Any ideas on a mystery artifact

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Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by coolcatdaddy » Sat Jan 20, 2018 6:57 pm

I'm wondering if folks here can help me solve a little mystery.

I have a cousin who is an auctioneer in North Carolina. He came upon this unusual print from another dealer. All he knows about it is that it came from an estate in New York and may have been in a movie theater. It's a large picture of an image of angels - it has an 1890s copyright date on the back and would appear to be a commonly available print. You can see a photo here:

What makes it interesting is that it's autographed by an unusual group of people. The names he and someone working with him have been able to decipher include:

Jean Harlow
Norma Thalmadge
Pola Negri
Mary Pickford
Gertrude Robinson - silent movie actress
Frances Marsalis - female pilot; one of the founders of the Ninety Nines, a female aviator club
Luisa Tetrazzini - opera singer
Louise Thaden - pioneer female aviator
Viola Gentry - first woman to set the first non-refueling endurance record for female aviator
Vera Gatty - married to a famous aviator
Edith B(owie) Hawks - married to WWI pilot and publicity flyer
Katherine Sui Fun Cheung - first woman with commercial pilot’s license issue in 1932
Emmy Balchen - married to polar avatar
Mildred Bruce - female aviator
Mae Post - wife of Wiley Post
Helen Luck - actress of the 1910s?

I'm trying to help my cousin figure out where this might have originated - what event brought this interesting group of people together to sign this picture?

My initial thought, based on the fact that there are so many women connected with aviation, is that it maybe was done as part of some aviation related event, some publicity with the movie "Hell's Angels", or maybe even a memorial service for someone connected with aviation.

I've checked through the NY Times archives with different combinations of the names to see if they were mentioned together at some event, but have had no luck there. I also tried Lantern, but didn't turn up anything.

The back of the print has a rubber stamp that reads "Property of Mr. Nicholas E. Ruiz, 4260 Broadway, New York City, USA".

I tried some searches on the address and it looks like 4260 Broadway was an apartment building in the 1930s; there was an ad from an actor who lived there in the early thirties that gave that address. There was a Nicholas Ruiz in an article in Lantern; Ruiz was a vaudeville performer arrested for theft around the 1910s, but I don't know if it's the same guy.

I also tried some searches through Google books on combinations of the names and phrases like "female aviators" and "new york", but didn't turn up anything.

As far as dating it, Pola Negri's name would indicate something before 1935 since she left for Europe at that time and didn't come back to the US until the early 40s. Jean Harlow, of course, died in 1937.

I thought it might be connected with "Hell's Angels". That was released in 1930. However, one of the women listed (Katherine Sui Fun Cheung) wasn't known until 1932 when she got her pilot's license, so that would appear to rule out some kind of publicity thing connected with "Hell's Angels", unless it was some time after the movie's premiere.

Anyone have some ideas on sources to check to figure out this one? I'm stumped on where to look from here.

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Donald Binks
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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by Donald Binks » Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:21 pm

Interlestink! I have no idea of course - but I'll put my two bob's worth in - could it be that they all went out to lunch or dinner and what they signed was the cover of the menu? There may be some clue in the few bars of music someone has jotted down - maybe someone musically inclined on Nitrateville might be able to identify what it is and thus help us all on our way?
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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by linquist » Sun Jan 21, 2018 3:08 pm

Was this a painting or fresco on a ceiling or in a church somewhere?

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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by sepiatone » Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:11 pm

Strange this comes up. Perhaps thank goodness it wasn't on the Titanic or Lusitania(a Peter Paul Ruben is rumored to still be on board). I've seen paintings or versions of the same theme before. Makes me think of Shakespeare/Hamlet .."flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest" speech or whatever.

A survivor Mauritz Hakan Bjornstrom-Steffansson lost this painting in the sinking: ... londel.JPG" target="_blank" target="_blank

The painting was by Merry-Joseph Blondel(1781-1853)" target="_blank" target="_blank

Blondel painted something similar to the OP artifact, La France victorious at Bouvines halfway down the page.

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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by maliejandra » Mon Jan 22, 2018 6:57 am

This is just a shot in the dark, but if it was in a theater, it could be a sort of a guest list of people who appeared there. The Ohio Theater has doors covered in signatures from performers from over the years.

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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by MaryGH » Mon Jan 22, 2018 9:16 am

The print is signed J H Witt 1895 (1893?)

Maybe find out the provenance of this particular print, that may help.
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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by Jay Salsberg » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:43 am

The "Nick Ruiz" was Nick De Ruiz, a supporting actor who had more than a few notable films to his credit." target="_blank" target="_blank

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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by coolcatdaddy » Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:35 pm

The Nick Ruiz reference is something to look at more closely.

I know that some places, like theaters or restaurants, might have had a wall or object that different famous or notable visitors would sign when they stopped by. I still think this item might be associated with one particular event because of the large number of aviation-related celebs on it.

I think the print is one of those common dime-store kinds of things. It's about the same size as a movie poster or framed print you'd find in a home.

I'm wondering if anyone could recommend a biographer of Harlow, Thalmadge, Negri, or Pickford that might recall some event, fundraiser, memorial, or something similar they were involved with as part of some publicity thing. It might have been so insignificant that it wasn't mentioned in their biography.

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Re: Any ideas on a mystery artifact

Unread post by oldposterho » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:01 pm

It could equally be that it's not from a single event but was a collector's "autograph book," and the signatures were collected over time.

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