Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Half of Saddle Ridge Hoard coins sold in 72 hours

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Saddle Ridge Hoard coins for saleThe first round of coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins discovered in Northern California in February of 2013 by a couple walking their dog, has gone up for sale and is being snapped up by collectors. Since sales began on Tuesday, more than half of the coins have sold.

The festivities began at 7:30 PM on Tuesday at the Old Mint in San Francisco, the very same building where many of the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins were first struck. Sixty of them were put on display, including the most important and valuable single coin in the collection: an 1866 $20 Double Eagle that is missing the motto “In God We Trust” on the back. 1886 coin from Saddle Ridge HoardIt’s an extremely rare piece, as Congress had passed a law in March of 1865 authorizing the placement of the motto on all gold coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” The San Francisco mint apparently lacked the proper equipment to include the motto at that time. That little oversight makes the coin valued at $1.2 million.

An hour after the exhibition, one coin went up for auction at the Old Mint: an 1874 $20 Double Eagle. It sold for $15,000, with all the proceeds going to restore the National Historic Landmark and converting it into the San Francisco Museum at the Mint. The buyer was Ray Lent with Placer Partners, which is heavily involved in the cause. The mint museum will be the first museum dedicated to the history of the city, believe it or not. You’d think a place like San Francisco would be lousy with them. Here’s a video of the culmination of the auction and an interview with Ray Lent explaining why they secured the coin for the museum. There are some great shots of the space and the exhibition.

With the non-profit part done, commerce began. Coin dealer Kagin’s Inc. put up hundreds of coins for sale Tuesday night. By midnight, 225 coins offered for sale on the website were bought for a total of $2.4 million. Even more coins were listed on Amazon Tuesday night. Within an hour, 346 of them had sold for more than $1 million. At this rate, the initial estimate of the hoard’s value at $10 million will be surpassed by at least a million.

Two of the 14 finest offered for sale in one lot on AmazonOriginal can, part of the 14-coin lotThe 14 finest coins are being sold in a single lot along with the original can that was their home for near a century and a half. They’re available on Amazon for a cool $2,750,000 and yes, you can buy them with 1-Click. As of this writing, 572 coins from the hoard are for sale individually on Amazon, priced between $2,975 and $17,500. Kagin’s has 55 coins for sale on its website and numbers are diminishing rapidly.

Saddle Ridge Hoard coins, cans and lidsIt’s the condition of the coins and their Robert Louis Stevenson-like story that underpins their commercial success. The gold coins are nearly all in mint condition, with coins struck between 1847 and 1894 and barely circulated. They were buried in eight metal cans in the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada mountain until their rediscovery by the property owners last year.

Eventually almost all of the coins will be sold. The owners, known only as John and Mary, will keep a few coins for sentimental reasons.

 

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WWI memorial plaques found on dirt floor basement

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

World War I memorial plaques in a pile on basement floorKaren O’Maxfield was in the Ice House, a public works outbuilding at Colt Park in Hartford, Connecticut, last year when she stumbled on a large number of cast iron plaques. They were in a pile on the dirt floor of the basement, topped and surrounded with junk like an old plastic milk jug and random bits of tubing. O’Maxfield took some pictures and shared them on Facebook where they were spotted by Hartford history buffs Greg Secord and Lynn Ferrari. The three got together and began researching and inventorying the plaques.

They discovered in the archives of the Hartford Courant that the plaques had once been part of a memorial to the 207 Hartford men who died in World War I. The memorial began in 1920 with the planting of 189 elm trees along the pathways encircling the track, dance floor (cool park!) and baseball diamonds in Colt Park. Mayor Newton C. Brainard, himself a history lover who decades later would become president of the Connecticut Historical Society, presided over the ceremony. Each tree was adorned with a small name marker. It was called the Trees of Honor memorial.

Undated picture of Trees of Honor memorial in Colt ParkSix years later, the Rau-Locke American Legion Post 8 replaced the four-inch name markers with substantial cast iron ones on poles beside the trees, now a complete set of 207. Each plaque was approximately 12-by-10 inches and embossed with the name of a deceased soldier, his rank, the location where he fell and the date. For years the city commemorated their sacrifice at the memorial every Armistice Day (renamed to Veterans Day in 1954) on November 11th.

It’s unclear when exactly the plaques were removed, but it was in the 1960s that almost all of the trees were killed by Dutch elm disease, a fungus spread by bark beetles that first arrived in New England in 1928. The trees were destroyed and the plaques put into storage. The basement of the Ice House was not a great place for them. The dirt floor was prone to flooding and over time the plaques were damaged. Some were cracked; all were tarnished. Others were lost altogether.

Rusted plaques in need of restorationWhen they were rediscovered, there were only 179 plaques out of the original 207. We know the names of the men whose plaques are missing, thanks to a list published in the 1920s by the Hartford Courant. (You can see the complete list here.) Secord, Ferrari and O’Maxfield are working to replace the 30 missing and broken plaques. They’ve started a Facebook group, Hartford Heroes, and a GoFundMe project to raise money for the replacements. Each one costs $325 for a total of $9,750.

Thankfully Competitive Edge Coatings, a South Windsor powder coating company, stepped up to the plate and offered to restore the existing plaques free of charge.

“To know that these plaques in memory of people who lived in Hartford were put down in this building and left unnoticed, I feel that they should be out where people can see them,” said Damon Schuster, who co-owns the shop with Chris Scutnik. They cut the tarnish with a blast of glass beads, which brought out the original metal and redefined the details. They then applied a number of powder coatings to some plaques.

Cast iron map of the plaques in Colt ParkThe American Legion post that originally funded the plaques in 1926 is still in existence today. It is working with other organizations and the city to recreate the memorial in Colt Park, complete with new trees. Since 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, it would be fitting if the goal could be accomplished this year.

 

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When Argentinian women wore hair combs four feet wide

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Portrait of Doña Isabel Cabos de Porcel wearing a mantilla, by Francisco Goya, ca. 1805It began with the peineta, the tall comb worn by Spanish women under the mantilla, a traditional translucent lace head covering, or by flamenco dancers as decorative hairpieces. Aspects of the comb tradition go back hundreds of years, but the accessory as we know it today took root in the 18th century and came to its full fulgor in the early 19th century. It crossed the Atlantic, establishing itself in Spanish Latin America where it soon took on a unique character.

This was a turbulent time for Spain’s old colonies. Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and while the motherland poured money and might into the fight for the next six years, the colonies struggled for their own independence and the Empire splintered under the pressure. As independence movements grew, Latin American fashions followed, branching off into their own distinctive development.

They had the raw materials for it: the shells of Caribbean sea turtles. They were widely traded in South America, used by artisans to craft jewelry and decorative items like hair combs. With an embarrassment of riches purloined from what seemed like an inexhaustible supply of marine turtles (not coincidentally, they’re endangered now), artists could expand the boundaries of the traditional design.

Peinetones in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos AiresIn 1823, Spanish machinist Manuel Mateo Masculino started a business in Buenos Aires making combs and comb-making machines. He advertised that his gear and employees could produce more than a thousand combs a day. His business took off. Soon he had 106 employees making his designs using three different kinds of turtle shells (including a very expensive Indian import), ivory and mother of pearl. The material was cut, punctured, carved, polished, stamped, embossed, heat fused and polished. Masculino’s machines and the templates he designed brought a whole new complexity to the peineta, creating elaborate openwork filigree in place of the more solid edged Spanish pieces.

He also went big, not home, expanding the Spanish originals into combs one foot square. Every year his designs got bigger and fancier. The original wedge shape morphed into crescents, crowns, bell shapes, baskets. By the early 1830s, the average width was three feet. No longer were they peinetas. Now they were peinetones.

Peinetones in the home, lithograph in "Extravagancias de 1834" by César Hipólito BacleThe massive combs and the ladies who wore them were cause for much comment in the media. They became socio-political footballs, representing the evils of female vanity and wastefulness and the rejection of the ideal of the modest virtues of the household. Journalists tut-tutted at their impracticality; poets wrote verse imprecations against women who bankrupted their families and turned to prostitution to support their Peinetones on the street in "Extravagancias de 1834" by César Hipólito Baclepeineton habit; artists satirized the increasingly absurd dimensions. A series of lithographs by French artist César Hipólito Bacle published in a magazine called Extravagancias de 1834 caricatured the giant hair combs as literal homewreckers, knocking down walls on their way out, assaulting men on the street and ruining their view at the theater.

Peineton just shy of three feet wideThe National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires has two exceptional examples from its collection online which prove the satires had a kernel of truth. This piece is a fraction of an inch under three feet wide and just over one foot high. It’s modest compared to this beautiful behemoth which is three feet ten inches wide and one foot four inches high. The elegant lady who wore that didn’t knock down walls, but she definitely had to walk through doors sideways.

Peineton nearly four feet wide featuring central silhouette of Juan Manuel de RosasNotice in the center of that comb is a carved silhouette of Juan Manuel de Rosas, military leader and Federalist governor (read: dictator) of the province of Buenos Aires who ruled from 1829 until 1852, covering the heyday of the peineton. The oval is surrounded by oak leaves, a nod to the high Roman military decoration the corona civica, and topped with a Phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty. Underneath the oak wreath is carved the slogan “Federation or Death,” which helps date the hairpiece to 1832 at the earliest, the year de Rosas decreed that that phrase be used in all federal badges. There are few surviving examples of this slogan in a fashionable accessory.

Peinetones in the theater, "Extravagancias de 1834" by César Hipólito BacleBy the time Bacle’s Extravagancias came out, Rosas had turned on the peinetones. Once symbols of Argentine patriotism, a way for women to display their support for Argentine independence in the public sphere, the huge combs were now dangerously subversive, as far as the government was concerned. Bacle ran the official government press, so he wasn’t just printing a fashion magazine. He was actively working on Rosas’ behalf to associate the peineton with women of questionable virtue and even more questionable politics.

It worked. The trend toward giantism reversed, and even though peinetones remained in fashion through the 1850s, the day of the four-footer was over.

 

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Rare footage shows FDR walking at All-Star game

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

A home movie filmed at the July 7, 1937, All-Star Game at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., captures incredible rare footage of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt walking in his braces. This is only the second known film recording the painful walk Roosevelt taught himself after he was paralyzed from the waist down by polio in 1921. The other clip is four seconds long; this one is eight seconds long.

Determined to have a political career despite his paralysis, FDR had himself fitted with heavy leather and steel leg braces that locked at the knees and learned to approximate a walk by twisting his torso while using a cane for balance. With his other hand he leaned on aide or his son for support. This was an incredibly arduous and painful process and he couldn’t sustain the motion for very long. It’s a testament to his tremendous will power and upper body strength that he could do it at all.

The footage was shot by Jimmie DeShong, who, as a pitcher for the Washington Senators, had close-up access to the field and bullpen even though he wasn’t actually on the American League team for the All-Star game, a team that included seven future Hall-of-Famers — Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Earl Averill, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez — and was managed by another — legendary Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, DeShong recorded the day’s events with his 8mm home movie camera. The rest of the film captures private family moments and hunting scenes in Pennsylvania.

It has remained in the family all these years. Jimmie DeShong died in 1993. It’s his daughter Judith Savastio who donated the film to the Pennsylvania State Archives so their experts could conserve it, transfer it to HD and make this important document available to the public. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is the first to benefit from this generous gift. His latest series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History was already complete when he heard about the newly-discovered footage. He found it so compelling that he asked PBS to let them re-edit an episode to include the clip.

From Ken Burns’ statement:

Any film of [FDR] struggling to get from one place to another is extremely rare, as the Secret Service either prohibited or confiscated cameras whenever FDR was making an attempt to propel himself from his car to anywhere else. The President wanted to minimize the public’s knowledge of the devastating effects polio had had on him – he was completely paralyzed from the waist down and he could not walk without the aid of a cane and braces on both legs. The press in those days complied with his request not to be filmed.

We thought we had found and used all the rare bits and pieces that existed. But this remarkable 8 seconds provided to us by the Pennsylvania State Archives is one of the very best pieces of film that so clearly shows what a brave struggle it was for FDR to move. The fact that he is on an incline and that it is very windy makes his walking even more arduous. The wind even presses his pants against his withered legs and you can clearly see the braces underneath.

The series will air on PBS starting September 14, 2014. Here’s the DeShong film, with Roosevelt’s appearance starting at the 40 second mark when his car is driven onto the field.

If you’re interested in President Roosevelt’s life after polio, make your way to Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR did hydrotherapy from 1924 until his death in 1945. He bought an extensive property there and donated it to the Warm Springs Foundation, the non-profit organization he founded that would become the March of Dimes. For years the hospital in Warm Springs was the only one dedicated solely to the treatment of polio victims. The historic springs have been restored and although the waters no longer the fill the pools, the on-site museum bears witness to an illness that terrified a nation for decades until Salk’s vaccination was released in 1955.

The Little White House, a lovely cottage he built next to the therapeutic warm water baths, is where he died. It’s a National Historic Site with a small but captivating museum in beautiful, peaceful surroundings. Very much worth a visit.

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The Morgan wants you to see Rembrandt’s etchings

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

The Morgan Library and Museum has an impressive collection of 489 etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn, the largest and finest in the United States. Pierpont Morgan himself started collecting Rembrandt’s etchings in 1900 when he bought the entire library of millionaire rare book and print collector Theodore Irwin which included 272 Rembrandt etchings. He added 112 more prints in 1906 when he acquired them from the legendary art collection of the late railroad magnate William Henry Vanderbilt, sold by his son George of Biltmore fame.

A hundred and fourteen years after Pierpont bought the Irwin collection, the Morgan owns prints of almost all of the 300 known etchings by the Dutch master in multiple impressions thereof, including very rare ones. Some prints have been published in exhibition catalogs, but other than that, to view these innovative and influential works you had to go the Morgan in New York City where a few selections were on display. As of May 22nd, however, the entire Morgan collection of Rembrandt prints has been digitized and uploaded to the museum’s website.

Rembrandt began experimenting with etching in 1626 when he was a youth of 20 in Leiden. Other painters like Peter Paul Rubens made prints of his work, but he hired printmakers to do all the etching. Rembrandt did all the work himself, seeing it not as a means to mass-produce and publicize his pricier pieces, but as an exciting artistic medium in its own right with its own strengths. They were made by scratching lines on a resin-coated copper plate using a fine needle or the thicker drypoint needle and then dipping the plate in acid. The acid would “bite” the plate wherever the resin had been scratched away, leaving an impression. His early etchings had a relatively straight-forward drawing style. Over time he developed a more painterly style as he used dense thickets of lines and overlays of ink wiped off only in highlighted areas to create dramatic chiaroscuro.

His subjects ranged from self-portraits, often studies of posture and expression rather than formal representations, portraits of family (his mother, his first wife Saskia) and patrons, Biblical scenes, landscapes of the Dutch countryside and even some erotica which has no equivalent in his painted works. He also depicted people at the fringes of society, beggars, peasants, the elderly, the ill, sometimes mixing them up with images of himself in remarkable studies that look like sketches on a piece of paper rather than the work of painstaking engraving on a plate.

Rembrandt’s prints became hugely popular all over Europe, commanding impressive sums. An etching of Christ Preaching, a masterpiece of complex composition drawing from several different Biblical passages, is now known as the Hundred Guilder Print because an elderly patron paid him that much for an impression of it. His biographer Arnold Houbraken wrote that the demand for Rembrandt’s prints was so great people sought out impressions of different states with slight differences for the cachet of having the version of, for example, Woman Sitting Half Dressed Beside a Stove both with and without the stove key.

The largest number of Rembrandt prints that have ever been on display at once was at a British Museum exhibition in 2001 which featured about 100 of his etchings. Now you can enjoy almost three times that many in high resolution from the comfort of your computer. I recommend clicking on All Images and browsing through the whole collection. Click on zoom or on download to examine the details.

Speaking of which, I feel compelled to show love to the obscure but exceptionally innovative Dutch printmaker Hercules Segers. Rembrandt was a big fan of Segers’ work, collecting his paintings and prints, and even remaking one of the latter, acquiring the copper plate of Tobias and the Angel and remaking it into The Flight into Egypt. The Morgan has two impressions of The Flight (this one and this one) and it’s fascinating to the alterations close-up.

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Court rules Richard III to be buried in Leicester

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

After more than a year of legal wrangling, a High Court has ruled that the remains of King Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral as originally planned. The claimant in this case is The Plantagenet Alliance, an organization created by Stephen Nicolay, 16th great-nephew of Richard III, specifically to contest the burial plans. He and 14 other people descended from Richard’s siblings (the king himself has no direct descendants) wanted Richard’s remains to be interred in York Minster because they believed that to have been wish in life, so they contested the exhumation license granted by the Ministry of Justice to the University of Leicester Archaeological Service (ULAS).

On August 24th, 2012, the first day of excavations under the Leicester Council parking lot that researchers believed was the site of the Greyfriars church, archaeologists uncovered human bone. They stopped digging immediately in accordance with the Burials Act of 1857 and on August 31st team leader Richard Buckley applied for an exhumation license. The application proposed to exhume “up to six sets of human remains for scientific examination” with any excavated remains to be kept in the Jewry Wall Museum with the exception that “in the unlikely event that the remains of Richard III are located the intention is for these to be reinterred at St Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester.”

The license for “the removal of the remains of persons unknown” from the Greyfriars site was granted on September 3rd, 2012. Once they had the license, the ULAS team excavated the bones fully and found two skeletons, one of which had the tell-tale curved spine and sharp force injuries of Richard III. Then came the DNA analysis and other tests that confirmed they had indeed discovered the remains of the last Plantagenet king of England. The announcement of the discovery was made on February 4th, 2013, an unforgettable day here on the blog.

On May 3rd, 2013, The Plantagenet Alliance filed for a judicial review of the exhumation license. Their legal argument was that the Ministry of Justice should have consulted more widely with other interested parties (ie, the descendants) and the public once they realized that the “persons unknown” cited in the license included a king of England. The Secretary of State would seek the consent of relatives of an identified exhumed person in other circumstances, so they should have in this case as well.

The High Court ultimately disagreed. They ruled the MoJ had no duty to consult, that there is no established practice that would require the Justice Secretary to consult with collateral relatives of someone who died 500 years ago. The uniqueness of the circumstances — the excavation of a king of England — is no basis for expanding the law since there could be all kinds of exceptional circumstances that don’t involve kings. The people and institutions who needed to be considered were.

This case undoubtedly has unique and exceptional features which arguably call for special consideration. It is why the claim has reached this Court. The archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a King of England after 500 years may fairly be described as “unprecedented”. The discovery touches on Sovereign, State and the Church. To the extent that these unique features call for special consideration, it may well be that the decision-maker is required by law to ascertain at least the views of Sovereign, State and the Church. In our view, however, at all material times in this case the Secretary of State was sufficiently aware of the views of Sovereign, State and the Church to be able to make an informed decision.

You can read the entire decision here (pdf), and it’s very much worth it. The court lays out the whole history, from Richard’s life and death at the Battle of Bosworth to how the excavation came together to the discovery, the reburial politics from Council to Parliament and of course the legal challenge. Fun fact: Philippa Langley was talking to the Ministry of Justice about what to do in case Richard’s remains were found starting in January of 2011, believe it or not. She even touched base with the Private Secretary of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, grandson of King George V, first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and patron of the Richard III Society to see where the Royal Household stood on the question. They supported the excavation in a distant sort of way, with the only locus of concern being that the remains were handled with respect.

The Plantagenet Alliance has not commented on the decision yet but they do have a three week window in which to lodge an appeal. Richard Buckley and the University of Leicester spokesperson are delighted, as is the Dean of Leicester who said at a press conference that they’re aiming for a burial ceremony in spring of 2015.

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Continental Currency coin sold for $1,410,000

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

When it was minted in 1776, the Continental Currency coin didn’t have a denomination. There were silver, brass and pewter versions and numismatists still aren’t sure how they were used because there is no value notation on the coins themselves and no historical records authorizing the coins have survived. There are about 60 of these coins extant, most of them pewter. Only four of the silver Continental Currency coins are known and one of them has just sold at auction for $1,410,000. An impressive result for a coin whose original value is unknown.

On February 10th, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the creation of the first national currency, paper notes in denominations from 1/6th of a dollar to 80 dollars. The name came from the Spanish dollars, whose reliable silver weight and purity had made them a global currency since they were first minted in 1497, used to back the notes. The design of the Continentals, as the notes became known, was the work of Benjamin Franklin, a long-time advocate for paper money who as early as 1736 had printed paper currency for New Jersey. The obverse of the Continental fractional dollars has the Latin “FUGIO” (I fly) written over a sundial and the charmingly Old Richard-esque legend “MIND YOUR BUSINESS” written underneath it. (It’s not really sure what he meant by that legend, but it probably wasn’t “mind your own business” in the way we think of it today. It’s more likely to have been a literal meaning of business as in see to your money-making. It could have been a rebus with the sundial and FUGIO legend, meaning something like time flies so take care of your business.) The reverse has 13 linked rings, each labeled with the name of one of the colonies, surrounding a sun containing the legends “AMERICAN CONGRESS” and “WE ARE ONE.”

The borders and devices for the Continentals were the work of engraver and artist Elisha Gallaudet who had engraved New York State notes in 1771 and New York City notes, the first currency issued by an American city, in 1774. Elisha Gallaudet also engraved the dies of the Continental Currency coin that just sold. He left his mark — EG FECIT (EG made it) — on the silver coin making it one of very few coins from the colonial period to bear its maker’s signature. Experts believe that the Continental Congress intended the coins to replace the one dollar paper note.

The four resolutions from May 10, 1775 to May 9, 1776 provided for the issue of paper money in various denominations, including the one dollar bill. The six resolutions of July 22, 1776 through September 26, 1778 omitted the one dollar denomination. Thus, it is logical to conclude the pewter pieces were intended as a substitute for the paper dollars in those issues. The coins had minimal intrinsic value, and like the paper bills they replaced, were valued according to the public’s confidence in Congress, who guaranteed their value at one dollar each.

The mintage figures are unknown, but the pewter coins appear with enough frequency to suggest they were produced in substantial numbers. Many of the coins were undoubtedly melted during this period, because Benjamin Franklin observed that pewter was sorely needed for the canteens used by soldiers in the Continental Army. The most reasonable explanation for the brass examples is that they represent dies trials. The silver coins are of full weight and value, suggesting that a precious-metal coinage was contemplated, but the Continental Congress was chronically short of funds and had no reliable supply of silver, so this idea must have been abandoned quickly.

Instead they stuck with the paper notes which were cheap to produce but depreciated at an alarming rate. There were too many of them in circulation, and the British took advantage of their weakness to distribute huge amounts of counterfeit notes, devaluing them even further. Within three years of the first issue Continentals had dropped to 1/5th of their face value. A year later they had plummeted to 1/40th of their face value. A year after that they were no longer being used as currency at all. It wasn’t until the Constitution was ratified that Continentals finally scraped up a little bit of worth: 1% of face value to be exchanged for treasury bonds.

Franklin’s fabulous design got another bite at the currency apple in 1787 when it graced the first official penny of the United States of America, today known as the Fugio Cent after the Latin “I fly” legend.

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First Wolverine artwork sells for $657,250

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

The original artwork of Wolverine’s first appearance in comics sold at auction Friday for a record $657,250. It ties the record for the most expensive comic book art in general — Todd McFarlane’s original 1990 cover art for The Amazing Spider-Man #328 sold in 2012 for $657,250 — and sets a new record for original artwork from the interior of a comic, beating out an iconic image of Batman and Robin drawn by Frank Miller for 1986′s The Dark Knight Returns which sold in 2011 for $448,125.

“We knew when this artwork surfaced that is was, without doubt, one of the most significant pieces of original comic art ever drawn,” said Todd Hignite, Vice President of Heritage Auctions. “It has now brought a final price realized commensurate with that status.”

Penciled by Herb Trimpe and inked by Jack Abel, the drawing introduced the mutant Wolverine in the last panel of the last page of The Incredible Hulk #180 in October of 1974, making this year the 40th anniversary of Wolverine’s first appearance. The story written by Len Wein puts Hulk in the wilds of Canada where he hopes to enjoy a little r&r, only to find himself tangling with the Wendigo. The Canadian government, concerned about the very large green man with anger management issues, sends in a secret weapon to handle him: Weapon X, aka, Wolverine. “If you really want to tangle with someone,” the mutant helpfully suggests, “why not try your luck against – the WOLVERINE!”

Wolverine shared his first cover with Hulk on the next issue (#181) and the two continued their minuet with the Wendigo through issue #182. Wolverine then moved on to the company that would make him famous, appearing in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in May of 1975. He didn’t get his first solo title until 1982.

A year later, Trimpe gave the artwork from that last page of The Incredible Hulk #180 to a young fan who quietly kept it all these years. He wasn’t involved in the collector community, so nobody knew that the work had survived until a few months ago when Heritage Auctions announced that it not only existed, but was going up for auction. The seller, who has chosen to remain anonymous, planned to give the bulk of the after-tax profits to charity, including the Hero Initiative which raises funds to support comic book artists and writers in need.

The buyer is collector and sports card dealer Thomas Fish. According to Heritage Auctions’ website, he’s been amenable to purchase offers on freshly acquired works in the past, so it’s likely an investment piece intended for resale.

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Met releases 400,000 high res images

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

It seems the Met is feeling generous these days, not just in enhancing its collection but also in sharing it. As part of its new Open Access for Scholarly Content program, the museum is releasing 400,000 high resolution images that can be downloaded directly from its website and used for scholarly purposes without asking for permission or paying a fee.

In making the announcement, [Thomas Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art] said: “Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain. I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection.”

OASC was developed as a resource for students, educators, researchers, curators, academic publishers, non-commercial documentary filmmakers, and others involved in scholarly or cultural work. Prior to the establishment of OASC, the Metropolitan Museum provided images upon request, for a fee, and authorization was subject to terms and conditions.

To access the images, click on the collection database and either search by keyword, browse the featured artists/topics or browse by material, geographic location, era or departments. For getting lost in beautiful things, I’m partial to browsing by era and culture. Look for the OASC in a little box underneath the picture the left of the My Met link. To download the image, click on the down arrow to the right and save the image to your hard drive in the usual way. They also seem to allow hotlinking but that’s rude and unreliable in the long term so I wouldn’t do that.

Apparently some images that are still under copyright or whose status is unclear are not yet available for free use, but I haven’t encountered any in my browsing thus far. If the photograph is not free for use, it will not have the OASC icon underneath them
The museum will be increasing the number of available photographs as copyrights expire and new digital files are uploaded.

On a tangentially related (at best) note, while enjoying a random browse today I came across this arresting bronze of Roman emperor Trebonianus Gallus (reigned 251–253 A.D.). Almost the entire statue is original, a very rare survival of a complete third century freestanding bronze. Is that tiny head on that large body not the weirdest thing? And that’s an idealized portrayal, or at least the body is. He’s posed like a famous statue of Alexander the Great carved by Lysippos that inspired many a fine figure for centuries. The face, on the other hand, appears to be realistic which makes for an eye-catchingly disproportionate combination. Still, there’s no question the head and body are of a piece. The museum X-rayed the statue and found the head is original to that body.

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Met acquires monumental Le Brun portrait

Friday, May 16th, 2014

A year ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art only had a few drawings by French baroque master Charles Le Brun, a major hole in their collection since Le Brun was First Painter of King Louis XIV (the king said Le Brun was “the greatest French painter of all time”) and enormously influential for centuries after his death. The gap was filled in April 2013 when the Met purchased The Sacrifice of Polyxena, the 1647 painting by Charles Le Brun that was discovered in the Coco Chanel Suite of the Paris Ritz during renovations in 2012, for $1,885,194. That price set a new world record for a work by Le Brun.

It’s not a record anymore. The Met just broke its own record and broke it hard, acquiring the monumental portrait Everhard Jabach and His Family for an unprecedented $12.3 million. The reason the price is so high this time is that while Polyxena is an early work of a historical theme, Jabach is a group portrait painted around 1660 at the peak of Le Brun’s powers and popularity. It’s a massive work — 7.6 feet by 10.6 feet — of massive artistic and historical significance.

Jabach was one of the great personalities of his age. He was portrayed twice by Van Dyck (1636, private collection; 1641, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), by Peter Lely and possibly Sébastien Bourdon (both ca. 1650, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne), and by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1688, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne). Le Brun was one of the sitter’s favorite artists and the two were united—in the words of Claude Nivelon, Le Brun’s earliest biographer—by “friendship and shared interests” (‘il était uni d’amitié et d’inclination’). The family group was one of the few pictures Jabach did not sell to the King of France, and therefore one of the few that did not enter the collection of the Louvre.

The picture is at once a portrait of family relations and of a painter’s relationship to a key patron. The assemblage of objects lying on the floor at the feet of Jabach symbolizes his cultural interests: a Bible, an open copy of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise, a compass (architecture and geometry), a porte crayon and drawn sheet (drawing), an ancient marble head (sculpture), a book (literature and poetry), and a celestial globe (astronomy). Most prominent among these objects is a bust of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts. She is identified by her distinctive helmet and the Medusa on her chest. Behind Jabach is the mirror in which we see Le Brun at work.

Le Brun made two copies of the portrait. This one is the first. The second was acquired by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum (now the Bode Museum) in Berlin in 1836 but was destroyed in May of 1945 when the Friedrichshain flak tower, where it had ironically been sent for safekeeping along with more than 400 of the museum’s most prized paintings, caught fire at least twice. This was after of Berlin had fallen, by the way, not the result of shelling or bombing. All we have left of it today is an old black and white photograph.

The primary copy was thought lost, but it turns out to have been part of the furniture of the stately home of Olantigh Towers in Kent for almost two centuries. It was brought to the UK by Henry Hope, a wealthy Boston-born, Rotterdam-based Scot who purchased the painting in 1792 from Johann Matthias von Bors, a descendant of Jabach’s. Hope installed it in his Harley Street home after fleeing the continent and the chaos of the French Revolution in 1794. It moved to Olantigh Towers in 1832 when it was bought by John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle-Drax.

In 1913, Olantigh Towers was sold to one J. H. Loudon who then sold to his son, F. W. H. Loudon in 1935. The painting was just sold along with the house. No particular mention was made of it. It was rediscovered last year when experts from Christie’s were called in to assess the contents of the home. Christie’s contacted the Metropolitan Museum and negotiated the sale.

Because of the complex composition representing prominent subjects and their relationship to the artist, this portrait has been called “a French Las Meninas,” after the iconic masterpiece painted by Diego Velázquez in 1656. It’s no wonder, then, that the UK didn’t want to let it go. It’s the only Le Brun portrait in the country and in February the government’s Export Reviewing Committee placed a temporary three-month export ban on the painting, giving British museums the chance to raise the $12.3 million necessary to keep it in the country. The ban expired on May 6th with no institutions stepping up to the plate or even raising enough money to make it remotely plausible that they might be able to acquire it should the ban be extended.

And so the Met gets its prize Le Brun, doubling the number of paintings by the artist in the museum, and more than doubling the importance of their 17th century French collection. The portrait will be conserved and framed, a process that will take the rest of this year at least. It will go on display in the Met’s European Paintings Galleries in 2015. They already have the portrait’s entry uploaded to the museum website, however, and it has lots of details about the imagery and significance of the piece.

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