Weekly News Roundup: June 8-June 12, 2009

In art, auction and collectibles news, we have a Lincoln memo mystery, an undercover sting netting a bunch of looters who stole American Indian artifacts and the Russian art auctions with good news and not so good.

From The Associated Press:
Lincoln document puzzles Hawaiian historians

So how did a document with Abraham Lincoln’s signature end up in Hawaii when it was a kingdom and not even an American territory? The document in question was a memo directing the U.S. secretary of state to place an official seal on a proclamation. The mystery is how it made its way into the Hawaii archives. How other Lincoln documents ended up in the archives follow a logical trail.

From The New York Times:
23 People Are Arrested or Sought in the Looting of Indian Artifacts

American Indian artifacts are highly coveted by private collectors and some museums. Which is why profit seekers take the risk of 10 years in prison for grave robbing on public lands. After a two-year investigation, 23 people were either arrested or have their name on a warrant for stealing pottery, digging sticks, sandals mostly for the Four Corners area. (So called because it’s where the borders of four states—Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico—meet.) The Anasazi Indians had lived there for thousands of years.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that his department would be working with the Justice Department to beef up law enforcement on public lands in an effort to stop such looting.

From Reuters via The Washington Post:
Russian art buyers more picky, UK sales hit target

Update: The Russian art auctions in London brought in £17.7 million ($29 million), falling in the projected £15 million to £22 million. So in that respect, the sales could be seen as a success. However, last year similar sales garnered £39.7 million. This steep drop mirrors buyers’ concerns with the global economy.

From The Associated Press:
NYC auction of ‘Poor Richard’ almanac nets $557K

Members of a Pennsylvania historical society were poking around their shelves and came across an almanac. Not just any almanac, mind you. A 1733 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” Before they got too excited, they took it to experts to see if it was the real thing. It was. Berwick, home of the society, is where Franklin printed his almanacs, which were issued from 1733 to 1780. The auction proceeds of $556,500 will come in handy renovating Berwick’s 19th-century city hall and purchasing a World War I light tank that was manufactured locally.

From The Toronto Star:
Discarded paintings net Goodwill $150,000

In another fortuitous-find story, a Goodwill manager in Toronto was sorting through the previous night’s donations when two framed paintings grabbed her attention. They had the look of fine art. So the store had them appraised by an auction house.

As it turned out, the manager had a good eye. The paintings proved to be authentic works of Federico Del Campo, a Peruvian-born artist who moved to Italy. The paintings, depicting scenes in Venice, went for a combined total of $150,000. Goodwill will use the money for programs to help the unemployed find jobs.

The Associated Press via Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Ledger:
Stolen artifacts found in Ill. returning to Italy

You can imagine the surprise of a dead collectibles dealer’s relatives when they found 3,500 manuscripts, antiquities and other items to the tune of $5 million to $10 million in his house. Unfortunately for the relatives, the trove was discovered to have been stolen. It is believed that John Sisto’s father bought the items from robbers and sent them to his son in Illinois. There was a document handwritten by Benito Mussolini. Hundreds of Etruscan artifacts. Twelfth-century papal seals. And the list goes on.

The FBI agents investigating the case think that Papa Sisto intended for his son to sell the pieces. Instead, John Sisto kept them for their historical significance. What is verified as stolen will be returned to Italy.

From The Guardian:
Dinky toy van fetches £6,400 in furious bidding at auction

Update: That one-of-a-kind Dinky truck sold for—gulp—£6,400 (almost $10,500). The bidding was reported to be “furious.” The van was made for an El Salvador store, Omnisport, which did not order any others. The 52-year-old Austin A40 miniature was won by a telephone bidder.

From Bloomberg:
Pitt Buys in Basel as Broad Browses, $2 Million Sculpture Sells

The stars were out at the Art Basel preview and opening their wallets. Brad Pitt forked over $956,000 for a Neo Rauch painting. Naomi Campbell—who’s become almost as famous for modeling as for allegedly hitting her assistant over the head with a BlackBerry and walloping her housekeeper with a jewel-encrusted cell phone—was reported among the buyers.

This year, Art Basel attracted 300 galleries and more than 2,500 artists. The contemporary-art event has been called the world’s best fair by Le Monde. It will be open to the public from June 10 to 14.

From The New York Times:
After a Life Selling Toys, It’s Time to Sell His Own

As reported earlier, the former owner of KB Toys, Donald Kaufman, sold rare toys from his collection. More than 1,400 brought in $4.2 million, more than $1 million above the presale estimate. But wait, there are a lot more toys in what he and his wife, Sally, call their toy museum, and there will be more auctions, the next in September. Kaufman spent almost six decades collecting with a bent toward transportation toys. And most of his cars, trucks, airplanes—the list goes on and on—are in great condition.

Mr. Kaufman, who is 78, gave no explanation of why he was getting rid of his collection other than “it’s time.”

From BBC News:
Dinky van could sell for £10,000

In more toy news, a one-of-a-kind Dinky truck is on the auction block. Dinky was a popular brand in the 1950s. This particular truck was a prototype made for a Central American store, which ended up not ordering any. The estimate on the 3-inch Austin A-40 van is £10,000 ($16,000). Five years ago, a dealer bought the toy from someone who had worked in San Salvador. It will be put up for sale at an East Sussex, England, auction house. The auctioneer likens the toy turning up to “finding a Constable painting that wasn’t known to exist before.”

From Auction Central News:
Midrange heats up, high end goes higher at Morphy’s sale, May 28-30

There was a pleasant surprise at the Dan Morphy Auctions’ Spring Sale last week. High-end items sold at high prices as expected. Not so expected was how well mid-end items did. German tin toys with a 6.5 rating fetched great prices. A 175-piece pedal-car lot brought in $9,360, about nine times its estimate. Antique advertising was in demand, with a Dilling’s Old Fashioned Butter Scotch penny-vending machine selling for $15,500 after being estimated at $6,000-$9,000.

From Bloomberg:
Russian Billionaires May Save $65 Million London Art Auctions

The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. At least London auction houses hope they are. Monday, $65-million worth of Russian art was to be auctioned, and the hope is that Russian billionaires will snatch them up. Recently Russian pieces have not fared well. Christie’s and Sotheby’s managed to sell only $27 million in April, as opposed to $64 million in 2008.

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