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Bonhams Auction House Puts Maltese Falcon Under The Hammer

The prestigious international auction house, Bonhams, put under the hammer the iconic Maltese Falcon statuette, from the classic 1941 film noir of the same name, to net a record $4-million.

Bonhams hosted a movie memorabilia collectors dream auction, held in partnership with Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The auction was titled What Dreams Are Made Of: A Century Of Movie Magic At Auction As Curated By Turner Classic Movies.

In the film The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart’s character San Francisco detective Sam Spade, gets caught up in the heated search for the statuette of the same name. The famous Maltese Falcon prop was the top lot in this Bonhams special sale.

“The spectacular price achieved reflects the statuette’s tremendous significance. The Maltese Falcon is arguably the most important movie prop ever, and is central to the history of cinema,” explained Dr. Catherine Williamson, Director of Bonhams’ Entertainment Memorabilia Department. “The sale totaled just under $6-million, a superb result for our inaugural sale with our partners, Turner Classic Movies.”

The iconic statuette of The Maltese Falcon used in director John Huston’s classic 1941 film noir was a pivotal character in its own right. Not many props can be considered as central to the history of cinema, Bonhams boasts.

“This example, which has been in the possession of the same private owner for decades, is the only version known to have appeared in the celebrated film,” said Lucy Carr, Bonhams Specialist – Entertainment Memorabiliav in Los Angeles. “The statuette has the proper Warner Brothers inventory number and an impressive exhibition history, including appearances at the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Warner Brothers Studio Museum in Los Angeles. The Maltese Falcon has never been to auction before.”

According to Carr, this lot is a Warner Brothers 1941 cast lead, dark patina figure of a falcon. It rests on a pedestal with smooth breast feathers, almond eyes, and rounded tail feathers. It has a Warner Brothers prop department inventory number “WB 90067” on the rear tail feathers and underside. It has the important to note scratches to the head and chest and visibly bent lower right tail feather. A copy of the DVD of the film and a reproduction still accompany this lot.

Carr notes two known cast lead statuettes created for use in Huston’s screen version of The Maltese Falcon existed. The “bent tail feather” bird is the only statuette confirmed by Warner Brothers Archives as having appeared on screen. Bogart’s Spade in Huston’s directorial debut, tangles with three nefarious characters played by Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, all of whom are chasing a statuette they believe to be a gold and jewel-encrusted figure of a falcon. The falcon ultimately is revealed to be made of lead. The “WB 90067” falcon was purchased privately by the present owner in the 1980’s and has been in his collection or on exhibition at the Warner Brothers Museum and other prominent institutions since that time.

Accompanying the falcon is correspondence from Warner Brothers Archivist Leith Adams confirming that “WB 90067” is seen on screen in the classic 1941 film, and that the present owner is the rightful owner of the piece, said Carr.

“Additional statuettes made of other materials have come to market in the past two decades, but only the lead statuettes bear the smooth breast feathers, almond eyes and rounded tail feathers that match the falcon seen on screen during the credits and in Sam Spade’s apartment,” said Carr. “Additionally, at least three publicity department memos of the period written by Robert S. Taplinger, Warner Brothers Director of Publicity, today part of the Warner Brothers Archive housed at University Of Southern California (USC) where copies are available for review, state that the falcon used on screen was made of lead or metal. Furthermore, one of the film stills showing Greenstreet, Astor and Lorre examining the bird on the table in Spade’s apartment shows that the blotter paper on the table has ripped under the weight of the bird as it is turned, suggesting that only one of the lead versions can have been used. The second lead falcon with a consecutive Warner Brothers inventory number ‘WB 90066’ to its rear tail feathers and underside sold at auction in 1994, and is identical to the present lot except for the damaged right tail feather. The bent tail feather of our bird, however, sets it above even its twin. One of the Taplinger memos mentions a significant incident during filming of the finale: actress Lee Patrick, as Spade’s secretary Effie, the woman who delivers the falcon to his apartment, dropped the statuette while handing it over to Bogart. Bogart pushed Patrick out of the way of the falling bird, but in so doing his own foot caught the brunt of the falcon’s weight, causing him to injure two toenails. The right tail feather of the falcon was reportedly damaged in the fall, and the damage is visible as the character Spade carries the bird out of his apartment at the end of the film. Given the exact visual match to the film, the extensive archival evidence, and the long exhibition history of ‘WB 90067,’ its authenticity is beyond reproach. Long celebrated as one of the greatest pieces of movie memorabilia of all time, its appearance at auction marks a major event. This rare bird with the bent tail feather truly is—to quote Sam Spade in the final moments of the film—’the stuff that dreams are made of.'”

The Maltese Falcon’s Dimensions: 12 in. high x 4 1/2 in. deep x 5 in. wide, and it weighs approximately 45 pounds. Imagine that dropping on your toenails!

Bonhams announced in October of this year the appointment of Jon King as Director of Florida Business Development. A native of Los Angeles, King has lived part-time in Florida for over 10-years. As Bonhams Vice President and former Director of Business Development for the eastern half of the United States, King oversees all aspects of the Florida operation, including exhibitions of highlights from Bonhams international auctions, lectures from esteemed scholars, appraisals for consideration in auctions worldwide and comprehensive estate planning.

“After the merger of Bonhams and Butterfield’s, King rejoined the company in 2003, establishing Bonhams New York office,” Bonhams states in its announcement. “He has been responsible for the continuing development of the brand throughout the eastern half of the US. Florida has always been a key aspect of his expansion goals. Earlier this year he oversaw Bonhams first ever Florida auction, the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance auction of Collectors’ Motor Cars & Automobilia. The auction was sold at an impressive 85-percent by lot, netting close to $4-million and setting several records.”

Bonhams holds the world records for the following auto marques at auction: Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Bentley, Jaguar, Lagonda, Lotus, Maserati, Rolls-Royce and Talbot-Lago.

Additional highlights of the Bonhams New York and TCM special auction included a 1940 Buick Phaeton automobile, used in the film Casablanca, which realized $461,000. Given Bonhams spectacular history of automobile auctions, these numbers come as no surprise.
In addition, Casablanca Producer Hal Wallis’s working copy of the film’s shooting script sold for $68,750.

“Casablanca—the classic that shouldn’t have been,” said Carr. “Based on an unsuccessful play, written and rewritten even during production, and starring an actor who had never carried a romantic film opposite the Scandinavian flavor of the moment, the film was not expected to be anything out of the ordinary. Its box office was respectable but not record-breaking, landing as the 7th best-selling film of the year. As time went by, however, the drama evolved into a timeless classic.”

According to Carr, the primary text present in this copy of the famous Casablanca script is the mimeographed shooting version of June 1, 1942 with pink and blue mimeo revision pages dated from June 5, June 13, and July 16, 1942 bound in. Present also are 26 typed pages, dated May 22, June 9 and July 14, 1942, bound in. The blue typed pages from July 14, pages 147-149 as paginated, are titled “changes in new ending,” and reflect the final direction of the last act of the film. In addition to the original typescript present here, many of the mimeo pages bear typed annotations, corrections and deletions, and the script is also marked throughout with handwritten additions and deletions, including several pencil notations recording the actual filming dates of particular scenes. The title page and cover give no writer attribution, listing only Wallis as producer and Michael Curtiz as director. Legend has it that two teams of writers—the Epstein Brothers on the one hand and Howard Koch on the other—turned out revision pages throughout the course of filming, and it is likely that some of the typed pages here came directly from one typewriter or another. Wallis is credited by critic Roger Ebert as the “key creative force” on the film, and this script is a living record of his efforts to steer the film through production. This copy includes—typed, not mimeo—a version of the famous final line, penned by Wallis himself: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Francis Ford Coppola’s working copy of the screenplay for the famous film The Godfather sold for $22, 500.

A fabulous Geza Kende portrait of silent film icon Clara Bow owned by Bela Lugosi, perhaps best known for his role as Dracula and an icon himself, sold for $30,000.

“It is an oil on canvas, signed and dated at lower right as Geza Kende / 1929, displayed in original carved giltwood frame,” said Carr. “Depicting a nude Clara Bow sitting on a pale drapery backdrop, the work bears a partial period label on the reverse from The Painters and Sculptors Club of Los Angeles. In 1929, Lugosi was touring the United States appearing in the play Dracula, soon to be optioned by Universal for a film adaptation. One of the audience members at a Los Angeles performance was the silent film star Clara Bow. Sound films had recently taken hold in Hollywood and Bow was anxious about whether her thick Brookyln accent would appeal to audiences. Having read in the press that Lugosi spoke his lines phonetically without knowing English, Bow was determined to find out more about the Hungarian actor. Bow biographer David Stenn describes their meeting in his 1988 work Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild: Clara sat transfixed through Dracula, and when the final curtain fell, she made a beeline for Lugosi’s dressing room. ‘How d’ya know your lines?’ she immediately asked him. Lugosi, who still spoke no English, gesticulated that he learned from cues by other actors. Without further ado, Clara invited him home.’ Their relationship was brief but apparently had a lasting impact on Lugosi as he commissioned a fellow Hungarian, artist Geza Kende, to paint this portrait of Bow. It is not believed that Bow posed for the painting herself, but rather that Lugosi commissioned a portrait in her likeness. The painting appears in famous 1930’s photographs of Lugosi in his study, and indeed he kept it until his death in 1956. The companion painting, a portrait by Kende of Lugosi himself, sold at Heritage Auctions in 2004 for $86,250. A beautiful painting, associating one of film’s greatest early stars and the iconic Dracula.”

Kende’s Bow painting particulars: 44 1/2 x 40 in.; Painting only: 37 3/4 x 33 1/2 in.

Some other special auction results were:

An Audrey Hepburn Givenchy hat from Funny Face, which quadrupled its estimate to reach $87,500. A Nautilus Diver’s Helmet from the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sold for $81,250. A Culver City, California November 7, 1928 mimeographed manuscript screenplay of Buster Keaton’s Spite Marriage, with the story by Lew Lipton, adaptation by Ernest S. Pagano and continuity by Richard Schayer at 134 pages, sold for $1,187. A W.C. Fields Joke File was estimsted to sell for $20,000 – $25,000. A pair of Laurel and Hardy Derby Hats sold for $18,750. An inscribed reproduction portrait of Harpo Marx by Salvador Dali sold for $4,000.

An Al Hirschfeld illustration of The Incredible Jewelry Robbery sold for $11,250. Two preliminary drafts of Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty sold for $4,375. A Shirley Temple majorette jacket from Poor Little Rich Girl Poor sold for $21,250. A final screenplay of Oklahoma! sold for $1,000.

The special auction was held November 25, 2013 at Bonhams New York.

About Bonhams:

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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