot Hall-of-Famer in 1972 and the Dodgers retired his number. He’s also very protective of his name and image, so to have a memento of this magnitude directly attributable to one of the best to ever put on the spikes achieve such a respectable price is simply further reinforcement of his undeniable legend.

Another of the diamond’s great names – and easily one of its greatest sluggers – Josh Gibson proved almost as popular as Koufax, as his 1941 signed Puerto Rican League contract was the subject of one of the most intensely contested lots of the day. When the hammer came down on the intriguing artifact it was to the tune of $95,600. It just goes to show how great a player Gibson was, how wrong it was that he didn’t get to play in the Bigs before his death, and how the fascination with him continues even now.

“Gibson was such a great player, and he died so early, that relics from his career are very tough to come by,” said Ivy. “In the 62 years since his untimely death Gibson’s become much more than just a baseball player; he’s become an American folk hero, ‘The Black Babe Ruth,’ whatever you want to call him. While his stats may remain frustratingly unspecific, his greatness can never be challenged.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Click here if you want to check out the full results of the auction. There’s a ton of great stuff that sold that I would love to write about but just don’t have room.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009’s NTHP 11 Most Endangered List: Modernism, the Enola Gay Hangar and a direct Heritage connection

April 28, 2009
Posted by Noah

How does any given society most clearly show its particular moral and philosophical bent, tailored, of course to the time and place of its conception and implementation? In its architecture.

Think of any great city or nation and, inevitably, a great building will come to mind. Think Paris. Think London. Think India, or Italy. Think China or Sydney, Australia. If you’re any kind of student of the world then you won’t have to ponder more than a second to summon an image of the buildings that come to mind.

America, for its part, has a tremendous amount of iconic architecture, so much so that there is no one stand-alone icon – all of it a testament to the indomitable American will, our tireless experimentation with form and function and, sadly, our tendency to let the best of our important architecture molder and flounder in decay. Just as our national moral and philosophical bent is illuminated in our architecture, so too are our preservation shortcomings and our lack of respect for the ideas that embody our buildings. All of this is just my opinion and is a long way of getting to the point: The National Trust for Historic Preservation will announce tomorrow morning – today, Tuesday, April 28 as this is posted – its’ 2009 11 Most Endangered Places list. It is one of my favorite moments of the year, as I always look forward to seeing what The Trust digs up.

This year’s list is an intriguing mix of Modernism, nature, early American and industrial and post-industrial architecture. It’s linked to here, and above, and I encourage you to take a good long look at what buildings make the list.

There is a particular emphasis on Modern Architecture, as there has tended to be in the last few years, with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Church in Temple, IL, Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel and the Miami Marine Stadium foremost among the great pieces of Mid-Century expression on the list. In the case of the awesome, iconic Miami Marine Stadium – damaged and abandoned to nature and vandalism after Hurricane Andrew – the need for preservation is immediate.

As a deep aficionado of Modern Design – furniture, buildings or art, it makes no difference – I am always glad to see the Trust chooses some masterworks. It also chooses some very interesting sites that wouldn’t, at first glance, seem to be on the top of any list. Chief among the 2009 entries is the airplane hangar that housed the Enola Gay, in Los Alamos, NM, which has fallen into such disrepair that it hardly looks safe to get close to.

I am intrigued by its inclusion for a couple reasons. First of all because Heritage has a very direct connection to The Enola Gay as the auctioneer of the Log Book from Navigator Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk from the plane’s fateful trip to Hiroshima. It was sold in October of 2007 and brought more than $350,000. If you want to talk about Americana with some serious gravitas then I can imagine only a few things that have the same heaviness as this amazing lot.

The second thing that really strikes me about this building’s inclusion is that it’s a brave move. I’m not exactly sure that this building should be preserved at all. Then again, I wonder if it should be expertly saved and made into a museum. It’s a somewhat dubious legacy. This place housed the very plane that dropped the first – one of two – atomic bomb on civilization, and the devastation it caused was complete, total, decisive and ended World War II without delay. Some say it was a necessary sacrifice to save the world from total annihilation, some said it was the first step to the end and to many it was, and remains, a potent reminder of human kind’s capacity for cruelty to other humans.

Where do I stand? I’m not saying. Fortunately for me, I’m just the blogger here. I get to ask the questions; I don’t have to answer them, though I am glad the National Trust for getting the debate started.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, April 27, 2009

Coin Monday: “Seeing Double?”

April 27, 2009
Posted by John Dale

When coin collectors and auctions appear in popular entertainment, usually the writers get a few things right and much more wrong. An episode of Hawaii Five-O from 1973, “The $100,000 Nickel,” was entertaining enough, even if the plot point of a 1913 Liberty nickel getting dropped in a vending machine makes me shake my head.

More recently, the episode of The Simpsons that had Bart and Homer collecting coins, “All About Lisa,” started well enough with the two filling out a coin board with Lincoln cents culled from the change dish at the Kwik-E-Mart, among other sources. Many collectors, myself included, had a similar start. The fake variety, the 1917 “Kissing Lincolns” cent, I could tolerate as creative license. The scene at the auction house got too much wrong, though. The last straw for me was when the auction house referred to the “Kissing Lincolns” cent as a “penny.” No, no, and heck no! The United States Mint has never struck a “penny”; that’s a holdover term from colonial days, and even if Bart and Homer didn’t know any better than to call a cent a penny, that auction house in Springfield should have!

Earlier, the cult-classic Weird Al Yankovic movie UHF had its own coin-collector moment at the climax, when a coin given to a beggar turns out to be valuable. The moment I heard the line “1955-D Doubled Die,” though, I said out loud, “That’s wrong.”

My roommate, who had introduced me to the movie and was watching it with me, asked for clarification. I answered that there is a real 1955 Doubled Die Obverse cent that can be worth thousands of dollars, though it was struck at Philadelphia and not Denver.

The error is so dramatic that when it first turned up in circulation, comments, speculations, and rumors soon built up around it. What could have caused the dramatic doubling on the lettering and date? In the mid-1950s knowledge of the minting process was not as widespread as it is now, and many erroneous explanations were floated for the strange cents.

In its own way, the real story of how the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse cents came to be is just as wild and fantastic as the more outlandish vintage suggestions. The term “Doubled Die Obverse” means that the doubling on these cents comes from the die used to strike them on the front, or obverse. The error happened during the die-making process. Cylinders of steel called “working hubs,” which look like one side of a coin, are pressed against heat-softened blank steel cylinders, leaving a mirror impression on the heat-softened steel; the cylinder receiving the impression became a “working die,” which would then be inserted into a coinage press and used to strike coins. In the mid-1950s, this process, called “hubbing,” had to be done multiple times to transfer all necessary details from hub to die.

Most of the time, the two (or more) impressions made on the working die are perfectly aligned, or are at least close enough that any difference between them is not visible without high-powered magnification. On this obverse die, though, the two impressions did not match; there were several degrees of rotation between the first impression and the second. The result: readily visible doubling, boldest at the outer lettering and the date, less obvious but still visible on certain details of the portrait, such as Lincoln’s bow tie.

Unlike many other rarities which require specialized knowledge to appreciate, the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse cent was instantly recognized as an oddity by collectors and non-collectors alike. As a result, many were saved with only a little bit of wear. Completely unworn pieces are more elusive, however, particularly those that retain their original color. This MS65 Red piece is tied for top coin in the population data for PCGS, which certified it. It’s perfect for the error enthusiast, the Lincoln cent specialist, or—dare I say it?—the cult-classic movie re-enactor.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

-John Dale Beety

Friday, April 24, 2009

One amazing ‘Spill’: an indisputable masterpiece by William Herbert “Buck” Dunton comes this July

April 24, 2009
Posted by Noah

Just look at that painting. Unbelievable movement, seamless blending of colors and a moment of impossible kinetic energy expertly captured. If the cowboy in “The Spill” – arguably the greatest work of art by one W.H. Dunton, as good and important an American illustrator as there’s ever been – survives this spectacular calamity, then it’s surely not going to be a pleasant recovery and certainly not ever a complete one. This painting, acquired as part of The Charles Martignette Estatewritten about in this blog a few weeks ago – is going to highlight, in a big way, the July auction of Western and Texas art here at Heritage. I personally can’t wait just to go and stand in front of the thing.

What I love about this painting is myriad. I mentioned a few things above, but there’s so much more to read into it. Why exactly are the cowboy and his horse flipping end over end? Is he a greenhorn rider trying to ride a spirited horse? A Horse Whisperer whose luck has run out? Maybe he got drunk at the saloon in town and was careless going home, or maybe he’s running for his life from Indians or brigands. Whatever the case, when that horse comes over on him, unless he manages to extricate his legs in quick fashion, his back is going to be snapped like a twig. What will his poor Ma and Pa think when their little boy, from a good home on the East Coast who had all the best schooling and abandoned it all to pursue his dream of being a real cowboy, dies alone in the American desert with only rattlesnakes and scorpions as witnesses?

Dunton was more than an illustrator. At the risk of offending any art snobs out there, I’d go as far as to say that he was one of America’s great 20th Century painters. The fact that he made his name initially as an illustrator – and a very good one at that – during America’s Golden Age of Illustration in the early 20th Century did not stop his progress as an artist or his desire to paint authentic subject matter. This is more than evidenced by his bold move in 1914 to Taos, New Mexico. Think about it: He had a successful career drawing for the top magazines of the day, plenty of money to support his family, but he chucked it all to move out West and start painting native landscapes. As a result he lived in near-poverty for the remainder of his days and became a truly transcendent painter. He was a founding member of the famed Taos Society of Art, saw his paintings exhibited all over the nation and garnered wide acclaim – if not fortune – for his important work. Still, though, in his own words, he would have rather lived in a time where no means of “making a living” was necessary at all:

"There is one thing positive, had I lived in Merriweather Lewis's, Audubon's or even as late as Catlin or Francis Parkman's day, no life of mine would be thrown away painting pictures, when I could live the greater part of a year alone with my rifle and a few pack animals among the host of buffalo – the antelope, the great bands of elk…"

Fortunately for us, Dunton did paint, and he did leave behind a sizable body of work, foremost among which is “The Spill.” It’s classic American art at its best, relaying a scene of the great, rustic American West that was a direct slice of life, though certainly – ultimately – much larger.

This painting, rightly so, should command a couple hundred thousand dollars. Lord knows that it will bring much more than that 100 years from now. Personally, I wish I could afford it, and am glad I’m not the subject matter. Wiping out on a horse is bad enough – I was thrown by a horse and then bitten by it when I was a kid learning to ride, no kidding – let alone getting snapped like a pencil by its amazingly articulated and artfully presented full body weight.

Here’s a link to the entire Western and Texas art auction. Check out the Olin Travis in particular for a tasty modern perspective on Texas landscape painting. Once you start staring at this thing it’s hard to stop.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

General Washington, I presume? A cache of our founding father readies for June

April 23, 2009
Posted by Noah

With the June Historical Manuscripts auction rapidly approaching – one of my most favorite categories here at the Heritage Juggernaut – I went catalog surfing, as I am wont to do during late hours of the night, for some of the hidden gems in the auction and (Surprise, Surprise!) there a more than a few and plenty of which are affordable to the extent that even your humble blogger will be placing a couple bids. Which ones exactly I won’t say, because, you know…

In particular there’s a great trove of George Washington lots, especially a few lots that contain his signature, or reference the great man himself. The one I like the best is a 1772 Christmas beer receipt with Washington’s monogram on it and a capital “W” very likely written by the man himself. It’s a cool thing, for sure, to imagine the father of our country kicking back with friends and family at Mount Vernon with some micro brews on Christmas Eve. Washington, and Mrs. Washington, were very protective of any material relating to their private lives. Almost none of it survives today so even a receipt like this that hints at something so casual – a relaxed brew between the Washington clan and friends? What could be more informal? – is an exceptional find.

I have spent the last few months reading about the founding fathers of this nation, Washington in particular, and have come to the conclusion that we are an exceedingly lucky nation to have had a man like Washington for our first President, and lucky bordering on divine for having the first four presidents that we did, regardless of the ideological differences between them.

As far as Washington goes, all I can say is that some men are born for greatness, are simply people of destiny whose every action led them to immortality. Just read a little bit about Washington’s life and career and you learn quickly just how many bullets he dodged – literally – and how many prescient decisions he made in his eight years as president. Time and time again, under pressure from the rival Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson, Washington stuck to his Federalist principles and refused to engage our nascent nation in more war with Britain when to do so would surely have been folly. It cost him some measure of popularity at the time, but it insured the survival of this amazing country at a time when more war would have been death. I re-iterate, time and time again Washington somehow managed to steer the clunky ship of state straight down the middle path and keep it afloat at the same time as he attended to almost every other matter.

After Washington, it was Adams who kept the momentum going forward, even if it meant some serious unpopularity – see the Alien and Sedition Act – and just a single term in The White House. Jefferson followed, finding that he had to temper some of his more radical ideas, and added a further philosophical dimension to the idea of America. I wish I had all day to sit and write about this stuff, because I love it deeply and it makes me appreciate just how amazing the very existence of this country actually is. There was no one, literally, no one, who could have held America together in its first eight years other than Washington. No one.

I’m not a particularly jingoistic kind of person – I tend to shun dogma of any kind – but it’s hard not to look at the events of the late 1700s and early 1800s in North America and not be simply amazed by the sequence of events that unfolded, and by the true greatness of the men and women who not only bore witness to those days, but who made them actively happen.

Besides the June auction linked to above, I’ve also looked back in the Heritage archives for the best Washington stuff that’s come through. There’s almost 300 lots, all of them a tangible link to the American who is first among equals, “His Excellency,” George Washington.

It’s easy to get cynical in this day and age, what with the 24 hour news cycle, biased punditry and lifetime politicians – something never intended by Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration – but it’s even better to remember the amazing foresight and passion of those who came before us, and to remember they suffered the slings and arrows of an unrelenting media, in their own way, in their own day.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rare Christy Mathewson photo in tomorrow’s Sports Auction: A portrait for the ages of a player for the ages

April 22, 2009
Posted by Noah

Let’s just say that modern day major league baseball could use a few more men like Christy Mathewson. Not even just baseball, really. The world in general could use a few. Make that a few million. Mathewson may have been the greatest pitcher of baseball’s dead ball era at the turn of the 20th century, and he was probably the most intelligent pitcher to ever pick up the hard ball. More than that, though, Matty was a tremendously upstanding man. He was honorable, polite and dignified no matter what the situation. His reputation was beyond impeccable and his moral authority unimpeachable. By any standard he was a gentlemen’s gentleman. I only wish I could have been around to shake his hand.

He died way too early, at the age of 45, from complications from inhaling chlorine gas in the trenches of Europe in World War One. It’s a shame MLB was denied at least a good 20 years of his further influence.

People universally venerated Mathewson. His dominance on the field, and his conduct off of it, made women all love him, men all want to be his friend and children absolutely worship him. One look at the amazing Mathewson portrait at auction in tomorrow’s Sports Collectibles auction captures the man perfectly. As the catalog says, it is easily the finest Mathewson portrait extant. It portrays the future inaugural class Hall of Famer standing on the mound, surveying the still infield against – as the catalog puts it – “the ghostly expanse of the empty grandstand.”

Both Mathewson’s stature as an athlete, and his measure as a man, are perfectly defined in this amazing photo. To boot, it’s got an un-personalized autograph, which is unheard of in the very small realm of existing Mathewson sigs. Simply put, this is an extraordinary thing.

It’s also another lot in this deep auction that works equally well as a piece of Americana, or even fine art photography. The composition is so clear, and the subject so expertly and artistically presented that I wouldn’t doubt it will draw some interest from outside the sports collectibles spectrum. Astute collectors of Mathewson memorabilia, however, are not likely to let this disappear into other hands. Between us chickens, I’d like to see this thing end up in Cooperstown. A lot of things are labeled as Cooperstown quality, but this thing really fits the bill. It’ll bring at least $20,000. As there’s never been a photo like this show up on the block, it’s hard to tell where the wheel will stop.

Mathewson was truly one of the greats, and he is missed even now, more than 60 years after his death. He was voted one of the 100 Greatest Athletes of All-Time by ESPN, had a career record of 373-188, an ERA of 2.13, struck out more than 2,500 batters and pitched an outstanding 79 shutouts. He was as handsome as he was humble, and no one ever wanted to get on his bad side. He would have been a great President had he chosen to go that way, or lived long enough to realize that he would have excelled at such a thing.

Here’s another look.

To post comments, click on the headline above and enter comments after the post.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

From the DNA of this Sabre Tooth Tiger skull…

April 21, 2009
Posted by Noah

I could create the ultimate pet. You can bet no one would mess with me. The problem really is that I’d need to learn extract the DNA, then how to clone the thing, then train it, then figure out the secret to time travel – I’ve been watching Lost, so I know a little bit already – so I could go back to find my seven year old self that day on the playground at Northrich Elementary when those grubby boys chased me, beat me up and tossed me into the bushes because I was the new kid in school. Leaving my Sabre Tooth to defend the younger version of my self, and aid in my subsequent quest for world domination, I would then travel back into time to finish this blog post, which the entire planet would be commanded to read.

First, though, I have to come up with a quarter of a million bucks to buy this thing from the Heritage May Natural History auction. So if anybody wants part of my empire – I’d be willing to give Australia, but not New Zealand – then give me a buzz and we’ll talk about partnering…

Okay, so it’s late at night as I write this, the Mavericks have just taken a terrible pounding from San Antonio and I’m a little bleary-eyed. I’ve spent the last half hour looking over the newly posted catalog for the Natural History auction and, as you might expect, there’s some pretty amazing stuff. And it’s not just dinosaur bones.

In fact, the most compelling stuff in this auction – as it strikes me, of course – comes in the gems and minerals categories. This is stuff that is truly sculpture wrought from a divine hand. There are more than a few I'd love to have (and will have once I’ve got the Saber Tooth) had I the do-re-mi. Chief among them is this Large Rhodochrosite on Quartz with Tetrahedrite and Pyrite. Or, as I like to call it, Pretty Red Rock on Wild Rice.

Just look at this thing. I know it was shaped, at least somewhat, by human hands, but that depth of color and density of material can only come from one place, and it takes thousands and thousands of years to create. Pretty cool stuff. What you may not know about it is that the crystal is actually the secret key to an alien hideout hidden deep in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Some even call it a Fortress of Solitude… It’s a steal at upwards of $400,000.

I also have to say I’m somewhat partial to this Superb Precious Gem Ammonite, which looks like a bowl of celestial Fruit Loops carelessly discarded in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons by the hand of some child of astral beings – I told you I was tired. Despite my feeble metaphor, you get the picture. And for $30,000 you can have the piece.

This multi-color Tourmaline is also pretty awesome, relatively affordable at about $3,000, and vaguely reminiscent of the Bomb Pops I used to covet so from the ice cream man in mid-July.

I’m not exactly sure how you go about finding these things raw, or even about acquiring them in such quantity and quality for an auction, but I’m sure glad I work in a place where I can be the beneficiary of others who know exactly how to do just that. Here’s one more link to the catalog for the May sale. Check it out for your daily fix of beauty.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coin Monday: Another Central States Auction, Another 1804 Dollar, or The Thrill Lives On…

April 20, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Though it’s been a year since Heritage set a company record with its auction of the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 dollar, the experience of holding it (and helping to catalog it!) is still fresh in my mind. Another year, another April, and another Central States Numismatic Society auction have brought many changes, but as it turns out, history has an echo…

I asked the chief cataloger, Mark Van Winkle, for some information about the cataloging schedule. After he gave me the breakdown, I noticed that he’d left out a name.

“What about him?” I asked.

“Oh,” Chief said, “he’ll be busy cataloging the 1804 dollar.”

Wait, what?

I tracked down the 1804 dollar. I wasn’t in a time loop – this was a different 1804 dollar, a Class III and not a Class I, the Carter-Adams specimen and not the Mickley-Hawn-Queller – but the similarities were a touch eerie.

Being in the presence of an 1804 dollar once again was a thrill. This one inspired some different thoughts, many of them centering on local history. Since Heritage has its headquarters in Dallas, I’ve learned plenty of Texas lore by osmosis, particularly stories involving numismatics. Two of the most prominent coin titans from bygone days are B. Max Mehl, coin dealer and promoter, and Amon G. Carter, Sr., who was by turns businessman, philanthropist, and collector.

As it happens, this 1804 dollar passed directly from the first man to the second. It was offered in B. Max Mehl’s Golden Jubilee Sale of May 1950, with the senior Carter (his son Amon G. Carter, Jr., who inherited the piece, was also a well-known businessman-philanthropist-collector) the winning bidder for $3,250. B. Max Mehl kept his offices in Fort Worth, and Amon G. Carter, Sr. was practically synonymous with the city; many have credited his efforts with cementing the “cowboy mystique” of Texas and Fort Worth in particular. As a result, the 1804 dollar did not have far to travel. Mehl and the Carters aren’t its only Texas connections, either; L.R. French, Jr. of Midland County also owned the coin for several years in the 1980s.

The Carter-Adams 1804 dollar has strong ties to Ohio, as well, that will soon become stronger. Its other “name” owner – businessman Phillip Flannagan – hails from the Buckeye State. He once sold it to pay for construction of a school and youth camp near his home. The other Ohio connection is Cincinnati, where this year’s Central States Numismatic Society convention and associated auction will take place.

If you’re planning on coming to the convention, don’t forget to stop by our table and say howdy or hello!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ruminations on Maravich and a father-son bond for the ages

April 16, 2009
Posted by Jonathan

(I’ve written several times before about the numerous good writers here at Heritage, and I still stand by the claim. There are simply a lot of men and women here who know how to turn a phrase with considerable skill. Jonathan Scheier, a Consignment Director and Cataloger in Sports, is one of those people. I’ve highlighted his catalog work before, and it gives me great pleasure to introduce his first blog post for the Heritage Blog. His is a moving missive on Pete and Press Maravich, and an amazing Maravich archive in the upcoming April 24 Sports Auction. Pete Maravich was one of the great NBA players of all time, and his relationship with his father was monumental. Jonathan does a beauty of a job giving some insight into this important partnership, one without which we all would have been denied one of the greatest basketball talents to ever hit the court. Read on, and enjoy! – Noah Fleisher)

From about age six to maybe 11 or 12, I was one of the very best soccer players in my county. Seriously, whenever sides were picked before a game I was the number one draft choice every time. If this sounds like arrogance, it’s actually quite the opposite. From age 13 to present day, I’ve been – at best – thoroughly mediocre in any athletic endeavor, and I wouldn’t call hitting one’s peak before hitting puberty the most ideal of situations. I guess, though, it’s a common enough story.

During all those years of recreation league, club league and school soccer, I don’t think my father ever missed a single game. He had grown up on the upper west side of Manhattan under the close, careful watch of an overprotective Jewish mother (Are there any other kind? – Noah), so I think he was thrilled, and probably a bit baffled, to have fathered a young sports star. My father’s one of the smartest guys you’d ever want to meet, but athletic? Not quite. He’s one of the only people I’ve ever met who doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle. I only wish I could have kept my own glory days going for him, but I suppose it was still better than nothing.

I couldn’t help but think of my own father when I came across the basketball that a 19-year old “Pistol Pete” Maravich gave to his dad at the close of his sophomore season at LSU after he scored point number 1,138 to lead the nation in scoring. It must have been an incredibly special, incredibly proud moment for the both of them. For those of you unfamiliar with the historic partnership between Press and Pete Maravich, I’ll provide a brief retrospective:

From the earliest days, father and son shared a love of the sport of basketball, and it was all but preordained that Pete would be a future star. Press was a widely respected basketball coach and, from the youngest age, Pete showed both a natural gift for the sport and an unyielding drive to perfect his game. Together they would shoot hundreds of thousands of free throws until it became as natural as breathing. For weeks Press would allow Pete to dribble only left-handed, until his ambidextrousness was ingrained. By the time Pete graduated high school he was one of the top recruits in the nation, and Press just happened to be the coach of the Louisiana State University varsity basketball team.

Pete would leave the collegiate game following his senior season at LSU as the owner of the most prestigious individual record in NCAA basketball: Career Points Leader. It’s a record that stands to this day, claimed from the great Oscar Robertson with another basketball, likewise presented in the Heritage Sports April 2009 Signature Auction. The ball used in the final game of his sophomore season, however, is my personal favorite.

Along with a boldly applied “1138,” denoting Pete’s record-setting points total for the season, he inscribed on the ball: “I present this ball to you, Dad. Without your guidance and assistance this would have never been made possible.”

For anyone who has ever been a boy on the field of play, or a father on the sidelines, it’s a real heart warmer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

JFK Jr.’s white gloves, worn by the toddler the day of his dad’s funeral



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Wall of Sound comes crashing down: The sad demise of Phil Spector

April 14, 2009
Posted by Noah

Phil Spector, one of the greatest rock and roll minds of all time, has been convicted of the second degree murder of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson. This is one of those stories that ultimately begs the question: What is more important, the art or the artist?

Phil Spector was – and I would still say is – a massive musical talent, a generational influence whose true brilliance has just begun to come to life. His patented “Wall of Sound,” and his monumental outpouring of chart-topping songs in the early and mid-1960s was outdistanced only by albums he later produced for The Beatles (a controversial finish of Let It Be), John Lennon (Imagine and The Plastic Ono Band), George Harrison (the seminal, unbelievable All Things Must Pass), Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies’ Man) and The Ramones (the not so great, but commercially successful End of the Century). He also produced the recording for a little concert film called, The Concert for Bangladesh. Ever heard of it? It just so happens that it’s one of the single greatest concerts – and concert films – of all time.

Spector also happens to be a first class nut, a loon, a man completely out of his skull with madness. He always was, actually. There are many who have described him as a savant, which seems to have some merit. He was always socially awkward, given to outbursts and backstabbing. He viewed his success as revenge on those whom he deemed had persecuted him as a boy and a teenager. He grew into an obsessive recluse, a man with countless guns in the house and on his person at any given time. He is a man, as described by former wife Ronnie Spector, who threatened to kill her and display her body in a glass-topped casket if she ever tried to leave him. He is alleged to have pulled everything from a handgun (The Ramones) to a crossbow (John Lennon) on those he worked with. When he burned a bridge, he didn’t just toss a match on it, he sprayed it with gasoline, used a flamethrower and then came back with a tank to roll over the smoldering ruins.

That such a great talent should manifest such eccentric behavior – even insanity – is not uncommon. Many a great mind has been afflicted so. That it should manifest in the cold blooded murder of a woman who, by all accounts, was faithful and trusting if not the brightest bulb on the tree, is unforgivable. A good lawyer may have been able to get him off the first time, but not the second. Phil has a cozy cell in a prison waiting for him, and a hot seat somewhere else when this world is done with him.

What does this sad news leave behind? A tarnished legacy – for the time being – and that still amazing catalog. His accomplishments in the music business are way too lengthy to list here, and his influence is all over the place. There could have been no Summer of Love, Punk, Metal, Glam, Grunge or any other rock evolution over the decades without the unbelievable sounds he layered painstakingly upon one another in his recordings. In the process he created music that is still profound and infinitely listenable. Think about it: He produced and co-wrote The Righteous Brothers hit You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, the song that is believed to have been the single most played radio song of the 20th Century.

Back to my original question, then: Is it the art or the artist that will then be remembered?

This is a popular discussion around my house. My wife and I debate it at the death of most any famous musician or writer or the like. She believes in people more than I do, I think, and invariably says that the way a person lives their life will be the final indicator of how they’re remembered. Seasoned cynic that I am, I invariably side with the faceless legacy of creation. To paraphrase Faulkner, no one remembers Shakespeare’s daughter.

I asked Garry Shrum, Consignment Director and Music Memorabilia Expert here at Heritage – a man who knows his music, for sure – and he believes that Spector’s behavior will prove a stain that will never be lifted.

“The media won’t ever let anyone forget it,” he said. “It’s just what it is. He encouraged a lot of combination of rock and R&B early on and was a huge influence on all kinds of music. He was right there with it as it changed. Unfortunately, he ultimately didn’t change with the times very well when it shifted away from what he was doing. Plus his gun reputation goes way back to pulling guns on a variety of people. It’s a shame that it happened, but not a surprise.”

Phil Spector could throw away with a flick of his wrist the amount of musical talent any 1,000,000 of us might have, and refresh that deficit with a breath. The world has, and will have, his vast catalog to listen to in perpetuity as long as there is American pop culture. His name will be forgotten and, ultimately, so will his madness and his crime.

More than a few Phil Spector items have come through Heritage, a list of which can be accessed by clicking here. The top selling lot is a group of various papers that came from his mother. I couldn’t tell you if his conviction will make these things more valuable or worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Coin Monday: Pattern Recognition

April 13, 2009
Posted by John

One of the most exotic realms of American numismatics is pattern collecting. In this case, the term “pattern” refers to a coin – most often a mock-up of a proposed design – sometimes in the metal that would be used in actual production (such as a silver dollar being struck in… wait for it… silver), sometimes in a different metal (the same silver dollar design struck in copper). To borrow from the poetry of Robert Frost, all but a handful of patterns represent the road not taken, coins that could have been but never were.

Today’s feature, offered in our April 2009 Central States auction in Cincinnati, is part of the second case. In the most commonly used reference on patterns, originally written by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, it is listed as Judd-1609, though few collectors would recognize it just from hearing the number. The name the numismatic community has given this pattern is far more evocative: it is a “Schoolgirl” dollar, struck in copper.

In 1878, the silver dollar (as opposed to the Trade dollars struck by the Mint for overseas commercial use) returned to production after a five-year hiatus, and new motifs of a Liberty head and heraldic eagle, prepared by British-born engraver George T. Morgan, replaced Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design. His dollar design, now named for him and generally praised today, was dismissed or attacked by various commentators. Both George T. Morgan and then-Chief Engraver William Barber worked on a number of possible replacement designs.

In the end, none of them were adopted; Morgan’s broad, vaguely matronly head of Liberty was the face of the silver dollar until 1921. Still, the engravers’ efforts led to some of America’s most beautiful and desirable pattern designs, including the Schoolgirl.

This 1879-dated design by Morgan shows a young woman with her hair tied back and a band over the top of her head identifying her as Liberty. She wears a close-fitting necklace, traditionally described as a strand of pearls. On the other side is a defiant eagle, perched with body turned and wings spread. The defiant eagle motif would be used much later, in 1915, as part of the design of the Panama-Pacific Exposition quarter eagle.

The Schoolgirl design was struck in three metals: silver, copper, and lead. The lead impression is unique, while the silver and copper pieces are both very rare; the silver examples are slightly more available today. Among copper representatives, only a handful have survived without their surfaces turning partly or completely brown; this is one of the few to retain its full original color.

This Schoolgirl dollar is just one of dozens of prized patterns to be found in our Central States auction. In fact, we have two Featured Collections dedicated to patterns, the Van Treuren Collection and the Lemus Collection, or Queller Family Collection Part Three. Looking through them, as well as patterns from our many other consignors, offers often-startling insight into both the coins America has made and all that might have been.

Friday, April 10, 2009

You know what, Wolverine? I think I’ll just stay over here…

April 10, 2009
Posted by Noah

… If that’s okay with you, Mr. Wolverine, sir.

Wolverine #1 is one of those books that everyone has. It was September 1982. Wolvie had already proven himself a force to be reckoned with, and the first bonafide breakout star from The X-Men. When Marvel went with his solo issue #1, they smartly got Frank Miller to draw this unbelievable cover. It captures all that is good and menacing in the character. And certainly makes me realize that I’m not near tough enough to play with Wolverine. The thing is, I bruise easily…

Did I mention that there’s a CGC Certified Mint 10 Wolverine #1 in Heritage’s May Comics Auction? I didn’t? Like I said, this is a book that the whole world owns, or owned at some point, so it’s not the rarity of the title that sells me on this one. It’s the amazing condition. I can only assume it was dropped right off the production press – the ink still faintly smelling of murk – into a carbon-freezing unit and immediately transported from the Cloud City of Bespin to its home in a vault somewhere on earth for the last 26-1/2 years. If you own this, then you own the best. Period. Or ellipsis. There has been one other Wolverine #1 certified 10 in the past, but that is of little import to the auction of this one.

Another awesome thing about it is the Mega-Force ad on the back. Wow, what a stinker that one was. I saw it twice.

Wolverine #1 is a classic Wolvie in Japan story, though it starts with a memorable tussle with a deranged bear somewhere in the wilderness. I don’t know quite how to put my finger on it, though, but once Wolverine got to Japan, it was always perfect for Japan. Everything about it seemed to lend a gravitas to the character while at the same time allowing him to pursue a more human type of storyline – as human as being chased by hundreds of assassins and slaying them all can be – where he was simply fighting a crime syndicate instead of malignant cadre of rogue mutants bent on punishing all human kind. Plus, as any fan of the title will tell you, everything Wolverine does in the first four issues of his own title were for the love of the gentile, porcelain Mariko. Can’t you see the big lug is enamored?

The Heritage record for a 1980s comic is a $4,182 for a Ninja Turtles #1. Don’t be too surprised if that record falls. From the catalog: “Just the second Gem Mint certified by CGC despite (more than) 5,100 submissions of this issue, which battles Amazing Spider-Man #300 for the title of ‘most-submitted book.’”

I know the movie is coming out with oh-so-dreamy Hugh Jackman. I hope it’s good, and the advance buzz has been good, but I don’t pay too much attention to that. I had my heart broken by the second and third X-Men movies. Who knows if this will actually be good. I’m assuming it’s not the Wolvie in Japan story, but rather hews more closely to Weapon X. Wolverine will seek out the clues to his shadowy origins and have a few good fights with Sabretooth. Sounds good on paper. If it sucks then, oh well, it’s just another super hero movie gone awry. Look at Spider-Man 3.

If I had to choose an X-Man to make a movie about, I reckon it would have to be Nightcrawler. I always appreciated the monk-side of the character and the origin. Blue skin? The ability to teleport? The smell of brimstone every time he does it? So what if he doesn’t have indestructible adamantium bones, and doesn’t really like to slug it out. Who does?

Here’s the link again to the lot. Check it out. I just can’t get that creepy look in Logan’s eye out of my mind….

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An ode to Sturges and a lost treasure buried deep in an old file

April 9, 2009
Posted by Kristen

(When it rains it pours here at the Heritage Blog, and I find myself, for the second time in two days, in the enviable position of introducing another writer to the blog. Kristen Painter works as a cataloger and researcher in the Music & Entertainment Department here. Sounds like a rough job: handling amazing Hollywood and music merch every day, writing about it, not to mention that she works for Doug Norwine. If you know Doug, then you know what I’m talking about. Kristen has a columnist's knack for the hidden story, which makes her first blog post about one of her favorite screenwriters/directors, the always intriguing Preston Sturges, all the more appropriate as he was one of the best and most inscrutable of his day – and of his kind. Read on about a particular Sturges gem hidden in the June M&E auction. - Noah)

Preston Sturges, the creator of the most memorably sarcastic dialogue* in film history – any Barbara Stanwyck line in his 1941 masterpiece, The Lady Eve serves as further proof – was paid $5,000 in 1952 to help Billy Wilder on a screenplay tentatively titled A New Kind of Love. The film was slated to star Yul Brynner opposite Katharine Hepburn and was never produced, likely due to Brynner's binding contract with Rodgers and Hammerstein for the Broadway production of The King and I.

I know this, or more accurately, I discovered this while describing a set of Billy Wilder-related documents to be included in our upcoming Music & Entertainment Auction (June 5-7). The paperwork, hidden amongst the delicate yellowed documents, confirmed Sturges’ payment and writing schedule, as well as other fascinating tidbits from the unproduced project like “confidential” notes to Wilder on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s replacement choice for Brynner (it would’ve been Alfred Drake, if you’re curious), and Brynner’s insistence on partial payment upfront “for tax reasons.”

Hollywood is fickle, and directors are notoriously more fickle, so the film never made it past the initial stages of production.

Perhaps it was Wilder’s frustration with the limitations that the Broadway duo put on Brynner’s availability; or perhaps a Sturges/Wilder conflict that went unresolved. Both were perfectionists, though Sturges’ drinking had, by the point of this collaboration, taken a toll on his industry relationships.

What does remain from the production’s first stages are 12 pages of Sturges' handwritten story ideas, notes and stream-of-consciousness writing, including a random note on his friend Rupert Hughes:

"Upton Sinclair refused Rupert Hughes's invitation to dinner and added pointedly that he did not own a tuxedo."

Interesting, indeed, for a Sturges fanatic like me. Mingled in with more than 50 other pages of handwritten script (presumably that of Wilder and Julius Epstein, Casablanca screenwriter and Sturges’ replacement on the project) these pages stood out. The handwriting was on the wall, so to speak; small, yet open, flourished, and rounded. This find made my year. “Undeniably Sturges”, I thought to myself, hoping that I was holding in my hands something that had once rested in the lap of the daring, cynical filmmaker.

Sturges once commented: “When the last dime is gone, I'll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a 10 cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.”

True to his words, Sturges wrote the mystery treatment in pencil on 10 cent yellow ledger paper – though probably not curbside – adding doodles and depositing coffee stains here and there. I’ve pored over the treatment, confirmed the handwriting through our third-party authenticators, dwelled on the cryptic notes (what did he mean by this or that, and how the #%# would he be able to use it?), and then parted with it, hoping it finds a good and worthy home…

For more on Sturges, skip the biographies. Rent The Lady Eve and you’ll witness the essence of the ever-copied-but-never-surpassed, forever-sarcastic-but-also-romantic Preston Sturges.

Click here to check out the treatment.

*"In my humble opinion."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

There and back again: A Cataloger’s Tale of The Hobbit

April 8, 2009
Posted by Joe

(It is my pleasure this morning to turn today’s writing reins over to Joe Fay, one of our Rare Books catalogers, the father of two, and a good man. He has one of the coolest jobs in the building, working as he does day in and day out with rare and valuable first printings of great literature. It’s a thrill for me just to see some of the stuff on the rack on my infrequent forays down into the nether parts of the building. I can only imagine getting to open and look at some of the tomes. Below Joe discusses cataloging one of his – and the world’s – favorite books: The Hobbit. It’s a special volume indeed, and just one of thousands of things here that, could I afford it myself, I wouldn’t hesitate to bid on. My thanks to Joe, and enjoy! – Noah Fleisher)

In most any job or profession, some days are good, some days are not so good, and a number of days are somewhere in-between. For me, yesterday was none of these; yesterday was one of the truly special days. It was one of those days when I feel especially privileged to work at Heritage, where I have regular access to rare books of the highest order. See, yesterday was the day I was fortunate enough to catalog one of my favorite books of all time: J. R. R. Tolkien's classic The Hobbit.

This particular Tolkien classic is one of a number of rare and important books scheduled for our June 16-17 Signature Rare Books Auction #6025. In addition to cataloging the book, I was responsible for working with the consignor to get the book to Heritage from England, where it has been in the consignor's collection for many years. This part of the process could make a blog entry of its own, and perhaps I'll write of it someday – the unique challenges of communicating with consignors across an ocean and shipping and receiving material from foreign countries. And how much fun it all was and continues to be. For now, however, let us proceed to the book itself.

At first, The Hobbit is a rather unassuming little tome, as are a great deal of modern rare books. It has two covers, pages, some illustrations, a dust jacket, and rather looks like any other book you might pick up at the library. It is only when you dig into the bibliographical distinctions of such a book when the real magic of rare books is revealed, those pesky and demanding "issue points" that will tell you whether or not you have the rare and valuable first issue of The Hobbit, a virtually worthless reprint or something in the middle of these two extremes.

So you wash your hands, sit down with the book, and dive in. First, was the book published by Allen & Unwin in London? Check. Does "First Published in 1937" appear on the copyright page? Check. Does the book have all 16 misprints scattered throughout the book from page 14 to page 248? Yes. Is the overleaf/advertisement in the back of the book? Yep. Is the book bound in green cloth with dark blue decorative stamping and lettering? Absolutely. Does the dust jacket have the word "Dodgeson" on the rear flap with the "e" blacked out by hand by the publisher? Affirmative. After all this, you realize that you indeed hold in your hands a complete example of one of the 1,500 original first issue copies of Tolkien's first published fiction, printed in 1937 at a time when few outside Oxford University even knew the name John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. And that's when the satisfaction bubbles up and slaps a goofy smile across your face.

To some people, such distinctions in books mean little to less than nothing, but to "book people" like me, these are what we love. These little mistakes that can mean hundreds and even thousands of dollars of difference between two books that are sometimes exactly the same in every other way. That's what makes the rare books rare books, see, and the rest of them simply books.

In case you missed it above, here’s one more link to the listing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cross-category gem: A circa 1900 Unidentified Baseball Game Spinner in the April Sports Auction

April 7, 2009
Posted by Noah

This is one of those things that’s just plain cool that I like to dig through our catalogs for. It’s enigmatic, artistic, bespeaks an era unto itself and looks like it’d simply be a lot of fun to play with. It’s also in our April 23-34 Signature Sports Auction, which features a ton of great stuff. What this thing is, exactly, is hard to say. It’s obviously a baseball game of some kind from around 1900, and it’s obviously well made. It doubles as baseball memorabilia and American folk art alike, and I’d love to get my grubby little paws on it.

Jonathon Scheier, one of the sports consignment directors – and a writer I am trying to recruit to post occasionally to this blog - wrote the catalog description for it, which is quite good:

“Try as we might, we've been unable to solve the mystery of this beguiling game piece, a rather ingenious and fully-functional toy that simply oozes Dead Ball Era charm. A four and a half inch batter, complete with high-collared jersey and wide-handed grip, is spun into place against the resistance of a coiled spring. A push of a button releases the batter's powerful swing, and the bat smacks a small roulette wheel with a satisfying ‘ping,’ causing it to spin at a high rate of speed. An arrow points to one of a number of random scenarios when the wheel stops, signifying hits, outs, balls, strikes and home runs. It's definitely one of the most attractive and outright cool game pieces we've ever encountered for the sport of baseball, certain to pique the interest of many a collector with a concentration in the field...”

In the field, or out of it, I might add again, as this thing would fit as well in a hobby memorabilia shop as it would on the floor of a high-end Northeastern U.S. antiques show. I saw more than a few oddities like this little beauty on that circuit, and this thing has all the hallmarks of working beautifully across any number of categories.

It reminds me of the games my brother Cris and I would play as kids, drafting players from our baseball cards and rolling dice to signify hits and strikes and outs. We later switched to Mattel Intellivision Baseball, where we played the game as our respective teams and players and kept in-depth stats. I once had a team that, if I remember, had Gary Carter, Thurman Munson, Jim Sundberg, Buddy Bell and Catfish Hunter. On one magic, blisteringly hot 1979 afternoon – the baseball gods smiling on me – I managed to play a perfect (video) game against my brother with this team. It was a rare victory for me, let alone in such spectacular fashion. It led to my brother smashing his fist on the game console, ripping up his stat sheet and then punching me in the arm several times before sticking a finger in my face and telling me never EVER to talk about this again.

It was akin to having an opponent wreck the board in the middle of a game of chess because he had an obviously losing position. I never had that pleasure in my competitive chess playing days, but I know the pleasure from watching my brother freak that sun-bleached July day. We never played the game again, but I can still show you exactly where the three bruises from his knuckles appeared on my left arm.

Check out the spinner here. A real beauty in an auction full of amazing stuff.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Coin Monday: A 1995-P Olympic Gymnastics Commemorative Silver Dollar Reverse Die at CSNS

April 6, 2009
Posted by John

In most of Heritage’s U.S. Coin auctions, there are a handful of items that are not coins, but are coin-related. Packaging for commemoratives is a favorite, particularly the elegant copper-and-glass frames used to house cased sets of 1915-S Panama-Pacific commemoratives. Slightly more unusual is a die used to strike commemorative coins, specifically proof 1995-P Olympic silver dollar commemoratives with the Gymnastics design, in our April Central States auction to be held in Cincinnati.

This isn’t the first time that Heritage has offered coinage dies at auction, but few of them ever make it into the marketplace. For obvious reasons, the Mint doesn’t want stray dies on the loose, so each one is given a unique serial number and carefully logged and tracked as it goes through creation, use, and (for most) destruction.

For the Atlanta Olympic commemorative program, however, an exception was made, and selected coinage dies were saved from destruction, canceled with an ‘X’ pattern that stretches from rim to rim but leaves most of the design intact, and offered for sale. At the time, interest was low and few actually sold; collector fatigue may have been a factor, since someone who purchased each coin created for the Atlanta Olympics in both Uncirculated and Proof finishes would have bought 32 separate coins, eight of them gold! When faced with the option of buying a coinage die used to strike one of the 32, it is little wonder that most would-be purchasers declined.

When handling this die, I first noticed its heft; despite being only the size of a large shotglass, a cylinder made of solid steel is heavy indeed, and dropping it on one’s toes is not recommended! In contrast to the dulled, industrial appearance when the die is viewed from the side, its face is highly polished and seemingly delicate, with wide, mirrored fields and light metal-frost texture on the figures of the two gymnasts. The cancellation mark is multiple millimeters deep, just in case anyone was entertaining devious thoughts. (Counterfeiting is bad, okay?)

As delicate as the surface appears, the face of the die is just as tough as the body, since the minting process involved tens of tons of force, applied multiple times, to produce each of the proof Gymnastics silver dollars. One comment that many visitors to a Mint will make is that they are surprised how much the production floor resembles a factory; in fact, the Mint is a factory, and even though it may make coins instead of cast-iron pipes, the principles of production are the same. If you’re ever in Philadelphia or Denver, a Mint Tour is highly recommended, and if you’re ever in Dallas, so is a visit to Heritage!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rockwells and Elvgrens and Vargas, oh my! The Martignette Collection has arrived

April 3, 2009
Posted by Noah

The Charles Martignette Collection of American Illustration Art has arrived at Heritage – as of last week, I believe – and I still don’t necessarily know how to write about it. Never one to let not knowing what was going to happen stop me from rushing in at full tilt, I’ve decided to charge ahead blindly and see if I can make some sense of this gargantuan, stellar collection. For once, though, no one could accuse me of torturing syntax or over-hyperbolizing when I saw that this is easily the most important collection of illustration art to ever come on the market.

This collection hits me in the gut. It is as important as a survey of American art over the past century-plus as it is as a timeline of prevailing attitudes, ideas and sociological constructions over the same course of time. It moves from the formal (Howard Pyle and Brandywine) to the idealistic (Rockwell) to the controversial and profane (Elvgren and Vargas), and absolutely everywhere in between. To try to sum up the depth and breadth of Charles Martignette’s passion, as embodied by this collection, is ridiculous. He invented the field, period.

Martignette fell in love with pin-up art in the early 1970s and made a concerted effort to track down as many of the original illustrations as he could from the artists themselves, their surviving spouses or their families. In a lot of cases he got canvases for a song that are now worth well into the six figure range. His love of illustration art quickly spread from glamor paintings to encompass all periods of American illustration. He became the foremost expert in the field, wrote books on the subject and was a driving force behind what is now a legitimate niche in the field of fine art. I defy most anyone to look at the best examples in this collection and tell me they don’t satisfy all codified and subjective criteria to exist as bonafide “Art.”

What Martignette was really known for, however, was the pin-up, and you can’t talk about pin-ups without mentioning the names of the greats like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas, both of whom have established track records of greatness at Heritage. Both also had, shall we say, a certain fondness for the female form. It’s this very fact that will make the collection and its subsequent auctioning so attractive to many and so divisive to others. Vargas exhibited his “appreciation” a little more freely than Elvgren. Elvgren exposed his subjects just enough to be titillating but not enough to kill a sense of mystery and – dare I say it? – innocence.

When we sent out a press release a week ago on this collection I got a good handful of responses back from people – inside and out of the company – that took issue with the use of an Elvgren in promoting the acquisition, the same one you can see up top here. Nobody was threatening mayhem or protests, they simply wanted me to understand that they would have appreciated a less overt display from the collection, like one of the pieces we used further down in the press release, like the one you see next to this graph, an amazing J.C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover from the 1940s. I am not so benighted that I couldn’t appreciate those concerns. Nor am I going to say that the forms that Elvgren portrayed aren’t some of the finest representations I’ve ever looked at – both from an aesthetic and visceral viewpoint. That’s a politic way of saying I think some a’ them girls are real purty…

Here’s the thing: Martignette was known for his pin-up art, and for his wide appreciation of how the genre evolved. Did he like to look at beautiful women in states of semi-undress? Okay, yes. Did he evolve as a collector and refine his palate as his tastes and appreciations grew and changed? Without a doubt. It is in his expansiveness that Martignette made a difference in American art, helping to expand the definition to include a vast array of brilliance across a century that far exceeded whatever boyish lasciviousness may – or may not – have played into the initial spark that awoke the world class collector in him.

The collection, 4300-strong and easily worth in the range of $20 million, will be auctioned off over the course of a year or so here, starting in July, I believe. The job of cataloging the collection has just begun and will take over the better part of an undisclosed location lucky enough to witness its scope. You can bet that I will follow the auctioning of this art closely, especially the marquee lots – here’s a link to the Heritage Press release, which highlights just a touch of them – and you can bet I’ll check back in when they are getting ready to hit the block. It should be a fun year.

It is getting on 6 a.m., my coffee cup is empty, and I have to be getting to work. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reflecting on Baltimore: Steady as she goes…

April 2, 2009
Posted by Noah

There are a tremendous number of cool things going on at Heritage at any given moment, and this exact moment happens to be one of the best since I started. There are so many interesting auctions and singular lots coming up that I don’t even know where to start. So I figured that I wouldn’t even try. In fact, given that it’s a beautiful and temperate Thursday here in Big D, and we’ve just concluded our Baltimore U.S. Coin Auction, I wanted to share a few thoughts on its success – to the tune of close to $14M – relative to the rest of the market.

First, though, I just want to say Baltimore! Baltimore! One of the very best American cities there is, without a doubt. It has its problems, like any major metropolitan area, but I can safely say there are few American cities I have enjoyed visiting more. I was last there for the opening of the Geppi Museum at Camden yards a few years ago, but had been there frequently before then to visit relatives, play a little golf, eat about a million oysters and blue crabs, spend hours at the Visionary Art Museum and the aquarium and to spend some time schmoozing at the Baltimore Antiques Show. I only wish the company felt the need to send a writer – I volunteer! – to the auction to provide up-to-the-minute dispatches.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I have to say that the results of the auction were pretty heartening in these corners, with the total approaching $14 million. That’s about in line with the high-end of expectations for such an event, but in such a climate who could really know anything? Once again, however, the market proved steady and reliable. It’s not the most high-profile auction of the year, but it certainly isn’t the lowest. In fact, the Baltimore event is an excellent harbinger of the overall state of the numismatic market, and sets the stage for some spectacular coins at Central States at the end of April – a Class III 1804 U.S. $1, anyone?

Facts is facts, and here’s how it was put by Greg Rohan in the post-auction press release:

“We’ve seen sustained steadiness in the U.S. coin market over the course of the last seven months. When numerous other markets are continuing to sink, or just tread water, coins have continued to be reliable ballast to a large number of portfolios.”

In other words, steady as she goes, which makes us all smile. At $322,000, a 1795 $10 13 Leaves MS63 PCGS led the way, a fantastic representative of such an historic date. That’s a pretty big matzoh ball to plunk down for a piece of gold, but within reason, given the rarity of the example. Not exorbitant for the piece, and not too low. Like baby bear’s porridge, it’s just right, at least by my reckoning.

There are certainly more glamorous things to collect – see above, regarding the tremendous amount of cool things going on at Heritage at any given moment – and there are certainly ways to make a faster buck, though we’ve all witnessed what that ultimately yields. It is the middle path right now that will yield the best results, maybe even skewing a little more conservative, making coins an especially good bet as bad deals unwind themselves, and the world economy with it. The wind may blow Wall Street up and down according to the prevailing sentiment of the day, but it’s the smart investors and numismatists – usually one in the same – who are going to face calm seas and stormy weather the exact same way: sanguine about their prospects, a steady hand at the wheel with the other firmly gripped around the best coins they can afford. A ship may sink, even rot, but that just makes those coins sunken treasure in the end.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing a bit more about Central States in coming Coin Monday posts from John Dale in the coming weeks. I look forward to seeing what he thinks.