Published: November 13, 2018
Review by Greg Smith
SCENERY HILL, PENN. – “He called me and told me that his van was in the shop, he’s driving a Subaru, and we need to have an auction,” said Amelia Jeffers, who offered more than 1,300 lots from the collection of longtime Pennsylvania antiques dealer Peter Chillingworth over a three-day onsite sale October 18-20. “We first spoke in early 2017 when he was ready to sell,” she continued. “And as we talked and the time passed, the time comes for a lot of antiques dealers where something like the following happens: the van breaks down and it’s going to take a big investment… and you look at yourself and ask ‘what the heck am I doing?'” And so the phone rang with Chillingworth on one end, Jeffers on the other, and an auction was set into motion. The extravaganza weekend spanned the discoveries and accumulations of a collector, dealer, show promoter, restorer and consummate patron of Pennsylvania antiques who has, as many readers know, been in the trade for more than a half a century.
The sale was half debut, half homecoming for auctioneer Amelia Jeffers, who left Garth’s in 2017 and presented this sale as the first under her own moniker. “I told myself I was going to take 2017 and 2018 off, but Peter’s need to have an auction broke that timeframe,” she said, relaying the magnetic draw that this business can sometimes wield over sellers. “I have a passion for the industry and I feel grateful I’ve had opportunities to keep my hands in it and keep doing business,” she added.
According to Jeffers, the Chillingworth sale had its genesis in a 20-year friendship between herself, Peter and his wife Kathryn. “It’s the kind of thing where if I was going to western Pennsylvania, I would call the Chillingworths and stay over,” she said. “He’s a champion for not only the objects, but for anyone who endeavors to be a student of the objects. Pete was always the first to give constructive feedback, to give guidance and answer questions. He would cultivate in younger people an enthusiasm in the objects. And he always did that for me.”
With regional enthusiasm for Pennsylvania material, Jeffers settled on an onsite sale on Chillingworth’s Scenery Hill, Penn., property. “I thought that pulling it out of the area would diminish the capacity of bidders that are sitting within 200 miles of his house,” she said.
Reached after the sale, Peter Chillingworth said that he was delighted that many of the pieces in his collection would not venture far from where they were originally purchased. “The emphasis was on western Pennsylvania, although it was also from the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Pennsylvania through Ohio. And it also covered New York State and some of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. I was able to spend my money before I got too far from home,” he said.
Chillingworth was pleased with the results of the sale and the event, saying he personally knew around a quarter of the attendees present. “Amelia gets along well with the people and she sells accurately and quickly and does a very professional job,” he said.
The first two days of the sale offered uncataloged opportunities to buyers on hand, selling approximately 800 lots between the two sessions.
Day one featured the contents of Chillingworth’s restoration workshop, which was used to restore antique furniture and objects when necessary. “My workshop was 24 by 36 with only one power tool,” Chillingworth said, speaking to the school of woodcraft that he subscribed to. “The rest were all hand tools, including the treadle lathe,” he said. Chillingworth had a fondness for his lathe, which he called his toy. It was also one of the highest selling lots of the day at $1,300. “It did well and the fella that bought it was very pleased,” he said. Tool buyers came from near and far for the sale, with the furthest traveling from Virginia Beach. According to Jeffers, a number of hand planes also sold well in the $400/500 range.
Day two featured some of the mid-range furniture and decorative pieces in the collection: drop front desks, transferware, glass and framed prints. Jeffers estimated that only ten percent of the buyers were present through all three days, with many popping in and out, some only there to get their hands on a piece from the Chillingworth collection.
Day three featured the cataloged offering of 547 lots that would comprise the bulk of the final sale total.
Tall case clocks performed well as a category and included the top lot of a Hepplewhite William Gorgas #9, which brought $13,800. The clock featured a painted iron dial and was made in Mount Pleasant, Penn., dated 1800-15. Behind was a Southern Pennsylvania inlaid tall case clock from the same time period by Thomas Hutchinson. It took $10,063. Lastly, a tall case clock made in Canonsburg, Penn., by Scottish immigrant Alexander Cook brought $8,050. Cook made clocks for only two years before he began studying theology and subsequently left to work as a missionary in the Ohio country, never to be heard from again.
Pennsylvania fine art was a draw for buyers. At the top of the category was an 1852 William Coventry Wall (1810-1886) oil on canvas painting featuring a bucolic landscape with a man, woman and child walking down a country lane toward a cabin with laundry hanging on the line in the foreground and a lake and hills in the background. It was exhibited in “Wall to Wall to Wall: A Family of 19th Century Painters” at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in 1999. The painting took $9,775. A landscape painting by Pennsylvania artist George Hetzel (1826-1899), featuring a wooded scene along the banks of a rocky waterfall and stream, 16 by 24 inches, took $5,462. Another painting a few inches larger by the same artist passed. An oil on canvas winter scene of a Pittsburgh steel mill by Lithuanian American artist Aaron Henry Gorson (1872-1933) brought $6,325. The piece had a tag on the back that said it was purchased unframed in 1926 for $75.
Among Chillingworth’s furniture offerings, Hepplewhite and Chippendale examples rose to the top. At $12,075 was a southern Pennsylvania Hepplewhite slant lid desk, circa 1800. It featured inlay to nearly every part: the corners, drawer faces, keyholes, lid and skirt. With original finish and hardware and without restoration, Jeffers called it “one of the best examples of western Pennsylvania inlaid desks to ever surface.” Behind it was a 1790-1810 walnut Chippendale two-piece Dutch wall cupboard from Pennsylvania with an 18-pane top and dovetailed bracket base. It brought $6,038. A Baltimore Hepplewhite sideboard caught some attention with its mahogany body and ebony and satinwood inlays. Circa 1790, the piece took $4,888. Circa 1780, a nice eastern Pennsylvania sack back Windsor chair sold for $1,610. The catalog listed it as likely from a Philadelphia shop.
Ceramics and glass were both in high supply. A rare Pennsylvania redware mug from the early Nineteenth Century attracted bids, rising to $4,140. A New Geneva Pennsylvania tanware pitcher measuring 8 inches high tripled its high estimate to bring $1,725. A western Pennsylvania stoneware crock, circa 1870-1880 and probably by Hamilton & Jones Star Pottery with cobalt decoration of lines and four stars surprised at $1,955. In glass, a mid-Nineteenth Century Midwestern amethyst pitcher led the way with a $2,070 result. Behind was a lot of two pieces of New Geneva, a pitcher and a cup in aqua, which took $1,208.
“I was scared to put this many brass candlesticks on the market, but they sold and some sold super well,” said Jeffers on the 70 lots, some pairs and some singles, of brass candlesticks in the sale. The selling range on each pair was in the $100/300 area, with the highest, a European Sixteenth Century pair, selling for $604. A pair of Paktong candlesticks from Eighteenth Century China was the highest in the overall category, selling at $805.
Two objects that were given as christening gifts to Peter Chillingworth’s daughters illustrated to the dealer that this was indeed an auction. At the low end was a Southern Hepplewhite walnut tavern table with one drawer that was given to Chillingworth’s older daughter by Winterthur fellow Ed LaFond. In untouched condition, that table went for $144. On the higher end, a miniature New Geneva tanware pitcher measuring 2 inches high and given to Chillingworth’s younger daughter by dealer Charles Momchilov went way over the $400 high estimate to achieve $4,888.
Chillingworth plans to continue forward with the two shows he manages, the Brandywine River Museum Antiques Show and the Oglebay Institute’s Antiques Show and Sale in Wheeling, W.V., but says he is ambivalent on the thought of returning to the show circuit, particularly since he sold his sprinter. He will, of course, welcome a phone call and a visit.
Jeffers was reticent when asked if she would continue offering auctions. “I was grateful it was so warmly received and most importantly that Peter was satisfied,” she said. “I have no idea what the future holds. I have been approached by half a dozen folks about their collections, which is gratifying. But I’m still working on Pete’s game and once I get that done I’ll put my thumb on what 2019 will look like.”
For additional information, www.ameliajeffers.com.
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