LOTS 53-66: CARTIER TIMEPIECES FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
The Billiken figure is known on at least one other Cartier timepiece. For an image of this well-known and important piece, a portico clock, see the cover of The Cartier Collection: Timepieces, as well as page 214 of the same text, where it heads the chapter entitled 'From China and Japan.' For more illustrations of that piece, see the Exhibition Catalogue from Cartier and America, San Francisco and New York, 2009, p.151, which identifies the piece as belonging to the Cartier collection, the Exhibition Catalogue of the Musée du Petit Palais, October 20, 1989-January 28, 1990, pl. 53, p. 84; Barracca, J., Negretti, G., and Nencini, F., Le Temps de Cartier, p. 21; and Rudoe, J., Cartier: 1900-1939, pl. 206, pp.123-4. For an example of another Billiken objet created by Cartier, see Nadelhoffer, H., Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, pl. 73.
The Billiken is a symbol of luck created in 1908 by Florence Pretz, an art teacher from Missouri. His name came from U.S. President William Howard Taft's nickname, Billy, following just a few years after Theodore Roosevelt's name was used to popularize the teddy bear.
The Billiken's whimsical, elfin look was an instant success, and his likeness was chosen for dolls and a diverse variety of other objects, including salt and pepper shakers, belt buckles, automobile hood ornaments, and the mascot for St. Louis University's sports teams.
After a few years of popularity in America, the Billiken craze dulled and the mass production of Billiken-themed items slowed. Too charming to disappear completely, though, the Billiken re-surfaced as far away as Japan, where his status was elevated to that of 'The God of Things as they Ought to Be.' The Japanese were so enamored with the Billiken that his effigy was enshrined in an Osaka amusement park in 1912. Since 1980, the Billiken has enjoyed a lofty view from the fifth floor of the city's revived Tsutenkaku Tower.
Folklore has it that the luck the Billiken offers falls into three categories: good, better, and best. Good luck results from purchasing a Billiken; better luck from having given a Billiken as a gift; the best luck of all is for one to own a Billiken and have it stolen. Luck is also bestowed upon those who rub the soles of its feet.
It is interesting to note that in Alaska, where the Billiken to this day enjoys great popularity as the subject for carved items, the artisans find this one of the most challenging figures to create. If executed less than perfectly, his unusual and difficult-to-craft features are rendered frightening rather than charming. With that in mind, one can more fully appreciate the mastery required to carve the form of the Billiken out of rock crystal, as in the present lot.
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