LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. — Citing the most “solid” [results] since about 2007,” auctioneer David Rago was all smiles after posting a $5.2 million sales total for the two-day Twentieth–Twenty-First Century design auction that took place at Rago Arts and Auction Center over the weekend of March 2–3. “The middle market came back for the first time,” stated the auctioneer, adding that the “sale was 85 percent sold across the board, typical for Arts and Crafts, but high for Modern.”
“There was so much competition,” said Rago of the auction, citing a full house of bidders on Saturday and a smaller but equally active crowd again on Sunday. “We had over 300 phone bidders, which matches our high, and 1,500 people online throughout the weekend. There was a lot of competition coming from all quarters. It was a lot of fun to call this sale, which is probably the most significant indication I can give you,” he said.
The second half of the auction on Sunday afternoon saw the crowd dwindle, yet phone, Internet and absentee bidders took up any slack and prices remained strong. Rago added that “about $3.5 million in absentee bids were registered for the auction.”
Early Twentieth Century / Arts and Crafts
Both sessions began with a zinger, with the first lot on Saturday morning setting the pace for the weekend. A rare and classic seven-handled Grueby vase by George Kendrick was offered, estimated at $17,5/22,500, that was marked with the circular Grueby Pottery stamp, circa 1920. Bidding on the lot was fast-paced, something Rago was pleased with “because Grueby’s been so soft for the past three years.” Bids came from the gallery, phones and the Internet, with the lot selling well above estimate at $37,500. A large ovoid Grueby vase decorated with flowering green irises, marked with the circular Faience stamp, circa 1900, soared past the $9/14,000 estimate to bring $28,750.
The top lot of the auction came from the selection of Teco when a “massive” matte green glazed vase measuring just under 2 feet tall and decorated with deeply molded iris leaves and flowers sold to a phone bidder for $212,500. Estimated at $35/45,000, the rare vase, circa 1915, was stamped twice. Rago confirmed after the auction that it sold to Rudy Ciccarello of the Two Red Roses Foundation.
A Frederick Rhead tile panel consisting of 32 tiles within a border with incised and enamel fish and waves decoration, Santa Barbara, Calif., 1914–17, was another lot to attract serious attention from Arts and Crafts ceramics collectors. Provenance listed the tile as descending from Mrs Hugh Weldon of Mission Canyon, Calif., whose father, Christoph Tornoe, was one of the directors of Rhead Pottery, as well as Rhead’s neighbor and landlord. It had an extensive exhibition history. In a frame that measured 22 by 37¾ inches, Rago termed the lot a “masterpiece.” It sold at $118,750, also going to Ciccarello.
Art pottery was solid overall, especially the selection of Martin Brothers grotesque bird-form tobacco jars, England, all circa 1892–1910. Seven of the Martin Brothers jars were offered in total, six coming from a single private New York City collector. As many as seven phone lines were active for the rare Martin pieces, with buyers from several countries chasing the lots. “Martin ware just smoked,” said Rago.
Estimated at $35/45,000, the first of the bird jars to be offered had an exhibition history that included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a provenance of the Harriman and Judd collection that was sold at Sotheby’s in 2001. Bidding on the lot was fast and furious, with the rare bird jar flying off the block at $93,750. Another large bird jar with exhibition history stood more than a foot tall and it, too, exceeded estimate, bringing $56,250.
A bird jar measuring just under 10 inches seemed to be smiling, and rightly so as it doubled the high estimate to bring $50,000. Other jars from the collection brought between $20,000 and $36,250 that was paid for a 9-inch-tall bird that was not from the same collection. Combined, the small flock of birds realized $312,500, selling to buyers from Canada, England and the United States.
Other art pottery that performed well included a large ovoid Marblehead vase decorated by Sarah Tutt with stylized roses in a band around the jar’s shoulder. Marked with the stamped ship and measuring 6 by 8 inches, the matte green pot sold well above the $20/30,000 estimate, realizing at $43,750. The same price was achieved for a rare Roseville Della Robia vase with wild roses decoration and a reticulated neck.
A George Ohr vase with mottled jade, amber and gunmetal glaze, crumpled shoulder and curly handles brought $31,250. The top lot of the Ohr examples came as a vase with crumpled waist and rim in a rare cobalt glaze sold at $37,500, well above estimate.
A tall, bulbous vase in a sunray glaze executed by California maker Grand Feu Pottery, circa 1912–1918, sold at $26,250, while a Mary Louise McLaughlin Losanti bowl with carved maple leaves in a white glaze brought $21,250. A highly unusual seven-piece Newcomb College tea service by Henrietta Bailey decorated with pine trees consisted of a tea pot, two cups and saucers, a creamer and covered sugar. Estimated at $6/9,000, the rare set, made in 1911, climbed to $25,000.
Arts and Crafts furniture was “soft,” according to Rago, although a couple of lots did shine, including a rare early, unmarked Gustav Stickley oak “Yeddo” plant stand with Japanesque form and a large Grueby tile top. Estimated at $6,5/9,500, substantial action from the floor pushed the lot to $18,750. A L&JG Stickley triple door bookcase with exposed keys and tenons did well at $11,250.
Tiffany items also saw major competition, with a pair of bronze wall sconces with iridescent turtleback tile shades selling at $38,750, while a Twisted Vine lamp base with four sockets brought $35,000.
“I’m really happy with the Modern pottery results,” said Rago. “All of the softness that has been seen of late is gone. People were just chasing this stuff, especially the middle market items.”
A large and exceptional Otto and Gertrude Natzler bowl measuring a foot across and having dimpled sides was glazed in a uranium orange and finished with a copper dusting on top. Estimated reasonably at $15/20,000, perhaps indicative of the soft market for Natzler as of late, the bowl surprised many, bringing $32,500. A nice Natzler bowl with a blue glaze covered with white volcanic sold at $21,250, while an early low bowl in a verdigris glaze made $20,000.
A large composite-form stoneware pot with disc top and brushed white slip by Hans Cooper, England, circa 1958, was another lot to do well, achieving $15,000.
The auction house broke new ground with a selection of new potters, most of them still alive, if not still in production. “I’m a pottery guy,” said Rago, who cut his teeth with Arts and Crafts pottery beginning in the 1970s. “There is no reason for me not to pursue this area. I’m happy to be involved, I believe in it. After all, pottery has been around since the dawn of man, it is not going to go away…”
Highlighting the contemporary works was a selection of Harrison McIntosh works. The McIntosh pieces offered had been consigned from a Corning, N.Y., collection and were put together in the 1970s while the consignor lived in the Rochester area of New York, an area regarded as “hotbed of activity” during that period. The collector made her first purchase from Georg Jensen and often visited the art students at Alfred University.
Leading the group was a McIntosh covered jar that sold above estimate at $5,937. A stoneware bottle-form vase with a incised sand colored body and black neck brought $4,062, and a spherical vase with circular bubble decoration against blue ground realized $3,125.
A cabbage-form porcelain vase by Cliff Lee in a celadon glaze found an appreciative audience, finishing at $5,312. Interestingly, Lee began his professional career as a neurosurgeon and was introduced to potting by a patient as a form of stress relief. Lee earned a master’s degree at James Madison University in ceramics and became a full time ceramicist.
Two large bulbous vases in a Tenmoku glaze by Hideki Miyamura also did well, realizing $5,312. With a wry smile crossing Rago’s face, he commented, “We made a lot of new secondary markets for contemporary potters — I couldn’t have even told you who these people were three months ago. I like to say that making pottery is ‘turning mud into gold.”’
Twentith–Twenty-First Century / Modern
As with the session conducted the previous day, the Sunday session started with a whirlwind as a Wharton Esherick cherry sideboard, marked “W.E. 1960,” crossed the auction block. The lot was the first of 16 Esherick pieces to be sold and the crowd was anxious. Accompanied by a copy of correspondence between Esherick and his client and a copy of the original drawing of the rare desk, the lot carried an estimate of $95/125,000. It opened at the low estimate and finished moments later for $118,750.
A two-tiered table in walnut and hickory by Esherick from 1956 did well at $31,250. An attractive sectional sofa of oak and leather made by Esherick for the Harry Milliken residence, circa 1960, sold between estimates at $21,250.
Appearing on the cover of the auction catalog, a Paul Evans and Phil Powell cabinet in walnut with welded bronze, patinated steel and slate handles and accoutrements was hotly contested. Provenance listed the rare cabinet as purchased by the consignor directly from the artists in the 1950s. Estimated at $12/18,000, it opened with a flurry of bidding, selling moments later for $68,750. A Paul Evans Directional deep relief cabinet with welded and polychromed steel, patinated bronze and slate front mounted to a polychromed wood case was another lot to take off. Doubling the high estimate, the rare cabinet achieved $56,250. A Paul Evans Studio deep relief hanging wall cabinet with welded patinated and polychromed steel front brought $26,250, against a $9/12,00 estimate.
A large dining room table from the 1960s by Phillip and Kelvin LaVerne with etched, patinated and polychromed decoration to the bronze and pewter form sold at $35,000, while a smaller dining room table by the same makers brought $17,500.
A Chieftain chair by Finn Juhl and Niels Vodder in teak and leather was branded by “Vodder, Copenhagen.” In excellent condition, the chair sold at $27,500. Two pair of lounge chairs by the makers attracted a good deal of attention, with the first set bringing $22,500, while a matching pair sold at $21,250.
A stylish Vladimir Kagan unmarked adjustable lounge chair in sculpted walnut and leather shot past the $6/9,00 estimate to realize $20,000.
Nakashima furniture saw a rebound in pricing, with solid results posted for the wide variety of furnishings. Mira Nakashima was on hand to present a gallery talk at Rago during opening night of the auction preview the previous Thursday. A set of six conoid chairs led the offering at $26,250. The chairs had been commissioned from George Nakashima in 1989 and were completed after his death by Mira, his daughter, in 1991. A Nakashima Studios walnut and laurel Minguren table with massive free-form maple burl top was another top seller at $23,750, while a George Nakashima walnut bench with drawers at one end, circa 1962, brought $22,500.
Other items sold included a pair of large wall sconces by Felix Agostini, circa 1960, France, in bronze with linen shades, bringing $26,500.
One of five tables executed from what was supposed to be a series of twelve, a Judy Kensley McKie ibis console table from 2004 in verdigris bronze with demilune glass top brought $17,500, a pair of Wendell Castle crackle lacquered armchairs with leather seats fetched $15,000, and a Bauhaus abstract carved wooden chess set by Joost Schmidt and Josef Hartwig shot past the $5/7,000 estimate to realize $17,500.
A Sonambient sculpture copper by Harry Bertoia from the 1970s went out at $26,250.
A selection of pottery from the Sunday session included a Pablo Picasso Madura glazed ceramic charger “Vallauris,” inscribed 1956, sold at $33,750, while a Picasso earthenware platter with incised bull brought $15,000.
All price include the buyer’s premium charged.
For additional information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
Comment on this story at: