Published: August 13, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Stair Galleries
HUDSON, N.Y. – The August 3 Americana sale at Stair Galleries was a success by any measure. It grossed $554,295 with 521 of 542 lots selling during the sale for a sell-through rate of 96 percent. The salesroom was crowded, with about 150 people in attendance and the staff at Stair confirmed after the sale that 1,300 bidders had registered to bid online through one of the three online platforms that carried the sale live, with 114 of them being successful purchasers.
Just before the sale started, Colin Stair said he was glad to see many out-of-state vehicles, many of which were moving vans or had trailers in tow, parked in the nearby vicinity. When asked after the sale to comment, Stair said, “The overall energy of the room was great! It was almost like 20 years ago with a packed room, and the most bidding live, we have seen for a long time. The general overall tone and enthusiasm was pulsating leading up to the sale, and followed through, up until nearly the last lot in the sale!”
The lot with the highest estimate ($25/45,000) also prevailed as the top lot. The Augur Duryee Queen Anne cherry high chest of drawers, attributed to Aaron Booth of Windsor or East Windsor, Conn., opened for bidding at $16,000 and sold for $29,520 to a private collector bidding on the phone and underbid by another private buyer bidding on the phone with Colin Stair. The high chest had been offered by Sotheby’s American furniture department in both 2015 and 2016 at significantly higher estimates but found its market value at Stair Galleries.
A hands-down favorite with bidders was a pair of bronze “Lincoln’s Hands” by Leonard Wells Volk (1828-1895). Though the lot had been estimated at $3/5,000, presale interest in the lot was so significant that Stair opened bidding at $12,000 and sold the lot to an absentee bidder for $19,680, underbid by bidders online and on the phone.
Hadley chests are perennial favorites with Americana collectors, and the auction catalog compared the example offered with a “best” example illustrated in Albert Sack, Fine Points of Furniture, Early American. Descending in the Lynde and Daly families, the chest at Stair tripled expectations when it sold for $15,990 to a bidder in the room, who prevailed against a phone bidder.
The interest in all things Hamilton continues. Estimated modestly at $1,5/2,500, a letter signed by Alexander Hamilton and dated February 26, 1793 saw considerable action, finally selling for $13,530 to a buyer in the room who beat out competition on the phones. The letter was addressed to the directors of the Bank of the United States asking for an advance for compensation for the senators of the United States for their service while waiting on funds from the House of Congress.
There were a few weathervanes in the sale but the one that leapt ahead of the pack early in the day was a flying horse weathervane attributed to A.L. Jewell. Stair, who was taking the first section of the sale, said he had “lots” of absentee bids and opened bidding at $5,000, just shy of the $6/8,000 estimate. A buyer on the phone got it for $10,455.
Images of George Washington are often abundant at Americana sales and this sale was no exception. What did stand out was an iron dumb stove attributed to the Mott Iron Works that the catalog characterized as “rare,” citing comparable examples in the collections at Winterthur and Colonial Williamsburg. The $2,5/4,500 estimate was no doubt intended to incite interest and the strategy worked: absentee bidding interest dictated the lot open at $6,000 and an absentee bidder would ultimately prevail, taking it for $9,840. After the sale, it was revealed that it had been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
For those that bemoan the current market for American furniture, several lots – albeit priced quite modestly – outperformed expectations. These included a set of four late Federal stenciled and caned “fancy” side chairs, possibly by John Banks of New York City that were estimated at $700/900 and sold for $1,599 to a phone bidder; a Federal inlaid mahogany concave dressing chest attributed to New York or Philadelphia in the English taste just squeaked past its high estimate ($2/4,000) to finish at $4,059 to a phone bidder, and a set of eight William IV carved mahogany dining chairs that were possibly American, which easily surpassed expectations when they went out at $5,227.
Stair offered nearly 175 lots from the estate of Catskill, N.Y., antiques dealer Kathleen and Philip Seibel. The collection was offered in a discrete block of lots in the middle of the sale and comprised painted furniture and smalls, as well as fine art and other decorative items. Bringing the top price for the Seibel collection was an iron-red-painted stepback cupboard from New York state that more than quadrupled expectations to sell for $6,765. The Seibels had good taste in painted cupboards, which were particularly sought-after, as demonstrated by an olive green stepback cupboard that finished at $5,166. A Hudson Valley blue-gray painted and glazed cupboard received 22 bids to finish at $4,305, while an imposing Federal painted cupboard that had the highest estimate in the Seibel collection ($2/4,000) went out for $3,690.
Stair has historically done well with estates, and the sale included that of New York City art dealer, Roy Davis. The approximately 45 lots that comprised the Davis estate featured primarily wooden objects: boxes, small stools and treen wares, including a lot of two mahogany trays that made 11 times their estimates to finish at $1,123. However, the lots that generated the most interest were fishing lures, of which there were four lots, each estimated at $200/300 and achieving prices from $615 to $984, selling mostly to buyers in the room.
A varied selection of fine art peppered the sale. Sporting art led the paintings with an English school picture titled “Aaron and Driver Rounding the Second Heat at Maidenhead” raced ahead of its $700/900 estimate to finish at $5,535, followed closely by Daniel Clowes’ “A Saddled Grey Hunter in a Wooded Landscape” that finished at $4,920. A portrait of John Hancock completed the top three paintings, easily beating expectations to sell for $3,567. Works on paper, including prints, seemed somewhat softer, with several lots selling below $100 and the highest price paid was $861, for an engraving of New York by John W. Hill.
The sale featured only three clocks, with the highest price going to a Federal cherry tall case clock with a dial signed Cornelius Miller, that easily exceeded expectations to bring $7,995 to a phone bidder, underbid in the room. Other lots that led the various categories were a Gorham sterling silver reticulated commemorative fruit basket that a phone bidder snapped up for $2,583; a group of 28 pieces of yellowware pottery articles from the Seibel estate brought $2,337; and a lot of two quilts – one a geometric example in blue and white, the other in patchwork calico – topped the textile category when they sold for $1,353.
Stair Galleries’ location in downtown Hudson undoubtedly contributes to the firm’s continued success. The area, which is imminently walkable, is a draw year-round for tourists, weekenders and local residents alike. While the internet has given auctions the undeniable advantage of global access, there is something to be said for retaining a local neighborhood presence.
All prices cited include buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Stair Galleries is at 549 Warren Street. For information, www.stairgalleries.com or 518-751-1000.
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