Published: September 29, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Abell Auction Company
COMMERCE, CALIF. – Abell Auction Company is no stranger to selling the collections and estates of celebrities, having handled – in the course of more than 100 years in business – those of Danny Thomas, Loretta Young, Gore Vidal and Judith Cranston, to name-drop just a few.
The house can now add one more to that roster.
Property from the estate of actor, director and producer Penny Marshall (1943-2018) crossed the block at Abell in two sales; the first featured 512 lots and was conducted with live, phone or absentee bids and online, closing September 13. The second session, which featured 306 lots and closed September 21, was conducted online exclusively, without phone or absentee bids, on LiveAuctioneers. Between both sales, Abell raked in a total of about $450,000, with only about ten percent of lots passing from the podium.
Marshall had largely collected Americana – with an apparent particular interest in folk art and Arts and Crafts lamps – and, while there was international interest in the things on offer, the significant percentage of buyers are based in the United States. California’s COVID-19 restrictions allowed by-appointment in-person preview of items but no in-person bidding.
“The sale was great; it was very successful,” Joe Baratta, Abell’s senior vice president of business development, said in a phone conversation after the first sale finished. “We had lots of additional requests for condition reports and photos. Thousands of people registered and bid online,” including many who were “first time buyers for us, fans of Penny Marshall’s work who wanted a piece of her. There was really a great amount of interest from active bidders and the media; we had about 700 people watching the sale at all times.” He noted he had recognized a few famous names among some of the bidders but could not disclose any.
Those who were in pursuit of Hollywood memorabilia would be disappointed; Baratta said that Marshall’s family had kept all of it.
The top lot in the entire sale was Donald Roller Wilson’s “Libra,” which sold online to a private collector in Southern California for $39,000. The painting had provenance to both Sotheby’s and the Coe Kerr Gallery in New York City and measured 65 by 71 inches. “It takes a lot of wall space,” Baratta said. He further noted that Marshall had been a fan and collector of Wilson’s works but most of his works were kept by Marshall’s daughter.
Marshall had been an avid collector of Arts and Crafts lamps, with the lighting section of the sale being one of the largest components. The first session boasted no fewer than 125 lamps – more if one includes lighting accessories – by makers including Tiffany Studios, Handel, Pairpoint, Limbert, Miller and Fulper; the second session offered an additional 30 lots of more modern – and largely modestly valued – examples. The high point in the lighting section came when a pair of circa 1926-30 Handel lamps with painted and reverse painted “chipped ice” shades with bronze bases achieved $19,200 from an online buyer bidding from Texas. A circa 1910-19 Limbert Studios metal overlaid sailing ship table lamp attracted “strong” interest in Baratta’s words and brought $8,400 from an American phone bidder. It was the third highest price in the sale, handily beating its estimate of $3,5/5,000.
A Handel daffodil table lamp that Marshall had acquired from Fontaine’s Auction Gallery in 2001 brought $5,100 from an online bidder, while a beaded parrot lamp, made circa 1920 with Venetian glass beads on a wire body, flew to $840 despite repairs to the base of the shade. The bird theme was matched by a Handel macaw desk lamp that sold to an online bidder on one bid, for $1,800, not quite meeting its estimate of $2,5/3,500.
A local buyer, bidding online, pushed the interest in a late Twentieth Century cutout tole chandelier by Richard Mulligan that Baratta described as “really great” to $5,400, a bit higher than the price achieved for a Quezel glass Arts and Crafts chandelier that sold for its high estimate of $3,000.
Aside from the Donald Roller Wilson that scored $39,000, prices on fine art were much more modest, with low estimates and considerable bidding interest pushing results largely above expectations. John Alexander’s “Lilies and Irises” bloomed to $4,200, the same price paid for Albert Batholome’s bronze “Petite fille pleurant” and a watercolor of a bicycle with steps that was illegibly signed. A signed and inscribed 1995 double photograph of famous directors – which included Marshall – taken by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz sold within estimate, for $3,900.
Furniture in the sale would be aptly described as comfortable and unpretentious. Art Deco leather-upholstered club chairs, worn from years of use, were offered in three pairs, with one bringing $5,100 and the other pairs selling for $1,680 and $1,320. Two L&JG Stickley oak china cupboards each realized $2,700, while a rustic painted pine sofa table brought 15 times its low estimate to finish at $1,560.
Among folk art, offerings were wonderfully varied. The top lot in the online-only second sale was a folk art triptych titled “Heart of Christ” that had been estimated at $300/400 but which finally closed – to a trade buyer in Los Angeles – for $8,400. A Boy Scout hooked rug finished at $3,000, a lighted American flag sign flew to $3,900 and a group of six various breed dog-form doorstops ran to $1,800. Bringing $1,320 was a yard ornament that could at one time have been a weathervane and depicted a man being chased by an alligator.
Among Marshall’s films was A League of Their Own, the 1992 movie based upon the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. One lot related to that movie was a group of three baseball cards signed by three Hall of Fame players – Alice “Lefty” Holmayer, Dorothie “Kammie” Kamenshek and Lavonna “Pepper” Paire – that was accompanied by three limited edition bears, each numbered 128 of 500. The lot, which Abell had estimated at $600/800, hit a home run with bidders, who pushed the lot to finally close at $4,500.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Abell Auction Company is at 2613 Yates Avenue. For information, www.abell.com or 323-724-8102.
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