Published: December 11, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – Once again, it was standing room only at William “Bill” Smith’s Thanksgiving Weekend auction on November 24. It was a frigid few days in northern New England but that did not seem to keep anyone away. Smith’s sales are varied: good American furniture, paintings, jewelry and country Americana. This one also included some special hooked rugs and sandpaper paintings, as well as a collection of mechanical banks, Continental furniture and accessories, gold coins, Oriental rugs and some weathervanes. One of the weathervanes, a Fiske sheep, was the top selling lot of the day, finishing at $23,000. As has been previously reported, Smith does not offer internet bidding, so phone and absentee bids are numerous. Smith divides podium duties with Ken Labnon, and both maintain a moderate pace. Both take the time needed to discuss interesting features, the provenance of a piece or details of the American furniture offerings, including the types of wood, likely place of origin, whether it has original hardware, which estate it comes from, etc. Nearly all material is fresh to the market and nearly all is sold without reserves. Smith plays up the absence of online bidding and emphasizes that transactions are private, and that prices paid are not posted online. The sale grossed slightly more than $700,000.
Prices for good hooked rugs are strong now. Skinner did well with some from the Newman collection earlier in the year, and there were some outstanding ones in this sale. Most impressive were two rugs, almost certainly made by the same hand. One depicted a folky tiger in a jungle setting, surrounded by a floral border. The other, also with a floral border, depicted a large leopard against a vibrant blue background. The tiger rug sold for $6,210 and the leopard rug brought $5,750. Both of these, along with others, went to one buyer, who was the daughter of the consignor, a collector who had assembled the collection over a period of more than 30 years. The collector had been friendly with Joan Johnson, who along with her husband, Victor, was a recipient of the 2016 ADA Award of Merit. Joan was present at Smith’s sale and said that she had, from time to time, advised the collector who owned the rugs and other things in the sale. Each of these two rugs far exceeded Smith’s estimates of $1/1,500.
A group of three exceptional sand paintings came from the same collection and were purchased by the same buyer. Examples of this quality are few and far between. The largest of the group was a landscape, signed by Mary Russell and dated 1854, which realized $5,635. It was about 21 by 30 inches, with a detailed farm scene depicting men and horses at work haying, a river with sailboats, trees and farm buildings. The other two were smaller. One was identified as a “View of the Old Church at Whitman, Mass.,” and it sold for $1,150. The second depicted a winter scene with a horse-drawn sleigh and realized $1,380. The buyer of the three, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “I’ve been collecting sand paintings for decades and these are certainly a cut above the ones that are usually offered.”
Folk art offerings included a 29-inch Fiske sheep weathervane with a zinc head and what Smith described as a wonderful, original surface. The weathervane had spent its entire life atop a barn on the Gilbert Livingston farm in New York state and was the top selling lot of the day, finishing at $23,000. Smith later said, “When the consignor first sent us pictures of the weathervane, we couldn’t be sure of the size or the finish. We drove out to the Schenectady area to look at it and knew we had a winner.” A small folk portrait of a little girl and her cat, the second lot of the day, reached $6,325. It was inscribed on the back “Emma Gordon, Oct, 2, 1841, painted by E.W. Blake.” There was strong presale interest in the painting, and it had seven bidders on the phone for it, one of which was the successful buyer.
Many of Smith’s consignments originate in northern New England, an area that was settled early and an area whose natural resources created several wealthy families. One result is that Smith’s sales include good examples of both country and formal American furniture and pieces are often sold to some of the best-known dealers in the field. The selection this time included a circa 1795-1800 New York Federal server, attributed to the workshop of Mills and Deming on the basis of its inlays. It was mahogany, with lighter inlays in tassel and drape patterns, and it had ebony and whalebone drawer pulls. The inlays are similar to those illustrated in plate 85 of J. Michael Flanigan’s 1986 book American Furniture From The Kaufman Collection. Smith took the time to explain the details of the piece as he was selling it and it sold for $6,613. A simple Eighteenth Century New Hampshire maple tall chest on frame, from the Dunlap workshop, went to a phone bidder for $6,900. Smith said its scrolled apron was similar to signed Dunlap examples. From Pike, N.H., was an early Nineteenth Century step-back cupboard with two glazed doors, in old salmon paint, that went for $2,415. A four-drawer Vermont grain-painted chest from the same collection, with red and black paint, reached $3,680. Bringing $2,990 was a corner cupboard with a panel door with tombstone-shaped window frame, H hinges, and scalloped shelves, in old blue paint.
The collection of mechanical banks was assembled by two generations of collectors – a father and his son beginning in the 1970s. There were some uncommon banks with varying degrees of original finish remaining. A circa 1906 Hubley “Man With Goat and Frog” bank in working condition, realized $1,495 and a rare J.E. Stevens Company circa 1882 “Reclining Chinaman” sold for $749. It is a bank that, when in better condition, has sold for substantially more money. A “Chief Big Moon” bank, also made by the J.E. Stevens Company, circa 1899, brought $690. There were several other banks, and Smith’s New Year’s sale will include additional banks from the same collection.
After the sale, Smith commented that they had been doing Thanksgiving weekend sales for more than 40 years. “It’s a tradition and I think people look forward to it. We always get a good crowd. The gross of about $700,000 satisfied everyone. As in every auction, there are bargains to be had, like the two-part burl walnut inlaid cabinet that sold for less than $1,400. It cost a lot of money when it was bought. We had a good child’s size Windsor arm chair with good turnings and old paint. I think it was cheap at around $250. The hooked rugs were a surprise. I had told the consignor that I didn’t think they’d bring that much money. I was wrong; they were great rugs and people knew it. I was pleased with the two sets of Audubons. The seven volumes Birds of America went for more than $7,000, and the three-volume Quadrupeds of North America brought just under $5,000. So I think everyone went home happy. We’re all looking forward to the New Year’s sale. There’s a lot of good stuff in that one, including a couple of important pieces of American furniture.”
William A. Smith is at 1064 Route 12A. For more information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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