Recent Internet Auctions Prove Image Is Everything
Icon: An image, figure or representation. A word that comes to mind when discussing Andy Warhol.
But never mind that those folks now would rather order Thai take-out than open a can of their favorite childhood treat; images of it are fetching record prices.
Warhol’s portfolio of 10 screenprints, “Campbell’s Soup I” (1968), brought $64,750 at artnet.com’s online Warhol auction that closed August 31. The set, one of an edition of 250, went to a bidder called “harrypotter” from New York. The previous high price for this set was $62,084 at Sotheby’s London in June 1989. Since then, the most recent Soup I set sold for $43,700 at Sotheby’s New York last November. One other soup can image, the single print “Green Pea” from a Campbell Soup I set, brought $4,620, but the rest of the top 10 lots depicted human icons.
Two “Marilyn Monroe” color silkscreens drew widely disparate prices. The difference? The dark, somber 36-by-36-inch 1967 print, one of an edition of 250, brought $41,800, while a smaller, 12-by-12-inch, brighter (red background and eye shadow) example cost buyer Gregory McNutt of California $6,930.
Twentieth Century Icons
For those interested in Twentieth Century icons in the decorative arts category, the auction site icon20.com, which bills itself as “a complete resource for Twentieth Century decorative arts,” will begin holding monthly online auctions in October with a glass sale, says Director of Content Alan Rosenberg.
“We’re starting a regular schedule of online auctions,” he said, in addition to the set-price rdf_Descriptions sold on the site and the Icon20 Gallery at 515 W. 20th Street in New York.
The glass auction runs October 13 to 22, followed by mid-century furniture November 3, Art Nouveau ceramics November 24 and closing out 2000 with an all-Lalique sale.
Glass was chosen for the first auction for several reasons. “It’s something that I like and I put that particular auction together,” Rosenberg admits. “We had a collection available to us – the core of the sale is from one owner and we built it up around that.”
The sale will be “very strong on Italian and Scandinavian mid-century glass,” he says, noting that Italian pieces are more “exuberant” than Scandinavian, but he cautions neophytes to avoid “tourist” pieces that are “too exuberant.”
In terms of interest, “it seems that glass is strong, but Italian glass in particular has picked up in the past year. We have some very good dealers. There happens to be a good supply of pretty good things, and it’s a good area for collectors who are just starting out.”
Also, for a site offering its first Internet auction, glass is a good choice for several reasons: “It’s easy to ship … What’s difficult on the Internet is furniture and large things,” Rosenberg says. Also, “It’s a known commodity instead of an obscure thing.”
In addition to its online gallery and now auctions, icon20.com offers a wealth of decorative arts learning resources such as a museum directory, an encyclopedia and an online book store.
What about an icon that symbolizes music for the masses? The precursor to the radios and LPs that every middle-class family gathered around in post-war America was the music box, the more elaborate of which are becoming prized collectibles.
Two such pieces brought prices upward of $20,000 at ewolfs.com’s July music auction: A Wurlitzer in a “colorful case housing an electric motor driving a seven-inch paper roll that controls drums and a pipe organ, producing a playful sound” garnered $25,300; and a Swiss “Langdroff Six-Tune Music Box with organ on stand” brought $21,275.
The former, from an American maker, plays carnival-like music. The latter, housed in an inlaid box, includes a storage drawer to house three more of the paper rolls that contain the music.
“Any time you have extra cylinders and they come in and out and you can switch the cylinders, that’s really a top-of-the-line model,” says ewolfs’ assistant director Bridget McWilliams, noting that this type of box usually plays versions of Beethoven or “popular tunes of the day.” These two specimens, as well as three made by the Regina Company of Ranway, N.J., were from the collection of Bill Kap of Cleveland.
Generally, such rdf_Descriptions were manufactured from 1880 to 1920. “The earlier the box, the better the cylinder was, and that’s desirable,” McWilliams says. “Also, the earlier boxes were less adorned” and were better-constructed.
The Langdroff in particular generated some “nice activity” at the end of the online bidding, notes ewolfs’ Decorative Arts Specialist, Mitch Sotka, who organized this music auction. The couple who won the piece was “excited to see it on the Web site and had made several calls about it,” he says.
With its elaborate design, “It would have graced a very impressive home” when first sold, Sotka adds. “Music boxes in general are common, but the more elaborate music boxes are more prized. Quality automatons [with moving figures] are even more prized.”
In addition to music boxes, quite a few violins and even a rare German Bosendorfer baby grand piano were offered in this sale, and many of the violins were snapped up for less than their estimated prices. According to Sotka, ewolfs is just breaking into the string instrument market, where the main competition comes from London. He hopes the convenience of ewolfs’ Cleveland location will draw sellers to future music auctions, which the auction house plans to hold biennially.