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A miniature architect’s model of a spiral staircase, the round base with door and balustrade at entrance, curved railing, door at top leading to pagoda-style roof and surmounted by ball finial. Each door has an incised lower panel below two window openings.
Small model staircases apparently were made in the 18th and 19th centuries by architects, either as models for proposed structures, fanciful student projects or as entertaining decorative “follies.” Models were of spiral staircases or straight ones, sometimes with other decoration such as railings, pulpits or fancy structures. Some were simply constructed, others contained fine detailed carving and parquetry. Generally they were made from oak, walnut or mahogany. The collecting of such models was popularized in the late 20th century by Carter Burden, a descendant of Commodore Vanderbilt who owned the Village Voice and New York magazine and became a respected New York City councilman, and the late fashion designer Bill Blass, whose Sutton Place apartment was featured in many interior design and related magazines, where his model staircase collection was prominently shown.
When Blass’ estate was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2003, miniature staircases from his collection fetched prices of as much as $36,000. See the Bill Blass sale, Sotheby’s New York, Sale 7928, lots 46, 47, 48, and 356, the latter of which had also been in the collection of Pablo Picasso, and sold for $48,000. Carter Burden’s decorative arts collection sale, rich in miniature staircases was also sold in 2003, see Sotheby’s New York, Sale 7937, lots 1 and 3 through 9, which brought prices of $3,900 to $32,400.