Tiffany lamps behind the bar at Eddie Rickenbacker’s, one of Henry Africa’s (Norman Jay Hobday) many San Francisco taverns. Seven lamps from Africa’s collection will be sold at auction at Christie’s on June 14 in New York.
NEW YORK – Norman Jay Hobday—a.k.a. “Henry Africa,” a fixture in the San Francisco saloon scene for 50 years—was credited with inventing the Fern Bar concept in 1970 with Henry Africa’s Bar at Polk at Broadway streets. The décor of a “fern bar” was defined by its hanging fern planters, warm lighting and comfortable antique furnishings that transformed the bar scene into a safe place to socialize for the growing ranks of young urban professionals at the dawn of the 1970s.
Hobday officially took the name of the bar as his own and over the next five decades, opened several equally eclectic dining and drinking establishments, including the Dartmouth Social Club, Admiral Duncan, Flo Nightingale’s, The Mouse House and Eddie Rickenbacker’s, which opened in 1987 in San Francisco’s financial district. Africa decorated Rickenbacker’s with several pieces from his beloved collections, including vintage motorcycles, model trains, Venetian glass chandeliers and, most importantly for this story, superb Tiffany lamps.
On Thursday, June 14, Christie’s is slated to host a sale titled A San Francisco Iconoclast: Henry Africa’s Magnificent Tiffany Collection, comprising seven beautifully crafted leaded glass lamps valued at $2 million.
“It is an honor for Christie’s to offer the magnificent Tiffany lamps comprising this collection,” said Josh Holdeman, International director, 20th Century Art at Christie’s. “A true connoisseur, Henry Africa selected the best individual examples of each lamp. Situated behind the bar among martini glasses and underneath hanging motorcycles at Eddie Rickenbacker’s—the world’s first ‘fern bar’ where the Lemon Drop cocktail was invented—these lamps ring true as an integral part of pure San Franciscan lore.”
Tiffany “Laburnum” lamp (estimate: $400,000-$600,000)
Tiffany “Wisteria” lamp (estimate: $500,000-$700,000)
Tiffany “Daffodil” lamp (estimate: $50,000-$70,000)
Eddie Rickenbacker’s epitomized the spirit of a city known for its quirky characters and strident individualism. His collection of Tiffany lamps was stationed behind the bar, lined up among the tumblers and martini glasses, vintage motorcycles hung from the ceiling, interspersed with Venetian glass chandeliers and model trains circling the perimeter from above.
The colorful floral lamps, including superb examples of the “Wisteria” (estimate: $500,000-$700,000) and “Laburnum” (estimate: $400,000-$600,000) models. With their domed forms and intense hues, these lamps were a startling but intriguing contrast with the rest of the décor at Rickenbacker’s. An inveterate collector, starting his Tiffany collection with the “Daffodil” (estimate: $50,000-$70,000), Africa thoughtfully acquired each subsequent lamp, taking great joy in the hunt as well as in the fantastical creation of Eddie Rickenbacker’s.
• Auction: A San Francisco Iconoclast: Henry Africa’s Magnificent Tiffany Collection
June 14, 2012, 10 a.m.
• Viewing: Christie’s Rockefeller Galleries, June 9-13, 2012
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