An Elegant Deal

For those who are called to the “deals business,” every deal is unique.  Some pay off in cash, some in other rewards for the deals man and those around him.  Some are just losses which he puts a good face on by calling them write offs.  There is no failure.

By far, the most elegant deal I ever ginned up was the Boehm Bird secondary market I participated in during the late sixties and early seventies.  Edward Marshall Boehm was the creator of astonishing porcelain birds.  He was considered the Audubon of bird sculptors. His factory in New Jersey, run by his wife, Helen, turned the birds out very slowly.  An edition of 100 could take several years to complete. 

Coleman Adler taught me the “deal” in 1967.  He was a Boehm dealer.  He gave me the secret that he would reserve pieces for his customers who had to wait, sometimes years, to take delivery.  The shortages of supply caused the price to go up during the wait, but his customer got the bird at the original price.  He would never think of asking a customer for a deposit.  

So I determined which birds were the hottest sellers and called around the country to Marshall Field, Bonwit Teller, Bloomingdales, Nieman Marcus, A. H. Fetting, etc. and reserved birds.  The biggest pay off was the Arctic Tern, a truly beautiful bird with only a dipping left wing touching the base.  It was an engineering masterpiece.  It sold for $400.  I reserved seven.  By the time my orders were filled, they were selling for $1,400.  I developed a list of blue hairs from a small add I ran in the classified section of Antiques magazine.  When a bird was ready for delivery, say in Los Angeles, I would call Bonwit Teller and tell them I would like my allocation to go to one of my buyers nearby.  Of course the store was delighted to hand deliver the bird and get a chance to schmooze a wealthy prospect.  So my buyer sent me a check for $1,400 and I sent Bonwit Teller a check for $400.  

Helen Boehm was a master at getting publicity.  She gave birds to Richard Nixon which he had scattered around the Oval Office.  The acme of her promoting talent was having hubby sculpt two very large white swans, the “Swans of Peace,” for Nixon to give Mao on his first trip to China.  

Boehm sculpted a life size (all of his birds were true to nature) Pelican to be given to the Governor of Louisiana. (Dan Borne’, Edwin Edwards executive secretary at the time, told me that when he told Edwin about the gift he said: “How much could I get for it?”)

A gala was held by Coleman Adler at the Marriot on Canal Street for the presentation of the pelican to the Governor.  As I went through the reception line I was introduced to Helen Boehm and she said: “Oh, Ward Bond.  I hear you are making more money on Boehm birds than I am.”  


Ward Bond