HUDSON, N.Y. — English Arts and Crafts, Aesthetic Movement and the Cotswold School items performed well, with many lots exceeding estimates to make a strong showing at Stair Galleries’ September 7 auction featuring the collection of John Alexander Limited, Philadelphia.
The sale comprised the property of John Levitties, founder of John Alexander Limited Gallery. From 1993 to 2013, Levitties curated one of the world’s leading collections of turn-of-the-century British and continental decorative arts. As such, he played a pivotal role in bringing English Aesthetic Movement, Arts and Crafts and Reformed Gothic to the United States in the early 1990s. Levitties also offered his clients the most significant examples of British handcrafted furniture from the Cotswold School. Works from John Alexander Ltd can be found in important international museums as well as most major American private collections.
Muffie Cunningham, Stair’s specialist for the sale, said Lavitties contacted Stair about consigning the collection as he closed his business to concentrate on interiors and managing properties. “We were very happy with the sale, only three pieces were unsold,” said Cunningham of the 257-lot auction. Participation by online bidders was 25 percent, with the rest taken by the phone and the room.
Marquee names in furniture and decorative works included such makers as Cox and Co., Morris & Co., Collinson & Lock, Liberty & Co., and Heal and Son; and designers Bruce Talbert, Charles Bevan, Charles Locke Eastlake, Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barsley and Gordon Russell, among others. British bespoke furniture dominated and there were a few continental pieces.
The highlights were an English iron-mounted oak gun cabinet by Ernest Gimson, circa 1905, that sold for $16,100 against a $5/7,000 presale estimate and an English Aesthetic Movement walnut library table by Morris & Co., circa 1878, that blew past its $1/2,000 estimate to finish at $7,475.
The Gimson gun cabinet featured an overhanging cornice above a pair of glazed cabinet doors, enclosing three shelves, the lower section fitted with a pair of paneled cupboard doors, raised on molded stepped feet. The lot opened at $3,500, according to Cunningham, with early bidding pushing it to the $5,000 level where action tapered a bit before an American private collector and a New York decorator got into it with aggressive bidding, with the New York decorator ultimately prevailing.
The library table, unmarked, with overhanging top with ribbed ends, stood on outset legs joined by a faceted stretcher. It got enormous interest from both the English trade and American private collectors during preview, according to Cunningham. Catalog notes stated that an oak example of this table was among the furnishings in William Morris’s own library at Kelmscott Manor, circa 1870. The limestone Tudor manor house in the Cotswold village was the home of Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, from 1871 until his death in 1896.
There were several other lots that left their presale estimates in the dust. A pair of Benson-style counterbalance candlesticks more than tripled the low estimate of $300/500 to achieve $1,265. Of brass and copper, the 5¼-by-13½-by-61/8–inch candlesticks were together with a William Arthur Smith Benson inkwell on an oval tray. Immediately following this, a W.A.S. Benson English Arts and Crafts brass and copper counterbalance two-light hanging fixture, circa 1900, brought $3,738 against a $700/900 estimate. The fixture featured a domed top on two pulleys above two outscrolled candle branches fitted with yellow bell-form glass shades and measured 30½ inches.
Cunningham said that a complete surprise occurred about halfway through the auction when an English ebonized oak side table by Eric Gomme, circa 1900, exceeded its low estimate tenfold. There was French bidding as well as three private collectors that drove the Glasgow-style piece from its $400/600 estimate to $4,600. “I knew that people appreciate Glasgow, so I thought it might bring $800 to $1,200,” said the specialist. The table with overhanging square top above one short drawer raised on fluted supports joined by two shelves, 22¼ by 21 by 21 inches, went to the European trade.
A set of five metal lanterns had decorative value and sold for $5,750. Circa 1900, the hammered metal lanterns had pagoda-shaped roofs with handles above a circular glass body and ended in scrolled toes. They had not been electrified.
Designers and American trade showed interest in an English ebonized oak armchair in the manner of Christopher Dresser, circa 1880, that took $4,830 against a $1/2,000 presale estimate. It had a paneled backrest flanked by ball finials with quatrefoil carving above padded scrolled armrest. Its turned legs ended on casters and it measured 44½ by 28 by 26½ inches.
“A wonderful piece of cabinetry, so beautifully made,” said Cunningham, wistfully perhaps, with regard to an English metal-mounted carved mahogany display cabinet by George Washington Jack for Morris & Co., circa 1890. The case piece garnered less than half of its low presale estimate of $10,000, eliciting $4,600 from the American trade. “Probably because of its scale,” noted Cunningham about the 83-by-86-by-21½-inch superstructure, but she also noted that there are also fewer collectors of smalls destined for display in such cabinets these days. “We knew that case pieces were going to be a tough sell,” she said.
A set of eight English stained oak and caned dining chairs by George Walton, circa 1896, included two armchairs and six sides. Each had a triple arch-top crest centered by a paneled caned backsplat and leather seats. They sold over the low estimate at $4,025.
David Weeks commands good prices in this milieu, and a chrome and white painted metal cross cable mobile chandelier by him did well, selling at $4,600 against a $600/800 estimate.
Additional Modern highlights included a pair of Danish teak and leather “Elizabeth” armchairs, Ib Kofod-Larsen, circa 1956, that drew $6,900. “The frames were in good condition,” said Cunningham, “but the leather was worn. Still, they were well received.”
Nearly every auction has its “bargain,” a lot that surprises on the downside, either because its genre is underappreciated or because someone just was not paying attention. Such was the case with lot #46, according to Cunningham, an English Aesthetic Movement calamander and ebonized music stand by Lamb of Manchester, circa 1880. “The quality of the calamander and inlay on this piece was exceptional,” she said. “I love beautiful furniture like this.” Now, she added, someone has this star piece of furniture in their home or collection, having secured the $2/4,000 estimated piece for $1,840.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. There is more to come of the John Alexander Limited collection, not a single-owner sale but combined with other consignments later this fall or winter. For information, 518-751-1000 or www.stairgalleries.com.