Over the last few years it seems like there has been an increased interest in collecting the bizarre and odd, particularly the oddities of yesterday. As collecting the artifacts of the carnival midways, sideshows and traveling medicine shows gain popularity, so does the popularity of these entertainments’ (only slightly) more refined cousin, magic. Although magic and illusion have been popular entertainments for centuries, the hey day of stage magic was arguably around the turn of the last century. This period has left us a legacy of beautiful advertising material, souvenirs and actual stage props. The problem is that magic, by its very nature, is secretive which compounds the normal problems that come with antique verification. Many items sold as magic props, such as puzzle boxes and two headed coins, are actually novelties or gambling items. If you are not a magician (and sometimes even if you are), it can be very difficult to spot a legitimate prop and even harder to tell something relatively old. However, props are only one of the types of magic related antiques you may find.
Auction disasters and major challenges are rather rare, but when they happen they certainly leave an impression and they can be very interesting (as an afterthought). I have been a little apprehensive about posting this blog and in no way am I trying to scare people away from the auction method. I believe in auctions as the best possible means of selling almost anything on the secondary market. Some of these stories have a good outcome, but not all of them. Keep in mind, this is a small sampling and I am sure if every auctioneer was polled, there would be some great additional stories.
I figured I would start out with the biggest disaster I ever heard of, but I have to be sketchy on the details to protect my source. Let’s just say that a friend of mine possibly worked at a major auction house in New York City. Her story goes that there was a major piece of Russian Czar porcelain, a monumental piece in size and it was on the cover of the upcoming auction catalog. Just a few days before the auction preview, it was to be moved in place. The handler had it on a cart and was pushing it from where it was stored in the warehouse to the auction house floor, his cell phone rang and he answered it, meanwhile this piece worth several million dollars tumbled to the floor and smashed into 1000 pieces. There were already many multiple bids in the millions for this piece and dozens of phone bids set in place. The only other information I could get from my friend was, that the piece was paid out in the upper range of estimate to the consignor. She does not recall the person that was pushing the cart was working there afterward or not. Okay, so my first story doesn’t have much of a good outcome, but you have to admit you just cringed a little didn’t you? I always do when rare pieces are gone forever.
I recently had the pleasure of vetting The Original Miami Beach Antique Show, and saw an amazing bronze by Emile Louis Picault (France, b. 1833-1913). There was a constant buzz at the show about this masterpiece in bronze. It sold for over $300,000 when the show first began and there was a man waiting in line to pay $75,000 more than asking. I was asked by Worthpoint to write and article about this amazing piece, so please click here to read my story and get the inside scoop from my interview with Robin Greenwald at Greenwald’s Antiques. (photo by Greg Watkins)
I guess you could say that our family got in the antiques auction business because of drunkenness. Most people would be embarrassed to admit something like that, but not I.
Long before my father ever stood behind the podium with gavel in hand, he was relentlessly dragging me …….
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I think to get a better understanding of the antique advertising market you need to get some background on how product branding came about, and …