Auctions

Animation Art Auction Wars: Bonhams, Heritage, Van Eaton Holding Back-to-Back-to-Back Auctions

After years of dormancy, the animation art market has been sizzling for the last couple years. In June, it’ll be more heated than ever when three houses will hold major animation art auctions within the span of eight days.

Nearly two thousand pieces of animation art and ephemera will be sold at these auctions. This is an unprecedented event in the collecting world, and bidding enthusiasm at these sales will likely reveal how much room the market has to grow.

Heritage Auctions will kick off the animation art frenzy on June 11 and 12 with the largest auction of the bunch, with over 850 lots. Some of the artwork comes from the collections of deceased Golden Age artists Elmer Plummer, Retta Scott, Chuck Jones, and Walt Peregoy.

Just a day later, on June 13, Bonhams will present “TCM Presents … Drawn to Film,” an animation auction that includes some prime lots from the collection of Ted and Dawn Hopkins, who started collecting animation art in the 1970s when prime pieces could be bought for a pittance. Nearly 400 pieces will be available at this sale.

Finally, on Saturday, June 18, Van Eaton Galleries presents 700-plus lots of materials in its “Collecting Disney” auction. In addition to animation artwork, the auction includes a large collection of Disney-licensed merchandise and toys, corporate documents, and even a complete set of Kem Weber-designed studio furniture from the 1940s. The items are currently on display at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California. Even if you can’t afford to buy anything, the catalog is among the nicest catalogs ever produced for an animation art auction and is worth looking at online or picking up a printed copy.

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And now, a word of caution to buyers: absolutely make sure you establish the provenance of any animation artwork before bidding on it. If a piece comes, for example, from the collection of Ted and Dawn Hopkins, you’re safe. If a piece comes from the archives of an industry artist, you’re safe. However, many of the pieces that have turned up at auction from major houses in the past few years have literally appeared out of thin air, and buyers are throwing down major money to acquire pieces of questionable authenticity.

The majority of the forgeries, in my opinion, are Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle concept pieces. Despite the beautiful work of these two artists, their styles can be fairly easily replicated. Considering the high prices their work commands and the fact that concept art can’t be referenced against a finished film, they are obvious choices for forging. The spate of fakes is not my opinion alone — I’ve brought this issue up privately with esteemed historians and industry artists, and there is a unanimous consensus that there’s something fishy happening, and someone (or someones) is providing major auction houses with forgeries.

Auction houses have little incentive to verify the authenticity of Blair and Earle pieces, especially because they are fetching some of the highest amounts, so it is up to the individual buyer to do their own research. With such lax oversight, I would exercise extreme caution before buying any animation artwork that can be easily replicated, for example, early Ub Iwerks drawings of Mickey. Caveat emptor.

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