Issue #14  4/11/2000
Auction Roller Coaster Ride

If you thought the stock market was a roller coaster ride these last two weeks, you must not have been at the New York auctions last week.

Swann started off the week on a sour note, posting its worst record for buy-ins--perhaps ever--48%.  Despite this very low success rate, the house still managed to post up total sales of over $850,000 including the house's 15% buyer's commission.

Nearly 22% of this total came from just two lots: Lot 236 Edward Curtis, a volume of large-format North American Indians, which sold for $101,500 to a collector on the phone; and the iconographic Wild Bunch cover photo, which sold for $85,000 to another collector on the phone. 

After a frantic phone battle by five bidders, Photograph Collector newsletter editor Steve Perloff got a laugh at the otherwise somber event with his quote from the movie: "Who ARE these guys?"  The print had come from the James D. Horan collection and was in very good condition.  The image is certainly scarce but not rare; however, condition carried the day.

After these two images the rest of the top ten lots included:

--Man Ray's Detruite, $17,250 to dealer Michael Shapiro.

--Julia M. Cameron's Elaine, the Lily-Maid of Astolat, $14,950 to a collector by order bid.

--An album of Von Gloeden, Pluschow, et alia of male nudes, $14,950 reportedly to Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc.

--Man Ray's Nude of Nusch Eluard, a late print of a 1935 image, $12,650 to a dealer.

--Edward Weston's Cross, Puebla, 1926, $10,925 to a collector on the phone.

--Daguerreotype (1/6th pl.) of a man and woman in--to use Swann's catalogue description--"flagrante delicto" (that's "having sex" for the rest of us), $10,350 to a collector.

--Cabinet card of Jesse James (1882, but printed in 1901), $10,350 to a collector.

--Dorothea Lange's Death in the Doorway, Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California (1938, but printed late 1950s), $9,775 to a dealer on the phone.

The attendance at the sale was sparse (about 60) and had all the enthusiasm of a funeral. Admittedly the stock market may have been a distraction, although it may have been the Sotheby's/7-11 and Steve Anaya gold mining image sales that ultimately postponed many bids.

Some great bargains were obviously to be had at Swann, and most of the lots, with perhaps the exception of the top two, were bought at very reasonable prices.  After-sale activity has been much higher than normal at Swann.  I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see their sales totals creep over the 60% mark and top $900,000, after disappointed bidders return to bottom-feed after some of the records set over at Sotheby's.

Nervous at Christie's

Meanwhile the auctioneers at Christie's and Sotheby's were a little unnerved by Swann's poor kick-off.  How would they fare?  Christie's East was first up after Swann.

Loaded up with over 400 lots with a couple of important images salted in to boost its sales totals, Christie's East set a new record for itself at $1,228,862 and managed a respectable buy-in rate just shy of 33%. 

Two bits of controversy: the sole daguerreotype (Lot 302) in the sale was considered to be a possible fake or copy by several experienced observers; and at least one major Western expert questioned the authenticity of the tin of "Butch Cassidy" (Lot 18).  Despite that, both lots sold, but there has been repeated questions about Christie's naiveté and lack of experience with 19th century images. 

The top lot in the auction was Ansel Adams Portfolio III.  Estimated to sell between $40,000-$60,000, the group made $82,250, including Christie's new higher buyer's premium (all the prices below include the premium).  Dealer Jim Alinder was the underbidder to the buyer, a persistent phone bidder.  Alinder reportedly has associated himself with the Edward Carter Gallery.  More on that gallery later.

Alinder was to be involved in most of the big lots here.  He took Lot 37 (Adams' Rose and Driftwood, print circa 1977 according to the catalogue) for what seemed to be a very high $25,850 against an estimate of only $3,000-$5,000.  He then took Lot 217 a large Adams' Moonrise for $28,200 and was the underbidder on the portfolio (Lot 218) as noted above.  On Lot 219 he met his match with another bidder in the room out-dueling him to $23,500.

Other big lots included:

--Lot 204, Helmut Newton's Rue Aubriot, Paris, $25,850 to a collector against a reserve of only $3,000-$5,000.

--Lot 244, Edward Curtis Portfolio 8, $44,650 to the phone over dealer Terry Etherton's efforts.

--Lot 257, Laura Gilpin's Steps of Castillo, Chichen Itza, $21,150 to an order bid.

--Lot 284, Eugene Smith Walk to Paradise (printed later), $21,150 to dealer John Cleary, who bested fellow dealers Terry Etherton and Andy Smith for the prize.

--Lot 291, Bret Weston portfolio, $16,450.

On to Big Brother, Christie's NY

Over at big brother Christie's New York, the pace maintained itself with a sell-through rate of just 67%, but a sales total of $4,426,193 including its new higher buyer's fees, now starting at 17-1/2%.

Hitting big for Christie's was the cover lot, Andre Kertesz' Cello Study, 1926, which sold for $314,000 (estimated $180,000-$220,000) to New York art dealer Robert Grossman of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, who was bidding for a client. Grossman, a fairly new face to the photography crowd, was to be successful on numerous bids here and later at Sotheby's.  The image was the personal favorite of Rick Wester, Christie's International Director of Photographs.  His instincts for the modern once again paid off: the price for the print was the second highest for the artist at auction. 

The second highest price was, if one can believe this, for a photogravure.  Stieglitz' The Terminal, New York, set a world's record for this work.  I also believe it set a world's record for a single photogravure at its lofty $215,000 price tag (very well over the estimated $60,000-$80,000).  It sold to a Midwest bidder over the strong effort by dealer Alan Klotz, who vied for the work while discussing it with a client over his cell phone.

Rick Wester has always nurtured Pierre Dubreuil's work at Christie's, and it paid off big with Ombre d'Optique, a wonderful modernist display of distorted form and shadow, which went for $149,000 (well over the estimated $60,000-$80,000).  The price was the second highest ever for Dubreuil's work.  It sold to San Francisco dealer Michael Shapiro, reportedly for a client, over the underbidding New Yorker Howard Greenberg.

The next print was a personal temptation: Manual Alvarez Bravo's Portrait of the Eternal, reportedly a vintage print.  The print was the richest print I have seen of this work in a vintage example.  It went for a record price for the artist of $127,000 to NYC dealer Peter MacGill. 

Swiss dealer Kaspar Fleischmann bought the Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Fotogramm, 1923, for a reasonable (believe it or not) $127,000.

A wonderful Karl Struss Fifth Avenue, Twilight, 1914-15, broke a world's record for this photographer at just under six figures ($99,500).  It sold to a European bidder by phone, frustrating Alan Klotz, who once again had his cell phone by his ear.

Robert Frank's important City Fathers, Hoboken, set a world record for Frank at $88,125.  It sold to a private collector by absentee bid (yes, they sometimes do work).

Another absentee bidder (also a private collector) took the Karl Blossfeldt's Equisetum Hyemale for $88,125.  Will someone please clue me in on why these images go for these outrageous prices?  Ok, they're rare: so what?  I just don't see the appeal of a stalk.

A vintage postcard of the Identical Twins by Diane Arbus sold for $76,375 to a West Coast collector, reportedly involved in the film industry.

Howard Greenberg won the Dorothea Lange Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, OK for $70,500 over an estimate of $40,000-$60,000.

Alan Klotz took one for his phone client when he bid up the quirky Robert Frank image, "London," of a man in top hat crossing a busy street for $64,625.

Steve Daiter took an interesting Kertesz home for a client.  Paris, Library Chairs sold to Daiter for $58,750, just at the low end of the estimate.  It was a dramatic and modernist view of the chairs and their extreme shadows and a good buy in view of the cello's price.

On to an Evening at Sotheby's and the 7/11 Sale

We trudged on to Sotheby's for an evening of fine bidding.  This excellent corporate collection was frankly a surprise.  It isn't the typical "corporate" collection: it is diverse and intelligent, reflecting both curator Richard Allen's and dealer Maggie Weston's approach to an abbreviated but interesting history of photography.  It should also be noted that German dealer Rudolf Kicken's contributions to the collection are equally stunning, if smaller in number.  Most of the images were purchased during the early to mid 1980s.  As the collection grew to 2,500 images (imagine what is left) and the company itself shrunk in size, the decision was made to put up a small portion of the collection.

The prices below include Sotheby's new incredibly high buyer's premium (as high as 20%).

I hate to just hit the high-priced items, but in the interest of brevity (yeh, right, you say):

Lot 12, a beautiful toned platinum or palladium print of Tina Modotti's hands sold to Lee Marks for $313,750 (more than double high estimate).  Marks often bids for Howard Stein, the former CEO of the Dreyfus Fund.  The price broke the old record for an Edward Weston photograph at auction (Sotheby's April, 1998 sale of Weston's Circus Tents for $266,500).

Kaspar Fleischmann took the next lot, the highlight of the evening, Paul Strand's evocative Rebecca, 1921, for $335,750, the highest price ever paid for a Strand at auction and the highest price for any print during these spring NYC photography auctions.  The phones were active but not a match for the Swiss gallery owner.  Simply a breathtaking print, and unique as well.

Lot 16, another important Strand (Shadows, Twin Lakes, CT), if not in perfect condition, was still strong enough to bring $181,750 by phone.

The next lot, another Strand--this time of Fred Briehl's Barn, Walkill, NY--sold for $113,450 to collector Kenneth Wynn.  His brother Steve Wynn's preference seems to run towards expensive paintings, so it's nice to see Ken's interest in our humble (if getting awful expensive lately) medium.  I've had the occasion to talk with him by phone and he seems to be a genuinely nice guy with a strong love of photography.

The next Strand (Iris, Georgetown, ME) brought $69,750 from Howard Greenberg.  Then Peter MacGill bid $65,150 for Strand's Blind Woman, NY and added the next Strand to his Sotheby's bill at $159,750 (The White Fence, Port Kent, NY).  Both photos are true Strand icons, and both were printed early on Cykora paper.

Greenberg came back again on Lot 21, Strand's Café de la Paix, for $51,350.  Then NYC dealer Edwynn Houk chimed in on Strand's The Family, Luzzara, Italy for $159,750.

The Man Ray rayograph entitled Swedish Landscape was rumored to be a record-breaking Man Ray and a world record contender.  Well, maybe.  It did set a record for a rayograph at $258,750.  Robert Grossman, who took several important images this night for his client, was the winner.  This print was signed four times by Man Ray, both on the print and on the mount.  It may have been one of a group of rayographs exhibited at Film and Foto in 1929.

Grossman won Lot 30 as well, after a battle with persistent collector Paul Sack.  The lot, Man Ray's interesting Danger-Dancer (a composition with assemblage, banjo, pistol and shell), also received interest from Kaspar Fleischmann.  The price was $67,450, well over double the high estimate, but for an intriguing image none-the-less.

Wynn came back for a Stieglitz Equivalent (Lot 36) at $65,150, a world record price for a print from this series.

Then Paul Hertzmann battled fellow dealers Andy Smith and Maggie Weston for Edward Weston's simple and elegant Nautilus Shell.  Hertzmann finally prevailed at $108,850, a reasonable price for this fine image.

Robert Grossman was back for Alvin Coburn's rare Yosemite Valley at $83,550, the last big print of the night.

With the Morning Came the Sun and Steve Anaya Collection

The 7/11 collection continued for 42 more lots next morning.  The two standouts price wise--and prime illustrations why you should always preview or have someone experienced preview for you--were:

--Lot 93, Gustave Le Gray, Brig on the Water, bought by a phone bidder for $60,550, which would have been a steal for such a strong rich print, but for the equally strong crease across the right corner section of the print which didn't show on the catalogue reproduction.

--Lot 99, Carleton Watkins, Cape Horn near Celilo, which was estimated at a silly $20,000-$30,000 and sold for $236,750 to San Francisco dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel over a strong underbidding effort by collector Bruce Lundberg.  It was simply a stunning print, which had great "presence", a print you had to see in the flesh, so to speak.  To me, it was the print of the entire spring auction season and the finest Watkins to hit the auction rooms in recent years.  As Fraenkel said to me: "It is without question the most important Watkins print to come up for auction in the last 20 years."  Of course, it set a record for a single Watkins print. 

It is also interesting that it was Fraenkel once again breaking records with Watkins after so many years.  After all, he set a world's record with his bid for the California Watkins' album in 1979 at a hammer of $98,000.  Weston Gallery bought the companion Oregon album at the same time, again breaking the record for a photographic lot at $100,000.

This print came from the Westin Oregon album.  And now Fraenkel does it again on a photograph that was a part of the original album that he had missed so many years ago.

As an aside, the other two Watkins just about tripled their high estimates ($31,800 and $35,250).  They would have been considered great Watkins, except by comparison to the Cape Horn train.

The 7/11 sale had hit a very healthy 87% sell-through rate and had brought in just over $3.6 million for Sotheby's and its consignor--nearly half the totals for Sotheby's spring photo auction sales.

While there were a few lots prior to the Anaya collection of gold mining images (notably a great full-plate dag of a frontiersman that went to Bruce Lundberg for $58,250--a true bargain compared to what was to come later), the audience seemed to be holding its collective breath for the most extensive group of California images to come on the market at one time.

The audience knew it was in for a ride from the first lot, which was a simple miner portrait sans equipment but holding "probably" a gold ingot, and estimated fairly at $3,000-$5,000 but sold for $29,500.  It went to a duo (paddle 151) directly in back of me.

Then Dale Stulz, appraiser and photo consultant (and just in front of me), bought the next lot for a client, a portrait that to my eye may have been or might not have been a gold miner and estimated at $1,500-$2,000, for $10,800.

After two very decent and reasonably priced half plates of miners in front of their claims (Lots 19 and 20) sold to Stulz again for $37,550 and $32,950 respectively and four passes on some very nice but non-gold mining California material, things started to get a bit crazy.

Lot 25 (a very nice group of miners dry digging with their tools in hand, etc.) sold to the phone (L157, rumored to be from South America) over the strong efforts by another phone bidder, Dale Stulz and Group 151 for an astounding $181,750, a tie for the top lot in the regular auction.

Lot 26, another mining scene, got a similar result, going to the phone (L157) with the same underbidders at $137,750.

Group 151 then took a rather scratched up but interesting 1/4 pl. of Portsmouth Square, San Francisco for $26,050.

Dale Stulz then outbid Keith Davis of Hallmark Cards for Lot 28, a stunning half-plate of J Street in Sacramento, CA.  The price?  An equally stunning $181,750.  This lot, along with Lot 25, topped Sotheby's regular auction.

On the next lot (Lot 29, a half-plate ambrotype of miners in a rocky stream bed), a world's record was set for an ambrotype at auction (and privately, as far as I'm aware) at the numbing price of $126, 750!  It was the phone (L157) that prevailed over 151 in the room.  Before the sale I had felt the estimated range of $8,000-$12,000 was right on the mark.

Several nice portraits of miner types were next.  Lot 30 (miner with shovels) went to Dale Stulz over 151 for $75,500, as did Lot 31 (miner with early model colt) for what--in this overheated situation--seemed a reasonable $21,450.

Lot 32, a half-plate dag of a livery stable, also went to Stulz without as much competition as previously for $44,450. 

Paddle 151 took the next lot, the early 1/4-plate dag of R. Lowe's tent store, for $87,000, and then later on Lot 44 took a half-plate dag of miners for $69,750.

Another half-plate ambrotype (Lot 54) of women posed in front of a hydraulic mining operation brought another big price of $64,000 from Dale Stulz, who topped 151 in the room.

Bidder 151 came back to take two paper prints of gold miners for $30,650 (Lot 59; estimate: $4,000-$6,000).

All in all, the Steve Anaya collection had raked in $1.3 million, more than double what Sotheby's had estimated for all the lots, plus Anaya got back a number of very good images--actually some of the best in the group.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

I'll be doing a follow-up story on this sale and interviewing Steve later.

The rest of the Sotheby's sale seemed almost an anticlimax, but there were some other big lots to come.

John Beasly Greene seems to bring out the color of his name.  Lot 67 his Christian Burial Mound, Blida, sold to Kaspar Fleischmann for $81,250.  It was a very nice albumenized salt print with some minor edge repairs.

The John Claude White album received lots of pre-sale attention, so it was not surprising when it sold well over estimates ($104,250 versus a way-too-low estimate of $25,000-$35,000) to a private collector on the phone.  The Tibet and Lhasa group was spectacular, and the only question was: What was the medium?  My wager is that it is silver on tissue.

A rather mediocre group (for the most part) of William H. Jackson's sold for $81,250 to a phone bidder over dealer Robert Grossman's underbid.

Another lovely Edward Weston print of a Fish Gourd on Serape sold to Boston dealer Robert Klein for $170,750.  Klein out-dueled fellow dealer Howard Greenberg for the image.

The two Edward Weston hands sold well.  The first (Lot 127) sold to dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel over a phone bidder for $60,550.  The second (Lot 128) went to dealer Robert Grossman for a client for $85,850.

The Edward Carter Gallery bought the Ansel Adams Portfolio VII for a fairly steep $104,250 over an estimate of $30,000-$50,000.  Carter is setting the pace for Adams prints, buying up most of those available for high prices and selling them for even higher prices (shades of Harry Lunn!).

The last big print to come up was Lot 167, Manuel Alvarez Bravo's Nude Study, which sold to Robert Klein for nearly a record price of $115,750.  Sotheby's hefty premium almost carried the day, but Christie's Portrait of the Eternal still holds the crown.

All in all, Sotheby's faired very well indeed, bringing in over $4.1 million for its various owners sale with a solid 76.64% sell-through rate.  With the 7-11 results, the total take was $7,713,110.

That should pay for a few days of legal fees at least.