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Good morning! Happy Canada Day to all our Canadian readers, and happy Bobby Bonilla Day to all my fellow Mets fans.
The photo shown above was taken in my dining room yesterday afternoon. The woman in the shot is Sarah Hanley, an art appraiser. She’s inspecting the one valuable piece of art that I own: a signed, limited-edition lithograph by the great Alexander Calder, called Animals. That litho has recently been the subject of an unusual storyline that’s been unfolding here at Uni Watch HQ — a storyline that’s interesting on its own terms and also relates a bit to the uni-verse, so I want to talk about that today.
First, a bit of background: My brother Henry and his wife, Mimi — both now deceased — were 12 years older than me. In 1985, Mimi went to an art gallery, purchased the Calder litho (it had been produced by a New York print house 10 years earlier), and gave it to Henry as a present. It occupied a nice spot on their living room wall, and there’s something about it that always seemed very “Henry and Mimi” to me — it captured something about their visual sensibility. Henry died in 1988 (cancer), but Mimi kept the print on the wall. She died of a sudden illness in 1993, which was a terrible blow to our family. There were a few things from her home that I wanted as keepsakes, and the Calder print was one of them. I kept it in a closet for five or six years because I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the emotions it brought up, but I eventually put it on my own wall.
I recently needed to get the print appraised for insurance purposes (something I should have done many years ago but had always been lazy about). I asked an art-connected friend if he could recommend an appraiser, which led me to Sarah Hanley — the woman in the photo at the top of this page. About 10 days ago I emailed her, explained that I wanted to hire her, and attached some photos of the Calder print, along with pics of the original receipt and paperwork (which I had acquired along with the print upon Mimi’s death).
Sarah responded with some unexpected news: Based on the photos I sent her, she thought there was a good chance that the print might be an unauthorized fake, with a forged signature. Apparently there’s an active market for phony lithographs in general and phony Calders in particular, and a few things about my print made her suspect that it might not be the real deal. She didn’t want to charge me to assess a piece that might not be legitimate, so she turned down the appraisal job unless or until I could substantiate the piece’s authenticity. She also suggested a few ways that I could do that, such as by contacting the Calder Foundation or getting in touch with the print house that made the original lithograph set back in 1976. (Contacting the gallery where Mimi purchased the litho would also be an obvious move, but they’re no longer in business.)
This set off a bunch of different thoughts and emotions in my head. On the one hand, it was disappointing to learn that the print might be the product of fraud. On the other hand, I didn’t pay anything for it, I never had any intention of selling it, and it still looked great on my wall, so did its authenticity really matter?
Most of all, though, I was consumed by one thought: This is a way more interesting story now! I know very little about the art world, and even less about the art forgery world, so Sarah’s preliminary assessment of the print opened up all sorts of interesting questions, such as: How did the fake print make its way to the gallery where Mimi bought it? Was the gallery owner in on the scam? How many other fake versions of this print were floating around out there? The thought of possibly being tangentially involved in a forgery ring was oddly exciting.
This revelation about the print also challenged my conception of Mimi, who was always a very savvy, sophisticated person — or so I thought. The notion that she might have gotten suckered on a pricey purchase definitely didn’t square with my memory of her, which I found upsetting and entertaining in roughly equal measure.
Mary and I talked about all this for much of that day. That night, we watched Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, a recent Netflix documentary about a 1995 scam involving bogus paintings that sold for millions of dollars — not quite the same thing as my potentially fake lithograph, but definitely related, and completely fascinating.
The next morning, per Sarah’s suggestion, I emailed the print house that had created the original set of lithographs and explained my situation to them. The shop’s founder, who had personally struck the original prints from the original plates in 1976, is deceased, but his son now runs the company. I figured he probably couldn’t be bothered with an inquiry about a possibly fraudulent print sold in a now-defunct gallery 36 years ago, so I didn’t expect a response. To my surprise, he wrote back less than an hour later.
He said he couldn’t be 100% sure of the print’s authenticity without seeing it in person. But based on certain subtle details in the photos that I sent him, he said he was 99.5% convinced that it was legitimate. He added that he understood why Sarah had been cautious, but he was fairly certain that her concerns were unfounded. The print was not a fake.
I conveyed this news back to Sarah, who said the printmaker’s assessment was good enough for her and that she’d now be willing to do the full appraisal. We made an appointment for her to come see the print in person, which happened yesterday.
This entire cycle from Sarah’s “I think it might be a forgery” to the printmaker’s “I’m 99.5% certain it’s not a forgery” didn’t take long — about 24 hours. But what an intriguing 24 hours that was! I confess that part of me was a bit disappointed when the printmaker dismissed Sarah’s initial assessment, because that meant the story was no longer as interesting. For a moment, it had seemed like the reality I’d always assumed to be the case (about the print, about Mimi, etc.) might actually be something else. Now it turned out that everything truly was as it had always appeared to be, which was less exciting.
The most interesting thing about all of this, at least from my perspective, is how it raises questions about the meaning of value. For me, the litho’s primary value is sentimental and emotional, not monetary. I suppose it’s cool to know that that’s really Alexander Calder’s signature on there, but it means much more to me to know that this artwork was connected to my brother and sister-in-law, not to Calder. It really makes no difference to me whether it’s “real” or “fake” — from where I sit, those terms are essentially constructs that are irrelevant to my experience of the object (except to the extent that the “fake” narrative was a bit more interesting and fun). I’ve always believed that value is where you find it, and this story is a great example of that.
So what does all this have to do with the uni-verse? A few thoughts:
• We all know by now that there’s a lot of fraud in the sports memorabilia market, just like in the art market. That doesn’t mean either of those markets is inherently corrupt, but it indicates that there’s often a lot of money to be made by fooling people. And the reason for that, it seems to me, is that when you’re buying a painting or a game-used jersey, you may think you’re buying a piece of history, but what you’re really buying is a fantasy — the fantasy that an Important Person wore this jersey (or signed this lithograph, as the case might be), and that your possession of this Important Person’s object somehow brings you and your life a teeny bit closer to that level of Importance. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that — it’s certainly one way to find value in an object. But indulging in fantasy often leaves people vulnerable to being exploited, because they become emotionally invested in the fantasy and want to believe that it’s true. That’s an interesting social mechanism to think about.
• We also know there’s a ton of fraud taking place on the retail merch scene, with counterfeit jerseys flooding the market. Of course, no Important Person has worn either the “real” retail jerseys or the “fake” ones — they’re just polyester shirts. But some people are nonetheless so invested in the fantasy of certain jerseys being more “authentic” (or “official,” or whatever term you might prefer). Interesting.
• Similarly: When people use a seam ripper to remove the maker’s mark from a cap, there’s inevitably someone on social who says, “Now it’s not authentic anymore — you’ve ruined it.” Again, the cap is a retail item, not game-used, but some people are still so invested in the notion of a certain logo making the cap “authentic” or “official” that it offends their sensibilities when someone else removes the maker’s mark. I find that to be a completely fascinating reaction — one that speaks to two very different notions of value.
As for my print, Sarah took a lot of photos, measurements, and notes, and will get back to me later with an appraisal, which I’ll then provide to my insurance company. But I have to say, at one point in this process I was asking myself, “Should I even bother with the appraisal? If the print was damaged or stolen, would I even want to replace it? Or is it truly irreplaceable because it’s the only one that Mimi bought? Or if I did want to replace it, would I be fine with a fake version instead of a real one?” I eventually decided to go ahead with the appraisal, but I’m still wrestling with those questions.
Okay, that’s enough for this topic, at least for now. Thanks for listening.
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Niners throwbacks: One of the worst-kept secrets of the year was finally made official last night, as the 49ers unveiled their red throwbacks. This jersey and pants, shown above, will be worn with a throwback helmet featuring the team’s throwback helmet logo and Saloon-font nose bumper.
The red throwbacks will debut in the team’s home opener in Week Three, when the Niners host the Packers. It will also be worn for Weeks Seven (against the Colts), 10 (Rams), and 15 (Falcons), plus the 49ers will also wear their white throwbacks for road games in Weeks 13 (Seahawks) and 16 (Titans). Add it all together and San Francisco will be wearing throwback uniforms for six of its 17 games this season.
(My thanks to our own Brinke Guthrie for his assistance with this section.)
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ITEM! July pin launch: With the Olympics set to take place later this month, our latest pin is based on classic Olympic pictograms (something that pin designer Todd Radom and I are both very fond of). Looks great, no? And note that the gold medal winner’s striped socks are in Uni Watch colors!
This is a numbered edition of 200 pins. You can order yours here.
Blasts from the advertising past: Former Uni Watch Tickerer Mike Chamernik recently came across this 1994 commercial that is literally an ad for ads. More specifically it’s an ad that tries to make the case for more advertising in sports. Pretty gross.
In a related item, reader Zac Neubauer recently pointed me toward a scene in the 2016 biopic The Founder, which tells the story of how Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers and created the McDonald’s fast-food empire. I didn’t see the movie when it came out (and still haven’t seen the whole thing), but the scene Zac singled out is right up Uni Watch’s alley.
In this scene, set in 1954, Ray Kroc is at the construction site of one of the first franchised McDonald’s outlets, in Des Plaines, Ill., when his bookkeeper, Joan Martino, arrives and says they’ve received a letter from the McDonald brothers, who at this point in the story still have final approval on anything Kroc wants to do with their brand. Kroc tells Martino to read the letter out loud while he continues to oversee the construction site:
Martino [reading the letter]: “Dear Ray: Thank you for your letter suggesting that we strike a deal with Coca-Cola to sponsor the menu boards at the new Des Plaines location — an intriguing notion indeed. As you rightly point out, such an arrangement would provide a steady source of revenue to the store at no additional labor cost. However…”
Kroc [cutting her off]: However? However what?
Martino: “However, this is a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs. McDonald’s was founded on the idea of family and not strict commerce…”
[Kroc storms off. Cut to a shot of Kroc in a phone booth, talking to Dick McDonald about the menu boards.]
Kroc: Lemme explain. It’ll be real small, right along the bottom, very discreet.
McDonald: We’re just not comfortable with the notion of turning our menu into an advertisement.
Kroc: See, it’s not an ad. It’s sponsorship.
McDonald: It’s distasteful.
Kroc [exasperated]: It’s free money!
McDonald: There are plenty of things we could do to make a quick buck, but that doesn’t mean we should.
Kroc: Loads of restaurants do it!
McDonald: Well, we don’t.
Obviously, that’s all very Hollywood. But still: “It’s not an ad — it’s sponsorship.” No word on whether the movie’s script was written by a Uni Watch fan.
Indigenous Appropriation News: Radnor High in Pennsylvania is changing its team name from “Red Raiders” to “Raptors,” a move that has been controversial among alums (from Timmy Donahue). … The rest of these are from Kary Klismet: Colorado governor Jared Polis has signed into law a bill recently passed by the state legislature to ban schools from using Native American team names and mascots. … The Coxsackie-Athens school district in upstate New York will no longer call its teams the Indians.
Baseball News: The Eugene Emeralds wore Pride Night uniforms last Friday. … The latest episode of the great design podcast 99% Invisible is about ownership, and includes a section about a Barry Bonds home run ball (from Andrew Cosentino). … Umps will not check pitchers for foreign substances at the All-Star Game. Of course, the umps will have their own foreign substances debuting that night, as their uniforms will be ad-clad.
Football News: Former Panthers TE Greg Olsen has mixed feelings about his old No. 88 being worn by rookie WR Terrace Marshall (thanks, Brinke). … Never knew that USFL refs wore Pony-branded socks. … Virginia Tech will now sell beer at football games (from Andrew Cosentino). … Here’s a 1963 shot of Longhorns K Tony Crosby, who kicked straight-on and shoeless. But what really gets my attention in that photo is the official’s uni! Here’s another shot that shows the front view as well as the back, along with an article about unconventional college officiating attire (from Mike Barnes and Timothy Brown).
Soccer News: New third shirt for Manchester United (from Charles George). … Speaking of ManU, here’s a note from our own Anthony Emerson: “It appears new Manchester United signing Jadon Sancho will wear No. 7, meaning current wearer Edinson Cavani will need a new number. 7 is usually reserved for United’s best player, and was previously worn by David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.” … New home, road, and change shirts for Belgian club Gent (from Ed Zelaski). … Also from Ed: New home shirt for Bundesliga club Greuther Fürth. … NWSL expansion club Angel City FC has revealed its crest and team colors. Here’s a detailed explainer for the crest design (thanks to all who shared). … New Pride-themed shirt for Brazilian side Bahia (from Trevor Williams). … Top-level Italian side Napoli will make their own kits, and without a shirt ad, next season (from Michael Zerbib). … The Columbus Crew are taking blue collar fetishism to a new level at their new stadium, whose new features include the following: “Paying homage to the [team’s] original logo with men in hard hats, a fan will operate a jackhammer on a slab of concrete after each Crew goal, similar to how the supporters of the Portland Timbers use a chainsaw on a log” (thanks to all who shared). … Aston Villa’s 2021-22 home kit has leaked (from S.J. Moomaw). … New home kit for German side Schalke 04 (from Trevor Williams). … Also from Trevor: New kits for La Liga club Sevilla. … One more from Trevor: New kits for Welsh club Wrexham. … New kits for top-tier French side AS Monaco (Ed Zelaski again). … New crest and kits for Welsh side Swansea City (thanks to all who shared). … New away kit for third-tier English side Bolton Wanderers (from Matt Magliozzi). … Members of Ukraine’s cabinet all wore Euro 2020 shirts yesterday. “It looks like the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, was wearing striker Andriy Yarmolenko’s actual shirt from the last game,” says our own Jamie Rathjen.
Olympics News: Swimmers’ caps that accommodate Afro hairstyles have been barred from the Olympics, with the authorities saying elite athletes “don’t require caps of such size” (from Jeremy Brahm).
Grab Bag: The University of Tennessee is adding an additional campus to its university system. Martin Methodist will now be UT Southern, with its teams called the FireHawks. Here’s an interview with the artist who created the school’s new logo (from James Spears and Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary: Dixie State University in Utah wanted to rename itself as Utah Polytechnic State University, but community members complained that they didn’t know what “polytechnic” meant, so now the school is simply going with Utah Tech.
Our latest raffle winner is Patrick Sharon, who’s won himself a Brooklyn Branches T-shirt. Congrats to him, and thanks to Brooklyn Branches creator Ron Ruelle for sponsoring this one!