The Story of... Playboy on the auction block

When you hear the word 'Playboy' want do you think of? It probably involves girls taking their clothes off - but in fact, there's much more to the men's magazine founded in 1953 by entrepreneur Hugh Hefner (partly-funded with $1,000 from his mother).

As society developed so did Playboy, leading to its 1950s-'60s heyday as the magazine of choice for young and aspiring males. The likes of John Lennon and Bob Dylan were interviewed in its pages, alongside the latest styles, technologies... and cartoons.

Art from Playboy, in particular, has had the most impact on the auction block in recent years. From Marilyn Monroe appearing on the magazines first-ever issue in December 1953 to later contributions from the likes of Salvador Dali.

1963's Vargas Girl by Alberto Vargas, sold for $179,250

Alongside the established names, Playboy was also a breeding ground for some of the most talented and forwarded-thinking artists of the '50s-'70s like Alberto Vargas, Robert Crumb and the beautiful hippie-inspired works of LUDVIC.

Not many people know that Hugh Hefner was once an aspiring artist himself. Because of this, the likes of Vargas and Crumb enjoyed freedom - and lack of censorship - that other magazines wouldn't have granted them, resulting in socially and politically forward-thinking art.

"Since Hef was, from the start, a big fan of cartoon art, he made sure that some of the best cartoonists and pin-up artists in the world were published in his magazine, " said David Tosh, Comics Cataloguer at Heritage Auction Galleries in his exclusive interview with Paul Fraser Collectibles.

"Naturally, all those hip, stylish guys reading Playboy were digging the fantastic cartoons, too. The cartoons were great, no doubt - not to mention colourful and (for the most part) risqué."

Heritage hasn't been shy in championing Playboy art. Earlier this year, a 1963 artwork by Alberto Vargas was the top lot at its special Playboy art auction. Bearing the artist's signature and the inscription "Trick or Treat, Mr Malcolm?" the 20 x 29 watercolour on board sold for $179,250.

The hippie-inspired pen and ink masterpieces of LUDVIC

Robert Crumb, meanwhile - who remains best-known for his cheeky adult cartoon, Fritz The Cat - is regarded as the prominent artist behind the United States' influential and ongoing 'underground comix' movement. Art from Crumb's Big Ass Comics #1 sold for $21,510, also at Heritage.

And as for LUDVIC... Any preconceptions about the er... 'sleazier' excesses of Hugh Hefner's organisation are quickly forgotten with one look at LUDVIC's nude pencil and ink sketches. Beautiful and key examples of 1960s erotic art, a number of the artist's works auctioned earlier this year.

Following the success of these sales, other respected auction houses are now getting in on the act - including Christie's, which has "joined forces" with Playboy for its sale entitled The Year of the Rabbit, offering more than 125 works from the corporate collection of Playboy Enterprises.

Photographs by the likes of Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton and Peter Beard will appear alongside iconic artworks like Tom Wesselmann's Mouth #8 1966 (estimated at $2,000,000-3,000,000). Wesselmann, a key exponent of Pop Art alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, is the sale's top lot.

And, on the subject of photographer, special mention should go to the legendary models who have followed in Marilyn Monroe's footsteps over the years. Today, the likes of Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy remain household names, decades after their heyday as 1990s icons - and the values of their autographs are gaining value each year.

Just as their legacy lives on, so does Playboy's. In fact, few magazines - if any - can claim to have had as much lasting cultural impact as Playboy. For this reason, Hugh Hefner's magazine and its art will remain a top-level (or should that be top shelf?) alternative investment among collectors for many years to come.


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