The January issue of Antiques Roadshow Insider features an article by Editor-in-Chief Larry Canale on recent auction sales of paintings by such artists as Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe. My college degree is in studio art, and I try to stay at least somewhat current on what’s happening in the art world, but the prices realized on high-end pieces like this blow my tiny little mind. A couple of the Warhol paintings sold for $82.9 million and $69.9 million, and a beautiful O’Keeffe painting of a white flower set a world record for a work by a female artist, bringing $44.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in November.
More than 20 years ago, my friend Peter very generously gave me a number of things he had had as a kid, telling me he thought I’d give them a good home given my love of all things old. One of the items was a drawing of a character named Jiggs, from the comic strip “Bringing Up Father,” which was hugely popular during the 1920s and ’30s. Peter knew that I love anything related to comic books and comic strips, and the drawing really was right up my street, especially as it was signed by the strip’s (and the character’s) creator, George McManus. It was a wonderful image of Jiggs, showing the character walking in front of a cityscape and a bunch of cars that looked like they were…well, straight out of a comic strip. But I realized that it might be worth a fair bit of money if it were authentic, and I told Peter as much. “If this turns out to be an original McManus, and I manage to sell it, you’re getting half.” But he told me to forget that, that if it did sell, I should enjoy the windfall. And if it wasn’t the real thing, well, he said I could still enjoy looking at it or selling it to someone else, whatever I liked.
That was typical of him; Peter is a great friend and a truly fine fellow. (And as down-to-earth as they come. If he reads this, I can just see him shaking his head and muttering “Good grief, get on with it.”)
Despite my initial enthusiasm, it took me a couple of years to get around to having the thing appraised. I finally lined up an appointment with a comic art expert at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan, and my brother, Brian and I hopped on the train and headed into New York.
The Christie’s facilities are designed to impress, and it worked on me. We were asked to wait in a sort of conference room/workspace that had a number of imposing prints and paintings on the walls and on work tables, and I found myself getting nervous as Brian and I walked around and looked at these rather amazing works of art. Finally, the appraiser came in, we made our introductions, and I unwrapped the McManus drawing and placed it on a table.
The appraiser said “Hmmmm” several times as he examined the drawing, and I could tell that he was disappointed. He explained to us that it actually was not a drawing at all, but a print; and he pointed out the “clues” that indicated it was a print, including the fact that the back of the paper was completely smooth. If it had been a drawing, the back side of the paper would have raised edges made by the pencil or pen as the artist worked on the image on the front.
It was, nonetheless, by George McManus–that is, the original drawing from which the print had been made had indeed been created by McManus. But as a print, it had little monetary value, certainly far less than if it were an original McManus drawing.
The appraiser added that the color inks may have been applied by McManus himself, but there was no way to verify that. Strangely, I don’t recall whether the appraiser told me anything about the signature; it does resemble the way McManus signed much of his work, but like the rest of the image, the signature appears to be a part of the print.
Brian and I thanked the Christie’s people and made our way back to Grand Central Station for the trip home, and I confess I felt a letdown. Although I knew the piece could be a fake, I had hoped it was an authentic George McManus, as his work fetched respectable money even 20 years ago. Not on the same planet as a Warhol or an O’Keeffe–think several less zeros–but it had been kind of exciting to think that I might have an original piece of comic and popular culture history.
Still, it’s a wonderful image of Jiggs, and I’ve always liked it. Seems to me it’s appropriate as we get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve…doesn’t it look like he’s headed for Times Square to watch the ball drop with a few hundred thousand close friends?
Douglas R. Kelly looks forward to celebrating New Year’s, but admits he won’t look nearly as dapper as Jiggs.