That was quite the Heritage Auctions infomercial ABC aired during prime-time last night: Unfair Park's cross-the-street neighbor got a shout-out during The Great Big American Auction every, oh, 23 seconds, by my count, as folks in need used the local auction house to sell off rare family heirlooms, including Ty Cobb's checkbook and a signed Warren Commission Report. So happens I was over at Heritage this week to peek at something even more rare: an original Calvin and Hobbes watercolor done by Bill Watterson for the 1989-'90 calendar, one of the few times Watterson merch'd his beloved comic-strip characters.
Like that Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns piece that sold in May for an astounding $448,125, this is Holy Grail stuff: The reclusive Watterson, who stopped the strip around this time in 1995, donated his entire collection of original artwork to The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Heritage sold off a smaller piece in '07 for around $14,000. Todd Hignite, Heritage's consignment director for the Comic and Illustration Art division, says this will open at around $50,000 -- but expects it could go for Batman prices or much, much higger.
"Bill Watterson's one of those artists everyone's looking for and nothing's available by," he tells Unfair Park. "I've always said: 'If I can find anything by him, it'll be a big deal,' and when I saw it was a published cover, that was even more so."
The piece comes from the collection of Rick Marschall, "konic konnoisseur," who Hignite's known for years. Marschall's selling it reluctantly, says Hignite, "but the time had come." It arrived in Dallas a couple of weeks ago and will stay here till it's taken to auction in New York in February.
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"I've never heard of a published watercolor even existing on the market and know of only four, five things of his on the market," says Hignite, who, during our chat, would occasionally glance lovingly at the piece sitting on his desk. "Watterson donated virtually everything to Ohio State. He's a very private guy, but it's always been my understanding the only work that got out was stuff he donated to friends or traded. This piece doesn't have a reserve, so it'll sell for what it sells for, but there are no real auction comps to value it. I tend to be on the conservative side but, but you can't predict the high end at auction."