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Playboy artwork fetches $1.1 million

Dean Goodman (Reuters)

Posted: Jun 24, 2002 at 1203 hrs IST

Turns out some people like Playboy for more than just its articles. Artworks by Leroy Neiman, a mainstay of the pages of Playboy for almost 50 years, were the top sellers at an auction of 500 paintings, photos and cartoons from the magazine's archives on Sunday.

In addition to selling 17 Neimans via Butterfields, Playboy also unloaded works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Alberto Vargas, Ed Paschke and Edward Gorey, and even a cartoon by Playboy founder High Hefner.

For Playboy fans with more basic tastes, the magazine sold proof sheets of naked centerfolds, many with Hefner's editing notations in the margins, such as "kill lines around nipples" and "Good except for face."

In all, the auction yielded $1,118,865 before the buyers' commission of 17.5 per cent. The items carried an estimate of about $935,000, and Butterfields officials had hoped to crack $1 million. Butterfields is a unit of Ebay Inc. Playboy magazine is owned by Playboy Enterprises Inc.

The top-selling lot was a pair of Neiman watercolors, "Man at his Leisure" and "Dancer at the Lido," which sold for $40,000——a hefty surplus over its estimate of $3,000-$5,000. A 1967 Neiman acrylic, "Man at his Leisure (Surfing)," sold for $25,000, up from an estimate of $3,500-$5,000.

The highest profile lots were 10 original paintings by the late pin-up artist Vargas, some with estimates as high as $50,000. But only half of them sold. Two watercolors, both from 1966 issues, fetched $27,500 each, "How do you like my dynamic duo?" and "He tried everything——flowers, jewelry, candy, furs——and they all worked."

A Playboy spokesman said the magazine held the auction in order to share a tiny selection of works with fans as it gears up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in the coming year.

Other big sellers included a group of unframed 11 black-and-white Helmut Newton photographs from a 1976 pictorial dubbed "200 Motels Or How I Spent My Summer." They sold for $18,000, up from an estimate of $5,000-$7,000.

Supermodel Cindy Crawford still has her fans. A dozen sepia-toned Herb Ritts photographs from a 1988 pictorial sold for $11,000. They carried an estimate of $7,000-$9,000.

The magazine also sold photos that have accompanied its in-depth interviews——candid shots of the likes of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, Jimmy Hoffa and Keith Richards.

Hefner's ink cartoon from 1953——he was an aspiring cartoonist before he founded Playboy——sold for $2,000, below its estimate of $2,500-$4,000. It features two art students leering at an abstract painting beside the handwritten caption, "Man, is she stacked!"

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