Monday, July 30, 2007

Coby Whitmore's "Betty"

Received in Friday's email:

Thank you very much for maintaining your website of illustrators! Thanks to you, I was able to identify an illustration I found.

My name is Ken Lay and I'm an art director in Cincinnati. I worked for a design firm called Hulefeld Associates that started in 1939. They had been in the same building for about 50 years. The company was bought out in 2002 and the new company promptly moved us out of the old building. During the move, I found this illustration under a bunch of old "office art" that had found it's way to the basement over the years.

It was all being pitched in the dumpster, but "Betty" was obviously a fine piece of art and very charming to boot, so I saved her. The back of the frame also had a wonderful inscription:

"Merry Christmas, Frank (Hulefeld) and may this encourage lots of good work in 1947. Coz"

There was a signature, but it looked to me like "Cody Whitney." The name "Coz" on the back was also confusing. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were staring at her, and she said "I think it's Whitmore." so, I started googling "Whitmore" and variations of "Cody" (Cosby, Coby, Corey, etc.). Finally, up comes your site with "M. Coburn Whitmore" and Betty's creator was found! We collect antiques and paintings and were thrilled to see Betty came from such a respected figure in illustration.

We call her "Betty" after the framers label on the back-- "Betty Brown Framing"

We have tickets to the Antique Roadshow which is filming tomorrow in Louisville, KY. We're taking Betty to see what they say about her.

We'd love to have the ad or short story she originally appeared in. Hulefeld Assoc. did a lot of work for P&G, so I imagine it was for a cosmetic product or toiletry of theirs.

I know it's asking a lot, but if you could post Betty's story to see if your readers have ever come across her, I would appreciate it and would be happy to pay for the sheet.

Update! Ken emailed me this morning with the following:

Thought I'd give you an update on Betty's adventures. We enjoyed the Antique Roadshow, and despite waiting in a very long line, got Betty in front of a Roadshow appraiser. The appraised value was $800-1200!

Based on the estimates we'd seen for his larger illustrations, we figured $300-500. It was a nice surprise, though she'll remain where she's been--watching over our kitchen.

Well readers? Any thoughts...?


  1. Ken good luck at the Antiques roadshow. Since P & G is in Cincinnati, I would trust that they might have someone in the PR dept that might have some material for you to investigate or at least point you in the right direction.

  2. That's a great idea, René! Thanks for the suggestion. :-)

  3. Two words...lucky bastard! :)

    Man...I love the idea that people can still find stuff like this from a bygone era. Makes me want to slap around a lot art directors from that time period too.

    I love these kinds of stories. This one kind of fell into your lap it were.


  4. Yes, the stories of original art being dumped from agency store rooms are legendary, Shane. Its enough to make you weep! Thank goodness Ken had the good taste a forsight to snatch up this Whitmore beauty before it was gone forever.

  5. Wow, what a story! Glad she was able to be saved and loved. :)

  6. Thanks for your comment, breeleed. I have to agree. :-)

  7. Anonymous1:00 PM

    On the island of misfit toys, the only thing the toys wanted was what they were meant for... to be played with.

    Likewise, Art and Illustration have to be seen.

    My thanks to Leif for giving Betty a chance to shine after languishing in a basement for some 60 odd years.

  8. What an amazing story, Ken! A virtual dream-come-true. The kind of fantasy EVERY artist and art appreciator dreams of--but usually it involves coming upon such a find at a Salvation Army Store or a yard sale.

    My personal guestimation would have been about 400.00 since a more elaborate Whitmore--or someone of his stature-- would probably fetch 1,000.00 or more. I personally think work of his talent should sell for five times the price.

  9. Les fails to mention that he has his own jealousy-provoking piece of original art: This beautiful illustration by Paul C. Burns ;-)

  10. Great story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I remember reading in one of my books on pulp art how the author lived and worked as a young man in New York and would often pass dumpsters filled with original paintings and illustrations
    on their way to the dump heaps. That so little of this great art was saved is a crime, thus stories like this one are wonderful to find.

  11. Thanks for that comment, Ron -- and one similar anecdote I read in Alter Ego magazine regarding original comic book art saw a young intern at DC comics back in the 60's slicing up pages from the early issues of Superman, Bat Man, etc - so they would fit down the garbage shute. Absolutely heartbreaking.

  12. great story, thanks to Ken for sharing it and thanks Leif for posting it. it's a good reminder about treating original artwork with the care it deserves

  13. Anonymous1:08 AM

    Antiques Roadshow? One of the main markets for art like that is the twice-annual auction held by Illustration House in New York ... ... and you'll want to check the Coby Whitmore auction records at

  14. Yup, that was my first recommendation to Ken when he initially contacted me, David - but its a great reminder for whomever else might be in possession of an original classic illustration and wants to get the best advice on its value. Thanks for the comment! :-)

  15. Anonymous4:12 PM

    Great to see the interest in the work.

    I must say that the signature on the back as well as the handwriting does not look like my father's although otherwise you have quite correctly identified as his work.

    Please enjoy it, and take care of it. As you can imagine, there are a few of us around that are a bit jealous. I have some of my fathers work at home, but none of the commercial stuff which probably is the most significant.

    I'm very grateful that you rescued it from a less honorable demise and have gone to the effort to share it with us all.

    Tom Whitmore

  16. btenorio6:49 PM

    That is a nice story. Not to change the subject but I was wondering if anybody knew anything about a Coby Whitmore print called Lady with a parasol, it was given to me for my birthday 20 years ago by a friend, his name was Prithard Smith, he has since passed on and I can not seem to find information about this print. I have looked for it on and auction sites as well. No luck!

    Thanks Brenda