Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Day in the Life of an Auctioneer, or Heritage Auctions presents lots and lots of lots

Oct. 29, 2009
Written by Stewart Huckaby

(I have the pleasure today of introducing a new writer to the masses of Heritage Blog readers, one Stewart Huckaby, a longtime numismatist, editor of the Heritage Weekly Coin Newsletter, and all around computer Jack-of-All-Trades here at Heritage Auctions. He's also a good writer. Stewart today has given the blog some insight into the world of actual auctioneering - what happens on the podium, when and how. It is interesting and much appreciated. In my capacity in PR here at Heritage, I spend a lot of time with the actual items - I know, I know, it's rough, but someone has to do it - in order to write about and promote them. I rarely get the time to watch, let alone learn about, the actual auctions themselves, except in prices provided to me after an event. My thanks to Stewart for opening the window. Take a few minutes now and climb in… - Noah Fleisher)

Woke up… got out of bed… dragged a comb across my head…

With all due respect to the Beatles, anyone who knows me knows that that’s not how my day starts – besides the fact that my supply of hair is continually decreasing, what’s left is not something you would want to waste a comb on.

A little introduction is in order, I think. I’m a long time numismatist, and I’ve been editing the Heritage weekly coin newsletter since about the time I started here seven years ago. I have a lot of other jobs here; in fact, I wear so many hats that sometimes I think the company wants me to consign my collection.

Near the end of last year the company decided that they wanted to get a number of new auctioneers licensed. Figuring - with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek - that I didn’t have enough different jobs around here, I decided to go through the process. After the required classroom instruction and a passed state exam, the license came in near the end of March. Then, after a slow period where I only called one auction for the first six months I was licensed, October saw me calling auctions seemingly every Friday.

Friday the 23rd, the last floor session of the Dallas US Coin Signature Auction, was my first experience calling a Heritage coin auction. The usual questions came up: Will there be lots of bidders in the room? Will I call lots at the right speed? Is there anything really expensive that I don’t want to mess up? What kind of dinner are they serving?

As it turned out, there were maybe 7-8 bidders in the room when the night started. This isn’t bad for a regular coin session away from a major show; Platinum Nights, on the other hand, will fill the room most of the time.

Auctioning coins for Heritage is a little different than calling most other types of collectibles. In most Heritage auctions, you might say something to introduce the lot, and this means that it helps to know something – well, not necessarily about the specific collectible you’re selling, but certainly about the subject of the collectible. For example, I’m not a sports memorabilia expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know sports, and most of the time I can speak with at least a little knowledge of the subject of the lot.

With coins, you’re selling a lot of lots, which means that you have to take bids, period. There are more lots in coin (and currency) auctions than in the auctions for any other type of collectible we sell, and neither the bidders nor anyone working the auction wants to be up until dawn when there are a lot of lots to sell. In practice, coin and currency auctions roll along at roughly twice the speed of the others.

The process of calling an auction requires you to think on your feet, literally. You need to know the bidding rules and the increments – and half increments – backwards and forwards. This is easier said than done when someone places a cut bid when the current bid is $3,750 and you’re calling for $4,000. You need to be able to hold an audience both in the room and over HeritageLIVE; if you put the bidders to sleep, they’re not going to be able to bid (“Sir, was that a yawn or a bid?”). Above all, you need to be fair and to get things right – and to not let things go to hell when something goes wrong. And you need to do all this and ask for bids at the same time.

Thankfully, we have good people to make sure that the auction goes smoothly. Generally, three people are on the podium – the auctioneer in the center, flanked by one person running the book – that is, the bids that come through, as well as mail, fax, and other written bids – and the other running HeritageLIVE bidding.

We open the lot at the same amount that shows up as the current bid on the Website, although if there are also proxy bids through HeritageLIVE, the bid on the floor will rise very quickly. At that point, live HeritageLIVE bids, floor bids, and phone bids might come in. Some lots just open and close. Other times, the bidding can be intense, and I’m just trying to make sure I see and recognize all the bids.

I called the eagles (no, Don Henley did not answer) and Liberty twenties; Bob Korver handled the rest of the session. There wasn’t really a huge amount of bidding activity during the session – there were some battles between HeritageLIVE bidders, as always, and there were a number of floor bids, but there wasn’t the kind of back and forth bidding that had taken place at the Sports and Autographs auctions I’d called earlier this month.

The lots seemed to roll along fairly quickly, although at one point, Jacob Walker handed me a note that said that I was only auctioning 100 lots an hour, which translates to: “Yikes, we’ll be here all night!”

It turns out I was going substantially faster than that, although still not as quickly as I would have liked – 200 lots in an hour is probably about right in a coin auction, and I was maybe 20% slower than that. Yes, I’ve done the math; that makes for an average 18 second lot time, which seems (and is) really fast, but again, we want to sell everything before the roosters start waking up.

If you were watching me in action on HeritageLIVE, I sincerely hope the video didn’t freeze, and I apologize for any damage your computer monitor may have suffered. My face is best suited for the telephone, largely because radio doesn’t want me.

Still, from a personal standpoint, I thought I did Okay – only one error that I know of, and that was in the bidder’s favor. Most importantly, most everything sold, and the prices looked pretty good.

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

-Stewart Huckaby

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Martignette, baby, Martignette: Part II today at Heritage

Oct. 27, 2009
Posted by Noah

As you may have sussed if you've read this blog more than once - Mom? Are you there? - I've got kind of a thing for Illustration Art. My life is nothing like Charles Martignette's life, and I am nothing like Martignette, I promise, but I understand the man on the level that - if I could - I would gladly devote my every waking hour to pursuing the very best examples of illustration and locking them away in a couple of remote warehouses that I would only access under cover of dark.

Okay, maybe a bit too dramatic, but today is the day, after all, that the second part of Martignette's epic, astonishing collection hits the auction block as part of our October Illustration Auction. And let me tell you, included in this auction is some of the tastiest American Art ever produced. Period. The thing is deep with Elvgren, steeped in Vargas and dripping with Leyendecker, Bolles, Moran, Avati, Flagg, Lovell and so many more...

What will today bear out? The first auction, in July of this year, was a stunner, with Martignette pulling down more than $3 million alone, with some amazing prices paid deep into the auction. There were many paintings in that auction that I really wanted but never had a shot at, really, because they were all going for multiples of their estimates. The sale had Heritage Auctions all over the news, with a great write-up in the New York Times and an AP story that spread across the globe. The excitement in the room, especially for the Elvgrens, was palpable.

There is not so much hype around this auction, but the word is certainly out, and you can bet that there will be people bidding, and bidding hard, for the best examples. The hardcore collectors are already vying for the top pieces, and there is no shortage of people who came in because of the PR from the first one and, like me, got hooked. The only difference is that in most cases, I presume, they can buy. I can't, yet, but I can certainly dream...

I can tell you this, too, that there are a couple paintings - two in particular - from the first auction that, if they ever come back on the market, will not escape me. Which ones, you ask?

Not telling, I say.
The painting above, Earl Moran's unabashed masterpiece Golden Hours, is my favorite in this auction. And trust me, there are about 100 more competing right next to it, but this one famous image from the 1940s is a magnificent study of form and color. Moran was known for his use of bold background colors, but if you look at the painting to the left of this graph, Evening Glow, which is another truly gorgeous portrait, you can see that Moran was, simply, a master of light. Move past the fact that he painted women, if it bothers you - he was a journeyman painter, he needed to feed his family, and it was good work.

It must also be said that I have exceedingly good taste, as the bid for Golden Hours is already at $31,000+ with buyer's premium, and - as I see it - will go even higher. Don't be surprised if it reaches $50,000 or more.

We're lucky to live in an age when we can look back, see all these paintings in context of their time, and value them as works of art. See them in person, not just in print, and you will be amazed how quickly they transform from cheesecake or kitsch to bonafide painting. The skill of the artists is undeniable.

I'll be watching closely this afternoon as this auction goes off, for sure. Martignette's provenance is one that will never lose its import; this series of auctions is the seminal event so far in the evolution of the collecting of Illustration Art. Enjoy it now. There are only about 3,300 pieces left...

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, October 26, 2009

Coin Monday, or Riddle Me This: A Planchet One Size Too Small

Oct. 26, 2009
Written by John Dale

First off, if you haven’t read Noah’s Tuesday post about A Christmas Story, then please do so now. I’ll be waiting…

If you left, welcome back!

Noah’s Christmas in, er, October post got me thinking about some childhood Christmas television memories of my own, and near the top of the list is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (That’s the animated version from 1966, by the way, not the live-action feature film. I’m not that young…) The leering, sneering Grinch with his heart “two sizes too small” seeped into at least one of my nightmares, but that only made me more anxious to watch him the next year!

Speaking of things that are too small, I was cataloging coins for the upcoming December Houston U.S. Coin auction when I came across an intriguing error: a 1956-dated Franklin half dollar that was struck on a quarter planchet, which is indeed “one size too small.”

As with any error coin, the natural question is “What went wrong?”

The striking process is complex, but here’s the short version: a canvas-sided tub filled with planchets (or blanks) will have its contents poured into a hopper attached to the coinage press. Inside the coinage press, machinery pushes a single unstruck planchet from the hopper between the dies, the dies come together and strike the planchet, and then the newly created coin is ejected from the dies and replaced with a new unstruck planchet.

Ordinarily, all of the planchets are of the same size and type: half dollar-sized planchets to strike half dollars, for example. Once in a while, though, Something Goes Wrong™.

A smaller planchet, such as a quarter-sized one, might get stuck at the bottom of one of the tubs and then jar loose when half dollar planchets are poured in on top. A quarter-sized planchet might also get stuck in a hopper, though this is a less common occurrence. Either way, a too-small planchet winds up mixed in with bigger planchets and is struck as if it were one of those bigger planchets.

The result is a slightly misshapen error coin, slightly broader than a quarter but not nearly so large as a half dollar, with considerable detail left off at the edges. Most error coins are caught, either mechanically or by visual inspection, but this piece must have dodged both the riddler (not the Batman Riddler but a series of metal grids with holes designed to catch off-size coins — if a coin falls through the wrong level or doesn’t fall through the right one, it’s destroyed) and human eyes to reach the outside world.

That’s how a wrong-planchet error is created!

Oh, but I did mention “wrong size or type,” didn’t I? Well, I’ll tell you about that later…

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

-John Dale Beety

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What will the market bear for Michael Jackson material? Heritage Auctions is about to find out

Oct. 22, 2009
Posted by Noah

This is a crazy time of year at Heritage Auctions, with great auctions and amazing stuff everywhere you turn. Not that one auction carries more weight than another, but the Nov. 6-7 20th Century Icons Auction is about as sexy as they get.

It's got a JFK-signed Dallas Morning News morning edition front page from Nov. 22, 1963, the Fedora Jack Ruby wore when he shot Oswald, a rocking chair used by Martin Luther King, a Stevie Ray Vaughn used and signed guitar and much more than I can possibly list here. Really. Don't hate me, I'm just a busy guy...

What may well prove to be the sleeper of the auction is a gathering of just more than 40 lots of memorabilia relating to the late, great (and decidedly controversial) Michael Jackson. There are handwritten lyrics, jackets, autographs, awards and various other things that relate to all periods of MJ's illustrious career.

In the four months since he died, Michael Jackson has remained in the news steadily. Whether it's been sordid details, bad doctors, ex-wives, children, or the posthumously released music and the upcoming music documentary This Is It, it's been unending fascination. MJ remains more intriguing in death than in life, which is saying a lot.

On the Michael memorabilia side, we've seen a couple of his famous bejeweled gloves come up, very high profile to be sure. The Nov. 6-7 auction at Heritage Auctions, however, is notable and - dare I say it - probably more important for what it means to the wider world of MJ collecting. These are some very good items, certainly, but they are not five and six figure pieces of iconic costumes. These are lots priced to move, ranging from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand. There are scribblings of bible verses from a childhood notebook; there are sketches of his sister LaToya, lyrics to songs and autographed awards... It's actually a moving trove in a very human way...
While the prices are meant to move, I have a feeling the response is going to be much more than anticipated and that we'll see that even the most mundane MJ autograph is now going to be worth substantially more than it was a few months ago.

As a pop culture junkie, I can't wait to see what happens here. As for my personal opinion about Jackson sad and confusing life, I still feel about as I did when he died: He's the greatest mass entertainer ever, but still a weirdo. In truth, how could somebody with such fame and notoriety really be any different. We'll see...

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

-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Tis the Season? Oh yes, 'tis always the season at Heritage Auctions for A Christmas Story

Oct. 20, 2009
Posted by Noah

Everybody knows the line in A Christmas Story that Ralphie hears over and over when he expresses his fervent desire for his Holy Grail Christmas present: "I want a Red Rider carbine Auction BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time."

"You'll shoot your eye out."

Okay, so I know I'm a little early - almost two months - to start posting about anything Christmas, but I have to admit two things here today, as the movie is on my mind: This movie is one of my all-time favorites and one that I have seen probably more than 500 times, and that I am living proof that kids do get shot in the eye with bb guns. Yes, it happened to me when I was six. It's a long story.

As for A Christmas Story, I actually read a blurb on the elevator TV screen at Heritage HQ - I would hate to get bored in the 30 seconds it takes the elevator to make its ascent - about the fan that bought the original Parker house from the movie, located in Cleveland, Ohio, and turned it into a living museum for the movie, re-creating it down to the smallest detail. Let me tell you, if I was in Cleveland - a killer city, if you've never been there - I would probably go to that house before I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I had to know if Heritage Auctions had ever sold any of the original props or set pieces from the movie to the owner of the house/museum, but the auction archives reveal that there is no connection. What connection does exist is in the selling of numerous A Christmas Story movie posters and lobby cards, any of which I would be more than thrilled to have - hint hint. My wife may not be so sanguine about it, but we can deal with that later...

Everybody has their favorite moment from the movie, and I am no different. I can rattle off about 10 parts I love, so brilliant is the film, but my most favorite moment in this classic is when "The Wicked Witch of the West" approaches Ralphie as he stands in the epic line to visit Santa Claus, the very picture of contemplation, and the witch asks him:

"And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?"

"Don't bother me," says Ralphie, clearly annoyed, "I-... I'm thinking."

Just plain funny.

Of course, Ralphie has now grown up, shed his white-haired, be-spectacled persona (as well as Messy Marvin, if you know what I'm talking about) and is the grown-up director of the recent Couples Retreat. No comment.

As for me getting shot in the eye with a BB? Yes, it happened, I can still remember it clearly and I was in the hospital for six days with patches over both my eyes. I do wear glasses today and my left eye - the eye - never got any stronger, but it never got weaker. All my eye doctors say I am lucky not to be blind. Looking back, though, I can see the event as a seminal part of my life, and the moment at which I began to think creatively. Go figure.

It also didn't hurt in helping to win my complete and total affection for A Christmas Story. I cannot wait until the day I can watch it with my daughter and have her get all the jokes.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, October 19, 2009

Coin Monday at Heritage Auctions: One Coin for One Stamp

Oct. 19, 2009
Written by John Dale

I don’t buy too many stamps anymore. Most of my bill-paying happens online, and e-mail has largely replaced physical letters (emphasis on largely — greeting cards and thank-you notes are the main exceptions).

That said, I do need to buy at least one stamp a month, so I do have a degree of firsthand experience with the increases in price for first-class stamps that have been a yearly experience since 2006.

By contrast, the first major change in the price of a federally authorized first-class stamp was a step down, from the rate of five cents authorized in 1845 (two years before the first nationally distributed stamps were actually printed) to three cents in 1851. In the same year, the first U.S. three cent silver coin came out.

In the words of many ironic hipsters and assorted less pitiable people: “Coincidence? I think not!”

In actuality, three cents was merely a denomination of convenience for a Congress that was trying to solve an entirely different problem. The ongoing California Gold Rush brought the United States vast quantities of wealth, but it also wreaked havoc on the relative prices of gold and silver. Briefly, the U.S. coinage at the time was set up to recognize a specific ratio in the value of silver to gold. When the supply of gold shot up, thanks to the California discoveries, gold’s relative worth went down, and that of silver went up. Suddenly, the silver content in coins like quarters and dimes was worth more than the face value.

With silver coins hoarded for their metal content and thus not circulating, commerce that involved making change became dicey. Stopgaps like fractional currency (paper money in denominations less than a dollar) were unsatisfactory. Congress had to come up with a way to get silver back in circulation, but doing so by reducing the silver content of existing denominations (thus making their face values greater than their worth as silver bullion) was politically unpopular. Creating a new denomination bypassed that sticking-point; while the earliest three cent coins were only 75% silver, as opposed to 90% silver for other denominations, the new denomination could not be called debased, because there was no prior higher standard for its composition.

In early 1851, Congress was also considering a bill to lower postage rates, as noted above. This provided the necessary cover, and the Post Office Act of March 3, 1851 included a section authorizing the three cent silver coin and specifying its weight and metal content.

Through the 1850s, one three cent silver coin, like lot 193 in the October Dallas U.S. Coin Auction, could buy one stamp, like this three cent stamp in an upcoming Internet Rare Stamp Auction.

The tiny three cent silver coins were not enough to alleviate the nation’s coin shortage, and in February 1853, all silver coins smaller than a dollar, including the three cent silver, had their weights reduced. At the same time, the three cent silver coins had their composition changed to 90% silver, in line with the other denominations. The three cent silver denomination lost its original role as the nation’s sole subsidiary silver coin, and its pretext — the purchase of postage stamps — became its sole reason for being.

Despite this, the three cent silver denomination was produced in quantity until the Civil War, which drove virtually all silver and gold coinage out of circulation and into personal hoards. From 1863 on, coinage of three cent silver pieces never exceeded token amounts, and the introduction of a three cent coin in copper-nickel was a further blow to the same denomination in silver. Still, production limped along until 1873.

Even in 1873, the cost of a stamp remained three cents; in fact, the price would not rise above three cents until 1958!

It’s hard to imagine a coin being made to pay for stamps these days, though, and I’m glad for it. I’m not sure I could handle having a 39-cent coin, a 41-cent coin, a 42-cent coin, and a 44-cent coin all jingling in my pocket at once!

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

-John Dale Beety

Friday, October 16, 2009

Of Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are and Heritage Auctions

Oct. 16, 2009
Posted by Noah

I will admit that I'm curious the see Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are as it opens this weekend nationwide, though I know the chances of me doing that are, oh, let's see... Slim to none. No babysitter for our daughter, and no way she - 3-1/2 years old - would be able to make it through a movie that is, from what I've read and seen, a little too intense for kids as little as she.

No, more than likely I will have to wait for about two years until it shows up on TNT, or some cable outlet like that, joining the wretched Harry Potter movies and the always compelling Lord of the Rings movies in perpetual holiday rotation. It's not what I would choose, it's simply the way it is...

Here at Heritage Auctions there is, of course, a Sendak history, and Where The Wild Things Are figures most prominently in it. Numerous first edition Wild Things have shown up in our Rare Books events, with a very rare first edition of the book selling for $3,346 in June of 2008. There have also been posters, signed prints and various other Wild Things stuff that have brought the greatest prices.

The one that beats them all, however, and is the rarest of the rare when it comes to Sendak-related lots here at Heritage, dates back only to February of this year, when an original Wild Things backdrop landscape, from the brush of the master himself, brought almost $75,000 as part of an Illustration Art Auction. As I've said before in this blog, that's a big matzoh ball! Sendak Art never comes up for auction - almost never - as it's all been given to a private foundation for safekeeping. While I'd love to see more come through Heritage Auctions, I'm okay with this. Sendak is a national treasure, and his drawings should be treated as such.

There is, actually, another Sendak Wild Things drawing in the Oct. 27 Illustration Art Auction, a Wild Thing Nutcracker ballet set design, a gorgeous seascape with a cliff and Max's boat. It's estimated at $25,000+, which I would say, plebe though I may be, is a wee bit conservative. More like $50,000 and up, I'd reckon.

Though you probably haven't noticed, I've avoided giving my personal feelings on the book, which I love deeply. Along with In The Night Kitchen and Outside Over There, Where The Wild Things Are forms the centerpiece of what is easily the greatest modern trilogy of little kids' books. They are complex, joyful, frightening, unbelievably beautiful and, simply, a ton of fun to read. I'll avoid saying much else because A) it's all being written right now b/c of this movie and B) Most every American born post-1960 has read this book a thousand times themselves and a few thousand more to their own kids and grandkids.

I will say this: I think I always viewed the Wild Things themselves as a little more sinister than they appear to be in the movie. When they said "We'll eat you up, we love you so!" I always assumed that they did indeed want to eat him up, and that it was their plan all along. This probably says more about me and my emerging world view as a child than about how badly everyone else interpreted this book, but, really, who's asking?

Reviews on Jonze's movie have been quite favorable, and by all accounts he's captured the spirit of the book - a monumental achievement if he did. Much like LOTR, fans have been shaking with fear for years that this movie would actually happen, let alone daring to hope that it would actually be good - as rife as Hollywood is with bad kids movies and commercialism gone awry (New Wild Things Cereal from Kellogs! Unleash the Wild Thing within - with a good breakfast!) we all had good reason to think this movie would just stink.

Even though I won't get to see it for a few years, I'm glad to hear that indeed it doesn't stink, isn't just kinda bad, but is actually good and true to the spirit of the book and the intent of the writer. Hollywood take note: you can actually make a good movie by being true to the original source material.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Oh, Godfather, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do...": RIP Al Martino, aka Johnny Fontaine

Oct. 15, 2009
Posted by Noah

Johnny Fontaine: A month ago he bought the rights to this book, a best seller. The main character is a guy just like me. I wouldn't even have to act, just be myself. Oh, Godfather, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do...

[All of a sudden, Don Corleone rises from his chair and gives Fontaine a savage shake]

Don Corleone: YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN! [gives a quick slap to Fontaine] What's the matter with you? Is this what you've become, a Hollywood finocchio who cries like a woman? "Oh, what do I do? What do I do?" What is that nonsense? Ridiculous!

So. Good. Must. Watch. Godfather. Now.
In the Godfather books, Johnny Fontaine has a much bigger role than in the movies, though in the movies, Johnny Fontaine, as so greasily and guilelessly played by Al Martino, he emerges as one of the most intriguing characters and one of the first catalysts for us to witness, firsthand, the charisma and cruelty of Vito Corleone as played by Brando. Simply awesome.

Then, today, the news comes down that Al Martino - crooner, Mid-Century music star and the actor that gave voice to Fontaine in Godfather and Godfather III - has died at age 82. Rest in peace Al, and say hello to your good friend Mario Lanza (Martino collapsed at a Lanza tribute early this month) when you get to the great Italian singers section of heaven.
When I read the news of Martino's death this morning, right after I said to myself "You can act like a man!" (to which my daughter replied, "No Papa, I can only act like a little girl!") I went to the Heritage Auctions archive to see if anything Martino-related showed up. The Heritage Auctions archives don't disappoint.

There are many Godfather posters and some awesome Godfather-related material, but certainly one of the coolest, from way back in 2003, is the only Al Martino-specific piece of material at all of Heritage Auctions: Martino's nicely signed 1989 contract to appear in Godfather III, for which he was paid $45,000. Nice work if you can get it...

While myself, and so many others - here at Heritage Auctions and beyond - will mourn Martino's passing because of our deep, abiding and obsessive adulation of the Godfather movies (especially parts I and II - and I can hear the eye-rolling of exhausted wives everywhere who have been forced to sit through the movies on Spike TV endlessly - "Wait honey, wait! Don't change it! This is the best part!") he will also be remembered as a wildly successful singer of Pop ballads.

"Along with Perry Como, Dean Martin, Vic Damone and others, Mr. Martino was part of a generation of Italian-American pop singers who emerged after Frank Sinatra to score major hits in the postwar years.

"Mr. Martino’s breakthrough hit, Here in My Heart, released in 1952 on the small BBS label, rose to No. 1 in the United States and on Britain’s first singles chart. It also earned him a contract with Capitol Records."

The world is a little bit less today for having been deprived of Martino. A bit player, to be sure, but what a bit...

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

-Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Martignette in Times Square: Heritage Auctions' illustration art takes Manhattan

Oct. 14, 2009
Posted by Noah

Yes, the picture is real!

I can't help but think that not only would Gil Elvgren have been thrilled to see his painting - Something's Bothering You (What's Wrong?) - 25 feet tall and towering over Manhattan's times Square under the banner: "Masterpieces of Pin-up at Heritage Auctions."

The painting, one of the Elvgrens from the Charles Martignette Estate coming up for auction on Oct. 27 - just under two weeks - as part of the fall Illustration Art sale, featuring the second part of Martignette's epic collection, is one of many unabashed masterpieces of the form in the auction. If part one was any indication, the price paid for this painting, and all the Elvgrens, will far exceed the $40,000+ estimate. Maybe tack on $100,000 and you'll be close.

This picture came about as part of a press push we're doing, and it was picked up and put on the Reuters board in Times Square, and on the Reuters Board in Las Vegas. I'm sure the borough of Manhattan was duly impressed. If a picture like that won't stop New Yorkers then nothing will.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A look inside the mind of Jack Ruby, literally: Heritage Auctions offers Ruby's brain scan

Oct. 13, 2009
Posted by Noah

What is a seemingly innocuous little lot in the Nov. 6-7 20th Century Icons Auction at Heritage Auctions is actually one of the more intriguing lots in what is, in my humble and unbiased opinion, an auction full of absolutely stellar stuff.

The picture you see to your right is an actual x-ray of Jack Ruby's brain, taken when he was diagnosed with cancer. The nurse who took it, and consigned it to Heritage Auctions, was allowed to have it because the scan was not an exact match to the other side of Ruby's brain, and therefore rendered inutile. Now, more than 40 years later, it is a small piece of the larger puzzle that is still the most significant event of the second half of the 20th Century.

Ruby is one of those figures that has remained absolutely enigmatic since his infamous deed, and any connection to him - and the conspiracy theories that he represents - always gets people talking, and here Heritage Auctions has an actual, physical look inside his brain. Can you say creepy and compelling? Creepelling? Comcreepy?

The Ruby x-ray is going up at Heritage Auctions alongside the fedora (stylish!) that Ruby wore when he shot Oswald ("Follow the hat") and the shackles that were around his ankles at the time of his death from cancer, not to deter him from escaping, mind you, but to deter would-be body snatchers.

There's also a detailed grouping surrounding his arrest and, perhaps most spectacularly - certainly one of the single greatest things I've ever seen - Heritage Auctions is offering a signed front page Dallas Morning News morning edition form 11/22/1965, that was signed by JKF himself in Ft. Worth before he got on a plane to come to Love Field. Serioulsy. It's worthy of a blog post of its own, which it will get a little closer to the auction.

For now, however, the focus of this post is on Ruby's brain. Heritage Auctions is offering this truly unique piece - certainly the only one of its kind - from one of the most infamous players in the whole JFK scenario. Perhaps someone will buy it and save it for thousands of years until the technology exists to actually read the thoughts that I know are embedded in the x-ray. I've read about such things in many comic books, so don't tell me it's not possible...

Heritage Auctions has put a pre-sale estimate on it at $1,000. Somehow, though, I reckon it's going to go a little higher than that.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, October 12, 2009

Coin Monday: The Double: Part Two

Oct. 12, 2009
Written by John Dale

Last week’s Coin Monday was Part One of “The Double,” a two-parter on the unusual and desirable coins appearing in multiples in Heritage’s October Dallas U.S. Coin auction. Today, as promised, it’s on to the 1969-S doubled die cents. (For background on what a doubled die is, please check out the Coin Monday post “Seeing Double?”)

The 1969-S doubled die cent is a rarity today; it’s thought that not many were made in the first place, and shortly after their discovery, a number of examples were confiscated by the government.

His confiscation, as it turned out, was a case of mistaken identity. Counterfeiters had struck spurious doubled die Lincoln cents dated 1969 — but these were supposedly Philadelphia Mint products, not San Francisco-made, and the spread between the two images on the P-mint phonies was comically large, making the famous 1955 doubled die cents look like masterpieces of precision. The 1969-S doubled die cents, on the other hand, had a smaller (but still prominent) spread and were absolutely legitimate.

That was not the opinion of a Mint consultant, who deemed as counterfeit a 1969-S doubled die cent he examined. There are five documented instances of 1969-S doubled die cents being confiscated by the Secret Service (then part of the Department of the Treasury) and later destroyed. The official position of the Treasury Department was that there were no legitimate 1969-dated doubled die cents from any Mint, a position that was carried through the trial of the counterfeiters.

After the trial, however, the Treasury paid more attention to the 1969-S doubled die cents and the questions they raised: if the 1969-S doubled die cents matched Mint specifications for weight, diameter, composition, and so on, what was the basis for declaring them counterfeit? By the mid-1970s, the Treasury had reversed course, with official acknowledgment of the 1969-S coins’ authenticity. This recognition, however, did not come before five of the coins were destroyed—and with estimates of between 17 and 32 survivors extant, five coins would make up a sizable chunk of the population!

With so few examples around today, it’s highly unusual for one to appear in any given auction, but the October Dallas U.S. Coin auction has two! Lot 176 is an AU55 example, lightly worn but otherwise well-preserved. Immediately after that piece is hammered down, Lot 177 comes up, and that coin is even finer, graded MS63 Red!

It’s a remarkable opportunity for the Lincoln cent collector, even rarer than the 1969-S doubled die cents themselves. Who says there are no second chances in numismatics?

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

-John Dale Beety

Friday, October 9, 2009

My brush, up close and personal, with Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger

Oct. 9, 2009
Posted by Noah

There are few figures in American lore more mythic than John Dillinger. He is equally vilified as a thug and a punk and sanctified as a Depression-era Robin Hood righting the wrongs of the disenfranchised. I have no opinion either way, really. Like so many Americans, I just find the guy enigmatic and fascinating.

About a month or so ago, Heritage Auction's Director of Civil War and Militaria, Dennis Lowe, called me at about 7 a.m. as I sat bleary eyed at my desk getting ready for the day and gratefully sipping a cup of strong coffee.

"Noah," he said, "you have to get down here right now."

I assented, cursed under my breath because I was going to poignantly miss my coffee, and made my way down the secret tunnel (called and elevator here in Texas) to Dennis's office. He's an energetic man, but seemed even more so than usual despite the early hour.

"Hold out your hand," he said.

Hesitating - I am the youngest of three boys, so I learned early to never do something, especially like holding out my hand, just because someone says so - I did.
He pulled out a wrinkled envelope with a monetary figure on it, held it over my open palm and shook it. Out slid what appeared to be a folded dollar bill. Currency is a big department at Heritage, and I've seen some good bills in better shape, thus I was unimpressed. Dennis pointed to a few crimson stains on the front of the bill. I was a little more intrigued, but not more than I thought the situation called for.

"That," Dennis said, pointing to the stains, "is John Dillinger's blood. That dollar bill was in his pocket when he was shot."

Now I did pause. I took a deep breath. I put the bill down.

It turns out this spectacular and rare dollar bill is just one of a dozen lots coming up in our December Arms & Militaria Auction all relating to Dillinger. In fact, they don't just relate to Dillinger, the come directly from the legendary bank robber via his baby half-sister, Frances Helen Thomas (nee' Dillinger) who was 12 years old when Big Brother Johnny was shot.

Now, it's way too early for me to be able to link to the catalog and the lots, because the auction is in December and the description process is ongoing - and must not be disturbed! That, however, has not stopped me from going down to see the Dillinger trove - guns, letter, clothing and more - several times. And just this week The Associated Press ran a superb story on the trove, and the family, which has piqued quite a bit of interest in the stuff.

Most interesting of all, perhaps, is a letter that Dillinger wrote to his father from jail in Lima, OH, just before he broke out. In it, Dillinger tells his father to not believe anything that's been said about his and that he "never hurt anybody."

Dennis, a man with more than 30 years in the business, said it's one of, if not the greatest piece of its kind he's ever seen. I agree and all I can tell you is that it is every bit as spectacular as you might imagine. As a matter of fact, I think I'll make up an excuse to go downstairs right now and make sure all the Dillinger stuff is safe... I just wanna make sure...

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

-Noah Fleisher

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Black Cat you want to cross paths with...

Oct. 7, 2009
Posted by Noah

How cool is this? A rare one of a kind, never before seen 1934 movie poster for The Black Cat, a graphically stunning and wholly extraordinary movie poster from the vault of renowned collector Todd Feiertag - who famously sold a one-sheet for 1932's The Mummy for $453,500 in 1997, a World Record auction price for any type of poster - will be the recognized star of the Nov. 12-13 Signature Vintage Movie Posters Auction at Heritage Auctions.

"I've had the distinct pleasure of enjoying this poster in my private collection for the last 20 years," said Feiertag. "I feel like this is the right time to give this treasure back to world and to let another collector, one that will hopefully exhibit this poster frequently as I have, know the thrill of looking at it every day."

This incredibly rare Style-B one sheet for The Black Cat, which has never been seen by the public, is the only known example of this poster ever to surface and has never been sold at auction. The Style-B one sheet for The Black Cat is even more rare than one sheets for the other Golden Age Universal Studio horror giants of the day – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein – and is every bit as

The film The Black Cat - Edgar G. Ulmer's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale - marked the first and finest collaboration between the two acknowledged masters of early horror, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and the result was a masterpiece of psychological terror as a young couple finds themselves caught in a deadly game between the two famous actors. Heritage Auctions has estimated the poster at $250,000+.

Lugosi is also featured on the poster for the supporting lot at Heritage Auctions, a 1934 White Zombie half sheet movie poster of a rarity almost equal to the headlining poster. It is estimated at $75,000.

Lugosi's performance as Murder Legendre in White Zombie is one of the great performances of Golden Age Hollywood, and the poster for the film is one of the most sought-after in the realm of movie poster collecting. You simply never see a poster like this.

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

-Noah Fleisher

Monday, October 5, 2009

Coin Monday: The Double, Part One

Oct. 5, 2009
Written By John Dale

At around 2000 lots, the Signature® section of Heritage’s October Dallas U.S. Coin auction is small by division standards. “Small,” though, hardly implies “unimpressive” and there are several coins or varieties in the auction that don’t come up for sale every day. Surprisingly enough, two of those varieties are represented in multiples — miss out on the first one? Well, there’s another on the way!

Both the 1907 Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens eagle (or $10 coin) and the 1969-S cent with prominent obverse doubled die fall into the category. The latter deserves its own blog post, which I’ll give it next week, meaning today I’ll focus on the 1907 Wire Rim eagle, which has a mintage of only 500 pieces. We’re offering a pair of Wire Rims, both graded MS64 by NGC. Lot 1575 is the Little Rock Collection example, which I touched on in Part Two of “One Collection, Seven Spectacular Coins” back in mid-September.

Right after lot 1575 hammers down, lot 1576 comes up, the same issue in the same grade. It’d be hard to confuse the two coins, though; lot 1576 has deep orange-gold luster, while lot 1575 is substantially paler and yellow-gold in color. Between the two different looks, at least one is likely to appeal to most collectors.

Just 500 of the Wire Rim $10s were struck, as previously noted; the design for the Wire Rim $10, like the ancient Greek coins said to have been an inspiration, was in relief far too high to be practical for coinage in the 20th century. This was irrelevant to then-President Theodore Roosevelt, however; the coinage designs created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens had become a personal quest, an obsession, a “pet crime” in Roosevelt’s own words, and he would not be denied. The Wire Rim $10s, distributed to the President and well-connected interested parties, were meant to placate Roosevelt until the actual lowered-relief Saint-Gaudens eagle design was ready for production.

While a number of the Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens eagles survive, the low initial mintage, coupled with the coins’ distinctive beauty, has made them collector favorites. On most nights when a Wire Rim $10 is up for auction there can only be one winner; this time, however, two bidders can walk away happy, and for me, that’s a beautiful thing to see.

Next week: the 1969-S doubled die cents!

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

-John Dale Beety

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Looking to 1969 as Heritage readies for Oct. 8 Space Auction, or From the Pen of Michael Riley

Oct. 1, 2009
Posted by Noah, written by Michael Riley

(One week from today will be our Oct. 8 Space Exploration Auction here at Heritage, one of my most favorite categories. I have had occasion to write about several of the pieces in this auction, but it is Chief Cataloger and Historian Michael Riley who is truly the expert, and a superb writer to boot. I'm fortunate to be a writer among many good ones in this company, and I hold Michael among the very best. His work on Space auctions is epic, his feel for the material unequaled and his ability to relay its sociological, material and historical context simply superb. Michael has generously consented to let me post his "bidder letter" from the front of the catalog, presented here with minor editing to blog style. It is equal parts an invitation to bid, an explanation of the material and a reflection on the tumultuous, exciting days that surrounded the 1969 moon landing. Well done, Michael, and thanks! - Noah Fleisher)

"Welcome to another amazing collection of space-related collectibles. Once again our astronaut and private collector consignors have come through with important flown and signed memorabilia, items for every level of collecting expertise and budget. From photos and philatelic covers signed by the astronauts to charts, maps, souvenirs, and pieces of spacecraft equipment that actually flew with them on their missions, even to the moon.

Can it really have been 40 years?

While working on this catalog, your writer flashed back many times to that important year of 1969; what a year it was! As a high school student during that period of great change, I was a fan of sports, popular culture, rock music, and the "space race." I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the year that America landed on the moon. What else was going on?

The year started out big for football fans. This was when the major college bowl games were all played on Jan. 1. The Rose Bowl was a classic with Woody Hayes' #1 Ohio State Buckeyes defeating John McKay's #2 USC Trojans, 27-16. USC senior running back O. J. Simpson ran for 171 yards, but for naught.

After that, the underdogs dominated the major sports. In the first AFL-NFL Championship game to actually be called the Super Bowl, the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts met a New York Jets team whose quarterback, Joe Namath, had controversially "guaranteed" a win. He came though on his promise, 16-7. In the NBA championship series, the Lakers, with stars Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West, were expected to rout the aging, fourth-place finishing Boston Celtics. In an exciting series, the Celtics, coached by Bill Russell, won the title, beating the Lakers in game seven, on the road (a first). Fast forward to October: Gil Hodges' New York Mets had finally managed a winning season and found themselves facing Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Five games later, the "Miracle Mets" had done what nobody thought they could possibly accomplish.

There were legends that died that year: boxer Rocky Marciano and figure skater Sonja Henie. There were future superstars, though, that were born: Emmitt Smith, Steffi Graf, Brett Favre, and Ken Griffey Jr. to name a few.

It was a tumultuous year in world politics. The United States involvement in the Vietnam War was in its tenth year but had peaked the year before; 1969 actually saw the first U.S. troop withdrawals. North Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh died that year as did U.S. World War II hero and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The patriarch of the Kennedy family, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., also passed on in 1969. It was a year of beginnings too: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president; Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel; and Warren Burger was sworn in as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

On a lighter note, the top five movies for the year were certainly a mixed bag: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; The Love Bug; Midnight Cowboy; Easy Rider; and Hello, Dolly! The year saw the release of the last Warner Brothers "Looney Tunes" cartoon as well as the premier of several iconic television programs, The Brady Bunch, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Sesame Street.

That all-encompassing category of "Pop Culture" had no shortage of 1969 entries. It was a year of "firsts:" the Boeing 747 made its debut; the Stonewall Riots in NYC marked the beginning of the Gay Rights movement in the U.S.; the first ATM was installed in Rockville Centre, New York; retail giant Wal-Mart incorporated; Dave Thomas opened his first Wendy's; the Woodstock Festival was held in upstate New York; and the first message was sent over ARPANET, the early forerunner to today's internet. On a another computer-related note, Linux developer Linus Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland.

It was also a year of sadness and death: the venerable Saturday Evening Post ceased publication after 147 years; the Charles Manson-led "family" committed the Tate/LaBianca murders; "beat" culture icon Jack Kerouac died; and the peace and love that had characterized Woodstock a few months earlier didn't quite carry over to the west coast Altamont festival where a concertgoer was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel member during the Rolling Stones set. Many call that event the end of the '60s.

Speaking of music, 1969 was one of the most eventful of a generation. The Beatles were the most popular, creative, and successful rock band of the 1960s. This was the year of many milestones for them, not all of a positive nature as their tenure as the "fab four lads from Liverpool" faded away: they gave their last public performance in January on the roof of Apple Records; they recorded (and released) their last album as a group, Abbey Road; Paul McCartney married his "Lovely Linda" Eastman in London; and John Lennon married Yoko Ono in Gibraltar, later conducting their "Bed-In" for peace in Montreal where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance," the first solo single released by a Beatle.

After seven years away from the top of the charts, Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" hit number one on Billboard, the final time he would do so in his lifetime.

Many people would call 1969 the birth year of the heavy metal genre with the release of Led Zeppelin I. The Rolling Stones hired a young guitar player, Mick Taylor, to replace one of their founding members, Brian Jones, who died a mysterious death in his home swimming pool. The Jackson Five's first album was released, starting a 40 year reign as pop royalty for Michael. A British single about a fictional astronaut, by then-unknown David Bowie, flew up the charts after its release just days before the launch of Apollo 11. Fortunately, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins had a much more successful flight than did Major Tom of "Space Oddity" fame.

That brings us back to why we're here: The year 1969 saw the launch of four Apollo missions. NASA's year was ushered in on a high note, just days after Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders returned from the first-ever manned mission to the moon.

Next on the agenda was to test the major components and activities of a moon-landing mission, but in Earth orbit. From March 3-13, James McDivitt, Dave Scott, and Rusty Schweickart put the Apollo 9 Lunar Module Spider through its paces, proving it worthy for lunar orbit testing. That came along shortly thereafter when Apollo 10 (May 18-26), with Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan aboard, was launched to the moon with the task of performing a full "dress rehearsal" of the upcoming landing mission.

The Lunar Module, Snoopy, traveled to within eight or so miles of the lunar surface before rendezvousing and docking with the Command Module, Charlie Brown, for the trip home. The stage was now set to realize the goal President John F. Kennedy had set seven years earlier: landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the decade was over.

Of course, we all know of the success of the Apollo 11 mission in reaching that important aspiration. Things were now moving with an unheard-of rapidity. Not once, but twice, did America land on the moon that year. November 14, 1969, found the Apollo 12 crew of Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean on their way to the moon for a pinpoint landing just 200 yards from the old unmanned Surveyor 3 probe.

During the three years to follow, another five Apollo missions made attempts, with four succeeding, to land on the moon. The 12 men who actually walked on the lunar surface and the other twelve men who made the long journey are all modern heroes of exploration and technology. They are revered for their hard work, spirit of adventure, and bravery. This auction brings to the average person the honor of owning just a little piece of our own space history. We are honored to be able to bring these historic items to you...

Best regards,
Michael Riley
Chief Cataloguer and Historian

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

-Posted by Noah Fleisher, written by Michael Riley.