Published: July 18, 2006
“The fun’s not over,” Skinner’s chief auctioneer Stephen Fletcher promised after a recent sale of American furniture and decorative arts that tallied $1,947,440 including premium at the firm’s Park Plaza location. Fletcher was alluding to the tantalizing mix of bargains, nice buys, surprises and rarities that keep bidders coming back to his well-edited sales for more.
Adding heft to the 700-lot auction were consignments from private collections in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, plus a key piece deaccessioned by a historical society in Massachusetts.
The day’s cover lot was a beautifully proportioned Massachusetts red-painted cherry high chest of drawers that crossed the block at $226,000 including premium.
“It was faultless from a design standpoint,” Fletcher said of the beautifully preserved 89-inch-tall fan carved, bonnet-top case piece, which descended for 240 years in the family of Reverend Jonathan Livermore of Wilton, N.H. From the same unheated summer house came an Aaron Willard of Boston tall case clock with a well-preserved paper label.
“The dial needs to be repaired, but I’ve always wanted a Willard clock like this one,” pleased buyer Bruce Medley of Portsmouth, R.I.., said of the $47,000 timepiece dating to circa 1800. Also auctioned was a circa 1810 French Dubuc gilt mantel clock surmounted with the figures of George Washington and an American eagle. With a replaced right foot, a missing olive branch and other minor evidence of wear, it sold to the phone for $76,375.
Regional appeal propelled a Federal cherry desk and bookcasewith meandering vines and crisscross inlays characteristic ofKentucky furniture.
“It’s likely to end up near where it was made,” said Walter Bailey, a dealer who traveled from Owingsville, Ky., only to be the disappointed underbidder. Notwithstanding refinish, the secretary sold to the phone for $127,000 against an estimate of $30/50,000. An interior drawer is inscribed “George Carlyle, born May 31st 1756.”
Carlyle was a Revolutionary War soldier in Virginia who, by the Federal era, had moved to Woodford County, Ky. “A half dozen people expressed interest in this piece. It spoke loudly of its regional origin,” said Skinner American furniture specialist Martha Hamilton, who traveled to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., to study documentation there compiled by Southern furniture experts Brad Rauschenberg and Frank Horton.
From a single New Hampshire collection came two of the day’s top lots. Both were in a the relatively undisturbed old state that purists love. A New Hampshire chest-on-chest, $105,000, attributed to Samuel Dunlap, had a characteristic heart and scroll valance on its skirt and bandy legs. A Queen Anne tiger-maple Spanish-brown painted high chest of drawers attributed to John Kimball of Derryfield or Concord, N.H., fetched $76,375. At 64 inches tall, its petite size was its draw.
Dealers complained that high estimates kept them from biddingon a group of watercolor and ink on paper New Hampshire familyrecords from the same collection. Bought in at $17,000 was theDavis Family Record by the “Heart and Hand Artist.” It had charmingpictorial detail but an unfortunate water stain. A Quaker familyrecord attributed to George Melvill of Farmington, N.H., passed at$9,500.
It is hard to understand why a local historical society would have consigned a colorful, whimsical mid-Eighteenth Century wool and silk on linen laid-stitch embroidery of shepherdess, but it did, first bringing it into Skinner during one of the firm’s “Lobby Day” appraisals. Initialed “SC,” the 11-by-17-inch needlework in its original frame caught the eye of top dealers David Wheatcroft, Bill Samaha and Stephen and Carol Huber. The folk-art treasure sold to the Hubers for $149,000.
“It’s not a ‘Fishing Lady’ and its not canvas work,” Carol Huber said afterwards of the textile that is reminiscent of Boston’s high-style “Fishing Lady” embroideries. “It’s from the Boston area. A very similar one is in Betty Ring’s book,American Girlhood Embroidery. All five known have the same bold, upright shepherdess.” The Hubers also acquired a silk embroidery, for $15,275, attributed to Sarah White, under the instruction of Abby Wright, South Hadley, Mass., of a Goddess of Liberty holding a staff with a liberty cap.
“We paid $25,000 for the last one we had like it,” said Carol Huber, satisfied with her purchase.
A private Rhode Island collection produced the day’s top weathervane, a 28-inch-high molded and gilded copper rooster, $49,938; two Nineteenth Century painted Parcheesi boards of superior quality, $5,875 and $6,463; and a small blue corner cupboard with a salmon-colored interior, $6,463, that years ago belonged to Cape Cod dealers Suzanne Courcier and Robert Wilkins.
Prints accounted for much of the last hour of the auction. Highlights included Currier & Ives’ “Yacht Squadron at Newport,” $7,638; Nathaniel Currier’s “Wild Duck Shooting. A Good Day’s Sport,” $5,875; “The Last War Hoop,” $7,050; and “The Life of A Fireman,” $4,406.
The session opened with a sand picture in a bottle, $10,575,complete with American eagle and flag by Andrew Clemens ofMcGregor, Iowa. A deaf-mute born in 1857, Clemens earned a livingmaking sand bottles. One example came up at Cowan’s in Cincinnati,Ohio in 2004, where it sold for $12,075. Other examples by theartist crossed the auction block at Cowan’s and Jackson’s recently.
Since moving to downtown Boston, the Internet has become increasingly important to Skinner’s business model.
“Our online catalogs with accompanying condition reports have opened the doors to new audiences,” says Fletcher.
Breaking with tradition, Skinner will skip its August Americana sale. The auctioneer’s next big Americana event is November 5, coinciding with the Ellis Memorial Antiques Show and Boston’s antiques week.
Says Fletcher, “We have a wonderful collection from the Midwest that contains miniatures, hat boxes, tin and other country items, along with an interesting estate from Troy, N.Y.”
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information contact Skinner at 617-350-5400 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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