A new world auction record for a camera is the ideal opportunity for reminding ourselves about all the key factors that can come together to create the perfect lot for bidding on.
The lot in question was a 1923 Leica o-series no 122 camera, which sold in Vienna on March 10 for a whopping €2.4 million (around £2.13m). It had been expected to fetch at least €400,000, but the final bid was a triumph for the auctioneers… and obviously for the vendor.
What made it so special?
Firstly, rarity. It was one of only 25 prototypes made by Leica and dates to a period two years before they started retailing cameras. Secondly, it is even rarer because its pristine condition puts it ahead of other survivors from that first series; in fact, it is one of only three examples of this model that remain in original, unworn and undamaged condition. Third, Leica are the world’s most sought-after camera brand because of their rarity and pioneering engineering.
Leica stole a march on other brands in the early days because of its models’ compact size, which made them ideal for capturing news events on the move. Effectively, a Leica became the ultimate piece of kit for war correspondents and photographers, thereby attracting a romantic cachet that others couldn’t emulate. In this example, we see its apogee.
By the time you read this, the winners of the 2018 Academy Awards will have been announced. Certainly, if Gary Oldman has not won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill in the magnificent Darkest Hour, I would consider that there is something wrong with the system.
The glamorous world of Hollywood, the star system, awards and the films themselves have long provided a rich vein of collectables for auction houses and dealers to salivate over. Prices achieved are sometime eye-popping, and the opportunity for publicity is just as appealing for those who win consignments for sale. So how about a bit of fun on that score: What makes the big prices?
Let’s start with movie posters: $1.2 million for a one of only four known surviving posters for the 1927 film Metropolis, sold in Los Angeles in 2012. How about a Marilyn Monroe dress? $385,000 bought one from her film Something’s Gotta Give, while another from River of No Return took $516,000. Christie’s sold Charlie Chaplin’s famously bendy bamboo cane for £47,800, also in 2012. But the top pieces from the stars, in reverse order, are Orson Welles’ director’s Oscar for Citizen Kane ($861,000); The Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz ($3m); The Casablanca piano ($3.4m); James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin from Goldfinger and Thunderball ($4.1m); and the fabulous dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the Ascot scene from May Fair Lady ($4.5m).
News that items belonging to the notorious Lord Lucan have come up for auction reminds me that collectors can be as fascinated by the macabre as the magnificent, just as the Chamber of Horrors was always the highlight of any visit to Madame Tussaud’s. It’s all about owning something with a direct and tangible link to the figure with which they are associated; the more personal, the better, which explains why Lucan’s silk top hat attracts a higher premium than the ice bucket that chilled his champagne.
Only last October, a document granting her sister power of attorney and signed by the infamous Lizzie Borden as she awaited trial for the murder of her parents took $13,000 at auction. So notorious was Borden that she inspired the grisly nursery rhyme: Lizzie Borden had an axe. She gave her mother 40 whacks…
So popular are the frankly talentless daubs painted by Ronnie and Reggie Kray in prison – eight works by the twins made over £12,000 at auction less than a decade ago – that fakes are not uncommon.
One of the most chilling collections came up for sale only last year and featured a cartridge from the gun Ruth Ellis used to kill her boyfriend and the door knocker from 10 Rillington Place, the home and final resting place of the victims of the serial killer Christie.
It really is a strange world we live in.
Whatever is happening in the world of motorsport and Formula One at the moment, pole position when it comes to auction records for cars rests with one marque: Ferrari. To be exact, of the top ten prices at auction for cars, seven are held by Ferrari, including the top two prices. The only other marques that make it into the top ten are Mercedez-Benz (at number three with £23.88m), a Jaguar D-Type (at number seven with £17.57m) and an Alfa Romeo (at number eight with £15.97m).
The ‘cheapest’ Ferrari among these winners, coming in at number ten with a mere £14.84m in 2014) is the 375-Plus Spider Competizione that finished second in the 1954 Mille Miglia. In fifth place, the Ferrari 275 GTB/4S NART Spider that took £22.19m in 2013 had the advantage of being owned by Steve McQueen and driven by him in The Thomas Crown Affair – pretty hard to beat really, yet four cars have done so.
In second place is the Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti from 1957 – also the most expensive racing car ever sold at auction – which made £28.80m in Paris in 2016, while out in front at a whopping £30.75m is another sale from 2014, the Ferrari 250 GTO from 1962. One can only dream…