Published: April 24, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Pook & Pook
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. – The lifetime collection of dealer Ruth Bryson was offered at Pook & Pook to a full room of collectors and dealers on April 14, all of whom were eager to get their hands on pieces of a collection of furniture, folk art and decorative accessories that stood strong, in presence, creation and focus, to Lancaster County, Penn. Bryson passed away in July 2017, but in the prime of her career she was known as a fixture at auctions and shows throughout the East Coast, exhibiting her discerning eye for Pennsylvania painted objects and exceptional furniture, all of which were featured, in whole, at the sale.
On the morning of the sale, Pook & Pook’s gallery filled every seat with a loud and laughing community of friends, many of whom had their backs stretched around to talk to the people sitting behind them. The sale began with a large applause for Bryson’s husband, Jack, who many in the crowd knew from his accompanying his wife to every little corner that this industry seems to take its loyal devotees. In his introduction to the sale, auction house cofounder Ron Pook jokingly said, “If you saw Ruth at an auction, just go home. You’re weren’t going to get it.”
The 203 in-house bidders, a mix of Pennsylvania collectors and dealers from near and far, succeeded in pushing the 321-lot sale to a 99 percent sell-through rate. The collection bested the $424,550/679,400 estimate to finish at $1,082,132, including buyer’s premium, with only 17 percent of the lots sold to online bidders.
“It was all very geographically centered, the focus was Lancaster County and the immediate area,” said James Pook, vice president, on Bryson’s collection. “You’ll find that the vast majority of things were made in that vicinity, including the painted boxes and dower chests.” Having seen an immense amount of presale interest in the week running up to the sale, he continued, “I think we’re going to see some big prices for those today.”
Indeed, the sale saw a running list of high prices for works with painted surfaces, but when it came down to numbers, a well-carved example of Pennsylvania formal furniture rode the paddles to take the day’s top lot. At $53,680, a Lancaster Chippendale walnut dressing table finished at the peak, selling to dealer Philip Bradley. The circa 1770 table featured extensive carving, including a shell and spandrel carved drawer, a relief carved skirt and cabriole legs terminating in ball and claw feet. Before Bryson, the piece had descended in a Smoketown, Penn., family for generations.
The sale featured ten lots in various sizes, color and forms by Jacob or Jonas Weber.
“You very rarely have this many painted boxes at once,” said James Pook. “It’s just a group that you don’t see. It’s neat because you have every size and every color, a big diverse group of them. Bryson wanted all of these different examples to show the range of pieces that Weber made.”
From 10¼ down to 4¼ inches wide, the boxes were all made in the signature Weber style, each of them with a single flower painted on the lid and a house in landscape to the front, varying in color, which included blue, red, yellow and orange. The group was led by a yellow, 7¾-inch-wide footed example that ultimately sold to a determined phone bidder. As bidding got underway for the lot, auctioneer Jamie Shearer fielded a $6,000 bid from the floor before the phone shouted out a jump bid of $30,000. Shearer laughed, saying, “That’s it?” Still, another interested party got off a few more bids before the example ended up with the phone at $48,800.
The next highest Weber box was in the small 4¼-inch-wide size and in the rare orange color. This lot also sold to a phone bidder for $36,600. James Pook only recalled handling a few Weber boxes in the orange color in the past.
“Condition is king these days, and these boxes have it,” he said. “They are all honest. It’s a good, honest collection.”
Following up behind, a black 3-7/8-inch-wide box took $21,960, a 4-inch-wide red box brought $20,740, and two 10¼-inch-wide boxes, one blue and one yellow-orange, each finished at $15,860.
A few of the Weber lots varied in form, with a miniature carved and painted songbird measuring 2¾ inches high bringing $6,100 to dealer Greg Kramer. A blue slide lid box took $10,980, while a red painted hanging box brought $2,928.
But box-mania did not stop there. Three examples from the Compass Artist also did well, with the highest result of the three coming in the form of a $39,040 winning bid for a 6½-inch-high dome lid box with the brightest paint of the three on offer. Behind was a 4-inch-high dome lid box that brought $26,840, and finally the largest of the three, a 10½-inch-high dome lid box, sold for $26,840 to dealer Kelly Kinzle.
Painted furniture also produced a number of high-flying results, some expected and some that jumped over their estimates. The third highest lot in the sale came in the form of a Lancaster County painted pine and poplar two-part Dutch cupboard, which went for $47,500 to an online bidder. Circa 1830, the piece retained its original faux tiger grain decoration with smoke decorated doors.
Nearly tripling the $8,000 high estimate was an 1808 Conestoga wagon box in blue paint and impeccable iron hardware that brought $23,180 to a floor bidder. The iron strap hinges and hasp were formed into the shape of tulips and the band around the center featured cutout corner pinwheels with the 1808 date and the initials CHMI. Rising above a $4,000 high estimate was a circa 1800 Pennsylvania green painted pine hanging corner cupboard with a sponge decorated door. It took $19,520.
Dower chests, and plenty of them, were on hand and brought good numbers. At the lead was a Berks County painted pine dower chest that dated to 1775. It featured three tombstone panels to the front, the central panel featuring two rampant unicorns and the flanking panels with potted flowers and birds. It sold for $11,590. The next highest was a rare diminutive Lebanon County dower chest with sponged decoration, measuring 26 by 41½ inches. James Pook knew from the outset that it would do better than the estimate and it did, bringing $10,980.
“This is special because it’s a smaller size,” Pook said of the chest. “Bryson had an eye for that, realizing what’s special in a piece.”
Finally, a sweet little miniature painted pine blanket chest, circa 1800, brought $5,124. The piece was inscribed inside the lid, “Noah R.J. Hare Esq and Rasha Hare” with a yellow and red painted decoration of repeating suns.
Bryson also had a love for folk portrait artist Jacob Maentel, and her passion was exemplified in the depth of Maentel’s work across the six lots that were offered. The same portrait that Pook & Pook used as the cover image on its catalog was the highest of the bunch, as it rose to $34,160, selling to dealer and curator Lisa Minardi. The watercolor featured John Martin Litzel, a young boy holding a butterfly in his right hand in front of his family’s farm near Mechanicsburg, Penn. Other examples that were offered included a pair of folk portraits of Mr and Mrs Martin Ebert of York County, Penn. The duo brought $14,640. The third highest was a $9,150 profile folk portrait of a gentleman in a blue frock coat, which retained its period frame and inside ribbon border.
While fine art was scant, it was not without quality. Going to a determined floor bidder was a Susan Waters oil on canvas landscape painting that brought more than seven times the $5,000 high estimate to hit $36,600. It was painted in Waters’ Bordentown, N.J., hometown and featured an original 24-by-36-inch frame and the usual suspects: three sheep, two lambs and an alert Shetland sheepdog.
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.pookandpook.com or 610-269-4040.
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