The Chicago Stock Exchange, an 1894 building and one of the earliest skyscrapers in the Loop, was condemned in 1971 and torn apart with sledgehammers, saws and bare hands. Wreckers and souvenir hunters soon ripped out its ironwork, terra-cotta trim, canvas murals and stained-glass windows. Bulldozers finished off the steel frame in 1972, and the surviving components have been trading hands ever since. The stock exchange itself had moved out of the building in 1908, and the trading floor was eventually converted into a tennis court.
Chunks of the Chicago Stock Exchange can fetch over half a million dollars each. On Tuesday Christie’s will auction seven fragments of the exchange’s elevators and staircases, which have leafy ironwork; canvas murals stenciled with vine stalks; and hexagonal skylight panes.
The artifacts, which have estimates between $4,000 and $30,000, were damaged by years of exposure to Stock Exchange traffic, as well as by the wreckers. Copper plating has worn off a staircase post (estimated to sell for $7,000 to $10,000), and there are a few cracks in a mounted group of three skylight panes ($7,000 to $10,000 for the set).
“Those had a rough life — I’m afraid that’s the truth,” said Jeni Sandberg, a Christie’s specialist in 20th-century decorative arts and design, noting hairline fractures in the rippled and milky glass.
In December the auction house will offer four more Stock Exchange components (estimates will range from $3,000 to $35,000), including elevator and staircase parts and a canvas frieze nearly eight feet long. Stock Exchange material “is large, generally, but not so large that it’s tough to deal with and install,” Ms. Sandberg said.
“It’s an eminently manageable way to have an important architect’s work in your home,” she added.
Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, the original architects of the 13-story exchange, an early skyscraper, had provided tempting fodder for the 1970s salvagers, with repeating patterns like pointed ovals and clusters of spheres. Sullivan’s goal was to create motifs that seem “interwoven, intermeshed, interconnected, interblended,” he wrote in an essay in 1901.
“The ornament was filled with an energy and a cohesion,” said Tim Samuelson, the cultural historian for Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs. “It was meant to give you an emotional reaction, like something you’d see in nature.”
The Stock Exchange components, he added, survived partly because they appealed to 1970s tastes for lush textures and dramatic, odd-shaped antiques. “Architectural artifacts had just emerged as a salable commodity in the early ’70s,” he said. “If the building had come down just five years earlier, it would all have ended up in landfills, like Penn Station.”
Prices for the exchange’s more intricate fragments have been rising for decades, and spiked in the past year. In October an eight-foot-long canvas frieze stenciled with overlapping diamond patterns brought $40,625 at a Doyle New York auction. (The presale estimate was $40,000 to $60,000.) In December Sotheby’s sold a 14-foot length of filigree from the exchange’s elevators to the Seattle Art Museum for $602,500. (The estimate was $250,000 to $350,000.)
The coming Christie’s auction prices may also benefit from recent museum installations and restorations of Stock Exchange pieces. In the newly expanded American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum, two staircases from the exchange, which the museum bought during the 1972 demolition, have been adapted into zigzagging circulation routes for balconies full of vitrines for ceramics, silver, glass and jewelry.
The new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago was carefully constructed around the arched entryway of the exchange. This terra-cotta slab, which was hauled to the museum grounds in the 1970s, has been restored and cleaned. (The American Institute of Architects Guide to Chicago describes the freestanding arch as “the Wailing Wall of Chicago’s preservation movement.”) The museum also owns a reconstruction of the exchange’s trading room.
The Seattle Art Museum unveiled its elevator enclosure from the exchange in late March, alongside an 1898 bronze angel by the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Sullivan and Adler panel, studded with spheres and semicircles, “represents the most complete elevator assemblage from the Stock Exchange to ever appear at auction,” Julie Emerson, the museum’s head curator of decorative arts, wrote in an e-mail message.
Previous owners had pieced together the metalwork, she added: the span is “composed of elements from identical elevators that were originally located on the 3rd to 13th floors.” When she learned last year that the salvaged iron was headed for auction, she wrote, “I jumped, and thankfully the museum jumped with me.”
For Mr. Samuelson, however, the lively trade in Stock Exchange parts has a mournful edge. “There’s an inherent tragedy in seeing these beautiful things out of context,” he said. “They don’t have a home anymore, so they kind of wander.”
TROPHY WITH PEDIGREE
Owners of horses that win Kentucky Derby races have taken home identical gold trophies since the 1920s. On each spun-gold cup, nearly two feet tall, the handles are ovals, and the finial is a skinny thoroughbred straining at a jockey’s reins.
Most of the 14-karat awards still belong to the owners’ descendants, while perhaps two dozen are in museums, including the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville. “It’s insanely rare” for the trophies to come up for sale, said Katherine Veitschegger, the curator at the Derby Museum. “Most families want to keep these within the families, generation after generation.”
A great-nephew of Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics tycoon, however, wants to sell the one that Arden’s horse, Jet Pilot, won in 1947. Skinner Inc., in Boston, is auctioning the trophy on June 7, with an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000, at an American furniture and decorative arts sale, where it’s rather improbably grouped with hooked rugs, whale teeth, hickory chairs and ventriloquist dummies’ heads.
There is something of a track record for the price range in this niche market. In 2005 the Derby’s 1969 cup brought $60,000 at a Doyle New York sale. (The estimate was $15,000 to $20,000.) And in 2006 the 1961 model cost $28,750 at James D. Julia Auctioneers in Maine. (The estimate was $18,000 to $25,000.)
Chris Barber, an Americana specialist at Skinner, predicted that bidders would include “thoroughbred owners, museums and collectors interested in horse racing, American history or silver.”
Fans of Elizabeth Arden may also vie: “Most people don’t realize that she was very serious about horses, and very well respected in the racing field,” Ms. Veitschegger said. “She actually put some of her skin creams on her horses. The idea sounds hilarious, but apparently it was helpful on their sore spots.”