Issue #65  12/2/2003
Sotheby's Sees Big Increase in Sales Total to $3.3 Million

Sotheby's New York's October 17th multi-owner sale brought in over $3.3 million and the percent-sold was an impressive 78%. The sales results were comfortably within the pre-sale estimates.

Edward Weston was the big draw. Just three prints by Weston brought nearly ¾ of a million dollars, setting a new world record for the artist in the process.

The prices below will include the Sotheby's 20% buyer's fee. Many of the lots did not hit a level high enough for coverage, but I have noted the many highlights.

The action started early here. Lot 3 an Imogen Cunningham late-printed Magnolia Blossom sold for $18,000 to an order bidder.

Next it was Ansel Adams' turn to bring in the money. Lot 5 was Adams' late-printed Aspens, which brought $15,600 from a phone bidder with West Coast book and photo dealer Michael Dawson underbidding.

Adams' late-printed Clearing Storm (lot 7) cleared a cool $31,200 from a bidder in the room. A group of five (out of 10) images from Portfolio VI (lot 9) then brought $15,600 from a phone bidder.

Another phone bidder then picked up lot 11, Adams' late-printed The Tetons and the Snake River for a whopping $36,000, which was way over the estimate of $18,000-22,000.

Lot 15, a nice 15 x 19-3/8 inch Moonrise by Adams, was stolen by a collector who sat next to me at the auction. At $26,400 including premium the price for this quite decent Moonrise was the lowest of the last few auctions. Moonrise did not do as well this Fall as it did in the Spring auctions, hence the drop in the overall photo basket value as reported by Artprice.com (discussed in the last newsletter). But certainly this lot was a great buy.

Adams' Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley (lot 17) sold to the phone for $15,600.

Then LA photo dealer Jan Kesner picked up Portfolio Three, Yosemite Valley, for $56,400, which made this lot the seventh highest priced one in this sale.

Then lot 21, a vintage print of Rose and Driftwood sold for an astounding $84,000 to the phone in very active bidding. My prediction 2-1/2 years ago about Adams vintage prints seems to be coming true in spades. The buyer was a private collector. The price was good enough for fifth place in Sotheby's top ten highest priced lots.

Another vintage Adams of Meyer's Ranch (lot 24) was scooped up by New York dealer Rick Wester for a client on his phone for $22,800, very close to the top of its estimate range, but still very reasonable.

The next group of images to get bidder attention was the Robert and Kathryn Schwemley collection of daguerreotypes. The Schwemleys were long-time collectors. After Bob Schwemley died in an auto accident in 1986, Kitty, who was seriously injured in the accident, was urged by fellow collectors and dealers to continue to build the collection. A gifted pianist, Kitty added interesting images of musicians with their instruments. She also added a number of daguerreotypes of children and religious subjects.

The difficulty with the collection, as with so many other collections, was that the condition of the images was not uniform. Many images had been scratched, cleaned badly or otherwise damaged. The best were quite wonderful, and most of the images had an artistic quality that showed the Schwemleys' keen eyes.

How they were lotted up together was a bit strange. There were some wonderful single images put together with some less than wonderful pieces only because there was some similarity in content. Oddly enough some of the better images were in the large groups rather than the individual piece lots. I have always thought this was a poor way to sell a collection at auction.

Keith Davis of Hallmark Cards was one of the biggest buyers of the Schwemleys' material, taking 14 out of the 75 lots, including lots 31, 32, 35, 37, 50, 56, 57, 58, 65, 75, 79, 81, 87 and 97. He either took or underbid most of what I felt were some of the best lots in this section of the sale. Other winning bidders not mentioned below included Graham Nash (on the phone), Bruce Lundberg, Charles Schwartz, Michael Lehr, Jo Tartt, Harvey Zucker, William Schaeffer and David Chow.

Most of the lots did not hit over my minimum ($15,000, including premium) for reporting, but I will try to make some comments where appropriate. Most of the material fell under or in the estimate range, and a number of lots went unsold. Some lots that had been bought by Kitty Schwemley at auction here at Sotheby's sold well under their previous auction records. This would certainly not be a daguerreotype sale that would set new records for the market, but would provide dealers and collectors with some reasonably priced dags. The collection sold for a total of $312,120 including premium.

The first dag lot of some significance was lot 39, a young woman at a melodeon (misspelled in the catalogue). It was the cover lot of Larry Gottheim's November, 2000 Be-Hold auction, where it sold for a hammer price of $9,900 (Larry has no premium on his sale). Here it sold three years later to a commission bidder for an $11,000 hammer price and a total price, including premium, of $13,200. Just about what one might expect in price appreciation for the three years. Keith Davis underbid.

Lot 41, a group that contained an interesting quarter-plate composite of 14 daguerreotypes of a brass band, sold to the phone for $7,200 over the underbid of New Jersey dag dealer Mark Koenigsberg. The same phone bidder then picked up the next musical group (lot 42) for $9,600.

Lot 43, a 1/6-plate daguerreotype and a 1/9-plate ambrotype of banjo players, did very well, considering the less than perfect condition of the dag. It sold to a commission bidder for $6,600.

Another phone bidder picked up the next two lots of guitar players for $3,000 (lot 44, a single 1/6-plate daguerreotype) and $7,200 (lot 45, a group of seven dags of men and women playing or posing with guitars).

Lot 46, a daguerreotype of a wedding portrait of singer Jenny Lind and Otto Goldschmidt, was incorrectly described in the catalogue (Sotheby's did note this in an addendum issued at the sale itself) as being a half-plate. It was a quarter-plate and most of the dag dealers I talked to agreed that it was a period copy, which was not noted in the description. It sold to the phone for $4,200.

The next lot (50, a male pianist) was clearly the one with the most pedigree. It had sold at Sotheby's in the October 1995 sale of the collection of Stanley Yalkowsky for $27,600, when Sotheby's buyers' premiums were a more reasonable 15% (those were the days). Keith Davis snuck this one out of the room this time for a mere $18,000, including the higher premium. Definitely a disappointment for the sale.

And how about lots 51, 52 and 53 of gold miners? If this had been the Anaya sale, they might have sold for five to ten times these amounts ($14,400, $3,600 and $4,800 respectively). While the first two did go over their rather meager estimates, they certainly reflected more accurately the state of the market for gold mining hard images. Just a note: the half plate of the group of four gold miners with sluice (lot 53) was in extremely poor condition.

The next lot of note was an interesting group of 13 dags of religious subjects, which was bought by West Coast dealer John Boring for $10,800. He also bought lot 103, a very fine group of ten European portraits.

Lot 96, a dag of a two-masted ship, got a lot of attention. Estimated at $4,000-6,000, it hoisted anchor and took off for the high seas in a battle between the successful phone bidder and Hallmark's Keith Davis. The final price was $10,800.

Davis than stole the next lot, a 1/6-plate dag of Mercantile Buildings with Freight Cars, for a very reasonable $10,200.

Davis and Connecticut dealer William Schaeffer both tried hard on lot 99, two 1/6-plate dags featuring painted backdrops. Of the two images, the chess set was the clear winner though. And so was dag dealer Joe Dasta, who won out in the end by paying an astounding $16,800 for this lot. It must have driven all three bidders a little crazy to have seen Sotheby's Denise Bethel have to restart the lot again when some bidding got tangled up around the $4,500 mark.

The sale went back to its paper prints with a vengeance on lot 108, a copy of the Gardner Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. Dealer Charles Isaacs bought it for $79,200 over spirited bidding. His bid was good enough to place the lot into sixth place in Sotheby's top ten.

Edward Curtis dealer and I Photo Central member Christopher Cardozo picked up lot 114, a Hopi Man, for $19,200.

After the lunch break, Sotheby's got back on track with the James J. Rochlis sale and Ansel Adams. A 17 x 23 inch Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine (lot 121) sold to the phone for $39,600. Then lot 124, Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, sold to another phone bidder for $37,200. Steve Perloff reported that this second phone bidder was NYC dealer Robert Mann. Both bids were over their high estimates.

A commission bidder took home lot 127, Yosuf Karsh's Fifteen Portraits portfolio, for $40,800. Then Atlanta dealer Jane Jackson picked up another portfolio, Walker Evans, lot 130, for $33,600.

A damaged (repaired stain at top of image and board repairs) Edward Weston of Tina Modotti (lot 134) flew right over its estimate of $30,000-50,000. The phone won the battle over NYC dealer Spencer Throckmorton, knocking down the photograph finally at a surprising $100,800--only good enough for fourth place in this sale.

Edward Weston was the big seller in the afternoon. Lot 138 (Stone Crop and Cypress, Point Lobos) went to a private collector for $18,000. The same order bidder then picked up the next lot, a Weston of a nude on the sand, Oceano, for a whopping $176,000. That placed the lot at number two in the top priced images of the day. Early on it was San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann who carried the battle, and then it was the phones. In the end it was still L108 that picked up their second Weston of the day.

But the highly anticipated lot 145, Weston's Two Shells, a highlight of the Rochlis collection, did not disappoint. Estimated at $200,000-300,000, I had predicted before the auction that it would easily break $350,000. It did. Soaring up and up, the price driven by frantic phone bidders after the room gave up early, the beautiful and iconic print set a new world auction record for the artist at $467,200. The former record was Weston's Hands against Kimono (Tina Mondotti) at $313,750 set at Sotheby's NY in April 2000. Of course, the Two Shells was the top priced lot in this Sotheby's sale, as well as the top priced lot for the auction week, although at least one lot at the Phillips sale would threaten its supremacy. The last such print that sold was in Sotheby's London's infamous Helene Andersen sale in May 1997. A comparable print of Shells sold for the equivalent of $181,000 then. That is a lot of appreciation in six and a half years.

In the What-Happened-Here category: lot 147, reportedly a 1942 Rayograph, which was estimated at $30,000-50,000, was bought in for a mere $12,000.

LA dealer Rose Shoshana gave chase on lot 151, a very nice Paul Outerbridge, Jr. Seated Nude color carbro print. But the phone got it in the end at $45,600. It was reportedly a unique print.

In the Best-Low-Priced-Lot-of-the-Sale category: William Schaeffer bought the wonderful lot 152, Doris Ulmann's Boats in Harbor. Sotheby's had a hard time figuring out what kind of print it really was ("warm-toned platinum or mixed process print, possibly gum bichromate"). It looked like a gum to me. In the right market, this should be a $20,000+ print, not the amazing bargain that Schaeffer bought it for.

All in all, the 54-image collection of the late James J. Rochlis, who was the former CEO of Chris-Craft Corp., sold for a total of $1,147,440, nearly double the low estimate of $614,300. Only three lots failed to sell.

While it may seem like it was all down hill after the Rochlis material, there were still some good images sold here. For instance, NYC photo dealer Spencer Throckmorton came out on top on two Tina Modotti prints (lots 173, portrait of William Spratling and 174, Edward Weston with Camera) at $24,000 and $31,200 respectively. He had to best Weston collector Michael Mattis for these prizes.

A very large and lovely early print (not identified by Sotheby's as to what KIND of print, but probably a matt silver gelatin) of a Woman, 1916 by Edward Steichen hit into its upper range at $16,800, but was still exceptionally reasonable. San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann was the underbidder to the phone.

After a cute, but not inspiring portrait of Cole Weston by his father Edward (lot 185), failed to find a bidder at $10,000, the next lot (186, a large format--but unsigned--photogravure of Spring Showers by Alfred Stieglitz) sold to dealer Jill Quasha for $20,400.

Then NYC photo dealer Deborah Bell bought lot 192, Edward Drummond Young's Portrait of Walter Sickert, who, besides being a talented British impressionist artist, has been named as Jack the Ripper's alter ego by at least one Ripper researcher, Patricia Cornwell. Bell cut to the quick on this one, slashing her way past the high estimate and then nearly to double that estimate. At $37,200 (over an estimate of only $12,000-18,000) her client became the owner of this piece of history.

For me the most interesting of the Berenice Abbotts in this sale was lot 207, a vintage image of the El, Second and Third Avenue Lines, Hanover Square and Pearl Street. Oversized at 18 x 14-1/18 inches, the image had real presence. Dealer William Schaeffer came on strong and took it for $24,000. He had to fend off Abbott dealer Ronald Kurtz.

Walker Evans' Country Store and Gas Station (lot 211) went just over estimate to San Francisco dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel at $37,200.

Man Ray's Nuesch Eluard with Mirror (lot 218) sold to a commission bidder at $21,600. Then NYC dealer Edwynn Houk picked up the next Man Ray (lot 219, La Priere) for $31,200, outbidding Jill Quasha in the process.

German photo dealer Hendrik Berenson reversed positions on Houk, beating him and fellow dealer Stephen Daiter, to take a pair of portraits, one by Lotte Jacobi and the other by Grit Kallin-Fischer. The final price was a steep $19,200, which was double the high estimate.

Irving Penn's Girl behind the Bottle (lot 241) drew the attention of a phone buyer who bought it at the reserve of $24,000, including the premium. A collector in the room bought the next lot, another Irving Penn (Cocoa-colored Balenciaga Dress), for nearly double the low estimate (estimate $8,000-$12,000) at $18,000. Irving Penn's 2 Guedras (lot 245) sold for $24,000 to a phone bidder.

Richard Avedon's always popular Dovima with Elephants (lot 246) in a small print sold to a collector in the room for $22,800--well over the estimate of $12,000-18,000.

Harry Callahan is popular these days--at least some of his prints. An oversized, but late-printed Eleanor in an edition of 8 sold to the phones for an astounding $102,000. Baltimore, MD dealer Thomas Segal bought it for his wife, who reportedly has one of the largest collections of vintage Eleanor and Barbara photographs by Callahan. Although it is not vintage, there may not be a vintage print of this image. The price put the print in third place for the day.

Callahan's Chicago (Trees in Snow, lot 253) brought about double the high estimate at $34,800 from a commission bidder--the same one who bought the Edward Weston Nude on Sand.

In the Why-Did-This-Get-Bought-In category: Lot 255, a huge print of Ruth Orkin's American Girl in Italy directly from the woman photographed in this picture, was bought in at a measly $8,000.

Robert Frank's Tulip/Paris sold to the room for $48,000, which was good enough for number nine on the Sotheby's top ten. While it had several condition problems, it still had good presence. Frank's Charleston in a large print sold to Jackson Fine Art for $50,400. It was a bigger and better print than the one at Phillips.

The Diane Arbus prints had a string of strong bids. Lot 266, A Family on Their Lawn, was mowed down by dealer Rose Shoshana for $32,400, against a miserly estimate of $10,000-15,000. Likewise Child with Toy Grenade (lot 268) sold just under its high estimate at $37,200 to dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel. Fraenkel also bought the next lot, The King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance, for $19,200--double the high estimate. I was the underbidder. Rose Shoshana came back on lot 270, Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levittown, L.I., which she bought at $22,800--again nearly double high estimate. Finally a phone bidder took the last major Arbus, The Junior Interstate Ballroom Dance Champions, for $25,200, more than double the low estimate. Shoshana and Fraenkel also smartly picked up some of the lesser Arbus prints.

Francesca Woodman, who did not have a particularly strong outing at this sale, did manage to get a bidder in the room on lot 276, Jill's Mask, for $18,000.

Robert Mapplethorpe's color dye transfer print of a Calla Lily soared over its estimate of $15,000-25,000 to bring $43,200 from a phone bidder. A self-portrait by Mapplethorpe also was bought by a phone bidder for $25,200--well within the estimate range.

NEXT NEWSLETTER: The rest of the Fall NYC auction schedule.