Duelling toads and crypto woes
And Caroline the Injured Queen of England.
Hi guys, I’m so sorry — I’ve been trying to keep this newsletter a crypto-free space (and I’m also supposed to be talking about antique jewelry, lol), but I’m COMPELLED to start out this email with this extremely “oh honey, no” tweet that popped up earlier this week:
(If you really don’t want to deal with anything crypto-related, I totally understand. Please scroll down to the taxidermy toad duel below.)
Ok first off, a confession: the full extent of my Dune knowledge is “Kyle MacLachlan and……sand?,” although my friend Mike over at Books on GIF sparked my interest with this delightful review last fall, in which he managed to gather various Dune threads — plot, David Lynch, the new film with Timothée Chalamet, a failed film attempt by director Alejandro Jodorowksy in the 1970s, etc. — into something more coherent in my head, which helped when the above tweet popped up.
The book pictured in the tweet is legitimately very rare. Here’s a quick backstory, which a lot of you cool people probably already know: In 1974, a French group acquired the film rights to Dune and brought on Franco-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct. Jodorowsky then assembled an INCREDIBLE group of artists and performers for a 10-15 hour long film adaptation, recruiting artists Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius), Chris Foss and H. R. Giger to do the art direction, and progressive rock bands Magma and Pink Floyd to work on the original soundtrack. Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Alain Delon and David Carradine and were all lined up to star in the film.
Jodorowsky still needed to get Hollywood on board, though, so he put together a pitch book that, according to Christie’s, “gathers reproductions of drawings among the thousands made by Moebius, Foss and Giger, including a near-complete story board of the movie, with dialogues in French and English.”
“Some other copies are known: one was auctioned a couple of years ago, and Jodorowsky owns a copy as well. There are probably a couple others surviving copies.
The book is partially reproduced online. We do not know if the other surviving copies are numbered as well, so it is a bit tricky to evaluate the amount of initially printed copies. We can logically suppose that between 10 and 20 copies were printed and bound.”
Christie’s set their high estimate for the book at €35,000, or around $40k, but instead it sold for a mind-boggling $2.9 million.
Aman Sethi of Buzzfeed News spoke with the buyer, Soban “Soby” Saqib, a 25-year-old crypto dude from California who bid for the book with the backing of the Spice DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization of Dune-loving crypto enthusiasts who collectively raised $12 million to buy the book and develop an animated film “inspired” by it. Saqib purchased the book with his own funds expecting to be reimbursed by the DAO, and the ownership of the book would be transferred to the group, who could then get on with developing their anime to sell to Netflix.
Unfortunately, no one involved seems to have realized that purchasing a book — however rare! — does not mean you also purchase the intellectual property rights to said book. Yes, I know this is all completely insane.
A lot of the crypto-world talk about the purchase centers around the idea of “liberating” the book and making it available to a wider audience — which is fine, but unfortunately that’s not their decision to make, and it certainly doesn’t sound like an IP lawyer was consulted at any point. According to the Buzzfeed article, the whole scheme to buy the book came together literally a couple days before the auction — act in haste, repent at leisure — so Saqib and the DAO will now have to figure out what exactly they can do with it that won’t violate copyright. And it seems a lot of people in the DAO weren’t aware of the copyright issues when they chipped in, so now there’s quite a bit of discord in the discord.
Ryan Broderick devoted much of his Monday edition of Garbage Day to the subject and provided his usual deeper insight into the Web3 world. He also linked to this priceless thread, which gives us an inside view of the debate within the DAO as well as some mention of shell corporations and (avoiding) capital gains taxes, which makes it sound like things might not be quite as simple as a buncha fans crowdfunding a book purchase.
Frank Pavich, the director of the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, recently met Saqib and told Buzzfeed that he was pleasantly surprised:
“To be 25 years old and to have figured out whatever he has figured out with this cryptocurrency and he’s not out buying Ferraris and, you know, being a moron,” Pavich said. “My impression of him is that he was coming from a very pure place.”
I don’t know; maybe it is pure. I’m a miserable cynic so my brain will always say nah, but who knows. What I would REALLY like to know is: Who was bidding against Saqib to drive the price up from $40k to $3 million? Was it a legit competitor? Or was someone driving up the price on purpose?
I would dearly love to shrug and never think about this again, but unfortunately a group inside the DAO are calling for the book to be digitized (to sell NFTs, of course) and then burned for a “good publicity stunt,” so now I want them all in jail.
Man, I love a good Royal & Noble sale (this particular one’s at Sotheby’s London and closes on January 20), because it’s practically guaranteed to be jam-packed with a bunch of weird miscellaneous stuff that didn’t fit into other auctions.
Like, say, this late 19th century taxidermy tableau of two toads engaged in a duel. There’s not much more to say — it’s literally two stuffed toads depicted mid-battle in front of a backdrop of reeds inside a glazed box frame.
It (among many other items in this sale) is listed as “Property removed from Fenton House to be sold on behalf of the 7th Earl of Durham,” and follows an acrimonious family inheritance battle between Ned Lambton, the 7th Earl of Durham, and his sisters. Lambton, who is 60 years old, thrice-married1 and a musician who’s been in various bands — I think most recently the “mountain pop” band Pearl, TN — inherited the estate after the death of his father in 2006, but three of his sisters kicked up a legal fuss, saying that the inheritance should be split equally between all siblings.
The sisters based their case on Italian law, because that’s where their father had lived since 1973, when he was caught smoking weed in bed with two prostitutes. A Tory minister at the time, he fled the scandal to live in his Italian villa — Villa Cetinale, a 17th-century Tuscan retreat that may be recognizable to some as a location for the Italian wedding episode of the TV series Succession.
According to the Daily Mail, Lambton settled with his sisters in 2014 and gave each one £1.5 million. He then put the Fenton Estate up for sale — detailed sales pdf here — for £10m in 2015. Located in Northumberland, the estate is huge (2,272 acres), but the house itself is in pretty rough shape thanks to dry rot.
And now it’s also missing a box of duelling toads.
Also in that Royal & Noble sale is this ca. 1821 royal commemorative gold ring that’s inscribed: “In Memory of Caroline of Brunswick the Injured Queen of England Nat: 17 May 1768, ob. 7 August 1821.”
The ring features an intricately carved floral-motif band with a central crown that opens to reveal a lock of brown hair under glass, and it commemorates Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick (1768 -1821), Princess of Wales and later wife of George IV.
Caroline married George in 1795. It was an arranged match to cover George’s debts, and he wasn’t thrilled with the situation because he was already secretly married to someone else AND carrying on with a mistress. He and Caroline met for the first time four days before the wedding, and according to the lot notes, he was drunk during the wedding ceremony.
They managed to consummate the marriage, though, and Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte of Wales in January 1796. George wanted a divorce soon after, but that wasn’t allowed, so a formal separation was called instead. Caroline moved into a new residence and eventually wound up going abroad, where George had her spied on to gather evidence for a legal separation. Rumors abounded and she was even taken to trial, but was acquitted.
The public viewed her with great sympathy, and that only increased when she tried to attend George’s coronation in Westminster Abbey but was denied entry. She died literally days after, but managed to make this codicil to her will beforehand: “I desire and direct that my body be not opened & that three days after my Death it be carried to Brunswick for interment & that the inscription upon my Coffin be ‘Here lies Caroline of Brunswick the injured Queen of England.’”
There’s not a lot jumping out at me with regard to other jewelry currently at auction, so to finish up, I’ll pull a few items from dealer sites instead.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for any amount of time, you already know I’m obsessed with reverse crystal dog jewelry — but this ca. 1880s set of cufflinks from Hancocks London is particularly exceptional. Each gold cufflink is set with two round reverse intaglio rock crystals that are finely carved and painted with the head of a pug. Two different pugs are depicted, and the intaglios are set into a gold backing with chain links.
London dealer Sandra Cronan is offering this gorgeous peacock feather necklace by Boucheron. The piece is “believed to have been made for, and purchased by Grand Duke Alexis, brother of the Czar of Russia, from Frédéric Boucheron in Paris, for 14,000 francs in 1883.” It’s set with sapphires, diamonds and emeralds in silver and 18k yellow gold, and the feather detaches, so it can be worn as a brooch.
Ca. 1920, this striking cocktail ring is being sold by New York dealers A La Vieille Russie, and they believe it may be Austrian with French import marks. Featuring a sugarloaf-cut lapis lazuli decorated with a geometric turquoise enamel design, the piece is set in platinum with diamond accents. Two side stones of coral provide an additional pop of contrasting color.
It’s super late and I’m beat, so I’ll wrap this one up. I truly hope I didn’t put you off too much with the Dune thing, but good LORD it was just too mind-boggling not to delve into.
Enjoy the rest of your week! M xxx
Lambton’s first wife, Christabel, is now married to Jools Holland, the TV presenter and former member of Squeeze. His second wife, Catherine FitzGerald, went on to marry actor Dominic West, who was famously caught slobbering all over his Pursuit of Love costar Lily James in Rome back in October 2020. And Lambton’s current wife Marina is 20 years younger than him and the sister of Rose Hanbury, the former close friend of Kate Middleton who was rumored to be having an affair with Prince William back in 2019. According to the Mail, Lambton was actually engaged to Rose before he married Marina. English aristocracy makes me tired.