Issue #66  1/6/2004
Christie's Multi-Owner Sale Breaks Over $2.8 Million With a Buy-in Rate of Only 24%

Christie's sale on October 20 continued the trend of strong Fall auction results with a sale total of $2,830,320 and a buy-in rate of only 24%. The salesroom was crowded, but somewhat quiet as a couple of the top items appeared toward the beginning of the sale.

Edwynn Houk made his reservation ahead of Howard Greenberg as he rented lot 12, Walker Evans's New Orleans Boarding House for $31,070.

Two lots later, a rare early print of Evans's iconic Penny Picture Display not only provided a hefty return on the $2.25 it would have cost in 1936 for the 225 portraits displayed in the studio window, it soared over the high estimate to set a new world auction record for the artist. The bidding began in dramatic fashion as Rick Wester scurried into the room just in time for the lot and began waving his number while consulting on his cell phone even before he could get his coat off. But he was eventually overtaken by Lee Marks, who often bids on top items like this for former Dreyfuss head Howard Stein. But in the end it was Edwynn Houk who went home with what became the top lot of the sale at $197,700.

A small run of Curtises sold mostly within estimate, including $22,705 for an orotone of Canyon de Chelley, which went to a phone bidder. An 1845 quarter-plate daguerreotype of painter Thomas Cole was the subject of intense interest from the phones and Michael Lehr, among others. It eventually went to an American institution on the phone, rumored to be the Hallmark Collection, for $71,700 over the bid of Charles Isaacs, three times its high estimate (and eighth place on the day). Other bidders on this lot included dealers Hans Kraus, Jr., Janet Lehr and Paul Hertzmann.

The next lot (#25, a man with a shovel smoking a pipe) was also a daguerreotype and it was withdrawn. And there lies a tale. In San Francisco, several of us were shown another similar daguerreotype of a clown being offered for sale through Butterfield's at its Fall auction. I spotted it as a fake, and dag dealers William Schaeffer and Christopher Wahren, along with curator Keith Davis of Hallmark all concurred after I showed them some specific traits. After this discovery, both Wahren and Schaeffer became suspicious of two other daguerreotypes being offered at the Fall auctions--this lot and one at Swann's of a man fishing in a stream. I confirmed their suspicions after viewing these dags, and all three houses withdrew them. It was a very positive event that we could all cooperate to uncover these modern fakes quickly and effectively. The daguerreotypes all had their source near my Bucks County neighborhood, and I have seen two others apparently from this same source--one of which went up for sale on eBay (a fence with some fish on it) and a beat up Abraham Lincoln portrait. The Lambertville, NJ flea market has been the method of sale in some cases. These all appear to have come from one source, who is an amateur daguerreotypist playing with fire. The daguerreotypes are all easily identified. I will provide information to known Daguerreian Society members/dealers and curators, but, for obvious reasons, I don't want to provide those details here. But the plates were original vintage plates in vintage leatherette cases, although the images were not.

A Drtikol pigment print nude went to a woman in the room for $26,290, just under low estimate. Then a fine print of Rudolf Koppitz's famous Bewegungsstudie went to an order bidder for $101,575, good for fourth place in the sale. The same bidder came back to take the next lot, an Adams Moonrise for $28,680, just below low estimate.

Collector Jack Hastings could not kick the habit, as he took the first of several lots on the day, Irving Penn's Cigarette #69, for $20,315. Then the 1977 Acorn Editions Manuel Alvarez Bravo portfolio with 15 prints went to the phones for $38,240.

One disappointment came when Mark Shaw's JFK Family Album passed at $24,000 on an estimate of $30,000-$40,000. But that disappointment was overcome as a phone bidder checkmated Edwynn Houk for Man Ray's Still-life composition with chess set and plaster cast at the high estimate of $71,700 (tied for eighth). Man Ray's picture of Jean Cocteau sculpting his own head in wire garnered $26,290 from the phones.

Avedon's Dovima and the Elephants, brought $45,410 from a commission bidder and his Lauren Hutton, Great Exuma, the Bahamas, went over high estimate to the phone at $31,070. Robert Frank's Fourth of July, Jay, NY, celebrated a strong $28,680 bid.

A European collector gave Paul Outerbridge's platinum print, Standing Nude with Chair ($60,000-$80,000), a seat at $153,100, the second highest price of the sale.

A group of 40 later prints by Louis Faurer, finally starting to get the recognition he deserves, went above high estimate to a European collector on the phone at $77,675, the seventh highest price of the sale.

Walker Evans's Alabama Tenant Farmer (Floyd Burroughs) brought a respectable $50,190. But the more famous Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) ($70,000-$90,000) soared to $141,900, number three on the day, as a phone bidder outlasted Jan De Bont. Then Evans's Alabama Tenant Farmer Family (Fields Family) also went over high estimate at $83,650 (fifth place) to the same phone bidder.

Jan Kesner kept the Arbus market percolating as she took a Selkirk print of Arbus's Patriotic Young Man with a Flag ($8,000-$10,000) for $20,315. The Callahan market also kept bubbling as an American dealer bidding on the phone went over high estimate to buy 20 Callahan dye-transfer prints for $71,700 (making it a three-way tie for eighth place).

Garry Winogrand's Women Are Beautiful portfolio ($30,000-$40,000) seduced $65,725 from a phone bidder. Collector Jack Hastings gambled on Irving Penn's dye-transfer After Dinner Games ($25,000-$35,000) as he anted up $59,750. A later print of Robert Frank's Covered Car, Long Beach, CA went over high estimate for $23,900, as California dealer Paul Kopeikin fell short of a phone bidder.

Contemporary work did well in the sale. Adam Fuss's large photogram of a dress ($20,000-$30,000) flew off the rack at $45,410. A portfolio of ten prints by Bernd and Hilla Becher in a clever Agfa-Gevaert box brought $23,900. And the Olivia Parker portfolio Ephemera ($6,000-$8,000) went for $15,535. A run of Hiroshi Sugimotos sold mostly within estimates.

Reversing precedent, the sale closed with 11 lots of Ansel Adams prints, of which two were noteworthy. Portfolio VI sold to the phone for $41,825. And an oversize print of The Tetons and the Snake River brought $81,260, over high estimate and good for sixth place, from Jack Hastings.

"The success of today's sale--and the world auction record price achieved by Walker Evans' Penny Picture Display, Savannah--can be attributed in large part to the extraordinary freshness of the property, which included some of the most renowned images of 20th-century American photography," said Leila Buckjune, head of Christie's Photographs department. "We are particularly pleased with the strong prices achieved by the Outerbridge and Koppitz photographs, which are also icons of the era, and for the selection of contemporary photographs we offered today."