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Sotheby's selling seemingly stolen sign from Armadillo World Headquarters

Armadillo World Headquarters opened in 1970 at 505 Barton Springs Road. (Armadillo World Headquarters)

The sign of the formerly beloved Armadillo World Headquarters is going once, going twice, for a hefty $35,000 starting bid through world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s.

However, some fans, former employees and performers of the music hall told the Austin Chronicle the sign was stolen.

The piece: Reading “Armadillo World Headquarters Concert Hall,” the 16-feet long wooden sign was created by former AWH staff member Don Cowley in the late ‘70s. The sign once hung over the club’s entrance and is estimated to be worth $50,000-$70,000.

The sign was modelled after Camel cigarette lettering. (Sotheby's)

The provenance: According to Austin Museum of Popular Culture executive director and former AWH staff member Leea Mechling, the sign was stolen shortly before the ‘Dillo closed in 1980. Menchling lost track of the sign until 2011, when a man contacted AusPop asking if they would buy the sign for $100,000 and was listed on eBay for the same price. Menchling said they declined to purchase the sign, suggesting he donate it. The piece resurfaced on Friday afternoon on Sotheby’s, one of the world’s oldest and largest fine art brokers.

Per the Austin American-Statesman, the sign is currently owned by San Antonian Michele Krier, who said it was purchased at auction from then-AWH founder Eddie Wilson and given to her by her ex-husband on her birthday in 1984.

Wilson, who left the business before its closure, said he also believes the sign was stolen. However, Wilson has held many auctions selling Armadillo art in the last decade.

Armadillo fans are getting public with their frustration over the auction, like The Nobelity Project co-founder and former AWH magician Turk Pipkin, who called out the auction house on Twitter yesterday.

Sotheby's policy on stolen art: “As part of Sotheby’s efforts to support only the legitimate art market and to combat the illegitimate market in stolen property, Sotheby’s has retained the Art Loss Register to check all uniquely identifiable items offered for sale in this catalog that are estimated at more than the equivalent of U.S. $1,500 against the Art Loss Register’s computerized database of objects reported as stolen or lost.”

Menchling said she thinks the sign is an “important relic” to Austinites who are old enough to remember rocking out at the ‘Dillo, though she still has the original logo sign, which she thinks is more important.

So far, the highest bid is at $40,000. The auction ends on Jan. 25 at 2:56 p.m.


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