Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Yorker Cartoons at Auction

There is indeed a first time for everything. Last month I had the privilege of attending an art auction of original works donated by New Yorker cartoonists to benefit the Morton Memorial Library in Rhinecliff, New York. The poster made it all seem quite promising. I was intrigued, but there was no online catalogue to peruse. No, it would be necessary to attend in person to find out just what was available.


Poster for the "Art Auction for Morton"

Charity auctions can offer wonderful opportunities. The cartoonists themselves had donated the works, so this was a venue where there would be no questions of authenticity.

Potential pitfalls of charity auctions include irregular or unpredictable auction procedures. There is also the possibility of wealthy board members willing to offer much more than a piece is worth as their way of supporting the cause. This can get out of hand sometimes in certain institutions. But surely not in Rhinecliff?

As it turns out, the rules were pretty straightforward and the bidding was pretty reasonable, so I needn't have been concerned. Bidding on all lots started at $250 with $25 bidding increments. If there were no bids, the bidding could then be started at $200, but no lower. It cost $5 to register for a paddle. Raffle tickets could also be purchased for $5. Given the costs of framing the pieces, printing publicity posters, and providing refreshments, I doubt they cleared very much on this end. There was no buyer's premium.

The auction sequence was irregular, not that this was important. The framed pieces were numbered sequentially on the wall. The printed listing had a different order, alphabetical by artist. Yet the sequence of lots in the auction was determined by the very different method of having auction participants draw numbers from a hat. OK, why not?

Two New Yorker cartoonists were present at the event. I got to meet Michael Maslin and Danny Shanahan. That alone was worth the trip. Danny Shanahan presented each lot to the audience and said a little about the artist. The auctioneer was Mark Burns. I sat with Michael Maslin throughout the auction. Incredible, I know, but true! We bloggers have to stick together.

It took about two hours to complete the sale, with a break. I ended up buying two pictures! I found the entire evening utterly enthralling.


The 32 original works contributed by New Yorker artists on display at the Morton Memorial Library prior to the auction on November 17.

Shortly before the sale began, Michael Maslin asked me what my approach to the auction would be. How's that? The question was simple enough but my answer is really not, and it certainly wasn't something I could produce in the few seconds before the auction started. So if I didn't have a ready answer then, I have it here now for you. If you haven't met me then you might imagine from this blog that I'm very talkative and effusive about cartoons, and maybe I am, but when I first encounter works of art I evaluate them on a very basic emotional level without resorting to a lot of rhetoric. I experience a gut reaction similar to what Malcolm Gladwell describes in Blink. It's over in a few milliseconds and that's that; my mind about the piece is more or less made up. I save all this delightful verbiage for the blog.

Now, decisions as to what to go after at an auction are quite personal. Nevertheless, here are my ten--yes, ten--valid but very differing approaches to a sale such as this one. Each of these comes into play at one time or another, and often one has to strike a balance between several good but perhaps contradictory approaches. I suppose by now I've internalized all of these. I offer them up for you in no particular order. Remember, these are not rules or even guidelines, just different possible approaches to buying cartoon art. Only you can decide which of these are most important to you.


Attempted Bloggery's Handy Approaches to Buying Awesome New Yorker Cartoon Art:
1) Try to select drawings that are characteristic of the artist. Ideally, a work you purchase should be a recognizable and outstanding example of the particular cartooonist's unique style and sensibility. You may need to do your homework a bit on this one.
2) Take advantage of any opportunity to obtain high quality material that may be very rarely offered. For example, this particular sale offered a variety of color works by New Yorker cartoonists who work predominantly in black and white. There were also a few works that have been collected in anthologies. If this strikes your fancy, pounce!
3) Go for the Blue Chip cartoonists, those with household names who you believe will still be familiar to fans of The New Yorker cartoon decades from now.

4) Go after what strikes your fancy. Pick something funny, poignant, meaningful, or unique. This was pretty close to my actual approach when I was bidding. When you buy something you really like, it becomes far less important whether it was a wise investment.

5) Try to buy published work, which by its very nature is scarcer than unpublished material, particularly from a highly-selective magazine like The New Yorker. But if you really enjoy something that was never published, feel free to throw caution to the wind. Go for it!

6) Stick to a subject or genre that's meaningful to you. Do you like literary cartoons? Take a good look at the Pat Byrnes and the P. C. Vey cartoons in this auction. Like to cook? The Henry Martin and the Barbara Smaller works may be up your alley. Want a desert island cartoon? Well, maybe some other day.

7) We all have to live within budgets. You may be able to buy more if you keep to the least expensive lots. The problem with this low-budget approach is that you allow the market to determine what you will buy and you get what's least sought-after.

8) Then there's the opposite approach. Some may believe that the most desirable items are the most expensive.  According to this approach, one should go aggressively for the top lots. Again, as with the previous approach, you have to be really careful about allowing others to determine how much you will pay. It's good to buy what you like, but it's also good to have an upper limit in mind.
9) There is, fortunately, an alternative to the last two approaches. Go for value. Try to get the most cartoon bang for your buck. This is always sound advice.
10 ) Buy art that is transcendent. OK, obviously I ask a lot from cartoons. If a simple gag cartoon can go beyond the usual limitations of the medium and produce something that, for you at least, is life-affirming or enhancing, something that goes beyond the ephemeral and the mundane to the timeless or the universal, grab it! This is what the game is all about!

Now then, here's how the auction went down:

Gahan Wilson, "Now the psychic advisor is starting to scream!"
$425

Robert Mankoff, "I've never seen the corn this bad."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, September 3, 2012, page 25
$450
Robert Mankoff, "I've never seen the corn this bad."
The New Yorker, September 3, 2012, page 25

Robert Mankoff, "I've never seen the corn this bad."
The New Yorker, September 3, 2012, page 25



P. C. Vey, "You may not want to read this book but you'll certainly want others to think you've read it."
$375
I'm not sure this signed first proof of a cover found a buyer:
Raymond Davidson, Untrimmed first proof of the cover to The New Yorker for April 3, 1971
Inscribed "The untrimmed first proof of the printing. For my good friend and able ally Joe Ferraro from Raymond Davidson, the artist."

Raymond Davidson, The New Yorker, April 3, 1971

Liza Donnelly, "I decided to marry Frank despite all the warning signs." 
Color variant of a New Yorker cartoon, July 4, 2011, page 52
$475
Liza Donnelly, "I decided to marry Frank despite all the warning signs." 
The New Yorker, July 4, 2011, page 52

Liza Donnelly, "I decided to marry Frank despite all the warning signs." 
The New Yorker, July 4, 2011, page 52



Only one absentee bid was placed, and it was successful:
Frank Modell, "For this they knocked off 'Wagon Train'?"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, October 24, 1964, page 57 
The New Yorker Album of Drawings 1925-1975
$450 to an absentee bidder
Frank Modell, "For this they knocked off 'Wagon Train'?"
The New Yorker, October 24, 1964, page 57
Frank Modell, "For this they knocked off 'Wagon Train'?"
The New Yorker, October 24, 1964, page 57


Zachary Kanin has published three Rapunzel cartoons in The New Yorker to date. This, my friends, is just one of them:
Zachary Kanin, "Sure, sure, we have to do everything your way."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, June 29, 2009, page 52
$300

Zachary Kanin, "Sure, sure, we have to do everything your way."
The New Yorker, June 29, 2009, page 52

Zachary Kanin, "Sure, sure, we have to do everything your way."
The New Yorker, June 29, 2009, page 52



Barbara Smaller, "If you need to add water, and I'm the one who adds it, I'm cooking."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, July 30, 2001, page 69
$250

The caption was slightly tweaked in the published cartoon and it works a little better.
Barbara Smaller, "If it says to add water, and I'm the one who adds it, I'm cooking."
The New Yorker, July 30, 2001, page 69

Barbara Smaller, "If it says to add water, and I'm the one who adds it, I'm cooking."
The New Yorker, July 30, 2001, page 69



Robert Weber, "Well, I must say, this is a heartening change."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, November 25, 1972, page 39 
The New Yorker Album of Drawings 1925-1975
$425
Robert Weber, "Well, I must say, this is a heartening change."
The New Yorker, November 25, 1972, page 39

Robert Weber, "Well, I must say, this is a heartening change."
The New Yorker, November 25, 1972, page 39



Michael Crawford, "Want to hear about my day?"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, March 21, 2011, page 37
$275

Michael Crawford, "Want to hear about my day?"
The New Yorker, March 21, 2011, page 37

Michael Crawford, "Want to hear about my day?"
The New Yorker, March 21, 2011, page 37




When illustrator Jason Polan isn't drawing giraffes by the thousands, he's working on a project to draw every single person in New York City. I just wish he'd show a little ambition.
Jason Polan, 29 Giraffes
$275

Danny Shanahan, The Drawing President
Illustration for "Shouts and Murmurs: The Drawing President" by Bruce McCall

Original artwork for The New Yorker, December 15, 1997, page 166
$325
Danny Shanahan, The Drawing President
Illustration for "Shouts and Murmurs: The Drawing President" by Bruce McCall

The New Yorker, December 15, 1997, page 166


Danny Shanahan, The Drawing President
Illustration for "Shouts and Murmurs: The Drawing President" by Bruce McCall

The New Yorker, December 15, 1997, page 166

Charles Barsotti, "Can you keep a secret?"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, April 23, 2012, page 53
$250


Charles Barsotti, "Can you keep a secret?"
The New Yorker, April 23, 2012, page 53

Charles Barsotti, "Can you keep a secret?"
The New Yorker, April 23, 2012, page 53



Peter Steiner, The American Dream -- A Gated Community
$250

Joe Dator, "Angelo tells us you haven't been laughing."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, June 4, 2012, page 70
$475
Joe Dator, "Angelo tells us you haven't been laughing."
The New Yorker, June 4, 2012, page 70

Joe Dator, "Angelo tells us you haven't been laughing."
The New Yorker, June 4, 2012, page 70



Edward Frascino, [Boy Playing Golf in Sandbox]
$250

Henry Martin, "We're so glad you could come, and here's a copy of all the recipes Emily used tonight."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, August 29, 1988, page 34
$300
Henry Martin, "We're so glad you could come, and here's a copy
of all the recipes Emily used tonight."
The New Yorker, August 29, 1988, page 34

Henry Martin, "We're so glad you could come, and here's a copy
of all the recipes Emily used tonight."
The New Yorker, August 29, 1988, page 34



Pat Byrnes, [The Scarlet Letters],
 Original artwork for The New Yorker, June 8, 2009, page 68
$300
Pat Byrnes, [The Scarlet Letters],
 The New Yorker, June 8, 2009, Page 68

Pat Byrnes, [The Scarlet Letters],
 The New Yorker, June 8, 2009, page 68



Danny Shanahan, Deliboys,
Original artwork for The New Yorker, November 22, 1993, page 84
$325
Danny Shanahan, Deliboys,
The New Yorker, November 22, 1993, page 84

Danny Shanahan, Deliboys,
The New Yorker, November 22, 1993, page 84



Mick Stevens, "I spend a lot of my time here dodging bullets."
$225


James Stevenson, "They're named after us, you know."
$525
 



David Sipress, "I'm old.  What's good for that?"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, June 10, 2002, page 75
$475

David Sipress, "I'm old.  What's good for that?"
The New Yorker, June 10, 2002, page 75

David Sipress, "I'm old.  What's good for that?"
The New Yorker, June 10, 2002, page 75



Lee Lorenz, "Howard!  I thought you ran off with another woman!"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, Oct 23, 2006, page 68
$450
Note the slight change in tense in the published version, which I think is a slight improvement.
Lee Lorenz, "Howard!  I thought you'd run off with another woman!"
The New Yorker, Oct 23, 2006, page 68

Lee Lorenz, "Howard!  I thought you'd run off with another woman!"
The New Yorker, Oct 23, 2006, page 68



Roz Chast,  Safari Clothes "For People Who Aren't Going Anywhere"
Original artwork for The New Yorker, August 19, 1996, page 48
$375
Roz Chast,  Safari Clothes "For People Who Aren't Going Anywhere"
The New Yorker, August 19, 1996, page 48

Roz Chast,  Safari Clothes "For People Who Aren't Going Anywhere"
The New Yorker, August 19, 1996, page 48



Carolita Johnson, "You may now begin your insane experiment."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, August 23, 2004, page 81
$300
Carolita Johnson, "You may now begin your insane experiment."
The New Yorker, August 23, 2004, page 81

Carolita Johnson, "You may now begin your insane experiment."
The New Yorker, August 23, 2004, page 81



Matthew Marin, Duck illustration, 2003
$275

Charles Addams, Small signed sketch of Wednesday with a balloon, inscribed "For Sharon"
$400

Danny Shanahan, Auction at Echo Point,
Original artwork for Diversion Magazine
$375

Michael Maslin, Harvest Moon Pink Slip
$425

Harry Bliss, "I spy with my little eye... something on fire."
Original artwork for The New Yorker, May 29, 2000, page 87
$600


Harry Bliss, "I spy with my little eye--something on fire."
The New Yorker, May 29, 2000, page 87

Harry Bliss, "I spy with my little eye--something on fire."
The New Yorker, May 29, 2000, page 87



George Booth, "May I introduce Mrs. Scopozzo whose Mother has recently passed away."
$350


William Steig, Boulevardiers
$650


At the auction, raffle tickets were offered at $5.00 each. Two prints served as prizes, a signed Addams and an unsigned Thurber:
Charles Addams, "A dear book." Signed and numbered print, 349/500. First prize in the Morton Library raffle drawing.

Michael Maslin pointed out to me that this classic fencing cartoon was conceived by cartoonist Carl Rose, but it required James Thurber's more whimsical approach to make the gag work.
James Thurber, “Touché!” Unsigned print. Second prize in the raffle drawing.
The New Yorker, December 3, 1932, page 13

James Thurber, “Touché!”
The New Yorker, December 3, 1932, page 13


James Thurber, “Touché!”
The New Yorker, December 3, 1932, page 13




Wait! There's more!

Cartoonist Danny Shanahan displays two unsigned prints by Charles Saxon from a 1970's Chivas Regal ad campaign that he brought in to display in the auction room. These were apparently from his own collection, and weren't initially supposed to be a part of the sale, but he graciously sold them off anyway to help out the cause. Incidentally, Mr. Shanahan revealed that his yellow oxford shirt has a George Booth provenance.
 The Saxon Chivas prints are hard to make out in my photo. (You should be used to that by now.) This is what they looked like in their original incarnation as print ads:
Charles Saxon, "Thank goodness we weren't asked to conserve on Chivas Regal."


Charles Saxon, Free Bottle of Chivas Regal with Every Million Dollar Deposit


The pair of unsigned Charles Saxon framed Chivas Regal prints: $200.
George Booth's yellow shirt:  Priceless.



A word or two about the auction results:

In general, the prices realized were well below what you would expect to pay from a dealer, gallery, or other artist's representative and this may have been disappointing to the artists and to the Library. Dealers generally have to charge more than the prevailing market rate for artwork. In compensation for the high price, the buyer gets access to a selection of new material guaranteed to be original and not available anywhere else. It's a buyer's market right now, and bidders at the Library got a good deal.

A few factors are holding down prices today. The main one is probably the economy, still struggling through a disappointing recovery. Another is consistently weak demand for even excellent examples of the kind of cartooning seen here. Those who have been following my blog may already be familiar with this phenomenon, which I hope is temporary. New Yorker cartoons remain extremely popular as far as I can judge, so I don't fully understand why more people don't try to bring some original comic artwork into their homes, unless this too is a result of the economy. If that is the case, prices for cartoon art should pick up once the economy does.

Another related factor keeping prices down may be the public's awareness of recent eBay auction results. Folks are understandably reluctant to pay a lot of money for art or anything else when they know they can sell it only at a loss on eBay or in other venues. The prices achieved in this auction were generally higher than those being obtained these days for similar material on eBay, so I give the attendees at the Morton Memorial Library a lot of credit, both for recognizing quality and for supporting the Library.


Notes:  You too can support the Morton Memorial Library with your credit card or PayPal account.

You can follow the news about New Yorker cartoonists at Michael Maslin's informative Ink Spill blog. After all, this is where I first learned of this auction.

You can buy original New Yorker cartoons and prints at the Condé Nast Store. Seriously, what do you have hanging on your walls right now?

If you like this blog post, maybe you'd also like my post on The Best of the Rejection Collection Event. And maybe not.

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