Published: October 5, 2010
There is no better way to spend a perfect summer day than at an old-fashioned country auction in a spectacular setting. A lot of people thought so on August 20 as an old-fashioned crowd spilled out over the lawns of the Pearson family homestead above the Parker River for some 1,000 lots of fine old antiques and untouched country material that crossed the block. The event was the onsite sale of the contents of the Pearson family homestead where auctioneer John McInnis sold the thousands of pieces of just about everything.
McInnis had erected two spacious tents for the event, but they were relegated to exhibit space as a crowd of bidders assembled beneath the canopy of fragrant trees, seated in auction house chairs or their own beach chairs and lolling on the grass or leaning against the trees. Family members, area residents, collectors and the trade were present in abundance. Auctioneer Carl Stinson was on hand, having just celebrated a birthday †the number of which he declined to disclose.
The Pearsons were early settlers in Byfield and owned and operated mills (fulling, grist and sawing) along the Parker River since the first half of the Seventeenth Century. A Pearson Snuff Mill was in operation there in 1830, but the Byfield Snuff Company itself is a relative newcomer, established by the Pearson family in the late Nineteenth Century.
Nine generations of Pearsons left behind a marvelous array of crunchy antiques and country objects in the house and barn and several outbuildings, as well. Their leavings made for buying opportunities for dealers and retail buyers interested in a quirky bit of history. The material will be staples at antiques shows for some seasons to come. The mill is separate and was sold earlier.
Auctioneer John McInnis started the sale with piles of objects extracted from the barn. One of the first lots up was a sculptural 10- or 12-foot eel spear that sold for $23. A very heavy cast iron Newburyport stove was also $23. An Underwood typewriter was pretty tempting at $23 and a car jack was $11.50. A lot of miscellaneous farm hardware that included a copper pump, large hinges and hand tools was $57, while a box lot of early signed planes realized $191.
Eliciting great curiosity was a lot of very large metal parts whose function was unclear. Sudbury, Mass., dealer Keith Funston paid $192 for the lot because the items interested him. Providentially, the buyer of the mill was on hand and identified the lot as a snuff grinder and explained in great detail how the device works. Funston also took a red case of billiard balls for $144.
Other snuff-related lots included a snuffbox decorated with an image of a man in Eighteenth Century dress that brought $173 and a barrel full of yellow snuff cans that was $144. A lot of two snuff bottles, one oval and one round, sold for $96, while another lot of two snuff bottles, one of which contained snuff, was $53.
A solid country store counter that McInnis thought had been used in a drug store in Newburyport sold for $403 to Vermont dealers Stephen Corrigan and Douglas Jackman of Stephen-Douglas Antiques in Rockingham, who bought steadily throughout the sale. They also paid $5,750 for a nearly pristine pair of leather fire buckets from 1860 marked “J.B. Topham, WFD.”
The buckets were accompanied by a document relating to Elisha Topham of Marblehead, Mass., and were thought to have come from Marblehead. “WFD” would relate to a Marblehead fire company located on Washington Street. Speaking after the sale, McInnis said they were found in the Pearson house, but no one knew who owned them or how they got there.
Fetching $23 was a Windsor rocker; a bow back Windsor went to $218, and a Windsor chair with a sturdy saddle seat with a fine iron repair made $316.
An array of slant lid desks included a circa 1750 example with bandy legs and herringbone inlay that brought $1,380, an oxbow version sold for $1,150 and a Newburyport example with a hidden drawer that realized $575. A fine tavern table was also $575.
A miniature Hepplewhite chest was $1,808 and a Victorian carved blanket chest, described as having been “Chippendalized,” was $575. A carved India trade tip top stand sold for $403 and a highboy with a black walnut top from the Merrimac River area made $230.
From the North Shore, a tall case clock brought $2,875. A banjo clock went for $518 and a ship painting went back to the family for $2,760. A pair of watercolors depicting Arabian scenes, one of which was at sunset, was $1,265, while a framed display of hand-tied salmon and trout fishing flies realized $702.
A canary mug depicting Washington and Lafayette, in need of restoration, which can be done easily, brought $575, while a lot of 11 plates went for $1,380. A lot of three pickle jars sold for $920, while a child’s lusterware mug marked “January” brought $178 and a child’s cup fetched $374.
Among the interesting paper across the block, an 1830s broadside of the Self Examining Society was $230. The broadside was a parody of the multitudes of the improvement societies that sprouted in the era.
The Self Examining Society broadside lamented the plethora of agencies and societies dedicated to improving the morals of the people and the dearth of self-examination, reminding readers that the Constitution prohibits the use of funds to pay ministers and lawyers to convince people how much easier it is to examine others rather than one’s own self.
The last will and testament of Thomas Davis together with a Newburyport enrollment was $230 to the same buyer and a hand drawn Civil War map of southern Florida elicited $173.
A millstone, one of several on the property that had been set into the ground, brought $1,955, and from the podium, McInnis volunteered generously to help watch the successful buyer move it. The successful bidder was the Historical Society of Old Newbury, in Newburyport. Byfield, Newburyport and several other area towns were once part of Newbury.
The millstone will be on view at the Jacob Perkins printing and engraving building, which was acquired recently by the society, and will be used to showcase Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century industry in the area. Curator Jay S. Williamson explained that the stone appears to date from the early 1700s, based on the way it was cut. A later, larger example will remain on the property.
The historical society was the underbidder on an Eighteenth Century sword with a handwrought hilt and a reeded bone handle that sold for $3,335. Williamson described the sword as “absolutely fabulous,” adding that had there been a stronger connection to a Pearson family member, he would have upped the ante. The sword was made in the mid-1700s, incorporating a knuckle technique akin to one used in Scotland around that time. It may have been used by a Newbury militiaman in the war against Quebec, possibly by a Pearson family member
The historical society also got a flip glass copper etched with a flower, a form new to the organization’s collection, for $173. A creamware punchbowl with extensive notes on its history was held aside for the historical society by Robin Pearson. Williamson said it had some condition issues, but the history was important.
The successful Vermont bidder who got the early sword paid $259 for a French sword with a bone handle carved with an eagle head. Two other swords with scabbards went elsewhere for $518.
Drawing $633 was a cold painted bronze figure of a bear; a green painted mortar and pestle sold for $316.
The glass category saw an olive green eagle flask sell for $403 and a cranberry glass epergne fetch $374, while an early blown glass bowl brought $178 and an Eighteenth Century glass mug elicited $144.
A lot of three early oil lamps brought $374, and two pewter lamps realized $138. A pewter tea or coffee pot signed “Porter/Westbrook” fetched $144. A do-it-yourself project in the form of pieces of an early Continental sconce was $247.
Rounding out the auction were a brass and iron skimmer decorated with graceful hearts for $190, an early wood rolling pin for $58, a lot of two brass bed warmers at $230, a red child’s buckboard with yellow wheels for $403 and a large wood sled that brought $80 from an area dealer.
All prices reported include the 15 percent buyer’s premium. For information, www.mcinnisauctions.com or 978-388-0400.
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