Martha Stewart Coveted Thy Dead Neighbor’s Life… And Her $100M, 42 Room Apartment

Huguette Clark was dead and Martha Stewart wanted her apartment.

The infamous half-a-billion-heiress had died at the age of 104, so the coveting of her enormous dwelling had been an exhausting wait for all, especially for Martha who lives in the same building at 907 Fifth Avenue.

Comprising the entire 8th and half of the 12th floor, this lost horizon of an apartment was the single largest private residence in New York City. Vacant for almost 20 years this was perhaps the greatest interior decorating carrot ever to be dangled from a billionaire’s schtick. Asking price: $100 Million.

Imagine the list of potential buyers for this rare residence of the Gilded Age. Whatever could Martha do to acquire this architectural Hope Diamond in the rough?  Remember she wields a mean vintage handmixer. Though purported to be worth some $650M herself, it would still prove to be to tough to get a mortgage. Face it: that’s a lot of crepes!

New York certainly had enough billionaires to pony up the cash, so even “needing” a mortgage may give the appearance of high-end slumming.

The most fascinating part of the story is the past, so let’s spill those vintage beans:

Huguette Clark was the daughter of Williams Andrews Clark, the copper magnet who attracted cash the way Justin Bieber attracts Beliebers. The Clark’s original home (hold your breath) was a staggering 151 room Beaux-Arts mansion, the walls decked out in Degas, Reubens & Rembrandts. (What does Martha collect besides the souls of ex-assistants, jadite mixing bowls and bakelite erotica?)

In the 1870’s Huegette’s father struck a copper vein that would eventually bleed out in excess of $150 million, approximately $3 billion today. After that he made some REAL money. As such, Huegette Clark had everything, simply everything, except privacy. She would spend the rest of her life pursuing this invisible life with clever accomplishment.

Married in 1928 for only nine unconsummated months, by the 1930’s she had already begun her disappearing act from society and it’s pages. Once a calling card acquaintance of the Vanderbilts and Astors, she was now a magic trick about to unfold, intentionally fading behind her vast wealth through the passing of one century and into the next.

Little is known about this grand woman of seclusion. Her mother passed in 1963 when Huguette was 56. Reportedly she spent her days painting and playing the harp, but had one particular passion: dolls, especially French dolls, which she had begun collecting as a child.

Known for her charitable nature, she once gave away a $10,000 doll house from her massive personal collection, perhaps the hardest thing of all to give away considering her collecting passion. I would guess that gift was the closest thing to an actual piece of herself.

Her mind ever-sharp but always odd, she divorced herself from all properties and possessions, choosing instead to live a life of seclusion in private New York hospitals over the decades under various guises and pseudonyms. Her fantastic residence would sit empty for over 20 years. Even the kindest of realtors echoed, “The place needs work.”

Huegette, for her part, was quoted as saying,”Wealth is a menace to happiness.”

Martha Stewart would be similarly displeased. She failed to acquire Huegette’s abandoned mansion in the sky. In 2012, three separate buyers would purchase the units for a combined $55M. Such a deal, but not such a good thing.

Ethel Merman Or Mermaid? Dinosaurs To Dead Gunslingers: Unnatural Roadside Distractions

Long before the tabloid freak show of Jerry Springer or whatever trash washed up on that Jersey Shore, one had to actually “go out” to find the oddities of American life. You had to take to the highways and back roads of this sprawling country and be on the lookout for screamingly gaudy roadside billboards with their outrageous claims: SHOCKINGLY REAL! STRANGE, BUT TRUE! And my favorite: FOUND ALIVE! (So it’s dead now, right?)

Roadside Americana has always been a mixed bag of snakes, snake charmers and snake oil salesmen. We know that disappointment always looms around the corner, especially after we paid our admission with the loose change found beneath the cushions of our car seat. Yet Americans love to be disappointed because, well we love to complain. Seriously, if we were ever truly satisfied what would be the point of ever speaking again?

Is not the story about BAD service/food/weather told 10x more often than the GOOD? Just try to take one day complimenting the joys of life to your friends, family, co-workers… and by late evening they’ll have forced an intervention on your sappy-happy ass. Clearly, something’s wrong with you.

Regardless how contrived or preposterous, we love to be taken if for no other reason than to acquire a major gripe and grumble. Barnum discovered this and re-invented modern day advertising as we know it.

Was Coca-Cola ever “the real thing?” And “real” compared to what? The unreal, surreal? Not even an “Un-Cola” could explain that away.

No, the fake and the faux and the false fabrications are exactly what we’re all about. Whether we’ve dressed up a cemetery to milk the bones of old gunslingers, or recreated a drive-thru dinosaur diner, or discovered the long lost legacy of Mermaids, or better yet, a Merman… we’re never disappointed in being disappointed.

Now little is left of such places. Invariably the old-timers that ran these fabulous gaffs are gone… along with their decrepit exhibits. It’s tough to make a living these days working with the taxidermied or stuffed.

Unless, of course, it’s foie gras.

Photo Postcard: Merman on Exhibition at Alligator Farm, Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

Vernacular Goofs: Vintage Snapshot Errors, Misprints & Mistakes of Judgment

An excellent rule of thumb in any business is to listen: Listen to your competitors, your vendors, your business associates and most importantly, your customers. I am not of the school that the “customer is always right.” There are a few customers who could take you to an early grave, along with their remaining relatives. However, the “customer ALWAYS knows what he or she wants” is perhaps the greater truism. Just listen. They’ll tell you exactly what they want– repeatedly.

So when young photo collectors started asking for Vintage Vernacular Snapshot Errors, my ears shot up like a dog hearing a can opener.

To many, collecting “mistakes” sounds like an oxymoron or at least a platform for political office. However, it makes perfect sense to collect the imperfect, especially in the area of photography.

For the most part “film” as we once knew it– that thing we needed to make our own Kodak moments– is dead. The digital world swallowed it whole and never spit it back.

Do I hear the sound of one hand clapping for a new collectible market? Smile for the camera!

People have been fascinated with photography since the French inventor Nicephore Niepce printed the first image on pewter in 1826. But it was Fox Talbot’s commercial process of 1840 which started an early collector’s market

Flashbulb into the future: Collecting photography, from tintypes, CDVs, cabinet cards and more recently snapshots is a 19th & 20th century phenomenon. More significantly however, collecting snapshot errors came into it’s own with the advent of eBay. Suddenly this image-based utility would bring together every oddball request that was legally, though not always tastefully, permissible.

Too much eggnog & tinsel blurred out those Christmas memories…

So, are we looking for bad photographs or just bad photographers? The answer to both is YES. Are we looking for bad photo printing? Um, yes. Bad taste? Yes. Ghosts in the camera? Well, no, but at least in the film or in the process of developing the film.

And what do collectors want? Like any collecting category, they want the rare, the scarce, the unusual. Of course, floating heads and embarrassing images still command top interest. (Just look at TMZ!)

In future blogs I will discuss other new areas of photography collecting, but the lesson here is this: When these images were originally printed, the errors, goofs and the mistakenly blurry were simply tossed, making these particular images all the harder to find.

And will a collector pay $5, $10 or even $20 for something that survived the trash bin? If it’s weird, scary or disturbing enough– once again, the focused answer is YES.

Back From The Dead: Vintage Technology

So now we’ve all seen those JITTERBUG commercials, the cell phone with the oversized numbers and 24-hour support. Clearly marketed to your parents and/or grandparents, their ads are near camp infomercials for the elderly and/or technologically challenged. Every generation laughs at the generation before. Media gives us an even greater stage to make fun of that which we will all inevitably become.

But can a JITTERBUG IPAD be far behind? With a DEPENDS APP.

For the younger reader, the JITTERBUG was a dance popular in the 1930’s. For this lame tradename to resonate with it’s intended audience, one would need to be between 80 to 100 years of age. So if you’re waiting for old friends to call, don’t plan on buying any additional minutes.

I mention this example because it’s easy to laugh at the old—and old technology. Trust me, I am both. So the following is meant merely to reflect the humor of reverse ageism.

But I digress. There are no stupid questions, right? Yet many times I have been asked to demonstrate, for some a fresh-faced collector, the art of using a Rotary Telephone. Yes, you heard that correctly. Rotary.

Let’s be blunt: “You stick your finger in the hole.” Explanation explained.

ME: This is a rotary phone. You rotate the dial.

CUSTOMER: Dilate?

ME: No! Dial… Dial!

CUSTOMER: So how does it work?

ME: You dial the number and it makes your call.

CUSTOMER: But how does it work?

ME: How does your cell phone work?

CUSTOMER: I don’t know.

ME: It’s the same technology, except it’s on a landline and you can’t text.

CUSTOMER: You’re kidding! Why would anyone want that?

ME: When it was invented it was the Verizon Upgrade from Two Tin Cans and a String. And I still can’t get out of that plan.

Of course, dead technology is not limited to the rotary phone. Portable typewriters also seem to confound many a new collector. The QWERTY keyboard and the texting explosion of recent years would makes vintage typewriter a kissing cousin to today’s cell technology. Kiss, but no tongue.

Perhaps the sheer size and weight of old typewriters spooks youthful fingers. Certainly the earlier the typewriter, the larger and more unwieldy they seem. Most resemble some sort of painful torture and/or medical device that transcribes blood clots into ink spots. Rorschach, not the musical group.

Apparently our strong-fingered ancestors were better suited to kick QWERTY butt, as PC/MAC-era soft touch users so often seem shocked at the force required to strike key to ribbon to paper. I myself am exhausted by the effort of the thought. But even Generation X, Y & Z need to buy an occasional vowel.

JITTERBUG, anyone?

Vintage telephones and typewriters are more than just shelf-sitters. These undead pieces of technology scream out a certain retro charm even when silent. There is something comforting about gently pressing a vintage telephone handset to the side of your face and not having to raise your voice to be heard. (Unless arguing with a pesky telemarketer.)

“Can you hear me? Wow! You actually can?

Stop calling me!”

And the typewriter? The touch, feel and machine-gun clatter are irreplaceable. (And so are most of the ribbons.)

No, gone are the days of distant pen pals dashing madcap correspondence on some rickety, spider-like behemoth. No more trips to the post office. No more anxious moments as the postman climbs your stairs. No more “real” hate mail. No more. Now a terse email does the trick.

And I fear something greater than mere technology has somehow passed.

Collecting Tattoos (or) I Could Really Use A Hand, An Arm Or A Leg Here

Every day I receive a number of requests from vintage collectors. Most are fairly normal inquiries. A teak wall unit, a Russel Wright completer piece, a set of bar stools, a Murano glass lamp. Normal, practical, wonderful vintage.

But there are those requests that are not so easy to classify, let alone find. I’ll save some of the more peculiar for another chat, as they are often odd, curious, disturbing and sometimes even sick. Such is retail. Let he who is without sin cast the first Stonehenge.

Now there was a time when the tattoo artist was a lowly profession– and  it wasn’t because they lacked extraordinary talents. Most certainly did. However when your clientele are thieves, murderers, con men, rapists, etc., it’s hard to get good press. Word of mouth is always the best advertisements– so long as your happiest customers didn’t get their throats slit. Repeatedly.

No, being a tattoo artist 100+ years ago carried the stressed-out baggage of today’s dentists. Sure they turned YOUR dentist’s office into a SPA, but he’s still a DENTIST, remember?

Thankfully those robust sailors of yesteryear helped polish up the image of the socially underground  tattoo artist. Their infamously rowdy and randy behavior, their drunken binges and the sexual experimentation that followed (HIDE YOUR LIVESTOCK!) all fueled a tattoo renaissance that continues to this day. Now there are countless tattoo books, clothing labels/designers, cable TV shows and fake tattoo media most everything. You gotta love those child transfer tattoos for the up and coming Hell’s Angels Tykes Without Bikes.

Which brings us back to collecting. Short of a few rare vintage books and pamphlets, CDVs and Cabinet Card photographs, or some (often unsigned) tattoo etchings that come along in a blue-inked moon, it’s a tough arena to build a collection. But, like your mother who won’t stop talking, I have some advice.

Next time you’re at a bar, on the bus, or picking up your cat/dog at the vet, and you notice some incredible tattoo on any (even if undetermined) sex, start up a conversation. Ask them who did their tattoo. I guarantee that 9 out of 10 people will give you the tattoo artist’s name. Some may even have their card. (Future collectible!)

So whatever information you can garner, write it down and Google it later. This is precisely why Al Gore invented the Internet. You’ve been given permission to stalk, just be nice about it. Use it and build your collection.

And how does this put skin back into the game, you may ask?  Because these artists have sketches, drawings, ideas by the basket.  Contact your favorite artists. The more well known artists will be quite savvy and may have tattoo art that is not only for sale but beyond your price range. Again, if you really love the work, try to acquire those delicate onion skin drawing drafts–Have them sign and date a card you can keep along with it (and later frame).

Lesser known artists may have similar pieces for a fraction of the price of the big boys, but the same rules apply. Often they will be most flattered that you tracked them down. You’re a fan!  Tell them so.

But the old maxim still applies. Buy what you like. Maybe these purchases will supplement your retirement 40 years from now. Or maybe you’ll just live with the best kick-ass tattoo art collection and be the envy of your lazy-ass friends. Either way, it’s win/win.

This is still an underground art form. It’s still an ancient art, it’s still borderline taboo. Yes, it’s  impacting our media now in ways never imagined. But this is not a medium kept easily silent in a box.

So go ahead: cover yourself in tattoos from head to toe. I don’t care. But unlike your young tattooed skin that will eventually fade and wrinkle away, professionally framed and preserved tattoo art can last longer than the clearing of your final social security check.

EPILOGUE:  Please, please read Justin Spring’s voyeuristic and historic book “Secret Historian.” It documents the life of Samuel Steward: Professor, Novelist, Sexual Autobiographer Extraordinaire… not to mention a legendary tattoo artist of 1950’s/60’s Chicago. He was also one of Kinsey’s favorite sexual case studies. Yet if Steward’s claims are true, he was collecting DNA as a hobby before anyone. And if this wasn’t juicy enough, he supposedly slept with many of the greatest male stars of Hollywood. And all of it kept in his now infamous and forever-sealed “Stud File.” (Hint: he liked sailors… like alot!)

TRENDING TOP TWENTY, 2016: An Update From The Future

Nostradamus gazed into a font of water to see what tomorrow would bring. Often he would drop a single solid gold coin into the bowl just because he liked to hear that “kerplunk” sound.  Quirky, but bankable.

Jeane Dixon used a fax machine and a hair dryer– making mostly inaccurate prophesies from her bathroom, often seated on her throne in Queens. Her secret?  Sponge baths, foot soak and an incontinent poodle. Today she is most remembered for her supposed prediction of JFK’s assassination and a horoscope book for dogs.

Trends. Futuristic forecasts. Oh, how unpredictable the predictable can be.

For a number of years now I’ve been using my own predictive devices– a chipped Fiesta bowl filled with guacamole and a cocktail stirrer from the late Edgewater Beach Hotel– to tell the vintage future. Corn chips shaped like Donald Trump’s head, circa 1980 (more hair, less spray) also greatly assist my cognitive abilities, but that’s optional. Today a single Dorito can be used in his place, the difference being virtually undetectable, even to multiple ex-wives.

So flashback with me now as we revisit my Top 20 Fiesta/Guacamole/Chip-induced predictions from a mere four years ago: Obama had just been re-elected, Hurricane Sandy was hitting the East Coast and Bruce Jenner still had the balls to be a Republican. Some things never change.

We’ll rate these stale premonitions as FALSE, STILL TRUE, MOSTLY TRUE or JURY’S OUT. Basically the same verdict as the O.J. Simpson trial.

 So again, in 2012, I predicted:

1. Crème de la crème Vintage Couture. With vintage fashion continuing to be a hot new thing, overseas sweatshops will knock off retro styles, creating an even stronger demand for authentic vintage couture. Take that Pajama Jeans!

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

2. Cufflinks Are To Men What Shoes Are To Women. How can both sexes possibly need another pair? Yet they do– and they’re not sharing either obsession with their children.

VERDICT: STILL TRUE

3. It’s OK to Alter “As Found” Antiques. Say goodbye to dark wood furniture. Finally it’s acceptable to take these brown elephants and strip and stain them into designer colors (that aren’t white!) High quality “as is” vintage furnishings are fair game for alteration.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE. However “All White” is now making a nasty comeback in unfortunate supremacist corners.

4. Straight Razors & Shaving Paraphernalia. Beards, mustaches, sideburns– they’re all back in the fuzzy fashion of half-shaven men. No electric razors in this hairy fraternity, this groom is grooming. I see no end in sight for the desires of the hirsute.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE, but trimming back.

5. Wristwatches. Not that time has ever been hard to grasp (see your iPhone/Android), but collecting timepieces and wristwatches will return like there’s no time left. New designers will continue to knock off vintage styles, pushing old time and timers into the rarefied pricing air.

VERDICT: TRUE

6. Royal Copenhagen Ceramics. The vintage Scandinavian craze continues but serious collectors are getting serious about the pottery of Nils Thorsson. Though they look like props from “I Dream of Jeannie,” that’s only half the attraction. In our glaze into the future the quality of Thorsson’s product designs override the kitsch factor.

VERDICT: JURY’S OUT

7. Hello, Facebook: Good Buy vs. Privacy. Facebook’s Marketplace morphs into the upscale answer to Craigslist. Online hook-ups are a bore compared to scoring real family jewels– or fashions or furnishings. The new STD is: “Sell That Designer” (fill in the blank.)

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

8. Vernacular Snapshots & Film. You have a camera w/phone in hand. But where’s the film? It’s obsolete. Snapshots are history on a paper that we don’t produce anymore. Yet in basements, attics, garages, thrifts and fleas they’re being snapped up faster than a Polaroid One Step. Here’s one instance when technology killed a market while boosting another. When Bill Gates and The Getty Museum are buying up vast vernacular photography collections from even minor collectors, this story is far from developed.

VERDICT: TRUE

9. Estate Sales. Nothing to do this weekend? Estate sales have long been THE thing to do and everyone is having one. Even people who aren’t dead yet. Why wait to die when you can sell right now and drink your profits tonight?

VERDICT: TRUE

10. Taxidermy. Whether you’re a designer, an oddities collector or just a hipster in need of a broader hip, good taxidermy is a dying art with a second life. Consequently demand and scarcity command big prices in this narrow field of dead prey. Though political correctness often limits availability, quality items are the real rarities in this under-stuffed market.

VERDICT: TRUE.

11. Vintage Guitars. While Hai Karate morphed into Axe for Men– both attempting to make men more desirable for mating– the romantic/machismo of being a rock star never missed a beat. Nor did the prices on quality Axes. Don’t tell me bad boys don’t get more action than good. (See bad girls… frequently!)

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

12. Breweries Never Die, But Cocktails Toast Forever. The cocktail never really left us– We just stopped serving him after that inappropriate comment he made at Thanksgiving dinner about your mother and her semi-nude SPANX. Apparently “giblet” isn’t always a term of uterine endearment. Who knew? Still, responsible drinking is always in fashion– unlike “responsible smoking” which never really caught on without someone getting bitch slapped.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

13. Generation Y Craves Drama. All that angst, all that pain and suffering of being 20-something. Exactly why the Victorians invented the fainting couch. It was all too, too much! But if you still seek that extra crispy dramarama of life, look no further than the Baroque, Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts styles of the 19th century for a solid decorating breakdown. Gilt (guilt!) chandeliers, snuff boxes, sterling cigarette cases (for calling cards, of course.) There’s nothing sadder in your future than something you didn’t buy today.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

14. Men as Dandies / Dandies as Men. With working environments becoming ever more casual, formal occasions will see men dressing in more sartorial attire. Pocket squares & dapper colors will show off a more adorned evening attire even in the straightest of men. The future’s so bright because sexuality has never been more gray.

VERDICT: TRUE

15. The Unfrozen Ice Breaker Question. “Where did you go to school?” will be replaced by “What do you collect?” Now everyone is a would-be designer, professional collector, kitsch expert or hop scotch champion. The future will be filled not only with more interesting people but also more interesting questions. The collecting craze will redefine itself once more with the assistance of vintage reality TV– and it will be just awful.

VERDICT: TRUE

16. Italian Glass. Is it Murano? Or just Murano-esque? Is it an ashtray? Doesn’t matter. As long as the signature is acid etched and/or retains the original label. Point is: Glass has been blowing hot for many a year and there appears to be no turning down the temperature in this collecting kiln. The only way to get burned is to overpay.

VERDICT: FALSE (See: I Lost My Ass in Glass)

17. Found Objects, Lost Objections. Another recent trend with no end in sight, mostly because collectors never seem to run out of alleys to plunder and pillage. Yes, there are thousands of online sites that illustrate the step-by-step method of turning a hubcap into a chrome beret, a kicky bathroom ceiling fixture or a rusty Chip & Dip Set. Recycling will be to decorating what Kathy Griffin is to Anderson Cooper: Snarky Girlfriends.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

18. Lighting. Now that your love affair with all things IKEA has ended badly (due to that near fatal cinnamon roll overdose on a lumpy futon), has a light bulb gone off in your head? Has your bookcase collapsed like a smashed Swedish meatball?  If so, then there’s only one thing we can all agree upon: the future needs better lighting. Especially great vintage lighting. So don’t curse the darkness and spend the money. Lighting prices rarely fade.

VERDICT: TRUE

19. Artificial Limbs and Railroad Timetables. Believe it nor not, this is a very real request of one of my hardened collector friends who will remain nameless, if not unscheduled. Yes, this may conjure up an uncomfortable image in your head but it’s the disturbing thought that counts. Everyone collects something. Who appointed you Judgy-Wudgy Bear? Face it: one man’s trash could be another man’s stomach pump collection. Yet what does the future hold? In this one collector’s dream train, apparently a leg up on someone’s botched travel plans.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE, but still damn odd.

20. Celebrity DNA. Have I gone too far? Just around the future’s corner are concepts we’ve barely dreamt. If John Lennon’s tooth can bring $31,000 today, consider what tomorrow may bring? More wisdom than a bridge could cross. A DNA sample of Marilyn Monroe’s hair might be cloned into endless varieties of beauty products and/or Irish tax shelters. And there’s certainly enough of Michael Jackson floating about to create some thrilling talent treatment or other: Billie Jean Two Point Oh No! Or might Monica Lewinsky’s little blue dress have the last laugh… if not offspring?

VERDICT: TRUE.

(Update: Truman Capote’s ashes (YES!) are up for auction on Sept. 23-24, Julien’s Auctions, Los Angeles. http://www.juliensauctions.com/press/2016/icons-and-idols-hollywood-harold-lloyd.html )  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…

And that’s the thing about the future. It just keeps giving–

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