Published: September 15, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy D.L. Straight Auctioneers
STURBRIDGE, MASS. – David Straight does not typically disclose his sale totals but the statistics speak for themselves: with more than 550 lots on offer and less than 50 passing, the sale garnered an impressive sell-through rate of more than 92 percent to more than 300 buyers. When we caught up with him, he was scheduling purchase pickups and organizing invoices the day after D.L. Straight Auctioneer’s Exceptional Online Labor Day sale. He was upbeat.
“It was really fantastic. I was very happy with how everything did. There was so much interest in the sale; the number of people registered and bid was larger than it usually is and it took us 10½ hours to sell it all.”
Under normal circumstances, D.L. Straight Auctioneers conducts its sales from the Sturbridge Host Hotel, with days of preview and in-room bidding, but in the COVID-19 era, none of that is possible. While Massachusetts is under CDC restrictions for gatherings, neither previews nor saleroom bidding is possible but Straight makes every accommodation to get his clients the information they need to bid confidently, including extensive photographs and condition reports. To supplement absentee and phone bids, the sale was conducted live online on three internet platforms: LiveAuctioneers, Invaluable and AuctionZip.
“We are getting more collectors and retail buyers than trade buyers,” Straight said. “It seems more of a change because of Covid; we’ve seen it in the last few auctions, with people bidding from home, or who have changed their work schedules and workplace so they are participating online more. We are invoicing now and we had customers from all over the world: England, Canada and Ireland, mostly, but we had some Asian clients sign up for this sale.”
Americana is the bread and butter of Straight’s semi-annual sales and they do well with it, routinely getting good prices for pieces that are increasingly selling to buyers further afield than New England. Original paint and surface still command a good price, and when noteworthy provenance is added to those elements, the combination usually results in bidder interest to drive prices up.
The top lot in the sale was a Southern hunt board that brought $7,500. The piece had yellow pine and carved elements that Straight thought suggested the piece had been made by slaves. It had an inscription on the back that read “R. Rose 1242 Main St., Hartford, Ct” but Straight said the seller had information that the piece had been sent north at one time. The piece is going back to the South, having been purchased by a buyer in Georgia bidding online.
A Chippendale oxbow chest of drawers with painted or stained cherry and maple had an old surface and its original ogee feet; it brought $4,500, the second highest price in the sale. “It was a very nice, clean piece. It was well-formed and had very pleasing dimensions,” Straight said of the chest, which he had acquired from a New Hampshire seller. He confirmed that it sold to a buyer in New England.
Another piece that is staying in New England was a late Nineteenth Century horse and jockey copper brass and zinc weathervane, attributed to J.W. Fiske & Co., of New York City. Contributing to the appeal of the 32-inch-long full-bodied model, which was sourced from western Massachusetts, was its untouched original surface with verdigris patina and traces of gilt and yellow sizing, a condition the catalog described as “superb.” It may have been the bargain of the sale, selling just short of estimate for $4,250.
For original condition, paint and color, it would be hard to beat a blue pie safe that Straight attributed to New England that sold to an Ohio collector for $3,500. “The pie safe was awesome. It just had everything going for it and the color was fabulous,” Straight said. In mostly original condition, the piece had 12 pierced tin panels with unusual flower basket designs, full height and its original shelves.
Another collector in Ohio prevailed against bidders from New England to win this diminutive Queen Anne tiger maple slant front desk on frame, for $3,250. The piece, which had come from a Connecticut collection, had maple with strong figure throughout the case and gallery as well as a nice dark, warm patina. Three carved fans further embellished the piece.
It is reassuring that the appeal of New England furniture and decorative smalls has expanded outside of the area. A private collector from Texas paid $2,000 for an early William and Mary tiger maple highboy, circa 1700-20, that had good maple figuring throughout and retained not only its original engraved brasses but its original legs and stretchers.
Among other early pieces of furniture, a circa 1660-80 small Pilgrim blanket chest in a “rare” small size closed at $1,875. While Straight could not remember who bought it, he recalled he had found it in Connecticut. The rarity of its diminutive proportions and original sawtooth molding offset the less desirable condition issues of an old refinished surface, replaced hinges and a missing lock.
Primitive folk art birds and animals are perennial favorites among buyers and many in this sale achieved strong prices. A hand carved and mustard-yellow painted wooden grasshopper weathervane that had been in a Maine collection measured 35 inches long and hopped well ahead of its estimate; it sold to a buyer in New England for $1,500.
Straight described a Nineteenth Century painted rocking horse as “a wonderful thing;” it came from a house in Connecticut but is also staying in New England, having sold for $938. A 14-inch-long painted decoy – one of about a dozen in the sale – was signed “Paul Gibson” and flew beyond expectations, landing at $469.
With less than 50 lots, fine art was a comparatively small portion of the sale but covered the range of subjects and media. Topping offerings was a small circa 1830s watercolor profile miniature portrait that brought $1,000 from a New England collector. Two landscapes by George A. Renouard (American, 1884-1954), offered consecutively, finished at $813 and $531.
The last section of the sale featured a collection of mostly American glass bottles, lighting and other vessels from a Connecticut collector. Three oil lamps, all made by the Boston Sandwich Glass Company did particularly well; a brass oil lamp designed by Henry Hooper retained its original glass shade and sold for $2,125 to a buyer from New England. A pink cut-to-clear oil lamp also retained all of its original elements and brought $1,250, while a red overlay oil lamp went out at $1,000.
D.L. Straight’s next sale has not yet been scheduled but will likely take place in October, with Americana from estates in Connecticut, Northshore Massachusetts and the Berkshires.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.dlstraightauctioneers.com or 508-769-5404.
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