Published: September 20, 2016
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Steenburgh Auctions
PIKE, N.H. — Even most people in New Hampshire are not sure where Pike is. Nestled in the western White Mountains, not far from the Connecticut River, it is home to the father-and-son team of Archie and Josh Steenburgh, and it is where they run many of their auctions. Archie has been selling since 1972 and Josh got his auctioneering license in 1990, although he had been helping his father since he was about 10 years old. Today, the business is a family affair as Josh’s 11-year-old daughter Anna and his sister’s 5-year-old Lucas and 9-year-old Sophia were helping out as runners.
The firm’s Labor Day weekend sale is usually one of its strongest of the year. Although this year’s sale did not produce any five- or six-figure sales, previous years have. The Steenburghs manage to find some really great antiques in northern New Hampshire. Their best find so far has been a Boston-made mahogany bombe slant-lid desk, which sold for $605,000.
The well-attended September 4 sale was under a tent. There is no internet bidding and cellphone coverage is spotty at best, so bidding by phone is problematic. The safest approach is to be there in person. Merchandise for sale is not listed and is sold in random order, then handed to the buyer if it is a small item, or placed safely outside the tent if it is larger. The overall result was an auction that was like the way auctions used to be. The Steenburghs kept the crowd entertained as the sale proceeded smoothly.
Three paintings by Henry Ryan MacGinnis (1875–1962) turned out to be the highest priced items in the sale. MacGinnis studied in Europe for five years, and one of his paintings, “New Hampshire Hills,” was selected for a 1908 exhibition at the Art Club in Philadelphia, which also included paintings by Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase. His signed landscape painting with purple mountains brought $3,575; an unsigned one of Mount Cube in nearby Orford, N.H., with a note of authentication from the artist’s wife, earned $2,530, and a haying scene with an oxcart reached $2,750.
Surprising the auctioneers, a group of historical documents did very well, while furniture was weak, causing Archie Steenburgh to comment, “Let’s stick to selling paper — enough of this furniture.”
One of the early documents was a 1791 appointment of a captain in the New Hampshire militia, signed by Josiah Bartlett, as president of New Hampshire. Bartlett was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and, as such, intact documents signed by him are sought after. This one brought $1,210. A document signed by John Langdon, member of New Hampshire’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention, earned $500, and a military appointment, dated 1775, signed by New Hampshire’s royal governor, John Wentworth, finished at $1,650.
A particularly interesting New Hampshire militia payroll register for an artillery company, dated 1814, realized $550. It listed terms of service, pay grades and allowances for various ranks: the captain, Rueben Hayes, earned $50 per month, plus $20.60 for “subsistence.” A musician earned $9 per month and a corporal earned $10 per month. A Rumney, N.H., book and map dealer got a good buy on an 1834 folding map of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, published by Sumner, Hartford, Conn., paying just $55.
A folky Nineteenth Century dome top blanket box with white and green floral designs on a black background brought $1,980 from a phone bidder. Perhaps one of the nicest pieces of furniture in the sale was also one of its bargains. A Queen Anne lift top blanket chest with two drawers, on a bracket base and an old red surface sold for $303. It was bought by Joe Martin, a dealer from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Martin later said that the chest was “as pure as can be. It’s worth a lot more than I paid for it.” Martin is a well-known dealer who said that he lives in an early New Hampshire house that he had moved to Vermont.
Other furniture also sold inexpensively. A four-drawer Sheraton chest with inlaid birch panels and on turned legs reached $468, an Arts and Crafts library table with basketweave panels finished at $248 and a mission oak bookcase realized $231. For those interested in making their own furniture, the sale included a stack of rough cut tiger-maple boards, which fetched $413, and a stack of rough cut birch boards, which made $275. Each stack had eight to ten boards, each more than 8 feet long, and some were more than 2 inches thick.
The Steenburghs found an interesting group of advertising signs in a camp on Newfound Lake. A large sign for Aroostic Maid ice cream, with a hand painted sundae in the center, went for $853; a large sign for the Conibear Drug Store, Chatsworth, Ill., with a folky Felix-the-Cat-like figure, brought $330; and a large tin sign advertising Coke and root beer made $138. A tin sign advertising Monarch paints fetched $468.
The sale included numerous other interesting items. A small collection of black bottle dolls was sold in one lot of eight and garnered $303. A group of early bottles and flasks included an amber Tippecanoe bitters bottle, which achieved $220. A clean tin tray with a Victorian maiden drinking a glass of beer, advertising the True W. Jones Brewery, Manchester, N.H., earned $550, and a whalebone walking stick realized $138. A colorful hooked and sheared rug depicting birds and flowers reached $385, while a large devil-face jug went out for $165.
A 1954 Ted Williams Topps baseball card made a final price of $198. A small Twentieth Century carved eagle with a flag by Vermont carver Frank Weston Moran may have been a very good buy, earning $358. Moran’s work was included in “Always in Season: Vermont Folk Art and Traditional Culture in Vermont,” and his 54-inch carved statue of Abraham Lincoln was illustrated in American Folk Sculpture by Bob Bishop.
Steenburgh sales, given their location, often include material relating to the White Mountains. This time, the firm offered one of the rarer books on the area, Wild Flowers of The White Mountains by H.B. Green, which included 24 dried and pressed flowers. It sold for $66. There was a small selection of White Mountains guide books and a rebound four-volume set of Travels in New England and New-York by Timothy Dwight, former president of Yale College, published in 1822. The set includes some of the earliest descriptions of the White Mountains and it reached $110.
Dick Hamilton, formerly president of the Old Man of The Mountains Legacy Fund, bought a 1964 poster advertising the Old Man for $38. He said he had not seen that poster before, and that it would be going on display in the Old Man Museum, adjacent to the Old Man Memorial Plaza, on the viewing site for the now-lost landmark. Hamilton also said that the work on the Memorial Plaza, including interpretive signs about the Old Man, and the history of the adjacent Profile House Hotel, which burned in 1923, was completed without any state funding, all the money coming from the sale of commemorative granite pavers and benches at the site.
After the sale, Josh Steenburgh said, “We were very happy with the size of the crowd and the results of the sale — good, fresh smalls, folk art, historical documents and decorative items did well and continue to be essential categories for us. We appreciate that people take the time to drive up to Pike for our country auctions. We know our attendance is strengthened by the fact that we don’t use an online platform to sell and the buyers seem to appreciate that.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 603-989-3043.
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