Published: March 24, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Alderfer Auction
HATFIELD, PENN. – On March 11 Alderfer Auction conducted a sale of Twentieth Century Art & Design; it was followed the next day by a “Collector’s Auction,” featuring historical furniture, jewelry, décor and artwork. Precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 virus had just started to become widely commonplace and Alderfer noticed a reduction in attendance as a result, with 126 bidders attending the sale, a significant reduction as the house typically attracts between 200 and 250 bidders. Despite that, the combined 837 lots yielded a total of $590,590 and were 86.9 and 92.9 percent sold by lot, respectively.
“The auction was very strong! Our consignors were very pleased with the results of our marketing and strength of the online market.” Speaking after the sale, Alderfer Auction’s sales director, auctioneer and appraiser, H. Brent Souder, said that 87 percent of the sale was sold online, with bidders registered from 38 states and ten different countries, including Japan, China, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Canada. “We had more bidders from New York State than we did from Philadelphia,” Souder reported. Despite a decrease in attendance, Souder said the results on the first day were 20 percent above the aggregate high estimate for the sale and within expectations on the second day.
Alderfer has ramped up its online sales, making greater use of social media, engaging a multi-media specialist and creating an app that Souder said has allowed clients to connect to all of Alderfer sales. Having a strong online following and presence is a strategy that, particularly at this moment in time, served Alderfer well and which has likely contributed to a steady increase of new clients, which Souder said, “is growing faster online.”
For these sales, Alderfer prepared a 30-page catalog of highlights that featured many of the more important lots in the sale and directed viewers to the online catalogs for the sale. “We chose wisely, those things did very well,” Souder said, referring to results for many of those items pictured. Also contributing to Alderfer’s high sell-through rate was the strategy of shaping estimates to show opportunity and attract clients.
Harry Bertoia was the man of the hour, with three works sourced from a single local estate that were offered consecutively and saw three of the top four prices of the day. Taking top honors was his “Sonambient,” a sound sculpture made of 29 rods in bronze, beryllium and copper that was accompanied by a signed design sketch. Estimated at $15/30,000, it sold for $87,000 to a buyer in New York bidding on the phone against a Bucks County collector in the room.
Taking second place was Bertoia’s graceful “Willow” that made $66,000, more than triple its low estimate of $20/40,000. A private collector from Kansas bidding on the phone was the successful buyer. Persistence paid off for the Bucks County collector who was the underbidder on the top lot; he was the successful buyer of the third work of Bertoia’s offered and bought the untitled conical bronze for $18,000.
Souder thought the price achieved for the first lot out of the gate – $21,600 for Jasper John’s “Two Flags” lithograph published by Gemini – might be a record for the edition. Wolf Kahn was well represented and also came from the same estate as the Bertoias, with the sale featuring three consecutively offered pastel landscapes, all of which had low estimates of $2,000 and all of which outperformed expectations. Bringing the best price of the three was “Valley,” which made $6,600. “Mt. Pinatubo (from Mexico)” closed at $5,100, while “Lone Tree in the Haze” realized $3,600. Souder confirmed that the three Kahn works were purchased by different buyers.
Another artist who was represented by three works was Red Grooms (American, b 1937). All three of his works were offered consecutively. Two examples – “L’Occupation” and “Subway” –each brought $4,800 while, his “Extra, Extra” made $3,300. Three of Irving Burnell Petin’s (1934-2018) works saw prices range from $2,160 to $2,700. A record was set for a bronze sculpture by Leon Sitarchuk; a collector from Bryn Mawr, Penn., bidding on the phone, bought it for $1,560.
Strong results were seen in design offerings as well. A three-piece aluminum “Topiary” patio set, designed by Richard Schultz for Knoll, made nearly four times its low estimate to bring $1,920 and a lounge chair designed by Eames for Herman Miller sold for $1,920 as well, an impressive price considering the chair had been broken at one time and was offered disassembled, at an estimate of $200/400. Three “Mira” chairs by George Nakashima were each offered with an estimate of $1/2,000 and brought $1,320, 1,200 and $1,440, respectively. A pair of Marcel Breuer “Wassily” black leather and chrome armchairs achieved $1,080 and two lots of wrought iron mesh armchairs with footrests each brought $1,200. Bringing $1,080 was Harvey Guzzini’s “Bud Grande” floor lamp while a walnut and white glass Midcentury Modern elliptical hanging lamp shone brightly at $780.
The “Collector’s” sale the following day consisted of more traditional offerings of furniture, decorative arts, jewelry and fine art. Leading the sale was a low-mileage 2011 Cadillac Escalade that realized its high estimate of $18,000 despite some damage that Souder said had been fully disclosed prior to the sale. An international online buyer captured a pair of Asprey sterling silver pheasants that flew far from their $1/2,000 estimate to come to rest at $10,200.
Alderfer recently established a presence on Philadelphia’s Main Line by hiring a representative local to that area and who Souder sees as contributing to some of the firm’s success in that area. Reaping the benefits of that was a Main Line estate that yielded several of the sale’s top lots, including a 3-foot-tall alabaster sculpture of Venus after Pietro Barzanti (1842-1881) that sold to a buyer in New York for $7,200 and which Souder described as “just beautiful…and heavy.”
The same estate was the source for several other highlights of the sale, including a Colonial Indian silver trophy that brought $6,600; a French marquetry and ormolu mounted writing table that went out at $4,500; a gilt-bronze and African malachite gueridon that was snapped up at $4,200 and French rosewood and ormolu mounted bonheur-du-jour that exceeded its high estimate to sell for $3,000. Among American furniture offerings, interest pushed a Philadelphia Chippendale high chest of drawers to $1,440 and $2,160 for a tall case clock attributed to Matthew Egerton Jr of New Brunswick, N.J.
In December, Alderfer set a record for Jean Halter (1916-1981) when it sold a winter landscape for $27,000; this sale included several examples by Halter, the best of which was a New Hope, Penn., canal scene that showed the Delaware River in the background and brought $6,000 from a trade buyer bidding online. Other notable results among the fine art offerings was $2,280 for a scene of Lambertville by Evelyn Marie Allen Faherty (1919-2015); her rendition of Edward Redfield’s Road to Center Bridge made $1,080. A wintery bridge scene by Jim Lukens (b 1959) more than doubled its low estimate to fetch $1,200, and Joseph James Crilley’s (1920-2008) landscape of farms in autumn more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $1,140.
Decorative “smalls” have, for some time, seen an overall lack of interest throughout the industry, but Alderfer still achieved some good results for glass, ceramics and silver. A two-piece lot of Gaudy Dutch porcelain made 12 times its low estimate when it sold for $3,600 and a dozen Hutschenreuther “Real Desden Saxonia” plates made more than 20 times the low estimate to close at $2,280. A Lalique Luxembourg bowl brought $1,800, and a large assorted group of Waterford crystal stemware in the Maeve pattern achieved $840. The high estimate was surpassed for a set of six Georg Jensen .830 silver shellfish forks that made $510, and a surprise was seen in a Buffet Crampon professional clarinet with nickel plating and sterling silver hardware that finished at $1,920, more than double its low estimate.
All prices cited include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. The next Fine and Decorative and Collector’s Auctions are currently scheduled for June 3-4; a date has not yet been set for the next Twentieth Century Art & Design sale.
Alderfer Auction is at 501 Fairgrounds Road. For more information, 215-393-3000 or www.alderferauction.com.
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