Glut of copies of Western sculpture makes price research vital

Posted Jan. 26, 2012, at 10:01 p.m.
The circa 1905 fine and rare painted carousel tiger brought $45,000 in a recent sale at Bonhams Los Angeles. The carousel ostrich sold for $5,200.
Courtesy of www.bonhams.com
The circa 1905 fine and rare painted carousel tiger brought $45,000 in a recent sale at Bonhams Los Angeles. The carousel ostrich sold for $5,200.

Q: Any info on my sculpture, “End of the Trail,” by James E. Fraser? It’s about 31 in. tall by 29 in. long.

A: Our reader adds that the sculpture was bought for $2,000 about 20 years ago.

There’s a lesson for smart collectors here. When an item comes from a crowded field, paying for info on an online prices realized database is a smart move.

It’s important to first note that the reader’s sculpture of a defeated American Indian, slumped over on the back of his horse and carrying a spear, has been a collector favorite since its creation by James Earle Fraser. Designer of the Buffalo nickel, Fraser fashioned “End” in 1915 for an exposition.

Unfortunately, the sculptor never copyrighted his work. As a result, many people have profited by making copies.

The design was meant to be cast in bronze, but WWI shortages delayed the process. Fraser’s original plaster model is on display at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The first original bronze casting was bought by a collector who donated it in 1929 to the community of Waupun, Wis., where it remains.

Most people think the image is by Remington, but it is not. But like Remington’s most celebrated works, “End” has been reproduced in many forms. Google has almost 500,000 entries on the piece as sculpture, wall hangings, bookends, paintings, jewelry — you name it.

We found 10 versions for sale on amazon.com for $25.97 to $299.99. There were 18 versions of the sculpture on eBay. A few completed sales showed results of $34.95 (with a detachable spear) to $425 for a 12-inch bronze on marble with Fraser’s signature.

Literally thousands of copies exist, so you know that piles are for sale at any given time.

Our reader’s primary job is to figure how her sculpture stacks up against the rest. Because her piece is about 30 inches high and most are smaller, research only large versions.

On liveauctioneers.com, we found 1,495 “End” copies in past sales and seven in upcoming sales. Most remained unsold.

We hit pay dirt on artfact.com. There we learned that comparable versions sold at auction in the past year for $190 to $6,325. Barring wild variations in quality, a major factor in the big bucks result has to be where the sculpture sold. Since that info is online with result and sale details, paying a minor user fee was well worth the outlay.

The big sale happened at an auction house that specializes in cowboy relics and high-end firearms. It was not an art house.

It makes sense that buyers there would go for the aesthetics of an Old West image, even if they’re not art buyers. Granted, the 36-inch version sold in 2009 and the market has changed. But the lead is worth pursuing.

If I owned the sculpture, I’d plumb every online price base for high sale results. Using online contact info, I’d then shop the piece to select houses. Good luck! Let me know how you do.

Q: This was my grandmother’s vase. It’s been in the family for over 100 years. Can you ID it?

A: Seen in a photo, the vase with sinuous lines is Art Nouveau, probably European, from around 1900. A maiden half covered in flowing drapery, with blowing hair, is shown in raised relief on the side. The reader tells us the vase is 20 inches high, is metal, and “seems to be coated with plaster or paint.”

The piece looks cold painted, including gold on the figure. There is paint wear and a reglued patch on the figure’s knee.

Unfortunately, we have no photo of the bottom or mention of a mark. A desirable mark could affect value.

Similar vases have sold at auction for $100 to $200. A local auction pro can tell you what it might bring in your area.

Auction Action

Few were surprised when a painted carousel tiger brought $45,000 in a recent sale of circus and carousel memorabilia at Bonhams Los Angeles. Made by Gustav Dentzelaround 1905, the standing figure is the epitome of the Philadelphia master carver’s style. A carved and painted carousel ostrich from the same period by Herschell Spillman of North Tonowanda, N.Y., sold for $5,250. In all, about 100 lots of amusement memorabilia from a private collection sold.

Collector quiz

Q: Can you put these Western actors in their correct category?

1. ’40s and ’50s “A” Westerns

2. ’30s early “B” Westerns

3. ’40s-’60s Western sidekicks

4. ’40s-’70s veteran Western actors

5. ’40s-’60s Western heavies

6. ’20s silent Westerns

a. Pat Buttram

b. Rex Bell

c. Brian Donlevy

d. William S. Hart

e. Rory Calhoun

f. Edgar Buchanan

A: Answers are 1-e, 2-b, 3-a, 4-f, 5-c, 6-d. Source: “Western Movie Photographs and Autographs” by Ken Owens (Schiffer, $49.99). For every big kid who ever played cowboy. They’re all here — the good, the bad, and the hams.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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