Published: September 12, 2006
More proof of the red-hot market for American folk art was supplied by Northeast Auction’s Marine and China Trade sale, conducted under the big tent at the firm’s Treadwell House headquarters on August 19–20.
Bellamy eagles, Nantucket baskets, Cahoon paintings, sailor’s valentines and scrimshaw were in demand, while the market for marine paintings, ship models and Chinese Export art showed some selectivity.
“It’s the steal of the day,” auctioneer Ron Bourgeault said of the catalog’s cover lot, Fitz Henry Lane’s “Ships In A Squall Off The Coast of Gloucester,” signed and dated 1842. The oil on canvas made low estimate, $281,000. “My client is thrilled,” winning bidder Roberto Freitas, a Stonington, Conn., dealer, said afterward.
In all, the two-day sale grossed $7.65 million on nearly 1,500 lots, down from Northeast’s record $9.7 million auction in 2005 but still more than double Bourgeault’s gross sales in the category just six years ago.
Last year saw a record price at auction, $660,000, for an eagle sculpture by John Haley Bellamy (1836–1914), the Kittery, Maine–born carver who for a time worked at the Portsmouth Naval Yard. The buyer of last year’s Bellamy, DR Fine Art of North Reading, Mass., returned to claim this year’s top lot, a 39-inch-long Bellamy eagle, flag and shield plaque for $424,000. A freestanding Bellamy eagle, 30 inches tall with a 60-inch wingspan, also went to DR Fine Art for $270,000. A 26-inch-long eagle plaque with a “Don’t Give Up The Ship” banner sold to the phone for $104,400.
Nantucket baskets were another hot ticket. Bidding by phone, Nantucket, Mass., and Woodbury, Conn., dealer Wayne Pratt nabbed a set of eight stamped baskets in graduated sizes by well-known maker R. Folger for $76,560 and a nest of seven other Nantucket baskets, two inscribed “Jenkins,” for $55,680 ($40/60,000). The same paddle claimed a Cape Cod specialty, Ralph Cahoon’s 26-by-38-inch oil on Masonite painting “Whaling in a Winter Wonderland,” $176,500, along with a two-sided New England tavern sign, $81,200, dated 1802 over an earlier date of 1797. The sign, inscribed R. Estabrook’s, possibly for a tavern of that name in Brunswick, Maine, came from noted folk art collectors Harvey and Isobel Kahn.
In 2005, Northeast notched a record price at auction, $303,000, for a scrimshawed whale’s tooth. This year’s top price was $90,480, tendered for a Nineteenth Century tooth, possibly from New Bedford, Mass., engraved with a harbor, townscape and, on the reverse, a military scene with a fort, cannon and soldiers.
“There were a few, very good pieces that reached the right level. Nothing was wildly priced,” said Nina Hellman, a Nantucket, Mass., dealer in marine antiques, who bought several items for clients. One was an 8 ½-inch-long engraved and colored tooth, $48,720, decorated with a ship flying an American flag and a woman in Nineteenth Century dress. Said Hellman, “We’re attributing the engraving to Moses Denning. We know of other pieces by him.”
Another persistent bidder was Louis Hammond, a collector and dealer from Miami, who acquired, among others, a 6 ½-inch tooth, $32,480, engraved with a three-quarter stern view of a full rigged American ship and a whaling inscription; and a 6-inch tooth, $18,560, with an American eagle, flags and a fully rigged American ship.
Proving that very little escapes notice at auction these days, a 12 ½-inch-tall Northwest Coast Haida argillite and bone carving of a sea captain touched off a flurry, the circa 1880 figure selling to an absentee bidder against competition from David Wheatcroft for $15,080.
Eighteen lots consigned by Susan and Raymond Egan, whose collection Northeast auctioned on August 5 for just under $6 million, included a 6 ¼-inch erotic tooth. More Gauguin than Guccioni, the mildly pornographic piece fetched $72,500 from a phone bidder. Sotheby’s auctioned it in 1998 for $51,570.
The sale featured moderately marine priced paintings by American and English artists. In addition to the Lane, mentioned above, the top sales included Robert Salmon’s oil on panel “Leith Harbor,” sold to the phone for $182,000; Samuel Waters’ oil on canvas portrait “The American Packet Ship Jamestown Off Egremont” sold to the phone for $160,000; James Buttersworth’s oil on panel “The Yacht Orientഀ in New York Harbor,” $52,200; Antonio Jacobsen’s oil on canvas “The American Sail and Steamship Servia,” $49,300; and Peter Monamy’s oil on canvas “English Channel Scene with British Man of War in Heavy Seas,” $47,570. Historically interesting if not especially visual was a collection of one watercolor and 12 drawings by James Buttersworth depicting the America and 12 British yachts competing in 1851. The group fetched $92,800. Six shadow box ships portraits by Thomas Willis brought prices ranging from $1,740 to $6,090 each.
Made for foreign consumption, the best Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century Chinese paintings documenting travel and trade in the East bring stunning prices whenever they come to auction. But, according to Bourgeault, less spectacular examples of Chinese Export painting are a bargain compared to five years ago.
Star lots included a circa 1850 oil on canvas view of the hongs at Canton from a group of four commissioned by Thomas Hunt and his brother-in-law James Cook. The work sold to Harry B. Hartman Antiques of Marietta, Penn., for $314,000.
An agent for an undisclosed buyer acquired companion 1850 oil on canvas views by Sunqua of the harbors of Macao and Shanghai for $138,000 and $171,000, respectively. The panoramic panels measure 55 ¾ inches long and were estimated at $50/75,000 each.
Resident expert Carl Crossman’s favorite paintings included an inscribed 3-by-3 3/8-inch oil on ivory portrait of Old Lamqua in a labeled frame. The piece documents the noted Cantonese painter as being 52 in 1830 and further defines the link between Spoilum and the two Lamquas, father and son. The miniature sold to collectors in the room for $30,160.
Among gouaches, a set of four rare views of the private gardens and residential interiors of a hong merchant fetched $23,200. A set of four Chinese reverse paintings on glass, allegorical representations of the seasons, left the room at $81,200; a slant front desk with Paktong hardware went for $29,000; and a pair of late Eighteenth Century Paktong candlesticks achieved $8,410. Noteworthy porcelain sales included a partial double tea service, ex-Liverant and Son, for the family of Norwich, Conn., traders GG & SS Howland. Illustrated with the Howland homestead in East Greenwich, R.I., the service fetched $17,400.
Three Japanese watercolor on paper scrolls, each extensively inscribed, included one depicting 14 whales, dolphins and sharks. It sold in the room to Asian art collectors for $23,200.
Auctioned on Saturday and Sunday, an extensive collection of lustre pottery with nautical motifs saw an 8 ½-inch-tall Sunderland or Newcastle jug decorated with a ship and the inscription “Success to The Shipping Trade” bring $2,088, the top price for the group.
A small collection of fire fighting antiques included a mid-Nineteenth Century ceremonial brass and glass fire signal with New York State arms, $37,120.
Saturday’s top lot was a circa 1920 pintail drake in flight by Virginia carver Ira Hudson. Formerly in the collection of William J. Mackey, Jr, the 21 ¼-inch-long sculpture went to an absentee bidder for $39,440.
Prices include buyer’s premium. For information, Northeast Auctions, 603-433-8400 or www.northeastauctions.com.
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