Art of the ’80s auction Oct. 3 projects exuberant backlash

Art of the ’80s, bursting with defiant, upbeat imagery, is presented in a collection of works that will be sold in a Jasper52 online auction on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Driven by a force that was amiable and edgy, fun and liberating, artists working in this decade produced light artworks that were well-received by the public then and to this day.

‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ by Michael Clark, 1985 signed mixed media, paper size is 22.5in x 30in. Estimate: $5,300-$6,100. Jasper52 image

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Prized Asian antiques bound for Jasper52 auction Oct. 2

Jasper52 will present an online auction of premier Asian antiques on Tuesday, Oct. 2. This finely curated sale brings together ancient Chinese pottery, impressive bronze Buddhas and much more, creating a comprehensive representation of the Asian tradition.

Iron helmet covered with black lacquer inlaid with mother of pearl, Meiji period (1868-1912). Estimate: $1,500-$2,000. Jasper52 image

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Blanc de chine: China’s enchanting white porcelain

Blanc de chine – the white glazed porcelain prized by collectors – literally translates from the French as “white from China,” as it was (and still is) manufactured at Dehua, in China’s Fujian province. Some people, in fact, refer to it as Dehua, in honor of its point of origin. Blanc de chine has been produced since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and nearly 200 kiln sites have been identified throughout history along the Fujian coast, China’s main ceramic exporting center. In later centuries, it was exported to Europe and copied there, at Meissen and elsewhere.

It’s difficult to explain the allure behind a collectible that’s completely lacking in color, but maybe that’s the point. At Gray’s Auctioneers’ September 12 auction, the first 13 lots were all examples of blanc de chine, and that was by design. “Everyone who goes to our catalog online is automatically presented with lot one, and I wanted that lot to be not only beautiful, but also something that wouldn’t distract bidders with color, especially our Chinese bidders,” said Deba Gray, the firm’s president and chief auctioneer. “It was a marketing strategy that worked.”

This blanc de chine Guanyin figure (the goddess of mercy) sold for $3,300 at Gray’s Auctioneers’ September 12th auction in Cleveland, Ohio.

Gray added, “I personally love blanc de chine. It communicates a timeless elegance, and there’s something haunting about it. It’s beyond color. It’s purely shape. It has the collector wondering, ‘What would this piece have looked like with color?’” Of the 13 lots, the top seller (lot 3) went for $3,000, putting blanc de chine within reach of the majority of collectors. Of course, the value of a blanc de chine piece can depend greatly on its age, condition, shape and color. That point was driven home at a sale held in August by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Maine.

There, there top lot of the auction was a 17th-century blanc de chine seated Guanyin, the goddess of compassion. It soared to $760,500. The reason: it had the seal of He Chaozong, the renowned Chinese potter who is credited with developing and perfecting the blanc de chine process. “That made all the difference,” said Carol Achterhof of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, “and after frenzied bidding, the figure returned home to China.” Also in the sale, a Chinese 17th-century Qilin figure set with semiprecious stones finished at $643,500.

The top lot of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries’ August 25-26 sale was this 17th-century blanc de chine seated Guanyin figure with double gourd seal of He Chaozong. It sold for a staggering $760,500.

Blanc de chine is best known for its depiction of Buddhist deities, such as Guanyin, Maitreya, Luohan and Ta-mo. Guanyin is the most popular; she was particularly revered in Fujian. Other common devotional objects include incense burners, candlesticks, flower vases and statues of saints. The more mainstream creations include joss-stick holders, candlesticks, foo dogs, libation cups and boxes. Many blanc-de chine-objects, like statuettes, were later used as lamp bases and today the many factories still producing in Dehua churn out figures and tableware in modern styles.

You might have noted that large chargers, vases and such were not included in the above lists. That’s because the Dehua clay was not suited to making sizable items. Smaller ornamental items and dense statuettes became their specialty. As for the unique, colorless nature of blanc de chine, that, too is attributable to the Dehua clay, which is unusual for having very little iron oxide in it. The clay allows for the purity in color that makes blanc de chine so attractive – that and the shiny, almost wet-looking glaze melded to the porcelain. These traits are irresistible to collectors.

This blanc de chine porcelain figure of Arhat in monk’s robes, one hand raised in mudra position, another hand holding a begging bowl, on rocky base, 16¾ inches tall, came up for bid at Dargate Auction Galleries on May 6, 2018.

“There are serious problems with dating and attribution when it comes to blanc de chine,” said blogger Jacqueline Wein of Tokyo Jinja, whose dispatches, literally from around the world, are titled Global Adventures in Antiques, Art and Design. “Even the experts can be fooled,” she said. “Without a long history or provenance, it is quite difficult to estimate when a piece was made, particularly as the same forms were produced for centuries. Also, much of the later white porcelain isn’t even from Dehua, but instead Jingdezhen (another province in China).”

Wein added: “Scholars argue all the time about color and translucence. The general feeling is that the older Dehua pieces have a more bone or ivory color and the Jingdezhen pieces are a true dead white. Yet, I have seen pure white pieces at auction from reputable dealers labeled as ‘Dehua blanc de chine.’ Modern pieces are most distinctly that very pure white. The modern design world has taken note of blanc de chine, too, notably the designers Charlotte Moss, Mary McDonald, and Ruthie Sommers. Also, blogs such as Chinoiserie Chic and others feature it on a regular basis.”

The Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio has one of the most extensive collections of blanc de chine in the country. It includes this 18th-century barrel-shaped jar and cover.

Blanc de chine is featured in museums and collections throughout the world. One of the largest collections of blanc de chine is housed at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio. The British Museum in London also has a large number of blanc de chine pieces, having received the entire collection of P.J. Donnelly as a gift in 1980. And Blenheim Palace, the home of the Dukes of Marlborough in England, contains a fabulous array of blanc de chine: foo dogs and other animals, libation cups in the shape of rhinoceros horns, a teapot with applied branches and flowers, small pierced cups, vessels and porcelain stands. The group has a colorful past.

“This collection of about 40 pieces was supposedly given to the fourth Duke of Marlborough by a Mister Spalding at the end of the eighteenth century, at the height of the craze for all things Chinese,” Wein recounted. “The impoverished eighth Duke – Winston Churchill’s uncle – auctioned most of the china from Blenheim at Christie’s in London in 1886, although the ninth Duke made the savvy choice of marrying heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt and later recovered and repurchased them, and returned them to their rightful place.” A blanc de chine happy ending.

Chinese paintings comprise Jasper52 art auction Sept. 26

Seventy-seven Chinese paintings, most of them from a collection in Amsterdam, comprise a Jasper52 online auction that will be conducted Wednesday, Sept. 26. Many of the paintings are on paper and done during the 20th century, while a few are oils on canvas. Some are classic Chinese scroll paintings more than 5 feet in length.

Chinese painting on paper, 20th century, 135 cm x 62 cm (54in x 24.8in), artist’s signature and seal. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

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Movie poster auction stars cowboy heroes Sept. 26

A cavalcade of cowboys rides tall in a Jasper52 auction of western movie posters from Hollywood’s golden age on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Stars featured range from Tom Mix and Tim McCoy to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

‘Wyoming Bill’s Wild West’ show poster, 1913; 29in x 43in. Estimate: $5,000-$6,000. Jasper52 image

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Cigar store figures: treasured folk art

From around 1840 to 1910, life-size cigar store figures of Indian chiefs, braves and princesses – mostly carved from wood but some cast from zinc, too – could be seen inside or outside nearly every tobacco shop in America. The U.S. census from 1860 listed no fewer than 2,269 active wood carvers. Of those, 959 were living in New York, the epicenter of cigar store Indian manufacture. New York City was the unofficial headquarters for studios producing cigar store Indians, or “show figures,” as carvers called them.

This cigar store Indian statue sold for $65,000 + buyer’s premium in Material Culture’s May 26, 2013 auction in Philadelphia. It was crafted around 1850 by John Cromwell (1805-1873), who opened his first shop in New York City when he was 26.

The most famous and highly collected carvers are Samuel Robb, Thomas V. Brooks, J. W. Fiske, Julius T. Melchers, John Cromwell and William Demuth – although Demuth was not himself a carver but a tobacco products distributor who operated a carving studio. Of the group, all but one (Melchers) worked in New York City. They all even apprenticed under one another at various points in time; that’s how tightly knit the carving community was.

Melchers, the outlier, operated out of Detroit, and was the only carver who was a classically trained artist. The others were more or less folk artists and, in fact, cigar store Indians are generally considered a category of folk art. Melchers, it is said, used actual Native Americans as models in creating his highly detailed, true-to-life creations. In that regard, he’s in the top tier of most desired carvers in the collecting community.

As anyone who’s even casually familiar with the genre knows, cigar store Indians can fetch dizzying dollars at auction. “We sold a Samuel Robb figure at one of our sales not long ago for over $100,000, but that’s not unusual,” said Mike Eckles, owner of Showtime Auction Services in Woodhaven, Michigan. “Cigar store Indians sell for in the six figures all the time. They’re life-size expressions of a time gone by, and people just love them.”

When Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas auctioned this cigar store Indian attributed to Samuel Robb in May 2010 for $203,150, it set a new auction record.

In May 2010, a carved cigar store Indian done in the manner of Samuel Robb – but not definitively attributed to him, since it was unsigned (most weren’t) – was sold for $203,150 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas. At the time, it was a world record price, owing to the figure’s original paint, superb condition, impeccable provenance and detailed features. The male chief figure stood 75½ inches tall, including the base.

“Condition and original paint are especially important,” said Marsha Dixie, Heritage’s Consignment Director in the Historical Department. “Keep in mind, these figures were usually outdoors, year-round, exposed to the elements, with people sometimes throwing things at them or even hacking at them. As for paint, it was common for people to re-paint the figures, thinking they were doing the right thing. To a collector, that’s not a good thing. Patina is everything.”

The Heritage record was demolished in 2013 when a female figure – known in the trade as a cigar store princess – sold for a staggering $745,500 (inclusive of 15 percent buyer’s premium) at a sale held by Guyette & Deeter. The Maryland-based firm’s specialty is duck decoys, another genre of carved collectible that routinely sees six-figure prices. The cigar store princess was carved either by Robb or Brooks (again, unsigned) and overall stood 83 inches tall.

The current world auction record for a cigar store Indian figure was set by this spectacular example attributed to the shop of Samuel Robb or Thomas V. Brooks (it’s unsigned, so no one knows for sure). It fetched $745,500 at Guyette & Deeter in November 2013.

“I had known the owner of the figure for quite a few years,” said Jon Deeter of Guyette & Deeter. “It had been used and never traveled far from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Its condition was pristine and it was a very attractive princess. We’ve sold other Indians in the mid-five-figure range. They’re fun to work with and are a wonderful slice of American folk art.” The sale price still stands as a record today, although it will doubtless be shattered at some point in the future.

Not all cigar store Indians sell for six figures. This carved and painted Indian chief, probably made by Thomas V. Brooks in the 19th century, sold for a very reasonable $13,800 at Cottone Auctions’ March 25, 2017 sale in Geneseo, N.Y.

The prices for better examples continue on an upward trajectory, but it wasn’t always that way. A New York Times article from 1974 stated, “It was not until the 1950s that the general public began to realize that cigar store Indians were anything more than firewood.” The article pointed out that prices in 1974 were 10 times what they were just 20 years earlier. Nostalgia and a yearning for a simpler, earlier time simply swept the category up to the big time.

One person who may own the next record-breaker is Mark Goldman, a collector and tobacconist in New York City. He began collecting in 1967 and today has over 100 life-size figures, by all the major carvers. But the one he thinks might trump them all is an early Punch figure by James “Jersey Jim” Campbell. Goldman bought it years ago when it was deaccessioned by a now-defunct U.S. Tobacco museum in Nashville. He says it’s worth about $500,000 today.

“Collectors today fall into one of two categories,” Goldman said, “people who are looking to outfit their man-caves and serious collectors. The man-cavers might be happy with a simple replica, which they can buy for around $500 or $600. The serious collectors bring serious money to the table, and are keenly aware of the often-subtle differences that can distinguish an ordinary cigar store Indian from a highly valuable piece of folk art.”

These cigar store Indians, both by Julius T. Melchers, are from the inventory of Mark Goldman, who lives in New York City and owns the largest collection of such figures in the U.S., with over 100 life-size examples, by all the famous carvers.

Aside from the obvious markers like paint and condition, Goldman says he also looks for what he calls movement. “A Samuel Robb Indian with a rose, for example, or with crossed legs, or who is showing a smile instead of a stern, steady expression, might double or even triple the value of a figure that doesn’t show those things.” Goldman said whether a figure is male or female (about an equal number of each was produced) matters little. His collection is half and half.

Books on the subject that collectors, or people considering collecting, refer to include Artists in Wood by Frederick Fried (the title refers to what Samuel Robb gave as his occupation on his marriage certificate), Hunting Indians in a Taxi Cab by Kate Sanborn (if you can find a copy; it was written in 1911), Cigar Store Figures by Pendergast & Ware, and The Ship Carver’s Art by Ralph Sessions. By the way, and fakes and repros are out there, so caveat emptor!

Gold coins, bullion await bidders in online auction Sept. 19

Gold fever is defined as the obsession with seeking gold ore. But why go to the effort and expense of mining this precious metal when copious amounts are readily available in a refined form in a Jasper52 auction Wednesday, Sept 19? The online auction offers nearly 100 lots of gold coins and bullion.

Sealed gold bar, 50 grams, 999/1000, 24K, Istanbul Gold Refinery or Nadir Gold Refinery. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

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Saints go marching in Jasper52 icons auction Sept. 19

The lives of Christ, his apostles and many Eastern Orthodox saints are celebrated in a collection of religious icons that will be sold in a Jasper52 auction on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

‘Entry of Christ in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,’ Russian, 1890-1940, 32 x 27 cm. Estimate: $3,500-$4,000. Jasper52 image

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Warning! Things You Cannot Collect

The value of collecting begins and ends with what’s available and in what quantities. But what if you’re not supposed to collect it at all? There actually are quite a few items that, by law, collectors are not allowed to handle, sell, pawn, trade, auction, or represent in a transaction because they are protected national treasures.

What do you do if it’s a family heirloom? How can you legally convey the object outside of your own family? It pays to know which items are protected and if there are exceptions to the rules.

Apollo 15, 1971, lunar surface “moon dust” on clear cellophane tape clearly shows both the gray moon dust and ridges from the creases in the space suit worn by NASA Commander Dave Scott. The moon dust sold legally for $775. Image courtesy of and Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Moon Rocks and Moon Dust

Only 12 astronauts have landed on the moon in six manned missions from 1969 to 1972. Over the course of those moon landings, about 842 lbs. of moon rocks and moon dust were brought back to Earth. All lunar “rubble” is considered a national treasure and is owned exclusively by the United States government. It cannot be sold publicly or privately unless it came from an official artifact that was given to an astronaut after their mission ended. An example would be moon dust embedded on patches, parts of spacesuits, boots, bags, or equipment. At one time NASA insisted that all of the artifacts kept by astronauts were government property, but Public Law 112-185, signed by President Barack Obama on September 25, 2012, gave clear title to artifacts in the personal possession of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Go to for more insight.

Families of astronauts may sell lunar artifacts at will, with the exception of moon rocks. They are still regarded as national treasures and held by the US government.

Disaster Debris

Tragedy struck in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing all seven crew members and scattering debris across a wide area in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Some 2,000 debris fields were searched by a thousand or so volunteers. During the search, debris from the Columbia turned up on online auction sites, triggering a warning from NASA that some of it may be hazardous.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, firefighters and other first responders volunteered to help with search and recovery efforts. Unfortunately, many items associated with these recovery efforts were later determined to have been looted from the site.

Any piece of debris, no matter how small, from any national disaster is considered to be a national memorial, and any attempt to keep, transfer, sell, trade, or otherwise profit from it is considered theft of government property. Families with relics from national disasters, no matter how unintentional, should return the item to the proper federal authorities.

Each Medal of Honor for the Army, Navy and Air Force is a protected military decoration that cannot be sold, traded, exported, imported, reproduced or otherwise involved in an transaction. Image courtesy of Wikipedia in the public domain

Medals of Honor

The Medal of Honor is considered the oldest combat medal in the US Armed Forces. Established in 1862, the Medal of Honor is awarded by the president of the United States in the name of Congress for “… conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” per 18 USC 704. Since 1862, Congress has awarded 3,520 Medals of Honor.

There are three different versions of the modern Medal of Honor, each specific to the Army, Navy and Air Force. However, US Code prohibits “purchasing, attempting to purchase, soliciting for purchase, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, manufacturing, selling, attempting to sell, advertising for sale, trading, bartering, or exchanging for anything of value” a Medal of Honor.

So, if your family has one, what should you do with it? Keep it as a family heirloom. If it is necessary to remove it from the family, the medal should be returned to the Department of Defense.

The Oscar awarded in 1947 to the pioneer of the movie projector, Thomas Armat. It pre-dates the 1950 regulation that would have required its first being offered to AMPAS for $1. The Oscar sold legally for $80,000. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Heritage Auctions.

The Academy Award, aka The ‘Oscar’

“…and the Oscar goes to…” is the phrase every actor, director, producer or other motion picture professional hopes will be followed by the sweet sound of their own name. The winner’s ritual goes like this: stand, look surprised, look humble while enjoying the lavish applause, and deliver a witty speech while clutching the gold-tone statuette you just received. If you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of this most coveted of all film awards, you learn sooner or later that there’s just one small problem: the Oscar isn’t really yours. It is essentially leased to you by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

From 1929 until 1950, an Oscar belonged to the recipient, and they could do whatever they pleased with it. They, and their families, were allowed to sell them, if they wished to do so. After 1950, however, the Academy had each award encumbered, meaning that if the recipient wanted to sell it, they had to first offer it to the Academy for $1.

All 1933 $20 double eagle gold coins were supposed to have been turned in to the federal government after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order prohibiting the possession of gold by individuals. About 20 of the coins were stolen from the US Mint. One of the coins sold for nearly $7.6 million in 2002 after a compromise arrangement was struck between the coin’s private owners and the government. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia

The 1933 Gold Double Eagle Coin

It was a gold coin that really wasn’t. To help ease the banking crisis of 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that gold was no longer legal tender. All gold pieces, certificates or bullion in circulation were supposed to be turned into the federal government in exchange for currency.

As of the time of Roosevelt’s decree, 445,500 $20 gold pieces had been minted for the year 1933. All but two were subsequently melted down. However, about 20 were stolen from the US Mint, with about 13 remaining at large.

By the early 1940s, between eight and 10 specimens were known. Two of them were sold by Texas dealer B. Max Mehl. In 1944, a journalist enquired of the Mint regarding the 1933 double eagles. Mint officials could find no record of any issuance of the coins, and decided those in private hands must have been obtained illegally. Over the next few years, the Secret Service seized a number of specimens, which were subsequently melted. One piece, however, wound up in the hands of King Farouk of Egypt, who even obtained a U.S. export license for the coin. What became of the Farouk specimen after his death is unclear, but the coin resurfaced in the late 1990s. When brought to New York for sale to a prospective buyer, it was seized by U.S. authorities. After litigation, a compromise was reached to allow the coin to be auctioned, with the proceeds to be divided equally between the government and the private owners. In 2002 this coin sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $7,590,020. The purchase price included $20 paid to the federal government to monetize a coin it contended had never been officially released.

In 2004, 10 specimens of the 1933 double eagle were submitted to the Mint for authentication by the heirs of a Philadelphia jeweler who may have been involved in obtaining them from the Mint in 1933. The Mint authenticated them but refused to give them back. The heirs brought suit against the government in 2006, and a federal judge ordered the government to file a forfeiture action regarding the coins. The government brought such a suit in 2009, and it was tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania beginning on July 7, 2011. On July 21, 2011, a jury decided that the coins had been properly seized by the Federal government. Judge Legrome D. Davis confirmed that jury verdict on August 29, 2012. On April 17, 2015, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the government had failed to file its forfeiture action in a timely manner, and that the heirs were entitled to the coins. That ruling was vacated by the full court on July 28, 2015, and the case was set for further argument. On August 1, 2016, the full Third Circuit ruled in favor of the government, upholding the jury verdict. On November 4 of that year, the heirs asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The request was refused on April 21, 2017, thus ending the case.

It has been legal to own gold again since 1975, however the stolen $20 gold coins are still regarded as contraband and are subject to confiscation, fines and imprisonment.

Eagle Feathers

And speaking of eagles, our national symbol is legally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which assesses criminal penalties for those who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”

However, to Native Americans, eagle feathers are sometimes used in religious ceremonies. This is why the National Eagle Repository was established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency issues permits to members of federally recognized tribes allowing them to possess eagle feathers for such ceremonies. Families with eagle feathers or eagle parts should deposit them in the National Eagle Repository for proper distribution.

Prized antique Korean earthenware to be auctioned Sept. 11

While Chinese and Japanese porcelain wares are revered and collected worldwide, Korean celadon earthenware is a lesser-known category within the Asian decorative art genre that is rapidly capturing the attention of collectors, who admire its simple elegance. An opportunity to purchase fine antique Korean earthenware awaits bidders on September 11 as Jasper52 presents a boutique auction of 47 premium-quality lots.

Crackled celadon-glazed tripod censer, Joseon Dunasty, Korea, 18th-19th century, embedded with white, black and copper-reds slip, key-fret patterns, beast knob, two upright handles. Est. $900-$1,100

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