Many unusual items find their way to the Monday Walk-in Appraisal Days at Rago Arts and Auction Center. But no one working on June 17 was prepared for what came through the doors: a sterling silver statuette depicting a Ku Klux Klansman, mounted and charging in full regalia.
The statuette, hidden in an attic for decades, emerged in a house clean-out. The house had descended in a family that had owned vaudeville houses and movie theaters. The owners were advised to scrap the statuette for the silver, but they saw what Rago did: on one side of its base is written “The Clansman” and on the other “To David Wark Griffith in Appreciation from Robert Goldstein”.
This statuette was a presentation piece to the director of the 1915 silent film “The Birth of a Nation”, D.W. Griffith, from the man who designed the costumes for the film. “The Clansman” is the name of the book on which “The Birth of a Nation” was based. It was commissioned by Goldstein from Shreve and Co., the fine California silversmith and bears its mark.
“I wasn’t sure about selling it at first. It’s a terrifying image and perhaps more so for being beautifully made. But it’s a part of the history of American cinema and of America itself.” says David Rago. “’The Birth of a Nation’ is one of the most important films ever made because Griffith invented a vocabulary of cinema still used today. It’s also incredibly racist. This statuette is testament to a time when white supremacy and its evils could be freely glorified. That’s not something we want to forget.”
Rago has decided to place the “The Clansman” at auction on September 22, 2013.
“Given the subject, my partners and I hope to see the statuette either in a museum that deals with issues of race and tolerance or film history. So do the owners,” says Miriam Tucker, Rago partner. “We have spoken with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and sent information to a number of institutions that focus on African American history and identity.”
Adding to the narrative weight of this artifact is the incredible story of the giver, Robert Goldstein, who was put in prison by the U.S. government just a few years after ‘The Birth of Nation’. To read about Mr. Goldstein’s downfall and demise, search online for the Slate.com story entitled “The Unluckiest Man in Movie History”.
The catalogue for this auction will be online on August 29th at ragoarts.com. Preview the sale September 14–18, noon to 5pm, September 19, noon to 7pm, doors open on September 20-22 at 9 am.
NOTES FOR THE EDITOR
High resolution images available.About Rago Arts and Auction Center: Rago is a leading U.S. auction house with $30 million in annual sales. It serves thousands of sellers and buyers internationally with a singular blend of global reach and personal service. Rago holds auctions of 20th/21st c. design, fine art, decorative arts, furnishings, jewelry, militaria, coins and currency, Asian, historic ephemera, and ethnographic property. A world-class venue through which to buy and sell, it offers valuations for personal property (from a single piece to collections and estates), appraisals, estate services, exhibitions and lectures in house and online. Rago is based in New Jersey, midway between Philadelphia and New York City.
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Rago Arts and Auction Center
333 N. Main Street
Lambertville, New Jersey