Richard Merkinís New York Times obituary in September, 2009 described him with the words "Painter, Illustrator, and Fashion Plate." To that, I must add Friend and Collector.
Once again in this auction and continuing in future auctions, Hakeís is privileged to present the objects that Richard preserved, loved and found inspiring for half a century.
That same half century or so has obscured for me precisely how we met. I strongly suspect it was around 1967 at Fandango, a New York City shop, among the very first of its kind, owned by Kenny Kneitel, a grandson of famed animator Max Fleischer. Fandango offered what was considered junk by most people and newly known as "Camp" by a few others. The merchandise was selected for sale based on its design qualities plus nostalgic appeal to a generation born in the 1930ís. Regulars at this emporium of the past included me and New Yorkís two earliest collectors of vintage Disneyana, Richard Merkin and toy inventor Mel Birnkrant, already well into building his legendary collection of early Disneyana and vintage comic character toys.
My first visit in 1969 to Richardís spacious apartment on West End Avenue was a delight. Sophisticated French posters from the turn of the century adorned the walls, bound volumes of 1930ís pulp magazines and 1940ís comic books lined the shelves and Mickey, Popeye, Betty Boop and Krazy Kat objects smiled from nooks and crannies. Shortly after that visit, Richardís collecting focus began shifting towards baseball and the idea of trading my baseball buttons for a piece of his art was born. Richard inquired if I preferred a particular subject. I suggested something based on a film favorite, Breathless, by French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. I gave Richard a still showing the couple in bed. I donít know what I expected to get back, but Richard relegated Jean-Paul and Jean to the pictureís borders and concentrated on the table alongside the bed-about the last thing I expected and yet it became one of my most treasured possessions.
Our second trade, twenty years later in 1989, resulted in our family portrait- Ted, Jonell and our son Ted at age 12- otherwise titled "The Hakes At The Krazy Kat Klub" and full of symbolic references dear to us. Because of its size, Richard drove the painting to us. By then, his collecting was focused on baseball material from the Negro Leagues and Cuba. I related to Richard that a few blocks from our home back in 1953 I saw Satchel Paige, then with the St. Louis Browns, pitch (and fan the side) against our local farm club the York White Roses. Immediately, Richard insisted we go to the ballpark. He strode to the pitching mound, paused for a few reverent moments and then we exited, but not without a souvenir pinch of pitching mound earth that Satchel may once have touched.
While Richardís collecting habits were deemed "eccentric" by the Timeís writer, to us, while they may be extraordinarily broad, his collections are entirely both "normal" and fascinating. Each Merkin Collection object comes with Hakeís Certificate of Authenticity.