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Category Archives: Unique collectibles

Amazing grace: Margot Fonteyn’s costumes now selling at PFC Auctions

Amazing grace: Margot Fonteyn’s costumes now selling at PFC Auctions

When Adrian first walked in announcing PFC Auctions’ sale of two costumes worn by Margot Fonteyn, my first response was, “who?”Margot-Fonteyn-410

Call me ignorant, but I had never heard of the dame. The rest of the office were – as I’m sure you are – well aware of Fonteyn and were obviously excited.

A quick Google revealed that Fonteyn was actually one of the greatest ballet dancers ever to have lived, famed for her unrivalled partnership with the world renowned Rudolph Nureyev.

Margot Fonteyn, skirt, ballet, costumes, memorabilia, autograph, collectible, Margot Fonteyn, Nureyev, Romeo & Juliet

Fonteyn’s skirt worn in Romeo & Juliet with Rudolph Nureyev

For years, their immortal performances in Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet among others had passed me by. Admittedly, I’m not the most dedicated lover of ballet, but the way that Fonteyn moves across the stage has had me captivating from the first demi-plié down to the final faille.

But what really piqued my interest was the fascinating character behind one of ballet’s most beautiful dancers.

Prima Ballerina Assoluta of The Royal Ballet, performing for Queen Elizabeth II, Margot Fonteyn had formed one of the most successful ballet partnerships of her day with Robert Helpmann by 1961.

Standing at the top of the ballet world, she was expected to retire aged 42.

The beautiful jewel-encrusted bodice worn by Fonteyn in Swan Lake - one of her defining performances

The beautiful jewel-encrusted bodice worn by Fonteyn in Swan Lake – one of her defining performances

However, one of the most exciting young male dancers, Rudolph Nureyev, decided to defect from the Soviet Union just as she was due to announced her departure.

Fonteyn couldn’t resist one last moment in the spotlight, and immediately formed a partnership with Nureyev, performing Giselle when he was just 24.

Despite rumoured love affairs with the bisexual Nureyev, Fonteyn had married Dr Roberto Arias, a Panamanian diplomat, in 1955 and remained loyal to him. So much so, that she became embroiled in her husband’s failed coup d’etat on the South American state in 1959, forcing her to return to England from her adopted home.

But Dr Arias had made his enemies, and in 1964 one of them shot him, leaving him quadriplegic. It seems Fonteyn’s desire to continue dancing was not only spurred by her love of the art form, but also by the need to pay for her husband’s increasing medical bills.

She continued to dance until 1979, when she was a remarkable 60 years old. Amazingly, she returned to the stage in February 1986 for one final performance as The Queen in The sleeping Beauty – even then her skills surpassed many of the young dancers that night.

Simply put, Fonteyn was an icon, one of inimitable charm and beauty, whose dances are skill widely talked about today among ballet fans.

I only wish that I could have seen her perform in the flesh, yet the stunning costumes currently selling at PFC Auctions have brought me closer to the world’s greatest ballet dancer than I could ever have hoped.

Discover more about Margot Fonteyn and place your bids here: www.pfcauctions.comFonteyn-Swan-Lake-2

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What’s behind the lens?

Plenty of you out there write or read photography blogs, but have you ever thought about the remarkable technology you hold in your hands when snapping away?

For example, did you know that your 35mm SLR – yes, they are still used by a lot of us, despite the onset of the digital age – was actually designed by an optical engineer named Oskar Barnack?Oscar Barnack

Barnack was placed in charge of microscope research for Ernst Leitz, an optical company in the heart of Germany.

Discovering a passion for landscape photography, he used his knowledge of lenses developed the first practical 35mm camera that used 35mm, allowing him to traverse the German countryside.

And so, photojournalism was born, with luminaries such as Henri Cartier-Bresson able to pick up a Leica and document the world around them without having to lug heavy equipment around and keep their subjects stock still.

Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Leica

Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Leica

 

It’s this connection to the history of photography, as well as their superior quality, that makes them so treasured by collectors.

As a professional or amateur, the dream is to own your own Leica and some collectors will pay astonishing sums to secure their model. Recently the market has exploded, with a Leica M3D used by the legendary LIFE magazine photographer David Douglas selling for $2m in 2012 – and what a beauty it is.

Why am I telling you this?

Well 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of Leica’s cameras, with the first prototype arriving in 1914. To celebrate, specialist auction house Westlicht Photographica Auction, based in Vienna, are holding an auction of 100 of the most sought after cameras.

We don’t know how they’ve managed to get 100 in the same place, with Leica’s now exceedingly rare. Also starring are 100 of the finest photographs taken with a Leica, in celebration of the unrivalled quality of their images.

Leica Mystery Camera 100 years

The mysterious camera to be unveiled on May 22

However, the star lot is what’s making collectors salivate. The mystery item, half-concealed in the listing photo, is a special edition Leica but that’s all we know until the date before the May 23 auction, when all will be revealed.

Tantalisingly, the auction house writes, “Many of the Leica special editions, elaborately hand-crafted to commemorate special occasions, are rarities featuring special engravings and materials; they are of particular interest to collectors.

“At the same time, they are unique tools for the daily work of professional photographers and serious amateurs.”

See more photography news over at the Paul Fraser Collectibles website.

A new world record for Chinese art?

A 15th century “chicken cup” is once again poised to shatter the record for a Chinese work of art at auction, 15 years after it achieved the then record price of $4m in 1999.

Following a string of increasingly high profile sales of Chinese art, a new figure of $32.4m was set for a Qing dynasty vase at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2010.

It seems almost a certainty that the cup will break the current record, due to the extraordinary regard with which it is held in Chinese culture.

The 15th century chicken cup

At first glance, the diminutive cup does not look much like a contender to become the most valuable anything, but like many of the most fascinating collectibles – there is more than meets the eye.

The story begins in the Chenghua period of the Ming dynasty (1464-1487), where the cups were produced in tiny quantites in the imperial kiln.

They were designed specifically for the appreciation of the emperor and as a result, the quality of the porcelain and the simple, elegant painting is unmatched.

Their delicate beauty fascinated subsequent generations, who saw in the cups an unmannered and unaffected aesthetic perfection.

Subsequent emperors and scholars sang their praises, resulting in a meteoric rise in value throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

They took on an almost legendary quality, becoming symbols of Chinese artisanship.

Poet and writer Zhu Yizun (1629-1709) wrote: “Chicken cups were not obtainable in the city for less than five pieces of white gold and those who did have the means to buy them greatly cherished them.”

Similarly another writer, Cheng Che, commented in the 17th century, “A pair of Chenghua cups was already worth 10,000 cash.”

Endless copies have been made throughout the ages to feed the public demand for these iconic wares and now, of the very few originals, only three survive.

Tom

A piece of bloodstained fabric

A piece of bloodstained fabric recently sold for $16,000 at a US auction.

I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly compel someone to pay that amount of money for something that unpleasant?

Well what if I told you that that piece of fabric was torn from the very sofa that Adolf Hitler was sitting on when he shot himself.

Suddenly it becomes much more interesting, doesn’t it?

hitler-sofa-suicide_410

The fragment of sofa from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin

The grisly memento was taken by a US officer who was among the first to enter the bunker below the Reich Chancellery in Berlin before it was filled in by the Russians. Apparently, it is now the site of a Chinese restaurant.

Most of us are aware of how the dictator spent his final days below ground as the city’s children were conscripted to hold off the inevitable advance of the Red Army, of the frenzied attempts to delay the inevitable up until the final moment.

The events were memorably dramatised in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s extraordinary film Downfall, which was based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge – Hitler’s secretary in the closing months of the war.

It is items like this, despite their obvious unpalatability, that take the past out of the history books and place it squarely within your hands.

From the shirt Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was assassinated in 1914, held in the collection of the Austrian Military Museum, to a cloth dipped in the blood of the executed Louis XVI, there is an immediacy and revulsion that ensures these relics retain their power long after the event.

That Hitler died in the bunker is beyond doubt. His dental remains were identified, but as the auction house put it: “no blood relics of Hitler’s have ever been offered publicly – a DNA test would conclusively put to rest rumors of body doubles, flight to Argentina, and other theories of an escape from Berlin”.

Inevitably, there is a deeper moral issue that comes into play with the sale of memorabilia pertaining to the Nazis and Hitler in particular.

It is, however, the case that the majority of buyers of Nazi memorabilia are the Jewish community. Memories are short, but items that bring to life the darkest moment of European history offer a warning to future generations as the spectre of the second world war diminishes.

Tom

They’re still out there…

Four of them were never caught.

While mastermind Bruce Reynolds, Ronnie Biggs et al became household names after the Great Train Robbery, four members of the gang slipped into the shadows.

They could still be alive today, living off the profits of one of the most daring heists in history.

After all, only £400,000 of the £2.6m stolen that August morning in 1963 was ever recovered.

The daring of the raid, the subsequent manhunt and the high profile escapes have long fascinated me – and countless others…

…including collectors.

It’s why an original wanted poster for the train robbers auctioned for £4,500 ($7,500) earlier this year. It’s why the railway sign from Sears Crossing, where the plan was put into action, has a £10,000 ($16,700) estimate ahead of its sale next month.

Sears Crossing sign

Where it all began. You can bid on this original railway sign next month.

I’m firmly of the opinion that that estimate will be smashed, such is the public’s affection (yes “affection”) for the event.

“Am I one of a minority in feeling admiration for the skill and courage behind the Great Train Robbery?” wrote author Graham Greene in the Telegraph newspaper at the time.

We don’t have to look far for examples of memorabilia from other infamous crimes and criminals performing well at auction.

A wanted poster for Jesse James sold for $57,475 in 2012, the same year two guns found on the dead bodies of Bonnie and Clyde made $504,000, while we recently sold the personal collection of Britain’s most prolific hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.

And if you’re considering dipping a toe into the world of criminal collectibles, or “murderabilia”, do give us a call. We’re experts at sourcing the world’s rarest collectibles, although tracking down Jack the Ripper’s disembowelling knife may be beyond even our investigate powers…

Call +44 (0)117 933 9500 or email info@paulfrasercollectibles.com

Dan

Unassuming Chinese owl unleashed on Asia Week

As the consignments start to roll in for the annual Asia Week New York (March 14-22), Sotheby’s has announced that the spectacular highlight of its sales will be…

An owl.

Unassuming at first, this owl will have you fascinated by its history

Unassuming at first, this owl will have you fascinated by its history

It’s a rather fine kind of an owl, cast from bronze and designed for use as a wine vessel. Yet, next to the glittering jewels and spectacular artworks offered during the week, it does look a little shabby…

$4m worth of shabby, apparently.

At first, you might dismiss the piece – it’s nice, but perhaps not the most coveted item on your list. However, dig a little deeper and this wise bird begins to reveal its secrets.

The key to the owl’s value is its age; this vessel was created during China’s Zhou dynasty. For those of us that aren’t well versed in ancient Chinese history, that’s the 8th-7th centuries BC.

Yes, that’s right…BC.

600-700 years before Jesus Christ was supposedly born.

To give that date some context, this was a time when the Assyrian Empire dominated Babylon and Egypt, while Nebuchadnezzar was busy building the famous Hanging Gardens.

Meanwhile, my forebears were presumably still mucking about in caves in England, making rudimentary weapons to destroy their enemies.

China was light years ahead, with the country under the grip of the longest dynasty in its history, while their political and culture was already developed enough to draw comparisons with medieval England.

Just some food for thought before you dismiss this unassuming owl…it’s amazing that the piece has even survived the tests of time, let alone made it to auction in fantastic condition.

Learn more about its fascinating provenance.

Joe

P.S. You can read all about Asia Week New York and the latest consignments over at Paul Fraser Collectibles’ news site – or sign up to the free newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out.

The mystery of The Hollywood Hat – an autographed anomaly

A hat mysteriously appears at auction, covered in the signatures of 400 of the top names of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, the list goes on.

The Hollywood Hat has since revealed its secrets

The Hollywood Hat has since revealed its secrets

The huge Stetson cowboy hat is a remarkable relic, but autographs just aren’t what those in attendance are looking for, and bids are slow to appear.

One man, realising the hat’s potential value, puts his hand up and places the winning bid – it’ll make a good talking point, if nothing else.

Yet when our bidder takes the hat home, he’s drawn by its power. Just how does one person get all of those autographs? Where did it come from? How much is it really worth?

You might say our enterprising bidder – Joe Blitman – was hooked on the autograph collecting hobby…

And so, research got underway. With limited experience in autograph collecting, Blitman was uncertain to say the least. However, after hours of pondering, he noticed one thing: all of those that signed the hat worked for either MGM or Fox, as opposed to other major studios Warner Brothers, Paramount or RKO.

What do Fox and MGM have in common? Blitman was at a loss, noticing only one similarity: they’re both on the same side of Hollywood, with the other situated on the other side of town.

Blitman began to dissect the hat (not literally, don’t panic collectors!), grouping together the autographs that fill every inch of space. 90% were actors, with a couple of boxing champions thrown in for good measure.

The history of the hat still eluded its new owner…but then Blitman struck gold.

Four of the names on the hat were those of make-up men. Very few collectors would bother to trouble a make-up artist for their John Hancock, so all clues pointed to an insider…but who?

A guard at the gates, a receptionist, a work experience kid. It could’ve been anyone.

Digging deeper into those four names, Blitman became dismayed at the lack of information. Turns out, very little knowledge of the early make-up artists was passed on to future generations, and there was almost no trace of Jack Dawn, Ward Hamilton, Bob Stephanoff or Cecil Holland to be found.

Just a few short biographies of each exist, yet one mentioned that Cecil Holland had a daughter, who Blitman discovered is still alive. A chance email is fired off, but Blitman isn’t hopeful and is on the verge of giving up.

A week passes and no reply. Then…

Dear Mr. Blitman,

I was delighted to receive your email with a request for information about the cowboy hat. You have reached the right person for its background. It was my father, Cecil Holland, who got all those signatures from the actors who sat in his makeup chair… many of whom later became friends … It was his pride and joy.

Margaret, Cecil Holland’s daughter had replied – and what a reply it was!

Joe Blitman was now the owner of Cecil Holland’s pride and joy. But who was Cecil?

Clark Gable signing the Hollywood Hat

Clark Gable signing the Hollywood Hat

Blitman lists him as an “accomplished actor, engraver, etcher, photographer, painter, jewelry maker, sculptor, wood-carver and most importantly, a dedicated and deeply talented make-up artist”.

An Englishman born in 1887, Cecil Holland shared the same enterprising nature as Blitman, embarking on several varied careers before becoming a make-up artist at the dawn of the silent-era. He went on to provide the make-up of almost every star of the era, as well as acting alongside the likes of Rudolph Valentino.

As each of the stars entered his make-up room, Holland would request their autograph, each dutifully adding their name to the historical hat.

Obviously, Blitman isn’t keen to part with the hat now, but he is eager to tell the story of Cecil Holland, a remarkable star whose name should never have been forgotten. Learn more about Holland’s Hollywood Hat here.

by Joe
IMAGES: JOE BLITMAN/AUTOGRAPH MAGAZINE

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