Published: December 13, 2016
Review by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Skinner, Inc
BOSTON, MASS. – Skinner’s November 19 American furniture and decorative arts sale included several pieces of early furniture in original paint, paintings by major folk artists, a collection of banjo-style clocks, blue Staffordshire, a single-owner collection of trade signs, and more. The top lot of the day was a set of 12 carved Grecian side chairs that brought $79,850. There were about 35 buyers in the salesroom, several phone lines were in use and the internet, especially SkinnerLive, was active. The sale grossed more than $1,431,000. Two days earlier, Skinner’s Country Americana discovery sale in its Marlborough gallery grossed more than $290,000.
Formal brown furniture was well received at this sale. The most sought-after lot of the day was a set of 12 carved mahogany and mahogany veneered Grecian side chairs that may have come from Boston’s Fales House. That house was one of the 19 neoclassical homes designed by Charles Bullfinch, known as Colonnade Row, that once stood opposite the Boston Common. The set of chairs brought $79,850.
An exceptional carved cherry tall case clock from Montgomery County, Penn., sold well over its estimate, finishing at $27,060. The hood of the clock had floral carved rosettes with flame and urn finials. A youngish collector from the South Shore bought about four pieces of furniture, including a Boston, circa 1760, carved walnut scroll-top high chest; and a circa 1780 serpentine front carved mahogany chest of drawers attributed to the shop of John Townsend, Newport, R.I. As he was getting ready to leave, he discussed his purchases with Antiques and the Arts Weekly but asked to remain anonymous. “This is a great time to be buying good furniture, especially if you are taking the long view. Prices are really affordable now and some very good examples are coming on the market. There were other things here that I would have liked to own but I spent about $40,000 and that was really all I could spend today. These pieces will go nicely with other things in the house and I will buy more when I have some more disposable money.”
The collector’s point about current values was well taken. A dealer in the room purchased a circa 1720-50 Boston open armchair, paying $2,600. He later said that the chair had been sold at Sotheby’s in 1998 for $14,750 and in 2008 it sold at Christie’s for $15,000. (The three prices mentioned do not include buyer’s premiums, which would have differed over the years.)
There were small groups of paintings by Thomas Chambers (1808-1869), Joseph Davis (1811-1865), George Hartwell (1815-1901) and William Mathew Prior (1806-1873). Prices varied within these groups, but the top selling folk painting of the day was a portrait of Mary A. Crockett of Lincoln, Maine, by Hartwell. She was depicted as a young girl in a pink dress, holding a basket in one hand and a flower in the other. It sold for $30,750. Hartwell’s portrait of a sea captain, reportedly Rufus S. Fales, holding a telescope, finished at $14,760. Still another Hartwell, a portrait of a young woman in red-brown dress, sold for quite a bit less, bringing $4,797. Most popular of the Thomas Chambers paintings was a Hudson River view that included lush scenery, several sailboats, mountains and a building. In Chambers’ distinctive style, it realized $24,670. A marine view by Chambers, possibly at Nahant, depicted a large sailboat with an American flag, several smaller, more distant sailboats and a cliff with a dwelling, earned $17,220.
The Prior portraits sold under estimate, and three were bought by one buyer, a doctor. He particularly wanted one, a portrait of Dr Silas Tompkins of New Bedford, Mass. He paid only $1,230 for the portrait which was identified and signed by the artist on the reverse. The same buyer paid the same price for an unidentified portrait of a gentleman with sideburns, and he bought a portrait of a woman in black for a few dollars more, $1,845. Two other paintings did well. One by Ruth Whittier Shute (1803-1882) was a full-length portrait of a well-dressed brother and sister, with their large white dog. It sold over estimate, going for $12,300. The other was the first lot of the sale, a watercolor and gouache painting depicting the Battle of Bunker Hill. Skinner stated that the painting was probably done by an academy student in the early Nineteenth Century, although the battle was on June 17, 1775. The scene depicted Charlestown burning after it was bombarded by the British, and it clearly shows the white picket fence that was erected by the Colonial militia to slow the advance of the British troops. Several ships are shown in the harbor. The painting sold for $29,520.
Another historical watercolor, by George Heriot (1759-1839) depicted a panoramic view of Boston Harbor and part of Charlestown with Bunker Hill. It was dated June 15, 1815 and was nearly 11 feet wide, made up of six sections. It was a carefully rendered view with numerous buildings and bridges shown. It realized $19,680. The painting had been in a private collection since having been sold by Sotheby’s in 1943, when it was consigned by a descendant of Heriot. Also at that sale, the New-York Historical Society purchased a sketchbook of 46 American views by the artist, which were also done in 1815. Skinner’s blog at www.skinnerinc.com/news/blog/town-of-boston-1815-2961b/ has detailed information on this panorama, with each of the six sections photographed and with a description of what is in the scene. It’s a fascinating bit of history.
About 60 hand painted trade signs from the collection of Janie and Peter Gross were offered. The visual appeal of the signs led graphic designer Janie Gross to assemble the collection. Gross said of her guiding principle while assembling the collection “I always searched for well-executed lettering, as well as interesting patina, color and design… in other words, the overall spirit of the signs that was executed by its creator.” When asked what characteristics led her to choose the particular items in her collection. Janie answered that “Knowledge of font styles and layout are fundamentals for creating effective signage.” The signs she chose are prime examples of excellence in those qualities.
Topping the collection was an unusual sign advertising “Ready Mixed Paint.” The double-sided sign was designed to represent four graduated stacked barrels lettered with paint company names, with each barrel painted ochre and black with brightly colored hoops. It was a large sign, 51 inches tall, and it sold for $5,535. Not far behind it was a shop sign advertising “Boild (sic) Beans, Pies, Tea” and more, all done in a variety of type faces. It was the collector’s favorite sign, one she was reluctant to part with, and it achieved $5,228. A sign advertising the “River T House” with a painting of a black bear, earned $1,512 and a carved black painted gilt sign advertising “Rare Books William Todd” in the form of an open book, more than doubled its estimate, achieving $3,998 from an internet bidder.
A collection of eight banjo-style wall clocks included one with a story which associated it with Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science church. The harp pattern clock with acanthus leaf carving had been made by Phineas P. Quimby, Belfast, Maine, circa 1820-30. Paul Foley’s book, Willard Patent Timepieces, states that Quimby was a practitioner of mental healing, and that one of his patients and students was Mrs Eddy. According to Foley, she credited him as her teacher and adopted the name “Christian Science” which Quimby used in his work. It was a very attractive clock, selling for $1,968, the only one of the group that exceeded its estimate. Might the story about Mary Baker Eddy have helped it along?
After the sale, Steve Fletcher said that they were pleased with the sale. “The items that sold did quite well and we saw good activity with the American furniture. The trade sign collection was really one of the best such collections I have ever seen, and I was glad we had the opportunity to sell it. We had more buyers in the room than we have had for some other sales and the internet bidding just keeps getting stronger.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium except where noted.
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