This bust had a hard life. Apparent to the naked eye were the deteriorated enamels—grungy at best and “chewed” or flaked off at worst, but the damage was more than skin deep. The condition report revealed that there were “restorations to head…to nose, chin, large crack around head.”
I searched for a design source for the bust but quickly learned that Jackson looked rather different. In particular, he is typically shown with puffy rather than slicked down hair, usually brushed back rather than forward. Add to this, the features did not seem to resemble Jackson’s either.
Fast forward a month or two, and an identical bust came up for sale at Bonhams, London. I say identical, but there were several differences. The Bonhams bust was in much better condition, but it lacked a title. Bonhams’ experts—no doubt aware of the Jackson bust—had nonetheless identified their bust as Napoleon modeled as First Consul.
There is no telling what crazy money will pursue, and someone apparently thought that Bonhams’ untitled bust too portrayed Jackson. And what did the buyer pay? Are you sitting down: GBP 7,650 ($10,511). This price bothers me less than the $4,000 paid for the beaten-up, titled bust. At least Bonham's bust is a fine example….but it is unremarkable and only made the price it did because somebody thought it was Jackson!
So what is the value of a name? I have a beautiful bust of George Washington. It is titled AND it closely resembles him. Any one care to make me an insanely high offer? And I have a number of untitled busts. Buy one, and you can call it whatever tickles your fancy.
My thanks to that great collector, my friend Bob Carde, for making me think through this issue and for his invaluable input.