Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Forgotten Heroes: Buffalo Soldier painting readies for auction in Dallas

Posted By Noah
June 30, 2009

An 1898 Fletcher C. Ransom canvas depicting the 9th Calvary charge up San Juan Hill is a featured side-highlight of what is promising to be a superb Western & Texas Art auction here at Heritage world HQ on July 16 - actually it's down the road in the Design District, but still...

This is an exciting painting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it depicts a little known facet of African-American history: the role of the Buffalo Soldier in one of America's most famous battles - San Juan Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Ransom’s 1898 gouache on paper, Forgotten Heroes; Captain Taylor, Troop C, 9th Calvary, Leading a Charge up the San Juan Hill in the Battle of Cuba, is expected to generate substantial interest from collectors of both African-Americana and militaria.

“Most people are aware of Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill at the head of his volunteer regiment of Rough Riders,” said Michael Duty, Director, Art of the America West at Heritage. “Less well known is that he did so alongside members of the 9th cavalry, an all African-American troop.”

The story of the Buffalo Soldier is indeed a fascinating overall wrinkle in the fabric of American history, and one that did not get its due in late-19th and early 20th century art and pop culture, which makes Ransom’s intriguing painting all the more important.

Following the Civil War, two cavalry units – the 9th and 10th – and two infantry units – the 24th and 25th – were formed. These African-American troops were posted along, and beyond, the frontier line. They were often involved in some of the most difficult and trying skirmishes of the day, and their diligence in battle was noted by all who they faced and served alongside. All of the units served with distinction throughout the Indian Wars and had the lowest desertion rate of any field troops of that period.

Want a little more of the upcoming Western Art Auction, or a closer look at this painting? Just follow the magic link...

To comment, click on the title of this post.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, June 29, 2009

Coin Monday: Not Worth a Continental? Not Anymore!

June 29, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Today, the U.S. dollar is one of the premier currencies in the world, but this was not always the case. It took until 1857 for the United States to mandate the use of its own money within its borders; prior to that date, foreign gold and silver coins were acceptable in payment based on their metal content, similar to how the precious-metal coinage of the United States was judged in international trade.

(It’s worth noting that, until 1807, no gold or silver coinage struck by the Philadelphia Mint bore a complete denomination; the fraction ½ appeared on the reverse of the Draped Bust half dollars of 1796 and 1797. That, though, begs the question: Half of what?)

Even earlier, the first money created by the united American colonies became an out-of-control disaster. The early years of the American Revolution were financed by Continental Currency, a series of fiat money issues put out by the Continental Congress. Since the rebel government did not have the power to levy duties or taxes, its options for gaining revenue were limited, and the fiat currency was perhaps the best of a series of bad options.

The inability of the Continental Congress to get revenue in the first place, however, did not change, making the promise of redemption for the Continental Currency increasingly unrealistic. Over the course of roughly four years, more notes were printed in higher denominations, hyperinflation took hold, British-made counterfeits appeared, and the worth of the Continental Currency was destroyed. In the saying “not worth a continental,” the “continental” was a piece of Continental Currency.

With time, though, the “continentals” were recalled or lost, the numbers thinning. Today examples of Continental Currency are prized by collectors, and not only paper money enthusiasts; there were also a number of large-diameter coins issued as well – these historically called “dollars” – though there remains some disagreement about what denomination the coins were meant to represent.

Heritage’s August Los Angeles U.S. Coin auction has an unusually large number of these coins, six of them from the same collection, with a mix of more common varieties in high grades and top-shelf representatives of more elusive types; previews are available under the Colonials header. Not all of the descriptions are in place, but I’ve seen rough drafts of the write-ups being done for these pieces, and the catalog is going to be spectacular.

Stay tuned…

To post a comment, click on the title of this post.

-John Dale Beety

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Thriller is gone: Michael Jackson dead at 50

June 26, 2009
Posted by Noah

It’s been a rough week for greats of the 1970s, but perhaps nothing is quite a stunning as the death of Michael Jackson yesterday, June 25, at the age of 50. A stunner, a shocker, yes, but really surprising? Don’t think me callous, but the only thing surprising is the manner in which it happened. Somehow, though, we always knew it wasn’t going to end well for poor Michael considering the unbelievable amount of unhappiness and pressure heaped on the guy. It’s actually amazing he lasted this wrong, again I don’t mean to be callous, but I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em…

It’s been a difficult creepshow watching Jackson’s agonizingly slow fall from grace over the last 15 or so years; the saddest part of the tragedy has been that his amazing musical output has been overshadowed by heaps of plastic surgery, bizarre marriages, doppelganger chimps and episodes of blanket-covered baby dangling. And that’s really just the tip. Perhaps now, though, history can get on with the MJ skewering and remember him for the unbelievable talent that flowed through his veins.

Jackson’s influence on American pop culture can now begin to be measured, and it’s substantial indeed. He wrote more #1 hits than anybody before and anyone since and, really, all you have to say is the word: Thriller. There will never be another record like. Ever. It is, in my humble opinion, the greatest pop music record of all time. Whatever you’re into now or back in the early 1980s, you knew the tracks to Thriller and you probably had a copy of the LP or cassette. Come on, now, you can admit it… 61 million copies of that thing moved. Amazing by any standards.

As far as Jackson memorabilia goes, the general opinion is that whatever you had yesterday prior to his death is now probably worth double. There it is. The run is that in the long run, say a year or two, that spike in prices for Michael stuff – except the very best of the best, like a white glove – will probably recede and prices will level out. It all remains to be seen how his death will play out, how the disbursement of his estate plays out, and what his numerous creditors do. More than likely it’s going to get uglier – much uglier – before it starts to level out.

As for Heritage, we have indeed seen a fair amount of Michael Jackson memorabilia come through our auctions over the last decade or so, and none of the prices have been outrageous. Some have been fair, but nothing over the top. Suffice it to say, however, the prices you see in the archive linked to above are no longer going to reflect what the market will bear – it will be considerably higher for the time being.

Michael Jackson’s legacy is going to be the classic example of figuring out what’s more important, the art of the artist. This is a conversation my wife, Lauren, and I have frequently. She falls on the side of the artist – not too good for MJ’s legacy. For my part, I say the art, all the way. Jackson was a prolific songwriter and a great singer. He has 20 years of megahits to define his life, and that will be the monument to him.

Rest in peace Michael.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Collector’s Corner: Why collect? A meditation on an obsession

June 25. 2009
Posted by Noah

(I’ll cut to the chase with this one, because it’s long and it’s good. This is our second Collector’s Corner, and it’s a rambling, honest, beautiful dissertation to that most eternal of questions: Why do we collect, and what do we do with our collection once it’s in our hands and has taken over our life. Good stuff here. Thanks to our “anonymous” submitter for opening a window into their life and philosophy. – Noah Fleisher)

Some people collect for pleasure and to learn about history. Some collect for the investment potential. Others collect because it helps them to fill a gaping hole, calm fears or erase insecurity. Collecting provides order in their lives and protection from the chaos and terror of an uncertain world. It serves as a shield against the destruction of everything they've ever loved: Your things make you feel safe. Though the world outside is a dangerous and continually changing place, you can still sit safely in your home or apartment surrounded by your collections.

Collecting is more than likely a leftover from the prehistoric hunting and gathering instinct, a distinct, powerful lower brain function – not unlike sex. If we collectors cannot find something to buy or add to our collection on a regular basis, we tend to get withdrawal symptoms: hyperactivity, edginess, and yearning for stimulation to that part of the brain.

I cherish old and used things marked by the passage of time and events. I think of my own self this way, as something much handled, knocked about, worn and polished with use and abuse. Collectors like me feel that we’re rescuing the pieces in our collection from a discarded fate. We’re preserving them in our generation hopefully for generations to come.

Most of the kids that I knew as I was growing up had a collection of some kind. Some collected stamps or coins, many had a shoebox or two or three filled with baseball cards. A stamp or coin collection was an excellent way to gain an understanding of geography, history, art and economics. Baseball cards were great conversation pieces and a source of tremendous joy. We pored over these small pieces of cardboard with photos and stats of our favorites. We traded them, we “flipped” them, and we put them in the spokes of our bikes to make a flapping noise as we rode around the neighborhood.

Many children gave up their collections as they grew older and became interested in other things. Moms all over town threw out their kids’ collections not realizing how valuable they would become. Some of the smarter, more progressive kids stashed their collections away for the future.

More and more I find myself collecting items from the years of my early childhood and youth, that is, the late 1950s and the 1960s. The graphics on many of my collectibles from this period contain images of smiling happy faces. Could it be that I am trying to re-capture my lost youth, or to mentally re-design a period in my life that was wrought with difficulty? Think about the television shows from that era – Leave It To Beaver, Make Room For Daddy, I Love Lucy – there was no domestic violence, no alcoholism, no depression, just a lot of lessons learned and 20 happy endings.

"The Art of Collecting"

For me, collecting has become a lifestyle and an art form. Living with a huge collection in a moderately sized New York City apartment requires considerable effort, planning, patience and – if I say so myself – a touch of genius and a measure of insanity. The compulsive collector sacrifices traditional living and lounging space: the kitchen, the second bedroom and extra bathroom are instead potential display and storage areas. Closets, cabinets and drawers are warehouses for treasured memorabilia. Every blank wall, every empty shelf, the surface of any table, every expanse of open floor space becomes a veritable canvas of sorts onto which an array of art and collectibles can be displayed.

The compulsive collector’s friends have started referring to his/her apartment as “the museum.” The kitchen counters and dining room table, even the top of the stove, are used to show off 1950s kitchenware. The refrigerator is filled with old collectible soda cans and bottles. The medicine cabinet is stocked with vintage first aid and apothecary items. The walk-in closet has become a miniature gallery of old toys, games, books, pinbacks, and lunchboxes. There are even displays on dressers, night tables and the television stand; additional vintage shelving units and utility carts are purchased for the sole purpose of accommodating other groups of collectibles. Finally, the collection grows and swells beyond the limits of the apartment into a brother’s basement in suburbia, a girlfriend’s broom closet, and one or two of several local mini-storage facilities can helps manage the overflow.

Let me differentiate between art and clutter. There is a distinct line between artful disorder and “my home is a mess.” Hardcore collecting is disorder by design. To make something appear intentional is the gift of the true visual artist. Like the art of flower arranging or window decoration, there is an art to the creation of a tasteful display of vintage collectibles on a shelf or the arrangement of old pictures, signs and clocks on a blank wall. The most visually appealing displays incorporate an array of shapes, sizes and angles of placement. As well, interest is enhanced when a variety of materials – some metal, some glass, some ceramic, some plastic and some paper – are grouped together. It is also fun to combine different graphic designs such as stripes, solids, polka dots, and stars. The interplay of these different patterns can be wonderful in concert.

Despite this variety, and germane to what I believe is one of the keys to a stunning display, is a common color scheme. For example, in my entrance foyer is a grouping of red mid-century chairs and a small red formica table with chrome legs upon which a collection of vintage silver metal thermoses with red plastic caps are displayed. Several red and chrome 1950s ice crushers and red plaid lunchboxes are organized on the floor beneath the table. Nearby are a red and chrome rocket-shaped vacuum cleaner and a collection of vintage red and white and plaid bowling ball bags. Along one wall of the adjoining living room are vintage black and white display shelves which are home to a large assortment of black, white and red collectibles. These shelves are bookended by a pair of prototype clear lucite chairs, circa 1957. On the adjacent floor is a kaleidoscope of about three dozen red, white and pink plastic tube radios from the fifties and sixties.

The center of the living room, away from the pinks and reds, is dedicated to hues of seafoam green, a very popular color in the mid-1950s. The round white Saarinen tulip base dining table is surrounded by four seafoam green molded fiberglass shell chairs, also with metal tulip bases. Atop the table are vintage jadite green glass coffee cups and saucers, two light green McCoy bird vases, a pair of old ivory ceramic candleholders with kelly green glass candlesticks, and assorted vintage green and white bric-a-brac.

In the bedroom, the wall opposite the bed features a huge horizontal format original movie poster for A Streetcar Named Desire, circa 1951. The background color is predominantly turquoise, another very popular choice in the early 1950s. The items that I have chosen to accompany this poster and accent the wall are all in the turquoise family – a plastic aqua and white Nelson clock, a blue and white metal Oasis cigarette advertising thermometer, a turquoise and white Hires root beer sign. Of course, my collection of 1950s turquoise and cream plastic tube radios is close by; a vintage turquoise and chrome ice crusher, an aqua and white bowling bag, and a white and chrome mid-century ball lamp are included in this display for good measure. The poster is framed in a silver painted wood frame which works nicely with the stripped-down-to-the-bare-metal 1940s office cabinets and desks which I use as bedroom furniture.

Most people, when planning their interiors, don’t trust themselves, hence the need for decorators, a profession that is often pooh-poohed by collectors. For the collector, the home becomes a means of self-expression where he or she can come out as themselves. The collection is an orchestration of personal themes and feelings and longings.

Your collection, like the essence of your being, is constantly evolving and changing. Items are acquired, admired, placed in a display, taken down, put into storage, retrieved to be rearranged in another display or possibly sold or traded. You don’t acquire a new collectible or piece of art merely because there is a blank space in your home or for a wall that needs to be filled. You acquire it because you must have it; the piece speaks to you, “has your name on it.” It’s always interesting and fun to bring home a new collectible and then try to find a place for it. More often than not, the new item quickly and easily finds its way into an existing display as if it was always meant to be there.

Due to the variety of colors that I enjoy displaying around my home, I always choose to start my projects with a fresh coat of white paint on all of the walls. Many contemporary homes feature coral and lavender walls, but these walls are usually highlighted by only one or two carefully chosen pieces which may or may not clash with the paint. I have found, however, that even die-hard minimalists are submitting to fashionable new levels of clutter. More is better and you will see that white walls work best with large colorful displays. It’s not unlike starting off a new painting with a fresh white canvas.

Your collection is a living breathing entity that you have chosen to create. There is something emotional and organic about living with a massive collection, handling and organizing dozens or maybe hundreds or possibly thousands of individual vintage artifacts, each one with a unique history and vibration. Collecting is a labor of love and – as well – a compulsion as strong or stronger than any you have ever experienced. Sometimes your collecting and your collection will delight you; other times it will annoy and disturb you, but you must collect!!

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dillinger’s Double Derringer in Dallas, July 25

June 23, 2009
Posted by Noah

Very cool stuff here. Heritage is going to be auctioning off A Remington .41 caliber Double Derringer, taken from John Dillinger when he was captured in Tucson, AZ on Jan. 25, 1934 will be up for auction as part of Heritage Auction Galleries’ July 25 Militaria and Arms Auction and should fetch an amount that would make Dillinger himself proud: somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000-$45,000, which is a good neighborhood indeed.

This auction follows close on the heels of the July 1 release of the new John Dillinger movie Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as the famous bank robber, and just three days after the 75th anniversary of Dillinger’s death, on July 22, when he was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago.

“Few figures capture the American imagination like John Dillinger,” said Dennis Lowe, Director of Militaria at Heritage. “He was a brazen criminal to some and a modern-day Robin Hood to others. Depression-era America was enthralled with his exploits and the stories of his graceful moves during robberies and his close calls in eluding police.”

Dillinger, using the alias "Frank Sullivan," along with gang members Henry Pierpoint, Russel Clark and Charles Makley – and their "molls" including Billie Frechetti – were all arrested over a three day period in Tucson, from Jan. 22-25, through a series of co-ordinated police raids, without a shot being fired.

"My God, how did you know I was in town?” Dillinger was quoted as saying upon arrest. “I'll be the laughing stock of the country! How could a hick-town police force ever suspect us?"

In reality – and unbeknownst to Dillinger – a local fireman called to a fire in the hotel where some of the gang members were staying recognized Russel Clark from his "wanted" picture in True Detective Magazine and alerted local police. The arrests were uneventful, and five weeks later Dillinger escaped from jail in Crown Point, IN using a carved wooden pistol. Four months later, on July 22, 1934, he was gunned down by FBI agents in Chicago.
The gun bears serial #L97255 - which should make most gun geeks happy - and retains most of the original blue on screws, hammer, and trigger, the balance with the original blue gray matte finish mixing with gray patina. The hammer exhibits the late, circa 1930, detail of being grooved rather than knurled.

This gun was concealed in Dillinger's sock when he was arrested by Sheriff John Belton, who presented the pistol to Evelyn B. Jenney, an attractive young widow and the Deputy County Probation Officer, as well as Secretary to Superior Court Judge Fred W. Fickett. Mrs. Jenney was the widow of William LeBaron Jenney Jr., who was the grandson of famed Chicago "Sky Scraper" architect William LeBaron Jenney. In 1949 she gave the gun to her son, William LeBaron Jenney III. The consignor of the gun purchased it from Mr. Jenney on March 19, 1959; it has remained in his private collection until now.

For more information on the Arms, Militaria and Western Americana auction go to www.HA.com/6023.

-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Second Banana #1, Ed McMahon, is dead

June 23, 2009
Posted by Noah

For many millions of Americans, Ed McMahon is, and forever will be, Johnny Carson’s affable sidekick. He sat through decades with Carson, providing the foil for many of his best jokes and always laughing good- naturedly. For countless millions of others – myself included – McMahon was Dick Clark’s sidekick on the first of what turned out to be hundreds of TV blooper and practical joke shows. Even more, McMahon was the guy that we all prayed to see at our doors with an oversized novelty check when we bought a couple magazine subscriptions from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. In all, despite never being the top bill himself, he put together a respectable career, became a household name and got to laugh at Johnny Carson’s jokes. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

I guess, more surprising, is that his death is leading the news all over the world this morning. It’s the top story on the New York Times, Google, Yahoo, Washington Post, you name it. He was a well known person, and a fixture in late 20th Century television, but the guy was no world leader, no game changer and no beloved sage or activist. He said: “Heeeeerrrrrrreee’s Johnny!” and handed out the aforementioned over-sized novelty checks. His was a life well lived, certainly, there will be no day of mourning and no national holiday for Ed, rest his soul…

You have to understand that I feel terrible about the paragraph I wrote above, but I’ve been thinking about it all morning – I know that’s pretty sad – and wanted to get it out. My grandmother would give me such a look and a little smack for speaking this way of the dead. Then she would have made me pull my ear if I sneezed and would have lit up another Vantage. She was an awesome lady. I do, however, digress and yes! The blog today is a confessional, a mea culpa and, lastly, a chance to prove that the influence of the Good Mr. McMahon reaches even into the labyrinthine HQ of Heritage Auction Galleries from our secret undisclosed location somewhere in Dallas.

Going through the myriad lots in our auction archive at www.ha.com, the wonders of modern technology plucked an impressive sextuplet of Ed McMahon lots, and they are every bit as spectacularly unspectacular as the demi-legend himself. There are autographed photos, a very stylish suit and, the most expensive McMahon lot at $262.90, a photo display from the night he received a lifetime achievement award from Hollywood’s CENSORED Club. I’m assuming they knew Johnny would come, and that Victor Borga was playing The Trop in Atlantic City that night. (Ouch! I’m sorry Mom-Mom!)

My favorite of the six, however, are actually two lots of original comic book art from 1986. Those of you out there who know your Howard The Duck are already smiling as you recall issue #33, when Howard finally gets a break and wins the “Publisher’s Sweepstakes.” The result is that he is hanging out with Ed McMahon when an old love comes calling. Heritage sold some of this original Val Mayerik artwork. I would have been sorely tempted to buy it were I around when it came up.

Always loved Howard The Duck, even after Lucas absolutely destroyed the title, and any hope it had for surviving to be valuable to posterity (I had a lot of money riding on Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest as well…). The fact that Ed appeared in the comic, now in retrospect with his passing, seems a perfect fit. Marvel certainly wasn’t going to throw Ed McMahon in there with Spidey or Cap.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, June 22, 2009

Coin Monday: Gold Rush

June 22, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Often a numismatic item requires a good deal of explanation to pin down why it is costly, rare, or just plain awesome. This was expressed well by a representative of a major New York City auction house, who shared an anecdote with Andrew Slayman for the article “Change is Good,” published in the November 2008 edition of Art + Auction. the representative, whom Mr. Slayman notes was auctioneer for the single-lot sale that made the 1933 double eagle the most expensive coin in the world, related: “I carry with me in my pocket a 1923 gold Double Eagle identical in every way to the 1933, with the exception of one digit in the date. It’s hard to distinguish between the two coins, but the difference is all the difference in the world.”

Other times, the appeal of an item is far more straightforward, as is the case for this nearly 15-pound ingot of shipwreck gold to be offered in our August 2008 Los Angeles U.S. Coin Auction.

Step one: gold and lots of it! The 179.50 troy ounce ingot—nearly 15 pounds!—was assayed at .886 fine, and though more than a century at the bottom of the ocean may have changed the numbers a little, this hefty ingot easily packs more than 150 troy ounces of pure gold.

Step two: incredible history! I did mention the “shipwreck” part, didn’t I? This ingot is California gold, created by the assay firm of Justh & Hunter in the mid-1850s, and it was packed away in the cargo of a ship named the S.S. Central America, which sailed from Panama on a course for New York City, where it would have gone into the financial markets. A hurricane sank the Central America and its gold, however, leaving ingots like this one and thousands of freshly minted double eagles from San Francisco at the bottom of the Atlantic. The golden treasure was lost for more than a century, until its rediscovery in 1987.

This ingot shows the effects of more than a century underwater; while parts of it still gleam like new, other areas show deep red or dull green color, the result of reactions between chemicals dissolved in seawater and the non-gold metal, particularly copper, contained in the ingot. This patina only adds to the ingot’s aura of history, while still leaving plenty of fresh gold surface area to satisfy anyone’s “ooooooh, shiiiiiny!” cravings.

If you want a little less golden treasure than the mammoth 15-pound ingot but a little more than a single coin, there are a few other possibilities in our August Los Angeles U.S. Coin Auction. When bidding, think of it as your own personal gold rush – without the backbreaking work, frustration, and overpriced mining equipment.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-John Dale

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pin-ups and glamour everywhere: Must be Martignette in the air

June 19, 2009
Posted by Noah

Everywhere I look these days – be it around my desk, in my inbox or in my files – I am seeing scantily clad women. No, I’m not downloading dubious photos at work. In fact, they are actually images of pieces of great American art. For the most part they are from the Charles Martignette Estate, they’re the top of the pin-up art world – and the illustration art world, I might add – and they are readying for their debut at auction in about 3-1/2 weeks. It’s a tough job having to look at gorgeous pieces from Elvgrens, Vargas, Armstrong and Bolles, among the many many many. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to take one for the team.

The first selections from The Martignette Collection are going to hit the block on July 15 and 16. This is an exciting thing indeed. First of all because it’s great stuff, and second of all because work of this quality, in this quantity, from this many legendary artists, never comes on the market. Never. That’s big N little e-v-e-r and you get the point. The piece illustrated above is an Earl Moran, and I love it like no other, except for about 100 or so also in the collection. While this one won’t be publicly accessible for a while longer – it’s part of the September Glamour and Pin-Up auction – let this look just be a tease.

I’ve rambled a bit about the vastness of Martignette before, and I could certainly fill a year’s worth of posts talking about individual pieces, but I wanted to look at the pervasiveness of Pin-Up Culture all over our society right now. If you open your eyes and look for it it’s not hard to see, and it hasn’t been hard to see coming, which makes the release of the Martignette Estate all the more important.

Prices on the top examples of Pin-up and Golden Age Illustration (From Elvgren, Petty and Vargas to Rockwell, Leyendecker and Parrish) have been on the rise for quite a while, with good examples commanding appropriate high five and six figure amounts. Somewhere, though, in the last several years the imagery and philosophy of Pin-Up art has entered the mainstream consciousness.

My best guess is about three years ago when AMC debuted its amazingly good drama Mad Men. The fashion, the haircuts and d├ęcor are all spot on to the Mid-Century aesthetic; the designers on the show don’t miss a bit. But it’s in the character of the office manager, Joan Hollaway, played skillfully by the sultry Christina Hendricks, that we see the Pin-Up aesthetic in full glory. Ms. Hendricks is a walking pin-up, with the face, the hair and the body to do any great American illustrator proud. Her wardrobe is cribbed directly from any number of paintings, and the giveaway is that the producers thank the Alberto Vargas estate in the credits. If ever the new millennium will see a prime walking, talking example of a Vargas Girl, it’s Christina Hendricks. Check it out, really.

The culture is everywhere, from young girls inhabiting the clothes and ideas in the form of a bonafide subculture to its profusion in print and TV advertising, rock and roll and Hollywood, there is no mistaking this phenomenon.

It’s a beautiful thing no matter how you look at it, whether you choose to look back at the crumbling innocence of the age that originally produced the art or forward to an age when that innocence is replaced with empowerment. Personally, I choose to look to July 15 when the most important private collection of Illustration Art ever offered at public auction comes up for sale and the transformational effect its disbursement is going to have on a society ripe for its message.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Coin Thursday: Heads? Tails? Meh… details

June 18, 2009
Posted by John Dale

(If you did not automatically read the title to today's post in the voice of my dear Yiddish grandmother - rest her soul - then please go back and do so. Once you have finished that, please read on through John Dale's late-week ramblings on double-headed, or double-tailed, coins. Interesting stuff, and funny; who among us never glued two quarters together as a kid and tried to get the neighbors to bid on the outcome of the coin flip? Raise your hands... - Noah Fleisher)

The idea of a two-headed, or two-tailed, coin is an ancient one that has lasted to the present day. Actual two-headed or two-tailed coins, however, are mighty hard to come by, since issuers of modern coins show a strong preference for coins with distinctly different sides. In the absence of actual same-sided pieces, many individuals – particularly illusionists – create their own outside the Mint, generally by combining halves from two different coins.

The Heritage Common Questions page has a section dedicated to the topic. Unfortunately for those of you with dreams of great riches out there, one of these non-Mint-made mutants is worth next to nothing, unless one happens to run into a frantic magician in search of precisely that prop.

For all the falsely concocted coins out there, though, there are a handful of genuinely two-headed or two-tailed coins. In August 2006, Heritage sold an error coin that left even the most experienced catalogers gawking: a Washington quarter struck from two reverse dies. Exactly how it was produced will likely remain a mystery, though the government has affirmed its authenticity as a Mint-made coin.

A commemorative gold issue, more readily available and produced under considerably less dubious circumstances, is also popularly known as a “two-headed” coin. The Lewis and Clark gold dollars, struck in 1904 and 1905 to coincide with an exposition in Portland, Oregon, honor the two famous explorers of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond with one of their portraits on each side. Captain Meriweather Lewis, official leader of the Corps of Discovery, appears on the side with LEWIS AND CLARK EXPOSITION PORTLAND ORE./1904 around; this is traditionally considered the obverse. William Clark, officially a subordinate of Lewis, but a co-leader of the Corps of Discovery in practice, is depicted on the side with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/ONE DOLLAR around, usually referred to as the reverse. A convenient (if anachronistic and irreverent) way of remembering which portrait depicts which explorer: Clark has the mullet.

Using a Lewis and Clark gold dollar to win at coin flips is not recommended. The coins were not strong sellers when they were released, and only about 10,000 examples of each date were sold and avoided being melted down. Even in the worst imaginable condition any example is worth several hundred dollars, and between the two years the 1905 gold dollar is rarer, particularly in high grades. The illustrative example above, a PCGS-graded MS66 coin in our July Summer FUN Auction, is expected to bring a five-figure sum.

What will it go for? Like the Lewis and Clark expedition, the bidding progression on this coin will be a journey to an unknown destination. Who wants to do some exploring?

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-John Dale

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Federalist auction brings $80,000 for Indiana Soldier

June 17, 2009
Posted by Noah

Besides the fact that Captain Nathan Harlan’s first edition Volume 1 of The Federalist Papers sold for a staggering $80,000 hammer price in yesterday’s Rare Books Auction, let me just say that the combined Rare Books and Historic Manuscripts combined events yesterday came off at a very respectable $1.2 million, roughly, and most everyone involved was pretty up about the whole thing.

More to the case in point, regarding Captain Harlan, it simply couldn’t have been a better, or more moving, auction. I know that most people don’t get too misty when recalling an auction, but if you had the opportunity to watch yesterday on HERITAGE Live!™, then you know that auctioneer Mike Sadler, an ex-Air Force guy himself – and certainly one of the bright lights of Heritage’s Auctioneer staff – put it best when he spoke of the auction and of Captain Harlan himself.

“It’s people like Captain Harlan,” said Sadler before the lot came up, “that make up the very fiber of this nation.”

You know what? I couldn’t agree more. In an age of so much contentiousness over politics and political philosophy, I believe we all can agree that our military men and women are doing their best to the do their jobs to height of their capabilities. This is not the early 1970s when Vietnam was going on – or ended – and soldiers were on the receiving end of much vitriol and hatred when they returned home. In retrospect we know this was unfair to them and – again, despite so much ideological division in this nation – we all are in the same arena when it comes to the support of our troops.

The gesture to Captain Harlan was, we thought, a simple one – waive the 20% Seller’s Commission and give the guy a few extra bucks. It was not done necessarily to just stir up PR, but simply because it was the right thing to do. The PR and media attention did indeed come pouring in like we never could have imagined. The news was all over the world, and the outpouring of support for Captain Harlan, his book, and the gesture of waiving the Seller’s Commission moved people to the core. I also think it brought in several thousand dollars more for the man.

I think of it this way: In all the times I’ve run outside and looked up at the sky on the off-chance a suitcase of money fell from the sky it’s never happened. Well, it happened for Captain Harlan yesterday because his duty as a soldier is a noble and just one.

Here’s just a sample of the hundreds of comments we’ve heard:

“I just read the news item about The Federalist auction. You waived your seller's fee for Nathan Harlan! “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are a top notch, class act. It brought tears to my eyes. In this era of corporate greed bankrupting society, you are a breath of fresh air. And did you even imagine the positive advertising and PR you are about to receive? Probably not. I commend you. You are just too awesome for words.”

I’m getting a little choked up just reading that, as I have for every bit of praise that has come in for the auction. In the micro action we took toward one soldier, and hundreds of dedicated Americans, the auction was transformed into a tribute to every American soldier. They all deserve the kind of thing that happened to Captain Harlan, and I am honored and proud to have been a part of it.

Good luck to you Captain, and god-speed, from all of us here at Heritage.

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-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Federalist Papers auctioning today; proceeds for a good cause

June 16, 2009
Posted by Noah

Most of you probably don’t want to hear me wax for 600 words about how much great stuff, and how many amazing stories, come through the hallowed Heritage halls here in Dallas, but I could… I could… I feel fortunate to be around so much amazing stuff all the time and to be part of so many special stories, but the one we are living right now tops them all in terms of heartwarming-ness (I know that’s not a word, but this is a blog, so there’s no rules, right?) and that the story of Captain Nathan Harlan and his first edition copy of Volume 1 of The Federalist, which goes up for auction here today around 2 p.m. as part of our Rare Books auction.

This story has been widely covered by AP and has migrated around the world in the last 24 hours – and we couldn’t be happier here about it – but just in case you want to inside scoop here it is:

Captain Harlan bought the book in 1990, when he was 16, at a flea market with his mother. He paid $7 for it. Just remember that. He was studying The Federalist in school.

Years passed, Harlan grew into a man, a father and a soldier. He is currently preparing to serve his second tour of duty in Iraq. He’s a brave man and we all thank him for his service – regardless of where we come down politically in terms of the Iraq war. He decided it was time to sell his book, and almost listed it on eBay before checking out Heritage. He saw prices we’ve gotten in the past for the same book, different edition, and decided to go with us. Heritage put a conservative estimate on the volume at $8,000-$12,000. Just remember that, too.

Joe Fay, our Rare Books Manager and sometimes-Heritage blogger, suggested we try to get some publicity on the auction to raise the hammer price of the piece and hopefully get Captain Harlan a little more cash – we all know all of our men and women in service of the nation’s defense are bearing a huge burden right now and could use whatever extra money they can get. To add to this, the executive staff here at Heritage felt it would be a poignant gesture in honor of the Captain’s service to waive the Seller’s commission, meaning 20% more money for his book.

Well, AP picked up the story of Captain Harlan, the page views of his book have gone through the roof and the price… Well, remember that $7 he paid for it? And the $8,000-$12,000 estimate? As of the end of business yesterday – and the close of Internet and mail bidding – the book stood at $30,000. Yes, a three and four zeroes. It stands a chance to go even high when live bidding starts today around 2 p.m. This means ever more for Captain Harlan, and I think that bidders understand this.

It is a superb confluence of a great and important book, a worthy consignor and a good cause. The money that is going to this soldier isn’t just about him. It’s about all of our brave men and women, and the dangerous work they do for little recognition. They do it out of love for their country. I can think of little in the hearts of people that is more noble. I hope the bidding goes through the roof.

Stay tuned for results.

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-Noah Fleisher

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coin Monday: Mysterious Missing Mintmarks

June 15, 2009
Posted by John Dale

The mintmark is a simple concept nearly as old as coinage itself: it is a small letter or symbol that signifies where a coin was struck. The official U.S. Mint Web site has an excellent summary of the mintmark as that agency uses it today; now, as in the past, a mintmark can be used to trace a defective coin back to its source. Since the mintmark is itself part of the coin, though, it is not immune to its own class of errors, many from the days when mintmarks were punched into dies by hand. The most dramatic of those errors happens when the mintmark is left off entirely, as it was on this “No S” 1990 proof cent.

Depending on the circumstances, a missing-mintmark error can be obvious or practically invisible. For most of its history, the Philadelphia Mint did not use a mintmark to distinguish its coins, even after the various branch mints were created and their use of mintmarks was made law. The first time a “P” mintmark was placed on a coin from Philadelphia was in 1942 on the five cent coin, as part of a temporary design change meant to draw attention to the denomination’s wartime composition, which included silver.

The use of the “P” did not become standard until 1980, and even today its presence is not universal; cents struck at Philadelphia still lack mintmarks. For dates before then, it would be reasonable to assume that a coin without a mintmark was made there, but if the mintmark were missing from a die – by grease filling it in, for example, or a worker accidentally effacing it – how would anyone know? In fact, one such error, the 1922 “No D” cent, was identified solely because Philadelphia, for only the second time in its history, did not strike any cents that year. As for the number of undiscovered errors like it, collectors can only speculate.

At the other end of the spectrum are immediately apparent errors such as the 1990 “No S” cent. After proof coinage resumed following the hiatus from 1965 to 1967, it transferred from Philadelphia, where proofs were made without a mintmark, to San Francisco. As a result, the “S” mintmark became the norm on proofs, but the changeover was not without its hiccups. The first year of San Francisco proof coinage, 1968, saw a small percentage of the year’s dimes made from an obverse proof die that lacked the mintmark. A similar error occurred on a handful of dimes in three other years: 1970, 1975, and 1983. Nor was the problem restricted to dimes; a 1971 nickel die was blundered the same way, and 1990 added the “No S” cent to the mix.

Since those dimes, nickels, and cents were included in proof sets containing other coins with prominent “S” mintmarks, the missing-mintmark coins were easily spotted, and word spread quickly. Interestingly enough, since millions of proof sets were produced for each of those years, not all of those sets have been searched for missing-mintmark errors, and I can attest from personal experience that more of those errors are out there, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps that proof set Aunt Sally gave you for your birthday has an extra present waiting inside!

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-John Dale

Friday, June 12, 2009

Collector’s Corner: Lincoln's Last Stand

June 12
Posted by Noah

(In the last month we’ve put out a call for submissions to our Heritage Collector’s Corner in this blog and through our in-house emailings and newsletters, and have been pleasantly surprised by the feedback. Several of you have chosen to share your stories about your start in collecting, and we’re honored for the opportunity to present them, starting today on the Heritage blog. Our opener is a story of coin collecting, which is appropriate given Heritage’s history, and shows exactly the power such a little thing – a cent to be exact – and the influence it played in the life of a young boy who later became an obviously knowledgeable numismatist. His submission even made me have to actually ask someone what a certain term relating to a specific cent means – Yes, I learned something today. Go figure. If you want to know how I have been so enlightened this fine Friday, by Heritage COO Paul Minshull no less, then you’ll have to read on. – Noah Fleisher)

"Wow ! I have not seen one of these in 10 years."

It was 1955. My dad was paying a bill at the local village hall. In change he received a 1905 Indian Cent. That was the start of my coin collecting, and I still have the coin my dad gave me that day.

My dad was born in 1911. He told me how, when he was young boy, he and his older brother use to play a game with pennies on the dining room table. My dad would set up his Army of Lincoln Cents. His older brother would assemble his Tribe of Indian Head Pennies. They would recreate Custer's Last Stand, and other battles of the Great Plains, based upon the stories and books that their father shared with them.

My dad's father, who was born in 1885, had a chance to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. After that he bought Western Dime Novels, from which he shared the stories with his sons.

In the battles they would take turns sliding a coin across the dining room table. If his coin hit his brother’s coin, it was wounded and turned over. If it was hit a second time, then it “died” on the battle field and was honorably removed.

I played the same game with dad in late 1950s. It was the old worn out Buffalo Indians verses the Jefferson Nickel Calvary. I often still wonder, back when my dad was young, how many 1909-S Indians or 1909-S VDBs (meaning Victor David Brenner, the designer of the 1909-S cent, whose initials appear on a limited amount of the issue. An MS-67 example sold in our January 2006 FUN auction for $97,750 – Noah) died in those historic battles.

To submit your story to Heritage Collector’s Corner, send us an email at CollectorsCorner@HA.com. All submissions will be posted anonymously by Heritage staff in various in-house capacities, and edited to style.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Buchanan Collection of American Art brings $4.4 million+

June 12, 2009
Posted by Noah

While the auction of the Honorable Paul H. Buchanan Jr. Collection of American Art was taking place at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, TX, on Wednesday night, June 10, it was New York State’s luminous Hudson River School of Painting that was drawing the bidders in a Signature American Art Auction that finished the evening with a total exceeding more than $4.4 million.

It was Hudson River School painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) – though his complete association with the group is a subject of consistent scholarly debate – that proved the most hotly contested, with three of his paintings occupying spots in the top five lots of the auction, including the first and second slots, Sunset over the Marsh, c. 1876-82, and Cherokee Roses on a Purple Cloth, 1894, which realized $537,750 and $507, 875, respectively.

Heade’s Hummingbirds and Their Nest, 1863, a delicate and moody painting on an oval – punctuated with a splash of brilliant red on the male hummingbird’s throat – took the number five spot with final price realized of $310, 700.

Relatively diminutive in size, roughly 1-foot high 2-feet wide, Sunset over the Marsh carries a massive emotional impact with its bold coloring sweeping horizon. American arts and letters never dealt with the salt marshes of the northeastern United States before Heade, but under his lifelong study they would become the national treasures they are now regarded as. Heade was doing something new in American landscape painting with his marshscapes, and that newness was a direct violation of the standard practices of the Hudson River School formulas. His choice to paint an “anti-picturesque” landscape, with a flat uninterrupted expanse, an absence of framing devices such as a canopy of trees, a rocky wedge of foreground or a jutting precipice, and virtually no focal point at all, patently disregarded the rules for a successful (i.e., picturesque) landscape set forth in 1792 by the Reverend William Gilpin in Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty, On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape.

The other pair of paintings that round out the top five offerings in the Heritage American Art event were George Henry Durrie’s (American, 1820-1863) bucolic and romantic oil painting Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, c. 1863, which realized $448,125, and Henry Francois Farny’s (American, 1847-1916)Saddling Up, 1895, a gouache on paper painting that exquisitely portrays a quiet and authentic tableau of Native American life, as well as the sweeping grandeur of the western American landscape, realized $334,600.

Amazing stuff, great prices and a wide open future in the Fine Arts category.... Not bad for a night's work.

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- Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coin Wednesday: “1895"

June 10
Posted by John Dale

(It is Wednesday, the mid-week crunch at Heritage is on and once again I have turned to young John Dale Beety to provide his particular brilliance to the Heritage blog, and today he doesn't disappoint. I am a huge fan of speculative fiction, and 1984 is among my annual must re-reads. Somehow John Dale has tied in Orwell's masterpiece with Anthony Burgess, early millennial punk-pop and a cover by a band called Bowling for Soup with the mysterious history of the 1895 Morgan dollars. Don't ask me how he did it. He just did, and I'm glad of it. - Noah Fleisher)

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of several books I read when I was in high school but did not fully understand until I re-read it years later. Among those influenced by Orwell’s novel was Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame, who wrote a 1970s update on Orwell’s idea which he titled 1985. For me, though, the best dystopian work titled “1985” is not the Burgess novel but the song by early 2000s alt-rock band SR-71, more famously covered by pop punk band Bowling for Soup, about a woman’s unfulfilling, antidepressant-supported suburban life and her yearning for the music and pop culture of her youth.

While it turns out that the popular story for the origin of the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that Orwell switched around the last two digits of the year 1948, is untrue, I’m not one to let a clever folk derivation go to waste, so I’ll take the year 1985 and mix up the middle two digits. The result is 1895, and while the possibilities for an alternate-history tale are limitless, if the writer had a coin-collecting background, perhaps the silver dollars of that year would appear in a subplot.

Morgan dollar enthusiasts collect the proof silver dollars struck in Philadelphia that year, mostly because there is no corresponding business strike issue to speak of; while Mint records indicate that Philadelphia coined 12,000 pieces for circulation, no matching coins have been authenticated. Like any good numismatic enigma, the conundrum of the missing 1895 Morgan dollars has accumulated its fair share of possible solutions:

Some claim the coins never existed, that they were a trick of accounting or that the coins struck in 1895 were actually dated 1894; others believe that the coins were indeed struck, but that the whole mintage was wiped out when silver dollars in Treasury vaults were melted in the early 20th century – with more than a quarter-billion Morgan dollars melted, 12,000 coins are nothing by comparison. Then there are the handful of numismatists who hold out hope that somewhere a business strike 1895 Morgan dollar exists, waiting to be found. I’m one of them.

In the absence of business strikes, though, collectors have turned to proofs and done so for decades, making the 880 proof Morgan dollars minted in 1895 among the most coveted coins in existence. Many of them survive today, but few of them have lasted more than a century and done so as well as the PR68 Ultra Cameo specimen coming up in Heritage’s August Los Angeles Auction. It is a shining exemplar of the coiner’s art with gorgeously contrasted mirror-fields and frosted design elements. Unlike the existence of business strike 1895 Philadelphia Morgan dollars, this specimen’s beauty is no mystery.

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-John Dale Beety

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

POTUS #2: The great and unsung Mr. Adams

June 9, 2009
Posted by Noah

As far as the pantheon of American Presidents go, John Adams – our estimable second Commander-In-Chief – gets surprisingly few props. I’ll grant that the man wasn’t the most charismatic of our early leaders, and certainly not the most entertaining, but I humbly submit to you now that the man was, and is, our most underrated early leader. Without his contributions, the United States would have never survived into its second decade, and many of the policies that have kept this nation safe and prosperous would never have come to pass.

Why John Adams on an overcast Tuesday, you ask?

I’ve made known my love of early American history in these digital pages before, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. I’ve also recently been reading James McCullough’s thoroughly brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Adams, and the picture it paints of the mercurial New Englander is as compelling as that of any historic figure. He may have served one term as President, but his overall lifetime of service to America – specifically his role in the Revolutionary War in the Continental Congress and as our first Secretary of State after independence – amount to one of the greatest lives this nation has ever seen.

It also helps that, working at Heritage, there has been – and will be, surely – a healthy dose of John Adams-related material that comes through our doors. All I can say is, lucky us!

There have indeed been several high profile lots of John Adams material, mostly in the way of letters and personal writings, the most spectacular of which is also the lot with his name on it that has fetched the highest price, some $22,000+: It is a John Adams signed letter to an unknown recipient in which he discusses the meaning of the word “Republic,” as well as his longtime political rival and close friend –despite some very bumpy periods – Thomas Jefferson (it’s interesting to note that Adams and Jefferson both died on the same day in the same year, July 4, 1826, rather appropriate for such great and different Americans).

He writes: "Of republicks [sic] the varieties are infinite, or at least as numerous, as the tunes and changes that can be rung upon a complete sett [sic] of Bells. -- Of all the Varitety's [sic], a Democracy is the most rational - the most ancient - and the most fundamental - and essential of all others. -- In some writing of other of mine I happened -- current... to drop the phrase --'the word Republic as it is used may signify - any thing -- everything or nothing' -- From this escape I have been pelted for twenty or thirty years - with as many stones, as even were throw'n at St Steven - when St Paul held the clothes of the Stoners - but the aphorism is literal, strict, solemn truth…”

It goes on at some length, and I encourage you to read the whole description by clicking the link above.

There is also an excellent John Adams Manuscript in next week’s Historic Manuscripts auction.

No mention of John Adams is complete without speaking of his beloved wife, and also one of the greatest Americans to ever live, Abigail Adams. We have not had a tremendous amount of Abigail-related material come through Heritage, though there are a lot of commemorative coins in her name, which is a shame, as she is the model for America’s first ladies. She was as wise and brilliant as she was beautiful, and as Adams himself said many times in his long life, she provided ballast and counsel to the excitable second president.

If in my minor scribbling here today I can make you take moment and consider the greatness of John Adams – even if you already know it – then my work here will be complete. We are indeed a lucky nation to have had architects of democracy as amazing as we did so long ago, and chief among them – a man certainly on equal footing with his contemporaries of greater renown – was the estimable Mr. Adams.

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-Noah Fleisher

Monday, June 8, 2009

Coin Monday: Odd as a $3 bill… or coin…

June 8, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Several of the so-called “odd denominations” that appeared in U.S. coinage during the 19th century, such as the two cent piece and the 20 cent piece, went from first year to finished in less than a decade. Others lasted longer, thanks to their initial usefulness, such as the three cent coin, which was struck in both silver and nickel. One odd denomination is memorable for how it managed to hang on for more than three decades, with coins coming out in tiny trickles each year long after it had outlived its usefulness: The $3 gold piece.

Though the $3 gold piece was created in 1854 and essentially stopped circulating at the onset of the Civil War, the denomination was produced through 1889, with only a law passed in 1890 stopping the madness.

Why was the $3 gold piece allowed to go on so long, even after it became meaningless as a circulating coin? In the most general terms, once a denomination has been created by law, it stays on the books and in production until it is later repealed. Thus, the two cent piece and the three cent piece in silver vanished together, due to their omission from the Act of February 12, 1873 (popularly known as the “Crime of ‘73”), which specified that coinage denominations not specifically listed could not be produced for the United States by the various mints. The 20 cent piece, created by its own law in 1875, was similarly struck down by a laser-focused law in 1878. Despite lack of interest in the $3 dollar gold piece that was evident even in 1873, when the Mint coined just 4,250 of the pieces for circulation, its status as a coin of the realm was reaffirmed that year. It was not until the Act of September 26, 1890, a “clean-up” act of sorts, that the three dollar gold piece, the three cent piece in nickel, and the gold dollar were purged from the books.

For that matter, why was the $3 gold piece created in the first place? There was already a gold coin of similar size, the quarter eagle (equal to two-and-a-half dollars), and the general public in the 19th century found about as many uses for the coins as collectors have today; that is to say, next-to-none. An often-floated idea is that the coins were intended to help customers buy sheets of 100 stamps (postage for a letter being three cents at the time), but stamp-buying as a reason for being seems too narrow. Paradoxically, the $3 gold piece enjoyed its greatest popularity in its last decade, when speculators and gift-givers snapped up the small quantity minted each year; even while it was still around, the denomination was regarded as a curiosity!

Still, both speculators and those who received the coins as gifts saved them, and as a result, low-mintage issues such as the 1889 are available in Mint State today. As our Summer FUN auction continues to grow, look for this and other examples of the three dollar gold piece, among the oddest of the odd denominations.

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-John Dale Beety

Friday, June 5, 2009

Archive of legendary Laugh-In Producer George Schlatter on the block today? You bet your sweet bippy!

The creator of Laugh-In, George Schlatter, is offering television treasures from his own archive right now here at Heritage in Dallas, as well as online at Heritage LIVE!. If you're child of the 70s, or didn't live under a rock during the whole latter part of the 1960s, then you know Laugh-In and you know George. He's a pioneer of the first order. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Hawn Foundation and the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center.

“George felt it was time to share some of his amazing entertainment treasures with the world,” said Doug Norwine, our resident Music & Entertainment genius, “and to help the charities of Goldie Hawn and Barbara Sinatra, two of his dearest friends.”

The collection includes a great array of stuff that defines the halcyon days of 1970s television dominance: Schlatter’s Laugh-In 25th Anniversary American Television Award; American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement statuettes from Johnny Carson, Lucille Ball and Jack Lemmon; Comedy Hall of Fame Awards from Richard Pryor and Red Skelton; transcripts and scripts from specials and events Schlatter developed, including a 1967 Colgate Comedy Hour script, a script from the 1965 The Best On Record Grammy Awards Show and his own personal Laugh-In series syndication notebook.

Also in the archive are a host of awards, scripts, contracts and production books, all bearing the names and/or the signatures of some of the greatest figures in Hollywood history.

George Schlatter – the catalyst behind television innovations of the 1960s and 1970s – launched careers and re-shaped broadcast comedy. Where would America be without Laugh-In? The political and topical satire, gags, and catchphrases fueled America from 1967-1973 with comic relief and fresh opinions when it was most needed. In 1979, with Real People, Schlatter once again set the standard and paved the path for the slew of reality shows which followed. He has produced, literally, hundreds of hours of television series and specials and received five Emmys, out of 25 nominations, and has received Lifetime Achievement awards from virtually every important entertainment guild in existence.

He was undeniably instrumental in starting the careers of a variety of famous performers including names like Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Roseanne Barr, Robin Williams and Ellen Degeneres, and the specials he produced include names like Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Diana Ross, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Richard Pryor, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The history of his accomplishments reads like an encyclopedia of late 20th Century Pop Culture.

What can you say about this other than that it's just simply cool stuff. I'd love nothing more than to have a couple of these sitting on my desk...

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- Noah Fleisher

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An FDR Short Snorter

June 4, 2009
Posted by John Dale

(Young John Dale Beety has proven his worth to this blog numerous times since he started writing for it a few months ago, but today marks the first time he ventures out of coins. Ever the erudite writer, he has chosen a special piece of currency from the upcoming Manuscripts Auction, and ever the stylist, he has done so in fine form. It is still a numismatic-related lot, but much different, quite quirky, and very cool. Nicely done, I say. Thanks John Dale! - Noah Fleisher)

On the face of it (pun intended for the currency collectors out there), there is little special about the silver certificate in Heritage’s upcoming June Grand Format Historical Manuscripts Auction. It is from Series 1935A, common as silver certificates go. The serial number is nothing special, and the note is worn with multiple folds and slight staining.

Turn it over, though, and signatures run down its length. With the right margin and its “Special Mission 11/22/43” inscription at the top, an important name stands out two-thirds of the way down, across the O in ONE: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Far from being a run-of-the-mill silver certificate, this is actually a World War II-era “short snorter” signed by the then-President and date-linked to the Teheran Conference.

What is a short snorter note? A brief definition is that it is a piece of paper money, typically of low denomination, signed by friends or compatriots in commemoration of an event or time spent together. Often, short snorter notes were taped together, and the notes collectively could be referred to as a “short snorter” as well. The true origin of the short snorter may be lost among myths, but the custom was widespread in the American military during World War II and was often associated with the purchase of large quantities of alcohol.

My short definition stops there, largely because my mother reads this blog, but there’s plenty more information available in print and on the Internet. Two articles about short snorters headline the May 2009 edition of The Numismatist, official magazine of the American Numismatic Association, and the Short Snorter Project is dedicated to the bills and the stories around them. Scrolling down the Short Snorter Web site, this lot is listed as number six in the set of links, from when it was the featured exhibit at the Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center Museum for March 2005. Below that are the articles from The Numismatist in PDF format, reprinted with permission.

Short snorter enthusiasts treasure them as small slivers of personal history, as individual and distinctive as those who carried them. Condition is not nearly as important as the story a short snorter has to tell. No two people react the same way to a short snorter, either; a short snorter that is of abstract interest to one viewer can have a much more personal meaning to another, though no bond can be so strong as the one between the short snorter and the person who carried it.

Today, there are three types of signatures on short snorters that attract the most attention outside specialist circles: celebrities, particularly those who went on USO tours; important military figures, such as General George S. Patton; and political figures, such as FDR. This short snorter is more than a mere presidential signature, though; Roosevelt is one of many names on the note, brought together by a “special mission” that profoundly influenced the end of World War II.

“History in your hands,” indeed!

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-John Dale Beety

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Original Varga Girl: Still looking good as she approaches 70

June 3, 2009

Posted by Noah

It may not be entirely appropriate to say that Alberto Vargas saved Esquire in October 1940, when the very first Varga Girl appeared in the magazine's popular gatefold, but within a year the magazine had added 125,000 readers. Look at the picture, do the math, and you'll arrive at the same conclusion. It was Vargas all the way.

Now, a preliminary drawing from the hand of Alberto Vargas, for what would become the very first Varga Girl in the December 1940 issue of Esquire Magazine, is one of the principal highlights of the July 15 Signature® Illustration Art Auction at Heritage. This is the first auction to feature major Illustration Art highlights from The Estate of Charles Martignette, the most important collection of illustration art to ever come to public auction. The drawing is estimated bring between $20,000-$30,000. And she's a real beauty.

Here's a quote from Ed Jaster, our Illustration honcho here at the fort, from the press release I have spent this morning preparing:

“This particular image is not the one that ultimately appeared in the December 1940 issue of Esquire, but it is her very first incarnation,” said Ed Jaster, Director of Illustration Art at Heritage. “From this single drawing Alberto Vargas would become one of the greatest and most famous illustrators of the 20th century. It is extremely finished and exactly rendered, and is as detailed as many of his final artworks, indicating the importance he placed on it.”

In the late 1930s, it was George Petty – his Petty Girls – that dominated the Esquire gatefolds. These popular drawings were the main graphic draw for readers of the time, but that readership – much to the frustration of Esquire’s publisher – was mostly static. The magazine soon devised a double gatefold to showcase Petty’s buxom babes, and to boost Esquire’s lethargic circulation numbers.

Petty wanted more money, sat out the whole of 1940, and the magazine began the thorny task of finding a replacement for its most popular illustrator. The search proved fruitless for the first half of the year, but on a warm June day their prayers were answered: 44-year-old Alberto Vargas, looking for work, walked into Esquire’s Manhattan headquarters and asked if they might be interested in his services. The rest is history.

This is just a single example of the truly great art that Charles Martignette assembled in his life, just a single example among all the great one that are in this collection.

I know I am easily excitable when it comes to all the amazing stuff Heritage has around, but I can't re-iterate enough just how amazing this whole collection is, across the board pretty much. If you have some time, take a little while and look through the paintings that make this auction.

You can thank me later.

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-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heritage announces NYC and Beverly Hills expansions; experts sought

June 2, 2009
Posted by Noah

These are some pretty exciting days around Heritage. Get this: while numerous other major players on the auction scene are laying people off and contracting, Heritage is actually expanding. Immediate plans include the opening of offices in New York City and Beverly Hills, where space has been reserved, but that’s about all I can say right now. This puts us square in the action of two of the best markets in the world. The company is also actively recruiting to fill important positions and sent out an e-mail letter to our non-numismatic client base. I figured I’d let the letter itself do the talking and the explaining. It’s not standard blog fare, but it’s also not standard news. This is big stuff for this company, and lays out a clear path for the future.


“While other auction firms have reported shrinking sales and significant lay-offs, Heritage is adding multiple world-class experts to its current staff in more than 25 different categories. These experts will, in some cases, head new departments and in others will enhance existing department expertise. We have positions open at our headquarters in Dallas as well as at our new state-of-the-art galleries in prime locations in both Midtown Manhattan and Beverly Hills, scheduled to open in late 2009, or in early 2010.

“We believe Heritage's business model of transparency and respect for our bidders' time is the wave of the future, as clients are discovering us in record numbers (read our Mission and Values statement here). In fact, we recently enjoyed our most profitable quarter ever (Jan-Mar 2009), as well as the best April in our 33-year history as an auction house. Our 2009 sales volume will likely match or exceed our record 2008 numbers even as the other major auction houses report 60% sales decreases.

“Heritage is now ready to hire the world's best experts to support existing departments and launch new ones, especially in the following categories, though we will consider many other areas as well, including sub-categories:

“American Art, Ancient Coinage, Antiquities, Asian Art, Books, Maps, and Prints, Decorative Arts, European Art, Jewelry and Timepieces, Latin American Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, Photography
Vintage Automobiles, Wine.

“These are top, high profile positions; we are seeking ambitious candidates who will bring their excellent reputation, strong business and work ethics, organizational skills and knowledge to represent Heritage in the best light. Preferred candidates will have more than 5 years in a major auction house environment, or experience as a commercial dealer (a combination of both would be ideal). Writing and public speaking talents and skills are a plus. Job duties will include obtaining consignments; supervising the vetting of condition; authentication of properties consigned; reviewing inquiries; proofing of cataloging, essays, and advertising copy; marketing specific objects to important clients, and supervising two or more auctions per year with full bottom-line responsibility in the case of department heads.

“Interested parties, with proper qualifications, are encouraged to email their resume and salary history to Experts@HA.com.”

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-Noah Fleisher

Monday, June 1, 2009

Coin Monday: A dime worthy of Dali

June 1, 2009
Posted by John Dale

In past Coin Monday posts, I’ve made clear my love for error coins. They fascinate me, both for what they can teach about the minting process and for the mildly transgressive charm of their blatant imperfections (A coin-as-humorous-gift that I’ve been waiting to spring on someone is an inexpensive error coin, paired with a handwritten note that reads “Nobody’s perfect.”). I was cataloging recently for Heritage’s July Summer FUN auction when I came across a small batch of error coins. One in particular stood out: a 1918-dated dime brockage.

As dramatic as other errors might be, few are as surreal as the brockage; one side is perfectly normal, but the other side is a mirror image of the first, with the features sunk into the coin instead of raised and the lettering reversed. A brockage results from a glitch in striking. In the modern minting process, a blank planchet is fed between two dies, one lower die or anvil die that does not move, and one upper die or hammer die that is raised and lowered. (The terms anvil and hammer are holdovers from the time when coins were made by hand. A heated planchet was placed on the lower die, the upper die went on top of the planchet, and the broad top surface of the upper die was struck with a mallet or hammer.)

Normally, a planchet goes between the two dies, receives an impression, and then the newly minted coin is ejected to make room for the next planchet. Rarely, though, a newly minted coin sticks to one of the dies. When the next planchet comes in, instead of being struck by two dies, it gets its design from one die and one coin. The coin-as-die is in positive relief, so it gives the planchet a negative impression, and since the coin-as-die shows the side opposite that of the die to which it is stuck, the brockage side of the error mirrors the normal image.

In the case of this 1918 brockage dime, a coin stuck to the reverse die, and this piece was then struck with the obverse die, which created the normal impression, and the obverse of the coin-as-die, which is responsible for the mirror image. Both sides are well-centered and show sharp impressions of Miss Liberty but relatively weak letters and numbers; interestingly enough, the word LIBERTY and the date are more clearly defined on the brockage side. Though this dime is dated (twice!), the mintmark is missing, and where this error was made remains a mystery. Its absence, however, will hardly dampen error collectors’ enthusiasm for this double-headed treat. It’s just the beginning of what promises to be a great Summer FUN auction.

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-John Dale Beety