If you’ve ever stood in a flea market and wondered what you were looking at, it might be a lot of money. Found at a Flea Market in Philadelphia for $200, a unique sculpture commissioned by Tiffany & Co. from one of the world’s foremost living silversmiths floored a standing-room only auction Tuesday at Freeman’s by climbing to an astounding $22,500.
The seller who first found it hiding inconspicuously amidst a pile junk on a flea market table was in shock. Initially, he’d had no idea what it was. Nor could anyone tell him. He’d just liked it for what it was–a beautiful abstract composition of swirling bands. Even so, at the time, $200 seemed a lot to pony up.
What emerged after polishing was a thing of beauty. And, more importantly, the faint impression of the initials “UV” emerged, in what he suspected–and indeed proved to be–a maker’s mark. It was a clue, but still all his efforts to identify it came to naught. That’s when he decided to bring it in to Freeman’s Auction in downtown Philadelphia for a complimentary assessment.
Freeman’s Silver specialist David Walker, who greeted him, had never seen anything like it, although he immediately recognized the quality of the piece. The good news that day was that it was solid sterling and not plate, as its discoverer had believed. It was then and there agreed that he would consign it to Freeman’s for sale to the highest bidder.
For one specialist at Freeman’s, however, that was only the beginning. Whitney Bounty in the American Furniture and Decorative Arts Department made it her personal mission to identify this piece and she spent many months following up on all leads. Once she identified it as having come from Tiffany & Co., still the elusive maker’s mark “UV” continued to haunt her. In time, the truth emerged from one of her many sources, and soon after a call came from the son of the very man whose design it was–internationally renowned architect, industrial designer, and sculptor Charles O. Perry (1929-2011)… And he told her all about it.
The piece is one of only six known examples of the design, commissioned by Tiffany & Co., which Perry titled Cassini after the Italian astronomer who inspired him, Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625-1712). Cassini believed that a planetary orbit could be along the intersection of a cylinder with a sphere. The composition this idea inspired was hailed a triumph. Large scale, steel versions of the Cassini sculpture are installed at the Civic Arts Complex in Ringwood, Australia; in East Moline, Illinois; and in a few private collections around the world.
“UV” is the mark of Ubaldo Vitali (b. 1944), among the greatest of 20th-century silversmiths. The man whose hands formed this piece is renowned as a master of his trade and is featured in multiple museum collections and exhibitions. Vitali is a fourth generation silversmith, who stamps his pieces with the hallmark once used by his father and grandfather. Having done work for Tiffany, Cartier, Movado, Bulgari and Steuben, he is in very high demand.