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Follow-Up: Charlie Chaplin Canes (Christie’s Auctions)

October 21, 2008 by  

This is an follow-up to recent articles, which reviewed, in part, a bamboo cane attributed to use by Charlie Chaplin, which was part of an auction event by Signature House (on eBay and their own website) in their Auction XXXV – Autographs & Memorabilia Auction.  The prop was withdrawn a few days before the live auction event which was held October 11-12, 2008. 

I have since come across an old Christie’s auction catalog which featured two bamboo canes attributed to ownership by Charlie Chaplin.  While I am not in a position to declare these examples absolutely authentic, they do include explanations as to provenance, and the props themselves differ from the cane purchased by Les Hemstock on eBay which seems to have resurfaced in the Signature House event.

Below are links to the previous articles:

As noted, in reviewing my auction file archive, I found that I had saved an eBay auction one year ago – a Charlie Chaplin cane purchased by Les Hemstock (“kcotsmeh” on eBay) – that appears to match the one that was withdrawn from the Signature House auction.

Christie’s Charlie Chaplin’s Bamboo Cane

Below are scans from the Christie’s “Film and Entertainment” event in South Kensington on December 21, 1994:

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Text (Lot 55):

PROVENANCE

The family of Charlie Chaplin’s first cousin – Aubrey Chaplin.

LITERATURE

ROBINSON, David: Chaplin His Life & Art, London: Collins, 1985, pp. 281 & 290.

Everybody’s Weekly, May 2nd, 1931 pp.3-4.

Charlie Chaplin was very fond of his cousin Aubrey, his Uncle Spencer Chaplin’s son.  It appears that Charlie gave Aubrey this cane on the occaision of his visit to England for a holiday in September 1921.  Aubrey met Charlie’s ship The Olympic at Southampton on September 9th 1921, and Charlie wrote of his cousin in his own account of the 1921 trip ‘My Trip Abroad’: …I feel that Aubrey is a nice, simple soul and quite desirous of taking me in hand. Aubrey Chaplin is pictured in press shots beside his cousin Charlie at Southampton and during the delirious reception Chaplin received on his arrival in London.  On this visit Chaplin spent his last evening in England with his cousin Aubrey…Uncharacteristically, and despite Aubrey’s own objections, Chaplin insisted on visiting Aubrey’s pub and behaving flamboyantly because ‘I must get him more custom’.  He stays with Aubrey until four in the morning, learning about his Chaplin forbears….  He is also pictured as Chaplin’s only relative present at the party following the London film premiere of City Lights, February 27th, 1931.  A article in Everybody’s Weekly, May 2nd 1931 mentions Aubrey Chaplin’s …most interesting collecioin of Charlie and Syd Chaplin souvenirs…Aubrey has one of Charlie’s funny canes; also the straw hat in which Charlie arrived in England in 1921

Text (Lot 58):

PROVENANCE

Charlie Gilbert to whom the cane was given was Mrs Sydney Chaplin’s wife Minnie’s first cousin.

According to the vendor Minnie Gilbert met Charlie Chaplin’s half brother Sydney when he and Charlie performed with Fred Karno’s company in the Manchester area.  Sydney and Minnie eloped in 1912 and Minnie kept up correspondence with her cousins the Gilberts of Manchester.  When Sydney visited London in 1921 to make A Little Bit of Fluff and Charley’s Aunt at Elstree Studios, Charlie Gilbert’s children were invited to stay with Minnie and Sydney at The Piccadilly Hotel for five days.  It was during this visit that Sydney gave this cane of Charlie Chaplin’s to Charlie Gilbert whom he knew to be a fan.

Below is a compilation comparing the Signature House cane (including second photo from eBay auction as purchased by Les Hemstock), the Christie’s canes, and the publicity photo previously supplied by Rick Spector of Stairway to the Stars:

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I found a few more examples at Christies.com.

Lot 66 / Sale 5515:  Charlie Chaplin/Modern Times, 1933

Sale 5515
film and entertainment
14 December 2004
London, South Kensington

Price Realized
£47,800 ($91,919)

Estimate
£8,000 – £12,000 ($15,384 – $23,076)

Click for Full Resolution

Lot Description

Charlie Chaplin/Modern Times, 1933

A bamboo cane used by Chaplin in the 1933 United Artists’ film Modern Times, the cane — 34½in. (87.6cm.) long, originally signed and dated by Chaplin (signature now barely visible), and given to Maurice Bessy by Chaplin in 1947; accompanied by three black and white photographs by Patrice Hasans of Chaplin at the Ritz Hotel in 1971, one showing Chaplin looking at this cane whilst talking to Bessy, each photograph ink-stamped on the reverse with photographer’s credit and the date 3 Janv. 1972, largest — 10¾x15¾in. (27.4x40cm.); a black and white still of Chaplin posing as the Tramp — 9x6in. (22.8×15.3cm.); and a black and white photograph of Maurice Bessy circa 1980s (printed later) holding this cane whilst seated at his desk at home surrounded by other pieces from his collection — 9 3/8x12in. (23.8×30.5cm.) (6)

BESSY, Maurice Charlie Chaplin, London: Thames & Hudson, 1985 p.29, (illus.)
ROBINSION, David op. cit. pp. 114-5
Lot Notes

In his biography of Chaplin, Bessy wrote about the famous Tramp figure: The character of Charlie is not a comic character. His shabby clothes are those of a man who is down on his luck. The cane is a mark of snobbishness. It is the sole remaining personal possession of this unfortunate fellow, and that is why he flourishes it with such pride..

As David Robinson recounts ..The legend is that [the tramp costume] was concocted one rainy afternooon in the communal male dressing room at Keystone [in early February 1914] …where Chaplin borrowed Fatty Arbuckle’s voluminous trousers, tiny Charles Avery’s jacket, Ford Sterling’s size fourteen shoes…a too-small derby belonging to Arbuckle’s father-in-law, and a moustache intended for Mack Swain’s use, which he trimmed to toothbrush size… Chaplin apparently never endorsed this version of the costume’s origins, however he did recall that ..the costume induced the character.. It is Robinson’s belief that the symbolic interpretation Chaplin gave to each individual element of the costume came about with the benefit of hindsight some time later…

In a film by Simon Dargolls in which Maurice Bessy talks about his Chaplin souvenirs, he mentions that Chaplin gave him this cane in 1938, five years after Modern Times was made. Chaplin was apparently very bitter about the reception this film had received and told Bessy that he could have the cane as Charlot was now dead.

Although Chaplin undoubtedly used a number of canes in each of his films which featured his famous Tramp costume, quite a few would be broken during filming, i.e. snapping when he put too much pressure on them causing them to curve, getting trapped in swinging doors etc. and it is unusual to be able to allocate specific film use with a particular cane as in this instance.

See: Souvenirs Chaplinesques – Un film de Simon Dargolls recontés par Maurice Bessy.

Lot 277 / Sale 6343:  Charlie Chaplin Bowler Hat and Cane

Sale 6343
film and entertainment
17 December 1993
London, South Kensington

Price Realized
£55,000 ($82,005)

Estimate on request

No Photo Available

Lot Description

CHARLIE CHAPLIN A bowler hat and cane used by Chaplin throughout his career; the inside leather hatband stamped with manufacturer’s details Nemet Simon, Budapest, V11 Jöhöly-utz; and original studio label blindstamped THE CHAPLIN STUDIOS Inc. CALIFORNIA and inkstamped CHARLES CHAPLIN FILM CORPORATION, Alfred Reeves, General Manager; the bamboo cane 32½in. long; accompanied by two letters of authenticity from Ted and Betty Chaplin Tetrick (one a photocopy).
Provenance

Alfred Reeves
Ted and Betty ‘Chaplin’ Tetrick
Private Collector.
Literature

ROBINSON, David. Chaplin His Life & Art, London: Collins, 1985, pp. 114-115.
Lot Notes

Accompanying letters of authenticity from Hollywood producer and costumier Ted Tetrick outlines the provenance. Ted Tetrick and Betty Chaplin Tetrick acquired the hat and cane after the death of Chaplin’s studio manager Alfred Reeves in 1946. Tetrick had been associated with Chaplin since 1938, and was ..in charge of the costume and production design departments. This was the time when we used the original hat [and cane] in a scene using the ‘Tramp’ character in the film, “The Great Dictator”. According to Tetrick this hat and cane were originally at the studio costume department and were selected by Chaplin personally.

The bowler hat and cane were Charlie Chaplin’s trademarks and indispensable props to his famous Tramp guise. …The tramp costume, which was to be little modified in its twenty-two year career, was apparently created almost spontaneously, without premeditation. The legend is that it was concocted one rainy afternoon in the communal male dressing room at Keystone, where Chaplin borrowed Fatty Arbuckle’s voluminous trousers, tiny Charles Avery’s jacket, Ford Sterling’s size fourteen shoes which he was obliged to wear on the wrong feet to keep them from falling off, a too-small derby belonging to Arbuckle’s father-in-law, and a moustached intended for Mack Swain’s use, which he trimmed to toothbrush size. This neat and colourful version of the genesis of the tramp seems to have originated in the Keystone Studio, and was certainly never endorsed by Chaplin…His idea was to create an ensemble of contrasts – tiny hat and huge shoes, baggy pants and pinched jacket…Whatever its origins, the costume and make-up created that day in early February 1914 were inspired. Chaplin recalled how the costume induced the character, so that ‘by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born’. We know from the films that this was not strictly true; the character was to take a year or more to evolve its full dimensions and even then…it would evolve during the whole of his career….From the first, though, certain traits were obvious; the derby, the cane, the bow-tie and close-trimmed moustache indicated brave but ineffectual pretensions to the dignity of the ‘petit bourgeoisie’.

Lot 33 / Sale 5679:  Charlie Chaplin Bowler Hat and Cane

Sale 5679
film and entertainment
14 December 2005
London, South Kensington

Price Realized
£6,600($11,708)

Estimate
£4,000 – £6,000 ($7,096 – $10,644)

Click for Full Resolution

Lot Description

Charlie Chaplin
A bowler hat and cane – the bowler hat of British manufacture stamped inside on lining and leather hatband Bennetts, London, 84-86 Regent Street, London W; the bamboo cane — 33in. long; accompanied by a copy of a letter from G.E.Henley owner of the Henley Private Museum in Auckland, New Zealand, giving details of the provenance: …Late in 1938 or early 1939 I wrote to Charlie Chaplin requesting one of his canes and a bowler hat to add to my collection. The bowler hat arrived in a box, the cane was not wrapped but had a label attached addressed to me. Both arrived in 1939… (3)

The Henley Private Museum, Auckland, New Zealand

Exhibited 1939 – 1971

Lot Notes

Past auctions of Chaplin’s hats and canes through these rooms have revealed that bowler hats and canes were sent out from Chaplin’s studio on several occasions. One set sold in 1986 was sent to Ellis Ashton, Chairman of the British Music Hall Society and Founder of the weekly newspaper Pictures and Picturegoer in circa 1920 in gratitude for the publicity Ashton gave Chaplin’s films. This set was accompanied by the original Customs Declaration forms giving the value of each piece as 5$ and the inscription Charlie Chaplin Film Co. 1416 La Brea. [Ex lot 123, Printed Ephemera and Film Memorabilia, July 17th, 1986].

Another cane sold in 1999, marked 1932 and accompanied by a promotional Chaplin postcard was, according to the vendor, won in a competition run for cinema owners/managers across Australia. [Ex lot 142, Film And Entertainment, December 9th, 1999]. Several other canes were given directly to visitors to the studio by Chaplin himself or his associates. One example sold last year, was given to Maurice Bessy, editor of Cinemonde when visiting Chaplin’s studio in 1938. [Ex-lot 66 Film And Entertainment, December 14th, 2004]

There are three more bamboo canes in the Christie’s “Past Lots” archives that realized much lower prices with comparatively sparsely documented provenance:

If anyone has any information to add for clarification, please feel free to post a Reader Comment.

Jason De Bord

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