MARLBOROUGH, MASS. — Presale speculation about which object in the Skinner Americana sale August 11 would bring more than $200,000 was rife in the previews. The curious had only to wait until lot 38 to find out. As he opened the bidding on a rare William and Mary walnut fall front desk, circa 1705–1710, auctioneer Stephen L. Fletcher observed, “This may be one of the most scrutinized things we’ve ever sold.”
Nine phones and two bidders in the room duked it out until it came down to a match of the two contestants in the gallery. It brought $270,000 from Dennis Carr, curator of decorative arts and sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), who beat out Bill Stahl. The desk is thought originally to have been made in Philadelphia because the only similar other example now at Colonial Williamsburg was made in 1707 by Edward Evans and is the earliest dated piece of Philadelphia furniture..
The desk was lively with rich and complex walnut veneer and a labyrinthine interior with drawers upon drawers and more drawers and 24 secret compartments. Nothing like it has been seen in New England furniture. A 1912 note by George Gardner Bradford indicates that the desk had been in the Gardner home in Warren, R.I.
One secret drawer was marked “Nathan Child 1792 [or 1795];” three other secret drawers were marked for three other grandchildren of early settler James Child, Samuel, Rosabella and Gardner, suggesting that the piece had Rhode Island history. Two of those names were discovered in the preview, strengthening the case for even deeper Rhode Island connections. A drawer in the base was lined with an 1825 copy of the Rhode Island American. For what estimates are worth, the desk was rare, “no comps exist,” and it given an estimate of $30/50,000.
In a telephone interview after the sale, Carr said there is much to be discovered from the desk. He noted that it had never been out of the family in two centuries and that it had been itemized in a 1737 inventory of the goods of James Child of Swansea, Mass., originally part of Warren. Dennis observed that the use of secondary woods as chestnut and white pine and the level of craftsmanship in the veneer may point to a Rhode Island or southeastern Massachusetts maker.
Carr disappeared immediately from the gallery only to reappear 200 lots or so later to win two quarter plate daguerreotype portraits of Dorchester metalsmith Roswell Gleason and family members for $4,800. Gleason was the first American to introduce silver plating in the United States and worked also in pewter. The MFA has extensive holdings of Gleason material, including the parlor and dining room from the Gleason house. In October 2011, Skinner sold the early photography collection of Rod MacKenzie, from which the Gleason example came.
The beautifully rendered “Portrait of a Ginger Haired Young Man” by Ammi Phillips was early, exceptional and unsigned and went to a dealer on the phone for $45,000. It came from a Michigan family, which drove to Marlborough to see it sold, and it sold to the trade.
A portrait of an unidentified member of the British East India Company by Canton artist Spoilum was outstanding, but unsigned, and realized $39,600 from a Pennsylvania family.
The “Portrait of the Screw Steamer City of Macon” by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen was signed and dated 1888 and sold for $31,200 against the estimated $7/9,000. The vessel sailed under the command of Captain Henry C. Lewis of Marion, Mass., and sailed regularly between New York and Savannah, Ga.
A miniature watercolor on ivory portrait of Obadiah Wright of Brookfield, Mass., attributed to Scottish miniaturist Archibald Robertson sold for $7,200, while another example of a man in his library was signed Meucci, for Anthony or Nina Meucci, and inscribed “Painted at Sarasota Springs in 1826 or 7.” It realized $3,000.
Bidders thought an early Nineteenth Century New England octagonal baby tender in blue paint with a molded top rail above spindles was exceptional, and it was. Estimated at $400/600, the bidding opened at $3,250 and it sold for $22,800 to the phones, underbid by a woman in the gallery. Auctioneer and executive vice president Fletcher said the piece had been purchased years ago from George Considine of Dartmouth, Mass., and when he first saw it in the consignor’s Dartmouth house it was filled with umbrellas.
The Riley Whiting tall clock with a swan’s neck hood and striking decorative paint with an eagle on the base sold for $21,600. Another New England tall clock with decorative paint had an arched hood and the dial was signed “A Eaton/Ashby.” It sold for $4,500.
Six Massachusetts clocks deaccessioned from by Old Sturbridge Village came from the J. Cheney Wells collection. Wells, a founder of the village, purchased the clocks in the 1920s and 1930s and deeded them to the museum in 1937. Each example retains his name plaque inside the clock. Proceeds from the sale will be used to enhance the Sturbridge collections. Two Willard examples were received well, and all brought results exponential of their estimates.
One tall clock by Simon Willard was made around 1800 with reeded brass stop flute columns, stringing and crossbanding and with a brass eight-day weight-driven movement. It sold for $15,600. A Simon Willard patent timepiece, circa 1810, fetched $8,400. Another tall clock by Aaron Willard, made around 1785, with a tombstone door, a painted and gilded dial and a rocking ship retained Willard’s label and sold for $14,760. A circa 1770 tiger maple tall case clock by Joseph Pope of Boston had a pagoda top, a tombstone door and a cast brass and silvered dial with a strike/silent indicator, a seconds hand and a calendar aperture. It realized $9,600.
One early Nineteenth Century maple tall clock, not part of the Sturbridge collection, stood 93 inches tall and was made around southeastern Massachusetts with a nice arched hood with pierced fretwork; it sold for $6,765, well above its estimate.
A handsome Eighteenth Century New England cupboard in blue green paint and two concave shelves above a paneled door went to the phones for $18,000.
Bidders drove a mid-Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania Chippendale walnut dressing table with a central recessed semicircle, cabriole legs on claw and ball feet and a molded top with cut corners past its estimated $4/6,000 to $18,000.
A coastal Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany tip top table made between 1760 and 1790 with a fluted Doric column post and scallop carving on the knees of the tripod vase brought $12,000 from a phone bidder. The same buyer paid $3,900 for a Massachusetts bowfront chest, circa 1800, in red paint. It came from the collection of art historian, author, curator, scholar and preservationist John T. Kirk.
The Kirk collection of 48 lots summoned bidders from all over who vied for the lots, most of which are illustrated in his book, The Impecunious Collector’s Guide to American Antiques. In a catalog essay, Kirk summed up his collecting philosophy: “I bought it ratty and left it alone.” Surface and form is all. Kirk’s Eighteenth Century New England shoe foot table in dark red paint and with a graceful cutout front brought $16,800. A maple and pine tavern table with breadboard ends and four turned legs sold on the phone for $7,200. As she assumed the podium to call the Kirk lots, Skinner chief executive officer Karen Keane reminisced about her days as a student of Kirk’s.
While prices were robust, it was not always about the money. A number of bidders bought several pieces from the Kirk collection. The objects themselves, their form and function, were of value in many other ways.
A New England bible box from the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century in red paint was estimated at $400/600 and drew from a buyer in the gallery $3,999. An Eighteenth Century turned wood architectural finial in white paint from a building in Meeting House Hill in Boston was estimated at $300/500 and sold in the gallery for $3,240. A lapped seam box filled with Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture brasses, including drawer pull plates and pulls, handles, hinges, drops and escutcheons, proved irresistible to several buyers. Estimated at $100/200, it opened at $450 and sold to a phone bidder for $2,400.
Also from the Kirk collection was the rustic carved pine chair that Roger Bacon found in New Hampshire. It had been adapted from a hollowed-out tree stump and given a plank seat and sold on the phone for $3,240. A rustic storage barrel made from a hollowed out tree trunk had an applied base and realized $2,160. A late Eighteenth Century Windsor fan back side chair, probably a Rhode Island work, in black paint and retaining traces of old floral decoration, and with bulbous vase and ring turnings sold in the gallery for $2,300. A Nineteenth Century stool that may have been made in New Hampshire comprised four posts supporting the original trapezoidal splint seat and went to $2,520.
From other collections, a Massachusetts Chippendale birch slant lid desk brought $9,600 from a collector who said she had waited 28 years to buy it — she had missed out when Skinner sold the first time around and was determined to have it.
The late Nineteenth Century articulated artist’s model that was probably French attracted $6,000. A Charlestown fire bucket for the Franklin Fire Society was dated 1830 and bore the name of Benjamin G. Blanchard and was decorated with a spreadwing eagle, flames and smoke and sold online for $4,800.
Several lots of Shaker material sold. A Nineteenth Century blanket chest over drawer in blue paint, possibly from the Watervliet community, made $10,200. The chest was accompanied by copies of diary entries, account books and estate inventories documenting the purchase of the chest. A Shaker oval covered box in light blue paint brought $3,240, while a large red painted oval covered box fetched $3,000.
A Worcester turnpike sandstone mile marker from about 1810 was nicely weathered and delicately etched and sold for $9,600.
From the first half of the Eighteenth Century, a pine slant lid desk box purchased at Skinner years ago by the consignor went to a phone buyer for $11,400, while a tulip poplar spoon rack in black paint and carved with pinwheel floral elements, probably made in Bergen County, N.J., came from a house overlooking the Hudson River and sold for $9,000
Mocha ware from the Spirer collection appealed to a number of buyers. Author and collector Jonathan Rickard was present and accounted for during the preview and said he spotted some gems, but that he would bid on the phone. It was Rickard who consigned an English mocha baluster-form jug to Skinner for a 2001 sale that still holds the record price — $50,600 for mocha ware at auction.
Three English pepper pots in baluster form sold for $1,140, and an English mocha mug with an inlaid rouletted rim band over a field of blue, brown and white marbleized slip realized $900. Two yellowware pepper pots that were English or North American, from about 1870, with seaweed decoration went for $900, and a yellowware pitcher with a band of blue seaweed decoration, also from about 1870, brought $840. Fletcher said he left bids on several mocha lots but won none.
A molded sheet copper horse and rider flattened full-bodied weathervane, the tail of which was inscribed “Kimball Farm—Crossacres Boxborough, Mass.,” elicited $11,400 and a large (72-inch) carved, gilded and painted Federal eagle and shield wall plaque from about 1950 that was made by the Artistic Carving Company of Boston drew $5,100. A zinc horse head trade sign by J.W. Fiske was painted white, retained the manufacturer’s tag and realized $5,100.
Bidders chased a late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century hooked rug with two roosters facing off over a tree until it gleaned $7,200 against the estimated $800–$1,200.
First and hardly least was the first lot of the day, a gleaming black 1941 Ford V-8 Super Deluxe five-passenger coupe, with 81,020 miles that sold to a phone bidder for $20,400.
All prices repoorted include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.