Published: June 4, 2019
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
WOODBURY, CONN. – We had paused for a moment at the end of an aisle after walking through the stacks and looking over the 898 lots on offer in Schwenke Auctioneers’ May 22 Tenth Anniversary Fine Estates Auction. I asked Tom Schwenke, now 75 years old and owner and auctioneer of his eponymous auction house, whether he had another ten years in him. He smiled. “That’s a good question,” he said. “Yes.”
Schwenke’s first online and cataloged sale, May 30, 2009, was labeled an Opportunity Auction. The auction did well and two lots sold above $15,000, which was fine considering the timing – the Dow Jones hit its lowest mark in 13 years only two months prior. His first few sales were out of his barn on Main Street in Woodbury.
Schwenke walked into the auctioneering world as an outlet for volume selling. He had been, and continues to be, a private dealer specializing in American Federal furniture, 1780-1820, participating in a show circuit that had included the Hartford, Delaware, Philadelphia and Eastside shows.
“I had always wanted to do it,” he said on auctioneering. “So in 2007 and 2008, when it got kind of slow, I said ‘I’ve always wondered about it, I’m going to do it.'”
“I’ve been having a lot of fun,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of changes and those continue, particularly with online bidding. I’m not making the market. Part of the reason I got into this was that people needed help, so we have persisted in taking a universal approach and to bundle all kinds of material into our sale. We put it all out there together. You never know what’s going to be good. And when you think you do, that’s when you’re in trouble.”
The Tenth Anniversary Sale was an online-only affair. With five or six sales a year, Schwenke has moved into this format for most of his auctions, a move in keeping with other estate auction firms that find the format just as profitable – and equally, if not more convenient – as a live-gallery sale.
“There’s something for everyone in this sale,” Schwenke said. “If anyone spends the time to look through the catalog, there’s some real interesting stuff.” This included consignments from more than 40 estates and material that spanned Asian ceramics and furniture, carpets, paintings, antique American and Continental furniture, jewelry, modern furniture, silver and more. More than one-third of the sale hailed from one estate that had been sitting in an unused house for over 15 years.
The top lot of the sale was governed by a sleeper: a grouping of Chinese porcelain wares that went out at $13,970 on a $200 high estimate. It consisted of a famille rose bottle vase, a blue and white blossom and vine Meiping baluster vase and a small blue and white dish.
Following the sale, Schwenke said that it was the blue and white baluster vase that warranted the action.
A Chinese porcelain blue and white decorated jar with carp swimming amid water plants rose to $5,080. It featured a six-character Jia Jing mark on its neck. A group of three Chinese export porcelain pieces consisted of a covered tureen and underplate and two covered vegetable dishes. All featured an eagle decoration and the lot sold at $3,048. An 18-inch-high blue and white porcelain vase with Qianlong seal mark to the underside went out at $1,905.
Asian furniture also fared well in a number of lots. Rising above a $200 high estimate was a carved Chinese long bench, 70½ inches in length, that sold for $4,763. A pair of marble top Chinese carved and tiered end tables from the same consignor would also go tenfold its estimate to sell for $3,937. A Queen Anne-style lacquer and gilt cabinet with images of cranes, pagodas and foliate would bring $3,429.
The second highest lot in the sale was labeled as an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century Gothic Revival polychrome carved shadow box, which went five-times estimate to bring $6,032. This example was nearly identical to another sold at Clarke Auction Gallery in March 2017, and Schwenke believed that more may exist. He posited that they may have originally lined a long wall at a theater.
A bevy of carpets made their way into the four-figures, with the top lot settling at $5,398 in the form of a Persian rug with a garden design, measuring 16 feet 1½ inches long by 12 feet wide. It was followed by a Persian Serapi rug, 4 feet 7 inches by 6 feet 2 inches, that sold at $2,032; a Caucasian Kazak rug, 3 feet 5 inches by 6 feet 1 inch, that brought $1,905; and a Caucasian Shirvan rug from the Nineteenth Century, 3 feet 5 inches by 7 feet 4 inches, that took $1,905.
“We’ve got a lot of furniture,” Schwenke said. “My background is furniture, so I appreciate it.”
Some of the notable pieces included a Duncan Phyfe-attributed curved arm mahogany sofa in the Sheraton taste, circa the early Nineteenth Century, that went out at $3,429. A French directoire fruitwood tric-trac game table with galleried removable tooled leather top and fitted interior gameboards would sell above estimate at $2,032. A George III inlaid mahogany serving table would catch $1,778. Among modern furniture, a Sergio Rodrigues Poltrona Mole leather chair sold at $2,032.
Paintings were led by an Emile Gruppe (American, 1896-1978) Vermont snowscape oil on canvas, 25 by 30 inches, that went out at $4,127. The painting, titled “First Snow” and circa 1962, came with its original invoice from Gruppe’s studio. Schwenke had sold two others from the same consignor in past sales. The consignor received them from a close family friend without heirs, who had purchased them directly from the artist.
Another Vermont landscape painting, though this one much warmer, would fetch $2,921. By Edmund Darch Lewis (Pennsylvania, 1835-1910), the 30-by-50-inch oil on canvas featured the village of Stowe and had provenance to dealer E.L. Oakes. A George Renouard landscape with a house and figures would sell above estimate at $2,413. A China trade painting oil on canvas featuring a schooner, framed 21 by 27 inches, would fetch $2,032. A modern waterscape oil on canvas painting by American artist Erwin Wending, framed 42½ by 48½ inches, brought $2,159.
It seems for Schwenke, like many others in the trade, that the allure of the object is insatiable.
“It has been my experience over the past ten years that there really is always something new and interesting and challenging around every corner.”
All prices include buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For more information, www.woodburyauction.com or 203-266-0323.
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