+44 (0)1428 653727 sales@johnnicholsons.com


Rock ’n’ roll relics and why we love them

Elvis Presley’s gold lion-head ring has just sold for £33,500 at auction, while his first Las Vegas contract, dating from 1956, went for £28,000. Both sold in the UK but to US collectors.

When it comes to the world of entertainment – rock and pop, films and suchlike – memorabilia follows the same rules that religious relics would have followed in the Middle Ages. Think about all those Renaissance churches in Italy, France and Spain with a splinter from the Holy Cross, a saint’s finger bone and the rest. The idea is that the closer you can get to the individual, the closer you also get to God.

It’s the same for items associated with the music greats, like Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Bowie and the rest. A signature is a good start; a signed album, concert programme or other memento is even better. Stage and screen clothing, unique musical instruments and highly personal items like Elvis’s ring are the jackpot. A Hendrix guitar from a famous concert would make millions: the 1968 Stratocaster he played at Woodstock sold to Paul Allen of Microsoft for his Jimi Hendrix Museum in Seattle for $2 million. There are even investment funds dedicated to this sort of thing. Eric Clapton owned four of the ten most expensive guitars ever sold. It’s all about the rock gods in the end.


Why $72m for one van Gogh and €7m for another?

Who wouldn’t want to take €7m for a single painting at auction? What a result!

That’s what happened in Paris earlier this month when the 1882 work Fishing Net Menders in the Dunes came up for sale with an estimate of just €3m-5m.

Why is this interesting? Because the artist was none other than Vincent van Gogh.

But hang on a minute, if it’s van Gogh, then €7m really doesn’t sound that much, let alone a mid estimate of around half that. After all, it was only last November that an 1889 landscape by van Gogh took $72m at auction, while other works have made even more. How come?

In a word, it’s all about timing. Some artists peak early in their careers and never recapture that initial brilliance, but most, van Gogh included, mature into what becomes their recognised style, focusing on subject matter that itself becomes iconic.

In van Gogh’s case, while he remained poor all his life and only managed to sell one painting in his lifetime – Red Vineyard at Arles – his artistic breakthrough came in 1888-89 as his late, vibrant and energetic if troubled style emerged, yielding blasts of colour and movement via strong, obsessive brushstrokes.

This is the art that takes the millions and that collectors will pursue relentlessly.

The painting that sold in Paris in early June dates to seven years before this. Highly accomplished, yes; but without the extraordinary genius of his mature period, and so, while still able to command several million euros, not in the same league as Sunflowers, The Starry Night or his astonishing late self portraits.


Putting maps in the picture is now more popular than ever

What is the most famous map in English literature: the pirate map in Peter Pan? How about Tolkein’s map of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings, a highlight of the forthcoming exhibition on the author in Oxford? I’ve always loved EH Shepard’s map of the River, the Wild Wood and Toad Hall in Wind in The Willows. Apparently, though, it is Shepard’s other masterpiece, the map of Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie-the-Pooh, which crowns them all.

The market is about to test this theory as the original 1926 sketch comes up for auction in early July with an estimate that stretches to £150,000. That may sound a lot until you consider that an original Shepard drawing depicting Pooh and his friends playing Pooh sticks sold for £314,500 four years ago – a record for any book illustration sold at auction.

These entrancing pictorial maps are a delight to any child – and adult come to that – even more so now than in times past when you look at the price the Hundred Acre Wood map achieved when it first came to auction exactly 50 years ago: £650. Even with inflation, that would come nowhere near the £150,000 mooted now.

You can feast your eyes on more pictorial maps at the unique London Map Fair this weekend near the Albert Hall, where the event is making a special feature of them.

Why sticking to the script is always a good idea

Before the days of Netflix, Amazon Prime and multi-channel TV, the Saturday night viewing choice was restricted to three, then four channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV and, later, Channel 4. In the golden days of TV light entertainment, the 1970s, the airwaves were dominated by Michael Parkinson, Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies, my own personal favourite.

So it was with some interest that I discovered that Ronnie Barker’s handwritten script to the comedy duo’s most famous sketch, Four Candles, is coming up for auction.

First aired in 1976, it was voted the best ever Two Ronnies sketch, going down in comedy folklore as the ultimate example of the pair’s talent.

Barker famously wrote the sketch under the pseudonym Gerald Wiley to test whether the programme’s producers thought the work good enough for airing, a practice he adopted often.

It is thought that he later donated the script – actually titled Annie Finkhouse – to a charity auction, which is how it eventually surfaced on the Antiques Roadshow last year.

The estimate is £40,000, but I could see it making considerably over that sum if the sale is marketed well enough.

The sketch was so iconic that four candles were lit in tribute at each of Barker and Corbett’s funerals.

Mass digital entertainment may have diluted the power of acts like the Two Ronnies these days, but at lest you can still see the sketch on YouTube.