Published: November 2, 2021
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy CRN
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – CRN’s Carl Nordblom and Karin Phillips put together an outstanding sale on October 24. They had a John Brewster Jr painting that sold for more than $200,000, a Pennsylvania footstool that brought more than $80,000, a rare Aaron Willard clock that exceeded $40,000, plus more untouched early American furniture, weathervanes, American paintings, Chinese export porcelain, nautical items and more. There were about 40 people in the audience (a rarity these days), about eight phone lines buzzing, two internet platforms were used and there were numerous left bids. Nordblom and Phillips are a savvy combination; their merchandise is choice, their catalog descriptions are comprehensive and their condition statements are respected. Estimates are conservative. It was a strong sale throughout, with 13 items finishing in five-figure prices.
At $219,600, a well-known portrait by John Brewster Jr (1766-1854) topped the sale. The young girl in a blue dress, Sophia, was the half-sister of Brewster and she was painted about 1800 at about the age of five, possibly after death. She is depicted holding a rose in one hand and a bird, sometimes considered a symbol of death, in the other. This painting had remained in the Brewster family until 1986 when Ohio dealer G.A. Samaha purchased it and a portrait of her sister Betsy. This and the portrait of sister Betsy have been shown in every John Brewster exhibition, including those at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the American Folk Art Museum. It’s also included in the catalog of American portraits, the research archive of the National Portrait Gallery. The high estimate in the CRN catalog was $80,000, but a bidder started it at $100,000. According to Pat Bell, Olde Hope Antiques, who was the purchaser of the painting, the book accompanying the Cooperstown exhibit includes a full-page color photo of the painting, plus descriptive text. Bell said “I’ve always been impressed by the aesthetic and spiritual quality of this painting. We first showed the pair, Sophia and her sister Betsy, at The Winter Show in New York City in 2019. I loved it then. The straightforward gaze and the background, to me, make it a masterpiece of Brewster’s work.”
Although no other painting came close to that figure, fine art was a strong component of the sale. Nordblom traditionally begins his auction with paintings, and this one began with five works by Emile Gruppe (1896-1978). The group came from a Connecticut family who were friends of the artist. Finishing at $12,200 was “Sugaring in Vermont,” a winter scene with a sugar house in the foreground and other buildings in the distant background. A Gruppe landscape of a leafless birch tree alongside a brook finished at $8,540. Surprising the auctioneer was an idyllic scene with classical figures in a landscape, signed by D. Karfunkle (1880-1959). He is best remembered today for his mural, “Exploitation of Labor and Hoarding of Wealth,” painted in 1936 in New York City’s Harlem Courthouse. The painting brought $10,370, against a much lower estimate.
In addition to the Brewster, other folk art did well. A miniature painting of an unidentified gentleman by Edwin Plummer (1802-1880) realized $13,420. It came from the same consignor as the Brewster. Plummer was the subject of an article by Deborah M. Child, “Edwin Plummer and His Portrait Likenesses” in the summer 2011 issue of Antiques and Fine Art. Nordblom also had a group of outsider art portraits by an as yet unidentified artist that appear to have been done in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. The eight works were divided into four lots, with a lot of two portraits of women bringing $4,575. This group of eight had been consigned by someone who had been given them by Leonard Baskin, who was a friend of the artist. Prior to the sale, Nordblom had said he was unsure of how these would be received by his customers, but after he sold the four lots, he said there were more and they will be included in future sales.
Weathervanes included a full-bodied eagle with a 48-inch wingspan, which earned $18,300. No maker was identified. A Nineteenth Century custom-made full-bodied weathervane, more than 7 feet long, earned $3,355. It depicted two large galleons under full sail and had belonged to the Payson/Whitney family in the 1930s and adorned the carriage house at their home in Falmouth, Maine. One of the Paysons had been the co-founder of the New York Mets and was the first woman to own a major league team in North America without having inheriting it.
Several lots of American furniture had come from the home of a discriminating collector in the Boston area. Two rare clocks were included; one was a mahogany, Federal period Aaron Willard tall case clock with a rocking ship movement. Gary Sullivan, who has written extensively on early clocks and has appeared on the PBS television series Antiques Roadshow several times, paid $41,480 for it. He later said that Aaron Willard clocks with the rocking ship feature are quite rare.
He also discussed and provided the following information about another very rare timepiece, a Timby solar clock. “The unusual clock was invented by Theodore Timby, Baldwinsville, N.Y., and manufactured by Dr Lewis Whiting, Saratoga, N.Y., circa 1865. It was patented in 1863 but only produced for a few years. The case is made of mahogany and houses an eight-day brass movement and a revolving globe, which was made and installed by the Boston firm of Gilman Joslin. The globe features the Joslin label that reads, ‘Joslin’s Six-Inch Terrestrial Globe, Containing The Latest Discoveries. Boston. Gilman Joslin, 1860.’ The clock features a 12-hour dial above the globe and a seconds dial below. When this clock is in operation, the globe rotates one full turn every 24 hours. A lower dial or minute wheel is located behind glass in the lower door. This movement was most likely made by LaPorte Hubbell. It is believed that only 600 of these clocks were produced. Several institutional collections have examples.” Sullivan paid $4,880 for this clock.
The Timby clock came from the same collection that included several of the fine pieces of American furniture. Topping these offerings was an Eighteenth Century Queen Anne footstool from Pennsylvania. Connecticut dealer David Schorsch bought the footstool, paying $85,400. He said, “I remember that footstool from when I was about 10 years old. It was part of the Pennypacker collection that was sold in 1973 and it’s always stuck in my mind. I’m not sure but I think it brought around $7,000 back then. I didn’t know what had become of it, but one day I visited the home of the person who consigned it to Carl. He had it in a closet in a bedroom on the second floor of his house and had bought it at the Pennypacker sale. It still spoke to me. When it came up for this sale, I really hoped I could buy it. Footstools are the rarest form of American seating furniture – most are English or are much later copies. I’m very glad to have been able to get it.”
There were two tea tables from the same collection. An Eighteenth Century porringer-top mahogany Newport example with pad feet, in untouched original condition, earned $37,820. A circa 1750-80 oval-top Massachusetts tea table in old red paint went out for $29,280. This table is illustrated in Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850, by Brock Jobe, Gary Sullivan, et al. An exceptional pair of circa 1775 Massachusetts comb-back Windsor armchairs with old paint, knuckle arms and turned splayed legs realized $25,620. These chairs came from the collection of Mr and Mrs James Keene of Birmingham, Mich., longtime clients of Israel Sack, Jess Pavey, etc. Their collection was sold in a single-owner sale at Sotheby’s in 1997.
Nautical items included several shell valentines. A Nineteenth Century double example with a heart on one side and star on the other side reached $6,710. Another double with the wording “Keep This For My Sake” on one side and a heart on the other reached $3,965. Perhaps “sailor-made” is not an accurate term for these valentines. The CRN catalog states, “Most shell valentines were purchased by sailors in Barbados in the West Indies to bring home to their ladies. Barbados, the easternmost island in the Caribbean, was often the last port of call for many sailors.” A whalebone hooded cradle, 6 inches long and probably made for a child, sold for $1,586. There were also scrimshawed whale’s teeth and about a half dozen Nantucket baskets.
As in the last few sales, Nordblom had a large assortment of Chinese export porcelains. A 49-piece famille rose tea and coffee service, colorfully decorated with different court scenes, surrounded with panels of birds and insects among flowers and set on a ground of dragons pursuing flaming pearls, brought the highest price of the group, $18,300. The full provenance of the set was recorded and the defects were spelled out in the catalog. There were several large pairs of Rose Mandarin vases, including a pair measuring 26 inches tall earned $4,270.
A few days after the sale, Nordblom commented, “It was a strong sale across the board, bringing in more than $1 million. As with any auction, there are always surprises. The Karfunkle painting brought more than I thought it would, and the footstool obviously did. The furniture came from a very knowledgeable collector so I knew that would do well, and our estimates were conservative. The Brewster did well and the paintings, in general, did well. Karin and I are quite satisfied with the results. This is our last sale of the year, and our spring sale will be a real change of pace from this. Watch for our ads.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.crnauctions.com or 617-661-9582.
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