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Archive for the ‘Old Stuff in the News’ Category

George Washington Letter Sold for $3.2 Million

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on December 14th, 2009

An emotional letter from George Washington to his nephew Bushrod, written soon after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 has sold at Christie’s for a record $3.2 million dollars (including buyer’s premium.) This smashes the previous record of $834,500 set in 2002 for a Revolutionary War military report in his hand.

In the letter, Washington praises the positive qualities of the Constitution to preserve and strengthen the young United States, until then struggling for survival under the Articles of Confederation.  He says in part “If . . . the Union of the whole is a desirable object, the parts which compose it must yield a little”. Washington had presided over the Constitutional Convention, and was an ardent supporter of the document. Answering critics and foes of a stronger central government, he writes

“The power under the Constitution will always be with the people… It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period to representatives of their own chusing; and whenever it is exercised contrary to their interests . . . their servants can, and undoubtedly will be, recalled.”

The letter, sold by an unidentified British descendant of the first President, was given an estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million, not only because of the author, but also because of the historically important content.  Some observers expressed skepticism at the estimate, citing the depressed economy, but the results showed that items as historically significant as this one will sell well in any market. The bidding rapidly rose from the opening of $950,000 and concluded in a duel between two phone bidders, with the hammer coming down at $2.8 million. The buyer’s premium (auction fee) brought the final price to $3.2 million.

This sale continues a trend that started gaining momentum in the late 1990s, where content can play as significant, or in many cases, a larger role in the price of a manuscript than the author’s signature. This is readily evident in the US Civil War market, where letters with good content from an enlisted man can fetch more than a signature of the average general.  Even “camp letters” that are not written about a large battle can fetch good prices with the right research presented to the buyer to put the letter into context.

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Possible New Da Vinci Painting Found

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on December 10th, 2009

Spectroscopic analysis of a painting long thought to be from an anonymous 19th Century artist has produced a fingerprint image from the painting matching that of Leonardo Da Vinci.  Work done at Lumiere Technology of Paris for the anonymous Swiss owner, as well as analysis of the canvas and pigments, has convinced art experts that the painting is indeed the first “lost” Da Vinci to be discovered in over a hundred years.

Profile of a young fiancée, now attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci (Lumiere Technology image)

"Profile of a Young Fiancée", now attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci (Lumiere Technology image)

Forensic art expert Paul Biro of Montreal proclaimed the painting an authentic Da Vinci after analysis of the styles, technique and materials used in the painting, noting that the fingerprint, which matches one on a Da Vinci painting of St Jerome in the Vatican, was the clincher.  “Leonardo used his hands liberally and frequently as part of his painting technique.  His fingerprints are found on many of his works,” Biro said.  “I was able to make use of multispectral images [from Lumiere] to make a little smudge a very readable fingerprint.”

The painting was purchased on behalf of an anonymous Swiss collector by art dealer Peter Silverman for approximately $19,000 from the Ganz gallery in New York in 2007.  The seller, Kate Ganz, had purchased the painting for near the same price a little over a decade earlier.  The Swiss collector had seen images of the painting, and asked Silverman to check it out, as it did not seem to be a 19th Century painting.  Silverman says that although he thought it looked like a Da Vinci, he initially thought the idea far-fetched.  “Of course you say, ‘Come on, that’s ridiculous. There’s no such thing as a da Vinci floating around,'” Silverman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. Nevertheless, he knew he had found something, and quickly purchased the painting for his Swiss client.  He immediately began researching it and says “I started looking in the areas around da Vinci and all the people who could have possibly done it and through elimination I came back to da Vinci.”

He consulted with Nicholas Turner, a former curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the British Museum, who declared it a Da Vinci. The same sentiment was expressed by other art experts who examined the paining.  Any doubt has been removed by the discovery and identification of the fingerprint, Silverman says.

The painting has been estimated at $150 million by one art expert.  Silverman says his wealthy Swiss client has promised to buy him “lunch and dinner and caviar for the rest of my life” should the painting be sold.

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Wonders of the Art Business

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on July 29th, 2009

I of course had to share this! 😀
(image removed by host)

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Secret Message Found in Lincoln’s Watch

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on March 11th, 2009

Secret Message in Lincolns Watch National Public Radio reports on a family legend about Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War that turns out to be true!

Watchmaker Jonathan Dillon as an old man told his family that he had been employed at a Washington DC jewelry store in 1861, when the recently-elected President sent his favorite pocket watch in for repair:

Dillon told his family that as he held the watch in his hands, the store’s owner rushed up and shouted, “Dillon, war has begun.” Dillon was a Unionist — he lived in a city that bordered the South but was loyal to the North and the federal government — and as the story goes, he brashly opened the watch and secretly engraved the words: “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.”

Or words to that effect, Dillon told his family. And in 1906, Dillon, by then an elderly man, also told his tale to a reporter from The New York Times.

Doug Stiles, Dillion’s great grandson, was researching his family history when he came across the story in the New York Times (apparently the story had been forgotten by the family.)  He tracked down where the watch was now- the Smithsonian- and asked the curator if the story was true.  No one there had heard of the story, and no one had opened the 150 year-old watch, so it was decided to find out if there actually was a secret message in Lincoln’s watch, inscribed upon the dawn of the Civil War:

Smithsonian officials invited a group of journalists to bear witness as a master watchmaker carefully opened Lincoln’s watch to the inner workings. When he spied scribbles lightly engraved onto the back of the watch face, he handed the magnifying goggles to Stiles — so he could have the honor of being perhaps the first man to read them in almost 150 years.

“Jonathan Dillon April 13-1861 Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon,” his great-great-grandfather had written, followed by “April 13-1861 Washington. Thank God we have a government. Jonth Dillon.”

The inscription wasn’t precisely the way Dillon remembered it when telling the tale to family. But the moral still holds: Sometimes tall tales are true.

More photos and the complete story at  NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

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CNet Founder Sued by Sotheby’s

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on September 14th, 2008

Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity” set a world record for Americana folk art as well as a record for the artist’s works when it sold this May in a Sotheby’s auction for $9.6 million. Now, the buyer of this and two other paintings in the same sale, Internet millionaire and CNet founder Halsey Minor is being sued by Sotheby’s for non-payment.

The suit, filed September 2 in federal court in New York City, asks for the $13.8 million owed for the three paintings (Peaceable Kingdom, plus Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes and Childe Hassam’s Paris, Winter Days), plus $3 million in late fees, interest and damages.  Standard practice at Sotheby’s is immediate payment after the auction, but had broken their usual policy and offered Minor 90-day payment terms when Minor told them that he could not pay until he received money he was owed by third parties.

Sotheby’s spokesman Diane Phillips said “It is highly unusual for us to sue a client. We do not like to sue our clients, but Mr. Minor left us with no choice.” Minor, who previously claimed that he did not have the funds to pay, now claims that Sotheby’s did not disclose that they company had a financial stake in Peaceable Kingdom, whose owner had pledged the painting to Sotheby’s as collateral for a loan. Sotheby’s denies the charges, and notes that Minor had said nothing of the sort to Sotheby’s until he found out he was about to be sued by the prestigious auction house.

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Sotheby’s Expects Up to $55 Million in Qing Dynasty Auction

Posted in Old Stuff in the News  by Steven on September 3rd, 2008

Reuters reports on the upcoming Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong of the treasures of a Chinese Emperor:

A singular collection of imperial treasures once owned by China’s powerful Qianlong emperor including jade dragon seals, military scrolls and a sword will be offered by Sotheby’s this autumn in its Hong Kong sale.

Sotheby’s “Legacies of Imperial Power” auction will feature a group of ancient seals from the reign of the Manchu Qianlong emperor (1736-1795) sourced from the family estate of French industrialist Emile Guimet, whose celebrated oriental art collection is now mostly displayed in the Musee Guimet in Paris.

The sale, 35 lots in total, includes a pristine 15meter (49 ft) scroll of over 16,000 military figures, including the Emporer himself on a white stallion, a suit of armor, a sword and a massive white jade Imperial seal. The estimated total for the sale is $55 million.

Increasing wealth of the burgeoning capitalist class in China along with a strong sense of nationalism may be contributing to the continued growth in the Chinese antiquities market, as corporate executives seek to enhance their own prestige while reclaiming the stolen treasures of their ancestors.

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