Published: January 31, 2012
“I can open this lot at $50,000,” the auctioneer at Sotheby’s said, as lot number 616 of the landmark sampler collection of Betty Ring continued on Sunday, January 22, at the York Avenue galleries. The sampler in question, 115 lots into the sale, was the first of the New Jersey lots and was executed in 1807 by Mary Antrim, Burlington County.
As the bidding continued, a hush fell over the room, and even the auctioneer spoke in a very low voice. Two of the main players at this sale, Carol and Stephen Huber of Old Saybrook, Conn., and Amy Finkel of M. Finkel & Daughter, Philadelphia, kept the price of this sampler moving upward and the auctioneer turning first to one, seated on the left, and back to the other, seated on the right. With little help from anyone else, bidding moved right along, and Amy said after the sale, “My last bid was $610,000.”
The Hubers kept on going against little, but aggressive competition, weighing with a final bid of $880,000 against a phone bidder who finally took the lot at $890,000 hammer, or $1,070,500 with the buyer’s premium, setting a record for a sampler sold at public auction. On the other end of the line was David Schorsch, antiques dealer from Woodbury, Conn., who was buying for a client, noting, “This sampler is as good as they get and I am delighted with my purchase.”
After a round of applause, the auction continued with just under a hundred more lots, ending up with total sales of $4,389,503, with premium, and sold 72.2 percent by lot, 87.5 percent by value. Fifty-two lots were passed, but, “We sold over half of them within a few days after the sale,” Nancy Druckman, head of the American folk art department at Sotheby’s, said. She also mentioned that “we are very happy with the sale and the Ring family is very pleased with the end results.”
The Hubers, well-known dealers in needlework who were doing the Winter Antiques Show at the same time, bought 58 lots at the sale and a few after the auction. “The sale did pretty much as we expected,” Stephen said, and, “We missed only one lot from the ones we had singled out to go after.” The Hubers represented 30 clients at the sale, making it “a very active week for us, with both the show and the auction, but it was fun and we did see a spike of interest in samplers during the days following the sale,” Carol said.
Coming in second to lots purchased was Amy Finkel with a total of 28 at the auction and three after the sale. “I got most of what I went for, but missed out and underbid lot 503, the Susannah Saunders sampler [pictured], and the same with lot 508, the Betsy Gail, Marblehead, Mass., sampler [pictured],” Amy said. She was representing 18 clients and five museums, among them Bayou Bend of Houston, buyer of the Naby Lord sampler [pictured], and Colonial Williamsburg, buyer of the Maryland Hospital sampler, lot 664, and the Morgantown, Va., sampler, lot 667.
Lot 501, a needlework sampler signed Margaret Palfrey, Boston, dated 1739, executed in silk stitches on a linen ground, with a verse in horizontal registers, 12¼ by 8 inches wide, sold for $12,500, just over the low estimate, to Amy. The Hubers bought the second lot, an Adam and Eve needlework sampler, Mary Emmons, Boston, dated 1749, worked in silk stitches on a linen ground, 17¾ inches high by 8¾ inches wide, for $21,250, just over the high estimate of $21,000.
Amy cashed in again on lot 516, paying $98,500 for the rare silk embroidered sampler by Abigail Prince, Newburyport, Mass., dated 1801. It showed the alphabet and a verse, surrounded by trees, flowers, two figures, a dog, birds and a pond with four ducks, worked in lustrous silk stitches on a linen ground. It measured 15¼ by 21¾ inches, sold in the middle of the estimate at $98,500, and the provenance listed Garth’s Auctions and Stephen Score, Boston.
Fifty-three lots into the sale, the portrait of Clementina Beach, an oil on panel by Gilbert Stuart, painted circa 1824, 26 by 21 inches, was mixed into the sale of samplers and carried an estimate of $25/35,000. It sold for $40,625.
The Hubers paid $50,000 ($20/30,000), for a needlework sampler by Harriet Biron Reding, Portsmouth, N.H., circa 1826, worked in silk on linen and measuring 17¼ by 11½ inches. Three sets of alphabets and a short saying were stitched on top of a view of a large house by the water, with several trees and a blue sky background. This sampler was one of the pieces in the Ring collection that came out of the Ted Kapnek sampler sale.
Another lot that went to Amy Finkel was #612, a silk embroidered and painted map sampler by Polly Platt, Athens, N.Y., dated 1809. It was delicately worked in fine silk and chenille stitched on a silk ground, inscribed on the glass “POLLY PLATT, ATHENS, JULY 10 1809.” It is one of the largest map samplers known, measuring 161/8 inches high and 20 inches in width. The provenance lists Joe Kindig, York, Penn., June 1965, and it sold for $50,000, over the $30,000 high estimate.
Another one of the Pennsylvania samplers that went to Amy was lot 652, a needlework sampler by Matilda Filbert, Womelsdorf, Penn., dated 1830. It was worked in silk, chenille and paint on linen, with paint and spangled on applied silk, with a ribbon border, and measured 22½ inches high and 17 inches wide. The composition of the sampler is a naïve interpretation of an Edward Savage engraving, depicting a girl in white dress pointing to an eagle, with a house, trees and urns of flowers, surrounded by a floral/vine border on three sides. It carried a high estimate of $75,000, and sold for $122,500. This was another sampler from the Kapnek collection that sold at Sotheby’s on January 31, 1981.
There is no question that the Ring collection joins the ranks of other needlework collections that have been sold at auction by Sotheby’s, namely Garbisch, Kapkek, Dorothea Adamson, Nina Fletcher Little and Joan Stephens. And, as Nancy Druckman wrote in the foreword of the catalog, “What has been missing in this process has been Betty herself, of seeing her light up with bubbling enthusiasm and excitement of a piece which is ‘just gorgeous.‘”
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