Published: October 10, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Laura Beach, Catalog Photos Courtesy Woodbury Auction
WOODBURY, CONN. – “From my perspective, C.K. Davis [1889-1968] deserves to be put on the same level as Ima Hogg and Henry Francis du Pont. His eye and attention to detail equaled other major collectors of his time. We don’t know him well because he did not leave a house to be conserved as a museum,” Brock Jobe, Winterthur curator emeritus, told an audience at Woodbury Auction a week before its September 27 sale featuring roughly 75 items inherited by the collector’s son William.
“C.K. was an omnivore collector,” noted auctioneer Thomas Schwenke, who dispersed everything from English silver and American furniture to Currier & Ives prints, never out of their frames, that C.K. bought at New York’s Old Print Shop in the 1930s.
After winning the consignment, Schwenke, who reached out to Jobe through an intermediary, negotiated a private treaty with Winterthur to take a group of family records, notes, letters and documents that William Davis inherited from his father. The Winterthur Library already owns correspondence between C.K. and H.F. du Pont. “Additionally, Winterthur has papers relating to Charles F. Montgomery, who, during his time at Winterthur was a close friend of C.K. Davis and was deeply involved in the dispersal of his collection between 1965 and 1969,” Jobe noted.
The mid-Twentieth Century collector of Americana was never a household name, notwithstanding a four-page photo spread devoted to the contents of C.K.’s 18-room house in Fairfield, Conn., published in The Magazine Antiques in January 1941. To the extent that collectors know about Davis, who was president of the DuPont subsidiary Remington Arms and a member of Winterthur Museum’s first board of trustees, it is through the New York antiquary Israel Sack, Inc. The Sacks sold Davis much of his furniture and happily bought a great deal of it back. The dealers prominently featured furniture from the Davis collection in American Antiques From The Sack Collection, Volume V.
Antiques counted more than 125 “choice examples of American furniture, from the earliest period to the early Nineteenth Century,” plus more than 208 pieces of American pewter, an unrivaled holding sourced in large part through Montgomery, a pewter dealer before he joined Winterthur. Some of the best pieces of furniture and pewter from Davis’s collection ultimately went to Winterthur.
“There were some true masterpieces,” said Jobe, who called the audience’s attention to five Eighteenth Century Boston pieces: a signed Benjamin Frothingham high chest of drawers and matching dressing table, and a set of silver candlesticks, snuffer and tray by John Burt.
Davis pieces with Sack provenance were the most hotly contested items at Woodbury Auction. A rare blockfront caddy, only 7½ inches tall and possibly for storing tea, went to a phone bidder for $18,000. “I just think it is fabulous. It is the only tea caddy of this form, probably from Newport or Boston, and appears in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury,” Jobe said.
The same buyer got an Eighteenth Century Philadelphia carved mahogany ball and claw foot side chair, acquired from Sack in 1938, for the same price. The chair is from a well-known set attributed to William Wayne (working 1760-86) and was owned by General Anthony Wayne. A chair from the set is illustrated in Hornor’s Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture.
“This speaks to the quality C.K. wanted,” Jobe said of a circa 1730 walnut and white pine Boston dressing glass, $6,000, on ball feet.
Jobe capped his presentation with a story told to him by Charles Hummel, who, with Charles Montgomery and John Sweeney formed Winterthur’s great curatorial triumvirate in the 1960s. As Jobe explained, “By 1967, C.K. was quite ill. His family was interested in selling some things. Charlie, Charles and John drove up to Fairfield in John’s station wagon. H.F., who had asked if he might join them, traveled separately in his Bentley. H.F. brought his wish list with him. The curators talked him out of a slate top William and Mary dressing table that at the time, regrettably, was misunderstood. Charlie tried unsuccessfully to hide some of the two-light iron candlestands. H.F. was obsessed with the candlestands, which he liked to electrify.”
Jobe said C.K. Davis came onto his radar screen while thinking about the Frothingham high chest and dressing table in Winterthur’s collection. “I’ve never seen a high chest in more pristine condition. The shell carving on it is so crisp it could almost cut you, which is what you want to see. Its beautiful little acorn drops are original. They almost never survive.”
“These are some of my favorite things. They illustrate the collecting mindset of that gentleman right there,” Jobe said, pointing to the portrait of C.K. Davis hanging behind the auctioneer’s podium. “From my perspective, C.K. was one of the finest collectors of his time. To see this cache come up for sale is quite extraordinary.”
Jobe’s Woodbury presentation was preliminary to a talk he will give on Saturday, November 4, at Winterthur. The scholar plans to address du Pont’s pursuit of New England decorative arts, focusing on five major works in the museum’s holdings.
Auctioneer Schwenke gaveled down more than 800 lots in a sale lasting more than eight hours. Among property from other consignors was a London-made 1925 Rolls Royce touring car, $44,450; an 1811 Portsmouth, N.H., leather fire bucket painted by John S. Blunt for Benjamin Cheever, $9,720; and a small Twentieth Century tapestry designed by Jean Lurcat and made by Aubusson for the French decorating firm Jansen, $10,160.
Prices include buyer’s premium.
Woodbury Auction’s next sale is set for Wednesday, November 11, at 710 Main Street South in Woodbury’s Middle Quarter Mall. Schwenke’s administrative offices are at 50 Main Street North. For more information, 203-266-0323 or www.woodburyauction.com.
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