Counting Sheep: Collectible Lambs, Rams and Ewes



2015-06-26 11:27:19

On February 19 people around the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of the Year of the Sheep. To celebrate, here are a few valuable, famous and bizarre examples of sheep from the world of collectibles...


'Moutons de Laine' by François-Xavier Lalanne

Sold at Christie's, November 2012, $5,682,500.


Image: Christie's


The renowned French artist François-Xavier Lalanne first came to the public's attention in 1965, when he filled the entrance of a Paris exhibition with a flock of fake sheep.

'Moutons de Laine' was comprised of 24 sculptures made from Aluminum, wood and wool, and included eight standing sheep, sixteen grazing sheep and a single rare black sheep. A famous photograph from the Salon de la Jeune Peinture exhibition captured many of the country's most famous artists sitting atop the sheep, and the fake flock was later photographed for Life Magazine in 1967.

These sheep became the most well-known of François-Xavier's works, and found their way into the art collections of many famous figures including Yves Saint Laurent. One particular set were shepherded across the Atlantic, into the collection of photographer Adlaide de Menil and her husband, broadcaster Ted Carpenter. They later sold at Christie's in New York for $5.6 million.



Lambs' Gambol poster by James Montgomery Flagg

Sold at Heritage Auctions, July 2009, $31,070.

Image: Heritage Auctions


The Lamb's Club is America's oldest professional theatrical club, first established in 1874 and based upon an earlier club formed in London in 1868. Based in New York, the club's past members have included luminaries such as Spencer Tracy, Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, W.C. Fields, Cecil B. DeMille and Douglas Fairbanks.

Each year the club, once described as "actors trying to be gentlemen", would organize a theatrical review to raise money for charity. The shows, known as 'Gambols', would tour cities in the US and feature sections of plays and musical performances from its members. It would be the only time non-members were allowed to Lamb's Club gatherings, and women were strictly forbidden.

Many of the posters for these Gambols were created by the celebrated illustrator James Montgomery Flagg. Today Flagg is remembered as the creator of the iconic U.S Army recruitment poster featuring Uncle Sam and the slogan "I Want You". But he was equally at home capturing more risqué subjects, and painted a large number of pin-up nudes which today remain part of the Lambs Club's collection.

This particular nude portrait was painted by Flagg in 1938, as a poster to promote the Lamb's Gambol at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.



Jackie Howe's shearing medal and gold fob watch

Sold at Christie's, May 2008, $345,906.

Image: Christie's


Jackie Howe is an Australian folk hero who became a legend due to his remarkable sheep-shearing abilities. Born in Queensland, Howe shot to fame during the late 19th century by repeatedly setting shearing records that would never be equalled.

In October 1892, whilst working at the Alice Downs station, Howe sheared an incredible 1,437 sheep in a single week, using only hand-shears that were little better than scissors. The following week he set another record, shearing 321 sheep in just 7 hours and 40 minutes, and later that year struck again when he used the newly-introduced machine shears for the first time and sheared a record 237 in one day.

Howe remains the only man to have set blade and machine-shearing records in the same year. His tally of 321 was only beaten in 1950, and then only using machine shears. More than 100 years later, nobody has ever sheared as many sheep by hand in a single day.

For his efforts in 1892 he was awarded two medals by Colemane & Sons Ltd, a Cootamundra eucalyptus oil manufacturer. These medals, together with Howe's personal gold fob watch, sold at Sotheby's in Melbourne in 2008 for ten times their estimate – proof that he remains a national bush hero almost a century after his death in 1920.



Sheep Meadow, Central Park by Andreas Feininger (1940)

Sold at Christie's, December 2014, $7,500.

Image: Christie's


This photograph by Andreas Feininger captures a scene in New York's Central Park, circa 1940. Although it doesn't actually feature any sheep, the title does give a clue to one of the more unusual aspects of the park's 158-year history.

Sheep Meadow is one of the largest lawns in Central Park, and over the years has played host to countless live concerts, anti-Vietnam protests, hippie love-ins and other political demonstrations. But from 1864 until 1934 it was also home to a flock of sheep, which were used to keep the lawn trim and fertilized.

The flock was introduced by the park's designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who believed it gave the meadow a 'romantic English quality', and kept in an elaborate shepherd's hut. Then in 1934 the sheep were removed, as it was feared that they would become targets for New Yorkers driven to starvation by the Great Depression. The shepherd's hut became the now world-famous Tavern on the Green restaurant, and the sheep were eventually retired to the Catskill Mountains.



'Oh Dear Sheep' by John Lennon

Sold at Sotheby's, June 2014, $81,250.

Image: Sotheby's


In 1965 John Lennon published his second book, entitled 'A Spaniard in the Works'. The book featured nonsense poems, fantastical stories, strange wordplay and surreal imagery, accompanied by Lennon's own illustrations.

The book sold around 100,000 copies, less than his first work 'In My Own Write', but was acclaimed by Beatles fans despite its inherent weirdness. Lennon himself said of the book:

"The book is more complicated; there are some stories and bits in it that even I don't understand, but once I've written something what's the point of letting it hang around in a drawer when I know I can get it published?"

In June 2014 a series of Lennon's original drawings for the book were offered for sale at Sotheby's in New York. One such illustration had accompanied the poem 'Bernice's Sheep', which included lines such as:

"This night I lable down to sleep,

With hefty heart arid much saddened,

With all the bubbles of the world,

Bratting my boulders,

Oh dear sheep."



Annotated copy of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', owned by Blade Runner screen writer Hampton Fancher.

Sold at Profiles in History, July 2012, $16,000.

Image: Profiles in History)


The 1982 classic Blade Runner remains one of the most iconic science fiction movies ever made. But it could have been a little stranger, had it stuck more closely to its source material.

The film was based on Philip K. Dick's novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', and initially adapted for the screen by Hampton Fancher. The first version of the script stayed true to the book, and focused on the environmental aspects of living in a world following a nuclear holocaust which destroyed the majority of animals on the planet.

In the original story, the rarity of living creatures means owning one is a source of pride and social stature. The main character Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter charged with tracking down escaped androids, owns an electric sheep – an android replacement for his real sheep which had previously died of tetanus.

Later versions of the screenplay and the final film moved away from these themes, sadly denying viewers the chance to see Harrison Ford mourning his sheep and tending to its robot replacement.

Screenwriter Fancher's own personal annotated copy of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' sold at auction in 2012, alongside two early drafts of his screenplay for Blade Runner which included additional dialogue and scene variations.



Xai, made by Bd Barcelona Design circa 2013.

Image: Bd Barcelona Design


Salvador Dali's work can seem even stranger when it's brought to life in three dimensions. The Spanish surrealist's 1942 painting 'Interpretation Project for a stable-library' depicted a young girl sleeping surrounded by animals in a stable, which also resembled a library complete with wood-panelled walls and ceramic lamps. But the oddest item by far is a lamb which doubles as a bedside table, complete with a draw and a telephone.

In 2013, designer Oscar Tusquets decided to make this macabre piece of furniture a reality. With the help of Parisian taxidermist Maison Deyrolle, he created the Xai series: twenty one stuffed lambs, each turned into a working piece of furniture with their hoofs replaced by gold castors. These bizarre bedside tables were priced at around $40,000.


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