Bonham’s Selling Warner Brothers’ Studio Collection of Herter Brothers Furniture

by John Werry on January 15, 2009

herter brothers bed Bonhams Selling Warner Brothers Studio Collection of Herter Brothers Furniture

In what one Hollywood blogger is referring to as a Warner Brothers garage sale, Bonham’s is offering one of the most important Herter Brothers collections seen at sale in over 60 years.  This sale represents over $1,000,000 in Herter Brothers furniture with solid provenance and a sure way to open up their new New York auction house location with a bang.  Expect to see some record prices during this sale.

From Bonham’s

Butterfields, in 1942, was selected as the auctioneer for disposition of the furnishings from Thurlow Lodge (in Menlo Park), a Herter Brothers project and the 1870s home of Milton Latham, a former California Governor and US Senator. That property had been acquired completely furnished by Mrs. Mark Hopkins in 1883, but Herter Brothers’ most notable and extensive commission on the West Coast was completed in 1878 for the Nob Hill residence of Mark Hopkins. On display at Bonhams in San Francisco October 24-27 will be 15 pieces valued at more than one million dollars, including a pair of Herter Brothers marquetry cabinets, one estimated at $100,000/150,000, the examples decorated with masks of goddesses and beasts.

This is the largest collection of Herter Brothers property to be offered since the 1940s and a rare opportunity for collectors and institutions desiring objects with an extraordinary provenance, exceptional craftsmanship, and a colorful history. A pair of Aesthetic Movement ebonized and marquetry-inlaid mirrored dressers will be offered, each expected to bring $125,000 to $150,000. A handsome Herter Brothers Aesthetic Movement marquetry-inlaid onyx top center table cold bring $125,000, while an inlaid rosewood writing table is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. An important and massive Aesthetic Movement ebonized and marquetry bedstead, among seven pieces from the master bedroom of Thurlow Lodge, is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000. Warner Bros. Studios used these glamorous pieces in some of their most celebrated films.

According to Bart in the Victorian Forum, if you inspect the catalog images, this Herter furniture in some cases has sustained some damage while at Warner Brothers.

Bonham’s press release and online catalog.

Some of the items coming up in the sale:

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

max January 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Bart’s comment is an understatemebt to say the least. They are in the shape you would expect from 60 years of handling by stagehands that consider them props. Proper repair would be very expensive.
I would guess that the estimates and reserves were made prior to the current economic downturn. In todays market I would be surprised to see half of the items sell.
Furthermore, those prices are usually only paid by museums which under today’s conditions are hurting for patrons and money.
The bed is missing a canopy according to the original description of the master bedroom in the Herter book footnotes.
Also, if you zoom in to the top of the headboard a crest of some kind is also missing. 300k to 500k for an incomplete bed?

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zeke January 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm
james conrad January 16, 2009 at 2:07 am

Yeah, i’ll be interested to see how these pieces do as well. Under normal cicumstances price is based on form & condition however, there are times when condition is thrown out the window and becomes almost irrelevant.

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james conrad January 16, 2009 at 3:52 am

A note about these prices, they would be considered chump change in the period american colonial furniture market, where prices often go in the millions. Indeed, Albert Sack recently paid 5 mil for a Queen Anne stool and considered it a bargain.

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james conrad January 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Sooner or later, a collector/dealer of great stature (like sack or a nutting) will step forward and champion victorian furniture masterpieces and these estimated prices will seem cheap. Will that happen here? i dunno but i would not be surprised to see a Herter record set at least, if not a record price for a single piece of american victorian furniture.

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RareVictorian January 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm

The specific movie tie-ins for any of the pieces would be a major boost to the sale description (and ultimate price) IMHO. I read somewhere that Warner is not letting Bonham’s leverage them in the sale listings.

“Saratoga Trunk” (1945),
“Some Like It Hot” (1959),
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964),
“Scarface” (1983) and
“Ghost” (1990)

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james conrad January 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

John,
I agree, i would also argue that pieces like these, with an impeccable provenance, trumps condition. Add in the hollywood connection and man o man, we are talkin MAJOR BUZZ.

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woodwright January 16, 2009 at 8:31 pm

It’s times like this auction when I really wish my net worth had a bunch of 0’s added to it. How I’d love to own some of the Herter Bros. furniture being offered here.
So are you going to the auction RV to report back with a first hand coverage of how it went? NY’s not far from Philly.
There is definately some condition issues with virtually every piece being offered. (If you use/ click on the “Flash Version”, then roll the thumbwheel of the mouse forward and navigate w/ the mouse – you can really zoom in on the incredible details and also see every unfortunate bump, scrape, gouge, break and chip. You can even see the dust on them – I’m surprised they weren’t cleaned better to show them in their best light. A soft, dry paintbrush and compressed air does a great job of cleaning dust out of nooks and crannies & carved details). These pieces definately had a hard life as studio props, being stored, moved, loaded and unloaded onto trucks, sets, etc. has taken it’s toll. They would have fared much better in the hands of a private collector or museum – sitting in one place collecting dust. But when they sold in the 40’s – they were very much out of vogue – no one wanted Victorian. So had Warner Bros. not bought them – who knows what their fate might have been? At least they have been saved for posterity.
To see a collection like this of Herter Bros. furniture come up for sale is a blue moon occurance, it may never happen again. Virtually are all documented pieces and unmistakably Herter (not just attributed furniture). Even considering the issues with their condition (virtually all damage is restorable) and the economy (the little guy’s are hurting more than the big guys), I expect to see some huge prices realized here.
Besides their impecible craftsmanship – the Herter’s had an amazing sense of design – which I believe is probably even more important than the craftsmanship part of the equation.
Amazing furniture. Should be quite a sale. woodwright

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woodwright January 17, 2009 at 10:22 am

If you zoom in on the headboard crest of the Herter bed (using the “Flash Version”) – it looks like a cartouche, or keystone, or carved detail was once there, but is missing and was filled in with a rather obvious filler block to fill the void – although not terribly well done.

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james conrad January 17, 2009 at 11:07 am

Notes that most here seem to be interested in the bed. If i had the resources, i would be going after lot # 1292, the inlaid and carved walnut buffet, very impressive piece of the Renaissance style.

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zeke January 17, 2009 at 11:41 am

A vintage color photograph of the bed in situ at the Latham residence in 1942 is reproduced on page 48 of the “Herter Brothers furniture and interiors for a gilded age book.” The top of the bed is partially cut off, but it clearly shows a crest that is now missing. From what you can see the crest matched or complimented the crests on the dressers. Oddly enough, the ball finials on the headboard and footboard are not on the bed in this picture. They may have been in a dresser drawer or stored somewhere and put back on the bed as the finials pictured on the bed in the Bonhams auction certainly look authentic. One of the night stands is also in this picture. Be nice if the buyer of the bed could also afford the 2 dressers and night stands and keep the set intact.

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zeke January 17, 2009 at 11:46 am

Actually the finials on both dressers are birds so perhaps the ball shaped finials on the bed are some sort of incorrect restoration or perhaps they are the originals? I would think the bed would have matching bird finials?

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james conrad January 17, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Yeah, i am with Zeke, be great for someone to buy whole bedroom suite, probably not going to happen though.

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Kyle January 17, 2009 at 10:16 pm

I had a chance to see all of these Herter Brothers pieces in person when they were on display at the Bonhams showroom in San Francisco and it is true that all of the pieces have sustained significant damage. Lots of broken carving and missing panels and surface damage. Of course they are detailed enough that one might not notice under gaslight, but with todays average level of lighting most of the pieces wouldn’t show that well without significant work.

My personal favorite is Lot 1291, the rosewood music cabinet. The bed is truly gorgeous though.

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zeke January 18, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Helen and I were in Manhattan today so we decided to stop at Bonhams and view the Herter furniture. The folio stand (1290) is in beautiful condition. The pedestal with the storks (1287) is pretty darn good too. For the most part, the rest of it has sustained a lot of damage and major losses on some pieces. It’s all still very impressive and a pleasure to behold but needs extensive restoration

The marble on lots 1291, 1292, 1294, 1297 and 1298 has been replaced with wood artificially grained to resemble marble, presumably to make them easier to move on a movie set? On lot 1304 only the larger piece of marble in the middle has been replaced with painted wood. The surface of 1296 is hard to determine what originally was there, marble, cloth or leather but it now sports a sheet of what looks like plastic laminate loosely attached by Velcro.

I urge anyone seriously interested in bidding on any of this stuff to please view it in person.

Caveat Emptor

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james conrad January 19, 2009 at 7:49 am

I suspect that buyers on this level employ a dealer who handles pieces such as these on a daily basis, at least thats what normally happens in EA.

I have seen HUGE sums paid for Pilgrim for example, that had VERY EXTENSIVE restoration done or needed it done. On certain pieces, the rules simply dont apply, do these pieces rise to that level? i dunno,but we shall know very shortly.

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RareVictorian January 19, 2009 at 8:49 am

James, I would argue and you are welcome to tell me it is hogwash (John Hutchinson too) that it would be more difficult to make an unnoticeable major restoration on a Herter piece than an EA piece. I’m just thinking that trying to reproduce a detailed Herter carving would be very difficult.

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james conrad January 19, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Well, more or less difficult i dont think would be an issue except cost wise. For instance, that 12 million john goddard desk/bookcase reproduction that kindell makes for 40 or 50k a copy, they brought carvers over from england to do that work.

I know it may seem weird but there are artisans today that are every bit as good ( probably better ) as artisans were 100, 200 or 300 years ago.

Lets not forget that the most important work of art in the western world ( the ceiling of the sistine chapel) was restored/conserved in the 1990s.

If one can restore that, one can certainly restore Herter furniture, its only a question of time and money.

my 2 cents

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zeke January 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Good point James and I’m sure it Could be done. In the case of the bed though, the crest is missing. I think we can be reasonably sure that it matches the heads on the dressers etc, but the scale may be different. You would at least need one of the dressers available to make an even approximate restoration. Then there is the ball finials on the bed. I looked at them and they seem to be not authentic nor stylistically correct. If the bed did indeed have a canopy, how would one go about making one without knowing what it looked like? Carleton Watkins did a series of photographs in 1874 that were made into albums titled “Views of Thurlow Lodge”, perhaps the bed is pictured in all its glory with canopy intact, but perhaps not.

Everything else is more or less intact on the bed but there are chunks of wood missing that could be restored. This furniture has really been abused but yea, it’s all restorable but at what cost?

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james conrad January 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Zeke, yes, i agree, cost is a major factor in any restoration/ conservation project. All the more reason for a buyer with the resources to employ a dealer who really knows what is going to be involved, not only for the purchase but the follow up work that might be required.

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james conrad January 19, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Probably the first move i would make after purchase would be to get a furniture historian on the payroll to find out whats what and then go from there.

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misslilybart January 20, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Has anyone else noticed that the photograph of Lot 1297 (in both the print catalog and on the Bonham’s website) is a composite image? For some reason, the mirror and “glove boxes” from the photo of Lot 1298 was cut and pasted (quite crudely) into the photo of Lot 1297. I have graphics I can post if my explanation isn’t clear…

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zeke January 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm

That’s interesting Miss Lily and it’s a very crude job too. When I looked at this stuff in person I noticed that the beak of the rooster on the left side near the top of the bed had its beak broken off, yet now that I’m studying the pictures the beak is intact! Perhaps it broke off since the pictures were taken?

I will say with even with all the condition issues all this stuff is most impressive in person. Due to its importance and absolute provenance it is all well worth restoring and for the most part it’s all there with losses that are not too grave in most cases.

When I walked up to that bed and saw the MSL monogram on the headboard it gave me major chills. This furniture is the real deal and the stuff that dreams are made of.

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misslilybart January 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm
misslilybart January 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Re the considerable damage sustained by some of these objects, and how noticeable any repairs or restoration would be, a good comparative would be the “keynote” object in the 1994-5 Herter exhibit, the monumental Herter console mirror from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Catalog number 16 in “the Herter book;” http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=501382;type=802 on the LACMA site). It was also commissioned for the Thurlow Lodge and sold at auction in 1942 to a movie studio, and can be assumed to have endured similar abuse and indignation prior its acquisition by the museum in 1991.

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james conrad January 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Money quote from CNN article

“Pieces of furniture owned by two very rich 19th-century Americans were destined for a trash pile before they were rescued for the silver screen.”

I dont know how true that statement is but i would rather these pieces be dinged up and exist than not exist at all.

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james conrad January 21, 2009 at 3:55 pm

OK KIDS, tomorrow is the big day, any predictions?
Herter record price? ( i think its at 288k as of today)
Victorian record price? ( i have no clue what that is)

I predict a record Herter price for a single piece of their furniture, in excess of 288k

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misslilybart January 21, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Furniture that is “destined for a trash pile” isn’t usually sold at a cataloged auction, so I think it is safe to say the “money quote” is sensationalistic CNN hyperbole rather than actual reporting. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story, after all?

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james conrad January 21, 2009 at 4:15 pm

MLB, lol, good point but you posted article!!!

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misslilybart January 21, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Yes, I did post it. *sigh*

Perhaps I should have prefaced the link with analysis, criticism and counterarguments, but CNN being what CNN is, I didn’t think it necessary…

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james conrad January 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Well, fact is, theres no telling what the fate of these pieces would have been had the studio not bought them for props. I for one am glad they did buy them because they now still exist, which is a good thing

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zeke January 21, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I saw the Herter console mirror in person at the MET and it was in pristine condition, it, for all practical purposes, looked brand new. If it had sustained the sort of abuse the pieces in this auction have, then they surely can be restored back to their original condition. It was by far the most impressive piece of Victorian furniture I’ve ever seen.

I watched Scarface last night to see what Herter furniture was used. I didn’t see any from this auction but there appeared to be an ebonized piece in Tony Montanas office and possibly some chairs at 2 hours and 20 minutes into the movie. Also what I’m sure is the Herter Hall console, fig 29, page 48 in the Herter book appears at 1 hour and 46 minutes very briefly and again from 2 hours and 41 minutes its shown several times in the ending sequence. The mirror in the console has been replaced, or more than likely covered up with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer’s wedding portrait. The furniture has gilding which may not be original, it’s hard to tell from the period black and white photograph.

By the way, I hope all the realized hammer prices will be posted here!

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RareVictorian January 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

OK, so how are we going to get realized prices asap?

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misslilybart January 22, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Prices realized will be on the Bonham’s website after the sale. They also they have a phone number to listen to live results or have results faxed to you.

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james conrad January 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm

i just visited their site, they appear to be posting online sales as they happen or shortly thereafter

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misslilybart January 22, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Amendment to my previous comment: prices are being added to the Bonham’s site as the auction progresses.

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james conrad January 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm

lol, i beat ya MLB. i noticed they pulled a very good pa. dower chest, i wonder why

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misslilybart January 22, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I’ve posted a scorecard of sorts, in the message board thread on this sale, in the form of a handy-dandy list of the 19th furniture lots, with brief description and estimates (which Bonham’s appear to remove from their site after a lot is sold). I’ll amend the post to include prices realized.

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james conrad January 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

326k for the bed, lot 1293, i think that might be a record for Herter but i was expecting it to go for more.

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misslilybart January 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Is it also a new record for American “Victorian” (lord, I hate that terminology) furniture?

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james conrad January 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I dont know on a single american victorian piece but is pretty sure its a Herter record. You hate the term victorian? how come

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misslilybart January 22, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I dislike it because it is inaccurate and confusing – Victoria wasn’t our Queen, “Victorian” isn’t a style, and the time period the term usually describes when used in the United States) doesn’t even correctly reflect the years of VR’s reign. (Just call me a humorless stickler for accuracy…)

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zeke January 22, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I’m with you Miss Lily, I hate the term but it is a very easy catchall term that has become part of the language. I prefer and use the term “Nineteenth Century American furniture”, which is also inaccurate as that would include Federal, Sheraton, shaker, etc etc. It would be nice to have a better term for what is generally called “Victorian Furniture” but then we’d have to change the name of this blog!

Any suggestions for a name that encompasses 19th century American Rococo, Renaissance Revival, Gothic, Eastlake, Aesthetic etc. Furniture?

I think this thread is becoming a new record for the amount of posts!

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woodwright January 23, 2009 at 12:01 pm

I wonder how many of these pieces will show up at museums. I would guess many/ most of the big museums were represented at the sale.
The missing ladies face/ mask from the crest of the bed could be replicated from the photographs of the dressers. The overall height and width are given in the listing, from that with an architects scale the scale of the picture and the dimensions of the face can then be calculated. The photograph shows the details well to layout and duplicate the carving. Of course base on the scale of the bed the carving may, or may not have been the same size as the dressers – it would have to be drawn out, or mocked up and see if it fits, and looks right – if not the scale could be adjusted to fit the bed. If I were at the auction and serious about the bed, I would have taken some quick overall dimensions on one of the carvings on the dressers, and taken some large format, high resolution close up pictures of one of the faces before the auction began. At that point it doesn’t belong to anyone (but the owner/ auction house – who is interested in selling it) – after the auction, and there is a buyer/ owner they may object or the opportunity may not exist any longer.
What a shame that the marble was replaced with marbelized wood. It should have been set aside and saved. But it is heavy and bulky and was probably tossed long ago. It could be replaced with new marble cut to fit and the edge profiled to match the original. woodwright

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max January 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm

FYI
1287 Probably not Herter-Center turning and incise carving not Herter Quality. Lions heads ears not right. Best guess high end Grand Rapids $25000 plus premium
1290-$70000 plus Prem sold to left bid
1291-$70000 +p,1292-$160000+p,and1296-$190000+p sold to Brian Witherall and client on the floor
1293-$270000+p,1294-$19000+p,1295-$50000+p,1297-$85000+p,1300-$40000+p,1303-$80000+p sold on the floor to the another collector.
The bedroom set with the exception of 1296 and1298 will be kept together and restored. There was a valence from the bedroom with a mask and ribbon included with the bed that can be used on the bed or duplicated. I believe the finials are correct but were on the four corners of the canopy. Any original pictures of the bed would be greatly appreciated.

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max January 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm

zeke
Carlton Watkins photos of which Stanford has a set does not show the bedroom

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woodwright January 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Unless I’m mistaken, I’m guessing that the “Max” that commented above is the proud new owner of the Herter Bed, dresser and nightstands from Bonham’s sale – as mentioned in this article: http://antiquesandthearts.com/Antiques/AuctionWatch/2009-01-27__10-34-37.html . If so, congratulations it’s a gorgeous set w/ a great deal of historical significance – unquestionably made by Herert Brothers for MLS – shortest term governor of Ca., and owned by Warner Brothers Studio for 60+ yrs – quite a provenance. Nice to see that most of the BR pieces are staying together and will be restored. woodwright

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max March 31, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I have acquired additional photos of the bed on sale day showing a fabric covered column laying on the bed. There was another fabric covered piece laying there which was probably the canopy frame.
If you have any pictures of a Herter canopy bed or know where there is one, please contact me through this posting.

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misslilybart April 16, 2009 at 5:37 pm

The latest issue of Victorian Homes magazine (June ’09, IIRC) has a short article on this auction.

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Ulysses Dietz February 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I can’t remember where I learned this–here?–but the couple that bought the Thurlow Lodge bedroom furniture went to Warner Brothers and found the missing crest and canopy there.

I have also learned that in the 1990s, when researching their big Herter exhibition (Met Museum, MFA Houston, LACMA) the curators actually went through the prop warehouse at Warner Brothers, looking for the Hopkins/Latham Herter pieces–and couldn’t find a single one. Apparently they were all in use on movie sets, or rented out to other productions.

In querying my colleagues about this, I found that all of the big museums who might have wanted Herter from this sale seem to have already had what they wanted. Pieces from both Thurlow Lodge and the Hopkins house are in several museums already, so there were apparently no museums bidding in January 2009. So, barring eventual gifts, these things will stay in the market place and not in public collections. There is one exception that I can’t talk about (yet).

Does anyone know what became of the marquetry cabinet in the Bonhams sale–the one that didn’t sell? Back to the Warner Brothers warehouse?

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