Published: February 9, 2016
Review and Onsite Photos by R Scudder Smith
Catalog Photos Courtesy Of Sotheby’s
NEW YORK CITY — The blizzard of 2016 blasted its way into the city on January 23 with strong winds carrying snow downtown, making walking uptown almost impossible. And no one knows this better than collectors Kathy and Bob Booth, who walked from 55th Street to 72nd and York Avenue where Sotheby’s was conducting an auction named “American Beauty,’ the American folk art collection of Stephen and Petra Levin. The gallery was by no means filled and only a handful of well-known collectors ventured out and a smaller handful of dealers attended.
The storm, however, did not have much effect on the auction, thanks to the phones and the long reach of the Internet, as the real stumbling block seemed to be the estimates on the objects. Much of the talk before the sale started, and even more of the same talk after the sale ended, when just shy of 50 percent of the lots were bought in, centered on the estimates.
It is safe to say that this collection was not put together a long time ago, and many of the pieces were familiar to the collectors who attend folk art auctions and shows, especially the Winter Antiques Show. Unquestionably, the quality and rarity is top of the line, but a reading of the provenances indicates that the collection was not put together inexpensively.
Penny and Allan Katz of Woodbridge, Conn., good friends of the Levins, wrote the following in the auction catalog: “The selections from the Levin Collection reflect Petra and Steve’s passion for the unique, the unusual, the beautiful and the whimsical. American folk sculpture became their immediate focus.” How true, and how beautifully the objects decorated their home.
So where does it go from here. The sale was noted to be Part 1 of the entire collection, but according to Sotheby’s, no date has been set for Part 2. And will some of the treasures that were passed, such as the John Bellamy American eagle, the carousel reindeer by E. Joy Morris Carousel Company, the stork molded and painted copper weathervane by J.W. Fiske & Co., the carved and painted elephant trade sign for John M. Dyckman Boots & Shoes and The Buckeye Family, carved and painted by Joe C. Lee, ever surface again? Time will tell, but in the meanwhile, here is a listing of some of the other pieces from the Levin Collection that did make their way into other collections.
A standing nude, carved and painted wood, 18 inches tall, Twentieth Century, went for $10,000 with an Allan Katz provenance, and carved and painted wood figures of Maggie and Jiggs, 18½ inches high, circa 1910–20, sold to a phone bidder for $40,000. Garthoeffner Gallery was listed in the provenance.
A painted sheet and formed iron weathervane, Clam Digger, dated 1889, New England, brought $35,000, Allan Katz listed in the provenance, and a carved, gilt and painted wood and wrought iron double-sided trade sign, Alaska Fur Company by City Sign Co., 63 by 77 by 2 inches, sold to a phone bidder for $56,250. It dates circa 1890 and the provenance lists Fred Giampietro.
The carved, gilded and painted pine Opera House trade sign, “One Price Clothing Hall,” 72 by 16½ inches, circa 1880–90, sold in the middle of the estimate at $25,000 to a phone bidder, while “The Rock Island Route,” a trade sign circa 1905 of inlaid mother of pearl on reverse painted glass and paper, 14¼ by 90 inches sight, also went to a phone bidder for $38,000, within the $30/50,000 estimate. The provenance listed only Allan Katz.
Nine fire hats brought up the end of the auction, with all but one finding a buyer. Selling for $50,000 was a “United States Fire Company” ceremonial parade fire hat, painted and pressed felt, Philadelphia, circa 1850, with eagle and flag decoration, going over the $35,000 high estimate. The same buyer took the next lot made by the same company and selling for $52,500, again over the $35,000 high estimate. The identical eagle/shield decoration was on this lot. Two collectors in the room drove the price of a “Vigilant” ceremonial parade hat up to $47,500, well above the $12,000 high estimate. This hat was made in Philadelphia, circa 1850 and was of painted and pressed felt. Again, well-known dealers shared the provenance list, including James and Nancy Glazer, David Wheatcroft, Fred Giampietro and the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Penn.
When questioned as to when Sotheby’s will have another American folk art auction, Nancy Druckman answered, “Nothing is scheduled until January 2017.”
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