Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label Curios. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curios. Show all posts

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Revolutionary Automatons, Our New Pandemic Intimates

There are curios called bird boxes, or singing automaton bird cages, which were popular in the late 18th, 19th to mid 20th centuries. These were music boxes, but featured artificial caged birds which would chirp real-sounding bird songs. They are charming, yet disturbing, and were mainly popular among wealthy people in Germany, Switzerland, France, and America.


Bird boxes were invented in Geneva in the mid-1780s by Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721-1790); these mechanical automatons were once the mark of cutting edge technology from the revolutionary era. In late 19th century France, artificial mechanical life forms were an objet d'art of great importance. One of the most 20th century famous bird box makers was a German music box specialist, Karl Griesbaum. Bird boxes sell on eBay for USD $700-$2000. See related Websites, herehere, and here.

A French pre-revolutionary artefact from 1772, restored in 1864: Joueuse de Tympanon - automate (6 October 2006). Video Source: Youtube.

From the late 19th century, Industrial Revolution: Nancy - The Automaton (12 May 2007). Video Source: Youtube.

It is an odd fact that in revolutionary times, people become obsessed with imitating life using mechanized entities - dolls, golems, robots, androids - or in our case, AI consciousnesses. In the video below, note the creepy anthropomorphization of mobile phones and pandemic tagging and tracking apps, referred to as cousins of Hanson Robotics' gnostic fembot Sophia. The interview also suggests that phones, computers and robots are our new intimate friends as we humans are forced to social distance from one another.

Pandemic Revolution? Sophia Life: Interview with AI Researcher Tina White (7 May 2020). Video Source: Youtube.

Sophia the Robot Gives a Glimpse of What's to Come in 2020 #Sophia2020 (14 January 2020). Video Source: Youtube.

In 2018, the film, Bird Box, borrowed the name of revolutionary singing bird automaton collectables to describe people surrounded by deadly paranormal entities. Only caged birds, which provided a warning against approaching monsters, prevented people from committing suicide.

Bird Box | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix (24 October 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Curios: An Early Integrated Circuit

Technology that Changed the World: First Integrated Circuit (19 October 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Curios is my blog series on odd things that turn up at auction houses. This is LOT #72176 at Heritage Auctions, An Early Microchip Prototype, Precursor to the Integrated Circuit, Developed in Dallas, Texas in 1958. All images reproduced here are from the auction listing. The chip is on the block today:
"Technological advancements do not just happen, and they can even be the product of some accidents - or, at least, a 'trial and error' methodology. In most cases of evolutionary development, there are, and must be, stages of advancement. We all take for granted the 'micro technology' that runs our everyday devices - and indirectly dominates our lives - which would not exist today if it were not for the technology behind the Integrated Circuit (IC) microchip. From cell phones to computers, the semiconductor age has made an impact on everything we do and how we do it. In the late 1950s, this cutting-edge technology, at least at the time, was pioneered by industry giant Texas Instruments with the charge being led by the legendary Jack Kilby so associated with the advent of the semiconductor - 'the chip that Jack built' has been echoed, likely daily, at least somewhere, since this revolution occurred some nearly 60 years ago...

In the summer of 1958, Jack Kilby began to work on an alternative to the 'largess' problems of circuitry and started writing down thoughts and sketching out ideas until he was ready to show how an IC could be built on semiconductor material and function. The initial iteration of the component was a sliver of Germanium with several projecting wires attached to a glass brick. The first successful demonstration of a phase shift oscillator had occurred, and the foundation of what became future generations of micro technology had been born. The advancement made at that time would ultimately result in the silicon 'chip' so associated today with virtually every aspect of technology. Jack Kilby would eventually win a Nobel Prize for his unparalleled breakthrough, which literally changed the entire world as we know it.

Of course, Jack Kilby did not perform his 'magic' in isolation or without the help of others. During that same period of time, Tom Yeargan worked as a technician at Texas Instruments and assisted Jack Kilby with a number of projects that culminated in the working microchip prototype. Tom Yeargan personally retained some materials from the original era of this micro technology development, which has become part of the history of his deservedly proud family. Sadly, Tom Yeargan is no longer here to share stories of just how the creation of the microchip came to fruition, but, fortunately, his family has preserved his legacy and now wish to share his historical treasures with everyone.

This incredible Lot features both a Germanium wafer complete with leads and wires on the original glass brick as well as a second unit - a prototype of a silicon circuit featuring metallic leads attached to a plastic 'petri dish'rounding out this dynamic duo of technological history. In addition to the precursor engineering devices, this offering has related documentation including a formal statement by Tom Yeargan chronicling his role in developing the microchip with Jack Kilby. The Germanium unit is presented in a plastic case that has a label signed by Jack Kilby further authenticating the piece. Jack Kilby even mentioned Tom Yeargan by name in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Both Jack Kilby and Tom Yeargan are gone, but neither will ever be forgotten.

Measurements: 0.99 x 0.31 x 0.03 inches (2.52 x 0.8 x 0.1 cm)"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: Cauldrons and Grails

Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth. The Destruction of the Cauldron of Rebirth (1905) by Thomas Prytherch (1864-1926). Image Source: Wiki.

As a child, I read Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain. The hero, Taran, makes his way through a vast swamp to find a black cauldron, which must be secured before an evil king seizes it. This artifact has the power to bring dead men back to life and can create an army of undead warriors. Similar to Sauron's ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the cauldron is depicted as a weapon like today's atomic bomb. It looks like a tool for certain victory in war. But it offers death and despair to those who try to wield its incredible power. The only thing an army can do with this mega-weapon, according to Celtic folklore, is destroy it, because its power lies beyond the accepted boundaries of human existence. Taran learns from the cauldron's witch guardians that the cauldron can only be destroyed by the sacrifice of a live man who willingly climbs into it and dies.

Lloyd Alexander's work adapted the Welsh pre-Christian myth cycle, The Mabinogion. This Celtic legend is part of Britain's earliest prose literature, a romance written down in the 11th century, based on earlier oral sources. In the second part of these tales, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, "A tragically genocidal war develops fomented by Efnisien, in which a Cauldron which resurrects ... dead figures." The sadistic, psychopathic anti-hero Efnisien is responsible for the destruction of Ireland and the Island of the Mighty, also known as AlbionPrydain or Britain. To make up for his transgressions, Efnisien climbs into the cauldron and destroys it. Thus, bound up with the cauldron's original story of resurrection is a tale of Celtic warriors who have turned on each other and fought amongst themselves. One of their own betrays the other lords, and initiates mass-killing and mass death; he sacrifices himself as a means of redemption and acceptance back into the fold.

Arthurian myth turns right at the point where the Celtic pagan became Christian, and the cauldron became the Grail. Arthur's knight, Percival, with the Grail Cup. Arthur Hacker (1858-1919), The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894). Image Source: BBC. The painting is in the Leeds Art Gallery (LEEAG.PA.1895.0013).

The Celtic cauldron was a predecessor to the Holy Grail in northern Europe. By the 12th century, medieval Christian doctrine transformed the cauldron's abominable symbol, from a grisly instrument of evil resurrection to a tool of sacred regeneration through resurrection, known as the Holy Grail. That means that as ancient societies stabilized, their view of death changed. The symbol at the heart of their stories essentially stayed the same, but the spiritual message around resurrection became a tale of heaven rather than hell. The cauldron became conflated with the Chalice that Jesus supposedly used at the Last Supper. In the 20th century, the Nazis launched an actual search for the Grail, to lay claim to their share of Celtic heritage and Romantic reworkings of Christian legend, while conflating both traditions with the Aryan Cup of Jamshid, a mythical artifact that enabled the ancient rulers of Greater Persia to see the future.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: The Devil is in the Details

The British Guiana 1c Magenta (1856) has a sailing ship image and the colony’s Latin motto, "Damus Petimus Que Vicissim" or "We Give and Expect in Return." Image Source: stampboards.

The most rare and valuable stamp in the world is the British Guiana One Cent Magenta, which is worth almost USD $9.5 million, according to its last auction in June 2014. As far as we know, there is only one 1c Magenta. It is so rare and valuable that it is the only major stamp not in the private philatelic collection of Britain's royal family, who have been collecting stamps for as long as stamps have existed. The stamp was discovered in 1873 by a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy, Louis Vernon Vaughan, who found the stamp among his uncle's papers in Demerara. He saw that the stamp was not listed in his catalogue and sold it for six shillings to a local collector. According to online inflation and currency conversion calculators, six shillings in 1873 would be equivalent to approximately USD $259 in September 2015 values.

The stamp is so rare because it was produced in an emergency issue at the Georgetown newspaper, the Royal Gazette, when a British ship did not deliver enough stamps needed for the colony. Since its discovery, the stamp has had many adventures, exploded in value, and gained worldwide attention due to its uniqueness. In 1878, the greatest stamp collector in history, Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary added it to his collection. In 1922, the British royal family tried to buy it and failed. In 1970, a consortium of Pennsylvanian businessmen bought it. In 1980, the heir to the Du Pont fortune bought it; and the stamp spent the late 1990s up to 2010 in the owner's bank vault, while the owner spent time in prison for murdering an Olympic gold medal wrestler. The current owner has briefly lent the stamp to the Smithsonian. If you want to see it and you live anywhere near Washington DC, visit the Gross Stamp Gallery at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, where the 1c Magenta is on display between June 2015 and November 2017. The Museum warns: please call in advance to confirm the stamp's availability at +1 (202) 633-5555, since it will be periodically removed from display for preservation.

The story of this stamp is a lesson about paying attention to details and the origin of real value. It took the eyes and perspective of a twelve-year-old boy to see the value of the stamp, that is, a boy not yet brutally shaped by the world, whose imagination was still fully available to him and completely his own. Before the stamp's 2014 auction to current owner Stuart Weitzman, the Du Pont trust placed the stamp in the care of Sotheby's auction house. The Sotheby's agent who was temporarily entrusted with the stamp recognized that it takes that youthful perspective - to have one's eyes open to the wonders of the world - to recognize this stamp and things like it of immense value:
David Redden, director of special projects at Sotheby’s, said the “British Guiana” was a stamp of almost mythical repute among philatelists. He said: “For me, as a school stamp collector, it was a magical object, the very definition of rarity and value: unobtainable rarity and extraordinary value."
Imagine digging through an attic stuffed with old junk. You shuffle through a sheaf of dusty papers, and a tiny square of wine-coloured paper flutters onto the floor. You step on the scrap of paper, pull it off your shoe, toss it out, and throw away the second example in the world of the British Guiana 1c Magenta, which would have been your biggest lotto ticket ever, if you had only known, if you had only been paying attention to the details.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Time Capsules Inside Time Capsules: Paris, 1942

Marthe de Florian (1898), by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Image Source: The Meta Picture.

In 1942, a French socialite, Madame de Florian, fled her apartment on Paris's Right Bank near the Opéra Garnier. She paid rent on it until her death in 2010, but never returned (hat tip: The Meta Picture). The apartment has sat, sealed and untouched, with nothing moved since the Second World War, gathering dust.

After 2010, the estate opened the apartment and began selling the contents. They included the portrait (above) of the apartment's absent tenant's grandmother. It was painted by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini, and recently sold at auction for €2.1 million. From AnOther:
Florian resided in a breath-taking apartment on Paris' Right Bank, which she left to her granddaughter, Madame de Florian. At the age of 23, amid the chaos of the Second World War, Madame de Florian fled Paris for the South of France, apparently never to return, but she continued to pay rent on the building until her death at the age of 91. From 1942 then, until a wintery December afternoon in 2010 – when it was entered by auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry – the decadent apartment remained frozen in time, a time capsule recording the precise moment of de Florian's sudden flight.

Amid the luxurious if dusty furnishings, the wizened taxidermy and mountains of ephemera ranging from dressing tables to Disney toys, Choppin-Janvry came across a mesmerising Boldini portrait of a beautiful woman wearing a pink muslin dress, accompanied by a stack of ribbon bound love letters, including some from Boldini himself, addressed to Marthe de Florian. It became clear she was both his lover and the beauty in the painting. A reference found in Boldini’s wife's records has confirmed the identity of the portrait's subject, dating it to 1898, when de Florian was just 24 years old.
There is some historical confusion in how this story has been reblogged across the Web. The apartment was already outdated during the 1940s, having been passed to the tenant (Madame de Florian) from her grandmother (a different Madame de Florian). The apartment still had love letters on the premises to Marthe de Florian (the grandmother) from the artist Boldini. It actually reflects a frozen 1900 carried to 2010 by the wartime conditions of the mid-20th-century. The now-famous Boldini fin-de-siècle portrait above of the tenant's grandmother is a time capsule inside a time capsule. It is one turn of the century relayed to our turn of the century by an auction house at the end of the tenant's life at age 91.

Nevertheless, this time capsule is a reminder of how much 19th century was still alive and well at the mid-20th century. It gives a glimpse of the world that was swept away during World War II and was subsequently replaced by suburbs, cineplexes, shopping malls, travel points, credit cards and iPhones.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Curios: Upcoming Hollywood Memorabilia Auction

Up at auction: the 1940 Buick Phaeton automobile from Casablanca (1942).

An amazing array of Hollywood props, scripts and other memorabilia is going up for auction at Bonham's in New York City on the 25th of November, 2013 at 1 p.m. Eastern - from the Maltese Falcon prop, to wafers of Soylent Green, to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman suit and Michael Keaton's Batman suit. And Bonham's have storyboards from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soylent Green! The original prop.

They have signed contracts, countless costumes (some are breathtaking, have incredible craftsmanship, or are sci-fi classics) and posters, and they have Francis Ford Coppola's working script (here) from The Godfather (1972). They have a script from Citizen Kane (1941). And Marilyn Monroe's high school yearbook.

All film genres, classics from all decades. See the auction house's Website here. You can bid online.

The iconic lead statuette of the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 film of the same name.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Curios: Titanic's Lead Violin Auctioned

Image Source: Yahoo.

The violin played by the band master on the Titanic to calm the passengers as the ship was sinking has fetched a record price at auction. BBC:
The violin that was apparently played to calm passengers on the Titanic as it sank was sold for £900,000 in just 10 minutes at auction in Wiltshire.
It was played by band leader Wallace Hartley, who died along with 1,517 others as the ship went down. It had a guide price of £300,000.
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy said the buyer was believed to be British. Auctioneer Alan Aldridge said the violin was the "rarest and most iconic" piece of Titanic memorabilia. ...
Mr Aldridge set the bidding at £50 for the violin, which was lot 230 of 251, so "two of his friends could bid" - but after just a couple of minutes it had passed £100,000. It eventually sold for £900,000 after fierce bidding between two telephone bidders. Hartley has become part of the ship's legend after leading his fellow musicians in playing as the vessel sank. They are famously said to have played the hymn Nearer My God To Thee.
... [I]t is claimed the violin survived in a leather case strapped to Mr Harley's body who was found wearing his cork and linen lifejacket. A diary entry by his fiancee, Maria Robinson, said it was saved from the water and returned to her.
Following her death in 1939, the violin was given to her local Salvation Army citadel and was later passed on to the current anonymous owner's mother in the early 1940s. The auction house said it had attracted interest from collectors all over the world and added that more than 315,000 people viewed it during a three-month exhibition in the United States.
See more images on the BBC site.

Image Source: Branson Tourism Center.

Image Source: Yahoo.

Memorial stone to the Titanic's band master. Image Source: The York Press.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Curios: Christie's Apple Auction

Images Source: Christie's.

Christie's Auction House is currently auctioning off a number of early Apple computers. Bids at the time of writing ranged from USD $300 to USD $300,000, indicating that a collectors' market is growing around this hardware. From the catalogue:
1976, Palo Alto: A young Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs pore over Wozniak’s circuit designs in Jobs’ parents’ garage, hand-assembling a modest device that would help catalyze the Information Revolution: the “Apple I,” their fledgling company’s first computer. As part of this exclusive online auction of vintage Apple products, June 24 through July 9, Christie’s is offering one of the first 25 Apple I’s assembled—inscribed with the serial number 01-0025 in black ink, and signed “Woz.” A 1983 Apple “Lisa” (named after Jobs’ daughter), an assortment of early prototypes, software and other must-haves for the retro tech lover complete this fascinating look back at the future.
(Thanks to -C.)

 Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (1997).

Apple-1 Personal Computer (1976).

Macintosh with translucent SE Case (1987).

Prototype of a Macintosh portable computer: the "first commercial portable computer used in space and the first to send email in space (Space Shuttle mission STS-43, 1991" (1989-1990).

Apple //e computer (1983-1984).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fallen Stars: Magic, Mysticism and Mayhem

Image Source: Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute/NASA Ames) via Live Science.

Caption for the above photograph: "On Oct. 6, 2008, Richard Kowalski, at the Catalina Sky Survey, spotted a new asteroid, dubbed 2008 TC3, on a collision course with Earth. For the first time, astronomers around the world tracked the asteroid's approach for the day before it hit Earth. The asteroid exploded upon entering Earth's atmosphere, and as predicted, it fell in the Nubian Desert of Northern Sudan, where 35 pounds (15.9 kilograms) of meteorites were eventually found. Much of its mass is believed to have been vaporized or to have disintegrated when it hit Earth's atmosphere. It was renamed Almahata Sitta, Arabic for "station six," a railroad stop on the line to Khartoum near where the meteorites were found, according to the auction catalog description."

Well before the Space Age, meteorites brought a little piece of heaven - or hell - down to our world. On May 30, we narrowly avoided an extinction event. A 1.7 mile wide binary asteroid, 1998 QE2, which is so large that it has its own moon (see here and here), just passed earth by a whisker: "White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a press briefing about the asteroid: 'scientists have concluded the asteroid 'poses no threat to planet Earth'. He then laughed and said: 'Never really thought I'd be standing up here saying that, but I guess I am.'" 1998 QE2 is considered to be about the same size as the space rock that landed on earth and likely wiped out the dinosaurs.

Meteorites were not officially linked with their celestial origins until 1803. But people have invested these objects with mystical and divine qualities for millennia, evidently because they knew them to have fallen from the skies. Even today, space rocks have that tangible yet unearthly quality that fascinates. In late 2012, the Heritage Auction house attracted attention when they put up 125 space rocks and meteorites for sale, "offering ... rocks from Mars and the moon, silver meteorite slices studded with peridot gems, a slice of the meteorite that killed a cow in Venezuela, the rear tail-light bulb and title to a car punctured by a meteorite, meteorite jewelry." Immediately below, see some of the items which were auctioned (all Heritage Auctions images and cited text are from this page).

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "Meteorites are pieces of asteroids, the moon and Mars that travel to Earth after being ejected from these heavenly bodies. Exotic origins aside, meteorites can be beautiful, mimicking abstract sculpture for example, and many bring interesting stories when they collide with Earth. On Oct. 14, 2012, more than 125 meteorite specimens and related material go up for auction. Here's a look at few of them. Above, the naturally formed holes on this iron Gibeon meteorite found in Namibia give it an animal-like appearance."

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "This meteorite, found in China's Gobi Desert, is a pallasite, a class of stony-iron meteorites that contain the mineral olivine. Gem quality olivine, as appears in this meteorite, is called peridot, the August birthstone."

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "In 1492, this stone fell from the sky outside the walled city of Ensisheim, located in the Alsatian region France. The stone's descent was seen as a sign from God; the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites would not be accepted for another 300 years. The Ensisheim meteorite was brought into the city and chained up in church to keep it Earth-bound."

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "The majority of meteorites break off from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter; rarer specimens come from the moon or Mars. This one, found in the Sahara Desert, is a lunar meteorite."

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "In 1803, the L'Aigle meteorite landed in Normandy, France, convincing French scientists that rocks did indeed fall from the sky, and so ushering in widespread acceptance of the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites. This L'Aigle specimen bears an antique parchment label."

Caption for the above Heritage Auctions photograph: "This partial slice comes from the Valera meteorite, which killed a cow when it landed in Venezuela in 1972. The cow was subsequently slaughtered and eaten, and the meteorite was used as a doorstop. This is the only meteorite known to have been responsible for a fatality."

Below the jump, see some of the world's most famous and mystical meteorites, objects which unite human celestial fascination of the ancient world with that of the future. The most interesting is perhaps a mysterious meteorite carved into a Buddhist figure in the Middle Ages, which the Nazis stole from Tibet during World War II.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Curios: Dinosaur Auction Update

This fossilized ankylosaurid skull is one of the items under investigation by authorities. Image Source: Live Science.

Curios is my series of blog posts on oddities that turn up at auction houses. Remember this post from May 2012, about a bunch of fossils that went on the block in New York City? It turns out that this collection was part of the black market trade in fossil smuggling, according to the Mongolian government, and now the courts. Live Science (28 December 2012; Hat tip: Graham Hancock's Alternative Newsdesk):
A fossil dealer's guilty plea has set the stage for what is most likely the largest dinosaur fossil repatriation in history, according to an attorney representing the President of Mongolia, the country that will receive most of the fossils that federal officials are seizing from fossil dealer and preparer Eric Prokopi. On Thursday (Dec. 27) Prokopi pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to smuggling fossils and agreed to forfeit a small menagerie of dinosaurs to federal officials. All but one of the dinosaurs in question came from Mongolia, where law makes fossils state property, and among them is a high-profile skeleton that received a $1.05 million bid at auction. "We have looked into this, and we can't find any instance anywhere when one country has returned to another a lot of dinosaurs this large and this significant that have been looted or smuggled," said Robert Painter, attorney for Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia. ...  
On June 18, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced a civil suit claiming the federal government had the right to seize the Tarbosaurus because those who imported it did so knowing it was stolen, and the customs forms accompanying it contained false information. Federal agents then got a warrant to pick up the bones and take them into protective custody until the case is resolved.
The auction house made the following comment:
Heritage Auctions has not identified the seller or the buyer, citing a need to protect confidentiality. "Somebody doesn't put something like this in a major auction that is broadcast and promoted worldwide if they have got something to hide. If there is a title problem, you go and sell it secretly to someone in a backroom for a suit case full of cash," Rohan said. "That is something we have nothing to do with."
Image Source: Eric Prokopi via Live Science.

The fossil seller, who later pleaded guilty, initially insisted that he was completely innocent:
Eric Prokopi, the Florida fossil dealer, who restored the Tarbosaurus and was attempting to sell it at the public auction, released a statement dated June 22 saying “I'm just a guy in Gainesville, Florida trying to support my family, not some international bone smuggler.” Prokopi denied paleontologists’ assertions that the skeleton must have come from Mongolia and the U.S. Attorney’s claim he made false statements on customs documents. The disruption of the sale as been financially devastating to him, Prokopi wrote. “All I can do now is hope and pray the American legal system will uphold American laws and not sacrifice my rights and freedoms to please a foreign government out for a political trophy.”  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day Curios

Image Source: Bonhams.

The auction houses have nothing on Boxing Day sales ... except cuneiform tablets. From Bonhams famous auction house, up at auction in New York City on 4 December 2012:
A Babylonian clay inscription fragment, Middle Babylonian, Syria circa 1600-1500 B.C., part of a lexical text giving a list of fish. Approx 95 x 102 mm of inscribed surface area and 30 mm thick. Custom velvet-lined clamshell box.

Provenance: purchased from Bernard Quaritch Ltd. in September, 1992.

Such compilations of signs according to subject (e.g. trees, fish etc.) were used for teaching purposes.
US$ 1,500 - 2,500
£940 - 1,600
€1,200 - 2,000
(Thanks to -C.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 11: Curios of a Queen

Image Source: via Quigley's Cabinet.

I have a friend who sees abandoned shoes as a symbol of death, mainly because of the Nazis' Holocaust-era photographs of discarded shoes in the concentration camps.

For a Hallowe'en countdown entry in my curios at auction series, full credit goes to Quigley's Cabinet for marking a different bloody anniversary. On 16 October 1793 at the height of the French Revolution, former Habsburg princess and French queen, Marie Antoinette, was beheaded. Above, a pair of her shoes, worn on the first celebration of Bastille Day (14 July 1790), at which royal attendance was already a sign of serious troubles. The queen originally gave the slippers to a manservant, who passed them to his descendants.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Last Book from the Last Library

Déjà vu: According to historian Susan Wise Bauer, this is: The Taking of Constantinople, 1453 by Palma il Giovane [Iacopo Nigreti (c. 1548-1628), who worked alongside Tintoretto], 17th century; very similar to paintings by two Tintorettos (father and son). Image Source: Wiki [the title is quoted on Wiki as The Taking of Constantinople, 1204, other sources agree].

2012 is a year when many people are thinking about the apocalyptic unthinkable. But this is no new thing.  People have been thinking about the end of the world, or at least of cataclysmic change, for as long as they have been thinking about the world. Most of 2012's fears are couched in terms of war, rogue phantom planets, spiritual, religious, political or cosmic dangers. In the Information Age, the one thing we never consider is that our accumulated knowledge could be obliterated.

The Crusaders' Conquest of Constantinople in 1204, by Domenico Tintoretto ((1560-1635) son of the famous artist (1518-1594, who painted another similar painting). Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), Venice, Italy, 16th century.

Critics scoff at the 2012 fearful, but the loss of almost everything we are and know is not implausible and should at least be understood in terms of historical precedents.

There is a reason why many dystopian futuristic stories and films commonly have some lone character - a post-apocalyptic historian - who has holed up with the remains of pre-apocalyptic books, paintings and other cultural artifacts. You can see that theme in several modern graphic novels, fiction and sci-fi movies: Logan's Run, V for Vendetta, Ever Since the World Ended, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

The reason these fearful depictions are so compelling is that they are based on historical facts. We possess submerged memories of other times when vast bodies of human knowledge were wiped out, irretrievably and forever.

This post is about the one surviving book that comes directly to us from the last library of the ancient world. Of course, there are many ancient texts that have survived through copies and archaeological reconstructions. But this is apparently the only text which can be directly traced to a collection at the Imperial Library of Constantinople.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Curios: The Best of Modern Horology at Christie's

Video Source: Christie's via World Auction.

Curios is my blog series on interesting things that pop up at auction houses. Today, Christie's in Hong Kong is selling some of the most sophisticated watches on Earth. From the Christie's catalogue:
In 2011, Christie's international auction sales in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York of important watches surpassed the US$ 100 million barrier for the first time and achieved an unprecedented total of more than US$116.3 million, reconfirming the firm’s global supremacy for this category for the 5th year in a row. Underlined by consistent selling rates of over 90% achieved at each Christie's watch sale this year, such an outstanding result is a consequence of the fierce competition generated by a growing number of collectors coming from the Eastern and Western hemispheres. No less than 1,000 bidders from 40 or more different countries participated at every Christie's watch sale in 2011, demonstrating how this category knows no bounds.

Today’s watch market has never been so international, nor has it seen such high levels of scholarship and demand, and Christie's leads it at every level, especially when it comes to vintage collector’s wristwatches manufactured by the most renowned manufacturers. Throughout the year, Christie's Watch Specialists scouted and offered the finest and most important watches, mostly fresh to the market, perfectly presented and realistically estimated, and the reaction of the watch community was enthusiastic.
Technological advances have seen watches become incredibly complex and these timepieces cost several million dollars each. World Auction compares one of the watches on the block today (the 2010 Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 model, now billed as the most complicated wrist watch ever made in the world) with the 1932 Patek Philippe Supercomplication commissioned by Henry Graves, and the 1989 Patek Philippe model Calibre 89, to indicate how far horologists have come:
The sale of watches 
organized by Christie's in Hong Kong on May 30 is a festival of high complication. The technical advances of the latest watches have certainly been enabled by the computers, making it a new category in the market for luxury goods.

Franck Muller [the great Swiss watchmaker based] ... in Geneva, positions himself as the master of complications. Number 1 of his Aeternitas Mega 4 model from 2010 is estimated HK $ 4.8 M.

This tonneau-shaped watch is large and thick, 61 x 42 x 19 mm, but it comes however into the category of wristwatches. Its 36 complications are activated by 1483 components.

A comparison with two prestigious watches enables to appreciate the evolution of technology.

The masterpiece of the inter-war period, the Patek Philippe commissioned by Graves, had 24 complications. Too big to be worn on the wrist, the Calibre 89 of Patek Philippe, 89 mm diameter and 41 mm thick, totaled 33 complications and 1728 components.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Curios: Pre-History for Sale

Curios is my blog series on strange things that pop up at auction houses, in this case, fossils. On May 20, the Natural History Signature auction will take place at Center 548 at 548 West 22nd Street, between 10th Avenue and West 22nd Street, in New York City. The star of the auction is a Tyrannosaurus bataar (above), a smaller Asian counterpart to North America's Tyrannosaurus Rex. This Tarbosaurus is expected to fetch over $1 million. More fossils on the block below the jump. Descriptions and images are taken from the linked pages at the Heritage Auctions site. There are some much more recent pre-historic artifacts as well, such as Paleolithic and Neolithic axes for sale. And one lot of Wooly Mammoth wool (below).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Curios: The Santa Claus Banknotes

Santa: Bottom right (click to see larger image). Image Source: Heritage Auctions.

Curios is my blog series on weird artifacts that come up on the block at auction houses. In January 2012, in Orlando, Florida, Heritage Auctions will be selling off the Durand collection of banknotes which had special issues with images of Santa Claus printed on them. You know, this was back in the days before people were disgusted by Christmas being emblematic of rampant capitalism. The collection includes counterfeit bills. From the Heritage Auctions announcement:
Heritage Currency is pleased to present The Roger H. Durand Santa Claus Notes Collection as part of our FUN Signature Currency Auction being held in Orlando from January 5 thru 8. Given the fact that most of the notes with Santa Claus vignettes are scarce to extremely rare, this is indeed a fabulous and noteworthy collection. Roger's initial purchase that began this collection took place in 1960 at a cost of $17 — several multiples of what most Obsoletes cost at that time. At that time, there was only one reference on the subject — a five page monograph by John A. Muscalus, Ph.D. published in 1959. That work was followed in 1973 by a publication from Larry L. Ruehlen that ignited the interest of collectors.

There were far fewer notes than there was demand for and the notes are generally prized and closely held, so building a collection was quite the challenge. Although that is still the case, the sale of the American Bank Note Company archives in 1990 did add more material to the marketplace along with Part VI of the Ford sale in October 2004, although the Ford sale consisted primarily of material he purchased at the 1990 sale. The continued interest in the Santa Claus vignettes is evidenced by the fact they took the number 23 spot on the list of The 100 Greatest American Currency Notes list, and the recent auction sale of a circulated Santa Claus note for over $40,000, an amazing price indeed for any obsolete banknote.

May your eyes twinkle and your dimples be merry this holiday season.
Santa: Bottom right (click to see larger image). Image Source: Heritage Auctions.
Santa: Centre (click to see larger image). Image Source: Heritage Auctions.
Santa: Centre (click to see larger image). Image Source: Heritage Auctions.
Image Source: Heritage Auctions.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolling

Dead Sea Scroll 11Q14, from 20-50 CE. Image Source: Donald Nausbaum via Time.

A set of talks on the Dead Sea Scrolls on tonight at the Jewish Museum London reminded me that I intended to do a post about the fact that the scrolls are slowly becoming available online, with translations, here. The scrolls site came online on 25 September 2011 with the help of Google. The scrolls date from 150 BCE to 70 CE and are the oldest known documents with sections from the Old Testament. They also contain apocryphal texts - Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, Sirach - that were not included in the Hebrew Bible. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and were discovered in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the 1940s and 1950s. They were found by a Bedouin tribesman who sold three of the scrolls to a small antiques dealer for 7 Pounds Sterling.  After a series of adventures that only Indiana Jones could duplicate, the scrolls arrived in 1954 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York to be auctioned.

Among other things, the scrolls talk about the End of Times and the final battle between good and evil. They seem to offer two versions of that event - a male version, and a female version. And now, through the wonders of modern technology, you can see the scrolls and read those stories for yourself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Curios: The Cheque that Bought Superman

Speak of the Devil. Just as the DCnU juggernaut continues on the back of the Superman copyright lawsuits, an online auction starts today that is auctioning off the cheque from DC Comics to Siegel and Shuster that bought the character Superman. For my earlier post on that story, go hereBleeding Cool (source of the image above) reports:
It has long been part of the record of comic book history that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold the rights for Superman to Detective Comics, Inc (the company which was to become DC Comics, of course) for $130.

Here is the March 1, 1938 check that DC Comics publisher and accountant Jack Liebowitz issued to Siegel and Shuster to complete that transaction:

Note the Superman line item next to the amount $130.

Also note the total $412, with other line items including “D.C”, ”Adv”, and “Fun”. This would probably correspond to payments for work in Detective Comics, New Adventure Comics, and More Fun Comics, where Siegel and Shuster had strips such as Doctor Occult, Federal Men, and Slam Bradley published just prior to the debut of Superman.

Adding to this already rather stellar bit of comic book history, the back includes not only the endorsements of both men (spelled both incorrectly and correctly to account for Liebowitz’s misspelling of both names on the front), but also an April 6, 1939 stamp for the U.S. District Court of New York, where it was presumably used to prove DC’s ownership of the character in Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc. ...

These items just surfaced with Comic Connect and Metropolis Collectibles founder Stephen Fishler, whose auction house has a number of items from Jerry Siegel’s personal archive in an auction running November 14-30.  
For some other weird memorabilia in that auction, go here. I occasionally talk about auctions as examples of opened time capsules, and opportunities to buy historical artifacts, for more of my auctions posts, see the link below the jump.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Curios: Nicholas Cage, Civil War Vampire

Image Source: I09.

This is the start a series of blog posts on weird historical objects that are available now in online auctions.  These are artifacts you could never normally find in the old days before the Internet, unless you knew great antique dealers, traveled a lot, and had a real gift for ferreting out rare and obscure collectables. It took dedication, knowledge, and blind luck.  Now, you can find a world supply of any given curio with three mouse clicks.  All the same, the online auction houses bring their own surprises.  If you look carefully enough, you can find incredible things.  For example, I recently saw an ancient Mayan cup in great condition up for sale online at Heritage Auctions with a reserve of about USD$4,000.  It's odd to see something you'd expect to find in a museum, available via a process akin to eBay - or Amazon.  Another example: there's an auction site devoted to original comic book art here.

Where these items get really interesting is when their virtual availability allows us to associate them with other objects, times or places that we normally wouldn't or couldn't.  We can take the Mayan cup out of its context, especially when it's being auctioned off next to cowboy paraphenalia from a different era.  You also see collectors building collections around the fact that they can find the elements of the collection online.  Availability inspires certain kinds of collections.

For a great example of temporal and cultural mash-up and spontaneous free association, have a look at the recent I09 article on this topic.  A collector, who collects images of dead people from the 1800s, found the above photo.  The subject looks just like Nick Cage, somehow the seller of the photo also brought vampires into the mix, and labeled it the ultimate eBay auction:
Are you an unhinged billionaire? Are you a sucker for impulse buys? Do you sit around wondering if the fellow née Nicolas Kim Coppola is an immortal Confederate soldier who feasts on human blood? Then have I got an eBay purchase for you, pilgrim! Behold this recent auction titled "Nicolas Cage is a Vampire / Photo from 1870 / Tennessee":

Original c.1870 carte de visite showing a man who looks exactly like Nick Cage. Personally, I believe it's him and that he is some sort of walking undead / vampire, et cetera, who quickens / reinvents himself once every 75 years or so. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult, or a talk show host.

This is not a trick photo of any kind and has not been manipulated in Photoshop or any other graphics program. It's an original photo of a man who lived in Bristol, TN sometime around the Civil War.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Unabomber's Possessions Auctioned

Ted Kaczynski, Berkeley (1968). Image Source: George M. Bergman via Wiki.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Theodore Kaczyncki's belongings are being auctioned today by GSA Auctions (here and here) for the US Marshals.  Kaczynski was known in his graduate days as a brilliant young mathematician.  Wiki cites one of his doctoral examiners: "Maxwell Reade, a retired math professor who served on Kaczynski's dissertation committee, also commented on his thesis by noting, 'I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 men in the country understood or appreciated it.'"  The first and most famous of radical opposers of the Tech Revolution, Kaczynski's life story so far reflects some of the worst things that went wrong from World War II, through the Cold War and up to the Millennium.  Below the jump, the items for sale tell that story; ironically, they are going up for auction online.  The benefits go to his victims and their families.